2008 Season Preview: The Backcourt & Swingmen
Statistically Stephon Marbury still remains above average offensively, but he’s not nearly as productive as he used to be. The Knicks PG still is effective with his incursions to the basket, and at the latter stages of his career he’s become a better shooter. However to the eye Marbury doesn’t appear to be comfortable in Isiah’s offense. Gone are his pick & roll plays and his domination of the ball. Marbury has problems making entry passes to the low post, which is a problem considering that’s where the Knicks will look to score.
On the other hand Jamal Crawford’s familiarity with Curry allows him not only to get him the ball in the right spot, but to execute alley-oops. Statistically, Crawford hurts the Knicks with his poor shooting, and his turnover rate was just below Steve Francis’. On average Crawford missed 9 of the 15 shots he attempted per game, a staggering amount. Both Marbury and Crawford are subpar three point shooters, but neither is shy about taking one. Neither player is a spot up shooter, like in the Houston/Tucker mold. Both are more comfortable in creating their own shot than being the recipient. They don’t move well without the ball. And neither is a good rebounder.
The Knicks best scoring guard is 5’8, rebounds like he’s 6’8, and acts like he’s 4’8. Robinson won MVP of the Vegas Summer League, and played considerably well during the preseason. Compared to the starters, he shoots more efficiently, turns the ball over less, and actually rebounds. On the other hand, his immaturity and lack of height will limit his minutes. Robinson will be the Knicks third guard. Coming off the bench, he’ll bring a scoring punch either through his drives to the basket, his efficient shooting, or his new found joy of setting up his teammates. This preseason Robinson averaged almost an assist per 40 minutes above his career average.
Fighting for the remaining minutes of the Knick backcourt will be Mardy Collins and Fred Jones. While Collins is more of a one to Jones’ two, Mardy is a complete liability anytime he has to deliver the ball to the hoop. Collins’ shooting percentages are laughably bad (3p% .277, FT% .585, eFG .410, TS% .445). Meanwhile Jones is able to hit a jumpshot, but he’s not very efficient. Only his free throws average is above the league rate. Jones has had only one season where his 3p% was above the league average. To his credit he does get to the line fairly often, giving him a decent TS% (.526).
At the other end of the court Jones and Collins are the Knicks best defensive options. Last year Collins used his 6-6 frame and solid defensive footing to harass opposing guards. He’s big enough that he can guard small forwards as well. Collins is also blessed with something that most strong defenders possess: a mean streak. Remember his defensive play started the Denver brawl. Jones is an athletic player, a former slam dunk champion, who has stuck around in the league by his defense.
Nate Robinson is hindered by his size from being a great defender, but he’s a ball hawk who has good anticipation in the passing lanes. He’s also the Knicks best defender against Yao Ming. Unlike most sub-6′ guards, Nate is strong enough from being bullied in the post. Unfortunately he’s poor in fighting through screens, and I think the next time he goes over one will be his first. Meanwhile Marbury put more effort into his defense last year, but he lacks the lateral speed to keep up with quicker guards. Jamal Crawford bulked up this summer, but he’s still by far the Knicks worst defender on the perimeter.
Isiah has 2 serious options at the small forward spot. When Quentin Richardson played, he was the most well rounded offensive weapon the Knicks had. Although Richardson had no holes in his game, he really didn’t excel at anything. His eFG was above the league average while his TS% was slightly below. Never a slasher, Richardson’s primary way to the free throw line was working in the post. However, he was kept off the blocks by Curry, and you would expect the same to happen this year especially with the addition of Randolph. Hence Richardson takes on the role of spot up shooter in the Knicks offense, and does an adequate job at it. Defensively he’s solid but unspectacular.
The other option Isiah has is Renaldo Balkman. Unlike Richardson, Balkman’s talents aren’t evenly distributed. In the half court he is unable to hit a jump shot, which allow defenses to leave him open on the perimeter. Nevertheless he still is able to generate offense. Balkman is excellent in transition whether it’s grabbing a rebound & starting the break or filling the wing and finishing it. In the half court set, Balkman moves well without the ball and uses his explosive leaping ability to around the basket to rebound and score. Furthermore, he’s the Knicks best defender, using his gangly frame and quickness to block shots and harass players. The only New Yorker that played 1000 minutes and averaged more than 1.0 blk/40 was Balkman.
The Knicks would be served well using the aforementioned players, but the same can’t be said of Jared Jeffries. Brought in for his defense, Jeffries scores at a lilliputian rate. He makes Balkman look like Kobe Bryant in the half court. In fact only 3 players in the league played more than 1000 minutes and scored less points per minute than Jeffries: Lorenzen Wright, DeSagana Diop, and Jason Collins. It’s not a good sign for a small forward to be compared to 3 defensive centers in terms of offensive productivity. Jeffries has one positive attribute: his offensive rebounding. But Balkman is a tiny bit better, and Renaldo scores at twice the rate.
The unknown factor at small forward is Wilson Chandler. Like Balkman, Chandler was a relative unknown but physically talented small forward. Unlike Balkman, Chandler has a jumpshot which even extends to the arc. In DePaul, Chandler shot well (eFG: 49.5%, TS: 52%), and he was even more impressive in summer league (eFG: 58.5%, TS: 56.2%). But predicting rookie performance in the NBA is a crapshoot, and a handful of preseason games aren’t enough to make any valid predictions. How much he’ll be able to contribute is unknown, but he seems to face a steep battle to earn minutes. In any case, it’s likely that Chandler will perform like most rookies, occasionally lost and a little turnover prone. Given Isiah’s clairvoyance with respect to the draft, it’s likely that Chandler be more productive than the average 23rd round pick.