When Jeremy Lin overwhelmed the NBA with his breakout stardom this season, he was not the only surprise on the New York Knicks. After five seasons of middling performances as a designated shooter, 6-10 forward Steve Novak finally became a dependable rotation player. In 18.9 minutes per game, Novak led the NBA in three-point shooting at 47.2 percent and averaged 8.8 points per game.
As a free agent this summer, Novak stood to cash in on that performance. Now he has, agreeing to a four-year, $15-million deal with the Knicks on Monday (as tweeted by Y!'s Adrian Wojnarowski). And with that kind of length, we have to wonder if the Knicks might be overreacting to a few good months from Novak.
It bears noting that Novak's three-point percentage last season was actually lower than his mark of 52.2 percent in 2010-11. The difference is that he played only 7.2 minutes per game in 30 appearances between the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs. In other words, Novak was at the end of the bench, a place he's occupied for the entirety of his NBA career. In fact, before last season Novak had averaged more than 10 minutes per game just once in his career, when he played 16.4 for a 2008-09 Clippers team that won a whopping 19 games. He wasn't very good, either, shooting 41.6 percent from deep. That would be fine if Novak had other skills, but he is pretty much only effective when he's hitting shots.
Specialists are valuable, and if Novak even comes close to matching his numbers from last season then he'll be worth this contract. But, in many ways, Novak was an even more surprisingly effective player last season than Lin, because he'd at least been given a shot at regular NBA playing time and proven very little. It's entirely possible that Novak's few months of hot shooting were a mirage. If they were, and he regresses to his previous norm, then the Knicks will have a fairly useless player on their roster for four years.
The Knicks have proven perfectly willing to trade players they no longer consider necessary to their future, but that's part of the problem. At MSG, plans change quickly, with little thought paid to long-term considerations of value or how a four-year contract might play into a larger strategy. If Novak ends up on the trading block, it'll be a sign that he no longer fits with what the Knicks want to do. The problem is that the signing itself might not have anything to do with a vision for the franchise, either.