As we mentioned yesterday, it’s quite shocking how out of nowhere the Knicks’ bench has become so strong. This is particularly so because the Knicks are a team that is designed — counting on, even — having a short, weak bench. Putting aside coach Mike D’Antoni’s infamous hesitance to have a rotation that goes much deeper than seven or eight players, the Knicks’ very roster construction is meant to minimize the bench’s importance. The stars-and-scrubs idea, pioneered by the recent champion Boston Celtics and of course The Decision LeBrons, is to pack your team with two or three superstars and just fill out the rest of the roster with minor role players meant only to reflect the stars’ glory. The Knicks are spending so much money on Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler that the rest of the starting lineup was supposed to be beside the point, let alone the bench. Yet, here we are.
The answer of how we got here, as it always seems to be this season, is Jeremy Lin. When Lin emerged, he brought the total number of point guards the Knicks had on their roster to one, which meant when Baron Davis eventually came back, they reaped the plentiful bounty of two. Because Lin was now ensconced in the point guard spot, it allowed Iman Shumpert — who, as we’ve all learned oh-so-clearly, is totally not a point guard — to move to the two (and sometimes even the three) on the bench. The Knicks’ second unit didn’t have Davis or Shumpert. Suddenly, it had both.
Then, when Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony returned from their absences, it pushed Jared Jeffries and Bill Walker — both of whom had benefited from their cameos into the starting lineup — to the second unit as well. (Walker is still working to come back from his own injury.) Because Lin was the first Knick who could get the ball to the right players in the right spot, he instantly elevated Steve Novak from an end-of-rotation guy to a serious, devastating weapon. (He’s now fourth in the NBA in 3-point percentage.) So there’s another bench piece.
Then, when he saw what kind of business the Knicks had brewing with Lin, and he got the go-ahead from his buddy Carmelo, J.R. Smith — perhaps the most important bench piece of all — decided to come to the Knicks rather than the Clippers when he was released from his commitment in China. Needless to say, if the Knicks are still seven games under .500, like they were before Linsanity struck, he probably goes ahead and joins Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.
And, just like that, the Knicks had a powerful, potent bench, a bench they won a game with on Wednesday and will serve them extremely well the rest of this truncated, exhausting season. One month ago, the Knicks’ bench was a running joke. Now it’s one of the strongest units in the NBA. Of all Jeremy Lin has done in his Knicks tenure, this, out of everything, might be the most impressive. He is not only making the other Knicks players better … he’s somehow multiplying them.