For your typical NBA player entering the third year of his rookie contract, having a half-dozen or so go-to hangouts, avoiding arrest, getting to work without a GPS, and not being shipped to Bismarck, North Dakota would make for a pretty admirable list of accomplishments.
Toney Douglas can probably check off all of these things. As could a number of other guys not named Javaris Crittenton. But there’s one superlative amongst the ranks of soon-to-be Juniors to which the 25-year-old TD can claim sole ownership: The longest-tenured player on his adoptive team.
Which – let’s face it – has a pretty good chance of happening when your organization plows through personnel like a Red Army brigade.
Since being drafted (and immediately traded) by the Lakers with the 29th overall pick in the 2009 draft, Toney Douglas has shared a locker room with an astounding 29 different teammates (and one “eddycurry”). Numerous times, and particularly during the Carmelo Anthony saga, the Georgia native was mentioned as possible trade bait. But with deal after roster-imploding deal, TD’s #23 was the only jersey that continually emerged from – and descending into – the dank Garden tunnel; the lone, noble cockroach spared the nuclear fate of a franchise’s self-imposed apocalypse.
As such, we’ve been able to watch Douglas mature and evolve from an erratic, streaky scorer with a knack for lockdown D… into a slightly less erratic, streaky scorer with a knack for lockdown D. Coming as it did on the heels of an impressive rookie campaign largely lost amidst talk of savior free agents, Douglas’ sophomore campaign was a mixed bag. While he improved his per-36 numbers in rebounds (3.6 to 4.5), assists (3.7 to 4.5), steals (1.4 to 1.6), and turnovers (1.8 to 1.6), he regressed slightly in points per 36 (15.9 to 15.6), TS% (57% to 53%), and 3P% (39% to 37%). Along the way, he provided as many marvelous, confidence inducing performances (his Knick record-tying 9 three pointers in a 29-point late season barrage against Memphis) as he did tongue-gnawingly painful duds (1-12, 3 points against the Pacers, his attempt at a beard, etc.).
Interestingly, TD’s schizophrenic play served as a kind of bellwether for the team writ large. The Knicks were 25-16 when Douglas scored 10 or more points, which, according to my calculations, means that the Knicks would’ve won 50 games had TD scored ten or more in all of them. It’s science. What’s more, the Bockers were 4-3 during regular season games in which Douglas started, with two of the losses being against the Mavericks (You remember that one, right? My door does.), and a meaningless season finale against the Celtics (We won’t count the three playoff losses against said Celtics. Because I said so). For those first six games in early March, Douglas – starting for a quad-hobbled Chauncey Billups – averaged 16.8 points, 6.8 assists, and 3.5 rebounds on 58% shooting (including 49% from beyond the arc). Not too shabby.
All the while, TDDWTDA(as in Always)D… on D, providing by far the most consistent defensive effort on a team that often led on they’d have more fun memorizing Canterbury Tales. Even when he was clearly playing hurt (the shoulder injury which hobbled Douglas late in the season was severe enough to warrant an immediate, post-season surgery expected to keep him from a Spalding for at least three months) he was diving for loose balls, chasing after long rebounds, and providing a nagging (if sometimes overly-zealous) presence against ones and twos alike. Even if his overall offensive development stagnates, it’s clear that Douglas – who won both the ACC Defensive Player of the Year award and the league scoring title his senior year at Florida State – has more than one rotation-ready skill to wield.
As for his prospects as a reliable floor general, the jury might as well pitch their tents and order takeout for at least the next year. There’s no shortage of folks who believe Douglas would be better served simply focusing on improving his scoring prowess (and efficiency) and forging a niche as an effective, off-the-bench combo guard and defensive stopper. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time Douglas had to face up to doubts about his decision-making and overall distributive skills; the last time it happened, in the wake of a Freshman year at Auburn which saw then-coach Jeff Lebo insist on playing him at the two spot, Douglas just up and left, transferring to a school (FSU) that promised to play him at the one. Douglas may have gotten his wish, but the point guard gods didn’t necessarily get theirs; Douglas would average exactly 2.9 assists per game in each of his last three seasons. Like, exactly. Weird, right?
TD clearly wants to be a point guard. Really bad. Which is cool – admirable, even. Here’s the thing though: I think I’d make a good President. I really do. Would I make a good President? No. No I would not. Luckily for TD – and possibly 320 million other Americans – he’s much closer to actualizing his potential as a point guard than I am to legalizing marijuana, slashing the defense budget by 90 percent, or signing an executive order deeming “We Built This City” the new national anthem. Let alone doing all three of them.
Unfortunately, the lockout and surgery-recovery double whammy will doubtless impede what was supposed to be a crucial summer of development for Douglas, who turns 26 next March. By then, most point guards capable of making the leap from serviceable stopgap to reliable NBA starter – or, in the case of now-mentor Chauncey Billups, full-blown star – have either done so, or are in the noticeable process of doing so. Needless to say, if the 2011-12 NBA Season follows the previous lockout’s season-shortened script, few players (with the possible exception of rookies Iman Shumpert and Josh Harrelson, and second year men Landry Fields and Andy Rautins) will be the worse for it than Toney Douglas.
But the real concern has to be the shoulder. As many an athlete understand all too well, it’s the sort of thing which — without the proper treatment — can linger for a long, long time. Treatment being the operative word here: Thanks to the lockout (or, as I like to call it, the %$&*-out, due to the interlocutors’ seemingly preternatural urge to wave their %$&*s around instead of, you know, talking) Douglas will not have the luxury of the Knick medical staff and trainers, who’d typically be tasked with helping expedite the recovery process.
Now, clearly a dude making even low seven figures can afford his own doctors and physical therapists. But it’s not as easy as simply having your extra-organizational healer consult with the team staff as to the desired recovery regimen; “no contact”, it turns out, means no contact. Indeed, Douglas’ plight only throws into higher, uglier relief the scorched earth effects that a protracted labor dispute can impart — even on the seeming periphery of NBA life. For this and many other reasons (paranoia, delusions of grandeur, batshit craziness, etc.) let’s just hope that this week’s talks yield something in the way of progress. Otherwise, things could get very, very weird.
Cuz you know what happens if Toney can’t get a decent massage for his shoulder? So long, professional basketball. Hello, professional tumbleweed distribution.
And nobody wants that.
Report Card (5 point scale):
Final Grade: B+