Charlotte's backcourt, the smallest pair of starters in the league, was an invention of necessity. With incumbent starting shooting guard Kareem Rush injured, Bobcats coach Bernie Bickerstaff has gone small, and the results have been a pleasant surprise. That isn't readily apparent from the comparison of Felton's and Knight's performances with the Bobcats overall, because Charlotte has been without starting forwards Emeka Okafor and Gerald Wallace much of the last two months. Since the start of January, the Bobcats' point differential has been -6.7 points per game, but Felton and Knight have been 1.4 points better than that when on the court together. Felton has thrived since moving into the starting lineup, shooting 41.2 percent with Knight, compared with 37.9 percent overall.
In Milwaukee, the Bucks signed Williams as a restricted free agent in 2004 when Ford's future was still in doubt due to a spinal condition, and Williams established himself as a starting-caliber player. With both players now deserving heavy minutes, Milwaukee coach Terry Stotts has chosen to frequently pair them up. Although regular sixth man Williams is naturally more of a shooting guard, it's been Ford who has benefited more from the speedy backcourt. His free throw rate increases from 3.6 attempts per 40 minutes to 5.5 when paired with Williams, and his field goal percentage improves from 39.2 percent to 41.3 percent.
Despite all of these examples, if the Knicks want a model for the success they hope Marbury and Francis will eventually have together, they need look no further than to the starting lineup they used through much of December, which featured Robinson, generously listed at 5-9, as the shortest NBA shooting guard in recent memory. Robinson has been mothballed by Larry Brown since winning the Sprite Rising Stars Slam Dunk during All-Star Weekend, but the team has played opponents almost even with him on the court, getting outscored by only 1.7 points per 48 minutes.
In terms of pure plus-minus, only one combination the Knicks have used all season (Channing Frye and the now-departed Trevor Ariza) has a better raw plus-minus (+73) than Marbury and Robinson's +47. The bad news is that Marbury has not played particularly well, despite occasionally facing slower defenders. His field goal percentage with Robinson (41.7 percent) is below his season average of 44.1 percent, and he's attempted 0.9 fewer free throws per 40 minutes as part of the small backcourt. However, the Knicks allowed just 94.3 points per 100 possessions on the defensive end with Marbury and Robinson on the floor, substantially better than their season mark of 101.7 points allowed per 100 possessions.
Technically, the Francis-Marbury backcourt doesn't qualify as a small backcourt by my standards because Francis is listed at 6-3, but it certainly is in spirit. So far the results have been dismal for the Knicks, who were outscored by about a point every two minutes (-52 in 103 minutes) with Francis and Marbury on the court together in the first six games since the trade. Whether this is because Francis and Marbury need time to mesh together remains to be seen. As SI.com's Marty Burns will tell you, there are plenty of reasons this lineup won't work. Height, however, should not be one of them.