The Knicks had a 6-9 month in January and banished-to-the-bench veteran Larry Hughes played in only two of those games. Hughes played in 12 of the 15 games in December when the Knicks were 9-6, so on the surface -- which is generally as deep as some may care to look -- it suggests Hughes is the difference-maker.
Hell, we'll even toss in the Tuna defense: You are what your record says you are.
There is only one player you can directly associate with the frustrated Hughes' exile, and that's the previously-exiled Nate Robinson. During his 14-game ban in December, the Knicks were 8-6. Then Mike D'Antoni went back to him on Jan. 1 in Atlanta and a 41-point explosion mushroomed over Phillips Arena.
Now, Robinson's numbers weren't terrible in January. He averaged 13.8 points and 3.5 assists and shot a decent 46.6 percent from the field. So from a numbers perspective, it's difficult to argue that Hughes would be more effective. Especially if you consider that in December, Hughes' best stretch of the season, he wasn't quite lighting it up off the bench. He averaged 8.8 points and 3.7 assists off the bench and, most notably, shot just 32.4 percent from the field.
But, yes, in comparable blocks of the season, the Knicks were winning games when Hughes played and aren't again with Robinson back in the rotation.
And here's where the scale tips in favor of Hughes. Robinson didn't have many big scoring nights after the 41-point performance and his defense always leaves little to be desired. He has this maddening penchant for backpedaling deep into the defensive zone after he makes a basket, which allows the opposing guard to comfortably walk the ball up the court without any pressure. Why not be more aggressive here and on a make jump right into your mark's kitchen and hound him to the timeline?
In Minnesota, Nate actually went all the way back to the foul line after a make and then turned into a traffic cone, as Jonny Flynn motored right by him for a layup. What good are two points at one end when you immediately give up two on the other end?
Hughes played a big part of D'Antoni's zone defense because of his long arms and overall length at the top of the 2-3. Robinson's speed should make him extremely effective in the zone because of his ability to recover, but, again, the honest effort isn't there anymore (at least not after a few games in early January).
Hughes' performance dipped notably after his groin injury kept him out a few games in the middle of the month. It had a noticable impact on his shot, which is already suspect even when he's healthy, and slowed him on defense. Now Robinson is battling a hammy, which could be why his shot has been so inconsistent lately. But you can't blame it on his defense because, let's be brutally honest here, we all know Nate uses defense to recharge his battery. That's just the player he is.
With the playoffs fading quickly and defense falling back into old habits, D'Antoni needs to rethink his rotation, but do you really want to reward a player who has done nothing but gripe and complain -- especially after a 43-point win -- and take shots at the coach in the meantime? You should never let the inmates think they can run the asylum.
Robinson may have that ability for sudden scoring outburts that may help you win a game here or there, but we're seeing the same tendencies as last season, when it all fell apart. Chris Duhon can not handle a heavy workload and the team falls apart once he goes to the bench (which is as alarming as it sounds, all things considered). Robinson has proven he is not comfortable running the offense, which means the Knicks are once again without a true backup point guard (or, as we've argued here before, forcing a true backup to be the starter). Overall, Robinson is pretty much is back to playing the way he wants to play, which brings us back to the asylum line.
Really, rather than moving them around again, perhaps its time for new inmates.
Speaking of which, has anyone paid attention to Tony Allen lately? If the Celtics are still interested in Robinson, perhaps the Knicks reconsider. Allen can play defense and, as we've seen lately, can provide some offensive help. Of course if you take Robinson out of the equation, the Knicks bench, which was outscored 51-8 without Al Harrington on Sunday in Minnesota, would lose a great deal of offense.
Again, how's it working out for you this way?
* * *
A night after the Knicks held their annual "Knicks Bowl," which benefitted the Garden of Dreams Foundation, John Starks is hosting his own celebrity bowling tournament at Lucky Strikes on 42nd Street to raise money for his foundation, which provides college scholarships to disadvantaged high school students. The event is closed to the public, but Starks' work is something to appreciate, especially when you consider his own humble beginnings.
The "3-Point Scholarship" assists financially-challenged families of high school seniors in the New York tri-state and Tulsa, Ok. (his hometown) areas who demonstrate academic excellence and make significant community service commitments. The scholarship to date has helped over 150 students with grants toward college.
The Knicks have raised over $1.5 million for the Garden of Dreams foundation through their annual bowling event since 2000.