Getting Ready for the Draft

Given all the craziness surrounding the Knicks these days who the heck can say what Thomas has planned for the draft, if anything? The best bet?not to be mistaken for a good bet, mind you?is that the upcoming draft will constitute only a small part of the roster changes to take place this summer. The Knicks may stand pat with their two late first round picks (#20 and #29; no second round picks) and do some wheeling and dealing after the free agent period opens. Rumors also identify the Knicks as one of several teams looking to wheel and deal on draft night, packaging multiple picks in order to move up. Of course, the actual player personnel moves may prove the least interesting draft night story.

Mr. Orange, of selltheknicks.com, is planning a protest at Madison Square Garden, and is getting pretty good coverage of his efforts. Orange is hoping to embarrass the erstwhile Knick brass on national TV and perhaps motivate David Stern to take a visible mediation role between the feuding front office and estranged coach Larry Brown. Of course, by draft night Larry Brown may have moved from merely estranged to officially unemployed. The Knicks may be introducing Isiah Thomas, or in a rumor that has Gator Nation all abuzz, former Knick guard Billy Donovan as the new coach. [Update: As of 10:15am EDT Thursday ESPN is reporting that Larry Brown has been fired and replaced as head coach by Isiah Thomas.] So pull up a chair. Throw some popcorn in the microwave and check it out on June 28th (Wednesday) at 7pm EDT on ESPN. It should make for good TV. Oh yeah, the Knicks might also draft a couple players.

Assuming that Thomas keeps the picks, who are some of the players he might consider? In fairness the draft has been the one area of Isiah?s tenure that has been a qualified success. He has generally been faithful to a ?best player available? approach. That’s probably the best approach for finding value at 20 and 29. In recent years a number of serviceable players have been drafted there including Jameer Nelson (#20, Denver) and David Harrison (#29, Indiana) in 2004, Dahntay Jones (#20, Memphis) and Josh Howard (#29, Dallas) in 2003, Kareem Rush (#20, LA Lakers) in 2002, Brendon Haywood (#20, Cleveland) in 2001, Craig ?Speedy? Claxton (#20, Philadelphia) and Mark Madsen (#29, LA Lakers) in 2000.

Is another Josh Howard lurking in this year?s draft at the end of the first round? Here?s a position-by-position look at players likely to be available at 20 or 29 (in alphabetical order) with links to player profiles on NBAdraft.net.

Point Guards. The Knicks have a number of players on the roster who all play minutes at point guard (i.e., Marbury, Francis, Crawford, and Robinson). Nonetheless, this is a deep draft for point guards. A number of players may be available who could contribute, particularly if one of the current guards is moved.

  1. Mardy Collins (PG/SG/SF, Temple) ? reminds me a lot of Aaron McKie circa, 2000.
  2. Quincy Douby (PG/SG, Rutgers) ? everything I?ve read makes him sound like current Atlanta sharpshooter Saleem Stoudamire.
  3. Jordan Farmar (PG, UCLA) ? at 20 he?s very nice value; earlier than that he?s a gamble because he?s pretty good at everything not great at anything.
  4. Kyle Lowry (PG, Villanova) ? little guy who lacks Nate Robinson?s absurd athleticism but makes better decisions.
  5. Rajon Rondo (PG, Kentucky) ? likely would fit best on a team that does not need points from that position; plays NBA ready defense right now.

Shooting Guards. The shooting guard position is stocked with the likes of Q-Rich, Crawford, and whichever of the combo guards is not playing the point. The draft at this position is not especially deep, with likely only three SGs in the mix between 18 and 29.

  1. Maurice Ager (SG, Michigan State) ? like most Tom Izzo players, he’s athletic, competitive, and aggressive on defense.
  2. Ronnie Brewer (SG/SF, Arkansas) ? a do-it-all type who struggles with his perimeter shot; likely to be off the board by #20 but could slide depending on trades.
  3. Shannon Brown (SG, Michigan State) ? see Ager; they?re very similar players.

Small Forward. The Knicks situation at small forward is a bit unsettled. Jalen Rose remains the starter but in Isiah Thomas’ world his contract, in its final year, makes him a distinct trade possibility. Q-Rich is a natural small forward who has played out of position in New York at shooting guard. Qyntel Woods played quite well at times this season but has yet to be re-signed. David Lee has bounced back and forth between both forward spots. The draft appears to be a bit top-heavy at small forward; great talent at the top (e.g., Morrison, Carney, Gay, Roy) but drops off quite a bit afterwards.

  1. Hassan Adams (G/F, Arizona) ? Adams is a Ruben Patterson quality defender, but at 6?4? is undersized, and maturity is an issue; likely a 2nd rounder.
  2. Louis Amundson (SF, UNLV) ? a four year player at UNLV. An energy guy, like a shorter David Lee.
  3. Steve Novak (SF, Marquette) ? a Pat Garrity type stand-still shooter.
  4. P.J. Tucker (SF/PF, Texas) ? an undersized ?power? small forward, like George Lynch but with more offense.
  5. Shawne Williams (SF, Memphis) ? a talented but raw freshman from Memphis who is another do-it-all (on offense) type.

