Can Curry and Randolph coexist?

I must admit that my initial gut reaction to the Randolph trade was not exactly great. And I still don’t really like it. The obvious parallel here is the disastrous Francis trade, in which the Knicks acquired a talented but flawed player with a huge contract who duplicated almost exactly the skill set of a player already on the roster. Unlike the Francis trade, there is no question the Knicks won big on the talent end of this trade. But is there any hope that Curry and Randolph might coexist any better than Marbury and Francis did? On closer inspection, it’s not as poor a match as your gut reaction might have you think. Not that I’m doing jumping jacks over here, but let me explain.

The immediate concern is that Randolph’s prodigious scoring duplicates what Curry brings to the table. However, the story is not quite that simple. Curry is exclusively a low post player; last season he attempted 79% of his FGAs close to the basket and shot those at a stellar .667 eFG%. On the 21% of his FGAs that were further out, he shot an embarrassing .243. However, Randolph is more of a perimeter player. Last season he attempted a full 59% of his FGAs on jumpers and dropped them in at a .417 clip, which is actually pretty good efficiency on a jump shot for a big guy. (By way of comparison, in Frye’s rookie season he attempted 64% of his FGAs on jumpers and shot an identical .417 clip. The similarity here is actually pretty eerie.) A relatively paltry 41% of Randolph’s FGAs came in the paint, and his eFG% on those inside attempts was .551– good, but not Eddy Curry good.

So there is a relatively natural division of labor here: Curry is exclusively the workhorse in the paint, whereas Randolph has an effective face-up game to complement his effective post game. It is plausible that Randolph could become the more perimeter oriented complement to Curry that Frye was supposed to be while still doing considerable damage in the paint as well. In fact, admittedly having not seen much of Portland over the past few seasons, checking out his youtube clips reveals a player who is surprisingly quick and nimble with an effective face up game and a sneaky knack for scoring. He is not quite the methodical bruiser I had in mind, in spite of his hefty physique. For instance, did you know Zach Randolph could do this? It seems that the offensive talents of Randolph and Curry do indeed have a fighter’s chance of coexisting. If it works out it would be an awfully tough duo to contain.

While we’re comparing the two, Randolph is also a much better passer than Curry. He had twice as many assists per 100 possessions (7.9) and more than 6 fewer turnovers per 100 possessions (11.6) than Curry last season. In fact, contrary to appearances, Randolph’s turnover rate is entirely benign. His turnovers per 40 minutes were only so high last season because of his monstrous usage rate. Compare Randolph’s turnovers per 100 possessions with other high usage big men last season and you find that it’s actually par for the course. Only one guy sticks out like a sore thumb on this list. Can you guess who it is?

player usage rate TO / 100poss
Nowitzki 26.8 8.3
Garnett 25.2 9.9
Bosh 23.8 10.5
Brand 22.3 10.9
Boozer 24.9 11.2
Randolph 30.2 11.6
Gasol 23.3 11.6
J. O’Neal 25.8 11.9
Duncan 25.5 11.9
Shaq 26.3 12.1
Yao 29.9 13.2
Stoudemire 22.5 14.2
Curry 23.1 17.7

All this means that Randolph is the more versatile, and ultimately superior, offensive option even though he does not dominate the low post like Curry does. This may explain why Randolph’s usage rate has been consistently higher than Curry’s over their respective careers. Defenses have a harder time denying Randolph possession because of his more diversified game, which could be important for the Knicks given that guards not named Jamal Crawford have sometimes had difficulty feeding Curry the ball. Randolph does not need a guard to feed him in the low post in order to be dangerous, which is key in late game situations.

