It’s official that the New York Knicks have signed Baron Davis, but there are conflicting reports whether they used their mini-mid-level exception or if they inked him to the veteran’s minimum. Either way, at this late stage in free agency, there aren’t many players available with the name recognition of Baron Davis.
The initial reaction is that it’s a “low risk, high reward” signing. Optimistic Knick fans are expecting one of two things from the acquisition. Either the allure of a championship and the bright lights of New York revitalizes Davis, or the former All Star metamorphoses into a Stockton-esque pass-first point guard. I can’t speak for either of these, since they both are based on the hypothetical with little supporting evidence.
However what I can measure is the production of former All Stars that have come to New York years after from their heyday. The most recent examples are Steve Francis (1.5 seasons removed from his last All Star appearance), Tracy McGrady (2.5 seasons), and Anfernee Hardaway (5.5 seasons). Most Knick fans recall these player’s tenures unkindly because not only did they fail to return to their All Star play, but none were even worthy enough to make a positive short term impact.
All three players relied on their athleticism and were unable to adjust later in their careers when their physical abilities waned because none featured a reliable jump-shot. Francis was the best career three point shooter of the bunch connecting on only 34.1% of his attempts, while McGrady averaged 33.7% and Hardaway managed a pithy 31.6%.
Meanwhile Baron Davis’ last All Star appearance (2004) was 7 years ago, much longer than the triumvirate of former Knicks I mentioned earlier. Similarly, Davis’ shooting isn’t a strength. His career 3P% is a mere 32.1% (which considering he’s averaged a prodigious 5.2 3PA/36 is a ghastly percentage) and he hasn’t topped 34% in any of his last 8 seasons. He averaged 17.1 pts/36, but at an anemic 50.2% TS%.
Granted Davis is a skilled passer at 7.6 ast/36, however if that asset is tied to his shooting, then New York isn’t getting much of a positive in return. In other words if the Knicks have to suffer through Baron’s attempting to score at a rate of Chauncey Billups but connecting at a rate of Raymond Felton, then any court time could be a detriment.
For Baron Davis to be high reward for the Knicks, he’ll need to have his best year shooting (53.0% ts%, 2007), get healthy, and be made happy by D’Antoni (see Hughes, Larry). A slightly less compensating situation is one where Davis is limited to 10-20 minutes a night and severely cuts back on shot attempts while upping his three point percentage to his Charlotte days (35.6% 3P% back in 2002!) due to more open looks.
Unfortunately if Baron plays similar to what he’s done over the last few years, the Knicks may be saddled with either an inaccurate shooter dragging their offense down or a malcontent upset at his lack of minutes. Baron Davis could help the New York Knicks, but he’s not likely to return to his 2004 self. His path to success is to become more of a role player which would minimize his inefficient scoring.