2011 Report Card: Amar’e Stoudemire

He was supposed to come here. He was supposed to be our guy. The money, the media, the Manhattan expectations as daunting as they are potentially deifying – they were all his for the taking. He would have been revered. He could’ve been a legend.

When it became clear early last July that LeBron James would not be taking his talents to Midtown, chances are many of us found ourselves parroting these and other wallowing cantos. After nine years of bad contracts, and two more of outright roster sabotage, Knick fans could be forgiven for hoping — or even expecting —  Godot to hop game-ready off the Penn Station train, wearing #6.

On July 5th, four days before “The Decision” would confirm with cringe-worthy force what many already knew, the Knicks made their biggest signing since Allan Houston when they inked Amar’e Stoudemire to a 5-year, $100 million deal.

Sure, there were some concerns. Would Stoudemire’s knees – which Phoenix refused to insure – hold up? How would the sometimes rocky relationship between Stat and his once-and-future coach shake out? Would not having Steve Nash’s wizardic presence hinder his effectiveness? Would the big city expectations be too much for a guy used to year-round sunshine and a relatively laid-back fanbase?

On the court, whatever questions people had about his ability to adjust to new surroundings were quickly put to rest. Stoudemire finished as the league’s sixth leading scorer at 25.3 ppg – the most since his second year in the league. During one particularly incredible stretch, he scored 30 or more points in nine consecutive games, breaking the previous Knicks record of eight set by Willie Naulls in 1962.

In the months before Carmelo Anthony’s arrival, Stoudemire was the undisputed go-to-guy. Coupling his well-known explosiveness with an increasingly reliable mid-range game, Stat seemed to spare himself some of the wear and tear many feared inevitable in an offense where he he was often expected to be options one, two, and three. He also quickly became the team’s vocal, emotional and spiritual leader — a mantle that will rest on the 6’10” center’s shoulders for the foreseeable future.

Still, despite making his sixth All-Star Game and earning 2nd Team All-NBA honors for the second time in his career, Stoudemire did see both his rebounds (8.2 per game) and TS% (56% — his lowest since the 2003-04 season) take a bit of a hit. He turned the ball over at the highest rate (3.2 per game) since his sophomore campaign, and didn’t do much to detract from his reputation as defensively suspect.

After storming out of the gate and into the early season MVP discussion, Stat’s numbers tailed off down the stretch, a fact that can be attributed at least partially to the arrival of Carmelo Anthony. He recorded his last double-double on March 21st, and failed to score above 30 in his final 17 starts, all the while struggling to find a consistent groove with Chauncey Billups.

The playoffs – the Knicks’ first in seven seasons – weren’t much kinder. A back injury sustained during Game 2’s warmups rendered Stoudemire useless for much of the series, a four game sweep at the hands of the Celtics. True, few expected the Knicks to do much damage this year, particularly after such a big roster shakeup. But a sweep is a sweep, and you can bet that Stoudemire won’t forget that easily going into next season.

Off the court, Stat has been every part the leader New York could have hoped for. Almost immediately, the statuesque Stoudemire synced to the city, its media, and its hungry fans with a Sinatra-like intuition. He explored his Judaic roots, courted cameras, microphones, and supermodels in equal measure, and embraced the Garden stage like few had during the team’s lost decade.

Whether Anthony and Stoudemire can truly co-exist in Mike D’Antoni’s or any other system remains to be seen. As it does whether Chauncey Billups can be the kind of point guard Stoudemire needs in order to get back to the efficiency that marked his time in Phoenix. In light of roster unknowns as gaping as those  of the next CBA, even an affirmative answer to both these questions might not be enough to propel the Knicks into the NBA’s upper echelon. At least not yet.

Here’s what we do know: on the heels of their first winning season in a decade, and with two guys at the helm who – for all their faults – genuinely want to wear the orange and blue, the Knicks seem in capable hands going forward.

Cheers to Stat for lending his first.

Amar’e Stoudemire will never be LeBron James. And in the way that matters most to New Yorkers and Knick fans in particular, that’s a good thing. See, he wanted to come here. He wanted to be our guy. The money, the media, the Manhattan expectations – he grabbed them with aplomb. He’s been revered. And – if all goes according to plan – he very well could become a legend.

