Way Too Early Season Review Part II

If you haven’t read Part I already, then you might want to do so now.

The main reason the Knicks can afford losing Kurt Thomas is because Mike Sweetney (18.1, 17.1, -6.2) is ready to play PF full time. I’m not the only one who feels this way. Back in June, supersonics.com writer Kevin Pelton said the best age-21 comparisons for Sweetney are Zach Randolph and Carlos Boozer. While Basketball Forecast author John Hollinger thinks the former Hoya is ready to break out and become a 14-12 guy. Sweetney has two major strengths: he can score efficiently, and he can rebound. He’s hitting 55% of his shots, and he leads the Knicks in points per shot attempt:

Player's Name	 PSA 
M. Sweetney.... 1.26
J. Williams.... 1.25
Stephon Marbury 1.20
N. Mohammed.... 1.14
J. Crawford.... 1.03
Kurt Thomas.... 1.00
A. Hardaway.... 0.96
Trevor Ariza... 0.88
Tim Thomas.... 0.83
Vin Baker...... 0.46
Moochie Norris. 0.44
Jamison Brewer. 0.41

(Jerome Williams’ PSA is that high because he only shoots when he’s 3 feet from the hoop with a clear path.)

In addition to being a good scorer, Sweetney had the highest rebound rate on the team last year. Isiah may not clear the way for him to start this year for numerous reasons. With the Knicks on a quest to win the Atlantic, they might not want to trust the PF position to a second year player, Zeke might not be able to peddle Kurt for something the Knicks need, or they’re keeping Thomas as insurance for the center position, because the backup is gulp Vin Baker (12, 20, -1.2 last year).

The most surprising Knick up to this point is Nazr Mohammed (21.5, 17.0, +14.2). Upon seeing his numbers I thought the improvement was because he cut down on his personal fouls, but his rate hasn’t changed over the last few years. The major improvements I’ve found are in his shooting percentage (52.7%) and offensive rebounding (6.1/40min). FG% is the stat that fluctuates the most from year to year, but this year’s improvement shouldn’t be a fluke considering he shot 56% after being traded to New York last year. What might drop Nazr back to earth is his offensive rebounding. His highest rate in a full season is 4.5OREB/40mins back in 2001, and he’s a point and a half ahead of that.

In fact I think Nazr’s improvment in shooting percentage is directly related to his offensive rebounding. Last year in Atlanta, Nazr had a lower rebounding percentage, only 49% of his shots were inside, and 63% of them were assisted. Whereas in New York, his numbers are 60% and 54% respectively. Simply put, since coming to the Knicks about 10% of his shots are now unassisted and in the paint. It sounds like he’s earning those by cleaning up on the glass.

Another thing I like about Nazr is his combination of good hands and ability to finish. Mohammed usually converts on a Marbury drive & pass in the paint. Mohammed’s downfall is his weak defense, especially at the critical center position. He doesn’t bail out the other Knick defenders with blocked shots, something the Knicks could use thanks to their all around poor defense.

I think the whole city of New York has watched every step of Tim Thomas on the court (4.0, 14.9, -8.3), and it’s safe to say that I don’t need to do a full review on him. If his problem was mental & he’s back to normal, I think we can give him a Mulligan on the first month of the season. If he doesn’t regain his form, he’ll be replaced in the lineup before long. His defense looks like it’s improved slightly, down from the 16.4 oPER from last year.

The Knicks best defensive position is SF (13.8 oPER). While Thomas has improved, it’s the other three guys that can take a lion’s share of the credit. Jerome Williams (18.7, 15.8, +11.9), Trevor Ariza (13.2, 13.4, -1.3), and occasionally Penny Hardaway (10.5, 11.7, +3) are all fine defenders in their own right. Unfortunately the revival of Tim Thomas spells less time for the two most energetic Knicks, Williams and Ariza. Early on in the season Ariza was getting good court time, but these days it’s likely that he’ll play less than 10 minutes. The recipient of Ariza’s decline in minutes is Jerome Williams who has worked his way out of the dog house (pun intended). The SF situation is the same as it was last Monday when I said:

New York has a real logjam. There doesn’t seem to be a clear solution in sight. Thomas and Hardaway are nearly untradeable due to their large contracts, while trading Ariza would be insane due to his potential. I’d hate to see Jerome Williams go, because his game is uniquely different from anyone else’s on the team. So maybe everyone stays until the summer, when Hardaway and Thomas become more attractive as $30M in expiring contracts.

