Knicks Slide Due to (Lack of) Interior Defense

The 2009 Knicks have been tough to watch. After a promising early start and a couple of trades, the team has been on a losing streak. New York has dropped their last 6 games and are a Jets-eque 3-10 in December. Although I’ve said many times that I don’t care how many games the Knicks win this year, it’s clear what’s causing New York’s woes: interior defense.

When you think of the Knicks in a historical context, you tend to think of good defense. Stalwart centers like Ewing and Reed first come to mind, followed by Clyde, Debusschere, Oakley, Harper, and Camby. But watching the modern day version, there are few good defensive players on the roster. It’s hard to pinpoint which is the Knicks best defensive player. Chandler? Jeffries? Duhon? Jerome James? The list of candidates is short and laughable.

It really doesn’t matter what lineup the Knicks put on the floor, because there aren’t many capable defenders on the team. New York only has one player in their rotation that averages at least one block every 36 minutes: Wilson Chandler (1.0 blk/36). Their second best rotation player is Tim Thomas (0.5 blk/36), and that speaks volumes of how bad the Knicks are in this department.

And it seems the Knicks opponents have noticed this as well. Looking over yesterday’s play-by-play, Denver was 24-32 on shots labeled “layup” or “dunk”. The Nuggets made 45 shots, which means nearly half were in the paint. That’s a staggering amount, and to make matters worse, D’Antoni decided to use a bigger starting lineup of Duhon, Chandler, Jeffries, Thomas, and Lee. Obviously that had no effect.

Unfortunately the Knicks don’t have a lot of options. The team might turn to Eddy Curry, who might be ready to play in January. Even though Curry is a weak shot blocker for a center (1.1 blk/36 career), he’d be an improvement over David Lee (0.3 blk/36 this year). They could play Jerome James, but his weaknesses in the other areas of the floor would offset any gain from the shots he would turn back. (Although for Knick fans hoping for a better draft pick this might be a win-win situation). New York could look to sign a player to a 10 day contract, which they could do starting January 5th. A player like Courtney Sims (6’11, 2.2 blk/36), Richard Hendrix (6’9, 1.7 blk/36), or Chris Hunter (6’11, 1.9 blk/36), might be able to provide some immediate help with possible upside.

Other than inserting Curry into the rotation, it’s not likely that the Knicks will improve much in this department. I don’t see D’Antoni using James on a consistent basis. Isiah tried using James as a starter next to Curry, and that experiment didn’t last long. And it’s unlikely that New York will turn to a developmental league player to solve one of their problems. So Knick fans are going to have to live with a few more months of other teams exploiting this glaring weakness.

A Knicksmas Wish List

A Reprint of My Letter to Santa

Dear Santa:

I haven’t been half-bad this year; good might be a stretch but definitely not bad. Perhaps on my own merits I’ve received far more than I deserve this year already. But Santa, I’m a Knicks fan since 1984. Times have been lean for my beloved Knickerbockers for a long time now–a really long time. I recognize that, although hard times never last forever, times are likely to remain tough around Madison Square Garden for the foreseeable future. So, I have this small wish list. I’m not asking you to change the fate of the franchise. For the most part the Knicks have made their own messes. I am asking for a few things that might really help me struggle through yet another season likely to be filled with lots and lots of losses.

1. Another Point Guard – we just need another guy (preferably on the cheap) to run the show adequately for 12-15 minutes per game, preferably a guy who can keep opposing guards from running right to the front of the rim (umm… not Marbury; that would just be cruel). Oh, and a three point shot would be nice;

2. The Return of Eddy Curry – I recognize it may be too much to ask for him to be in anything resembling basketball shape, but some efficient post scoring would be nice;

3. Value for David Lee – I’m not necessarily for trading Lee. My preference is to wait the market out, but I recognize that a salary cap-motivated trade involving Lee could well be on the horizon. If it is to be, Dear Santa, don’t let the Knicks get screwed. If we’re not going to get back comparable talent for Lee I want a replacement for our lost first rounder.

So that’s my list to the fat man. Is that really too much to ask? I mean, I didn’t even ask for LeBron. What’s on your list?