Report Card (5 point scale):

Offense: 4
Defense: 1
Teamwork: 3
Rootability: 5
Performance/Expectations: 3

Final Grade: B+

Similarity Scores

PlayerID FLName Year Age Tm PER TS_P eFG_P PTS ORB TRB AST STL BLK TOV
0 Amare Stoudemire 2011 28 NYK 22.7 .565 .505 24.7 2.5 8.0 2.5 0.9 1.9 3.1
0.102 Joe Barry Carroll 1987 28 GSW 18.4 .521 .472 22.7 2.3 7.8 2.8 1.2 1.6 3.0
0.141 Antoine Carr 1990 28 TOT 16.4 .557 .494 19.8 2.4 6.7 2.5 0.6 1.4 2.6
0.146 Rik Smits 1995 28 IND 19.5 .571 .526 21.2 2.9 9.1 1.7 0.6 1.2 2.9
0.152 Bob Lanier 1977 28 DET 23.0 .573 .534 23.8 2.9 11.0 3.1 1.0 1.9
0.182 Larry Nance 1988 28 TOT 20.3 .586 .530 19.3 2.9 9.2 3.1 1.0 2.4 2.3
0.184 Armen Gilliam 1993 28 PHI 17.5 .541 .464 20.5 2.8 9.8 2.4 0.8 1.1 3.2
0.192 Patrick Ewing 1991 28 NYK 23.7 .561 .514 25.0 2.3 10.5 2.8 0.9 3.0 3.4
0.194 Clifford Robinson 1995 28 POR 18.3 .538 .506 21.2 2.0 5.6 2.6 1.0 1.1 2.1
0.211 Donyell Marshall 2002 28 UTA 19.2 .565 .529 17.7 3.3 9.1 2.1 1.0 1.4 2.6
0.214 Spencer Haywood 1978 28 NYK 15.7 .505 .484 18.8 2.9 9.0 2.6 0.8 1.5 2.9

Amar’e Makes 2nd All NBA Team, ‘Melo Just Misses 3rd Team

According to the NBA:

The All-NBA Second Team consists of guards Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat and Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder, forwards Pau Gasol of the Los Angeles Lakers and Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks, and center Amar’e Stoudemire of the New York Knicks.

The All-NBA Third Team includes the San Antonio Spurs’ Manu Ginobili and the New Orleans Hornets’ Chris Paul at guard, the Portland Trail Blazers’ LaMarcus Aldridge and the Memphis Grizzlies’ Zach Randolph at forward, and the Atlanta Hawks’ Al Horford at center.

The All-NBA Teams were chosen by a panel of 119 sportswriters and broadcasters throughout the United States and Canada. The media voted for All-NBA First, Second and Third Teams by position with points awarded on a 5-3-1 basis.

Position 2010-11 All-NBA FirstTeam Team (1st Team Votes) Points
Forward LeBron James Miami (119) 595
Forward Kevin Durant Oklahoma City (69) 492
Center Dwight Howard Orlando (118) 593
Guard Kobe Bryant L.A. Lakers (98) 551
Guard Derrick Rose Chicago (118) 593
Position 2010-11 All-NBA Second Team Team (1st Team Votes) Points
Forward Pau Gasol L.A. Lakers (2) 259
Forward Dirk Nowitzki Dallas (47) 437
Center Amar’e Stoudemire New York (2) 258
Guard Dwyane Wade Miami (24) 392
Guard Russell Westbrook Oklahoma City 184
Position 2010-11 All-NBA Second Team Team (1st Team Votes) Points
Forward LaMarcus Aldridge Portland 135
Forward Zach Randolph Memphis 67
Center Al Horford Atlanta 62
Guard Manu Ginobili San Antonio 106
Guard Chris Paul New Orleans 157

Other players receiving votes, with point totals (first team votes in parentheses): Rajon Rondo, Boston, 68; Paul Pierce, Boston, 55; Carmelo Anthony, Denver-New York, 53; Kevin Love, Minnesota, 48; Tim Duncan, San Antonio, 43; Blake Griffin, L.A. Clippers, 36; Tony Parker, San Antonio, 27; Kevin Garnett, Boston, 22; Deron Williams, Utah-New Jersey 19; Steve Nash, Phoenix, 17; Andrew Bogut, Milwaukee, 13; Monta Ellis, Golden State, 11; Nene, Denver, 11; Andrew Bynum, L.A. Lakers, 9; Kevin Martin, Houston, 7; Tyson Chandler, Dallas, 7; Joakim Noah, Chicago, 5; Marc Gasol, Memphis, 3; Al Jefferson, Utah, 3; Kendrick Perkins, Boston-Oklahoma City, 3; Andrea Bargnani, Toronto, 2; Chris Bosh, Miami, 2; Andre Iguodala, Philadelphia, 1; Emeka Okafor, New Orleans, 1; Eric Gordon, L.A. Clippers, 1; Gerald Wallace, Charlotte-Portland, 1; Jason Kidd, Dallas, 1; Luis Scola, Houston, 1; Luol Deng, Chicago, 1; Ray Allen, Boston, 1

It appears that Camelo Anthony missed the third team by 14 votes, although he wasn’t the first reserve forward (which instead was Paul Pierce). Also it’s noteworthy that Amar’e got 2 votes for the “First Team” which seemed to have gone to only 9 players in the league.

