Robinson’s Shot Overshaddows Frye’s Start

Although it was Nate Robinson who earned most of the plaudits for his single game heroics on Saturday, it was another Knick rookie that took a step forward in his burgeoning career. This weekend Channing Frye was inserted into the starting lineup for the first time in his career. Frye adjusted well to the transition, scoring 21 points on 57% shooting, and turned the ball over only once. Since Knicks coach Larry Brown changes his lineups as often as he changes his underwear, it’s uncertain whether Frye’s performance will earn him a permanent spot in the starting 5.

Many Knick fans were uncertain what to expect from the number 8 pick in the draft. Despite raising some eyebrows with the strength portion of the NBA Pre-Draft work outs, the power forward out of Arizona never shed the soft label from early on in his college career. Frye didn’t earn a spot in the Knicks’ rotation with a weak summer league, including one game where he amassed 10 fouls. Coming into the season I wrote this about him:

“I?m still not sure what to expect out of Frye. His frame resembles that of Marcus Camby, but he lacks Camby?s high flying theatrics. On the other hand Frye has a nice touch from the outside and should make a fine partner for Marbury on the pick & roll. With the depth at power forward and Brown?s predisposition towards rookies it?s hard to tell exactly who will see playing time.”

Looking at his last 5 games, my comments are laughable for die hard Knick fans whose faith in Frye never swayed. In that span, Channing has roughly averaged 19 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 block. However, I don’t feel so bad about my concern over the rookie power forward considering that the New York coach didn’t have much faith in him either.

Frye was a DNP for the Knicks’ opening season loss to Boston, and was played sparingly afterwards. After his 19 point outburst in as many minutes on November 13th, Brown kept the rookie on the court for only 11 minutes the day after. In that game, the Knicks struggled to beat a shorthanded Jazz squad. New York managed only 73 points, and they could have benefited from Frye’s scoring touch. Instead they used Antonio Davis (22min, 0pts), Malik Rose (19min, 7pts), and David Lee (12min, 2pts). Maybe that performance prompted Brown to give Frye more minutes over the last 5 games.

On the offensive end of the court, Channing Frye’s outside touch is reminiscent of Kurt Thomas. His slender build doesn’t make him as good of a pick and roll partner as the former Knick, although he’s accurate with the jumper facing the hoop from at least 19 feet. Instead Frye takes advantage of opposing big men fearing the unfamiliar confines outside the paint. Channing is not devoid of an interior game and he can hit a jump hook from inside the paint. The statistics back up Frye’s offensive performance, as he is leading the Knicks in scoring per minute (23pts/40) and shooting percentage (51.2% eFG).

Aside from his scoring prowess, Frye’s rebounding has been a pleasant surprise. Coming into the season, the Knicks had lost their three best rebounders in Sweetney, Thomas, and Jerome Williams. Additionally Isiah’s two main acquisitions, Jerome James and Eddy Curry, were notoriously bad in that regard. However Frye has the second best rebound rate (14.7) among the Knick regulars. In fact Channing is showing a well rounded game, averaging 1.2 steals and 1.5 blocks per 40 minutes.

Unfortunately for Frye rookie card holders, his status in the near future is uncertain. Due to Eddy Curry and Matt Barnes’ injuries, Brown has been forced to move Antonio Davis to center and Malik Rose to small forward. When both players are healthy, Channing Frye is going to have more competition than just Maurice Taylor, David Lee, and Jackie Butler. My guess is that when that time comes, Frye is going to feel the crunch as Coach Brown continues to rotate his players in order to gain some knowledge of their skills and keeps them prepared to play. Curry will hold onto the center spot, even if for only 24 minutes a game and Antonio Davis will stay on in his role as captain of the defense. Frye will be the primary big man off the bench, and he’ll see extra minutes on nights that Curry or Davis are plagued with foul trouble. Barring injury and considering Brown’s fondness of Davis’ defensive ability, Frye’s ceiling his rookie year might be a spot alongside Davis for the Knick fourth quarters.

The Knicks Guard Quandary

Going into preseason the Knicks were suppose to have stability at the guard spots. During the summer Allan Houston initially slipped out from under the guillotine that bore his name (the “Allan Houston Rule”), which meant another season of uncertainty concerning how much and what role he would play on the team. However his knee had other ideas, and forced Houston to retire before the season started. Isiah Thomas had brought in Quentin Richardson and drafted Nate Robinson which meant the Knicks would have depth and reliability coming into the season. Unfortunately things haven’t turned out as planned.

Quentin Richardson, who was to solidify the shooting guard & small forward spots, has been a disappointment thus far. Injuries kept Richardson from practicing with his new teammates during the preseason, so when the season started he was frequently out of position and was unfamiliar with the plays. So far this season he has yet to surpass his career average in points (12.5) in any game for New York. If matters weren’t bad enough, Friday he left the game after playing only 6 minutes and was a “DNP-Back Spasms” for Sunday’s game. So not only has Quentin’s various maladies kept him from settling into the Knicks’ offense, but now they are keeping him from playing altogether. While Richardson played in 79 games last year, the Knicks might have purchased the 2003-2004 version, where he only averaged 62 games a season.

