CHARLESTON, S.C., Oct. 12 - To the uninitiated, the expression was little more than an ominous-sounding catchphrase, an N.B.A. truism passed from city to city: Larry Brown is hard on his point guards.
The Knicks heard it from the day Brown was hired as their coach in July. For the past week and a half, they have lived it. And now Stephon Marbury and Jamal Crawford know what Chauncey Billups and Allen Iverson were talking about.
For nine days here, Brown prodded, chided and occasionally cursed. No player was exempt, but none were scrutinized more closely than the ball-handling guards.
"Those two have the toughest job, because Coach is hardest on those guards," forward Malik Rose said, referring to Marbury and Crawford. "And as they go, we're going to go."
The Knicks broke camp Wednesday and will soon get a firmer gauge on their progress under Brown. They open the preseason Saturday night, against the Nets in Bridgeport, Conn.
Brown's reputation with point guards is well established. A former point guard himself, he wants the ball moving and the offense humming. He wants everyone involved. For shoot-first, scoring-minded guards, the adjustment is difficult, as Billups learned in Detroit and Iverson did in Philadelphia.
The burden is now on Crawford and Marbury. Last season, Coach Lenny Wilkens gave them nearly free reign within the offense, and they took full advantage. Marbury led the team with 1,308 field-goal attempts, and Crawford was second, with 1,097. Together, they accounted for 36 percent of the team's shots. Crawford and Marbury also had the freedom to free-lance, which will be sharply curtailed under Brown.
"It's like night and day," guard Penny Hardaway said. "Last year, you could be more one-on-one, you could do your own thing, because that's what the team needed; there was a bunch of injuries. But this year, you can't do that. He wants you to pass and cut, make somebody else better."
That task will be easier with the upgraded roster, and the offense will now go inside-out, rather than outside-in. Eddy Curry, one of the top low-post scorers in the league, was acquired to play center and should be the Knicks' first scoring option on most possessions. Forward Quentin Richardson gives the Knicks another dangerous outside shooter.
So the onus is on Crawford and Marbury to adjust, and to pass to the open man.
"It's going to be a difficult transition, but I think they can do it well," Hardaway said. "I can see them trying to do what's best for the team, wanting to really take somebody and then kicking it and going. There's a time and a place for that, but within the offense you want to keep running the offense."
Crawford welcomes the challenge.
"It helps me with my shot selection, it helps me get quality shots," said Crawford, who converted just 39.8 percent of his attempts last season. "Because I know it's going to come in the flow of the offense. I don't have to really break the offense to get good shots."
It remains to be seen how Brown will use his complement of guards. He likes the idea of using Marbury at shooting guard and could alternate the duties of Marbury and Crawford. If the rookie Nate Robinson - another scoring-first point guard - makes steady progress, he could also slide into the rotation. Hardaway, a point guard when he entered the league in 1993, has been working at both guard positions.
Quentin Richardson practiced but did not scrimmage Wednesday because of a lingering hamstring strain. "I'm not quite 100 percent," he said. ... Coach Larry Brown praised his team but said it was difficult to make much progress because of injuries (to Richardson, Maurice Taylor, Jerome James, Allan Houston and Stephon Marbury) and personnel changes (the trade for Eddy Curry, the absence of Antonio Davis). "I know we're a long way from where we need to be, but we did good, we got better," Brown said. ... The Knicks will play only seven preseason games this month, one fewer than the leaguewide standard. The team plans to play only six preseason games next year. ... Brown's teams have tended to start slowly in his first season at the helm, and the Knicks will not be helped by the schedule. They play 9 of their first 13 games on the road, including a six-game trip through the Western Conference. Brown's teams typically find their stride at midseason. "I don't know, maybe we get better because we do a better job of coaching," Brown said. "It takes time. And then this is even more difficult, because we have so many young guys and we made so many changes."