New York Knicks: Welcome to the Ron Baker experience
Dec 22, 2016; New York, NY, USA; Orlando Magic point guard Elfrid Payton (4) controls the ball against New York Knicks shooting guard Ron Baker (31) during the fourth quarter at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

With his fourth quarter toughness on Friday night in Milwaukee, many folks are beginning to get used to Ron Baker of the New York Knicks.

You know this kid. Wesley Snipes knew this kid.

He was the unassuming baller in the corner who didn’t say much to anyone. He dribbled by his lonesome, yet breathed fire from his heart with a yearn to play and dominate the game he loved. He remained silent while carrying a big stick and a self-assured attitude.

He’d wink at you during the timeout right before ripping your heart out during play.

Much Billy Hoyle, Ron Baker fits the part.

Playing the role of Herb Williams up until this point in the season, Baker has only enjoyed a few moments of NBA brilliance during his rookie campaign. That was, until, the New York Knicks visited the Milwaukee Bucks in hopes of avenging their most disappointing loss of the season.

Trailing by as many as 18 points in the fourth quarter, Jeff Hornacek called upon Baker to run the show — to run the entire fourth quarter show while Derrick Rose and Brandon Jennings watched from the bench.

Though it started with 12 minutes to play in the game — when Hornacek brilliantly played a lineup that showcased Mindaugas Kuzminskas at the two-guard, properly matching up against the awkward Bucks — a defensive sequence with over a minute to go spearheaded things.

The Bucks ran a pick and roll (what else is new, this is, of course, the NBA). This left little ole’ Baker one-on-one with Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak (as the kids call him), attempted to take the Witchita State product low. He flashed, looking for an Iso spot in the low post.

Baker held his ground.

Rather than allowing an easy circumstance, Baker held his ground and eventually forced the Freak to take a contested fadeaway.

This hardnosed, very fundamentally sound defensive sequence led to captain Carmelo Anthony draining the game-winning three.

The Knickerbockers 13th man didn’t light up the box score in the impressive 116-111 win on Friday night. His 12 minutes yielded just six points, four assists, and two rebounds. More importantly than stats, however, was the grittiness and toughness the kid brought to the table — something the Knicks lack on a desperate level.

His +18 finished second on the team (behind Melo’s +22). He brought a cool, calm and collected feel to the floor that organized the offense and brought attitude to the defense.

He firmly understands the game, despite it now coming at the NBA level, via Marc Berman of the New York Post.

“We buckled down and got stops and the defense got us back in the game and we were able to get out in transition,’’ said Baker, whose minimum contract doesn’t become guaranteed for the season until Jan. 10. “We trusted each other.’’

Hornacek, who sees a lot of Baker in himself as a player, realizes what the kid can bring to the floor.

“When we sat down with Phil [Jackson] to let me know I made the roster, [Hornacek] said some things I need to improve on were the same things he needed to when he got in the league,’’ said Baker. “He kind of compared us. He said I was a better shooter than he was [out of college], but he made the relationship.’’

More than toughness and basketball IQ, the kid brings another element to the floor New York desperately lacks. In that fourth quarter, a certain veteran found himself extremely annoyed with the rookie whose blonde locks flow in transition.

Bucks’ Jason Terry found himself with a technical shortly after he jumped on the scorer’s table in celebration. Locked up with Baker during an out of bounds set up, Terry couldn’t help his frustrations. Baker’s hands-on approach did him in. 

It’s this pest of a player-type way about Baker that also serves the Knicks well. Some call it the Reggie Miller effect.

Defense, toughness, basketball IQ, pest — how then, could Baker not find himself in the rotation on a regular basis? Well, it’s obvious when understanding the talents of Derrick Rose and Brandon Jennings.

This doesn’t mean he shouldn’t find himself in the rotation. He could also take minutes away from Justin Holiday on certain nights.

Mock him if you want. Nobody will deny he looks “out of place” at certain times. His love for the game trumps all things fashionable.

Billy Hoyle faced the same fate during the early 90s.

And while it’s true he may just be the least talented player on the floor in terms of raw physical attributes, this doesn’t equate to the “worst player on the squad” status.

Intangibles such as fundamentally sound play, toughness, and basketball IQ go a long way in a sport like this — especially when the team lacks so much of it.

After Milwaukee, Ron Baker may have just shaken his Herb Williams status for good.

 

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