Knicks Roster Analysis – Power Forwards

After some excellent insights from both Bob Chaikin and Dave, we’re on to the Knicks’ power forwards. If you haven’t read my point guard analysis, that’s probably worth reading before this post so that you understand what I’m doing here.

Kurt Thomas

Year    MPG   PPG   RPG  APG   TS%  Reb%  Pass   Off   Def  Win%  WARP  Value  Salary
01-02 33.8 13.9 9.1 1.1 .542 15.6 0.03 89.9 90.8 .502 5.9
02-03 31.8 14.0 7.9 2.0 .511 14.5 0.23 89.4 89.8 .484 4.5
03-04 31.9 11.1 8.3 1.9 .503 15.0 0.19 87.8 89.5 .457 3.0 $3.446 $5.885

Last Thursday, before the draft, I wrote that a deal of Thomas for Jerome James and the 12th pick would be good for both the Sonics and the Knicks. You’ll have to excuse me for that one; I was apparently delusional because of writing too much about the draft. Thomas’ game is showing some steady signs of decay, both in terms of traditional statistics and more advanced metrics. Last year, his offensive game cratered, as he was very inefficient without using many possessions. His rebounding has been consistent, but neither that nor his defense is good enough to keep him valuable unless he’s scoring better than he did last year.

The real reason a Thomas trade wouldn’t have been good for the Sonics (or most anyone else) is the extension he signed during last season. Thomas is now signed up for three years after this one, presumably with standard 10%-12.5% raises. That means by 2007-08, Thomas will be pulling in $8.09 million. He’ll also be 35 then, and, given the current trend, it’s tough to see Thomas being a particularly valuable player. The raises in contracts can often make them a lot worse than they look. You look at the salary numbers I report above, and Thomas looks overpaid, but not drastically so. The problem is that his salary and production will likely be headed in different directions in the years to come.

There was a school of thought that Thomas’ numbers would improve with him returned to power forward instead of playing out of position at center, as he did almost exclusively during 2002-03. That was pretty clearly not the case on offense, which is backed up by 82games.com’s by-position data. Thomas defended power forwards better — especially when you take into account that power forwards in general have higher PERs than centers — but I doubt the difference is big enough to overcome the greater positional scarcity in the middle. Thomas is simply more valuable as a center.

What can Thomas do to get back on track? The biggest thing would be getting to the line more. Thomas is a good foul shooter for a big man, hitting 83.5% last year, but he doesn’t get to show off the skill very often. When Thomas was at his most efficient, 2001-02, his FTM/FGA ratio was 0.23; the last two years, it’s dipped to 0.13.

From a Knicks perspective, I think Thomas would be best utilized as a combo four/five, coming off the bench behind the starters at both positions. He’s productive enough to keep around, but if the Knicks get an offer that doesn’t return them an equally bad contract (read: Jerry Stackhouse), they have to seriously consider it, especially if they can use him in a multi-player deal to upgrade either small forward or center.

Mike Sweetney

Year    MPG   PPG   RPG  APG   TS%  Reb%  Pass   Off   Def  Win%  WARP  Value  Salary
03-04 11.8 4.3 3.7 0.3 .544 18.3 0.02 88.1 89.3 .563 1.7 $3.266 $1.979

It was about a year ago that I fell in love with Sweetney. He had the best college stats of any player in the 2003 Draft, and in my newfound infatuation with these numbers, I was desperately hoping he’d be left on the board when my Seattle SuperSonics picked 12th. Unfortunately, even a blind squirrel finds acorns now and again, and Scott Layden scooped Sweetney up three picks ahead of the Sonics. It might just have been the best move of Layden’s time in New York.

Sweetney spent the first half of the season buried, but finally found some playing time after Lenny Wilkens took over the New York helm and acquitted himself quite nicely. That 54.4% true shooting percentage is outstanding for a rookie, and Sweetney was a fabulous rebounder, pulling down nearly one in every five available rebounds. He was also one of the few Knicks not to embarrass themselves during the playoffs.

One of my few concerns about Sweetney was whether he could translate his ability to get to the free-throw line to the NBA, but that wasn’t really a problem. Entering this season, he has breakout written all over him (not literally; that would be strange).

Want some incredibly exciting news, Knicks fans? Here are Sweetney’s best age-21 comparables. Number one? Zach Randolph. Number two? Carlos Boozer. If I’m running the Knicks, I do whatever I can to ensure that Sweetney is playing at least 30 minutes per game next season, and let the results speak for themselves. Most Improved Player isn’t a bad guess, and I’ll pick Sweetney so long as a path is cleared for him to start.

Vin Baker

 Year    MPG   PPG   RPG  APG   TS%  Reb%  Pass   Off   Def  Win%  WARP  Value  Salary
01-02 31.1 14.1 6.4 1.3 .517 12.1 0.05 89.2 91.8 .436 1.3
02-03 18.1 5.2 3.8 0.6 .531 11.9 0.02 87.6 90.8 .413 0.3
03-04 24.3 9.8 5.2 1.2 .530 12.2 0.11 88.9 90.1 .472 2.0 $3.131 UFA

Before I say anything about Baker, I want to emphasize that I am as far from possible as objective about Baker. He is one of my least favorite players in NBA history because of his time in Seattle, and as much as I may try to divorce myself from that, it still factors into my thinking.

