The “Play Angry” style Ron Baker used to become a standout player at Wichita State is now winning over his new coaching staff with the New York Knicks.
Baker this month returned from the shoulder injury that derailed his second season in the NBA, and while his minutes are limited, he’s making an impression on first-year coach David Fizdale with hustle plays.
In a game last week against the Brooklyn Nets, Baker poked a ball away from the Nets’ Jordan McLaughlin, beat him to the loose ball by diving at half-court, corralled it and dumped it to a teammate for a fast-break dunk. For WSU fans, it was reminiscent of Zach Brown’s hustle play against Kansas in the 2015 NCAA Tournament — the play that best defines the “Play Angry” mantra.
“In intense moments, I can play scrappy but remain even keeled,’’ Baker told The New York Post. “It’s a havoc mindset. Its a type of game I’m used to playing. I played like that in college. (Wichita State) coach (Gregg) Marshall, he wanted us to play like your hair is on fire.’’
There was speculation among New York media that Baker, even with a guaranteed contract of $4.5 million this season, might be let go with a new general manager and coach in place with the Knicks.
But Baker’s intensity on the defensive end has earned the respect of Fizdale. After Baker’s hustle play against the Nets, which happened right in front of him on the sideline, Fizdale was animated in his celebration that included a slap on Baker’s back.
“He’s a tough S.O.B.,’’ Fizdale told reporters. “He’s a team guy. He’s smart as heck. He’s smart in chaos. A lot of guys can’t hit, grab, scratch, claw and be halfway in a fight and still be very clear in the mind and being able to execute. He’s really been doing a great job for us. I won’t hesitate to throw him in a game, to change up some things. The way he defends, the way he can take people out, I think he’s a luxury to have.”
Minutes have been difficult to come by for Baker in his return from injury. He’s averaging just 10.6 per game so far in four preseason games, with averages of 3.0 points, 0.8 rebounds, 1.0 assists and 1.5 steals. He has made four of his five shots, including two three-pointers.
Baker’s defense has likely earned him a spot on the Knicks, who open their season next Wednesday against the Atlanta Hawks. But he’ll have to improve his three-point shooting to earn meaningful playing time. Baker is a career 29-percent three-point shooter on 119 attempts in his first two seasons.
WSU fans interested in potentially seeing Baker play in person might circle Nov. 14 on their calendar. That’s when the Knicks come to Oklahoma City to play the Thunder in a Wednesday tipoff at 7 p.m.