The New York Knicks announced on October 7th that Amar’e Stoudemire, J.R. Smith, and Jeremy Tyler will not be suiting up for their first three preseason games.
No one expected Smith to play at all or Stoudemire to play much this preseason, but Tyler’s early absence puts him in a precarious position as his contract is only partially guaranteed. He underwent foot surgery last month and his return has been pegged at eight to ten weeks. Best case scenario, he’d be back in mid-November.
Tyler is an intriguing project big, but given the need to keep Chandler’s MPG down and the kid gloves with which they’ve donned to handle Kenyon Martin thus far, there’s a need for a dependable backup.
There are a lot of things to like about Tyler. First and foremost, his height and size (6’10″, 250 lbs) has the frame to man the middle given the relative dearth of traditional, low-post bigs, especially considering that the bulk of his PT will be coming against 2nd stringers.
It’s also important to remember that despite three years of professional experience. Tyler is only 22 years old. He’s a very raw talent, but there have been flashes of competent play. In the Knicks’ last game of Summer League, they were pitted against the Los Angeles Clippers, and Tyler had what could be termed a breakout game. He flashed the offensive skills that spurred interest by schools like Louisville, UCLA and USC before he ultimately decided to play overseas in Israel and Japan. Tyler scored 20 points at a very efficient 52.7 percent rate, finished in transition with some spectacular dunks, displayed impressive footwork on the block, and looked comfortable in the pick-and-roll.
It’s to easy to push Tyler’s Summer League performance aside and say, “Let’s see if it can translate in the regular season.” That’s fair, because we really haven’t seen much of him in the NBA. Last season with the Golden State Warriors he amassed a whopping 7 minutes and 28 seconds in a January contest against the Miami Heat.
Even though Tyler hasn’t seen a ton of floor time the last two seasons, he did excel in his limited stints in the D-League. In the 2011-12 season, Tyler played 29 mpg for the Dakota Wizards and totaled 15.6 ppg and also added 7.8 rpg. It was only 5 games, but Tyler didn’t waste the opportunity, and in doing so improved his game. Funny how that works.
Tyler spent a tad more time in the D-League this past season with the Santa Cruz Warriors, improving on his 2011-12 stint by scoring 17.4 ppg and 8.8 rpg over 12 games. He scored and rebounded more, but his TS% fell from 61 percent to 56 percent mainly because he attempted more free throws, which are definitely not a strength of his. In his 12 games with Santa Cruz, Tyler shot an unsightly 60 percent from the charity stripe.
Tyler is still far from being a starter in the league, but at this point, that’s not necessary. He needs to focus on improving what he’s already good at– scoring and rebounding. Tyler has struggled coming off pick-and-rolls on defense, but a lot of Tyler’s defensive issues can be improved with quality coaching and the chance to go up against older, better players on a daily basis in practice. Again, he’s only 22 and even though right now he’s a liability on defense it’s not beyond the pale to suggest that Tyler can become a passable defender in time.
The Knicks figure to use their last three roster spots (or at least two of them) on frontcourt players. Camp invitees Ike Diogu, Cole Aldrich, and Josh Powell — who each have NBA experience — will have a great opportunity to impress the front office in the preseason.
Is Tyler’s roster spot in any real danger? Well, unless the Knicks need a seventh guard in Murry or Douglas-Roberts, and assuming that Leslie probably will make the team, the numbers are still in his favor. That said, the sooner Tyler can get back on the court the better for him and the team. The Knicks frontline is thin and finding a dependable backup for Chandler has been an ongoing, 2+ year quest. Martin filled in admirably at the end of last season, and if he can stay healthy, he should soak up a great many of the backup minutes.
This may be Tyler’s best chance to carve a niche in the NBA, but he’s certainly got the potential to be a young asset on a still-veteran Knick team that’s not exactly riddled with cheap developmental prospects.