To demonstrate that, I’ll start by saying I find it a validation of my WARP ratings that they reflect Baker’s uselessness prior to last year more accurately than do my linear-weights ratings. The 2003-04 rating reflects an interesting mix of Baker’s numbers in Boston and in New York. With the Celtics, he was rated at a .494 winning percentage and 2.0 WARP; in New York, those dipped to .393 and 0.0.

A lot of credit for Baker’s great start to the season went to his new svelte physique. Well, amazing as Baker’s transformation was — he looked different facially, he was so skinny — I don’t think it was the real reason he was improved. Baker’s fitness was never really an issue in Seattle after the lockout season; every year we heard how he was in better shape and was going to turn it around, but he never dead. I think, instead, that the noticeable uptick in play stems from the fact that Baker was, presumably, sober. By the time he got to New York, one has to imagine (hope?) he was still sober, but he also hadn’t played for some time and didn’t have a training camp to work his way back into the swing of things.

After his short stint with the Knicks, Baker is a free agent again. There is clearly interest out there in him; big guys are in such short supply, especially in the Eastern Conference, that somebody will give him a chance. I can’t see investing too much money in him, because of the history with alcohol. Even if it weren’t for that, Baker will turn 33 in November, and age alone will take its toll. Thomas seems interested enough by Baker that a return is a possibility, but I don’t see the Knicks gaining much by that.

Othella Harrington

 Year    MPG   PPG   RPG  APG   TS%  Reb%  Pass   Off   Def  Win%  WARP  Value  Salary
01-02 20.3 7.7 4.5 0.5 .567 12.9 0.01 89.7 92.0 .437 1.2
02-03 25.0 7.7 6.4 0.8 .563 15.1 0.04 88.8 92.0 .440 1.6
03-04 15.6 4.6 3.2 0.5 .546 11.7 0.02 87.0 91.3 .357 -0.8 $1.156 $3.150

Before last Thursday’s Draft, some friends and I were trying to make sense of Al Jefferson’s ridiculous high school stats, including better than 42 points per game (besides the fact that high school stats are only one step above meaningless because of the inconsistent level of competition), and one mentioned that Harrington averaged similar stats in the same league. Well, apparently that’s not quite true — he only averaged something like 29 points and 25 rebounds per game — but I had not realized that Harrington was an incredible prospect who was MVP of the McDonald’s All-American game in 1992. Maybe because I was 10 then. I also didn’t know he averaged 16.8 points and 8.8 rebounds as a freshman and won Big East Rookie of the Year before his numbers trailed off, presumably because of Allen Iverson’s arrival on the scene after his sophomore season.

In the NBA, Harrington has found his niche as a high-efficiency, medium to low volume scorer who doesn’t offer a ton on defense and the boards. Harrington’s true shooting percentages are great, but they overrate him, because he’s assisted on a high percentage of his baskets (66% last season) and rarely picks up assists of his own. Harrington wasn’t as efficient last season and also posted the worst rebounding season of his career in terms of rebounds per minute. As a result, he went from an acceptable rotation player to a guy who didn’t deserve to see major minutes.

Harrington’s contract is one of the few on the Knicks that isn’t a problem; he’s signed for just one more year at slightly more than $3.15 million, which is more than he’d pull on the open market but not horrible. He might be included in some sort of deal, but otherwise he’ll play some spot minutes off the bench up front.

Kevin Pelton writes “Page 23” for Hoopsworld.com on a semi-regular basis. He can be reached at kpelton@hoopsworld.com. Check back Thursday for his analysis of the Knicks’ centers.

Thomas Sounding the Right Notes… So Far

The NBA offseason is slowly taking shape and the potential for mega deals involving a number of the league’s mega stars has tantalized journalists and fans alike. Admit it. You love the drama. You love the pointless diatribes about “lack of respect” and the sights and sounds of grown men acting like complete and utter fools… And that was just ESPN’s broadcast team at the draft! So you know it’s going to be a long summer.

Yet amidst the growing sound and fury Isiah Thomas’s voice has thus far been one of reason and sanity, almost conservative by comparison to last year’s whirlwind. With his lone pick in the second round (#43) he made a very nice choice, selecting Trevor Ariza out of UCLA. If you read part two of my offseason preview then you have seen his name. Ariza is something of a poor man’s Andre Igoudala, that is, a hyper-athletic wing who plays defense and contributes something in every statistical category. However, his streaky shooting may limit him to being a valuable role player. What I like about the pick is that Ariza will likely match Anderson’s current production in two seasons, if not sooner, with a much higher ceiling at a much more palatable salary. Selecting Ariza (instead of the equally athletic Missouri SG Ricky Paulding for instance) is particularly interesting because it may suggest that Thomas is laying the groundwork for an Anderson buyout.

Thomas’s made further remarks on draft night about the team’s pursuit of the top free agents:

I don’t think it will necessarily be a lot of the bigger names in the market, but there are pieces floating around that we think if we can acquire, they will make our team better.