Fields of (2nd Round) Gold, Part II

Back in December, when Landry Fields was named Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for November, I broke down his first month in the NBA and compared it to other notable 2nd round draft picks. Back then he compared favorably to Manu Ginobili, arguably the greatest second round pick since the draft went to two rounds in 1989. With Fields placing fourth in Rookie of the Year balloting, I thought it would be a good time to see if Fields’ first season remained truly one of the great rookie performances by a 2nd round draftee.

It is rare for 2nd round draft picks to be featured in Rookie of the Year voting. The high-profile draft picks have an advantage as they are not only famous, but they also step onto struggling teams that are able to provide a lot minutes of playing time. Still, every few years there is a second rounder that gains league wide notice. Ryan Gomes, Jorge Garbajosa, Paul Milsap, Juan Carlos Navarro, and Marc Gasol were all 2nd round picks that managed to crack the top ten in ROY balloting.

Was Fields the highest placing 2nd rounder ever? The answer is no, though he did place as high as Ginobili did in 2003, four years after being taken 57th by the Spurs. There have been two 2nd rounders that managed to place third: Luis Scola in 2008 (six years after he was drafted 55th by the Rockets), and center Marc Jackson in 2001 (four years after being taken 37th in 1997).

So by Rookie of the Year balloting, Fields posted a remarkably good rookie season, but not the greatest by a 2nd round pick. But voting, of course, is subjective, and its hard to draw any worthwhile conclusions from the ballots. Far better is to look at the large sample size of one entire 82 game season to see how his numbers compare to other great 2nd round picks.

Fields’ 2541 minutes were the third most of any 2nd round rookie since 1989. Only Mario Chalmers (34th pick in 2008) and Nick Van Exel (37th pick in 1993) played more minutes their rookie years. The question then becomes: what did Fields do in those minutes, and how does his performance compare to the other great rookie seasons posted by 2nd round selections:

Player Points/36 Rebounds/36 Assists/36 TO/36 TS% PER
Landry Fields 11.3 7.4 2.2 1.5 .598 13.5
Manu Ginobili 13.2 4.1 3.5 2.5 .556 14.7
Mbah a Moute 10.1 8.3 1.5 1.7 .516 12.3
Carl Landry 17.3 10.5 1.1 1.3 .641 21.4
Marcus Thornton 20.3 4.1 2.2 1.5 .550 17.4
Dejuan Blair 15.4 12.7 1.6 2.7 .564 17.7

A strong showing, no doubt, but clearly not as special of a season as his first month promised. By season end much of the Landry Fields excitement that Knick fans enjoyed early had largely worn off. It appeared to the eye that Fields regressed as the season wore on, culminating in an uninspired playoff performance.

Did the Carmelo Anthony trade truly knock Fields off his game? Or was it that Fields hit the proverbial “rookie wall”? Or, was it that our eyes were deceiving us, and that statistically, Fields remained as productive at the end of the season as he was at the beginning?

Here is a breakdown of Fields’ season:

  Points/36 Rebounds/36 Assists/36 Turnovers/36 3 Point % TS%
Games 1-27 11.7 8.5 2.1 1.52 35.1 .604
Games 28-54* 10.5 7.3 2.3 1.55 44.0 .633
Games 55-82 11.7 6.2 2.2 1.47 38.1 .546
Total 11.3 7.4 2.2 1.51 39.3 .598


(*Carmelo Anthony played his first game as a Knick in game # 55)

Surprisingly, Fields’ scoring volume didn’t drop off at all during the final third of the season. In fact, it went up, averaging 1.2 points more than he did during the middle third. Similarly, his turnovers dropped significantly, which is a positive sign for any rookie. His assists stayed consistent too, and though his 3-point percentage dipped, it remained high for a player who supposedly lacked an outside shot entering the league (and especially considering his attempts/36 increased during the timeframe). At Stanford, Fields shot just 33% from three point range his senior year—a rate he eclipsed even after hitting his “rookie wall”.

