There's a player on the New York Knicks who joined the team right before the start of this season after being waived twice recently. He began the year in New York as an ancillary part, playing mostly in garbage time. Recently, though, he's burst onto the scene, having his name chanted by the entire Madison Square Garden crowd, creating worldwide buzz on Twitter, and has all of a sudden become a key piece to a Knicks team that is starting to become a factor in the Eastern Conference.
You thought I was talking about Jeremy Lin? That's old news.
Steve Novak has temporarily stolen the spotlight from Linsanity. Call it Stevesanity, Novakaine, whatever you want. When the Knicks defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night, Lin had 19 points and 13 assists. During the frantic Knicks comeback and eventual blowout, Baron Davis and J.R. Smith were doing their best to turn MSG into Rucker Park. The Knicks' now-formidable second unit had the crowd abuzz, but when it was taken out in favor of the starters, the Knicks crowd wanted one person back in the game.
As if this Knicks season wasn't getting any more bizarre, the chants rained down: "We Want Novak! We Want Novak!" But who could blame them? Wednesday was just the latest edition of a string of three-point shooting shows that are starting to appear regularly on Seventh Avenue.
With 5:22 to go in the third quarter, Novak entered the game with the Knicks down by five. He knocked town thee of four threes, hitting the final one with 21 seconds left in the quarter to put the Knicks up 82-80 going into the final frame. Twelve seconds into the fourth, Novak knocked down another one, Knicks by five. Two minutes later, another, Knicks up eight, and the game was on its way to being a laugher.
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Novak's recent renaissance lines up with the rise of Jeremy Lin. Novak didn't play in Linsanity's debut, Feb. 4 against the Nets (a night after an ice-cold Novak was inserted with a few seconds left on the clock in a loss at Boston ... player deployment has never been among Mike D'Antoni's strong points). But in the following game against Utah (when Lin started) Feb. 6, Novak knocked down five threes for a 19-point effort in 17 minutes. He followed it up at Washington two nights later with 19 more points, hitting five of nine from behind the arc in 27 minutes.
Since the game against Utah, Novak has hit at least one three-pointer in each of the Knicks' 12 games, a stretch in which they're 9-3. He's reached double digits in points in eight of those games. In the 12-game stretch, he's hit 41 of his 78 three-point attempts. That's a 53 percent clip for you non-math majors.
Point is, Novak has found a groove, and for the rest of this season, he's going to be a vital part of the Knicks. He does one thing on a basketball court very well (make three-pointers) and does it as well or better than anyone else in the league. When you have that sort of weapon, you use it. A lot of championship teams have had similar sharp-shooting specialists: Jon Paxson and Steve Kerr on the Bulls, Robert Horry on the Lakers/Spurs (this isn't to say the Knicks are a title contender yet). A a deep team, as the Knicks now are, can afford to have a Novak-type in its rotation. There's no reason he shouldn't get at least 15 minutes and the chance to hoist five to eight from downtown each night. If the numbers stay the same, he'll hit about half of them, and those are valuable and sometimes momentum-shifting points.
A month ago, the Knicks looked dead and buried, a team with little depth and even less emotion. Jeremy Lin gets most of the credit for turning that around, rightfully so. But Novak's impact shouldn't be overlooked. He's become a fan favorite and team favorite. All you have to do is see the way the Knicks' high-money stars Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler reacted on the bench Wednesday when Novak caught fire: Aaron Rodgers' championship belt celebrations all around. The Knicks would love to celebrate an actual title at some point, and while they aren't one of the league's top contenders yet, Novak could be a big part of that.