If it seems that the Knicks have too many forwards, they might have a similar problem with the guards once Allan Houston becomes healthy. How Lenny Wilkens handles this should be interesting. Houston will initially come off the bench, but if he’s back to his true form, who plays the two guard spots in the fourth quarter between Starbury, Crawford and Houston? The guard quandary is more difficult to solve than the PF or SF one. Guys like Ariza, Sweetney and “JYD” can handle being benched due to their circumstances, but how do you tell the 3 Knicks accustom to taking last second shots that one has to sit?

Wilkens giving Ariza few minutes isn’t much to get upset about. Trevor is young and inexperienced, and there is a lot of depth at SF. But Lenny needs find more time for Sweetney. Although he’s averaging 17 minutes a game, his time has dwindled so much that against Toronto he played a total of 17 minutes in 2 games. There are times that Jerome Williams’ infectious style and hustle are what the Knicks will require, but for a majority of the time Sweetney should be the first big man off the bench.

Generally Wilkens gets a good grade in my book. Other than Sweetney’s playing time, I have a hard time finding anything else largely disagreeable. This year the Knicks have a fair amount of depth, and Wilkens has to walk a tight line between winning now, developing their young talent, and keeping everyone happy.

As I write this, the Knicks just slipped back over .500 with an OT win over the Hawks. Writing this took a life on it’s own, because the Knicks have so many interesting topics to hit on. This year we have developing youngsters, players battling for time, Allan Houston’s return, a division race, and the speculation that Isiah Thomas can rearrange the team at a moment’s notice. Watching tonight’s game made me realize that only a short time ago, the Knicks were more like the Hawks, a team just looking forward to the next draft.

Way Too Early Season Review Part I

The Knicks are 6-6, good enough to sit atop of the Atlantic division, a half a game ahead of the Sixers. Although it’s tough to be unhappy about being in first place, things aren’t all as good as it seems. New York ranks 25th in defensive efficiency, and next to last in defensive shooting percentage (51% eFG). With all of 12 games under it’s belt, we’ve seen enough of the Knicks to start evaluating the players individually. To give a complete view, I’m going to mix my observations (I’ve watched all but one of their games) with some statistical methods.

To validate what my eyes have seen, I’ll use three stats to get a general overall value of a player, PER, oPER, and Roland Rating. If you have any doubts that PER is a good measure of offensive ability, the last two years the top 5 PER belonged to Garnett, Duncan, Shaq, Kobe and McGrady, which passes my litmus test. oPER (opposition PER) is less accurate because of how defense is played in the NBA (switched defensive assignments, help defense, zone defense, double teams, etc.), but can still be valuable up to a point. According to 82games.com, Roland Rating “represents a player’s value to a particular team and are not intended to be an accurate gauge of the ability and talent of the player away from the specific team.” Since it takes the player in context of his team, and we’re only looking at the players on one team, it’s perfect for our needs. So you can train your eyes on what to look for, I’m going to use it with these colors: (offensive PER, defensive PER, +/-Roland Rating).

Let’s start with the Knicks’ best player Stephon Marbury (24.3PER, 15.7oPER, +13.7RR). There’s nothing here that is different from every scouting report on the Knicks PG: great offense, mediocre defense. I’ve lost hope of Marbury ever turning up his intensity on defense, but for someone who has the untapped ability to be a good defender, he shouldn’t be criticizing his teammates for their lackluster play under their hoop. It’s easier to ignore Starbury’s aversion to defense when his offense is that good, and when the alternative could be Moochie Norris (0, 12.1, -12.4). Yes folks, thats a zero offensive PER. Norris is currently on the IR, and if I were the Knicks I wouldn’t be in a big hurry to bring him back. According to the Pro Basketball Forecast his PER has declined each of the last 4 years. Deteriorating production, being on the wrong side of 30, a long contract, and not being that good to begin with is a bad combination (right Shanderson?). Giving Norris’ few minutes to a younger and bigger Jamison Brewer can’t hurt.