Part of this is clearly intended to keep the expectations of the fans and the media this offseason from getting completely out of hand. However Thomas may actually be shooting straight on this one… kind of. I think he is hoping to benefit from the residuals of the proposed big deals but realizes that he has few commodities to deal himself, other than expriring contracts. For instance, should the Francis-McGrady deal go through Thomas may have interest in either Mobley or Cato, players the Magic are reported to be considering moving subsequent to any trade. The Knicks and Bulls restricted free agent guard Jamal Crawford are known to share a mutual interest, and Chicago’s selection of UConn guard Ben Gordon has certainly thrown Crawford’s status in limbo. Crawford is potentially a nice fit in New York but I suspect that Denver, where he’d have a pretty good chance at starting, will be his ultimate destination should he sign elsewhere. Today’s fishwra… err… New York Post is reporting again that the Knicks have an interest in reacquiring Michael Doleac. He did a very nice job of rebounding, blocking shots, and shooting off the screen roll last season.

The names Trevor Ariza, Jamal Crawford, and Michael Doleac may not instill fear into the hearts of opposing NBA defenses. They nonetheless inspire cautious optimism for this Knicks fan. These names say to me that perhaps at the end of year one in the Era of Zeke he has learned a most valuable lesson about front office life: a crucial part of building a good team is managing the back end of the rotation and the back end of the bench. The market virtually always allows you to get decent production at reasonable prices from players 8-12 via the draft and salary exceptions.

It’s one thing to overpay for your best player(s) but there’s rarely a reason to overpay for players 8-12. Sometimes market dynamics are such that a team simply must pay a premium to retain its best player, even if his numbers say he’s not worth it. The costs associated with acquiring and integrating a new “best” player (in terms of lost productivity/time, learning curve, permanent changes in matchups, etc.) may be too great. But, he said with index finger extended upward as if to signify an exclamation point, a team should never overpay players 8-12. Those roster spots should be filled by the likes of Trevor Ariza and Michael Doleac.

Well folks, that’s it for me. The Knicker Blogger will be back soon and I am off on a working vacation beginning Thursday through most of July. I’ll be off-line during most of that time. So I look forward to checking back in at the start of August to the fine, in-depth coverage of our beloved Knicks we have come to expect from Mike.

Peace,
dave

return on investment – allan houston….

mike asked me to write a column or two for his knick blogger – while he was away sunning himself on some remote beach – concerning anything about pro basketball. i’ve never been a knicks fan (being from cleveland, ohio), and the closest i’ve ever gotten to a knick was to play pickup ball against long time knick charles oakley many moons ago (who went to high school here in NE ohio and who stuffed many of my jumpers). but i do have a unique perspective on the nba in that i analyze the game through statistical analysis using computer simulation of nba games, and would like to do so here for something concerning the knicks…

its not hard to get the computer to play basketball – the key is just to get it to do so accurately. but after watching many tapes of games, charting things the league never kept track of (this was over a decade and a half ago and before www.82games.com, whom i wish was around back in 1990), and fiddling around with the numbers, after 15+ years i think i’ve got it down. the key is to derive from the stats how to rate players for how often they handle the ball on offense, and then to rate them for how often they shoot, pass, get fouled, and turn the ball over per time they do handle the ball on offense. the first i call a player’s possession factor (his touches/minute), the second his player attributes. once you can do that getting the computer to simulate the actual playing of a game, i.e. re-creating every shot, pass, rebound, assist, steal, turnover, blocked shot, etc, is relatively easy, and to get the computer to play hundreds or thousands of games takes little time. rating player defensively was alway tough, but thanks to www.82games.com, that part of the process has been made much easier too…

because i look at the league differently than most people do, i often feel i have an advantage over those who do not use computer simulation, in particular those in the league responsible for signing players, especially to mega-dollar long term contracts. in hindsight we can only shake our heads at the contracts given to players like stanley roberts and calvin booth, players given big money but who had played little time in the league prior to their contracts being signed, and wonder what were those teams thinking. but many players in the league have gotten long term contracts at top dollar, and the question is are they worth it?…

one contract i have always wondered about was the one given to allan houston. in july of 2001, after having played five seasons for the knicks, new york gave him a six year deal worth a staggering $100,000,000, and while i’m not sure i’m guessing its all guaranteed. that works out to about $16-$17 million per season, one of the highest annual salaries of any player at the time the contract was signed (and still one of the highest today), and double what he signed for with the knicks after coming over from the pistons following the 95-96 season. the question is – is he worth it?…

the neat thing about computer simulation is that you can take any player and place him on any team, and run as many games as needed to determine if that team is better or worse with that player. its ideal for running “what if” scenarios – like what if the knicks has shaq at C instead of mutombo/mohammed? but its also ideal for determining just how good your players are in relation to other players from around the league – by simply putting other players on your team to replace a certain player and simulating hundreds or thousands of games to see if the team is better or worse….

here are the knicks players from last season (03-04) and their minutes played:

                          default
sub
min min/82 pattern min/g
n.mohammed 1611 20 20 20
k.thomas 2548 31 32 32
t.thomas 2088 25 24 24
a.houston 1799 22 24 40
s.marbury 3254 40 40 40
d.mutombo 1494 18 20 20
o.harrington 872 11 12 12
s.anderson 1947 24 24 12
p.hardaway 2095 26 24 24
m.norris 847 10 8 4
f.williams 714 9 8 8
m.sweetney 494 6 4 4
240 240

the 1st column is simply each player’s minutes played, the 2nd column their minutes played divided by 82 games. the computer simulation model can only substitute for players in increments of 4 minutes, so to get a default substitution pattern for the team i chose the multiple of 4 closest to their actual minutes played divided by 82 games (the 3rd column). do this for each team in the league and you can play entire seasons by computer to re-create what happened in the actual real-life season…

in 03-04 the knicks went 39-43, and based on their statistics they should have gone only 37-45. the above substitution pattern (the default), when 8200 games (100 seasons) are simulated on the computer, averages a W-L record of 38-44. to gauge the maximum impact of a player on a team i typically look at how the team does when that player plays 40 min/g, which is about the maximum playing time per game the best players play in any single season….

using the substitution pattern in the 4th column, i played allan houston 40 min/g, taking minutes away from shandon anderson and moochie norris. however when houston played 40 min/g the knicks W-L record increased just another 2 games over an average 82 games to a W-L record of 40-42. may not sound like much of an improvement for one of your team’s best players to play an additional 16 min/g, but keep in mind in 02-03 allan houston actually played all 82 games and 38 min/g, playing what was probably his best season statistically for the knicks, and the team went just 37-45….

better yet why not put that 02-03 allan houston on the 03-04 knicks and play 8200 simulated games to see how much better they play? i did just that and the team’s W-L record improves, but by just another half a game over an average 82 season, to 40.5-41.5. thus houston’s best season statistically of 02-03 wasn’t much better than his 03-04 campaign, just half a game over the span of an entire season…

so let’s see if the $16 million/yr man is worth his salary. the best way to judge that IMHO is to “trade” a number of SGs from around the league to the 03-04 knicks, replacing allan houston for 40 min/g at SG, and playing enough simulated games (in this case 8200, or 100 simulated seasons) to see if they improve the team’s W-L record or not, moreso than what houston does. typically i’ll try this with some of the best players in the league at that specific position (in this case SG), and also some of the worst, to see who the player in question (houston) plays like more. three of the best SGs in 03-04 were kobe bryant, tracy mcgrady, and ray allen, a few of the “worst” statistically were david wesley, dion glover, kendall gill, and dajuan wagner, and i also ran vince carter and lebron james for comparison. here are the results:

            average          scoring
player W-L pts/g FG% reb/g ast/g st/g to/g bs/g touches/min
mcgrady 02-03 53-29 29.7 .553 6.4 4.9 1.6 2.3 0.8 1.7
mcgrady 03-04 45.5-36.5 26.6 .517 5.9 5.2 1.4 2.5 0.6 1.6
bryant 02-03 51-31 26.7 .540 6.4 5.1 2.1 3.1 0.8 1.6
bryant 03-04 49.5-32.5 24.7 .539 5.7 5.1 1.8 2.6 0.4 1.5
r.allen 03-04 45.5-36.5 21.8 .558 5.3 4.6 1.3 2.7 0.2 1.4
carter 03-04 42.5-39.5 22.5 .494 5.0 4.7 1.2 3.0 0.9 1.5
l.james 03-04 41-41 20.4 .480 5.6 5.7 1.6 3.3 0.8 1.6
houston 02-03 40.5-41.5 21.9 .555 3.0 2.6 0.7 2.1 0.1 1.0
houston 03-04 40-42 19.7 .533 2.8 2.1 0.8 2.2 0.0 0.9
glover 03-04 38-44 15.0 .444 6.2 3.1 1.2 2.4 0.5 1.0
wesley 03-04 37-45 16.8 .478 2.8 3.4 1.4 1.9 0.3 1.1
k.gill 03-04 36.5-45.5 14.6 .438 5.3 2.4 1.7 2.2 0.4 0.9
wagner 03-04 33-49 14.5 .436 3.1 2.6 1.3 2.0 0.4 1.0

scoring FG% is simply (2pters + 1.5x3pters + FTM/2)/(FGA + FTA/2)…

i also ran kobe bryant’s and tracy mcgrady’s 02-03 stats because while they were the two best SGs in the league in 03-04, they were also each better statistically in 02-03 than they were in 03-04…

as you can see the difference between the best and worst players at a single position can be upwards of 15 to 20 games in a single 82 game season, in this case tracy mcgrady’s stellar 02-03 campaign (where he led the league in scoring with 32 pts/g on a very good scoring FG% of .553), compared to some of the league’s worst SGs. but what is also evident is that allan houston’s performance statistically is just a few games better over an 82 game season than that of some of the league’s worst SGs, and far worse than the league’s best SGs….

