Since Stephon Marbury’s public feud with coach Larry Brown exploded during the 2005–06 season, the New York Knicks have cycled through point guards in hopes of finding a long-term fix.
Nate Robinson showed promise soon after Marbury's tenure, but he also failed to see eye-to-eye with the team’s coach and was traded in 2010. Then the flood gates opened, as Chris Duhon , Chauncey Billups, Toney Douglas, Baron Davis, Jeremy Lin, Raymond Felton and Pablo Prigioni all came and went. Few of the players listed produced, and none stuck as a long-term starter.
Marbury ranked second in the league with a 21.97 PER in 2004–05. Over the last 10 years, the Knicks have only had a point guard rate in the league’s top-15 three times. Lin was ninth-best for 35 games during the 2011–12 season, and Robinson was among the 15 best with two solid campaigns from 2006–08. Billups’s 2010–11 season placed him seventh in PER, but most of it came before the Nuggets traded him to New York.
So it’s refreshing, and foreign, that the Knicks roster has not one, but two, promising young point guards. It’s also become problematic.
The first of the pair is Langston Galloway, an undrafted free agent out of St. Joseph’s, who was invited to play for the Knicks’ Summer League team in 2014, and impressed them enough to earn a D-League contract. He was brought up amid a disastrous 2014–15 season, and started 41 games and knocked down 35.2% of his three-pointers.
The second, Jerian Grant, is more of a household name given that his father, Harvey, and his uncle, Horace, both played in the NBA. He made name for himself by leading the Notre Dame Fighting Irish to the Elite Eight in the 2015 NCAA Tournament and caught the eye of Phil Jackson, who acquired him in a draft-night trade with the Hawks back in June.
Together, they have become a winning combination in the Knicks' backcourt through nine games. Sharing the court for 162 total minutes, Grant and Galloway have outscored opponents by 9.3 points per 100 possessions. They have outplayed the team’s starters to this point, with Jose Calderon and Sasha Vujacic registering a net rating of -4.3 points per 100 possessions.
Arron Afflalo, the Knicks’ first free agent signing of the summer, returned from injury on Wednesday and was inserted directly into the starting lineup. While he primarily took Vujacic’s minutes on the floor, he also cut into Grant and Galloway’s court time. Veteran Jose Calderon, meanwhile, was given even more run.
Calderon’s play to this point has been underwhelming. He's shooting just 30% from three, 34.5% on catch-and-shoot tries, and 35.8% on open shots (no defender within four feet.) His assist-to-turnover ratio sits at three, behind Galloway’s 4.5 and marginally better than Grant’s 2.64. Given his age and role as a shooter, it’s unsurprising that he’s driven to the basket just six times, but it highlights the fact that hasn’t provided much to the 4–5 Knicks.
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Galloway and Grant, meanwhile, have both knocked down over 47% of their open looks. Galloway has been particularly strong on his catch-and-shoot tries, hitting 15 of 27 (55.6%). Both have been effective in getting to the basket, converting 13 of 26 attempts on a combined 65 drives.
Through it all, Derek Fisher hasn’t given any indication that he’s ready to insert Grant and Galloway, who are both 23-years-old, into the starting lineup in favor of his veterans. He’s willing to ride it out with Calderon, whose field-goal percentage and three-point percentage, have both dropped each season since he posted a career year with Toronto and Detroit in 2012–13.
Given the fact the Knicks aren’t likely to contend for a title in 2015–16, it may behoove Fisher to trot Galloway and Grant out together more often as the season wears on. The Knicks have just a bit of chaos on their hands in the backcourt at the moment. Diet chaos, maybe. It’s nothing like the normal dysfunction that we’ve grown accustomed to seeing, but there’s still a conflict over present and future.