COMMENTARY | The New York Knicks' signing of Argentine point guard Pablo Prigioni last July wasn't met with very much fanfare among New York fans. The front office, on the other hand, was elated to finally acquire a player it had been after for four years.
It didn't take long for Prigioni to endear himself to the Madison Square Garden faithful last season, scoring 11 points with 6 assists in the Knicks' third game of the season.
When New York re-signed him three weeks ago, fans who didn't know his name last season rejoiced for more than a few reasons.
Prigioni is the ultimate team player
With volume scorers like Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith on the Knicks' opening-night roster, ball movers at the point-guard position were crucial for New York. Raymond Felton is a good point guard, but more of a balanced player that will find his teammates in good spots while also looking for his own shot. Jason Kidd and Prigioni, on the other hand, were in the game to find open looks for others.
What was most impressive about Prigioni from the start was his awareness and anticipation on the court. The ball never stayed in his hands for very long, and he always seemed to hit the open player with a swing pass, never finding himself as the culprit of stagnating the offense. Prigioni is a perfect fit for the Knicks, which is a major reason why he found himself in the starting lineup by the end of the season.
He isn't an offensive liability
At first glance, Prigioni doesn't strike opponents as much of an offensive threat. While he isn't a player who will score even 15 points in a game (his season-high was 14), he also isn't somebody you can leave open and just play the passing lanes against. Prigioni improved his 3-point shot throughout the season, shooting over 42 percent from beyond the arc after the calendar turned to 2013.
Prigioni's shooting ability gives the Knicks a huge advantage when he's in the game, as teams can't play him just to pass. If they play him normally, he'll find an open teammate or run a well-executed pick-and-roll. If they play off of him, he has the ability to make them pay from deep.
Not only does Prigioni move the ball well, which shows in his 3.0 assists per game average in just 16.2 minutes per game, but he also does it without turning the ball over. Prigioni ranked 18th in the NBA last season in assist-to-turnover ratio and while it was a small sample size, his efficiency is obvious when you watch him on the court.
Felton ranked just 30th in assist-to-turnover ratio last season and while nobody is looking for Prigioni to take Felton's starting job, the Knicks eventually recognized his poise and play-making ability were worthy of a starting job, pushing Felton to shooting guard at the beginning of games. It's no coincidence that New York's offense ran much smoother with Prigioni at the point.
Prigioni isn't only a boon to the Knicks' offense; he can set the tone on defense as well. Aided by playing 15-20 minutes per night most of the season, Prigioni was able to play with full energy at all times. He was a thorn in the side of opposing point guards all year, relentlessly employing a one-man press that made his counterparts work to get the ball up the court.
His defensive prowess led to more than a steal per game and a top-15 ranking in steals per 48 minutes. Prigioni's ability to defend also allowed Felton to cover shooting guards when they shared the court, as the Knicks' starter often struggles staying with the league's quicker point guards.
He just has fun
Perhaps Prigioni's most endearing trait is the fact that he just has fun playing basketball. He isn't in it for the money or the fame, but rather the love of the game. It sounds cliché but if that wasn't the case, he would have come to the NBA well before the age of 35.
Prigioni certainly has the talent to play at the highest level of basketball, but it took some convincing for him to finally get there. The Knicks are certainly happy he decided he was up for one last challenge in his basketball career.
Chris Tripodi lives in New York and has been a Knicks follower since the days of Patrick Ewing and John Starks in the early 1990s. He has written for numerous online sources, namely Draft Insider, Optimum Scouting and Jets 101.
Follow him on Twitter @christripodi.
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