Ronny Turiaf is a strange bird. Not an enigma, like Dennis Rodman or Jack Sikma. Just, well, kind of weird. To be clear, I’m not confusing “weird” with an eclectic, worldly upbringing (born in the small Martinique town of The Robert, moved to Paris at age 15, played alongside Tony Parker, Mickael Pietrus, and Boris Diaw for the eventual Under 18 European Champions France, speaks five languages, etc.). It’s more that few players in recent Knick history have elicited a more dichotomous range of responses than the man they call “Pharoah.”
Here’s what I mean:
In 2005, mere weeks after being drafted out of Gonzaga by the Los Angeles Lakers, Turiaf had open heart surgery to fix an enlarged aortic root. Six months later, he was back playing professional basketball.
So, on the one hand, you have a guy who defied all medical logic in bouncing back to basically full strength after one of the riskiest surgeries known to man; doing so in less time than it takes most of us to recover from a bad hangover. If that’s not tough, I don’t know what is.
And then you watch the guy play. Or not play, as the case may be (and often was this past season):
October 2010: Undisclosed injury – 3 games missed.
November 2010: Knee injury – 3 games missed.
November 2010: Knee injury – 4 more games missed.
February 2011: Ankle injury – 3 games missed.
March 2011: Knee injury – 3 games missed.
March 2011: Ankle injury – 4 games missed.
A few things stick out. First, “undisclosed injury”? What does that even mean? Was it a cobra bite? Jetpack accident? We’ll just say it was a cobra bite.
The second thing we notice is that literally all of these bang-ups resulted in three or four games missed at a time; “nagging injuries”, essentially. He did miss 40 games the season previous, for many of the same ailments. Still, the three seasons before that, Turiaf had been fairly durable, playing in 79, 78, and 72 games, respectively. So there’s no indication that there’s something chronically wrong with Turiaf’s ankles or knees — at least not yet. That beard, on the other hand…
Part of the gourmet pu-pu platter of players brought over from Golden State in the David Lee trade, Turiaf arrived in New York as the only semi-known quantity of the lot. Kelenna Azubuike was just beginning a long rehabilitation process on his shredded knee, and Anthony Randolph – doubtless shell-shocked after months in Don Nelson’s bourbon-scented, roofless doghouse – was basically a 6’11” question mark with a slightly straighter back. As such, each carried their own worrisome baggage. Turiaf, on the other hand, was just the kind of quintessential “glue guy” a perpetually rebuilding team like the Knicks needed.
But those who watched the Bockers with any regularity this past season can probably recall one or fifty instances where Ronny would sky for a rebound or contest a shot, land awkwardly, and crumple like a cheap lawn chair. Then he’d kind of roll around on the ground – “writhing” is probably going a little too far – before joglimping up the floor, eyes closed and grimmace-toothed. Then we wouldn’t see him for three or four games. Then he’d come back, do his uber efficient thing for a while. Rinse, repeat.
When Turiaf would stitch together an injury-free run, he was usually solid, if rarely spectacular. Despite nearly all of his per 36 numbers dropping somewhat from what he put up in Golden State, Turiaf still managed to post career highs in FG% (63%), TS% (64%) and ORtg (127). More importantly, Turiaf knew and appreciated almost immediately his understandably limited role, and made the most of it. He seemed to “get” Mike D’Antoni’s offense relatively quickly, displaying a solid passing ability (particularly from the high post), and scoring a whopping 27% of his points on sly cuts around the basket (big shout-out to Skynet subsidiary Synergy Sports Technology for that creepy stat).
We know Ronny’s tough. We know he lays it all out there. The dude’s a workhorse, and an incredibly positive presence on the bench. What’s more, he provides Stat with some solid protection down low, allowing the latter to jazz around unburdened by the grueling demands of the five spot.
That said, we get that his whole soccer routine is probably more a reflection of sheer Euro-flamboyancy than it is an indication of lack of toughness. I for one thoroughly grasp the fact that he could hang me from his beard if he wanted to. We’re just all kind of hoping Ronny’s next year unfolds with a few less visits from the knee injury fairy, and a few more deft dishes and dunks down low.
As he’s due to make upwards of $4.4 million this year, and in the absence of any unforeseen trade, it’s hard to see Turiaf going anywhere. Which, on the whole, is a good thing: He’s a decent defender and rebounder, a capable offensive facilitator, and a great teammate. More importantly, he’ll be a valuable mentor to young whelps Jerome Jordan and Josh Harrelson — who’ll need all the fast-tracking they can get — if and when training camp begins. If neither assert themselves as rotation-ready players? Well, there are far worse things than having the title of Starting Center belong to Ronny Turiaf. Better than… never mind.
Report Card (5 point scale):
Performance/Expectations: Whatever Creole for two is. I’m too lazy to look it up. It’s probably “deux” though.
Final Grade: B-