Tournament Open Thread – Weekend 1

Discuss the NCAA and NIT post-season tournaments on this thread. We will open a new thread next Thursday for the following weekend’s games and so on.

Enjoy, but this isn’t all fun and games. We, the Knickerblogger staff, want to put you armchair scouts to work. Keep your clipboards handy as you watch the games and post reports on players you think might help the Knicks on draft day. Pay special attention to players likely to come off the board anywhere from the late lottery area on down.

Here’s the schedule of opening weekend games (all times EDT). Click on the day to get score updates.

Thursday, March 15

Maryland/Davidson 12:20; Texas Tech/Boston College 12:25; Stanford/Louisville 12:30

ORU/WSU. 2:40; ODU/Butler 2:40; Belmont/Georgetown 2:45; Penn/Texas A&M 3:00; G. Wash/Vanderbilt 5:00

VCU/Duke 7:10; CC St./Ohio St. 7:10; Mich. St./Marquette 7:20; Weber St./UCLA 7:25

NIT: Michigan/Florida State 7:00; UMass/WVU 9:00

Wright State/Pittsburgh 9:30; Xavier/BYU 9:30; E. Kentucky/UNC 9:40; Gonzaga/Indiana 9:45

Friday, March 16

Albany/Virginia 12:15; Georgia Tech/UNLV 12:25; North Texas/Memphis 12:30

LBSU/Tennessee 2:35; Winthrop/Notre Dame 2:35; TX A&M-CC/Wisconsin 2:45; Creighton/Nevada 2:50; Miami (OH)/Oregon 4:55;

Niagara/Kansas 7:10; Illinois/Virginia Tech 7:10; Purdue/Arizona 7:20; NMSU/Texas 7:25

Villanova/Kentucky 9:30; Holy Cross/Southern Illinois 9:30; Jackson State/Florida 9:40;
Arkansas/USC 9:45

NIT: Marist/NC St. 9:30

And here is a list of players that might be around when we select. Of course you’re not limited to these, I just scoured sites like nbadraft.net to get a quick list. They’re sorted alphabetically by school name.

Mustafa Shakur 6-3 183 PG Arizona / Senior
Marcus Williams 6-7 207 SG Arizona / Sophomore
Jared Dudley 6-7 SF Boston College / Senior
D. Alexander 6-5 215 SG Charlotte / Senior
Jason Smith 7-0 240 PF Colorado St. / Junior
Rodney Stuckey 6-4 PG Eastern Washington / Sophomore
Dominic McGuire 6-9 PF Fresno State / Junior
Brandon Rush 6-7 SF Kansas / Sophomore
Stephane Lasme 6-8 225 PF Mass / Senior
Nick Fazekas 6-11 240 PF Nevada / Senior
Daequan Cook 6-5 210 SG Ohio St. / Freshman
Ron Lewis 6-4 195 SG Ohio St. / Senior
Aaron Gray 7-1 280 C Pittsburgh / Senior
Morris Almond 6-6 214 SG Rice / Senior
Brandon Heath 6-3 183 PG SD St. / Senior
Nick Young 6-6 SG USC / Junior
Derrick Byars 6-7 225 SG/SF Vand. / Senior
Curtis Sumpter 6-7 223 SF Villanova / Senior
JR Reynolds 6-3 180 PG/SG Virginia / Senior
Kyle Visser 6-11 250 C Wake Forest / Senior
Alando Tucker 6-5 SF Wisconsin / Senior

Using Sarcasm, Here’s Some Great News

David Lee out for at least a few more weeks.

Again, kudos to Dave Crockett for rightly saying at the time, “This is a lot more serious than they’re acting if it is what they say it is,” which at least made me brace myself at the time for missing Lee for a lot of games.

It is never good, though, when your players think they were mishandled by the team trainers, which Lee seems to believe, thinking that he was asked to train too soon, not giving his leg time enough to heal.

This isn’t helping, not with this tough stretch of games coming up!

Henry Abbott & The Art of Automobile Maintenance

I love sport lists. Get 10 NBA fans together and ask them who the 10 best NBA players of all time are, and you’re likely to get 10 different lists. Even getting a consensus on the best NBA player of all time proves to be difficult. Many will point to Russell’s rings, and just as many will claim Wilt was a man among boys. Some might say Jordan was clutch, while others might argue the “Big O” was the most versatile.

