2006 Summer League First Thoughts

Due to my trusty PVR, I’ve been able to catch a few of the summer games. My thoughts on some of the young Knicks:

Channing Frye
Frye looked solid until twisting his ankle. And I mean solid physically. Channing must have spent some of his offseason time hitting the weights, and it’s quite common for players to fill out in their first few seasons. The Knicks wanted Frye to work on his inside game, and his little jump hook seemed to be coming along. However the injury ended his summer league, so that’s something he’ll have to work on in practice.

Renaldo Balkman
The Knicks first selection in the draft comes as advertised. Balkman is an energy player who gives the Knicks a little bit of athleticism and length on both ends of the court. He’s leading the summer league squad in blocked shots with 4, which is something the Knicks sorely missed the last few seasons. Additionally Balkman is shooting a healthy 69% from the field and is the team’s second best rebounder. Renaldo’s attacks the rim with abandon, posterizing Cleveland’s Stephen Graham in the first game, and he moves well without the ball.

On the other hand Balkman doesn’t have any semblance of a jump shot, nor can he hit from the free throw line. Balkman has only hit half of his free throws this summer which isn’t surprising looking at his college numbers. Not being able to hit a solitary 15 foot shot doesn’t bode well for Renaldo being able to develop an outside game in the future. At one point Balkman received the ball alone from beyond the arc, and the announcers remarked that he “passed up the open three pointer.” Yeah, and I passed up the lead role in Pirates of the Caribbean II. The other thing I noticed about the 20th overall pick is that his dribble is inconsistent. The first time he touched the ball as a professional Balkman dribbled the ball too far from his body & had it quickly taken away. Other times he’s handled the rock with skill, so hopefully what we’re seeing is rookie jitters that will go away.

David Lee
If there is one positive outlook on Channing Frye’s injury, it’s that David Lee has been able to step up his game. Lee’s strength is his rebounding, but with Frye out Lee has become the Knicks leading scorer. While he still has lapses on the defensive end, Lee has become the Knicks most consistent player in Vegas. The Knicks forward is making a good case to get more minutes when the season starts.

Nate Robinson
For second year players, the summer league is a time for expanding repertoires. The Knicks coaching staff has asked Nate Robinson to become more of a point guard and get his teammates involved with the offense. Unfortunately the message is not getting through, as Robinson has taken 2.6 shots for every assist he’s dished out. All too often Nate has sped off to the hoop with a cadre of defenders abandoning their duties to prevent the diminutive guard from scoring. With a host of teammates open on plays like these Robinson still refuses to pass the ball. Additionally Nate has issues with his shot selection, as his summer 42% eFG would attest to. Mark Aguirre has regularly benched Nate, including removing him early in the first quarter of the Kings game after the guard forced up a shot.

Robinson’s fearlessness allows him to get to the hoop on offense, grab rebounds on both ends of the court, and talk smack during the course of the game. Nonetheless he needs to increase his court vision because he’s not going to continue to make a living if the entire league knows he can’t pass when driving to the rim.

Mardy Collins
The other Knick draftee receives an incomplete. He only averages 19 minutes a game, and really hasn’t done anything that stands out in my mind.

Franko Kastropil & Paul Miller
Kastropil is a 7-footer that can get up the court quickly, but he doesn’t do anything particularly well. He doesn’t have a great vertical jump which prevents him from blocking shots or finishing with authority. Kastropil doesn’t seem to have much of an offensive game. He has been a decent rebounder in summer league, but most 7 footers are.

Like Kostropil, Miller is firmly grounded, but unlike Kastropil, Miller doesn’t run the court well. Paul does have a nice little jump shot, but if the Knicks are going to play up-tempo this year he won’t fit in well with the major league team. If you could combine Miller’s shooting touch with Katropil’s size and mobility you’d have an NBA center on your hands.

These two players are exactly the reason that the Knicks should match the Spurs offer to Butler. Kastropil & Miller show how hard it is to find quality big men in this league. But more importantly if the Spurs, one of the best run organizations in sports, is offering your 21 year old center a 3 year deal for $7M, then that should tell you that you have a good young player on your hands.

