Unsung Knick History – The King’s Court(room Battle)

This is the twentiteth in a series (of indefinite length and regularity) of examinations into different games, events and decisions that impacted Knicks history in some way, shape or form. Stories that are not as famous as, say, “The Dunk” or Willis Reed playing Game 7, but still have a place in Knicks history, especially for die-hard fans. Here is an archive of all the stories featured so far.

This piece is interesting in the sense that it ties together two past installments of Unsung Knick History, the recent discussion about the troubles that the Knicks had to go through to sign Chris Dudley and the even more recent discussion about the troubles that the Knicks had with their salary cap during the mid-80s, spotlighted by their inability to re-sign Bernard King. This story is even about a King! Just not Bernard, but rather, his brother Albert.

So sit down and discover how the New York Knicks went to federal court in their efforts to sign Bernard King’s younger brother and how their failure to do so created a salary cap rule still used to this day!

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Knicks Resurgence Not Just 1 Man

With the Knicks on track for a 17 win improvement over the last season, many people seem content with attributing all of the improvement to one person. Amar’e Stoudemire wears the number one, but also appears to be the number one reason New York has turned their fortunes around. And while Amar’e has been an upgrade over Lee, it’s unreasonable to think that he alone has made New York 17 wins better. Instead the Knicks upturn is the result of a number of improvements.

Image by mikenitro94/Flickr Creative Commons
Amar'e is on fire, but so are the rest of the Knicks

After Amar’e the most obvious improvement is at the point guard position. Last year Chris Duhon gave New York 2072 putrid minutes last year. Duhon’s tenure was so bad I ripped Kelly Dwyer for describing the Magic signing him to a minor deal as ‘fine’. I didn’t even have to wait for Duhon to take up residence in Stan Van Gundy’s doghouse. Lost in the Amar’e Amore is the tremendous upgrade that Raymon Felton has been over Duhon. I’ve lined up the two in a comparison here, but if you want the 35 word explanation instead: Felton scores nearly twice the amount of points (16.4 to 8.6 pts/36) with a much higher efficiency (53.7% to 50.1% TS%) combined with more assists (8.3 to 6.6 ast/36) and steals (1.7 to 1.0 stl/36).

After Felton, the next biggest upgrade might be at shooting guard. Because Landry Fields has allowed Wilson Chandler to move to forward, Fields essentially takes the minutes of Jared Jeffries (1462 mins) in addition to the shooting guard carousel of Larry Hughes (820 mins), Tracy McGrady (627 mins), and Eddie House (371 mins). Just being league average would put Fields ahead of his 2010 Knick counterparts, but Fields has been more than average.

Pessimists would look at him and say he doesn’t score enough, but they’d be overlooking that Fields doesn’t miss much. Of the Knick starters, Fields is first in scoring efficiency, edging out Gallinari 61.0% to 60.4%. Like David Lee in his early career, the Knick guard doesn’t need the ball often, has good hands, converts extremely well around the hoop, doesn’t take many bad shots, and rebounds like crazy. Averaging 8.3 reb/36 for a shooting guard seems to be a typo. Additionally Fields can also hit the three at a good rate, making 38.8% of his downtown attempts. All these components make him a perfect complimentary player to D’Antoni’s system, especially considering what kind of play the Knicks have gotten from their guards in the past.

Not to be ignored is the development of Wilson Chandler, which can be attributed to two events. First is Chandler’s ability to hit three point shots. Prior to this season he was a 30.8% shooter from behind the arc, an appalling number since he attempted 3.1 treys per 36 minutes over that span. This year he’s nailing 35.9% of his threes, which has been instrumental in moving his TS% from 53.4 last year to 57.1 this year. There has been some talk that this improvement is due solely or largely to Amar’e arrival giving Chandler more open looks, but I think that discredits Chandler’s hard work and development. (Additionally this wouldn’t explain why Danilo Gallinari’s three point percentage decreasing or Roger Mason is building brick walls out there).

Second with regards to Chandler’s development is his move to forward. While this hasn’t helped his rebounding much (which in itself is odd because the Knicks have worse rebounders like Amar’e, Turiaf, and Mozgov at center), it has freed him up to block more shots. Chandler’s nastiness has allowed him to recover his “Ill-Will” persona, nearly doubling his blocks from the previous season (0.8 to 1.4 blk/36).