Lists tend to reveal a lot about the person making the list. You may have Russell at the top of your list if you think winning a team championship is the best measure of an individual. On the other hand if you think that winning a championship is more a team effort and doesn’t adequately reflect a single person’s accomplishments, then Wilt might be your guy. If you feel that today’s athletes are far superior and face tougher competition than those of yesteryear, then Jordan would be #1. While lists are subjective, it’s not as open as choosing your favorite ice cream flavor. While “pistachio” would be an acceptable answer at your local ice cream shop, saying that Bill Cartwright was the greatest NBA player of all time is just wrong.

Recently ESPN asked their writers to rate the top 10 centers of all time. Henry Abbott of truehoop.com, and ESPN newbie, filled out his form and included Bill Walton & Dave Cowens, but omitted Moses Malone. Bill Simmons made a short blurb about Malone’s exclusion in one of his columns, and Abbott felt the need to explain his reasoning at truehoop. While there might be valid reasons for ranking Moses 11th or greater, I think Abbott’s position is a bit odd.

If he had been 6-9 he probably would have made it. I’m into overachievers. But Malone’s awfully big. And strong. Not fair, but true, I’m afraid.

Three different sites list Malone at 6-10, but I don’t want to split hairs over an inch. Abbott’s point is that he would have viewed Malone’s accomplishments more favorably if he were a smaller player. But I have to ask: given all other things being equal, how would being shorter made Moses Malone a better player? I just don’t get the argument there, because it leads down a slippery but not very steep slope where smaller players get more credit for their achievement.

If Henry’s discussion ended there, you wouldn’t be reading about it here. But he continues onward.

I’ll tell you this much, though: you’re not going to convince me just with stats. I play basketball, or something close to it. I never thought being a winner was necessarily about getting the most points and rebounds. It’s about building a team.

I’d like to state the obvious and say there’s a strong correlation between getting the most points and winning. But seriously, what is the purpose of bringing out the “I play basketball” card? Is Abbott suggesting that there is a division between those that can ball and those that can multiply fractions? Or rather that only those who play basketball are qualified to understand what makes a winning team? I play basketball too. So does Dean Oliver, and I’m sure there are tons of people in the statistical community that can lace them up. Nonetheless you don’t need to be a great basketball player to understand what being a winner is about. Isiah Thomas and Kevin McHale were much better players than Jerry Colangelo, but who would you rather have building your team?

Abbott continues his thoughts on statistics:

But for now, I’m convinced that points and rebounds, as freestanding indicators of a player’s quality, are a total crapshoot. If Eddy Curry were a total ballhog, he’d shoot every time he touched it, and no doubt score more. But of course he’d really hurt his team in the process. No way to factor that in when we put points and rebounds on the altar as sacred stats.

I can see four major problems in Henry’s example. The first is that Curry is a notoriously poor rebounder. So by using points and rebounds as an indicator of Curry’s quality you’d probably get a good understanding of his value. In other words if you were in a coma for the last 8 years & I gave you a newspaper with Curry’s stats, you’d probably have a fair idea of what Eddy brings to the court.

Second is Abbott’s assumption that Curry could score much more if he were a ballhog. There is no doubt that Curry can score one on one against just about any center in the league. However, like any NBA player, Curry can’t score with two defenders draped on him. And unfortunately Curry is unable to find the open man when double teamed. Hence opposing teams find it a low risk move to double team Curry, and by using this tactic they can limit how many points he can score. If Eddy Curry were able to find his teammates for an easy bucket, then opponents wouldn’t be able to double team him as much, and therefore Curry would be able to increase his scoring averages. So Curry’s scoring average isn’t predicated on some kind of statistical altering greed, but rather it’s limited by his poor passing ability.

Third Henry assumes that if Curry scored more it would hurt his team. But Curry’s primary function is scoring. Other than grabbing offensive rebounds, Curry doesn’t do much else well. If Eddy Curry were able to drop 29 points a night instead of 19, it would benefit the Knicks. The Knicks are trying their hardest to get the ball to Eddy more, not less, in an effort to increase his usefulness to the team.

Finally Henry asserts that should Curry hurt his team by going for personal glory, that there is “no way to factor that in” with stats. O RLY? Should Curry become a “total ballhog” you’d see a steep rise in his turnovers per minute, and his PER would plummet. To see how this affects the team you could look at the team’s offensive efficiency, or you could go to 82games.com and check the offense’s +/- with Eddy on the court. So in fact, there are many ways to statistically “factor in” a player that is in over his head.