Thankfully, the primary backup for Marbury is the Knicks’ new acquisition Jamal Crawford (16.1, 21.6, +2.4). He has been good offensively, but his defense is porous. Crawford’s thin frame is ill-suited to fight through picks, and too fragile to slow down a drive once the other team gets a step on him. Jamal has an excellent handle, but there is nothing more frustrating than having Crawford settling for a jumper (which comprise 82% of his shots), after he’s faked his defender with a series of fancy dribbles. Crawford should force the issue towards the basket with his great passing and dribbling skills. In addition, he’d do well getting fouled driving to the hoop, since the guy makes a free throw shot look like a layup (86% FT).

Crawford’s only 24, so I hope the Knicks coaching staff can get Jamal to produce a little more before he becomes set in his ways. For someone that will likely be in New York for the next 7 years, I’d like for him to be able to give us a little more production, either on offense and defense. He has excellent skills to build on: quickness, dribbling, a good shot, and that three point buzzer beater shows his confidence. He just needs to be smarter with his shot, and work on his defensive fundamentals. The Knicks announcers always make me chuckle with the line “he gets his hands on a lot of balls”, and Crawford’s one positive aspect on defense is creating turnovers (2.1 STL per 40 minutes).

It’s no secret that the Knicks’ defense has been pitiful, but what surprised me is what position has been their worst. I would have thought opposing shooting guards would be circling the New York dates on their schedule, but it’s actually been the power forward position that’s given the Knicks the most trouble. Amazed as I was, 82games.com reports that PFs have a 20.8 PER against the Knicks. Checking their individual stats, it’s Kurt Thomas (15.3, 22.5, -9.2) who seems to be the culprit. Just to make sure this year’s results aren’t a victim of small sample size, I checked last year’s stats, where Kurt shows up as a below average defender (17.5 oPER) as well.

Watching the games I would have never believed this, so I decided to double check this manually. Since Thomas plays more minutes at PF than anyone else on the team, it’s logical to judge his worth by the opposing starting PF. For every Knicks game, I added the stats for every PF that played more than 20 minutes. The compiled offensive line is very nice from an offensive standpoint: 15.3 Points in 33 minutes on 56% eFG. Of the 15 opponents in my list, only 5 had an adjusted shooting percentage under 50% against the Knicks.

The Knicks have played some great PFs in Duncan, Garnett, Nowitzki, and Brand, but even guys like Gooden (11-16, 25PTS 75% eFG), Austin Croshere (3-4 12PTS 100%), and Matt Bonner (12-16, 24PTS 75% in 2 games) are having great shooting nights. I know that Kurt has a great reputation as a man-man defender, but the numbers say otherwise. Guys like Garnett and Duncan will score against any defender, however if Kurt is as good as his reputation, he should be able to handle the Crosheres and Bonners of the NBA. Thomas’ defense isn’t the only issue. His ability to get to the charity stripe has been fading since 2001.

year	FTA/40

2001 3.8
2002 2.9
2003 2.0
2004 0.8

The news isn’t all bad for Thomas, as his shooting as held steady over his career (currently at a nice even 50%), and his rebounding has spiked up this year. Additionally, he doesn’t turn the ball over too often.

If you disliked reading the last two paragraphs as much as I hated writing them, you’re going to really hate this one. At this moment, Thomas is the Knicks’ most attractive tradable asset. Why? First, for GMs that still use traditional stats, he’s a double-double (maybe the most misleading stat in the NBA) that’s shooting 50% and probably still has that good reputation as a tough defender. His contract is reasonable (more reasonable this year at $6M, than in 4 years at $8M). Although he’s past his prime at age 32, that Thomas has a been a healthy and solid contributor over the last 6 years makes him a nice fit for a team looking for a veteran presence to help them for a playoff run. Additionally the Knicks can easily make up for Thomas’ production with two underused players in Sweetney and Williams. Finally, although other teams covet the Knicks’ little used young players like Sweetney and Ariza, the Knicks would be unlikely to get fair value in return.

That’s the end of Part I. Tune in for Part II, where I continue with my ranting & raving.