Walker Russell, Jr.
I didn’t know anything about Walker Russell before the summer league started. One article mentions that Russell is a son of a friend of Isiah Thomas, which led me to believe that this was a charity case and that Russell shouldn’t be taken seriously ala Zech Marbury. However Russell has impressed me with his play and if his minutes are an indication, he has impressed coach Aguirre as well. Walker is 4th in the team in minutes played behind Lee, Robinson, and Balkman, and has given the Knicks a little bit of everything. While the Knicks have a full roster and aren’t looking for extra players, I’d be surprised if some NBA team doesn’t give him a 10 day contract during the season.

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Mike Kurylo

Mike Kurylo is the founder and editor of KnickerBlogger.net. His book on the 2012 Knicks, "We’ll Always Have Linsanity," is on sale now. Follow him on twitter (@KnickerBlogger).

24 thoughts to “2006 Summer League First Thoughts”

  1. KB,

    you beat me to the punch on summer league, which is a good things since all I have seen are the box scores. Thanks for the insights. Oh, and welcome to the at times maddening inconsistency that is Renaldo Balkman.

    I am undecided about re-signing Jackie Butler. I really like him. But I think the more prudent thing to do is to let him walk and find another young big man. It’s not so much the money it’s the decision-making. In fact it seems to be the very kind of fiscal prudence we have all asked upper management to show. The market for centers this year has gotten quite “uptown” as my friend from Jefferson City, Mo might say. Quality young big men certainly don’t grow on trees but we are also talking about the team’s 2nd/3rd string center. Also, San Antonio’s signing of Francisco Elson from Denver looks like they are envisioning an offense/defense platoon at center. I don’t know that they see Butler as a full-time starter.

  2. I think San Antonio was thinking, “Sign both, hopefully we get one.”

    Because if they tried Jackie first and got turned down, certainly Elson would have asked for more money.

  3. Looking at this from an entirely ethical standpoint, I don’t think I could be happy condemning one of the only players I like on the Knicks to single digit minutes on the worst team in the league when he could be potentially starting on a team that’s won multiple championships in recent years. If we were buying out Jerome James or trading Curry it would make sense to keep him, but since both of those don’t seem likely under Thomas, what do we gain from keeping Butler other than avoiding the embarassment of him emerging as a force in San Antonio?

  4. Dan,

    That’s an awful reality when it’s better to wish for your favorite players to leave your team so that they can do well. How sad.

    I thought Nazr would do well in SA, but I guess he had issues with Popp or Popp’s scheme. I thought Sweetney would do well in Chicago, but that isn’t working out either. Ariza had a single nice game for Orlando (when they gave him 30 minutes on the last day of the season).

  5. I did manage to catch a replay of the Sacramento game in the Vegas League on NBA TV a couple nights ago.

    One comment:

    Hmmm… Not so fast on Miller. Conceding that I saw none of his college games and have only *seen* the one summer league game… as long as Stephon Marbury is the starting Knicks guard the screen-roll will be a staple of the offense, no matter what anyone says–including Isiah.

    Miller could be a keeper as a pick-and-pop, Doleac type center. You’re not doing to bad when a guy that has consistent 15-18 foot range, isn’t a wuss on the boards, and is making the rookie FA minimum is your 3rd string center.

  6. Regarding David Lee,
    When he was playing SF last season, he seemed to adjust well offensively (I think he may even haven had a 30 pt. game). Though, the problem with playing him at the 3 is that he has a tough time guarding smaller, quicker swingmen. In certain matchups though, it makes sense, because he gives you better than average rebounding at that position.

    As a PF, he doesn’t have a great post up game and, as was mentioned, his defense still needs work. However, he can run and finishes well around the basket. That said, I think that he’ll fit into Thomas’ new offense better than M. Rose or Taylor (who will probably be shipped mid-season).

    One question mark is still Curry/James at center. Both have questionable conditioning, Curry will be limited by calf spasms and James will not be able/willing to keep up with the fast-paced offense. I think the Knicks will go small alot more this season.