What about defense? By reputation, Randolph is a slouch. It doesn’t help his case that last season he blocked as many shots per 40 minutes as Nate Robinson. (Yes, you read that right.) But here are his defensive +/- numbers since 02/03:

season defensive +/-
02/03 +5.8
03/04 +2.0
04/05 -2.8
05/06 +1.5
06/07 +1.7

As always, +/- is an imperfect tool that is difficult to interpret. But nonetheless, over the past 4 seasons a relatively consistent pattern emerges for Randolph. His defensive +/- suggests that on average his teams have been better defensively when he’s off the court, but only slightly so– by less than one basket per 48 minutes 100 possessions. However, all of those teams since 03/04 have been in the bottom third in defensive efficiency, which qualifies the interpretation of the +/- numbers. What they suggest is that Randolph isn’t so bad on defense that he makes an already poor defensive team much worse. That isn’t quite the same as concluding that Randolph is even a passable defender. On the other hand, it maybe suggests that Randolph won’t make the Knicks worse on D than they already are. But is he bad enough that he could drag down a defense that is otherwise average or above average? I don’t think the existing data allows a firm conclusion on that question one way or the other. It’s clear that he is not a stalwart on D but it’s not clear if his weaknesses are relatively benign, entirely prohibitive, or somewhere inbetween.

At least the guy is a terror on the boards. He was among the league leaders with a 17.6 rebound rate, which figures to bolster New York’s existing strength in rebounding. The Knicks are already an elite offensive rebounding squad (2nd in the NBA last season), and Randolph should help improve the defensive rebounding (11th). A front court of Randolph (17.6), Lee (20.7), and Balkman (16.4) could be genuinely dominant on the glass on both ends of the court. And of course this is the one area in which Randolph clearly and uncontroversially complements Curry.

So setting aside for now the inconvenient truths that Randolph comes with a huge contract and a history of jail time and punching opponents and teammates alike… he may not be as poor a fit on the court for the Knicks as you thought on first glance. Now, if we could just trade Eddy Curry for Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah, then we’d really be cooking.

Draft Day Trade Lacks Direction

Shortly after ESPN announced Zach Randolph was traded to the Knicks, a commenter named Harlan said

“are we really getting upset by dumping frye and francis and getting someone who put up 26 and 10, we have a huge lineup now who can score, they cant double team either and randolph has an outside jumpshot.”

Yes, Harlan. Some of us are really getting upset.

If you asked Knick fans what their team’s main weaknesses are, I would suspect most would say: defense, turnovers, injuries, and cap space. Unfortunately for New York, Zach Randolph doesn’t address any of these issues. Randolph is an awful shot blocker, his 0.2 blk/40 last year made Eddy Curry (0.6 blk/40) look like Raef LaFrentz (1.2 blk/40). As for turnovers, Randolph’s 3.5 to/40 would be second on last year’s Knick team behind only Eddy Curry. There’s no doubt that injuries sunk the Knicks late in the season, and Randolph won’t address that need as he has missed an average of 17.5 games each season over his 6 year career. Finally Zach’s large contract will haunt the Knicks for years to come. Next year he’ll make a little over $13M, and it escalates to $17M in 2011. New York could have conceivably been under the cap in 2009, but notions of signing a free agent have now gone out the window for 4 years.

As for what was given up, it’s no secret that I’ve soured on Channing Frye this year. Frye seemed to be uncomfortable on the court, and it’s uncertain exactly what caused it. However he did flash some talent his first year, and trading him this early in his career could haunt the Knicks in the future. Only last year did Isiah make a “no-brainer” trade involving a young player for a seemingly better veteran that is eerily similar to this deal. Lamentably Trevor Ariza blossomed for the Orlando Magic, while Steve Francis wilted in New York.

On the court this upcoming year, I’m dubious that this trade will make New York better. I imagine Randolph will start next to Curry, relegating David Lee to the bench. This is unfortunate since Lee was arguably the Knicks best player last year. Randolph is a strong scorer and rebounder, but Lee is more efficient and one of the top rebounders in the league. Neither Curry nor Randolph pass well out of double teams, so expect the Knicks’ to cough up the ball even more next year. Additionally one has to wonder if Randolph will make Curry less effective, since both players are post up players who require the ball to be effective. Lee’s “low usage plays away from the ball” game seems to better complement Curry. Of course this trade doesn’t address New York’s defensive weakness, their greatest liability, at least in any positive manner.

In the end, I’m saddened that Isiah didn’t address New York’s most crucial needs at the power forward spot with his trade. Isiah Thomas makes the same mistakes over and over again. He sacrifices young talent (sometimes in the form of draft picks) for overpriced players who show little aptitude on the defensive end. As a friend remarked, Thomas seems to be a fantasy basketball GM, getting players who have flashy offensive per-game numbers with little thought of how they fit together. Unfortunately, New York needs an NBA GM with a cohesive plan on building a team.