Power Forward/Center. The Knicks currently have a lot of bodies at PF and C, including prized youngsters Curry, Frye, Butler, and Lee, though none is much of a rebounder (save Butler and Lee) or shot blocker.

  1. Hilton Armstrong (PF/C, UConn) ? had a good senior year at UConn; could be a Stephen Hunter-like one year wonder.
  2. Josh Boone (PF/C, UConn) ? a shot blocker/rebounder, but lacks explosion and some question his motivation.
  3. Alexander Johnson (PF/C, Florida St.) ? undersized and turnover prone, but precisely the kind of explosive shot-blocker/rebounder Larry Brown drools for. So Thomas probably wants nothing to do with him.
  4. Saer Sene (C, Senegal) ? extremely long-limbed (7?8? wingspan!!), athletic but raw big man from Senegal; probably not an immediate contributor.

Can Miami Get Anything Going?

With the game a few minutes from tip, a few thoughts…

Coming into the series I figured Mavs in six games. I never saw Shaq putting up gaudy numbers in this series, primarily because I felt Dallas?who almost always sends four or five players to the defensive boards?would keep him away from the offensive glass and make him play over the tops of their big guys. I also thought the pace would be too much for Miami. Still, Detroit looked invincible against Cleveland until the series went to Cleveland and the Cavs pushed it to seven games. So, [insert clich? or cautionary tale here] in a seven game series.

Is there anything Miami can do? Pat Riley?s pat answer is always to play better defense and have better offensive execution. In one respect this is certainly correct. Still, if Riley is to make a go of it in this series he must change a few things. Overall, Miami must find a way to get some easy scores.

Pick up the pace. In today?s New York Sun Martin Johnson gives Miami similar advice, going against conventional wisdom. Conventional wisdom coming into the series says that Miami must play at a slow pace. Well, obviously Miami must limit Dallas? fast break points. But conventional wisdom, as is often the case, throws out the baby with the bathwater. The Heat loses too much trying to be too deliberate. First, just because Miami is deliberate doesn?t mean the Mavs will be. Thus far, when Miami has been deliberate they?re the only team on the floor playing that way. Dallas can play briskly in their halfcourt sets without losing much efficiency. They shot 49.4 eFG% during the regular season when shooting between 11 and 15 seconds (a quick shot, but not a fast break), which is right about their overall eFG (49.5%). So they aren?t going to roll over and expose belly unless maybe the game slows to an absolute crawl, which seems beyond Miami?s capacity. Second, the Heat plays well offensively when they execute their halfcourt sets briskly, shooting even better than Dallas (51%) between 11 and 15 seconds. Unfortunately, Miami does not defend as well under these circumstances (48.2%) as they do overall (47.8%). They rightly fear getting into a track meet with Dallas but it appears as if this series will be played in the high 80s to mid 90s unless Dallas falls apart. So Miami has to score.

Get Shaq on the move. Although Shaq may be the ?most dominant force evah!? he is not right now. Even throwing out his game two, the difference between 2006 Shaq and even 2004 Shaq is the absence of 2-3 easy dunks from beating his man up the floor and another 2-3 easy putback dunks on offensive rebounds. Right now, a halfcourt offense that begins with Shaq holding the ball away from the double team waiting for cutters plays right into Dallas? hands. At minimum, at least some of Miami?s halfcourt sets should concentrate on getting Wade into the lane, allowing Shaq to rebound on the weakside. Additionally, a quicker pace might allow Miami to get the ball to Shaq before the defense is set and before the double team can arrive.

Use the bench. Riley is only using three bench players currently (Posey, Payton, and Mourning). Gary Payton has been just plain bad. James Posey shot well in game two but his propensity for committing fouls like Kurt Thomas circa 2003, where he hammers a guy for no reason and then just stares blankly, has limited his effectiveness. Riley needs to consider bringing players off the bench that can score, particularly with perimeter shooting, at least at the ends of quarters. Michael Doleac and Jason Kapono could both be useful in limited duty.

There Are No Grown Ups Here

I must admit, the current drama unfolding in the halls of Madison Square Garden is entertaining in a guilty pleasure sort of way. Even though I know this cannot have a happy ending I can?t wait to see what insanity turns up in each day?s sports section. But, after reading yet another tale filled with blaming, speculation, dysfunction, and non-denial denials I feel like my soul needs a shower; the way I feel after one of those really bizarre episodes of Law and Order. You know the kind, where the murderer on trial turns out to be the least depraved of the central characters. Well, at this point the Knicks and their meager win total (23) have become the least depraved of the central characters in this drama. Despite the players? flaws and faults I feel some sympathy for them. They?re playing for a gaggle of immature, image-obsessed kids, not grownups.

I wanted to wait until KB weighed in on the still-rumored Brown buyout/firing before adding anything. At the risk of repeating any of his points about the current drama I?ll add a couple of my own in no particular order.