now don’t think that being just a few games better than some of the worst players at your position is insignificant – if all of the starters on your team were 4-5 games better than the worst players at your position, that means your team would theoretically be about 20-25 games better than the worst team in the league. if the worst team in the league wins 15-20 games out of 82, that means your team would win somewhere between 35-45 games (which btw is what the knicks won in both 02-03 and 03-04). but again its nowhere near as good as being 10-15 games better than the worst players at your position…

when allan houston signed his huge contract extension after the 2000-01 season, he had played for the knicks for 5 seasons, yet in those 5 seasons he averaged less than 18 pts/g (less than 19 pts/g in the playoffs) and never averaged as much as 20 pts/g in any single season, was an average defender (at best), was a poor offensive and average defensive rebounder, a player who got few steals and few blocks, and a shooter who hit a good 40% of his 3pters but just 46% of his 2pters (less than the league average of .468 on 2pters during those 5 seasons). his scoring FG% during that 5 year span was .533, which is good, but which is less than 2 percentage points above the league average of .515 during that same time period. to his credit he missed only 5 games out of the knicks 378, but is that worth $16-$17 million/yr for six years?…

notice that lebron james on new york wins just as many simulated games as allan houston does (41 to 40) but shot much worse, a low scoring FG% of just .480 (03-04 league average was .508) compared to houston’s .533. yet he rebounded twice as good, almost tripled houston’s ast/g, doubled his st/g, and blocked far more shots. bottom line is that in his 5 seasons as a knick before signing his extension allan houston was a very good shooter but contributed little else to his team…

Knicks Roster Analysis – Small Forwards

So I’m back today with my look at the Knicks’ small forwards. If you haven’t read my point guard analysis, that’s probably worth reading before this post so that you understand what I’m doing here.

Tim Thomas

Year    MPG   PPG   RPG  APG   TS%  Reb%  Pass   Off   Def  Win%  WARP  Value  Salary
01-02 26.9 11.7 4.1 1.4 .522 8.7 0.12 90.0 90.9 .455 2.3
02-03 29.5 13.3 4.9 1.3 .527 9.6 0.07 89.8 90.6 .479 3.9
03-04 31.7 14.7 4.8 1.9 .534 8.8 0.19 90.0 90.0 .487 3.8 $4.229 $12.90

As you may or may not have noticed, my fellow guest blogger David wasn’t a huge fan of Tim Thomas’ acquisition. I’ve got to say I was more than a little puzzled by the move. Trading Keith Van Horn wasn’t the worst idea in the world. I tend to think Van Horn gets a bad rap from many people, but he’s a poor defender, horribly inconsistent, and as out of place in the paint as Wayne Brady at Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles. So, if you were going to trade him, you’d think you’d acquire someone who was entirely different, right? Wrong.

As I noted in my post-deadline Transaction Analysis, Thomas was Van Horn’s most comparable player in the NBA as of the trade, and vice versa. If you look up the definition of irony in the dictionary, you get the Van Horn-Thomas trade.

In my book, Van Horn’s the better player, but there are some things in Thomas’ favor. He’s a better athlete, which has been a key point of emphasis during the Isiah Thomas era, and he has the advantage of not having teamed with Marbury in New Jersey (and the resulting possible bad blood).

Overall, I would describe Thomas as an “adequate starter”. With him in the lineup, small forward isn’t a position the Knicks really need to be aggressively looking to upgrade, but they also aren’t set for the next decade at the position.

Looking at his numbers, Thomas is a better offensive player than I realized. His efficiency isn’t that bad (league average true shooting percentage, for reference, was 51.6%), and he does put points on the board. Thomas is also improving on offense, though it’s not readily apparent from the numbers I’ve listed; just maintaining the same Offensive Rating is improving, because it’s gone down league-wide from 90.4 to 89.9 to 89.2 over the last three years.

Unfortunately, Thomas is an absolutely horrid defender. John Hollinger rated the Bucks 28th in defending starting small forwards last season, and this year (per 82games.com) opposing small forwards shot an adjusted 49.2% against the Bucks as of the trade (I’m recycling an argument here — sorry), as compared to a league-wide 46.9%.

Thomas’ rebounding is also nothing special for a small forward. Small forwards are generally around 10% of available rebounds in terms of rebound percentage; Thomas has been below 9% two of the last three years.

Shandon Anderson

Year    MPG   PPG   RPG  APG   TS%  Reb%  Pass   Off   Def  Win%  WARP  Value  Salary
01-02 19.5 5.0 3.0 0.9 .489 9.0 0.09 87.3 90.9 .380 -0.7
02-03 21.1 8.4 3.1 1.1 .553 8.6 0.10 89.7 90.0 .484 3.0
03-04 24.7 7.9 2.8 1.5 .500 6.5 0.20 87.5 89.6 .399 0.0 $1.268 $7.300

Someday, when historians look back on the great mysteries of the 21st century, they will be confronted with the popularity of reality television, how George W. Bush became president, and Anderson’s 2002-03 season. In three years in New York, Anderson has shot 39.9%, 46.2%, and 42.2% from the field. From three-point range, he’s shot 27.7%, 37.1%, and 28.1%. Which of those numbers are not like the others?