They Said It (6/28/07)

The internet offers a place for many people to express their opinion. Gone are the days where only the opinion of people who get paid for writing are seen by the masses. Today anyone can state what they think on a subject publicly, for everyone to see. Below are some quotes taken directly from various web pages, so I can?t take credit for any of them. I?ve only added a lighthearted header (in bold) to enhance your reading pleasure.

I’ve heard of a ‘hot foot’, but I think this is a bit extreme.
Link

I think [a trade to another team] would be good for Frye..force him to man up! He may have some resentment maybe not as intense as Spreewell but it could light a fire in his crotch because he would want to prove that he was the better player of that draft..he was the lotto pick. It will be his third season..and if he goes to a new place…not near his hometown who knows what kind of affects that will have on him…maybe it will toghen him up mentally.


And all this time I was saying ‘crackwhore’.
Link

suns are working out noah and according to suns posters, brewer. and going by what griffin said about their chances of moving up, there must be some serious trades talks going down.

i’ll stick to my darkhorse prediction that i made about 2-3 weeks ago, marion to charlotte for #8. and i’ll also introduce my even wackier crackhorse prediction, barbosa + #23 + #29 to charlotte for #8.


Depends how far East China expands.
Link

This helps me arrive to another question. When Yao retires, is he allowed to stay here or is China going to force him to move back?


Guitar player? Tennis player? Xbox player?
Link

I am going to make a bold statement…Josh McRoberts is the best player in the 07 draft…better than Oden & Durant.


If this guy’s in a fantasy league, I’ll phone in to the draft.
Link

The more i think about the more i would like to see us SHOW SOME NUTS in a trade! face it we’ve overpaid on every deal we’ve made in the last 6 years when do we say enough? I like a lot of our players and feel they can play we just need a couple more who can bring some different things we don’t have to our team.

Why should we let everyone feel their players are so much better than ours humm? Spurs are the only champs everyone else failed with Kobe,with KG etc. Jefferson is not better than Lee nor are any of the other players Celtics offered to wolves for kg much better than the players the knicks can offer it seems like the old additive we seem desperate so we get ransomed and shafted…


Where exactly do you place “internet yahoo” on your resume?
Link

As far as “knickerblogger” goes I find the guy to be nothing more than any other internet Knicks basher the majority of the time. Some people give way too much credibility to anything they see on a website online. Like if its in print it must be true. He is not a paid journalist for a major NY paper. He is just some internet yahoo that made his own website.

The Garnett Rumors

According to a (very) recent report, the consensus now in NBA circles is that Kevin Garnett will very likely be traded to the Phoenix Suns, with the Lakers still pushing to get involved.

Garnett playing alongside Nash would be tremendous to see, even more so if the Suns somehow manage to avoid losing Amare Stoudemire in the deal.

Meanwhile, though, if you’re Boston – if you don’t get Kevin Garnett (or Stoudemire, I suppose), why would you ever trade Al Jefferson?

If you’re Atlanta, how awesome would it be to flip #3 and #11 for Amare freakin’ Stoudemire?!?!

If you’re Minnesota, which would you prefer – Jefferson and the #5 or the #3 and the #11? I think Jefferson and the #5 is a no brainer.

In any event, looks like some interesting times leading up to the NBA draft. It looks like we WILL have a deal before the draft, so tomorrow and Thursday should get reeeeeeeeeal interesting.

Draft Analysis By The Numbers

With the 2007 NBA draft almost upon us, there’s plenty of resources around the web for those craving more information regarding the draft. However I’ve stumbled across three that I thought were particularly interesting. The one thing all of these resources have in common is that they offer a statistical look at predicting incoming NBA players. For some time baseball fans have had a good amount of knowledge on what makes a good professional. College pitchers generally fared better than high schoolers. Minor league pitchers that had a good BB:K and HR:K ratios were more likely to succeed than those who didn’t. In the NFL, footballoutsiders discovered that drafted college QBs who had the most starts and the highest completion percentage did better than the rest of the field.

