Deadspin NBA Shit List: Toney Douglas, The Little Engine That Couldn't

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A celebration of the NBA's most infuriating players, both past and present. Read other NBA Shit List entries here.

I've always had a low tolerance for other people's embarrassment. I can't help but put myself into that person's shoes—I run a flop sweat; I fidget; my skin feels like it wants to crawl off my body. That's just the way I am. Even the simulated awkwardness of Larry David or Michael Scott is enough to drive me to pace my living room. So this humiliation-empathy situation of mine meant that watching Toney Douglas play for the Knicks last season drove me to the brink of eye-clawing madness.


It wasn't just because he was terrible, though he was: 6.2 points on 32 percent shooting (sixth worst among point guards), 39 percent true shooting (seventh worst), 2.0 assists, a Player Efficiency Rating of 7 (that's bad), a win share rating of minus 0.25 (woof), all in a magical 17 minutes a game. I've seen terrible Knicks players before. Heck, I've bought the official replica jerseys of Knicks I knew to be terrible. I watched every game of the Larry Brown season; devoured the minutiae of the Starbury truck incident; watched sullen, out-of-shape cautionary tales preside over blowouts, their heads bedecked pharaonically in towels.

None of that got to me quite the way Toney did. Mostly, I think, because everything that happened to those other guys was indisputably their fault. Toney? He was just out of his depth.

Image for article titled Deadspin NBA Shit List: Toney Douglas, The Little Engine That Couldn't

The Shit List archives: Nick Young | Anthony Carter | Bill Cartwright | DeShawn Stevenson | Dahntay Jones | Michael Sweetney | Eddie House | Sasha Vujacic | Voshon Lenard | Eric Leckner | Dwight Howard | Andris Biedrins | Antawn Jamison

A typical Toney Douglas sequence from the 2011-12 season: Toney brings the ball up from the backcourt (so far, so good!). He surveys the scene. A pick arrives in the form of Tyson Chandler or Amar'e Stoudemire. Toney takes the pick. The screener rolls. Whatever window existed for Toney to make the pass closes. The shot clock reaches the low single digits. Toney passes to the closest perimeter player who forces up a contested panic shot (option B: Toney takes the panic shot) as the clock expires.

This is quickly followed by Toney's teammates incinerating the last vestiges of his self-confidence with nuclear-fission-level death stares, exasperated hand gestures, and expletive-laden critiques as they try to explain to the shaken Douglas when and where they were open and how he fucked it up.

In that moment, Toney would respond to his teammate's on-court broadsides in a manner that I recognize as The Body Language of Those Who Have Fucked It Up: the glassy stare as the eyes try to unsee and the mind attempts to reconcile the hours of practice with what has just occurred; the corners of the mouth pulling back into a tight smile/grimace as the words "my bad, my bad" are either fully mouthed or implied; the head nodding quickly two or three times while the hand comes up and points to the center of the chest, the victim telling his accusers, "I know"; finally, the shoulders bunching and the head dropping slightly as the stricken figure turns down the court in humiliation and defeat.


Rinse, wash, repeat.

(I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the one thing Toney did exceptionally well last season. That thing was running full speed, without regard to life and limb, into opposing screens as if they were freshly Windexed windows and he were a bat. This happened with such incredible regularity that I began to surmise that Toney's teammates hated him so much that they were passive-aggressively not calling out screens on purpose, to punish him like Private Pyle in Full Metal Jacket.)


Now, if Toney had been like Stephon Marbury or Rod Strickland or any of the other castaways from the Island of Lost Toys who have washed up on the shores of my Knicks fandom, I'd simply have hated him and called it a day. But Toney ... he was trying so hard to do things right. "He works so hard," Mike Breen would say, as Toney threw a shovel pass off the basket stanchion (this really happened), like some Dadaist exploration of the absurdity of professional sports.

Once, when I was in college—I went to music school, so, needless to say, I've worked a lot of retail—I made a plan to sit in with some of the upperclassmen jazzers at the weekly open jam. I figured I'd do Coltrane's "Impressions," since there were only two key changes. I practiced the tune all week, got up there, and then they counted it off at roughly 70 percent of the speed of light. I was instantly lost, falling further behind the changes. I knew where I had to be, but I couldn't get there. I tried waiting for the top of the song to come back around, only for it to zoom right past me. I was trying desperately to fake my way through it—throwing out every bullshit jazz cliché I could think of—but it was hopeless. The trumpet player mercifully cut me off, and I skulked away.


That's what it was like watching Toney try to run the point last season. He knew, in principle, what he needed to do. He just couldn't catch up to the changes. He couldn't cope with the speed of the game or with its randomness. So he'd fill up the clock with dribbling—through the legs, crossover, change direction—to mask the fact that he was fucking lost.

It didn't work.

What made things worse was how desperately the Knicks needed Toney to be merely adequate. His backups were Mike Bibby (whom the Knicks acquired when his corpse was dug up by stray dogs) and Baron Davis (who was rehabbing a knee injury and was unavailable until who-the-fuck-knows, and who was probably more interested in producing movie scripts anyway). The Knicks were a couple of games away from Mike D'Antoni having to suit up before pun messiah Jeremy Lin near-singlehandedly saved the Knicks season and induced a sports-marketing orgasm.


Toney is in Houston now, reunited with the pun messiah. I've despised other Knicks more. I've seen Knicks players perform as badly, and occasionally worse. But I'm reminded of a line from the song "These Days," most famously sung by Nico, "Don't confront me with my failures, I had not forgotten them." Good luck, Toney. I won't miss you.

You can follow Netw3rk on Twitter at @Netw3rk .

Image by Jim Cooke