By John Schmeelk
» More Columns
With Carmelo Anthony hurt, the Knicks had to delve deeper into their bench against the Sacramento Kings on Sunday night. Head coach Kurt Rambis had his hand forced and had to play Jerian Grant.
The rookie from Notre Dame played 27 minutes, scored 15 points on 6-of-15 shooting, dished out two assists, grabbed two steals and blocked a shot. With a minus-1 rating he was tied for fourth best on the team. He brought speed, energy and excitement to the floor.
Even with all that, Rambis took Grant out in the fourth quarter with the game slipping away.
Playing Grant is something Rambis has tried not to do since he was named interim head coach in the beginning of February. To say the least, the decision has confounded everyone that pays any attention to the Knicks.
The team is out of the playoff race. All the Knicks have left is attempting to get better for next season. Grant was a first-round pick. The team is desperate to find a point guard of the future. Yet, Grant has mostly remained on the bench in favor of Sasha Vujacic, a veteran that doesn’t belong in the NBA and is not a meaningful part of the franchise’s future.
During Derek Fisher’s 54-game run as head coach this season, Grant had four games in which he logged no minutes. In Rambis’ 17 games as head coach, Grant has three DNPs and three games in which he has played fewer than 10 minutes, often not until garbage time. Grant has played 20 or more minutes just three times under Rambis. He did it 16 times under Fisher. Even Anthony was quoted as saying Rambis is far less concerned with developing the young players on the roster than Fisher was.
This is not some sort of season-destroying coaching decision. If Grant got more consistent minutes it probably wouldn’t make a significant difference in the win/loss column since the rest of the roster is so problematic. Grant is far from a starting NBA point guard right now. He still can’t shoot well enough, and makes some bad decisions.
Grant has a lot to learn, and looks like he will improve if given the opportunity. He has the agility, size, speed and mind set to be an NBA point guard but he has to learn how to make the most of his abilities. The only way one can really learn is to play. With the Knicks out of the playoff picture there is no reason for him not to get 25 minutes per game. It becomes especially obvious once you see Rambis giving big minutes to players like Jose Calderon and Vujacic.
Grant is the best penetrator on the team. He pushes the tempo. He can actually create offense for himself and others in the pick and roll. Other than Langston Galloway, he is also the only guard on the roster that can stay in front of opposing guards. He has active hands and forces turnovers. The Knicks’ biggest deficiency all year has been perimeter defense and Grant can help remedy part of the problem.
Yet, for some reason Rambis has left him on the bench. Have those orders to sit him and play Vujacic come from Phil Jackson? Is Rambis simply more comfortable going with veterans so he wins a few more games and has a chance to save his job? Or perhaps he actually thinks Vujacic is the better player? If any of those three are true, it is bad news that the Knicks have people in power making those decisions.
The Knicks need to figure out what they have in Grant so they can plan accordingly in the offseason. Can he be a starting point guard in the future? There’s only one way to know: He has to play. There is no other logical course of action. There’s literally no downside, only upside. Hopefully the Knicks’ powers that be see it that way, too.
— The Knicks recently finalized a deal for another point guard prospect in Tony Wroten. Like Grant, he has size and athleticism. He also has a history of serious knee problems, and has holes in his game. But getting him on the roster makes sense as it gives the Knicks another person to compete at point guard next season, and perhaps even play in the summer league if his knee is healed by then. These are the types of moves the Knicks should be making.
For everything Knicks, Giants and the world of sports, please follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk