If True, Walsh Move a Step Forward

Although there has been no official word, a few different sources have reported that the Knicks have hired Donnie Walsh to oversee their franchise. Walsh isn’t the sexy move that Colangelo or West would have been, and his tenure in Indiana isn’t without it’s flaws. However for the Knicks in the Dolan era, playing it safe shows a marked improvement.

Since Dolan took sole possession, many of the the Knicks moves have been risky get rich quick schemes. Some of the hallmark transactions include trading for Glenn Rice, Antonio Mcdyess, Stephon Marbury, Steve Francis, Eddy Curry, and Zach Randolph. If these deals have one thing in common, it’s that each one failed to account for the Knicks long term future. Rice was exchanged in favor of Patrick Ewing’s massively expiring contract. McDyess was gotten in lieu of the #8 pick (Nene). Meanwhile the rest took away the Knicks financial flexibility, not to mention four first round picks and a few young players. But despite surrendering all this, New York finds itself at the bottom of the league hoping to lose games in order to get a better draft pick.

During Walsh’s tenure, the Pacers rarely went for the big move. The early ’90s Pacers were built primarily through the draft. Reggie Miller, Rik Smits, Antonio Davis, and Dale Davis were taken in successive years. Meanwhile the early ’00s Pacers were constructed through shrew trades. Walsh paid pennies on the dollar for Jermaine O’Neal (Dale Davis) and Ron Artest (Jalen Rose & Travis Best). These deals are the antithesis of the recent New York acquisitions.

Compared to Walsh, Scott Layden and Isiah Thomas were inexperienced, impatient, and incompetent GMs. Fans were happy at the trade deadline this year when New York didn’t make any deals. Not because the team didn’t need to move players, but because Isiah Thomas didn’t have a chance to further damage the team. With Walsh at the helm, New Yorkers won’t hold their collective breaths anytime the ESPN ticker announces a Knick trade. If Donnie Walsh assumes the helm, he will be the first capable GM in the James Dolan era. And that’s a small step forward for a franchise wrapping up its 8th straight losing season.

Walsh to the Knicks Imminent?

Donnie Walsh is officially out at Indiana and ESPN is reporting he is set to sign a three-year/$15 million dollar contract with the Knicks.

I am not a huge fan of Donnie Walsh, but he should most likely be a step up on not only Thomas, but on every Knick General Manager since Ernie Grunfeld, as well.

It will be interesting seeing how this all plays out. Will Isiah still have a role on the Knicks? Who will be the next coach? Will there be a new coach?

Ill Will & Growing Pains

The last few Knick games have been markedly different from the rest of the season. Unfortunately it hasn’t been the results that have changes, as New York has lost 8 of their last 9 games. The change has come in terms of the players on the court. With nothing to play for other than pride and ping pong balls, Isiah Thomas has mixed up the rotation.

The most noticeable change is the emergence of first round pick Wilson Chandler. A few weeks ago when asked by the Hawks.com to talk about the Knicks, I made light of Chandler’s lack of playing time. A few days later on March 3rd, Chandler played 20 minutes in a loss against the Hornets, his season high at the time. Two games later he was in the starting lineup, and has averaged 25 minutes a night. Chandler is replacing the ineffective Quentin Richardson. Coming off a promising 2007, Quentin is in the middle of his worst season as a pro. His shooting percentages are the lowest of his career (.420 eFG%, .440 TS%) possibly due to the elbow injury he suffered earlier in the year. Chandler brings something the Knicks sorely need: defense. While Richardson isn’t the Knicks worst defender, he lacks the shot blocking ability of Chandler. Wilson is the Knicks second best per minute shot blocker, behind Renaldo Balkman. Certainly this hostility allows him to live up to the tattoos on his arm proudly proclaiming “Ill Will”.

Most importantly, this move has given their 20 year old first round draft pick some much needed playing time. Until recently it was nearly impossible to judge what kind of player they had in Chandler. It’s difficult to judge a player until he faces NBA talent on a regular basis. If this weren’t true, the draft would be as easy as selecting the best college player. Chandler seems to be developing with the extra burn. He’s making less mental mistakes, and seems to be adjusting to the faster pace of the NBA. I’m not worried about his low shooting percentage, especially since he hasn’t logged 300 minutes on the season yet.

