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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Brrr?. Is There a Draft in Here?

[While KnickerBlogger has been ignoring his blog by shmoozing it up with close friends visiting from out of town, KnickerBlogger's Head College Expert David Crockett has been busy thinking about the Knicks future. In an attempt to become the Mel Kiper Jr. of the NBA, "Dr. C." has gone over the Knicks' needs for the June draft.

David Crockett is an Assistant Professor of Marketing at the University of South Carolina, and can be reached at dcrockett17@yahoo.com.]

On May 24th the 2005 Draft Lottery will take place in the NBA studios. At that time the Knicks will know where they will draft in what is shaping up as a reasonably talented draft, depending on which early entrants hire agents and stay in the draft. Of course the playoffs will determine where the team?s second first round pick, obtained from the Spurs (via Phoenix), will be chosen. I knew it was time to think about a draft column when I got an email from a buddy of mine, a bona fide Jayhawk backer and Duke hater, comprised of three short sentences:

I hope you?re sitting down when you read this?
I just heard that Shavlik Randolph is going league.
I am incapable of rational thought right now.
So even though much is still to be determined between now and June I thought I?d fire up my Mel Kiper wig and dig into the NBA draft a bit.

First, We Need a Guard
So what do our beloved Knickerbockers need heading into the 2005-2006 season? Well, in a sharp departure from many of the pundits I believe the Knicks? first priority is in the backcourt rather than at center.

Stephon Marbury had one of the finest offensive seasons by a New York Knick in recent memory in 2004-2005. Though he is not the league?s best point guard, a claim for which he was waaaay overcriticized, ?Starbury? demonstrated the kind of skill and maturity ? e.g., moving off the ball to facilitate Crawford?s development ? few thought possible. According to Knickerblogger’s stat page Marbury?s assist ratio (27.3 assists per 100 possessions) ranked him a somewhat pedestrian 14th in the league among those playing at least 25 minutes per game. However, he was one of only five players on that list who also had a turnover ratio under 10. 82games.com lists Marbury?s PER as a lofty 23.3 and Knickerblogger reports it as a tad below 23; both numbers are clearly in the high-rent district. Marbury?s efg was over 50% and he went to the line frequently, making 35 free-throws per 100 shots from the floor.

Of course, offense was not the problem at the world?s most famous arena this season. Offensively, the Knicks? 103 points per 100 possessions (offensive efficiency) was middle of the pack (16th) ? a far cry from Phoenix?s 111.8 but better than that posted by these playoff teams: Pacers, Nets, Bulls, Pistons, Sixers, and Grizzlies. Unfortunately, in an all too familiar refrain the Knicks sucked eggs defensively this season; just like last season. However unlike last season when the available statistical evidence failed to provide undisputable proof that the backcourt was the primary problem, this season?s stats are much more sympathetic to this point of view. Marbury and Crawford were, simply put, terrible. According to 82games, in 2003-2004 Marbury held opposing point guards to a surprisingly respectable 14.5 PER. (Average PER is set at 15.) This season he allowed an opponents? PER of 16.5. Marbury gave up more penetration (26% in-close FGAs vs. 21% in 2003-2004) and more free throw attempts per 48 minutes (4.7 vs. 3.6). His opponents shot 48.6% efg and had over 8 assists per 48. These incidental numbers strongly suggest that Marbury?s shoddy defense requires him to post phenomenal offensive numbers just to remain a net positive and that his offense comes at the price of major stress on the frontcourt to cover for his deficiencies.

Certainly, a large part of Marbury?s inconsistency and ineffectiveness on defense comes from his indifference. However, we are also starting to see the ill-effects of 8 consecutive seasons of 38+ minutes per game (mpg) on his body. He has fatigued at the ends of the last two seasons and his knee became a problem as this season wore on. Is it any wonder? He just completed his ninth season averaging 40 minutes per game and a career high in total minutes, 2nd only to Lebron James. Only in Marbury?s rookie season did he average fewer than 38 mpg. It would simply be foolish for the Knicks to continue to play Marbury 38-40 minutes per night without expecting his body to break down even more rapidly and eventually impact his offense. Marbury can be more effective playing fewer minutes. Jason Kidd has had seven sub-38 mpg seasons, including each season in New Jersey. Steve Nash has yet to average 38 mpg in any season. This season he averaged 34 (not even among the top 50), managing the league?s most efficient offense without a ?true? backup point guard no less. If these two guys are playing around 34-35 mpg Marbury should be playing no more.

At the shooting guard position Jamal Crawford looked every bit the ?instant offense? third guard he really is this season. At times he was indefensible but as his minutes increased to 38+ his warts became more visible. According to 82games.com, in his minutes at shooting guard Crawford shot almost 50% and had a more than respectable 16.8 PER. However his 18.2 opponents? PER made everyone he guarded look practically like Peja Stojakovic. Crawford, like his backcourt mate, gave up tons of penetration to opposing guards (26% in-close FG%), and ever the gentlemen, regularly ushered them to the free throw line (5.3 FTA per 48). Whatever additional pressure Marbury put on the frontcourt to mask his defensive shortcomings Crawford matched, only without the consistent offensive production. The Knicks don?t want to be forced to play Crawford more than 20-25 mpg, much less the 38+ he played this season.

The Knicks desperately need backcourt help. On a per 48 minute basis the opposing backcourt is taking more than half its shots from in close and taking 10 trips to the free throw line. The key to defensive improvement is cutting down on the penetration from opposing guards. A shot-blocking center that can erase penetration is a luxury; one most teams must live without. Such players are in woefully short supply and the Knicks would not be wise to pin their hopes on acquiring a ready made center in the draft or the free agent market.

The wiser course of action is to look to the draft for backcourt help. The value appears to be at point guard, with high-quality collegiate point guards available into the 2nd round. The shooting guard position looks weak by comparison. Which point guards and shooting guards should the Knicks consider with their three picks? I?ve listed a few players the Knicks might consider just to whet the appetite. More will come after the Chicago pre-draft camp and workouts. (Note: comments on college players only.)

Point Guards

Name/College Availability? Comment
Chris Paul, Wake Forest Early first round, 2nd (New Orleans) to 6th (Milwaukee), depending on team needs and workouts Paul was perhaps the most efficient offensive perimeter player in the nation this season. He absolutely lived at the free throw line; amazing for a sub-six footer. On the other hand, Paul doesn?t defend. The Knicks don?t need anymore of that.
Deron Williams, Illinois Early first round 4th (Utah) to late lottery 16th (Toronto) depending on workouts I really like Williams even though he doesn?t fit Isiah?s ?athleticism? mantra. He?s a high IQ, instinctive player. He?s a bit like Andre Miller without the post-up game but a much better jump shooter. He?s best-suited to run a half-court screen-roll or a passing and cutting offense but he can get up and down too.
Raymond Felton, North Carolina Early first round 4th (Utah) to mid-lottery 12th (LA Clippers) No college player is better than Felton at pushing the ball at the defense. He?s smart, fearless, he defends, and his jump shot is developing. He?s tailor-made for an uptempo team that asks its point guard to penetrate-and-kick. He strikes me as a comparable, though better prospect than T.J. Ford because of his strength.
Jarrett Jack, Georgia Tech. Mid-lottery 8th (Knicks) to end of round 1 30th (Knicks) depending on workouts Declared but hasn?t hired an agent. Opinions are all over the place on him. His detractors generally point to his turnovers. I love Jack?s all around game, particularly his on ball defense, and his athleticism. If he goes to Chicago and plays well he could solidify his status in the mid-to-late lottery.
Nate Robinson, Washington Early 2nd round Robinson is an exceptional on-ball defender and may be the best pound-for-pound athlete in the draft. Unfortunately, he also may have hurt his draft status more than any other player with a disappointing NCAA tournament.
John Gilchrist, Maryland Early to mid 2nd round He has everything you could ask for from a physical standpoint. His basketball IQ just isn?t there yet. He should have gone back to school.
Luther Head, Illinois Early-to-mid 2nd round Luther is a combo guard who will find his way onto a team as an excellent passer, defensive stopper, and a guy who will take a big shot.
Aaron Miles, Kansas Late 2nd round/free agent Miles has all the intangibles ? basketball IQ, pure point guard skills, feel for the game, leadership, toughness, unselfishness ? but lacks size and anything resembling a jump shot. He?s small and light. He has to find the right situation, or as I heard someone put it recently, ?Hit the Chris Duhon lottery.?

Of the point guards listed I think Williams, Felton, and Jack have the most to contribute to the Knicks immediately. Each could run the second unit. Each pushes the ball and thinks pass-first, but can score if needed. Most importantly, each will play their first NBA summer league game as a better on-ball defender than Marbury or Crawford is right now.

Shooting Guards

Name/College Availability? Comment
Antoine Wright, Texas A&M Late lottery #10 (Lakers) to #30 (Knicks) Played his entire career on really awful teams but put up good numbers. He?s a willing defender and a potentially dynamite scorer. He has an NBA ready body.
Kennedy Winston, Alabama Late lottery #10 (Lakers) to #30 (Knicks) There is a lot to like. Winston has a great body and a great stroke, but can be lazy defensively and is turnover prone.
Francisco Garcia, Louisville Late first round #20 (Denver) to #30 (Knicks) Garcia is the Deron Williams of shooting guards. His basketball skills and IQ are his biggest assets. He?ll need to go to a team that values those things and is willing to live with his athletic deficiencies.
Salim Stoudamire, Arizona Early 2nd round More Steve Kerr (pure shooter) than Eddie House (scorer). Unlike House or Kerr though, Stoudamire?s defense will allow him to stay on the floor. Also, he can run the point for a few minutes a night.
Tiras Wade, LA-Lafayette Mid-late 2nd round Big-time scorer with nice size from a small conference.
Alex Acker, Pepperdine Late 2nd round/free agent Alex is another combo guard. An athletic 6?5? with some legitimate point guard skills he could conceivably work his way into round 1.

Overall, I?m not so sure this is the draft the Knicks will find an heir apparent to Houston at shooting guard, particularly once Wright and Winston are off the board. I?m assuming Isiah isn?t silly enough to consider a schoolboy shooting guard (Gerald Green or Martell Webster), particularly since defense rather than scoring is the problem in the backcourt. The Knicks may be best off continuing to develop Ariza as a swing man rotating him with Crawford and Penny.

Coming Soon: We Need a Center Too

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