Welcome Back Tim Thomas

Rewinding back to Monday, I had a theory that Tim Thomas’ problem was psychological:

“His per minute averages are about the same across the board except for points & assists… This makes me think the problem may not be physical … If it were, I would expect his stats based on physical ability (steals, rebounds) would see the biggest change … he’s suddenly & inexplicably lost his ability to make a shot… Watching Thomas it’s hard to tell if he’s mentally unhappy… It’ll be interesting to see if he can snap out of his shooting funk because everything else is right where it should be.”

A few days later on Thursday, the Daily News reported:

“Tim Thomas admitted yesterday that family-related issues have affected him on the court this season. Over the summer, Thomas had to deal with the death of his sister and a cousin. Last week, Thomas’ mother underwent surgery for an undisclosed illness.”

Fast forward to today, and Thomas rediscovered his shooting touch, at home against the Raptors. Tim went 8 for 14 with 17 points, a highly efficient 60% eFG%. It’s easily his best effort in over 2 weeks, and the most Thomas-like game since last year.

I could speculate that it’s the airing of his problems publicly to the press that snapped him out of his funk. There is usually a big relief when you’ve shared your internal problems with others. I might wonder if his mother’s surgery was successful, alleviating some of his mental duress. It would make sense that he would play better hearing good results about a close family member’s health.

However this is all conjecture, and really I don’t have any basis for any of it. I’m not Thomas’ psychologist or best friend. I’ve never met the guy, or anyone that even knows him. I don’t know how his mother’s surgery turned out. All I know is that after spending the first part of the season shooting the ball like Ben Wallace blindfolded, he had a game more typical of what he’s done over his career. One game doesn’t mean that Thomas is totally “cured”, and the next time he goes 3-10, the Garden is going to grumble that maybe he’s entered another extended slump.

What I do know is that player’s skills rarely erode at the age of 27 without the help of a crippling injury, so it’s very likely that if Thomas’ problems were mental. If he’s gotten that aspect under control, we should see him return to his normal form.

Right now I’m working on a review the Knicks early season. It will be ready by Monday or Tuesday morning. Find out which players are cutting it, and which ones should be cut.

Win Some, Lose Some

What a difference a day makes. Yesterday the Knicks looked like the ’92 Dream Team at home against the Hawks. A day later they more resembled the Angolans staggering after a Charles Barkley elbow. The Toronto Raptors beat the Knicks yesterday by 23 points. Although both teams are now one game under .500, the Raptors have the slight edge in their win %, taking first place in the Atlantic.

Hawks 88 Knicks 104

New York should have expected a good offensive explosion. Using conventional statistics, the Hawks defense merely looks bad, because they rank 24th in points allowed per game. However they are actually the worse defensive team in the league, giving up 106 points for every 100 possessions. It’s Atlanta’s slow pace (93 possessions per game, 22nd) that masks how futile they are in protecting their basket. Being ranked last in shooting percentage (51.4% eFG%), is a main contributor to their pitiful defense.

The Knicks-Hawks game looked over in the first quarter. Early on, Stephon Marbury was breaking down the defense, and finding the open man time and time again. Atlanta had no inside help, as Nazr Mohammed and Kurt Thomas got off to fast starts. By my eye their interior defense looked awful and the stats confirm this 82games.com shows the Hawks to give up a 22.1 PER to opposing centers. (PER is John Hollinger’s stat, and does a great job rating a player’s offensive ability.) Last year a 22.1 would have been somewhere between Dirk Nowitzki and Yao Ming. In other words, the Hawks long for the day when Theo Ratliff or Dekembe Mutombo roamed their paint.

Even though the game was a laugher, the bench guys didn’t get a lot of minutes. Sweetney only played 17 minutes, and Ariza only 10. There was a Bruno sighting, but Sundov only played 2 minutes and missed both of his attempts. The question I have to ask is when you’re up by 15 to start the 4th quarter, why not give the bench guys some burn? Some point in the season guys like Sweetney, Ariza, and possibly Sundov will have to step up due to injury or circumstance. Could there be a better team to build up their confidence, than the worst ranked defense in the league?

The one guy that did make a name for himself is Jamison Brewer. The backup PG came in for Marbury and had a fantastic jam in the 4th quarter. He came up a bit lame from the thunderous score, but shook off the injury to finish the game. A while back a poster on the RealGM.com board suggested that Brewer might be the Knicks’ answer to a perimeter defender. He certainly has the athleticism, but defense is largely based on fundamentals. Watching him for 12 minutes in a blowout isn’t enough to judge whether or not he can shut down opposing players.