However Chandler isn’t the only youngster that has seen an increase in playing time. David Lee and Nate Robinson have entered the starting lineup, and even Randolph Morris has wondered onto the court. And although I previously mentioned that this hasn’t changed the end results of games, it has made the Knicks a different team to watch. There’s an allure to seeing young players mature on the court and learn from their miscues. I guess it’s easier to cope with a fledging player’s mistakes than a overpaid veterans flaws.

Pre-Game Odds and Ends

Again with the “Style versus Substance” on Nate? Nate Robinson had his best offensive performance of his young career on Saturday against Portland. He shot 16-28 from the floor and 13-15 FTs. He handed out 6 assists and had 5 boards. Subjectively it didn’t “feel” like he dominated the ball either, despite the 28 shots. By comparison, Richardson’s 20 shots seemed more “labor intensive” and out of the flow. Part of the difference is that Nate never had to look hard to find the mismatch; he was the mismatch. Overall, it’s difficult to criticize his offense with a straight face. He’s efficient. He’s low turnover. And, he’s made himself into a passable passer; a player at least the equivalent of Leandro Barbosa. If there is a criticism of Nate’s game—and there is—it is his tendency to wander, to gamble, and to lose focus on the defensive end. Steve Blake, to his credit, put up some pretty good numbers against him: 15, 11, and zero screams.

Now, I love that Nate Robinson plays to the Garden crowd. What I don’t love are his routine defensive brain farts. Nate is minimally adequate at best when he should be a terror on defense. But, here’s the thing. You can hardly get to the latter because people won’t quit blathering about the former (present company excepted of course). The too, too tired “style over substance” trope virtually forbids discussion of actual basketball—unless it is to say that Nate would be better at it if he “toned down his act.” I get that some people just don’t care for Robinson’s act, which is perfectly fine and understandable. But it’s hard to make a case that he really hurts the team unless you’re talking about his defense. He’s been among the most potent offensive players on the team the past two years.

I try not to whine about NBA officiating. It’s better by an order of magnitude than NCAA officiating, which has managed to turn me off college hoops almost entirely. With NBA officials you usually know what’s coming, but the non-call on Nate Robinson’s drive at the end of regulation was a particularly bad call. I’m usually for letting the players settle end-of-game situations, but Robinson made his move, put the big boy on skates, took the bump, and finished. It’s one thing to let that kind of bump go on a defensive star like Artest or Bowen, but on a mediocre player like Pryzbilla that’s an and-1.

March Badness. With conference championships being determined this week and March Madness on the horizon, time to start thinking about the college kiddies. This appears to be a draft with two stars and a bunch of potential. New York figures to have a top five pick. You guys already know Beasley and Rose. The other guys who will likely end up in the top seven should they declare include (listed alphabetically):

• Jerryd Bayless (6’3” G, Arizona) – about the only games I’ve watched this year are in the Pac 10 and involve Arizona, so I’ve seen a bunch of Bayless. I’m not convinced he comes out this year but the mocks love him. I’ve heard the name “Chauncey Billups” thrown around but I don’t see that. His explosive athleticism is more reminiscent of a young John Starks, but with better handle and more efficient scoring; a combo guard—not a pure point. He’s got some holes in his game (e.g., defense, left hand), a former NBA coach, and seems to like college. He may go back.

• Eric Gordon (6’4” G, Indiana) – Gordon is built like a young Joe Dumars. He has very broad shoulders. Unlike Dumars though, he has no discernable point guard skills. Efficient scoring is his calling card—either slashing or shooting.

• Brook Lopez (7’0 C, Stanford) – I like Lopez a lot more than some others. He doesn’t dominate, but virtually no college centers do anymore. The way the games are coached and officiated simply doesn’t allow it. Lopez isn’t an outrageous athlete, but he’s a notch above Hibbert and he’s quite skilled.

• O.J. Mayo (6’4” SG, USC) – his game is far more cerebral and less explosive than I’d imagined. I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Mayo’s plenty athletic, but is more of an intermediate jump shooter than a guy that attacks the rim at every opportunity.

No matter who makes the picks for New York in this upcoming draft I’d be surprised if anyone outside this list were under serious consideration unless the pick is dealt. Danilo Gallinari appears to be the top international prospect, but the team likes Wilson Chandler. Russell Westbrook continues to impress, but it’s hard to see him overtake Gordon and Mayo.