Knicks’ Week in Advance 12/22/08

Thank goodness we can put the nastiness that was last week behind us. The Knicks went 0-4 last week, and with the exception of Milwaukee each of the teams the Knicks played are much better than the Knicks. While the Knicks did not play well in every game, I don’t think the team has quit as I have seen in years past. I am encouraged by the effort – if not the execution. At any rate, I think the Knicks have reached the low water mark on the season. The past ten games were arguably the toughest stretch of the season with four games against some of the top teams in the NBA (Cavs, Lakers, Celtics, Suns), and some strong teams (Hawks, Detroit, Portland). So on paper, the Knicks should have gone 3-7 over the last ten. New York has only 1 more 5 game road trip and it is much less brutal than the recent west coast swing. To sum things up, I haven’t given up hope on this season. There are a few encouraging signs and we will get to them in the article.

A light schedule this week with two games at home, Wolves and Nuggets.

Fri, Dec 26 Minnesota 7:30 pm
[First meeting of the teams this year]

TEAM POSS EFF eFG TO OREB% FT/FG
New York Knicks-Offense 98.4 105.6 50 15.8 23.3 20.1
Rank
1
19
12
17
28
28
Minnesota Timberwolves-Defense 91.5 110.4 51.7 14.4 24.9 25.7
Rank
16
25
28
25
6
23
New York Knicks-Defense 98.4 108.5 50.9 14.3 27.4 18.7
Rank
1
20
23
26
18
3
Minnesota Timberwolves-Offense 91.5 102 45.4 15.2 27.9 22
Rank
16
28
29
13
10
24

The Wolves come to MSG on Friday boasting one of the worst records in the league and the stats back it up. The Wolves are horrid on defense (110.4 efficiency, 25th) and they allow teams to put up very high numbers from the floor (51.7 eFG%, 28th). This bodes well for the Knicks as they are 11-4 against teams that give up more than 49% (eFg) from the floor. They are 6-0 against teams whose eFG% is at or above 50%. The Knicks seem to take advantage of inefficient defensive teams.

What to watch for: Al Jefferson. Jefferson is putting up very solid numbers for a team on which he is the focal point of the offense. He is fairly efficient around the basket (49.3 eFG%) but does not get to the line that often. His FT/FG ratio of 18 is among the lowest on the team, and surprisingly low for a player with a usage of 25.2. Jefferson’s low free throw numbers are mainly due to his offensive style. Al likes to shoot a short jump hook when he catches the ball, does not put the ball on the floor often, and is a poor passer (7.5 ast-r). Jefferson’s game is very much about positioning and put backs (3.2 offensive rebounds/36).

Teams can routinely double Jefferson because there really isn’t anyone else on the team the defense needs to stop. The Wolves have been unable to take advantage of the doubles Jefferson draws as they are very poor shooters (45.4 eFG%, 29th). The only Wolf to shoot over 40 percent from 3 is Corey Brewer who was lost for the season just a few weeks ago. The Knicks should probably commit to doubling Jefferson while keeping an eye out for…

What to watch for 2: Mike Miller. Miller is the only guard on the team that can score efficiently as his 55.8 eFG% leads the team. However, his efficiency has not translated into many points (11.9 per/36 minutes). I would attribute this to the “me first” play from the three guys moonlighting as point guards….

What to watch for 3: Randy Foye – yeah more like Randy “Faux” as in faux point guard (5.5 ast/36 min), Rashad McCants – “cant pass or shoot” (39.2 eFG%, 1.8 ast/36 ), and Sebastian Telfair – “tell him to stop shooting” (36.1 eFG%) round out the Wolves’ back court. The Knicks don’t do a great job defending the three, stopping entry passes, or stopping dribble penetration. Fortunately, these three Wolves do not excel at any of those things.

What to Watch for 4: Rebounding. Love and Jefferson (10.1 tot/36) are strong rebounders on each side of the court. The Knicks need to concentrate on getting good shots and boxing out to prevent Love (5.4 offensive rebounds/36, 12.1 tot) from securing second chances.

