Friday, August 6, 2010
Will Kelenna Azubuike Be the Starting Shooting Guard of The Knicks?
Amid reports that the Knicks have agreed to terms with Roger Mason Jr. on a one year contract, fans may begin to wonder how minutes at the shooting guard position will be allocated.
The new-look Knicks now have four quality players capable of playing the two guard position in Wilson Chandler (last year’s starter), Kelenna Azubuike, Mason Jr., and Bill Walker.
While all four have starting experience (Walker having the least, as he started for the Knicks during last season’s final two months), the starting position will likely come down to Chandler and Azubuike.
With the signing of Mason, Walker may very well be squeezed out of the rotation to start the season. Mason will likely be tapped to provide a boost off the bench as he did so well with the Spurs.
Although Chandler may be the favorite to start, having occupied the position last season, Azubuike is very much the dark horse that could take Chandler by (perhaps not so much of a) surprise come training camp.
The Knicks have always held Chandler in high regard. However, this summer witnessed Chandler becoming the subject of various trade rumors.
Chandler has improved over his three years as an NBA player, but is more of a small forward. With Danilo Gallinari as the Knicks’ starter at the three (and even more prized possession than Chandler), Chandler is not likely to be given many opportunities as a forward.
While Chandler is an aggressive, slasher–type player, Azubuike is a much more natural guard. He has a shooting touch that goes arguably unmatched by any Knick besides Gallinari himself.
And while Chandler appears more athletic, as ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh reports, Azubuike has a 40-inch vertical leap that has helped him become one of the league’s best rebounding two guards.
Chandler has stepped up for the Knicks on defense during many occasions, taking on the daunting task of guarding the opponent’s top offensive player.
Although the Knicks were not a winning team last season, it’s safe to say Chandler held his own.
By the same token, Azubuike is also an intense defender and could provide the Knicks with more of the same clutch defense.
Given the opportunity to shine at his natural position, Azubuike may end up outplaying Chandler.
What’s doing damage to Azubuike’s starting bid is a left knee injury, which he sustained last season. Azubuike subsequently had surgery and missed most of the season. Recovering this summer, he hopes to be ready by training camp.
Undrafted out of Kentucky, Azubuike made a name for himself while starring in the DLeague. From there, he found a role on the Warriors and became a reliable role player in Don Nelson’s free flowing offense.
His experience playing for Nelson, coupled with the Knicks dire need of a natural shooting guard, potentially make him an ideal fit to play for Coach D’Antoni in New York.
While his statistics fall in favor of Chandler’s by a hair, Azubuike seems to have an upgraded skill-set compared to Chandler.
Should he stay healthy, this could be the year where Azubuike goes from solid rotation player to recognized starter in the NBA.
Furthermore, he is exactly the type of player that fills the needs that every winning team has. He would be able to mesh well with any number of NBA stars, including the rumored potential Knicks “big three” of Amare Stoudemire, Chris Paul, and Carmelo Anthony.
While Knicks fans were heartbroken by the loss of David Lee, the hype over young gun Anthony Randolph has softened the blow.
There is no doubt Randolph’s potential does not even reach the ceiling, but it may very well be Azubuike who puts the Knicks over the top as winners in the sign and trade deal with the Warriors.