At the risk of being unpopular, Nate Robinson might be the worst Knick still in Brown’s rotation. Although Robinson is an undersized rookie shooting guard trying to learn the point, he has done little to help his team. While he’s nearly a better rebounder (5.0 REB/40) than Marbury (3.4 REB/40) and Crawford (2.4 REB/40) combined, Nate is shooting a feeble 36.3% (eFG) and fouling opponents at a ridiculous rate for a point guard (6.6 PF/40). Usually a player whose shooting percentage resembles Ty Cobb’s career batting average might try to minimize the damage they are doing to their team by shooting the ball less. Unfortunately for New York, Robinson is doing more jacking than a Rock Star Games convention (19.4 FGA/40 second on the team). Nate’s selfishness is so bad that his usage rate (27.1) is nearly identical to All Star Vince Carter’s (27.2).

When Robinson gets the ball, he streaks into the paint where the defense colapses around him. For most point guards this is an ideal situation, because it means a teammate is open for an easy shot. Unfortunately for Nate he infrequently passes out of the double team, and instead forces up a contested shot. Opponents have caught on to this and send one or two help defenders into the paint, knowing that the Knicks’ guard won’t burn them by passing to the open man. With Brown’s impatience with shoot first point guards and players who foul incessantly, one has to wonder if Robinson would get the same treatment if he were 6’1.

Surprisingly, the only guard to show improvement is the player in which I had the least amount of confidence. Jamal Crawford seems to have retired his patented “off balanced-21 footer-hand in my face” shot. He is attempting less shots (14.4 FGA/40 compared to 16.3 last year) and has become more aggressive pushing the ball towards the hoop. Once his free throw percentage (currently 67%) returns to his career average (83%), he could have the most efficient season of his career. One thing Crawford needs to do better is give the ball up in transition. At least twice this year he has kept it for himself trying to elude defenders with a fancy dribble or a fake pass and go the full length of the court. Jamal needs to give up the rock when the Knicks have the numbers in the open court.

Even the Knicks best guard has been wildly inconsistent. Stephon Marbury had point totals of 10, 4, and 9 until erupting for 27 on Sunday against his cousin. Unfortunately for New York, they don’t face any more point guards from the Marbury family tree. Until that game, he seemed content to hang out on the perimeter and feed the ball to everyone else. Stephon’s main weapon is attacking the basket with a strong ability to finish or find the open man. Whether it is due to Larry Brown being overly restrictive or Marbury taking his instructions to an extreme, having him handcuffed to the three point line is not the best way to utilize his talents.

The other day Marbury took a lot of slack from the media & the fans for requesting to move to the shooting guard position. It doesn’t make sense that Robinson’s leash is long enough that he can take any shot he pleases, and Crawford is encouraged to make his way into the paint. Stephon is superior to his teammates in both passing and scoring from inside. The Knicks could help their last place offense and add stability to their backcourt by letting Marbury return to the form that made him one of the better offensive point guards in the league.

New York 86 Denver 95

Since I’m away on a trip, I didn’t get to see this game. Although I got to watch a competitive game last night between the Celts & Raps, I’m curious if anyone can tell me what happened to the Knicks?

From the box score it’s pretty obvious how the Knicks lost. The Nuggets shot at a higher percent (47% – 40% eFG%), turned the ball over less (16% – 21% TO Ratio), and repeatedly got to the foul line (.32 – .21 FT Ratio). The Knicks beat them on the boards (35% – 21%), but that’s nowhere near enough to overcome those odds. What is not explained in the AP release or the box score is Larry Brown’s substitutions. I’m curious why Eddy Curry, Quentin Richardson, and Trevor Ariza only played 20 minutes.

It’s not hard to imagine why Curry hit the pine. Marcus Camby is a quick and athletic center and I’m guessing that Curry would have had trouble keeping up with him on the defensive end. With Carmelo having a big scoring night, I can make the same excuse for Q-Rich, given his defensive reputation. However I’m at a loss why Ariza only played 7 minutes. Matt Barnes was unavailable due to injury, which would leave Trevor as the Knicks’ best defender at the small forward spot.

Instead it looked as if Brown wanted to go big. He gave his power forwards and centers a combined 128 minutes, which means than over the half the game the Knicks had three big men on the court. So my question to KnickerBlogger.Net readers is why in a close game (New York would start the 4th only down by 10 points) would their two best small forwards be largely unavailable?

What Can Stats Do For You? (Part IV)

LINK: http://www.courtsidetimes.net/articles/119/

In Part III, I talked about how points per possession can tell you how good a team is on offense or defense. But let?s say you wanted to know why? In other words, what were the Suns so good at that made them an offensive juggernaut? Was Phoenix able to get second chances with rebounds, or were they very stingy with turning the ball over?

2-5! What Me Worry?

If you’ve been disappointed with the Knicks 2-5 start, here are 3 reasons not to sweat out the 2006 season:

1. Larry Brown is a great coach. Brown is not Herb Williams trying to whip a dead mule over the finish line. He isn’t Lenny Wilkens past his glory days. A year before arriving in New York, Wilkens won less than 30% of his games. Last year Larry Brown was a quarter away from winning back to back championships.