Sun, Dec 28 Denver 1:00 pm
[First meeting of the teams this year]

TEAM POSS EFF eFG TO OREB% FT/FG
New York Knicks-Offense 98.4 105.6 50 15.8 23.3 20.1
Rank
1
19
12
17
28
28
Denver Nuggets-Defense 94.7 103.9 47.1 16.6 28.5 23.8
Rank
6
7
5
11
24
14
New York Knicks-Defense 98.4 108.5 50.9 14.3 27.4 18.7
Rank
1
20
23
26
18
3
Denver Nuggets-Offense 94.7 108 50.8 16.8 25.5 28.4
Rank
6
10
8
23
22
2

Denver is playing very well since trading for a true point in Billups. The Nugget offense (108 efficiency, 10th) is strong and efficient from the floor (50.8 eFG%). The only real blemish on the offensive numbers is the high turnover ratio (16.8, 23rd). Denver is a strong defensive team as well. The Nuggets’ defensive efficiency (103.9) and eFG% (47.1) are each in the top ten of the NBA. They struggle on the defensive glass as they fail to secure 28.5 percent of defensive boards (24th).

What to watch for: Rebounding. The Knicks have to take advantage of Denver’s poor rebounding. The Nuggets are in the bottom third of the NBA in defensive and offensive (22nd) rebounding. Of course, the Knicks struggle securing defensive boards as well (28th). Winning the boards will help the Knicks greatly as it will reduce second chances for a Denver team that is very efficient on offense.

What to watch for 2: The Knicks’ defense. The bulk of the Denver offense comes from the 1, 2, and 3 positions. The Knicks need to play strong defense – especially on Billups – to keep the Nuggets from getting into their offensive sets. Force the ball out of Billups’ hands and force Anthony to run the offense. Anthony is far less talented a passer than Billups is (12.8 ast-r vs. 28.8). The Nuggets have efficient 3 point shooters but none of them take more than 2.5 three pointers per 36 minutes. The Knicks should have clean rotations and prevent the Nuggets from getting open looks – the Nuggets can hit shots when given to them.

What to watch for 3: Fan favorite (after draft night) Renaldo Balkman returns to town. Balkman always thought of himself as an undervalued player in college. I wonder how he will respond in his first game back in NYC.

What to watch for 4: Jet lag anyone? This is the first game on Denver’s east coast swing. Saturday night in New York, you know Anthony is going out. J.R. Smith is from the area (and a proud alumnus of my alma mater – ever dear St. Benedict’s). Maybe the Nuggets will come out sluggish and we can take advantage of it. We will need every edge we can get, so let’s hope the Knicks come out firing.

To all the posters, writers, and of course my fans, (Ethan, Owynn, and Jen) Merry Christmas, “Baruch Atah Adonai” and happy Hanukkah to you, “A salama lakim” and a peaceful Ramadan to you. No matter what you celebrate, or whether you celebrate, have a safe and happy holiday, and most important of all-Go New York, Go New York, Go!

[Editors note: Happy “Holliday” to my Pastafarian readers.]

A Couple of Odds & Ends

Alan Hahn mentions this possible deal:

According to Broussard, Don Nelson told rookie Anthony Randolph, “You should have your agent start looking into trades, because this is not working out.”

The 19-year-old Randolph – yes, he’s only 19 – makes the rookie scale of $1.7 million which means you could probably — Bloghost note: to all you linking from HoopsHype, this is JUST a mere SUGGESTION on a BLOG not an actual REPORT of something factual! — could get him if you dangled David Lee. But that would definitely be a move that signals rebuilding over taking a shot at the playoffs…though Randolph does have tremendous upside as an offensive player and a big who can play in transition. However, we all know Nellie loves this style, too, so if he’s seeing flaws . . .