  7. Well, Butler’s in SA officially now, and while it is a drag cuz I liked him, this year has been the year of overpayment. There were no great free agents, so what happens? People overpay the one’s available. Ben Wallace is all effort and no grace, so he’s one good injury away (or a few years aging away) from being Malike Rose with cooler hair. As for Jackie, he played quite adequately for a near half-season worth of games, and got 7 million bucks for it. I think he might be quite good, and certainly on a good team he can continue to learn and better mask his deficiencies. But the Knicks couldn’t give him that kind of love when it is true that, sigh, they couldn’t play him ahead of Curry and James. I mean, depressing as it is, Thomas just can’t. So let him go — whether he’ll be able to contribute 30 minutes a night is still a question, anyway…

  8. So when the trade tallies come down, a cost of either the Penny/Francis or Davis/Rose trade is the loss of Butler.

  9. I want to think Isaiah is not nuts… really want to… but this proves he is retarded. Butler might be the best center on the roster, he’s 22 years old and in a year or two he’ll be better than Nazr Morhammed or Przybilla or any of those mid-level centers, for less than half the money.
    Even if Eddie Curry turns into a star, other teams would be drooling for JB. The only way to dump contracts like Francis or JJ is to include a good, cheap young guy. Isaiah talks about building up assets – then does this. Idiot.

  10. Caleb, I agree that Butler would seem to be attractive trade bait and may entice someone to take overpriced crap off of the Knicks’ hands. That said, the Scott Layden Era (shudder) has taught us that you can’t assume that you’ll find a market for players. Every time he made a move it seemed to be in anticipation that another trade was forthcoming but that second trade never happened.

  11. Caleb,

    Isiah is in a bit of a catch-22 with Butler. Overall I see the decision to let him walk as conservative rather than stupid. No question, $7 mill is too much that can score but doesn’t play both ends. (Eddy Curry notwithstanding.)

    I hated to see Butler go but if there’s one GM totally unlikely to turn Butler’s contract into something useful via trade–because he’s a lame duck and because he’s made a lot of enemies–it’s Isiah.

    I wouldn’t have kicked and screamed had NY re-signed Butler but I’m inclined to agree with Mark. This was probably the right move.

  12. What’s so great about Butler? He’s just a young prospect: if you look at the numbers, Butler is on par to becoming the next…Tractor Traylor.

    I just don’t believe he’ll ever turn out to be anything more than average, and I doubt he’ll get the chance to really prove himself in SA; he won’t get any playing time, and I doubt that Pop will be as enthralled with him as LB.

    Curry is the real big man project for the Knicks; every minute LB gave to Butler was a minute taken away from Curry’s development.

  13. NGLI,

    Curry played 1800 minutes last year and is up to 8500 for his career. How much development time does this guy need? Yes he’s young, but 5-years into his career when does this guy. Lots of people like to point to the development history of Jermaine O’Neal as a comp – but JO made his jump after four seasons over which he played ~2400 minutes total.

    Curry has played, he is a scorer with indifferent defensive skills and a lack of interest in rebounding. As to passing, I’m reminded of a quote about Walter Berry “Walter doesn’t pass, occaisionally he will surrender the ball”

  14. Think of it this way:

    Would you rather pay $8m a year for an ok center (even if he never hits it big, Butler was ok last year and will get at least a little better, being so young)…

    …or $5m for a giant tub of spam?

    And remember you could have saved half Butler’s salary by selling off the #29 pick, the way Phoenix sold theirs. Boston paid more than $10m just for #21.

    And here’s a question – if Patrick O’Bryant can get drafted #9 – where do you think Jackie Butler would go?

    Kill me now. But that’s why the Spurs are good.

    Ah well we’ll see what happens.

  15. Maybe I’m wrong, but I was under the impression that Butler’s contract w/ the Spurs is not $7mil per year, but $7 mil over the course of 3 years, amounting to about $2.3mil per.

  16. John,

    JJ is untradeable, unless you have someone cheap (cough-cough) to throw in. So it boils down to
    a) paying him $5m+ to sit his butt on the bench, or
    b)throwing in another $2m and having a functional backup center.

    Not paying Butler is what you’d call penny wise and pound-foolish. (or 400-pound foolish, in this case). Of course, that’s only if you agree with me that Butler is a decent player and getting better. Otherwise, good riddance!

  17. Kevin,

    The impatience with Curry is understandable, but do you really think that he has maxed out his potential?

    Unfortunately, he’s not one of those highschool kids that comes into the NBA with God-given court awareness, so he’s got to learn the stuff in the NBA that he probably should have learned in college. (like how to pass the ball…)! It’s ridiculous that he only plays 25 minutes a game (granted, mostly due to his foul trouble) – they’ve got to leave him out there until he figures out how to stay in the game. Also, not everyone is on the same developmental curve, and Curry’s just happens to be slower than hoped for. It doesn’t mean he can’t improve his weaknesses. Just look at Marcus Camby!