On the other hand, Fields’ rebounding and shooting efficiency tailed off significantly in the final third of the season. This was a troubling trend for Knick fans mainly because those were two areas of excellence that separated him from your average rookie swingman. During the first third of the season Fields shot a blistering TS% of .604 while leading all guards in rebounding. As the season progressed his efficiency actually increased while his rebounding slipped. Then, after the Carmelo Anthony trade, his efficiency began to slide as well.

So, was it the Carmelo Anthony trade that was Fields’ undoing?

It seems strange that this could be the case. During the tumultuous lead-up to the trade Fields’ name was forefront in trade negotiations. Yet somehow closure to the speculation supposedly made the rookie crack? It seems unlikely, especially considering the numbers show that Fields’ rebounding had already dropped significantly during the month leading up to the trade, and it seems odd that Anthony’s presence would cause any of his teammates to become suddenly worse at rebounding. Anthony’s rebound rate is only slightly better than Chandler or Gallinari’s (and obviously considerably worse than their combined rates, which was the void he stepped into). Additionally, for somebody who was seemingly lost in the isolation offense Billups and Anthony ran, Fields still managed to increase his scoring volume. For these reasons it is hard to finger the Carmelo Anthony trade as the reason for Fields’ decline.

Was it the mythological “Rookie Wall” then?

Though Fields’ numbers dipped in some areas as the season progressed, it wasn’t until the playoffs that they fell off the proverbial cliff. His totals were strong across the board, not only for a second round draft pick, but for any NBA player. More likely than anything, Fields’ post All-Star break performance represented a regression to the mean. It was unrealistic to expect a rookie who shot 33% from three-point range in college to come to the pros and shoot 44%.

So what can we expect moving forward? Could Fields develop his game and join Manu Ginobili, Carlos Boozer, and Gilbert Arenas as one of the all-time great 2nd round draft finds? If he can somehow manage to sustain his 2010 first-half production over the course of successive seasons, the answer is yes. But more likely, Fields will enjoy a long career as an unheralded player, possibly like Luc Mbah a Moute—a low usage, strong rebounding, highly intelligent player that nicely compliments the high usage players around him.

But then there is the pessimism that is endemic among the downtrodden Knick fans that have endured an entire decade of joyless basketball. Fields looked dreadful in the playoffs—lost on offense and abused by Ray Allen on the defensive end. For the pessimists in the house, another comp could be the career of former Cavalier Cedric Henderson. Henderson was a 6’7” swingman who’d played four years of college ball before being selected 44th in the 1997 draft. Henderson played his way into a starting role his rookie year, playing 2527 minutes for a team that made the playoffs. The Cavs lost in four that year, Henderson performing poorly at the end. He then went on to decline in production for the next few years until he took his talents to Europe’s finest cities.

If for no other reason than to watch further episodes of the Andy and Landry Show, let’s hope Fields bounces back from his post-season malaise and sticks in the league a long, long time. Considering the Knicks’ roster composition, a lot of the team’s future success rides on the shoulders of Landry Fields.

Four off the floor: Key decisions for the summer Decision #3 – What should be the draft strategy?

With no 2012 picks in their pocket as of now, this year’s draft is a big one for the Knicks. And with the summer’s CBA talks weeks away from yielding anything concrete, it’s also a strange one for the NBA as a whole. Many would-be first round picks, who in any other year would have been draft-bound, have instead chosen to avoid the uncertainty and stick around campus another year. In what’s being called one of the thinnest draft classes in years, and with no second rounders in their chamber, the pressure will be on the Knick front office to get as close to the bull’s eye as possible.

 

Mike Kurylo: If you really think about it, the Knicks have multiple needs. Obviously rebounding/shot blocking big man and point guard are at the top. However New York could do well with a lights out shooting guard or a swingman that can really clamp down on defense. A player that can fill both of those needs would be pretty valuable to the Knicks as well. Beyond that New York needs defense at just about every position. The attribute the team doesn’t particularly need is a high volume scorer, which they already have covered in spades.

To state the obvious, the most important thing the Knicks need is value. Whether the team keeps this player or trades him, they need someone that will stick around in the league. If Donnie Walsh is planning to pick up a third All Star, then Chauncey Billups and Landry Fields isn’t going to be enough to get the deal done. In this situation, a firecracker rookie that can contribute on the NBA level would be most helpful.

 

Jim Cavan: In his first draft as Pacers GM in 1987, Walsh raised as many eyebrows as pitchforks when he selected Reggie Miller with the 11th pick, passing on such auspicious names as Joe Wolfe, Chris Welp, and Jim Farmer.

Point: Walsh.