In retrospect it’s easy to say “Amar’e Stoudemire has turned the Knicks around,” but that’s also the lazy answer. New York has seen improvements in multiple areas, and I didn’t even mention their bench of Ronny Turiaf and Shawne Williams. Both of these players have performed well in limited minutes considering their role. In essence if you wanted to make the case that the Knicks have been turned around by one man, then I’d choose Donnie Walsh. He’s done a great job in bringing in players that fit into D’Antoni’s system and turned them back into a winning team.

Picture by Chamber of Fear/Flickr Creative Commons
Donnie Walsh is the man behind the Knicks resurrection

Suns 129. Suns East 121

When I was a youngin’, the Martin Luther King Day afternoon game was always a treat. One, I got a day off from school in the middle of a typically bleak NYC winter. Two, the ‘Bockers always played (or at least seemed to) against one of the NBA’s better teams and occasionally they’d pull off a dramatic and/or unexpected win. Even more enjoyable (to a teenage me) is when there’d be some random act of violence and/or hostility

Some of y’all may recall, the Nix actually played in the first MLK Day game (it only became a holiday in ’86) v/ Philly and the next year took on the awesome and equally loathsome Celtics. A nip and tuck affair, they won it on a last-second, off-balance bank shot by their perpetually undernourished “power” forward, Louis Orr.

Then there’s the infamous game in 1990 when Trent Tucker nailed a rainbow trey with .01 left on the game clock for the win (leading directly to the, “Trent Tucker Rule,” which stipulated that a player needs at least .03 seconds to attempt any non-tip shot). You can see it at 9:43 of this clip. Particularly amusing (but alas, not shown) was Pre-Zen Master Phil Jackson’s’ look of utter incredulity after the ball went through the hoop, his hands grasping futilely at his Late-80’s-era NBA head coach perma-weave hairdo.

But of course, buzzer-beaters aren’t nearly as compelling as all-out brawls, if only for the crushing irony of fists flying on a day celebrating a man who dedicated his life to preaching non-violent resistance.  Like in 2001 when Marcus Camby got a little peeved at future Cavs GM Danny Ferry and took a vicious swing at him, only to miss entirely and whomp Jeff “I should really never be allowed anywhere near an NBA brawl” Van Gundy upside the head. This lead to a series of hand-wringing and faux-appalled articles by the tabloids along the lines of “Oh the humanity!” or, “On Martin Luther King Day! Children were watching this game. Won’t somebody please think of the children!” And even, “Dr. King’s legacy/work/words mean nothing to these hooligans on the court!!!

Honestly though, I’m fairly sure they just recycled the same “think-pieces” they’d written in ’93 when, after a close-fought Nix-Suns game, Charles Barkley, displaying his usual sense of timing and clearly only wanting to have a calm, rational discussion (that in no way involved violence or violent rhetoric) about some calls that he disagreed with, literally vaulted the scoring table to chase down Referee Jim Clark, wrecking a few Commodore 64’s, Wang Laptops (Seriously, there used to be a big-time computer company called “Wang.” Another delight for teenage me. [Wang, tee hee!]), and Apple 11g’s before being forcibly restrained by all-time bad, lumbering backup 7-footer, Tim Kempton.

I hope you all enjoyed this brief primer on MLK Day and the Nix, b/c honestly, I just didn’t want to write about today’s miserable game of basketball. They lost, which will happen from time to time, but if you check the comments in the in-game thread, folks are pissed. Raymond Felton is getting those perturbing Chris Duhon comparisons again. Stat’s soft. D is awful, etc. etc…Basically, all the things we heard and said at the start of the season. I guarantee a ratcheting up of the howls by the unwashed masses plus Berman/Isola/Vescey to, “GET MELO NOW!!!” You can set your watch by it.

In brief, the Knicks were just terrible closing out on three pointers and let the Suns hang around all game. It was odd. I said myself in the comments it seemed as if the Knicks were “waiting to win.” Now, I try not to delve too much into bad sportswriting sociology/psychology (e.g “They wanted it more.” “We weren’t hungry.” “This team has no heart” and on and on.) but in this instance, it seemed as if they felt they were about to go on a 20-2 run at any moment and put the Suns away, but it never happened. There were a few brief flurries, but really the two teams stayed within 3-4 points of one another until the very end. Alas, Stat missed some gimmes in the 4th, the Knicks committed a ton of silly fouls and the ghosts of Channing Frye, Vince Carter and Grant Hill made clutch bucket after clutch bucket. Here’s some more detailed thoughts on our heroes for those of you who are gluttons for punishment.