I think Hahn is pretty good at getting inside information, but as a basketball analyst he’s pretty lacking. I don’t think Randolph has tremendous upside as an offensive player, in fact his offense is severely lacking. From Ed Weiland’s draft profile: “For PFs, scoring efficiently is probably more important than scoring often. A PF who can put up a high FG pct. from inside the arc is one who has a better chance of becoming an effective inside scorer in the NBA. Anthony Randolph was not an efficient 2-point scorer at LSU. Not even close. He hit .483 on two pointers and .105 on 19 three pointers. Not too many college stars go onto NBA greatness after hitting less than .515 on 2-point FGs. In fact, no one has.”

That said, Randolph has some potential. Although he’s played only 274 minutes, his non-scoring stats are good (2.8 BLK/36, 1.2 STL/36) and his rebounding is through the roof (12.2 REB/36). However that potential is tainted by his horrendous scoring (43% TS%, 3.8 TO/36). As NBADraft.net said of him “He’s got a chance to be special, but in turn a higher than average chance of being a bust as well.” Why would the Knicks trade their best asset (David Lee) for a player that has a chance of becoming a colossal bust? Hahn seems to pluck this out of thin air, and he admits to there being no rumors to this deal even being discussed. Obviously Hahn thinks it would be a good deal for New York, or at least one worth considering. But at this stage of Anthony Randolph’s career, he’s not worth David Lee.

Marc Berman of the New York Post reports Eddy Curry may be healthy by next week:

Curry confirmed he is on track to join the team full tilt in practice in a little more than a week. After that, “It’s up to the coach when he thinks I’m ready to play,” he said.

Because of a bruised right knee, Curry hasn’t practiced since the regular season began but may start doing on-court drills on Christmas Day, when the club returns to practice.

In a rare interview, Curry told The Post he’s genuinely excited about this return. That is a departure from past interviews when Curry seemed resigned to his banished fate, despondent his knee was not healing. He ticked off the coaching staff originally by reporting to training camp well over 300 pounds.

“I’m excited, I’m ready to get back,” Curry told The Post. “I’m definitely excited.”

Knicks president Donnie Walsh said at practice yesterday Curry “wants to play” and thinks he’ll join practice in about one week.

The 7-foot Curry yesterday finished a three-week program during which he was injected with a shot in his knee once a week – a lubricant that has lessened his pain. His final injection was yesterday. In late September, he took a cortisone shot that failed to work.

“I talked to [D’Antoni] a couple of times,” Curry said. “He really assured me he wants me to be part of what’s going on and for me not to lose my concentration and stay in it mentally and keep trying to work hard so when I come back I’m not too far behind. I’m glad he’s anticipating my return.”

I can’t believe I’m typing this, but I’m looking forward to see Eddy Curry in D’Antoni’s offense. It’s not because I think Curry can reclaim his career as a possible franchise center. But I think that Curry can be a good reserve center in the right offense. And I think D’Antoni’s system would minimize some of Eddy’s weaknesses.

In the past New York’s offense centered around giving Curry the ball in the post and forcing him to score or find an open player. Curry’s turnovers spiked as he committed offensive fouls and failed to pass the ball back out to an open player. Part of the problem was the offensive set would often leave players motionless, the other problem was force feeding him the ball. In D’Antoni’s offense the ball and players are in continuous motion, which means 4 players won’t be standing around while Eddy tries to figure out what to do. With Duhon running the offense, Curry should get the ball in better positions to score.

Additionally Curry gives the Knicks some size. New York’s main weakness is interior defense, and although blocked shots is not one of Curry’s strengths, he does it better than the current Knick frontcourt. Curry’s career 1.1 BLK/36 is better than what Lee (0.3), Harrington (0.3), Jeffries (0.3), and Chandler (0.9) have given the Knicks on a per minute basis this year. Coach D’Antoni likes to use a smaller lineup, but it looks like the Jared Jeffries experiment isn’t what he thought it would be. Since he’s moved to center, Jeffries is sporting a PER of 3.8 and his turnovers and fouls have increased (5.0 TO/36, 5.7 PF/36). Curry would likely be an improvement over Jeffries.

Ultimately my dream scenario is for Curry to be productive enough for the Knicks to move him for a player that better fits their needs with a shorter contract. But even if he’s productive for 15-20 minutes a night that means the Knicks have one less dead roster spot.

[Edited: To correct Hahn’s first name.]