Since then, DW has arguably connected in the first round (Rik Smits, Malik Sealy, Travis Best, Al Harrington, Danny Granger, Gallo) more than he’s whiffed (Scott Haskin, Freddy Jones, Primoz Beszec, COUGHJordan HillCOUGH). He’s also made his fair share of late steals, with Antonio Davis (45th pick in 1990), James Jones (49th in 2003) and Landry Fields (39th in 2010) being chief among them.

No, he hasn’t been a drafting Carnac. But to those who count Miller as his only home run, consider this: With the exception of Smits (the 2nd overall pick in 1988), Walsh never had a pick higher than #10 during his tenure in Indiana — a testament to an overall GM savvy that helped transform the “small market” Pacers into a perennial contender.

In a perfect world, we should be looking to kill two birds with one stone: fill an immediate need, and — assuming Chris Paul or Dwight Howard pull a Melo — nab a player who might contribute enough off the bat to entice a New Orleans or Orlando to deal their disgruntled star for a package that would likely include Fields, Douglas, Chauncey Billups’ expiring contract, and draft pick X. That would mean most likely passing on Jordan Hamilton, Terrence Jones, Tobias Harris, or Tyler Honeycutt — players who, despite their undeniable talent, will more than likely need time to develop beyond the three or four months leading up to the February 2012 trade deadline.

That leaves guys like Kenneth Faried, the brothers Morris (Markieff and Marcus), or even a Jimmer Fredette — all of whom have at least three years under their belts — as the safe bets. Even if Walsh and D’Antoni don’t intend to keep them.

On the other hand, this year’s draft class doesn’t appear to be bursting with a lot of sure things, even in the top 10. In the midst of such uncertainty, teams could be more willing to take risks, and that could scramble the board very quickly. To that end, expect Walsh to go the “best available” route. Even if the pick doesn’t make sense when it happens, Walsh has shown over the years that his is an approach that, more often than not, has been successful. Even if it isn’t always conventional.  

 

John Kenney: Watching Corey Brewer provide a spark for the Mavericks in Game 2 of the LA-Dallas series made it clear that the Knicks were foolish to waive him (as many predicted at the time). Giving up a quality NBA player looked even worse in retrospect, as the Knicks had to reach deep on their bench against the Celtics due to all the injuries sustained during the series. Knicks management’s reasoning at the time- “We have plenty of wing players, can’t guarantee him playing time” – was always suspect. First, the Knicks lacked a good wing defender, and Brewer definitely could have provided that. Watching Paul Pierce and Ray Allen go to town on the Knicks defense, it was impossible to avoid imagining how different the game might be if either of them had Brewer chasing them all over the court. Second, Brewer is simply a quality basketball player. When the Knicks waived him, a number of contenders were immediately interested. Those are the types of guys you want on your team.

The moral of the story? Get NBA-quality players on your team, and keep them. The Knicks right now have an incredible lack of depth. To focus too much on positional needs would be a mistake- what the Knicks need is someone who is immediately a rotation-quality player. I would love to see either one of the Morris twins from Kansas fall to the Knicks’ draft spot. If still available, Kenneth Faried from Morehead St. could be a huge help as well. None of those players fills a true positional need, true. However, the Knicks need a point guard or a center, and there will not be quality at either one of those positions as low as we are in the draft. Drafting a PF to backup Amar’e could help shore up the rotation as well. Shawne Williams wouldn’t have  defend as many minutes at PF, and the Knicks could have some intriguing lineups with Amar’e at center. Whatever the choice is, Walsh needs to make sure the player can help the team immediately next season.

 

Max Fisher-Cohen: The Knicks would be wise to buy some picks in the late first or early second. They need to luck into some depth, and for a team that is unlikely to have cap space going forward, the draft is the best way to do that. I agree with John Kenney in that early on you go for players who will be able to contribute next year. However, if we do end up buying later picks, I think the only option is to hunt for steals, even if they aren’t ready for the NBA. Young players with potential can be stashed overseas and are appealing as trade assets since they don’t cost any salary. Here are some players I like:

Kenneth Faried — Forward, Morehead State: D’Antoni had the right idea in playing Jared Jeffries big minutes. His help defense made things difficult for opponents. Per 48 minutes (in the regular season), the Knicks outscored opponents by 9.2 points with Jeffries on the floor. Imagine how much more dramatic that difference would be if we had a player who potentially could play the defensive role Jeffries played while being a serious upgrade in rebounding and on offense. Enter Kenneth Faried. Faried is a Taj Gibson type player — undersized, but muscly and active, a good finisher, and wholly capable of guarding 4s.

