Photo By Bruce Bennett | Getty Images
By James Cypert
The 15-5 Knicks came into the season with arguably the strongest depth in the NBA at the point guard position. However, a rash of injuries to both Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd over the first 20 games have forced the Knicks to turn to rookie Pablo Prigioni to make big contributions off the bench.
Most coaches wouldn’t be too keen on giving heavy minutes to a rookie point guard with a roster as star-studded as the Knicks, but Prigioni is not any ordinary NBA rookie. Prigioni is a 35-year-old rookie, the oldest the NBA has seen in 40 years, as he has been playing in Argentina and Spain since 1995.
Known as “The Maestro” during his European playing days, Prigioni played point guard on an Argentinian team featuring NBA stars Luis Scola, Manu Ginobili and Carlos Delfino that won the FIBA Americas Championship in 2011. Having won championships in both Spanish and International play, Prigioni has had experience playing in high-profile and high-stakes games throughout his career.
“I feel that I can play here, because if I can play against the best 12 players in the NBA [in the Olympics], I think it will be easy for me to play an NBA season,” said Prigioni.
While the depth at the point guard position has limited Prigioni’s playing time, his impact while on the court has been undeniable. In projected 48-minutes of statistics, Prigioni’s 9.1 assists per game would only trail Raymond Felton’s 9.7 assists per game. Further, Prigioni has brought the European “slash-and-kick” game to Madison Square Garden; his ability to drive to the basket has led to open shots from behind the arc, as half of Prigioni’s 48 assists have come on three-point shots.
“For me, the most important thing as a point guard is that my teammates want to play with me, because they know I pass the ball in the right moment,” said Prigioni. “That I’m smart and know how to play in each moment. I can read the game quickly.”
And while most of Prigioni’s contributions have come on the offensive side of the ball, the Knicks also allow fewer points on defense with Prigioni on the floor. With Prigioni garnering more playing time, teammates are enthusiastic and stat geeks and fans are beginning to make note of the play-making Argentinian.
“Pablo is a giving type of player when he’s in there,” said Knicks coach Mike Woodson of Prigioni. “Pablo’s a pass-first guy, so all the players love that. He’s a great pick-and-roll guy, he can make shots if he needs to shoot it, and he’s a pretty damn good defender. He does everything that I like in a point guard.”
“I didn’t understand how crafty he is,” said teammate Tyson Chandler. “Playing against him [in the Olympics], we always said he takes and makes big shots. I know he can shoot it – he just doesn’t.”