When examining championship teams and contenders of the past, the value of the second unit is clearly illustrated. Glance past the superstars that garner the most attention and focus on the “role players”. Think about the 80s with Byron Scott, AC Green, and Michael Cooper on the great Lakers teams. The 1983-84 Celtics featured Robert Parish, Cedric Maxwell, and Dennis Johnson. The Bulls had John Paxon and Steve Kerr, the Spurs brought Manu Ginobili off the bench, and the Lakers secured huge playoff victories behind clutch shots from Robert Horry and Derek Fisher. Even last year’s Dallas Mavericks championship team was deep and deadly with Jason Terry and JJ Barea coming off the bench.
Obviously, there is a long and distinguished list of impact players that did not receive the fanfare they deserved when these teams competed for titles. However, the point is that a championship squad forms when players identify their roles, accept those role and begin to flourish in a system that benefits the entire team concept and ultimate goal.
“Having your role defined for you is so important, especially when you are coming off the bench, knowing you are going to come in at a certain point in the game,” Knicks legend John Starks explained.
While the 2011-12 Knicks are still in the embryonic stages of their quest to compete for a title, the team is now healthy and incredibly deep. Case in point: New York trailed by 17 points to the Cavaliers on Wednesday night before Steve Novak and the bench mob ignited the offense. The crew coming off the pine combined for 50 points in the Knicks’ exhilarating come-from-behind 120-103 victory.
Novak is the perfect example of a player with specific skills that makes New York a dynamic offensive team. The five-year veteran describes the process, “We’re playing so much better than earlier in the year because the guys are really understanding their roles. I think guys want to play their role. We know that’s what it’s going to take and so the buying-in part of it has been huge.”
Meanwhile, Novak is averaging 11.4 points over his last 10 games and shooting an outstanding 46.9 percent from the three-point line this season. His sharpshooting is an absolute necessity when defenses collapse on Jeremy Lin, Carmelo Anthony, and Amar’e Stoudemire in the paint.
The Knicks second unit also possesses immeasurable factors such as energy and change of pace. With newly acquired guard J.R. Smith and the return of Baron Davis, New York can completely shift the momentum throughout the game. They offer athleticism, flare, and experience.
“That’s the key to championship teams, the guys on the bench being able to come in and step up in big minutes. We have a great core of guys and we have to keep believing in ourselves and no matter what, keep working,” Smith stated.
New York’s mix includes rookies Iman Shumpert and Josh Harrellson as both players are back from injuries. Shumpert started the season suiting up at the point guard spot and has moved to the shooting guard and small forward positions since the arrival of Lin. The former Georgia Tech standout is a supremely gifted on-ball defender and athlete in the open floor. Harrellson is an underrated shooter and provides the Knicks another big man to help protect the paint.
“Everybody has a big role, whether you are a shooter, rebounder, defender, or scorer. I f you do your role than you are playing just as big of role as someone who has more minutes or gets more shots or touches,” Knicks legend Allan Houston professed.
The joy of watching this new-look Knicks team gain steam towards the finish line is the acceptance and support for every member on the bench, including Jared Jeffries, Bill Walker, and Mike Bibby. From day one, the group has exhibited a unified bond while sharing one common goal.
"I think we've been talking a lot about our depth and tonight we definitely got to see the depth, and so that's going to be a strength of ours and we need to continue to use that," Lin said after the victory over Cleveland.
Roles are interchangeable on any given night and the focal point of the offense will remain in the hands of Lin, Anthony, and Stoudemire. With that said, roles are clearly defined and the power of the Knicks bench will elevate this team to elite status.