Hamilton: Prigioni’s Steady Hand Will Help Maintain Knicks Steady Ship

Pablo Prigioni before he came to the NBA as a 35-year-old rookie.

Since 2003, Prigioni has played internationally and Popovich has noticed. “It’s still a basketball miracle to me when I think about all those Argentinians that played for so long; they’re one of the greatest teams ever. And he’s a part of that. [Prigioni] is a typical Argentinian.”

Though he wasn’t on Argentina’s 2004 Olympic Gold Medal team, Prigioni was on both the 2008 and 2012 Olympic teams. In 2008, his team won the bronze medal and although they failed to medal in 2012, Prigioni, at 35 years old, started five of their eight games and played 19 minutes per contest for a team that came within one win over Russia of a second consecutive bronze medal.

Popovich’s point guard, Tony Parker had a front row seat to one of Prigioni’s better performances during the 2012 Olympics. Against France, Prigioni scored seven points, dished out eight assists and even grabbed four rebounds in 36 solid minutes.

“He’s no different,” Parker said on Thursday night. “He’s the same guy that played in the Olympics. He’s been playing in Europe for a long time.”

And on this night, Parker agreed that Prigioni turned in a solid effort. “He played pretty good,” he said. “He had a lot of energy, he played good defense and on pick and rolls, he made some great passes.”

Before the season began, Prigioni was one of my subjects, and since it began, he’s been observed closely. For sure, he is not winning any foot races over Jason Kidd and he’s probably not outscoring Tyson Chandler, much less Carmelo Anthony.

But he is one of the reasons the Knicks still be steady until Felton returns. As Amar’e Stoudemire rounds back into shape, he will give Prigioni the finisher he needs to play effective pick-and-roll basketball and the two should easily develop some chemistry over the next few weeks.

No, Prigioni isn’t a lot of things.

He’s not a rookie of the year candidate. He’s not quick and he is definitely not young. But he’s also not bad.

The FIBA world has known that for 16 years; it’s the NBA world that is playing catch up.

Prigioni has conquered the international basketball scene, starring in Spain’s ACB league for 12 years. One of the primary reasons he joined the Knicks this past summer was because he didn’t want his career to end without playing at the highest level.

Now, because of Felton’s injury, opportunity awaits.

“With Raymond [Felton] out, everybody needs to do something extra,” Prigioni said after he turned in one of his better home games of the season against the Spurs. “I will try to focus these two or three weeks and try to give all that I have for the team.”

His numbers weren’t eye popping. Six points, nine assists, three steals. 28 minutes, 3-for-9 shooting.

It’s nothing spectacular, but the Knicks don’t need him to be. They need him to be able to perform a role that Kidd no longer seems capable of filling.

Prigioni can be their steady hand at the point guard position if he can be more discerning with his pass/shot selection, and learn to toss high pass alley-oops to J.R. Smith and Tyson Chandler and bounce passes to Stoudemire. Over the next few weeks, he’ll get the minutes he needs and with coach Woodson’s club getting the best basketball we’ve ever seen from Smith and Carmelo Anthony, there’s no reason to believe that the Knicks will not continue to be one of the top teams in the conference.

Three hours after they initially met on the court and hugged, Ginobili spoke glowingly of his friend. “He just needs the opportunity to be on the court,” he said of Prigioni. “He is not going to give you 20 points, but if there is someone open, he will find them. He is a great point guard.”

The loss hurt, but Ginobili couldn’t help but be happy for his friend. “It was great to see him play like that,” he said. “It’s great to see him confident and managing possessions… You know you can just put him on the floor and he is going to make things happen.”

When it was all said and done, Prigioni spoke to the Knicks media and rushed out of the locker room. In a quiet moment, he spent a few minutes texting and calling a group of friends he wanted to meet up with.

Eventually, he found the group of five—of which Ginobili was one—that temporarily eluded him.

Far from his hometown of Río Tercero, Argentina and far from the city of Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain where he became a champion, Prigioni, with his red and black Air Jordan sneakers and red zip-down hooded sweatshirt, had obviously learned to dress like a New Yorker.

Now, he’ll have to learn how to play like one.

But if Thursday night’s game was any indication, he’s a quick study.

Moke Hamilton is a Senior NBA Columnist for SheridanHoops.com whose columns appear here on Fridays. Follow him on Twitter: @MokeHamilton


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