Point/Counterpoint

In the City of Point Guards, Can the Knick Playmakers Deliver?

The only time the Knicks had a top-flight backcourt was the only time they won a championship. The teams of Clyde Frazier and, later, Pearl Monroe took the Knicks' only two titles in the early '70s. And the guard talent was imported — from Atlanta and Philadelphia, respectively.

Since those two greats left with their uniform numbers raised to the rafters, Knicks management has been looking for an equivalent replacement. This past past decade in particular, the front office has endured criticism for it's neglect of the point guard position. A parade of premier floor leaders— including Derek Harper and Doc Rivers in addition to Jackson and Strikland— have donned Knick uniforms, but none have found a comfortable home in the Garden. And despite its penchant for grandstand moves on the trading block, Knick management somehow let a chance at Marbury slip through its fingers this season.

While he has never truly been replaced, Frazier remains a part of the extended Knick family. And in his work as a TV and radio commentator, Clyde— for all his pretty moves during his playing days— has been quick to criticize the current trend of specialized guards. In the old days, Frazier says, guards were guards. Everybody knew how to pass, shoot, and dribble. With the unprecedented amount of grooming and preening that goes into the making of NBA stars today, guards play a very specific role. Point guards handle the ball and pass, while two-guards shoot, shoot, shoot. But the Knick guards, while not as skilled as those who brought home the championships, have shown promise outside of their proscribed roles. Childs, for instance, has hit a couple of crucial threes in the waning moments of Games 1 and 3. Meanwhile, Allen Houston's passing has improved with each playoff game. He racked up an impressive five assists in Game 3— three more than Ward.

Archibald, a Bronx native, was arguably one of the best point guards in NBA history. He blazed a trail on New York's blacktops for today's ball handlers. But the similarities with the modern player apparently end there. "I guess I was blessed growing up in this city because it was a learning process for me," Archibald told reporters earlier this year at an NBA forum. "I wasn't like some of the guys who grew up in the city . . . like the Kennys [Anderson, currently with the Boston Celtics], the Rods [Strickland, with the Washington Wizards]. I didn't go to a major school."

Today's players are without question more talented, Archibald says, but many lack the humility that could make them better players. "When I went to Texas Western (now UTEP), was I Nate Archibald 'the man?' No, I was a member of the Texas Western team.A lot of kids think it's all about them. You cannot win the game by yourself."

At the pinnacle of this fairy-tale season, the Knicks backcourt seems to have achieved an impossible synthesis of the unselfishness and humility that informed Tiny's game, the varied game of Clyde, and the bravado that drives Marbury through the lane.

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