RAY-RAY: Somewhere, Ted Nelson is smiling. Felton’s been off for a few weeks now. 13 dimes notwithstanding, 3-13 from the field is just not good. Is this a return to his statistical norms or is he suffering from fatigue/overuse or is he hurt worse than he;s letting on? Only time will tell.

STAT; 39 41 points (TOTH to BigBlueAl) is sure swell, but as previously mentioned, he came up small in the 4th. Then there’s his, “I’m not going to contest this shot b/c I can’t get in foul trouble” thingy. I get that, but that shouldn’t carry over to rebounding. How a guy 6’10” who can jump through the roof finishes with only 6 rebounds is beyond me. Maybe I should ask Brook Lopez.

GALLO: He had a solid game coming back from injury, but he’s still got to demand the ball more. Felton too, needs to find him when he’s heating up.

DWTDD: There’s good Toney, who’s a major pest on D, can semi-run the point and cans open shots. Then there’s bad Toney, who takes awful contested runners, turns the ball over constantly, and seems like his b-ball IQ is at Jerome Jamesian levels. Guess which one we got today?

WILLLL-SON CHAND-LA: Not much to say. His some nice shots but also missed a ton of 3’s and wasn’t a factor on defense. It’s these so-so, it doesn’t really matter if he’s on the floor or not, games that make the populace clamor for that guy in Denver. (Of course, it’s these disappearing acts that make it much harder to get said Denver-ite (Denver-ian?).

EXTRA E/BULLY WALKER: Like twin demiurges, they both had some nice moments (E off the dribble, Dubs from downtown), but there were defensive lapses and putrid fouls galore v. Carter and Hill, who both played like it was the year 2000.

LANDRY FIELDS: Dude needs a nickname. Plus, he needs MD’A to play him at the end of the game. He was his usual intangible-tastic, rebounding, spot-up shooting self, but for reasons unbeknownst to your humble correspondent, didn’t play in the 4th till the game was out of hand. When Landry doesn’t get enough PT, the angels weep tears with droplets o f WP/48 inside.

C’est tout, mes gars. There’s a nasty Southwestern road trip coming up, with both the Spurs and Thunder on the docket seeking some measure of retribution. Yikes. This is still a young team, and games like the last two are bound to happen, but to paraphrase/honor Dr. King, “We, as a team, will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man.”

Looking Back At The Knicks Last 10 Games

On December 18th, the Knicks suffered a embarrassing over time loss at the hands of the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers. This was a gimme game, after coming off back to back defeats to the Celtics and Heat, and New York managed to give it away. In the 10 games since the Cleveland game, the Knicks have rebounded to go 6-4. However when you factor in how tough that span was, it becomes more impressive. Of those 10 games, 6 were on the road, including 3 against three of the league’s best teams: the Heat, the Magic, and the Lakers. New York dropped all three of those games, as well as their last one against Utah. However they won in Phoenix & Portland, and also had victories at home against Oklahoma, Chicago, and the Spurs. Other than the Pacers there were no easy games.

Looking back at those last 10 games, the Knicks were successful on both offense & defense. If you understand the Four Factors, you know that shooting (measured by eFG%) is the most important aspect of winning any single game. Seven times they shot better than 50% eFG, and six times they held their opponent under 50% (Miami shot exactly 50%, and are not included). When comparing the factors for each game, the Knicks won every one of their 6 games where they had the advantage in eFG%, and lost the 4 that their opponents shot better. In their 6 wins they had the turnover advantage 4 times, and the lead in rebounds and free throws only twice. In 3 of their 4 losses they forced more turnovers than they allowed, and only once did they hold the edge from the charity stripe.

Ironically the team has done half of their damage without one of their key players. Danilo Gallinari has been injured since January 2nd, right in the middle of this streak. Reclamation project Shawne Williams has picked up the slack averaging 26 minutes per game of that stretch. “Extra-E” has done his best Rooster impersonation, nailing 21 of 44 three pointers (47.7%) in that span. Also Bill Walker has begun to contribute. The Knick forward has seen double digit minutes in the last 6 games, after seeing only single digit minutes in the 6 prior. Like Williams, Walker has been hot from downtown nailing 20 of his last 37 (54%).