Per 36 Minutes:
Hello Knickerblogger Nation. As you may remember, there was once a time when the 2012 off-season appeared from afar to resemble an excursion down a small river; while there might be some twists and turns along the way- look! It’s Pablo Prigioni!- nothing too drastic would occur, and with a steady hand at the tiller- that Glen Grunwald, he just does his job quietly- the Knickship would safely dock at port, provided OH GOD IT’S A WATERFALL WHAT DO WE DO *TOSSES JEREMY LIN OVERBOARD.*
Suffice to say, ye old Knicks Report Cards were moved to the back burner, there being the tragic death by waterfall of Jeremy Lin to deal with. (Footnote: This is my coping mechanism. He died. Constructing alternative histories is a skill any Knicks fan who follows the draft acquires by necessity. I simply put the tool to a new use.) Then Mike did a report card for Toney Douglas’s brother who doesn’t play basketball yet impersonated him all season (See, it’s easy! Make your own at home!) and I remembered that a report card for a very special Knick had been sitting in my WordPress drafts for months. And so here we are.
And my, how things have changed for Sir Novakaine. When I first started writing this article, I planned on composing a eulogy for Steve’s tenure with the Knicks, in recognition of the fact that the CBA seemed to indicate quite clearly that Novak would have to take a large pay cut to remain with the team (Because of course we’d be using our mid-level exception on Jeremy Lin, right guys? Right?) Then the NBAPA scored a victory against the NBA allowing Novak to retain his Early Bird Rights, ensuring that the Knicks could make a competitive offer, and now Stevie is signed with the Knicks for another presidential term. Which is – and there’s no other way to say this, on a family-friendly* website like ours- FRICKIN’ AWESOME.
*excluding those articles penned by Bob.
I found Novak’s success story last year inspiring on a number of different levels. Some were obvious -He makes a lot of threes, duh- some were subjectively rewarding -Midwesterner makes good under the bright city lights!- but I believe that the main reason Novak’s season so excited Knicksdom was that his expectations-to-performance ratio stood as a complete inverse to that of the team as a whole. Since Carmelo’s arrival the Knicks have consistently been worse than numerous prognosticators’ predictions, despite the mounting evidence that the team wasn’t that good. Lest you fear I’m simply clubbing straw fans, remember how John Hollinger was almost drawn-and-quartered for suggesting the Knicks would end the season in 7th place? Whereas Bill Simmons and his partner in crime’s prediction of 3rd in the East was met largely with praise. I don’t need to remind you who ended up being correct. Belief in the Knicks means expectations dashed.
Steve Novak, on the other hand, carried no expectations whatsoever. A no-risk signing expected to sit on the end of the bench and contribute, at most, the occasional three, the Spurs rejectee barely featured in D’Antoni’s game plans for the first part of the season. It was only injuries to Amar’e and Carmelo that would open up time for Steve- the only opening he needed to start triple-discount-checking his way into our hearts.
Separating Novak’s impact from Linsanity is still difficult to accomplish. As was written quite well on this site, Novak emerged as the remora fish on the side of Lin’s Great White Shark. The joy of a Novak three often followed a dish from Mr. Lin. The slash-and-kick game that briefly became our predominant mode of offense left him open all the time, and did he ever take advantage. Yet really, I don’t have to separate Novak from Linsanity to appreciate what he did- the whole phenomenon of that team was exceeding expectations, and while its figurehead may have been the point guard, the other players on the floor all made important contributions. That Steve would continue to knock down threes once Baron Davis assumed the starting role has helped ease uncertainty over how he would fit into an offense based primarily around Carmelo’s isolation abilities. And while he may have struggled against the Heat’s suffocating defense, the same has been said of many men.
The turn of events by which the player who carried no expectations could suddenly bring the Garden to its feet merely because they could see he was about to take a shot is extraordinary. He so thoroughly entranced those watching that throughout the arena the expectation became that the ball would go in; on those rare occasions when it rattled off the side of the rim, something felt wrong, like a demonic spirit had interceded against the laws of physics. That feeling, coupled with Novak’s surprisingly efficient determination on defense, guaranteed that his import to Knicks fans’ reached beyond merely his numbers.
Of course, if his numbers sucked, he’d get booed out the building. In a victory for advanced-stats-defenders* everywhere, Novak’s 2012 season statistics are quite comparable to his minute samples from the three teams he played for the season prior (*They would, however, caution you to avoid using too small of sample sizes. Here advanced stats can cut both ways.) While the uptick in USG% did slightly decrease his averages, the fact that he was able to maintain a near-similar rate of efficiency (.684 TS%!!!) while playing more minutes is another case study in how players often only need an expanded opportunity for them to make an impact in the “PPG” so many people find interesting. In another advanced statistic, ETPMWISN (Ecstatic Tweets Per Minute Wherein I Scream NOVAKAIIIIINE) Steve blew away the field. I have great expectations for Steve in the year ahead. I only hope that, just this once, that won’t mean disappointment.
Grades (5 point scale) (Don’t ask me how 5 different numbers can be averaged out into a letter grade. They don’t pay me enough to answer that question.)
Final Grade: A