Don’t be fooled when Brown says he doesn’t know who to play. He’s not Abe Simpson going through some dementia episode. Larry knows exactly what his players have done in the past. He’s just using the media to publicly ask him players to show him what they can do. The same can be said of his irregular rotation patterns. By not committing minutes to anyone, he’s trying to keep the team anxious to play. Brown has been too successful at the highest levels of basketball to be the doddering old fool who doesn’t know his own team.

2. The defense has improved. Before last night’s Utah game, the Knicks ranked 7th on defense. Then they went out and set a franchise record for the lowest points allowed in a game (62). This kind of talk was unthinkable a year ago. The Knicks top 5 minute getters are: Marbury, Crawford, Davis, Richardson, and Curry, which is not exactly a defensive juggernaut. However, Brown has improved the team using 2 methods. First is his ability to sprinkle defensive specialists in his lineups. Matt Barnes starting the game is one example. Barnes is a swingman who can defend and rebound, but is a black hole on offense. Coach Brown is hoping that the rest of the offensive minded Knicks (Marbury, Curry, etc.) can make up for Barnes’ scoring liability, and reap Matt’s strength on defense. Throughout the game he has at least two defensive minded players to balance out the rest of the team.

Brown’s second ability is get the most out of his defensively challenged players. Curry had 5 blocks against the Jazz, and he looks a little more defensively aware than he did in the preseason. While Marbury isn’t about to turn into Jason Kidd, he looks a bit more interested on that end as well. Overall the team appears to rotate a bit quicker than they did last year.

3. The young-ins are getting time. One of the knocks against Brown was that he didn’t give ample playing time to rookies. With 3 rookies and 2 second year players on the roster, the concern was that coach Brown would stunt their development by riding the veterans. Nothing could be further from the truth. Jerome James and Penny Hardaway could easily be taking time away from the younger players, but Brown has let them rack up DNP-CDs. Instead he has relied on Frye and Ariza. With Richardson splitting time between SG & SF, you could make the argument that Ariza is the Knicks primary small forward. Matt Barnes, a 3rd year player, is the official starter but he’s averaging less than 19 minutes a game.

Meanwhile Channing Frye has settled in as the Knicks 3rd big man and is flourishing. If he qualified, his 21.6 PER would lead the team. Frye is the Knicks best rebounder, a decent shot blockers, and has a nice shooting touch. I’ll be shocked if he doesn’t pick up more minutes as the season progresses, and he might earn a starting role in the Knicks front court before the year is up.

Although Nate, Butler, and Lee aren’t getting as much playing time as the others, it’s not due to a neophyte bias. Lee and Butler are stuck at the end of a deep rotation, because the Knicks have too many power forwards. Robinson has been his own worst enemy. Nate has been too wild, averaging 3.6 TO/40, 8.4 PF/40, and is only shooting a paltry 39.4% eFG. It’s just not reasonable for him to be out there more than the ten minutes Larry is giving him.

Right now the Knicks record might be a letdown for fans that expected big things out of the starting gate due to their aggressive offseason. However, there are bright spots to the early season. Under Brown the defense has made leaps and bounds, and the Knicks young players are seeing ample playing time.

2006 Stat Page

Some interesting tidbits from the 2006 stat page (all stats as of Sunday morning):

* The best offense in the league is Flip Saunders’ new team, the Detroit Pistons. It shouldn’t be a surprise since the 6-0 Pistons have had four 100+ point outbursts. They are still playing at snail’s pace, as Detroit is the 3rd slowest team in the league. It’s slightly odd, because they don’t lead the league in any of the four factors, but right now the Pistons have 6 players sporting a PER of 20 or higher.

* The best defensive team in the league is Flip Saunders old team, the Minnesota Timberwolves. Like the Pistons, the T-Wolves don’t lead the league in any of the four factors. Peering at their 82games.com page, so far they’ve done an excellent job at shutting down point guards and centers.

* The biggest surprise might be the PER leader. Speedy Claxton has a half point edge over LeBron. He is averaging 27.1 points per 40 minutes, fueled by a 56.6% eFG and 53 free throws made per 100 shot attempts. The Hornet’s other point guard, Chris Paul, is faring well as well. The rookie has a PER of 22.3, good enough for 35th in the league.

* The top 10 in PER:

RANK	TEAM	NAME
1	NOR	Speedy Claxton	PG
2	CLE	LeBron James	SF
3	SAS	Tim Duncan	FC
4	HOU	Yao Ming	C
5	LAC	Elton Brand	PF
6	MIN	Kevin Garnett	F
7	BOS	Paul Pierce	SG
8	DAL	Dirk Nowitzki	PF
9	WAS	Gilbert Arenas	PG
10	MIA	Dwyane Wade	G

* Not surprisingly, the Knicks are last in the league in offense, but are a respectable 9th on defense. Of the Knick rookies, Robinson (6.2 PER) is faring poorly, Lee (31.8) played well in the 2 games he has appeared, and Frye (18.1) is playing well enough to be starting at either power forward or center.