The first is probably the least well known. HoopsAnalyst has run a 4 part series (hopefully to be a 5 part series) on what stats are most important for aspiring professionals. Ed Weiland has unearthed a few interesting gems. Scoring quantity for shooting guards is more important that scoring efficiency. Also important for shooting guards is those that do better in “athletic” stats (per minute rebounds, steals, and blocks). The reasoning is that players who aren’t physically gifted enough don’t do well at the next level (Shawn Respert, Trajan Langdon, Jarvis Hayes and Reece Gaines). Weiland lumps together college players and international ones. Other than Oden & Durant, Weiland sees a bright future for Horford, Noah, Rudy Fernandez, Wright, and Green.

Next is the WoW Journal, with guest writer Erich Doerr. In his approach, Doerr attempts to apply Berri’s Win Score method to the amateur players. Using this method, the sleepers of the draft appear to be Nick Fazekas, Stephane Lasme, and Rashad Jones-Jennings from the college ranks and Jianlian Yi, Marco Belinelli, Luka Bogdanovic, Jonas Maciulis, Kyrylo Fesenko, and Mirza Begic from the international ranks.

Last but not least, John Hollinger has published his method for digging up potential prospects. Hollinger concentrates on college players and adjusts for both strength of schedule and pace. Like Weiland, Hollinger finds such “athletic” stats as steals, blocks, and rebounds to coincide with future success. His system also adds age, three point shooting, height, and passing (ppr). Good news for (probably) Seattle fans: Durant looks to be the best prospect of this decade. Thaddeus Young, who both Wieland and Doerr are lukewarm on, makes Hollinger’s top 5, along with Oden, Conley, and Wright.

While all three methods don’t always agree, there are a few players that there is a consensus on. Oden and Durant are the obvious examples, but also Brandan Wright, Al Horford, Nick Fazekas, and Joakim Noah on the positive side, and Acie Law, Corey Brewer, and Nick Young on the negative side. But more importantly, it’s great to see that there are a few different people looking into projecting future stars. I guess only time will tell if any of these systems bear fruit.

[NOTE: Apologies to Bret at Hoopinion, who also took a statistical look at this year’s draft class as well. At this moment there are 10 articles posted, with some good tidbits there.]

Draft Prospects, Part III

If you missed Parts I & II highlighting PGs and SGs/SFs respectively who may be on the Knicks? radar screen during this upcoming draft click here for Part I and here for Part II.

I?ll go position-by-position and highlight at most a handful of players who may be available when the Knicks select at #23. The players are listed in no particular order. Player stats and profiles come largely from draftexpress.net and nbadraft.net.

The Knicks got very good offensive production from their power players this season. The tandem of Eddy Curry and David Lee were both in the top 15 in true shooting %, one of only three such tandems in the league (Nash/Stoudemire and Dampier/Nowitzki were the others). Curry managed to keep himself on the court long enough to shoot his customarily high percentage while David Lee emerged as one of the league’s elite rebounders. Unfortunately, Channing Frye’s dramatic sophomore slump and Lee’s late-season injury threw a sizable monkey-wrench into the development of one of the league’s best young power threesomes. Lee’s and Frye’s names have been connected to potential blockbuster trades (read: pipedreams) for Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant. Given the low likelihood of acquiring either superstar and with the addition of free agent Randolph Morris from Kentucky the Knicks seem stocked at power forward and center. Many of the players profiled here are considered late-first or second round picks. So it seems likely that the Knicks would only be interested in a few (if any) of these players at #23. Yet we all know how quickly things can change in the NBA. The Knicks could potentially move down or pick a player at #23 for another team and trade for one of these players.

Power Forwards

1. Josh McRoberts (6’10”, 244#, Duke)

If you can get past the fact that McRoberts didn’t quite live up to outsized expectations at Duke it is easy to like his floor game. McRoberts strikes me as a Jason Collins-type defender with more athleticism. He averaged 2.8 blocks per 40 and he did it without fouling excessively (averaging .99 blocks/foul). He blocks shots in man-to-man and on weakside rotation with good positioning and nice timing. He’s also an excellent passer from the PF position. He averaged just under 4 assists per 40 (tops among PFs) with a 1.43:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. (Keep in mind that none of his Duke teammates look like bona fide NBA prospects.) McRoberts is not a great rebounder, though not necessarily a liability in that area (9 per 40) either. He’s really not much of a scorer, just under 15 ppg on 56% TS. He doesn’t get to the line much and doesn’t shoot threes. But, if he can find his way onto a team that needs his floor game he can contribute right away.