Reggie Jackson — Guard, Boston College: Quick, pretty athletic, played out of position (should be a point guard) for a bad team, so didn’t get much attention. He’s supposed to be deadly on the pick and roll and knows how to shoot. If he’s there early in the second round, he’s worth giving a chance.

Lucas NogueiraCenter, MMT Estudiantes (Spain): He’s looking like a late first rounder. He played five games this year in the Tournament of the Americas and averaged 8 blocks/36 minutes against Division I level competition. He’s 18, 7’ tall, athletic, and impressively skinny. Maybe he won’t immediately contribute, but he’s the kind of promising young player that the Hornets could advertise to fans as a part of a rebuilding process.

Justin Harper — Forward, Richmond: Harper is an elite shooter (44.8% from three) who did nothing for his first three years, and this year improved enormously in nearly every statistical category. Because no one had heard of him before and because his team was mediocre, there’s a good chance he falls to the second round. For what it’s worth, Chad Ford compares him to Rashard Lewis.

 

Playoff Game Thread

I’ll once again try the Wild Wing Cafe for the games. I have not returned since the Knicks were basically 10-run-ruled for college softball. (I will pass on the fish tacos this time. Sometimes, I really wish I liked wings.)

The Hawks at Bulls tips at 8 and the Mavs at Lakers tips at 10:30.

Four off the floor: Key decisions for the summer Decision#2 — Which free agents should the Knicks target this summer?

What the Knicks are able or not able to do in the off-season depends on two things: the makeup of the next CBA, and the fate of nearly half their roster. Anthony Carter, Roger Mason, Shelden Williams, Shawne Williams, Jared Jeffries, and Derek Brown are all unrestricted free agents. Most believe Mason has seen his last days in the orange and blue, while it’s thought that both Ronnie Turiaf’s $4.5 million player option, along with Bill Walker’s $916K team option, will both be exercised.

After that, it’s anyone’s guess. Anthony Carter’s playoff grit may be enough to convince D’Antoni to keep him as the last point guard. The brothers Williams, meanwhile, may be content to seek more money than the Knicks will likely be able to offer. There’s also the issue of Andy Rautins’ near $800,000 salary for next year, which many believe will eventually be bought out to free up more cap room.

With what little money they’ll have), the Knicks have two principal holes to plug: a natural point guard to back up Chauncey Billups, and a big who can rebound, defend the paint, and take pressure off of Stoudemire on both ends of the floor.

 

Mike Kurylo: There are only two roads that lead the Knicks to the Finals in the next few years. The first is to secure a third star that will mesh with Amar’e and ‘Melo. In theory this star would add something the team needs (rebounding, defense, point guard) and not overlap what New York already has (volume scoring). The second path to the NBA elite is to get some great parts to complement the Knicks current All Star duo. In other words the rest of the roster should be guys that can defend, rebound, pass, and knock down the three at a high level.

Since the Knicks don’t have the cap space to get such a player this year (and Billups + Fields + 17th pick isn’t enough to trade for a disgruntled star), it seems as if the latter route is the one the Nix will have to traverse for now. While assembling their cast, New York can’t afford to acquire uni-dimensional players that only address one of the three areas I mentioned above. Looking through the free agents of 2011, I was only able to find two players that would fill multiple needs. Although the Knicks don’t primarily need a shooting guard, Mickael Pietrus plays solid defense and can knock down the three. At $5M per year, he’s a reasonable pick-up. The other is Louis Amundson, who should be cheaper and could provide defense and rebounding.

Even though neither of these players are franchise changing NBA starters, they both should be reasonably cheap & provide some of the production the Knicks sorely lack. Additionally they’re the type of player that won’t lose their value and could be added in a multi-player deal. However neither really addresses New York’s most critical needs at point guard and center.

 

Jim Cavan: Obviously a lot depends on who the Knicks draft, as well as what comes of the summer’s hoped-for collective bargaining agreement. For simplicity’s sake, let’s assume two things: that the Knicks take a point guard in the draft (Jimmer Fredette, Darius Morris, and Boston College’s Reggie Jackson are all distinct possibilities); and Jerome Jordan — the 7-foot center the Knicks acquired in last year’s draft and who spent the past season in the Adriatic League – doesn’t come to camp ready for heavy rotation minutes. What players out there on this summer’s free agent market might be worth a short-term deal? Let’s take a look:

Nenad Kristic (Unrestricted): A throw in to the Kendrick Perkins / Jeff Green trade, it’s not clear how Krstic fits into the Celtics’ plans going forward. If Boston decides to go after a defensive-minded center in the off-season, Krstic might be had for around last year’s salary of $5.8 million. If the MLE remains, Krstic might be worth the risk. He’s not the greatest defender, but he’s a solid rebounder, good passer, and is fairly deft on the block, with a decent 15-18 foot jumper that can draw his man out far enough to leave Stoudemire open to exploit the open seams.