1. The lack of accountability is really what makes this all so disheartening, and so unlikely to change.

The notion that ?saying everyone is responsible is a lot like saying no one is responsible,? is the worst kind of truism. Sometimes, everyone really is responsible. In those times, unless everyone is held to account then some get off scott free and delude themselves into thinking that they must therefore have been right all along.

It appears as if Larry Brown will be forced out soon, following what is likely the worst coaching season of his career. What is most sad is that at virtually every major crossroads this season Dolan, Thomas, and Brown simply would not get past their egos in order to work together. Rather, they all chose at various points to actively undermine one another. As a result we have the current mess, aptly described by Adrian Wojnarowski, the fine beat writer for the Bergen County Record:

[T]hese Knicks have turned into the league’s crazy uncle who keeps showing up at the family picnic, getting loaded and falling face first into the potato salad.

Only the Knick ?family? is lucky enough to have three such uncles laying face deep in potato salad, each having passed out trying to out-drink the other two. No amount of sensible advice can convince them to give up these childish games, especially since none can hear past the sound of his own slogans muffled by potato salad.

We need to get younger and more athletic!

No!! We need to play the game the right way!!

Fiscal restraint!!! We don?t need no stinkin? fiscal restraint!!!


2. Although Larry Brown?s performance and antics are grounds for dismissal, forcing him out after one year says far more disparaging things about the Knicks than it does about Brown.

I have read in multiple outlets now that the thinking behind forcing Brown out is that it is cheaper to simply buy him out than trade for so-called Brown-type players. Sigh. Before addressing why this kind of delusion?if these reports are accurate?is precisely why the Knicks are laughingstocks let me first address the merits of forcing Brown out. In my opinion, ?losing a team? is (and should be) grounds for firing an NBA coach. The overall talent league wide is so close that the marginal value of even a great coach is probably quite low. Truly great coaching pays off in very specific situations; namely after the first round of the playoffs. Otherwise, it?s about talent and execution. So when the star(s) won?t play for the coach in pro sports it is almost always wisest to side with the star. That?s why you hope your star is not selfish or a moron.

Brown was truly wretched this season. Winning coaches in the NBA have been forced out for far less than his sub-25 win total, brutal public spats with players, and reports of widespread player revolt. (Ask Paul Westphal, or more recently Stan Van Gundy and Rick Adelman.) The cat-fighting began early and never stopped. I think Brown had ?gone fishin,?? to use the parlance of Kenny Smith, somewhere around three-quarters of the way through the season. Further, losing Brown may not be any huge tragedy. I am not sure any amount of coaching can mold this roster into a legit title contender. So, this could be as good a time as any for Brown to exit. The important question for me is where would that leave the Knicks? For starters it leaves them looking for the 4th coach of the Thomas regime (i.e., Wilkins, Williams, Brown, and whoever is next), a coach who may in fact be Thomas.

Before pulling the trigger on our current diva-coach for a different diva-coach though, Camp Cablevision should consider this. They appeared to have hired Brown for the wrong reason in the first place. They hired Brown to get NY to the Eastern Conference playoffs and then see what happened; probably figuring that where Don Chaney got swept Brown might have actually won such a series or at least a couple games. They thought, and I believe still think, they are another scorer and a few defensive drills away from being a contender in the East. This remains the central delusion of the Thomas regime, confirmed by the leaks claiming that it?s ?cheaper? to fire Brown than reconstruct the roster.

There is a right reason and a wrong reason to force Brown out now. The right reason: he has irretrievably lost the team. We know for a fact that he has played games with players and alienated them. For example, though much ink has been spilled over his dustup with Marbury, the way he savaged Trevor Ariza in the press was far more distasteful. I didn?t see ?tough love? or development anywhere in that interaction. I saw Brown mostly flexing his ego. So it may very well be that Brown cannot undo the considerable damage he has done. The wrong reason to fire Brown: he should have gotten more out of this team. The current roster has a 35-45 win ceiling, regardless who coaches it. In fact Brown?s public disparaging of the roster, though tacky and unproductive, was pretty much spot on. The guards really don?t defend. Nobody blocks shots. The roster is filled to the brim with one-dimensional, high turnover players, who had been so long before Brown and his unstable rotations showed up. Eddy Curry likely will never be more than a modest rebounder and will never block shots. Marbury, despite his protests, was not unduly shackled in Brown?s post-and-cut offense. It just isn?t based on Steph?s pet play, the screen-roll. (I?m not so sure that?s such a bad thing long term.) None of that is any less true just because Brown was being a self-righteous windbag by airing it publicly. Those problems must still all be addressed Brown or no Brown. If he must go, force him out because he can no longer help address them, not because he pointed them out in a way that embarrassed. Thomas’s sensitivity on this matter is more than a little hypocritical, given the shameful way he treated Don Chaney. Chaney, along with Lenny Wilkins and Herb Williams, all basically sang the same song Brown is singing now, only to a softer tune. They were ignored.