Having a season that was about as good as possible, post-Utah, Anderson was still only a solid backup. Last year was a more typical year, and Anderson was right at my estimate of replacement level. His efficiency was poor, he started rebounding like a guard, and he’s only an okay defender.

Further downside: Anderson was a complete and total disaster in the playoffs, shooting 25.9% from the field and averaging 4.3 points per game as Allan Houston’s replacement in the starting lineup. That probably should have been the last strike against Anderson’s Knicks career. Dave mentions a buyout, and it’s tough to see this relationship ending in any other fashion. Between Trevor Ariza and potentially Dermarr Johnson, the Knicks have a pair of young options at small forward who could be better than Anderson next season — Johnson was, by my metrics, last year — and could get better. Anderson, at age 30, could have another fluke season, but real improvement is not coming.

If I was Anderson, I’d try to beg my way back to Utah or to some team like Sacramento, New Jersey, or Washington that uses a highly motion-based offense. 2002-03 aside, Anderson’s been best when asked to slash and move without the ball, not stand around and be a catch and shoot player from three-point range. In the right situation, Anderson can still have some value. That situation just isn’t the Knicks.

Dermarr Johnson

Year    MPG   PPG   RPG  APG   TS%  Reb%  Pass   Off   Def  Win%  WARP  Value  Salary
01-02 24.0 8.4 3.4 1.1 .513 8.2 0.09 88.8 90.0 .443 1.5
03-04 13.6 5.4 1.9 0.5 .511 7.9 0.05 88.6 89.6 .437 0.2 $2.203 UFA

I hadn’t taken much of a look at Johnson statistically this season, other than KnickerBlogger’s periodic updates in this space. Comparing his performance last year with how he did before his serious injuries, the similarity is rather evident. Actually, as with Thomas, similar offensive numbers indicate improvement, and that’s true of Johnson as well.

Based on these numbers, it appears Johnson’s injury didn’t set him back at all. However, he did lose two seasons of development. Johnson’s 01-02 numbers were impressive for a player who hadn’t quite yet turned 22. Now, with Johnson having turned 24 last month, his potential isn’t nearly so great.

Also, while Johnson was a pretty well regarded defender in Atlanta, the numbers at 82games indicate he was just awful on the defensive end last season. Not only did he make the Knicks 9.3 points per 100 possessions worse on defense, he got torched by opposing shooting guards and small forwards. The former averaged a ridiculous 31.4 points per 48 minutes when Johnson was at the position.

That matches what the good folks at KnicksOnline.com had to say recently about Johnson: “Dermarr Johnson is really something on offense but he has nothing on defense.”

I don’t know that I’d say that Johnson is “really something” on offense; he looks pretty good compared to Anderson every year besides 2002-03, but 18.9 points per 48 minutes at an efficiency slightly below league average is nothing to hang your hat on.

Again, we’ll run the similarity scores on Johnson to try to get a read on where he’s going. It’s interesting to note that the defining characteristic of Johnson in this regard is a great “Shoot” rating, based on his 36.1% three-point shooting and 90.3% free-throw shooting last year. So we get a lot of one-dimensional shooters, like Joe Hassett and Tracy Murray. It’s also “interesting” to note that a pair of Knicks teammates, Allan Houston (as a rookie in Detroit) and Anderson (circa 1997, the Utah days), show up amongst Johnson’s 20 most comparable players.

In terms of drawing conclusions, I want to temper my initial reaction based on my knowledge that there’s a reason I haven’t heard of the guys on the list who weren’t successful; If I pay attention only to the players I know, I’ll overestimate Anderson. The first three players on the list — Paul Thompson, Linton Townes, and Rodney Buford — hardly inspire confidence. Further down, however, are guys like Houston, Terry Teagle, and another Knicks shooting guard, John Starks, all of whom went on to solid careers or better.

Ultimately, I think Johnson is worth a longer look next season to see if he can make dramatic strides in his second season after the injury, and I’d rather have him on the roster than Anderson, all things considered, but Ariza may pass him in the Knicks’ plans at small forward.

Kevin Pelton writes “Page 23” for Hoopsworld.com on a semi-regular basis. He can be reached at kpelton@hoopsworld.com. Check back Monday for his analysis of the Knicks’ power forwards.

With the 43rd pick of the 2004 NBA Draft …

“Here’s the one you’ve been waiting for here at the Garden,” Deputy Commissioner Russ Granik said in introducing the Knicks’ pick.

And what exactly would that be? A backup small forward. Apparently. Isiah Thomas went with UCLA forward Trevor Ariza, who I foolishly neglected to mention this morning. Ariza makes a lot of sense from the Knicks; he’s very athletic, which Thomas likes, and a defensive upgrade on Shandon Anderson and Dermarr Johnson. I had Erik Daniels rated ahead of him, but Ariza is the clear winner in terms of potential, and the 43rd pick isn’t a bad place to try to get lucky.

Surprising no one, none of the trade rumors involving the Knicks came true on what turned out to be a surprisingly quiet draft day. The only major trades, of course, were those announced yesterday but being made official today.