Nazr Mohammed (Unrestricted): Another flawed but still serviceable center, Mohammed’s $6.8 million salary comes off OKC’s books this year. While his offensive game leaves much to be desired, he did average 14 and 10 per 36 minutes this year, on top of being a decent low post defender and shot blocker. During his career Mohammed has played for nine different teams, so taking one more detour to Manhattan – he wore the orange blue for parts of the ’03-’04 and ’04-’05 seasons –  would be par for the course for the journeyman center.

Kurt Thomas (Unrestricted): At 39, Thomas will likely be the oldest player in the NBA next season. A Knick fan favorite during his seven year tenure here, Thomas could probably be convinced to give one more year to the city he called home the longest. Playing for the Bulls this year, Thomas averaged seven points and nine rebounds per 36. While modest numbers on the surface, it can’t be denied that his defensive presence, leadership, and workaday demeanor could serve the Bockers well, particularly on a cheap, one year deal.

Jamaal Magloire (Unrestricted): Playing for a Heat team whose one glaring weakness was the total lack of offensive reliability down low, the fact that Magloire averaged just nine minutes a game within a center quartet featuring Zydrunas Ilgauskus, a 38-year-old Juwan Howard, and Joel Anthony, is more than a little disconcerting. Still, his 13.9 rebounds per 36 marked a career high. Magloire will be 33 at the start of training camp next year, still young enough to contribute good minutes, and is another possible short term and relatively cheap (he made $1.2 million last year) option for the Knicks.

Hamed Haddadi (Restricted, $2 million qualifying offer): Despite limited minutes, the third year center from Iran put up an impressive 16 points and 15 rebounds per 36, along with a PER of just under 20. The pride of the Iranian national team, the 7’2” Haddadi could probably come cheap (he made $1.6 million last year). I’ll admit I haven’t seen too much in the way of highlight reels aside from this gem, but from what I saw at last year’s FIBA World Championships, he has a fairly polished offensive game, good basketball IQ, and is aggressive on the boards. Obviously there’s the issue of the $2 million qualifying offer the Grizzlies have put on the table, but depending on how far up Marc Gasol’s price tag gets driven, Memphis might be content to let Haddadi walk.

Now let’s consider another scenario. Let’s say the Knicks draft a Kenneth Faried, Lucas Nogueira, one of the Morris twins, etc. Or let’s say Jerome Jordan proves to be NBA-ready. At that point, the Knicks could find themselves shopping for a cheap backup point guard. Unfortunately, here the options are much more limited:

Sebastian Telfair (Unrestricted): Sure, he’s been a bust. Sure, even at last year’s $2.7 million sallary, the case can be made that he’s overpaid and overvalued. However, during a stretch of games where both Luke Ridnour and Jonny Flynn were out with injuries, Telfair played surprisingly well. He’ll never be a reliable shooter, and his decision making can be suspect. But he’s still only 25, and might not be a bad option for a third point guard, assuming Anthony Carter isn’t invited back. And who knows, maybe Telfair’s coming home story turns out to be a little more feel-good than his Vaseline-eating cousin’s.

Goran Dragic (Restricted, $2.1 million team option): Depending on where the Rockets end up in the lottery, they may very well find themselves in a position to draft a point guard. If the Rockets decide to drop his option, Dragic might be a nice pickup as a backup for the Knicks. Despite struggling after being traded from Phoenix to Houston in February, he’s still a good ball-handler, solid three point shooter, and could be a nice fit in SSOL. He doesn’t have the greatest court vision, but his off-the-bench spark could provide for a nice one-two punch alongside Toney Douglas.

 

Max Fisher-Cohen: In regard to big men, we should be looking at guys with legitimate size and athleticism. But we should not be dedicating any kind of substantial resources to whomever we get. Minimum contracts. That means players like DJ Mbenga, Sean Williams, or Mozgov in the case that Denver just wants to dump his salary (ah, would I love the irony of that). And when I say athleticism, that means athleticism. I don’t want to see an earthbound player like Nazr Mohamed on this team, nor do I care to give up the substantial assets that a player like Tyson Chandler might demand.