Knicks 91 Raptors 114

The next night, Brewer would see some action as well, but this time in mop up duty against Toronto. Scott sent his condolences, but I didn’t suffer much because this is the first Knicks game of the year that I did not watch. The 23 point loss was New York’s second worst of the year. For every Knicks game, I keep track of each of the four main factors: shooting, turnovers, rebounding, and getting to the foul line. This way I can quickly see how New York won, or in this case lost. Last night’s game against the Raptors looks very similar to the 34 point beating they took from the Celtics.

BOS -16% -8% -11% -2%
TOR -15% -6% +8% -2%

Except for rebounding, the numbers are identical. I’ve noted since the season began that the Knicks would have trouble if they didn’t increase their defensive intensity. It’s no coincidence that their worst defensive shooting games of the year (59.7% & 57.1%) were also their two biggest losses. Although the Knicks finally held another team under the league shooting average (Atlanta 47%), accomplishing this 1 in every 10 games is a recipe for a tumultuous season. Of their next 4 opponents, only Memphis (16th) is an average shooting team. Against Atlanta (27th), Orlando (26th), and Charlotte (24th) the Knicks can right their woes. It’s time for them to turn the heat on, and make a defensive stand.

Inconsistent Penalties Send A Dangerously Mixed Message to Fans

[Today’s entry comes to us from guest-blogger David Crockett, Ph.D. He is an Assistant Professor of Marketing at the University of South Carolina, and can be reached at dcrockett17@yahoo.com.]

Like everyone else reading this blog I was very disturbed by the events at Auburn Hills on 19 November 2004 (and at Clemson University the following day). I am in equal measure disappointed, in the aftermath of those events, by what has passed for discourse and analysis among the punditry. Conjecture has been presented as fact. A suitable (and in large part deserving) scapegoat has been offered up in sacrifice to the basketball gods in hopes that this will all soon go away. Subsequent moralizing and grandstanding about the evils of ?hip hop culture? has been both self-serving and cynical. It has not been a good week in the world of sports, nor for the people who make a living writing or talking about them. The commissioner, alas, has spoken leaving little room for doubt about his feelings on these matters. With the authority invested in him by the league he has delivered justice as he has seen fit. With the authority invested in me by the Knickerblogger I offer a few words of commentary on the suspensions (as well as the Stern press conference).

In a sentence, the penalties were generally much harsher than I?d have guessed. Though I cannot say I am stunned by them. (I also suspect that the O?Neal suspension will ultimately be lowered some. I feel much less confident that Artest?s or Jackson?s will be lowered.) What left me scratching my head however was that the commissioner left the Detroit Pistons franchise untouched?no fines, no loss of home games, and no fan ban. Although the suspensions provide precedent-setting (and likely necessary) disincentives for players to overreact, fans have no real disincentives for losing self-control. I applaud the verbal tongue-lashing Stern gave to fans that cross the line but I didn?t hear anything substantive from our beloved commish. Why wouldn?t some fan try even bolder measures than tossing debris to provoke a player into a suspension next time? If I seem overly cynical about fan behavior check the current bid on the cup that allegedly hit Ron Artest in the face over at ebay (search on ?pacers pistons cup?).

Certainly the penalties against the players involved needed to be punitive in nature. That is, they needed to constitute a serious deterrent to similar future behavior, even beyond the specifics or the players themselves. Of course, one could make the case that such deterrents don?t matter in the heat of the moment, but Knicks fans know better. We have lived with the horror of seeing perhaps our best chance for a ring turned into a cautionary tale about the consequences of leaving the bench. These kinds of deterrents may not keep two hot heads from overreacting in the heat of the moment but they can keep a simple flare-up from escalating into all-out catastrophe. As Stern alludes to in his press conference, his nightmare scenario of players rushing into the stands and permanently injuring someone, or causing them to be injured, almost came true. As was so vividly demonstrated in this summer?s incident involving Texas Rangers pitcher Frank Francisco, who threw a chair at one fan and broke another woman?s nose, in a moment of justifiable (or at least understandable) rage it is the innocent who are most likely to be hurt. Although wise policy can never ensure this does not happen it can at least lower the odds.