    Isiah made a huge long term investment in him, so unless they can trade him, making Curry into a more complete player should be one of the Knick’s top priorities for next season.

  18. The point I think everyone is missing about Butler is he does not really have a place on this team. Curry is our starting center for the forseeable future. Butler simply played himself out of being a 10 min a game backup. Butler and Curry are too similar to play together so one had to go.

    Promising young players with upside are constantly being traded or simply allowed to walk when the team has no place for them. Look at JR Smith, Kurt Snyder, Marcus Banks, Marquis Daniels, etc.

    Besides I do not think Butler wanted to return to the Knicks. He has a much better opportunity in San Antonio. As a fan I do not want players that do not want to be here.

  19. My main point is that Butler may turn out fine, but like Ariza and Sweetney, he’s a good player — but is he worth the bucks and can he really play 30 a game meaningfully? If not, the Knicks kinda had no choice — He was not going to play in front of Curry, although I could see him sneaking in front of James. But obviously S.A. without Mohammed had more room for him than the Knicks. I certainly don’t think Butler played like a star last year — he played well above average for a guy who wasn’t even drafted!

    It’d be nice if the Knicks did start making some deals, if possible…if this is the roster we have for the season, we’re in trouble, not cuz they can’t win, but because I generally don’t like any of the guys who’ll be demanding minutes! I mean, they’re unpleasant people, who needs em!?!

  20. NGLI,

    Has Curry maxed out his potential – don’t know. As you imply, potential has several aspects – physical, instincts and character. Character being a sloppy phrase for work ethic, intensity and other intangibles.

    Has he maxed out his physical tools – no. Has he maxed out what he can get from his physical tools based on the other items – don’t know. But lets say giving a big 6-year contract to a guy not known for staying in shape and playing hard hoping he will find the internal drive and dedication is questionable.

    Yes I realize that development patterns vary across players, but what is Curry’s development pattern?

    As to Camby, what he has improved most is his health. Being able to play 30 to 35 minutes a night on a regular basis is important.

  21. Jim,

    “It?d be nice if the Knicks did start making some deals, if possible?”

    Be careful what you wish for. The last time IT started making moves we ended up w/ the contracts of Francis, J. Rose, Jerome James, and Curry and won 23 games.

    I wouldn’t be suprised if Jim Dolan has finally pulled in the reins on Thomas in giving the “win now or else” edict. I don’t think that Thomas has the freedom to make big trades and/or take on large contracts that he enjoyed in the past (though the persistent K-Mart rumors are disturbing).

  22. I totally agree with Caleb. First question: who’s a better back up center, James or Butler? Duh, Butler. Who would be a better first string center if Curry got hurt? Duh, Butler. Who is a better back-up at power forward, M. Rose, Taylor, or Butler? Based on PER (and really any other rational view) Butler. This is not a good team, and having a useful bench is generally good. On a bad team it’s critical.

    Second, who has the bigger upside potential, Butler, James, Rose or Taylor. Duh, Butler. Given the answers to these questions, sign Butler and play him as the back-up.

    I understand trying to save money, but Butler’s deal was relatively short, it would not affect whether we are over the cap or not, and I think he would have made us a better team. The Knicks are bad enough that a position like back-up center (especially when Curry barely plays 1/2 of the game because of foul trouble) is actually pretty important.

    I was pleased to see Marc R give Isiah his customary lap dance though. Some things never change.

  23. The real problem was Zeke’s reluctance/inability to move James, his lard ass and his lard-ass contract after the Curry deal went down. I can see paying James the money he got if he was going to be the starter (and then I’d be griping about his more or less indifferent performance, lack of conditioning and utter lack of production), but not when he gets outplayed by an undrafted free agent who entered the league out of high school (Butler).

    We can only hope that Zeke’s talent evaluation skills turns up another prospect comparable to Butler, because watching Curry and James collect more fouls than rebounds next season is really going to suck.

    As for Curry, the smartest thing the management could do would be to send him to Pete Newell’s Big Man Camp and have him learn to play the post. His footwork is terrible, he receives the ball with a preconceived idea about what he wants to do, as has been mentioned elsewhere here, he’s an awful passer out of double team situations and he can’t react to the defense and improvise worth a damn. That’s why he’s as likely to commit an offensive foul or a turnover as he is to score.

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