It was a simple comment made by Mike D'Antoni after Monday's win over the 76ers, which gave their Knicks their first winning streak since early January. These kind of things usually are received with nods, a few scribbles and then disappear into memory as the next question is posed.
But as a sound bite, it is the highest praise a coach can give to a player, especially a rookie.
"When he was on the floor," D'Antoni said of Toney Douglas, "we were better."
Isn't that the idea?
After yet another strong game by Douglas, so late in a lost season that saw the Knicks desperately need an improvement at the point guard position, it's very human to wonder just why the hell was this kid buried on the bench all season?
But let's not have such short-term memory. Douglas was given looks at various spots between his brief stint as a starter in November (where he absolutely struggled to run the offense) to this point. Several times I made reference to the fact that when Douglas did get into games, he didn't bring a great deal of intensity and spent too much time being polite. It happens sometimes with rookies. They step into a game with this ridiculous idea in their heads about not doing too much.
You know the cliche, "Let the game come to you?" It's absolute bull.
Toney the Tiger had to figure that out on his own.
I was chatting with him before a recent home game, when he was still on the bench wondering when his next opportunity would come (and not complaining a peep about it), and brought this up to him. We were just talking basketball (if you haven't noticed, I like to do that with players) and as we debated why he wasn't getting much PT, I mentioned how it seemed like he was being too polite when he would come into games. I said, "You have to make people know you're in there."
Douglas nodded, smiled and said, "That won't be a problem."
He played OK for a little while once he did start to get some burn and quietly confided that because it had been so long since he had some real game action, it would take a while to get his wind. That's not an excuse, it's just reality. Douglas has put in extensive work on his own, with his shot and with his body. If you look at him now compared to Media Day, his shoulders are much broader and he's more muscular overall.
And in the second half in Memphis, it all started to click. Douglas saw Mike Conley pushing the pace in the first half and took it upon himself to pick up Conley sooner and get the Grizzlies out of their rhythm. By the fourth quarter, as Memphis started slowing down, Douglas started speeding up. It was too little, too late for that night, but it was the boost of confidence that he needed.
D'Antoni promoted him to the starting role and he's been outstanding in these first two games. He really got into Jason Kidd defensively and had three steals against the 76ers, including an explosive theft of Willie Green in the third quarter that would have had Mo Cheeks grinning. He also chased down a loose ball into the backcourt with the tenacity of a playoff game.
He pushed the pace on offense and continues to find his shot easily as defenses switch off and give him too much space. The pick-and-roll will come in time (David Lee's eight points and only six shot attempts is a direct result to less pick-and-roll calls these days) but he's seeing the lanes better. But while the P&R isn't as prominent in his playlist, the dribble drag on the wing, especially when Douglas exchanges with Danilo Gallinari, is starting to work extremely well. Take note: four of Douglas' seven assists against the 76ers went to Gallo.
Finally, you say. A point guard who actually looks for Gallinari.
So let's get back to that question: Why didn't D'Antoni play Toney sooner? Why didn't D'Antoni stick with him in November? Who cares what we think. We decided to ask Douglas if he feels he could have been doing in November all of what we see from him now. Or is he a different player now than he was then?
"Way different," Douglas said. "I learned a lot from playing, sitting on the bench and watching and working out all the time. Learning the pick and roll and reading the defense when I'm on the bench. Watching film. I feel like I'm going to continue to keep getting better as I go along."
And the Knicks should then continue to be better when he is on the floor.
* * *
* - Hey Pacers forward Danny Granger, let's randomly ask you what you think LeBron James is going to do this summer:
"If I was LeBron," he told HoopsHype. "I'd go to New York."
Why New York?
"New York is the media mecca as far as endorsements and benig able to expand your personal net worth," Granger explained. "The exposure you can get there isn't only nationally, but globally. New York does all that for you."
* - The streaking Knicks (two in a row) were given the day off from practice. With 24 wins, they need to go 8-7 to match last season's record. Right now they're ninth-worst in the NBA standings, so that lottery pick the Utah Jazz own would be a top 10 pick.
* - St. Patrick's Day in Boston. There are plenty of complaints to make about the NBA's schedule makers, who obviously never consider commercial travel when coupling some of these road games together (San Antonio to Memphis to Dallas? Really?). But this is one time we should say Thank you, Mr. Schedule Maker.
So, right now, I'm shipping up to Boston. Feeling my Irish roots.
Have a good and safe one, Fixers.