30 Second Draft Recap

Five Best Picks
1. Anderson Varejao, Orlando/Peter John Ramos, Washington – not exactly difficult picks, but good value nonetheless. I disqualify Luol Deng at seven, Josh Smith at 17, and Jameer Nelson at 20 as being too obvious/lucky.
2. Romain Sato, San Antonio – gives the Spurs another quality perimeter defender at pick 52.
3. Delonte West, Boston – $5 says he’s Boston’s starting point by season’s end (I’m on a high after winning $3 in a pool to predict the Sonics’ 12th pick this evening)
4. Tony Allen, Boston – is he a good fit? Could they have gotten him later? I don’t care — I love this guy that much.
5. Blake Stepp, Minnesota – and thus ends the Darrick Martin era.

Five Worst Picks/Biggest Reaches
1. Josh Childress, Atlanta – is there anyone who doesn’t see us looking back on this and mocking the Hawks? I think there’s a pretty good chance Deng, Luke Jackson, and Andre Iguodala are all better players than Childress.
2. Royal Ivey, Atlanta – all or nothing night for the Hawks. Ivey would have been a reach in the 50s; he’s a decent passer, but he makes Chris Duhon look like Michael Jordan.
3. Sebastian Telfair, Portland – uh, why couldn’t they have gotten him at 22 or 23?
4. Lionel Chalmers, L.A. Clippers – about five better point guards left on the board at that point.
5. Ben Gordon, Chicago – sorry, I just don’t get this one, and I don’t think he’s all he’s cracked up to be.

Lots of interesting NCAA free agents — Jamie Lloreda, Daniels, Nigel Dixon, Andre Barrett, Bryant Matthews, Arthur Johnson. It will be interesting to see where they end up and if they can do as well as guys like Marquis Daniels and Theron Smith.

(Subsequent edit — NYC native Barrett has signed on with the Knicks for summer-league play. Isiah Thomas targeted him after the draft and got the job done. Nice work Isiah!)

Kevin Pelton writes “Page 23” for Hoopsworld.com on a semi-regular basis. He can be reached at kpelton@hoopsworld.com.

Knicks and the Draft

The Knicks have only the 43rd pick tonight, but there’s still a chance they make things interesting with some deals. First off, I’d suggest checking out the Knicks’ Web site’s Draft Preview. Tough to say how much, if at all, this reflects what Knicks management is actually thinking. If their web crew is anything like us in Seattle, they’re totally guessing (albeit educated guessing). The Post has a slightly different list of swingmen.

From that article, I get the most positive feelings about Jackson Vroman, Arthur Johnson, Darius Rice, and Tim Pickett. Check out my NCAA Draft Analysis for my thoughts on these guys. Basically, all of them but Rice would be solid picks at 43. I don’t think Rice can play in this league, but the Knicks.com article correctly points out he fits Isiah Thomas’ athleticism mantra to a tee.

If I was the Knicks, two guys I’d consider looking at are Erik Daniels, to play backup small forward when Shandon Anderson gets bought out/traded, and Nigel Dixon as a project in the middle. Must be something about guys who played in the state of Kentucky. . . .

The more interesting stuff from the New York angle is a couple of trade rumors. David Aldridge is reporting a Jerry Stackhouse for Kurt Thomas swap. This, of course, would do for the Knicks nothing but officially giving them the record for most money paid to one position in NBA history. I mean, maybe they’re thinking they can deal Houston and play Stackhouse at the two? But they can’t.

Peter Vescey, meanwhile, reports (I know, I know) that the Sonics are considering Kurt Thomas for Jerome James and the number 12 pick. I actually think this might be a nice deal for both sides. The Sonics don’t want James, but his defensive presence is underrated and the Knicks could get a solid piece with number 12. How about Kirk Snyder upgrading the perimeter defense? Seattle takes on Thomas’ contract, but doesn’t have to get any younger, which they really don’t want to do.

Maybe some post-Draft thoughts later. . . .

Kevin Pelton writes “Page 23” for Hoopsworld.com on a semi-regular basis. He can be reached at kpelton@hoopsworld.com.

Knicks Roster Analysis – Shooting Guards

I’m disappointed I have to bump down David’s excellent piece to post this. If you haven’t already read Part Two of his off-season preview, I suggest you scroll down and do so now. If you haven’t read my point guard analysis, that’s probably also worth reading before this post so that you understand what I’m doing here.

I’d like to take a second to discuss one thing David mentioned:

“In a pre-playoff article posted at NJ.com by the Newark Star-Ledger’s Dave D?Alessandro (whose link appears to have expired) Marbury talked unselfconsciously about taking his rest on defense to keep himself fresh throughout the game.”

Is this more common than you might think? I think so. Gary Payton never admitted as much, but watching him go from The Glove to a defensive liability, I think conserving his energy to play 40 minutes a game was a big part of the explanation. Frankly, it’s not a bad trade-off. Guys like Marbury and Payton are so far above the level of their backups (this was especially true in Seattle from 1999-2001) that the extra productivity just isn’t worth taking them off the court (or hurting their offense). Dean Oliver, as I understand it, actually tends to think teams ought to slack off more than they do. But that’s neither here nor there.