It seems to me that Henry Abbott’s main gripe is that statistics isn’t the panacea of NBA analysis. That is you can’t take a single formula & use it to find precise answers as to the net value of a player. In some cases statistics do a poor job of capturing a player’s worth. Guys like Bruce Bowen, Quinton Ross, and Raja Bell aren’t adequately represented by their statistics. But should we just discard all statistics because it gives a few players the short end of the stick? That would be like eliminating capitalism because of the poor. Statistics bring such a surfeit of unbiased data that we can live with their deficiencies.

Abbott frequently uses the term “crude” when describing statistics (“using one players’ individual’s points and rebounds as a major tool in that debate is like using a shovel as a major tool for brain surgery: so crude it hurts.”). However, I find statistics to be an accurate and elegant way to communicate information. Take for example my assessment of Eddy Curry. Curry is a highly efficient scorer (19.3 ppg, 58% FG%) who doesn’t rebound well (7.1 reb/g) especially on the defensive end (4.6 dreb/g). He isn’t among the league leaders in scoring because he doesn’t pass well (0.9 ast/g, 3.4 to/g). The Knicks aren’t doing well mainly because of their defense (26th defensive efficiency) and some of the blame points to Curry (0.6 blk/g, defense 5.7 points worse with Curry on the court). Without the numbers to back it up, my view of Curry might be skewed by my allegiances.

Finally, Henry uses this analogy:

Points and rebounds are only ubiquitous because they are so simple to measure. Any idiot with a clipboard can chart that.

Similarly, it’s really easy to tell if your car’s headlights are working. But that’s a bad bit of investigation if you want to figure out if you’re going to make it safely cross-country. For that you gotta pop the hood and get your hands dirty.

I have to agree with him on this, but I feel as if Abbott missed his own advice. Moses Malone has more points, rebounds, free throws, MVP awards, and All Star appearances than Walton & Cowens combined. The only advantage I can see that Walton & Cowens have over Malone is that they’ve won more titles. I can’t say for sure what Abbott’s exact criteria was (rings?, desire?, height?) but by ignoring the wealth of statistical information available, he certainly didn’t pop that hood open and get his hands dirty.

“Evident Progress,” Evidently

Several media outlets are reporting that would-be bluesman and team owner James Dolan is set to announce that Isiah Thomas will return as coach and all around Grand Poobah of the New York Knickerbockers. The announcement is expected to include a multi-year contract extension.

Dolan had previously said that he would not discuss Thomas’ fate until after the season, giving the impression that his fate was tied to whether the Knicks make the playoffs. However, with the team currently holding the eighth-and-final playoff spot in the East, Dolan apparently feels that the the team has achieved the “evident progress” he specified (without actually specifying it) as a pre-condition for Thomas’ return.

Without getting into the question of whether the team’s current improvement is merely regression to the mean–let’s hold onto that question for after the season–it is clear that Dolan was predisposed to re-confirm his own decision to hire Thomas. Thus he never intended to fully specify the meaning of “evident progress,” certain that these Knicks couldn’t be worse than last year’s bunch. Nevertheless, I suspect that he must have also considered the sorry state of coaching (and executive) talent in the league. Certainly, Knicks fans needn’t be reminded that pursuing the superstar coach and/or executive is not necessarily all it’s cracked up to be. At the same time, the veteran coaches who might take the New York job without demanding the same prima donna treatment as Larry Brown, like Rick Carlisle, Doc Rivers, Terry Stotts, Mike Dunleavy, Byron Scott, etc. are themselves mostly piloting ships at various stages of submersion. Any of those coaches might improve the Knicks at the margins but none would be considered even money bets to fundamentally alter what this franchise can aspire to.

So as a fan I am not singularly happy, sad, or neutral about the prospect of Thomas returning. I am ambivalent; all of the above. On one hand, I am not jumping with glee. On the other hand, Thomas is the devil we know. Plus considering that he is now operating under a kind of fiscal austerity plan, effectively tethering him to the draft, his worst impulse–to get the most talent out of every deal regardless of fit or fiscal implication–is less openly self-destructive. Perhaps just as importantly, given the shallow pool of coaching and executive talent, the odds of Dolan being able to ferret out potential greatness or potentially fatal flaws in a pool of similar candidates are frighteningly low.

Alas, there is no great moral to the end of the Thomas tale. It’s just an ending. Sometimes that’s all you get.