The player suspensions, frankly, were the easy part for the commissioner. Given his swift and sure sense of justice concerning the players his reaction to the fan behavior exhibited in Detroit (to this point) is unsatisfying and quite puzzling. It seems to me that he intentionally turned his back on a profound opportunity to actually redraw the symbolic line between players and fans that he claims has faded. On the one hand he rightly admonished fans for escalating a bad situation into a horrible one. However, he goes on to moralize, calling for a fuzzy ?new covenant? between players and fans, rather than holding the Pistons directly accountable for fan behavior, something that is well within his power and long recognized as acceptable practice in sports management. More to the point, at a time when deterrents to ill behavior are generally acknowledged to be needed on both sides he came down like Lord Darth Vader on out-of-control players but more like Deepak Chopra on equally out-of-control fans. He failed to use tactics that are well within his purview to deter widespread disruptive fan behavior. This is bizarre, as both player and fan deterrents derive from the same source?The Office of The Commissioner. Players play and fans watch at the discretion of the league. If overly disruptive fan behavior can cost the home team technical free throws in the context of a game, it should ultimately cost home games or ?fan bans? (where home games are played in an empty arena) if escalated to what we all witnessed last week. This is not particularly radical nor was it likely to alienate real fans. I find it unlikely that anyone other than Pistons CEO Tom Wilson would have even suggested that the loss of 1-2 home games or a 1-2 game fan ban was unwarranted in Detroit. Yet Stern essentially ruled out this possibility when asked directly about playing games in an empty stadium by a European journalist. Now if the fan behavior is as deplorable as the commissioner claims don?t they deserve a 1 or 2 game suspension? His basic response was to say that he ?hoped it wouldn?t come to that.? I would submit to you Mr. Commissioner, and to you gentle reader, that it already has.

11/22/04 Odds & Ends

If you watched the Mavs game Friday night, you know the Knicks had two chances to win the game. Down by two, Marbury passed on a three to give an ego boost to Tim Thomas by letting him attempt the final trey. Thomas missed but the ball went out of bounds and the Knicks had another chance. Still down by 2, they threw it to Crawford who missed his newly patented 50 footer.

Down by only 2 points, New York attempted two three pointers and missed both. Isn’t it logical for them to have tried for a 2 instead? I thought about this hard, and the best I could come up with is no. Let’s assume that you’re an NBA coach and have the option of a two pointer or a three pointer with a few seconds left and your team is down by two. The NBA average for three pointers is about 35%, and let’s assume the average NBA two pointer is about 50%. So let’s compare the two options:

A. Attempt 3 pointer:
Chance of winning = 35%

B. Attempt 2 pointer & try to win in OT.
Chance of hitting 2 pointer = 50%
Chance of winning in OT = 50%
Chance of winning = chance of hitting 2 pointer * chance of winning in OT
= 50% * 50% = 25%

With these general odds, it looks like the three pointer is a better chance. However what if we account for the home court advantage? We know that the chance of winning at home is 61%. So the odds of playing for the two and winning in OT at home rise to 30% (50% * 61%). On the road it drops to 20% (50% * 39%). There are hundreds of values you could put in this equation: accounting for the shooters you have, their ability to get open, whether the opposing team has better perimeter or paint defenders, what the defense gives you, how effective your team is getting open, etc. However from what I saw that night, the Knicks had a good open look (actually they had two if you consider Marbury passing on his attempt), so the odds should be just about equal to the player’s ability to hit the three.

Quick Trivia: In per game averages, which Knick is 4th in scoring, 3rd in rebounds, 2nd in free throws (attempted & made), and 1st in eFG%?

Is it me or are the Knicks forcing themselves to play Tim Thomas more? In his first 5 games, Thomas never went over 25 minutes. In the 4 games since, he’s done it 3 times. The Knicks don’t want his value to slide to nothing whether they’re trying to move him, or if he’s coming off the bench. The only problem is his time has come at the expense of Ariza’s. Inversely to Thomas’ minutes, Trevor played 20+ minutes in the Knicks’ first 5 games, but he hasn’t topped that mark since then.

