36-year-old rookie? Seasoned novice? Veteran newcomer?
Pablo Prigioni is the personification of the word “oxymoron.”
In his first season in the NBA, the Argentinian point guard has transitioned from intriguing sparkplug in the Knicks’ hot start to little-used afterthought in the Knicks’ midseason slump. Now, as New York takes its season-best 10-game winning streak into tonight’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks, Prigioni has seemingly become an indispensible starter on a championship contender.
“Pablo always brings energy,” noted Mike Woodson. “He generates defense for our ball club. All of his minutes are productive. Even back when they were small minutes, they were great minutes for our club.”
However, merely appreciating Prigioni for his ability to bring energy to the court is a vast underestimation of everything that he does well.
J.R. Smith agrees with this assessment and says that Prigioni’s value is not limited to his hustle, “He gives us so much versatility on the offensive and defensive end. Having two point guards out there makes it really tough for opponents to defend.”
Prigioni plays a sort of old school style. He always hustles for loose balls. He is unafraid to take a charge. Most importantly, he consistently looks to make the extra pass.
For an old school scout, “the eye test” sees that Prigioni is a fantastic passer who relishes opportunities when he can thread the needle for the highlight reel. On the other end of the spectrum, advanced sabermetric analysis confirms that Prigioni is a highly desirable teammate. For playing in the city that hardly ever misses a beat on anything sports-related, Prigioni’s incredible advanced statistics have miraculously gone unnoticed.
For starters, the most basic sabermetric stat that identifies Prigioni as a special passer is his Assist Ratio. Assist Ratio identifies how many assists a player averages in 100 offensive possessions. For a frame of reference, Chris Paul’s Assist Ratio is 36.6 and LeBron James’ is 23.1. (In case you were wondering, Kobe’s is 17.8 and Carmelo’s is 8.5).
Now, consider this: Pablo Prigioni’s Assist Ratio is an unheard of 42.7.
While most critics would counter by saying Prigioni’s Assist Ratio is only so high because he fails to score at a high volume, the fact of the matter is that Prigioni’s high Assist Ratio makes him perfect for his Knicks team.
“I think that I am a smart player and I know that the team doesn’t need me to do big things like score twenty points a night,” said Prigioni. “I know perfectly well what my role is for the team. I just try to jump onto the court and help the team win in any way possible. We have great players and great scorers. They know that they can score all the time. I think I’m good when I’m on the court because I try to give the extra pass and share the ball.”
Chris Copeland agrees, “He’s just so unselfish. This whole team is filled with extremely talented scorers but I think he’s as unselfish as it gets. He has been that missing link for us on the floor. He is really all about ball movement and making sure everybody gets a look.” Prigioni’s distributing prowess is evident as he leads the Knicks with an estimated 7.7 assists per 40 minutes of action, more than a full assist ahead of Raymond Felton.
Prigioni’s value to the Knicks, however, is not just limited to his passing. While his Assist Ratio would seemingly back up his biggest critics’ claims that he is unselfish to a fault, that is not necessarily true.
In fact, Prigioni is shooting more than he has all season (He’s attempted five shots in two games in April. He attempted 17 shots in the entire month of February) and has actually improved his accuracy exponentially since the beginning of the season.
At the start of the season, teammates had to beg Prigioni to take open looks. Now, the 36-year-old rookie shoots the ball effectively at .381% from deep and boasts an even more respectable .576 True Shooting percentage (an analytic that gives added weight to the extra point produced by the 3-point shot).
You might be surprised to learn this but Prigioni actually has a higher True Shooting percentage than three-point shootout champion Kyrie Irving (.567). Granted, Irving shoots at a much higher volume than Prigioni. Still, the only point guards in the league who play more minutes per game than Prigioni and also boast higher True Shooting percentages than him are all extremely respected shooters: Jose Calderon, Steve Nash, Paul, Tony Parker, Isaiah Thomas, Stephen Curry and Mario Chalmers.