Originally posted on Knicks Journal  |  Last updated 1/11/12

Going into the season, the New York Knicks and its coaching staff could not be any more confident in Toney Douglas.

Coming off two strong seasons of providing the Knicks with that ultimate spark off the bench, Douglas had given the team a reason to believe in him. While playing the entire last season through a visibly painful shoulder injury, Douglas’ consistency, perseverance, and production were all enough to make many believe he could step in to the starting point guard role this season, taking over for the released Chauncey Billups.

One could argue that after spending two seasons being coached by Mike D’Antoni, Douglas would know exactly what his coach desires and/or expects from his starting point guard.

And perhaps he does. Douglas may very well know just how crucial the point guard’s role (and success in implementing it) is to D’Antoni’s system. Though he may know realize the importance in his mind, something just is not clicking for Douglas on the court.

The most glaring issue is that Douglas is struggling to co-exist with the likes of Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony on the court. Though last season he was given the green light to shoot the ball, balancing out the rotation as one of the more prolific scorers of the Knicks’ second unit, the third-year guard has struggled to instead embrace the role of facilitator.

Instead of getting his teammates involved and creating offensive opportunities, Douglas has forced up shot after shot, only shooting 32% from the field. What’s more, as temporary or permanent as the move may turn out to be, he lost his starting job to rookie Iman Shumpert eight games into the season.

There’s no doubt that Douglas’ struggles have slowed his team down early on, but whether or not it is truly his fault is debatable.

The truth is, as confident as the coaching staff was in Douglas’ abilities, he was in fact given the starting job by default, with the unproven rookie Iman Shumpert and newly acquired Mike Bibby the only other options. Heading into opening day, Douglas was the only point guard who had prior experience with the Knicks.

Perhaps Douglas’ best impact simply does not come as a starter. As opposed to honing the role of floor general, he may instead be best kept as a combo guard off the bench, spelling either guard position while pacing the second unit. The fact of the matter is that when Douglas excelled with high-scoring games off the pine, he would often also help propel his team to a victory.

Aside from not being inserted into a role in which he could ultimately succeed, Douglas was furthermore out of place when it came to elevating his team. He appears best used as a complementary piece, and as the Knicks look to continue piling up the wins, perhaps that is exactly what Douglas needs to be.

As Douglas looks to regain his confidence, the coaching staff needs to instill belief in him by placing him in good situations. They need to mix things up, inserting Douglas into lineups of which there is less offensive firepower and he is once again given the green light to score at will.

This seems to be an ideal solution for all involved. Doing so will seemingly elevate the Knicks, as it has done before, and furthermore, the move will continue to give Shumpert, a player who is proving he can play well with and without the ball, the opportunity to improve by playing with experienced veterans.

If the Knicks want to keep Douglas steady, they need to act quickly in finding him effective minutes off the bench. In the team’s past three games (all wins), Douglas has visibly struggled even more mightily, shooting a combined 1 for 13, playing only 31 total minutes in the contests.

In order to get his groove back, Douglas needs to be given minutes as opposed to being relegated to the end of the bench. With Baron Davis aiming for a return to the court at the end of this month, it’s important that whatever his role turn out to be, Douglas makes strides in cementing it before Davis comes into the fold. If Douglas is not able to do so, he could very well find himself out of the rotation.

Though this is quite an extreme with the Knicks’ season only 9 games young, it is certainly a possibility, should Shumpert, Bibby, and Davis all demand minutes next month. What’s more, fans need to look no further than D’Antoni’s history with the likes of Stephon Marbury, Nate Robinson, and Larry Hughes when it comes to benching struggling guards, no matter how proven they may already be.

During D’Antoni’s tenure with the Knicks, Toney Douglas has been more than a reliable contributor. All of this, however, is due to the guard being inserted into good situations on the court. If the team wants him to succeed, they need to re-discover the ideal role for him once again, and fast.

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