Perhaps the best thing boss man Sonny Werblin could do for his fussin', feudin' New York Knicks is to spend his millions to find a clone of Bobby Dandridge.
The Knicks have the youth, quickness and offensive ability to be a winner. But they lack one ingredient that Dandridge lends to the Bullets: court savvy.
There is no one in a Knick uniform who can consistently take charge and come up with the pressure plays that Dandridge rips off with uncanny efficiency for Washington.
That is probably the major reason the Bullets are coasting along with a 24-11 record, best in the NBA, New York, their 7:30 opponent tonight in Madison Square Garden, is struggling to move over the 500 mark despite the presence of veteran Coach Red Holzman.
"We have to forget the statistic sheet," fumed guard Jim Cleamons, "and start playing sound, fundamental basketball. We have to take the game home and think about why we are losing and not about how many points we score."
Except for perhaps Cleamons, who seldom has been a major offensive threat, no Knick willingly sacrifices points for passes, something Dandridge does so routinely that no Bullet blinks at his five or six assists a game.
He could score more than his current average of 18. "All I have to do is shoot more"-but it's not necessary. It's simpler to find a wide-open Wes Unseld with a quick pass than fight for a contested 10-foot jump shot.
"When you are younger, statistics mean more," said Dandridge. "After nine years, I know what I am capable of doing and I don't have to prove it any more to myself.
"Why not pass off" You get everyone involved in the offense and that makes everyone happy. An you wind up keeping the defense honest. Later on in the game, you can benefit from that."
Only Rick Barry among NBA forwards has more assists than Dandridge, but Barry is Houston's leader in that category and Dandridge must share the passing lead on the Bullets with Unseld and playmaker Tom Henderson. In contrast, only one Knick has more assists (guard Ray Williams) and no New York forward is within 75 assists of Dandridge's total.
Dandridge has learned, through experience, his role in the NBA. He makes up for a lack of strength and brawn with instincts of a counterpuncher. He probes until he finds a weakness and then pounces on the mistake with eye-catching quickness. The results are plays that leave observers wondering why everyone else can't duplicate his efforts.
The younger, more disorganized Knicks are scrambling for their identities, mostly through scoring duels. "There is a lack of concentration," said Assistant Coach Butch Beard. "I wonder if we know our personnel."
Much as Philadelphia discovered the last two seasons, Ne wYork is slowly awakening to the fact that uncomplementary talent, no matter how great, does not always produce winners.
Werblin spent a sizable part of his bankroll to sign free agent Marvin Webster and rookie Michael Richardson but decided to start the season without canny veterans Earl Monroe Jim McMillian and Beard. Monroe is back but still trying to get into shap; McMillian is with Portland and Beard is a coach. An the Knicks are struggling with growing pains.
Holzman's experienced hand briefly improved the Knick fortunes. He took over from Willis Reed after 14 games. But lately the team has played as disorganized as it did under Reed, especially if it becomes involved in a running contest.
Unlike Washington Coach Dick Motta, Holzman doesn't have a Dandridge to turn to when the game begins to get out of hand and ask him to clam things. When th eBullets need a final-minute pressure shot or pass, or someone to finish off a fast break, they go to Dandridge.
"Teams are finding out more and more that you win only with players who aren't on ego trips and who can play together," said Motta. "Bobby is a perfect example. He believes he can do anything he wants. An he usually does."