2. Nick Fazekas (6’11”, 225#, Nevada)

If you’re looking for a perimeter-oriented big man Fazekas is the prime candidate (along with Colorado State’s Jason Smith). His calling card is his shooting, though I’ll note that Fazekas is a better rebounder than he’s typically credited for being (14.5 boards per 40, a hair under 29% of his team’s rebounds). He has those Ilgauskas-like long arms. As I mentioned, he is renowned for his shooting, especially the pick and pop. He’s a 65% true shooter but he does it almost exclusively from the perimeter (only .35 FT/FG). To his credit he’s not careless with the ball despite not being an especially good ball-handler, averaging around 2 TOs/game throughout his career. He is adept at the pick and pop, catch and shoot game. He may slide to the 2nd round mostly because he’s been on scouts’ radars long enough to have his game completely picked apart.

3. Jermareo Davidson (6’11”, 230#, Alabama)

Davidson is a Camby-lite shot-blocker and Camby-like bean pole. His 2.9 blocks per game and 1.3 blocks/foul suggest that there is something to the Camby comparison. He offers nothing on offense other than rebounds and putbacks. He could go anywhere in the 2nd round or go completely undrafted.

4. Tiago Splitter (6’11, 240#, Brazil)

There’s a boatload of stuff out already on Splitter. The only thing I’ll add is that he may have some buyout issues, though that could just be a nasty rumor.

5. Jason Smith (7′, #, Colorado State)

Although Smith is a 7-footer, offensively he is mostly a turn-and-face player in the halfcourt. He is also very athletic. He runs the floor well and can handle the ball a bit. He has range in the 15-18 foot area. Unlike Fazekas he managed to get himself to the line in college (.66 FT/FG) while shooting the same TS% (65%). Unfortunately, also unlike Fazekas, he’s turnover prone (almost 4 per 40) but a good rebounder (13 per 40).

Center

Centers are similar to defensive tackles in football. To get a great one you have to get him early. However, you can find limited but serviceable ones later if you have an eye for talent and the patience to wait.

1. Marc Gasol (7′, 270#, Spain)

Pao’s baby brother is a big, strong, classic center. He is purported to have nice hands and a good feel but lacks athleticism, which is a huge drawback.

2. Aaron Gray (7’2″, 272#, Pittsburgh)

Aaron Gray is a decent rotation center for a team that runs a lot of halfcourt sets. He has always been a strong rebounder and isn’t turnover prone. Although he scored over 20 pts for the offensively-challenged Panthers this season his TS% is pedestrian (57%) and he doesn’t get to the line (.46 FT/FG), suggesting that he isn’t likely to develop into much more than a rotation guy.

3. Sean Williams (6’10”, 235#, Boston College)

Most observers at this point are well-aware of what Williams brings to the table. His shot-blocking numbers really are astounding: 6.3 per 40 and 1.56 per foul. For those of you who saw Williams play you recognize how these numbers may understate his defensive impact. On numerous occasions I have seen Williams switch out on screen-roll situations and block jump shots. He has been compared to Ratliff, though I think Camby is the more apt comparison because of Williams ability to play out on the floor defensively. I don’t recall seeing that from Ratliff. What is probably most surprising about Williams’ play, given the athleticism, length, and timing, is that he’s a legitimately mediocre rebounder (8.7 per 40, which was a substantial improvement over his first two seasons). Of course, since he offers little on offense other than putbacks it’s like playing 4-on-5 with Williams on the floor if he doesn’t help much on the glass. (Frankly, I’m having trouble wrapping my brain around how a player can be a truly great shot-blocker without being a great rebounder. Are there other players like this?) Williams gets the all-capsCAVEAT EMPTOR tag. He is in most respects a one-trick pony with a history of poor personal decision-making. He has considerable on-court work to put in just to be a more complete rotation player. He has the talent but to really develop in the NBA takes a fair bit of maturity. I’m not sure anyone has seen evidence of it.