Making the Jaws of Defeat Go Hungry

Wow, rarely do you see a more bizarre comeback than that, not because of any sort of “wacky” play or anything like that, but more because of the way that most comebacks involve the team making the comeback actually playing WELL down the stretch, and that really wasn’t what we saw during the end of this game, really – right up until Steve Francis nailed the game-winning three (and that shot was freakin’ TOUGH – that was no open shot right there), it was more a matter of both teams just playing poorly enough to keep the other one in it.

Still, what a shot by Francis (I am of mixed minds regarding the celebration afterwards – I loved the Grandma hug, but jumping on the scorer’s table to basically tell the crowd FU? After you just missed a huge free throw not five minutes earlier? A bit odd, but I’ll accept it!). That really was a page out of Gilbert Arenas’ playbook.

As for the rest of the team, sloppy game, but as Dave pointed out so well in the earlier comments:

1. Marbury & Francis kept Arenas in relative check.

2. Eddy Curry was a presence on the boards. Especially late, he made himself useful even though he was having a difficult shooting night.

3. Jaed Jeffries had a nice game on both ends of the court.

Tied for eighth! And the Knicks have the theoretical tiebreaker (obviously a bit early to be talking tiebreakers, but it sure is better to have them then NOT have them!) with Orlando.

Let’s just hope the Knicks win some more games.

Great ending.

Will The Knicks Dribble Right Into the Trap?

Tonight the Knicks have a chance to springboard into the 8th playoff seed in the east. The Knicks take on the Seattle Sonics at home while the Nets, who currently sit one-half game in front of them for the 8th seed, must travel to the lions’ den in Dallas. To make matters worse for the Nets, their loss this weekend to an improved 76ers team was dispiriting to say the least.

Unfortunately the Knicks have been here before, and more often than not the moment has been too big. The Knicks have played some of their worst basketball in such moments. Even more unfortunately, a number of factors conspire to suggest that we will see a similarly moribund effort tonight against the Sonics. Stephon Marbury and Steve Francis have been incredible the last couple games. And yet wins over the Hawks and Warriors, two of the league’s worst, have been down-to-the-wire nail-biters. David Lee is still day-to-day and today does not appear to be the day, as he is doubtful for tonight’s game. I am not sure about Nate Robinson’s availability. In addition, Eddy Curry seems to be hitting a wall of sorts. He was a non-factor in the last game due to what Isiah described as “dead legs,” reminiscent of the “dead arm” complaint often heard from pitchers during the dog days of August. Finally, Seattle will have it’s top player, Ray Allen, back for his second game since returning from ankle problems.

Yet, to quote the Lady Galadriel, “hope remains while the company is true.” Various members of NY’s bench brigade have stepped in and played admirably at times. Mardy Collins has improved the perimeter defense in Crawford’s absence. Richardson has been solid, though his back is acting up again. Renaldo Balkman continues to bring energy and defense. (He is also, quiet as it’s kept, one of the best on the team at cutting without the basketball rather than standing and watching.)

In some ways tonight’s game is the truest test of this team’s mettle and identity. This is a game that, despite being at less than full strength, the Knicks should win at home. But it is the kind of game the Knicks have lost in the past due to immaturity and carelessness. I want to believe that this team has grown a bit over the past few weeks through some big wins, some disappointing losses, and through inspired play despite injuries. But what I haven’t seen this team do is sustain solid play over a stretch of games. I am not personally one to label games “must-wins” until a team is down 2-0 in a best of seven. In this league, a player like Ray Allen can drop 60 on you on any given night and beat you.

Nonetheless, it is way past time for this team to begin building on good play rather than alternating good play with boneheaded play.

Half Price Knick Tickets?

I occasionally get stuff in my mailbox about Knick promotions. Usually I can smell from a mile away whether or not they are spam. This one, from a few folks at icedmedia.com, looks legit. In addition to half price off Knick tickets for certain seats at select games, they gave me a handful of links to video sites. I watched the youtube version and it’s highlight/clips of the current season. Much like you’d see on MSG. Here’s the body of their email:

50% Off Knicks Tickets – code MARBURY
Use promo code MARBURY at nba.com/knicks/schedule/ for 50% off $60 and $44 tickets.

Games Under Promo:
Tuesday March 6 vs Sonics
Friday March 16 vs Hornets
Thursday March22 vs Trailblazers
Monday March 26 vs Magic
Wednesday April 4 vs 76ers

Video Links:
YouTube
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hnqLG6S-iEY
Clipshack
http://clipshack.com/Clip.aspx?key=D36018F703CFE90F
DailyMotion

LiveLeak
http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=4d7_1172792109
Veoh
http://www.veoh.com/videos/v275167j5xtSYY7