Allan Houston

Year    MPG   PPG   RPG  APG   TS%  Reb%  Pass   Off   Def  Win%  WARP  Value  Salary
01-02 37.8 20.4 3.3 2.5 .540 5.0 0.24 92.2 91.3 .498 5.9
02-03 37.9 22.5 2.8 2.7 .563 4.4 0.31 93.5 90.9 .546 9.5
03-04 36.0 18.5 2.4 2.0 .539 3.9 0.15 90.8 90.1 .484 3.1 $3.843 $17.53

Hollinger is fond of saying that Houston and former teammate Latrell Sprewell are the NBA’s most overrated players, but I’m not buying it. Overpaid yes, overrated no. Maybe Hollinger hasn’t spent as much time in his life reading message boards as I have, but there’s plenty of invective to go around for Houston, as if he was supposed to say “no, thanks” to Scott Layden’s offer. This is not a case where a player got a big contract and stopped working; other than last year’s injury, Houston is who he’s always been — I generally rate 2002-03 as the best season of his career — and that’s simply not all that good.

Houston has been a very good offensive player for a long time, and even last year, when he was way down, presumably due to chondromalacia in his left knee, he still rated well above average on the offensive end of the court. Still, you have to be a better offensive player than Houston to be particularly valuable without contributing much on defense or on the glass. Houston’s defensive statistics are actually pretty decent, but his reputation is as a sieve, and his knee problems surely won’t help that.

I have some experience with chondromalacia, having watched Sue Bird fight it for the WNBA’s Seattle Storm all of last season, and it bothered her tremendously. After having surgery, she has been a completely different player this season. Houston has supposedly ruled against surgery, but even a summer’s worth of rest should do wonders for him.

I’ve got to say, I was very impressed by Houston’s reaction to being exposed by the Knicks in yesterday’s Expansion Draft (needless to say, neither he nor any other Knicks were taken).

“I thought Isiah handled it in a classy way,” Houston’s agent, Bill Strickland, told the Post. “We were made aware of it and what his thinking is. Allan was fine and understanding why. He called ahead of time, explained the situation, showed a great deal of respect to Allan, who had a chance to chat with him directly.”

Contrast that with the Celtics’ Chucky Atkins, who has earned absolutely no right to complain about being exposed yet still said, “If they aren?t going to protect me, then I don?t want to be there,” he said. “If you?re going to leave me unprotected, that?s a slap in the face to me.” *Pause for laughter*

Anfernee Hardaway

Year    MPG   PPG   RPG  APG   TS%  Reb%  Pass   Off   Def  Win%  WARP  Value  Salary
01-02 30.8 12.0 4.4 4.1 .472 8.0 1.48 89.0 89.8 .489 4.6
02-03 30.7 10.6 4.4 4.1 .499 8.2 1.41 88.7 89.8 .487 3.2
03-04 27.6 9.2 3.8 2.3 .472 7.9 0.58 87.6 89.4 .456 2.5 $3.179 $14.63

Has any team in NBA history ever spent $30 million on a position before? That’s a rhetorical question, but I imagine the team to come closest was the 2000-01 Portland Trail Blazers with Shawn Kemp and Rasheed Wallace at power forward. Neither they nor the Knicks at the two got very good return on their investment.

It’s somewhat sad to think about what might have been with Hardaway’s career had he not suffered so many knee injuries. He was a superstar at 23 on a team that went to the NBA Finals, then Shaquille O’Neal left and it’s been one long comedown ever since for Hardaway.

As recently as the last couple of years, Hardaway still had some value, and he had a pretty good run as the Suns’ starter at the two when they went to the playoffs a season ago. By last year, he wasn’t even at that level anymore. Hardaway has contracted a bit of Ron Mercer disease — shooting a bunch of non-three jumpers. I did a quick calculation and found the percentage of shooting possessions (FGA + .44*FTA) players used on two-point shots. Obviously, big men typically use more; amongst shooting guards, Hardaway ranked seventh at 81%. It shouldn’t be a surprise that most of those guys aren’t very efficient (though Marquis Daniels and Rip Hamilton did manage to buck the trend).

Hardaway’s been a fine ballhandler since moving off the point, but for some reason his assist numbers tanked last season. That’s the biggest reason his offensive rating (and, thus, winning percentage) went down. Hardaway will probably rebound a little next season, but on the other hand, he’ll be 33 this summer, and that’s not exactly an age where guys improve much.

It makes me feel old to think that Hardaway probably only has a few more NBA seasons left in him. It still seems like yesterday he and Shaq were making Blue Chips and the Magic was playing Hardaway at the two to let him learn the ropes with Scott Skiles still at the point. And now Skiles is on his second coaching job. Time flies, doesn’t it?

I mentioned earlier the possibility of a buyout with Hardaway; now, to explain why it isn’t going to happen. The Knicks will hang on to Hardaway in the hopes that his ending contract can be dealt for something in 2005-06. Really, that’s not a bad idea; Hardaway is still above replacement level. It would be nice to see Williams get his minutes, however.

Kevin Pelton writes “Page 23” for Hoopsworld.com on a semi-regular basis. He can be reached at kpelton@hoopsworld.com. Check back Friday for his analysis of the Knicks’ small forwards.