The SF position has become even more cloudy, as Jerome Williams is starting to make a name for himself. Lenny Wilkens put him out there for 24 minutes against Nowitzki, and the Junk Yard Dog lived up to his name by hounding the 7 foot German. Throw in Penny Hardaway who according to 82games.com plays 1/3 of his minutes at SF, and New York has a real logjam. There doesn’t seem to be a clear solution in sight. Thomas and Hardaway are nearly untradeable due to their large contracts, while trading Ariza would be insane due to his potential. I’d hate to see Jerome Williams go, because his game is uniquely different from anyone else’s on the team. So maybe everyone stays until the summer, when Hardaway and Thomas become more attractive as $30M in expiring contracts.

How long before message boards fill up with Artest to (insert poster’s team) trade scenarios?

Getting back to Tim Thomas, his per minute averages are about the same across the board except for points & assists. The drop in his assists go hand in hand with his poor shooting (34% eFG%), because he’s really not involved in the offense these days. This makes me think the problem may not be physical due to the back injury he suffered last year. If it were, I would expect his stats based on physical ability (steals, rebounds) would see the biggest change.

Guest-KnickerBlogger David Crocket said Tim Thomas “may be staring over the edge of the same cliff Roberto Alomar dove off.” Since his decline seems to be related primarily to his shot, maybe he took a turn down Chuck Knoblauch Lane? OK, so he’s hasn’t regressed to the point where Thomas is hitting fans in the stands with his jumper. But he’s suddenly & inexplicably lost his ability to make a shot. Watching Thomas it’s hard to tell if he’s mentally unhappy, since his usual game looks uninspired (not rebounding, not hustling, etc.) It’ll be interesting to see if he can snap out of his shooting funk because everything else is right where it should be.

The Knicks’ still haven’t put out a good defensive effort with respect to shooting percentage. Their last two opponents shot an identical 49.4% (eFG), still well over the league average (47.3%). That makes them 3-0 when they outshot their opponent, and 1-5 when out-gunned.

Before the year started I predicted the Knicks odds of their first 20 games. It looked like they would be most likely to win between 8 & 9 games. Of their next 10 games, only 2 are against winning teams. They play the victorically challenged Hornets, the perennially awful Hawks twice, and expansion team Charlotte. Given that they play 8 games against losing teams, it wouldn’t be ridiculous for them to win 6 of their next 10 and bring their record up to a respectable 9-9.

Trivia Answer: Michael Sweetney. The Knicks second year PF is putting up great numbers, despite being 7th in the team in minutes. He’s also 2nd in blocks per game, and 4th in steals per game.


If you own a TV, by Monday you’ll probably have seen the clips a few hundred times. The one of Artest fouling Ben Wallace. Big Ben pushing/punching Artest in retaliation. The rumble in mid court. Artest and Jackson in the standings. The fan that came out onto the court. Debris pelting the Pacers as they leave the court. Regular speed. Slow motion. Reverse angle. Replayed again. And again. Different channel. Same clips.

The person that is going to get the worst of the fallout is Ron Artest. Had he not gone into the stands, it would have been another sports story. But once he crossed that invisible line between fans and athletes, he turned an ugly incident into a riot on the national news.

Stephen Jackson is just as to blame for his actions, and Ben Wallace was no saint. The difference is neither of these two have Artest’s combination of fame and “history.” Just last year he was an All Star and the defensive player of the year. Just a few weeks ago he was chastised by his team and the media for wanting to leave his team to play music promoter. His history is littered with outbursts, fines, shoves, confrontations, and fights

The players aren’t the only ones to blame here. The asshole fan that hit Artest in the face with a full beer, and the idiot that ran onto the court after bedlam erupted should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Except I won’t remember their names. I know the name of the baseball player that threw a chair in the stands (Frank Francisco), but I don’t know the name of the two animals that ran onto the field to attack a coach in Chicago. I remember Milton Bradley ran amok in Dodger Stadium last year, but I don’t know the name of the man arrested for throwing a ice ball onto the field at Giants Stadium.

I can’t pay money to see those repugnant fans in person, but I can plunk down my credit card to get within earshot of the Pacers. That’s why players have to be the better person in these cases. If not they’ll be reliving their mistakes. In slow motion. Reverse angle. Again and again.