Why, you might ask? Because the Knicks need to play fast, and they need to save their paltry assets in the hopes that Howard, Williams, or Paul becomes available. This center, in conjunction with Ronny Turiaf, will come off the bench. He will only play when we need a big to defend one of the very few offensively dangerous big men that exist in this league: Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum, Zach Randolph (welcome aboard, old friend), and Nené. Look around the league: I challenge you to find another big whose interior play you find legitimately threatening on offense. In regard to the lumbering centers like Marc Gasol, and Roy Hibbert, I look forward to seeing them on the floor because our Knicks are going to be moving so fast that they may just forget which basket they are supposed to be defending.

The Suns under D’Antoni had a history of embarrassing slow centers with their speed, forcing them to the bench. We can do it to. The key to this strategy though is playing a frontline that opposing big men just have no chance against. We had this with Chandler at power forward and Stoudemire at center, which not by coincidence was by far our best lineup this season.

So, here’s my advice to you, Donnie Walsh, or you, Isiah Thomas, if you are our new GM:

Option 1 — Josh Smith: I fully expect Atlanta to be swept in embarrassing fashion by the Bulls, and it’s a player on their roster that I think the Knicks need to target: Josh Smith. Smith took a big step backwards this year after a banner year in 09/10; his shooting efficiency, blocks and steals all dropped.  Atlanta has been floundering in mediocrity for several years now, and after peaking last year with 53 wins, they dropped down to 44 this year and were lucky to escape with the fifth seed. I believe it’s this summer that they recognize that their current core is just not going to get it done, and as you’d likely have to bribe a team to take Joe Johnson, and Al Horford is really damn good, Smith might be the guy who ends up on the block. I think he could have great success in New York for a number of reasons. First of all, he plays on the team with the fourth slowest pace in the league. His abilities to run the floor, dribble, and finish at the rim are all made less valuable by the Hawks’ slow pace. Furthermore, Smith is an excellent rebounder; his rebound percentage this year (15%), is higher than that of any other Knick (yes, even better than our rebounding specialist, Shelden Williams).

Look at it as a contingency plan in the scenario that Paul/Williams/Howard fall through, in which case Billups plus whomever we draft might be enough to land Smith. His contract isn’t such a great deal, so I don’t see teams lining up for him (maybe I’m being a homer).

Option 2 — Joe Johnson: A second possibility is taking on Joe Johnson’s contract (Billups, Turiaf, and an MLE player allow us to match), which might be worth it, not because I think Johnson is good — he’s wildly overpaid and his contract will only look worse as the years pile up — but because it would allow us to retain Fields and our pick for a second deal. Because let’s face it, we’re going to have to commit to a team through 2016 (when Amaré and Carmelo expire) by the summer of 2012 at the latest, and even waiting for the summer costs us big time in that we would have to renounce Douglas and Fields, and trade our pick in order to have maximum cap room. That means Johnson’s deal is unlikely to make a difference in terms of FA acquisitions. Johnson is a good defender, holding SGs to a PER of 11.6 and SFs to a PER of 12.9 this season, he knows and has had success with D’Antoni, and he can even play point guard in a bind. I also imagine that as a third option rather than a first option, his shooting efficiency will improve.

Option 3 — Wilson Chandler: Chandler has struggled for Denver and is due for a paycheck. The Nuggets are also very deep at his position. If they are willing to not rip us off on a sign and trade (i.e. our 1st rounder and expiring contracts) he would be worth bringing back. He is not nearly the rebounder that Smith is, but has had good success guarding bigger players and has the speed and perimeter shooting to make those big slow-footed guys wish for a breather.

Option 4 — Andrei Kirilenko: Kirilenko is one of those guys whose talents have been overshadowed by his immense contract. In the early 2000s, he was a dominating defensive force and was truly deserving of the big bucks, but injuries have slowed him down. However, he is still a very solid all around player. He is one of only nine players this season to average over one block and one steal per game. He is also a good passer, and a similar perimeter shooter and rebounder to Chandler. Due to his age (29), injury problems (he’s missed about 14 games per season on his career), and the fact that he’s been so overpaid, it’s likely that many teams will look past him, driving down his market price. I wouldn’t be surprised if he is available at the mid-level exception (if it still exists) or even less.

Last thing: Many people are in favor of avoiding long term contracts in the hopes of landing a big name in 2012. The new CBA will shed a lot of light on how much cash we could have available, but right now it seems nearly impossible that we have the dollars for a maximum contract. Because of that, I just don’t think it’s worth avoiding longer term contracts. If you sign fair deals, you can move guys later.