Jason Kidd’s Decline and the Knicks’ Slow Starts

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Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Jason Kidd’s beginning to the 2012-13 season was basically a giant middle finger to all of his prior doubters coming into the season, myself included. Like many others, I had prematurely concluded that the Knicks had wasted their money on a 39-year old who wouldn’t be able to offer enough on the court to make up for the tied-up money and roster spot he occupied. I saw severely declining statistics over the previous three years and had low expectations about what kind of on-court tangibles Kidd could bring. The many doubters and I were wrong.

Kidd kicked off the season in fantastic form. Not only did Kidd bring the intangibles that people have raved about for the last decade – leadership, veteran poise, etc. – his on-court worth was huge to the Knicks. His accurate marksmanship from downtown, surprisingly stout defense with lightning quick hands, and a keen, unwavering sense of where to pass the ball at all times made him an essential member of the team.

Through November and December, Kidd averaged nearly 30 minutes per game, 8.9 points, 45.4% 3FG, 4.4 rebounds, 4.1 assists, and 1.85 steals – and the numbers don’t even fully reflect how valuable he was to the Knicks’ rotation. The offense hummed and the defense performed ably when he was on the court.

However, Raymond Felton’s injury in late December through most of January was one of the worst things that could have happened to Kidd. The Knicks, who were already leaning on Kidd more than they ought to, had to rest even more weight on his shoulders while moving him from the off-ball, two guard spot to point guard.

With Felton out, Kidd was moved to the starting point guard where he was not only tasked with running plays more often, he also had to guard starting opposing point guards, arguably the toughest position to guard in today’s NBA. While Kidd averaged less minutes per game through January, his role increased to running plays and initiating the offense while also having to cover the multiple speedy point guards that exist in the league. Prior to Felton’s injury, Kidd had the luxury of acting as a secondary playmaker, often making swing passes or spotting up for three-pointers on offense. Durng Felton’s absence, Kidd now had to try and penetrate off the pick-and-roll in order for the Knicks’ offense (based around the spread pick-and-roll) to work. On defense, while there isn’t an “easy” position to guard, while playing the 2, Kidd didn’t have to defend dribble penetration or work over screens as much; instead, he often had to chase guards around curls and contest jump shots – slightly easier work.

Kidd’s overall numbers reflected the extra burden laid on a pair of legs that have played for nearly two decades. In January, His shooting percentages dropped to 38.2% from the field, 32.7% from three-point range, and 50% from the free throw line. Elsewhere, his scoring dropped to 5.8 points per game, his rebounds and assists to 3.5 and 3.3 per game, respectively.

However, Kidd’s teammates were also affected by Felton’s absence, and furthermore, Kidd’s deterioration. According to nbawowy.com, from December 26, 2012 to January 24, 2013 (the range of Felton’s injury), with Kidd on the court, the Knicks shot 42.4% from the field and 34.3% from three-point range, while allowing opponents to shoot 46% from the field and 38.2% from behind the arc. With Kidd off the court in the same time frame, those numbers changed to 45.3% and 38.3% for the Knicks and 43.8% and 26.9% for opponents. Though it should be noted that Kidd was facing mostly starting units and sat with second units on the floor, the Knicks shot the ball and defended shots better with Kidd on the bench than on the court.

Photo by Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Since Felton’s return in late Janaury, though the Knicks are a respectable 5-2, the team’s performance hasn’t been statistically sound with both he and Kidd on the court. On offense, the Knicks are shooting just 39.1% from the field and 31.2% from beyond the arc. With the two guards off the court, the Knicks are shooting a hot 51.5% from the field and 41.7% from downtown. There hasn’t been a tremendous impact defensively with Kidd and Felton on or off the court; the Knicks have just been poor on defense overall.

Even sliding back to the two-guard spot hasn’t appeared to help Kidd at all. Though we’re only four games into February, Kidd’s numbers have absolutely plummeted. On the month, he is averaging 19.3 minutes, 2.8 points, shooting 19.8% FG, 15.6% 3FG, 3.3 rebounds, 2 assists, and .5 steals per game.

Kidd has seen the bulk of his minutes in the first and third quarters, where, by no coincidence, the Knicks have gotten off to slow starts. Though Kidd is not entirely to blame for the slow starts to each half, I pulled the following numbers from three of the Knicks’ four games through February:

  • 2/1 vs. Milwaukee: The Knicks were outscored 28-25 in the first quarter, where Kidd played over half the quarter. In the third quarter, the Knicks were trailing 59-57 when Amar’e Stoudemire subbed in for Kidd with 7:28 remaining. The Knicks finished the quarter by outscoring Milwaukee 17-14.
  • 2/2 vs. Sacramento: The Knicks were trailing 13-3 in the first quarter when Kidd subbed out with 5:50 remaining. The Knicks finished the quarter by outscoring Sacramento 22-9. In the third quarter, the Knicks were outscoring the Kings 15-10 when Kidd subbed out at 7:28 in the quarter. The Knicks finished the quarter by outscoring the Kings 26-9.
  •  2/6 @ Washington: Washington was outscoring the Knicks in the first quarter, 16-15 when Kidd subbed out with 5:16 remaining. The Knicks then outscored the Wizards the rest of the quarter, 14-12. In the third quarter, Washington was outscoring the Knicks 8-2 when Kidd was pulled out with 7:43 remaining. From then on, the Knicks outscored the Wizards in the quarter, 19-11.

There are a number of arguments to be made against these data. First, it could be argued that the Knicks would obviously score more points when Kidd was out of the game if he played less than half the quarter; there’s just more time to score if Kidd only played four or five minutes. It could also be said that J.R. Smith and Stoudemire would provide more scoring to the team than when Kidd was on the floor.

However, the point is not just that the Knicks have gotten off to slow starts with Kidd on the floor at the beginning of each half. The point is this was not the case earlier in the season. The Knicks used to play better on both ends of the floor when Kidd was on the court. As of late, the Knicks struggle to defend and score when Kidd is playing.

With the All-Star break just one week away, Mike Woodson should consider tinkering with Kidd’s role. Some would say that Kidd should just rest and sit out of games until the break. His decline has been radical since December, and it’s arguable that he is just worn down. Two weeks off might do the trick in restoring his tired body.

Another possibility is to adjust the starting lineup and move Kidd from starting two-guard to the bench where he’ll play lesser opponents. Pablo Prigioni, who has been outplaying Kidd lately, could move to the starting lineup, though that may tinker with the second unit’s current rhythm. Woodson could consider moving Iman Shumpert (who’s struggled starting at small forward) back to shooting guard, and perhaps place Chris Copeland at small forward so Carmelo Anthony can continue to play at the four position. Either way, the two-point-guard starting lineup hasn’t been working for the Knicks.

In the end, the biggest fear is that some of our initial worries about Kidd are coming true. If loving Kidd’s splendid play early in the season was wrong, I don’t want to be right. Get well soon, Jason.