Rapid React: Mavs Beat the Heat to Win the NBA Title

The Dallas Mavericks defeated the Miami Heat (in Miami) 105-95 to win the 2011 NBA championship, the first for the Mavs franchise. I haven’t looked at a box score yet, so there may be more to come if I can find some time before hitting the road for a bit. I didn’t have a strong rooting interest in this series. I wanted a good finals and felt like the series more than delivered, short of going seven games. It was good fun–like sports should be. A few quick thoughts for now…

I feel best for the two Jason’s. Jason Kidd has been such a great player for such a long time. This was sweet for him. Although the end is near for Kidd, he was still an integral piece of this Mavs championship season even if not this series. Jason Terry was unbelievable in game six after being very good in games 4 & 5. JET took over game six early on Miami’s home floor and hit big baskets to help close out the Heat late in the game.

I thought the series had something for every kind of fan. If you like good guy-bad guy narratives the Heat (love ’em or hate ’em) are compelling theater. If you like nitty gritty x’s and o’s this was also a series Hubie Brown could love. Carlisle made some nice subtle calls; not afraid to go deep into his bench to experiment with matchups, unlike most coaches. Even more impressive in my eyes was his decision, after game one, to move Jason Terry off the wing to the middle of the floor (flipping Kidd to the wing) to create space for the P&R game.

As for the Heat, I imagine that many teams in the East must be feeling heartened right now about next year’s playoffs. Predictions of a Miami dynasty notwithstanding, the Heat looked pretty ordinary when they were unable to convert forced turnovers for easy baskets or to consistently hit three point shots. Although the importance of fourth quarter performance is easy to overstate–especially when it is isolated from the rest of the game–clearly Miami has issues at so-called “crunch” time that must be addressed.

I will offer a couple sentences on LeBron, since this series is something of a referendum on him. He’s got some holes in his game (e.g., no serious post-up game, limited mid-range scoring ability, close to worthless without the ball), and rightly deserves some criticism. But if recent history is any indicator, much of the criticism is apt to be way overstated.

2007 Knicks Preseason Roster Crunch – Pt. 2

According to the Daily News, Fred Jones may have earned himself a roster spot.


It sounds impossible but Jones already may have pulled it off. Last week, Isiah Thomas provided an unsolicited status report on Jones when he said, “Don’t plan on him going anywhere anytime soon.”

Thomas made the comment Friday, the day Allan Houston reported to training camp. Houston and Demetris Nichols, the aforementioned draft pick from Syracuse, are both trying to make a roster that already includes the maximum 15 guaranteed contracts. For weeks, it was generally assumed that Jones, portrayed as a throw-in in the Zach Randolph trade, would be the odd man out.

But Jones’ relationship with Thomas goes back to their Indiana Pacer days and there is something to be said for being an “Isiah guy.” Just ask Knicks VP of basketball operations Glen Grunwald or assistant coaches Brendan Suhr and Mark Aguirre.

“He gave me my shot,” Jones said following yesterday’s practice in Greenburgh. “Leaving Portland was a little difficult for me because that’s my home city. But it eased the pain knowing I was coming to a familiar situation.”

Thomas sees the 6-4 Jones as a defensive stopper who can play either shooting guard or small forward. Of course, the Knicks envisioned Jared Jeffries as a defensive specialist last season but that never panned out. In order for the 6-2 Jones to crack the rotation he would cost somebody – Jeffries, Quentin Richardson, Nate Robinson – minutes. But on a team that struggled to defend on the perimeter, Jones could find a spot.

“He’s a tough defender,” Thomas said. “In this league you have to be able to stop people.”

“When I came into this league I probably wasn’t the greatest defender,” said Jones, who spent last season with the Raptors and Trail Blazers. “I knew that was my calling card to get on the floor. I take pride in that now. That’s something I’m looking forward to bringing to this team.”

Additionally the Knicks cut Roderick Wilmont. So the roster is so far:

Very likely (10)

No Player Pos Ht Wt Born College Yrs
32 Renaldo Balkman F 6-8 208 Jul. 14, 1984 South Carolina 1
11 Jamal Crawford G 6-5 200 Mar. 20, 1980 Michigan 7
34 Eddy Curry C 6-11 285 Dec. 5, 1982 Thornwood HS (IL) 6
42 David Lee F 6-9 240 Apr. 29, 1983 Florida 2
3 Stephon Marbury G 6-2 205 Feb. 20, 1977 Georgia Tech 11
50 Zach Randolph F 6-9 260 Jul. 16, 1981 Michigan State 6
23 Quentin Richardson G/F 6-6 235 Apr. 13, 1980 DePaul 7
20 Jared Jeffries F 6-11 240 Nov. 25, 1981 Indiana 5
4 Nate Robinson G 5-9 180 31-May-84 Washington 2
25 Mardy Collins G 6-6 220 Aug. 4, 1984 Temple 1

Of course, if anyone isn’t going to make the team from this group, it will be the last 2. This leaves 5 spots open, 2 more roster spot and 3 inactive spots from the following players.

No Player Pos Ht Wt Born College Yrs
2 Fred Jones G 6-2 225 Mar. 11, 1979 Oregon 5
5 Randolph Morris C/F 6-11 260 Jan. 2, 1986 Kentucky 1
31 Malik Rose F 6-7 255 Nov. 23, 1974 Drexel 11
21 Wilson Chandler F 6-8 220 10-May-87 DePaul R
1 Jared Jordan G 6-2 190 Oct. 14, 1984 Marist 1
35 Demetris Nichols G/F 6-8 215 Sep. 4, 1984 Syracuse R
13 Jerome James C 7-1 285 Nov. 17, 1975 Florida A&M 8
? Allan Houston G 6-6 205 4/2/1971 Tennesse 13
6 Walker Russell, Jr. G 6-1 170 Oct. 6, 1982 Jacksonville State R

Let’s assume Jones is in. Also let’s assume that Isiah won’t cut Chandler or Morris. Walker Russell’s father works for the Knicks, so he’s probably there due to nepotism and little else. So there remains only 2 spots left for Rose, James, Nichols, Jordan, and Houston. Isiah has to make a tough(?) decision on whether or not to buy out his veterans (Rose/James) or cut his rookies (Nichols/Jordan). He could possibly hold onto Jordan by sending him overseas, but he still has to decide between Nichols or one of his vets. And even after all that, Isiah has to decide who will stay on the active roster, and who (if anyone) he might send to the

Knicks 2007 Report Card (A to Z): Coach Isiah Thomas

KnickerBlogger: Isiah Thomas started off the 2007 with a lot of pressure on his shoulders. New York had just come of a disastrous 23 win season under Larry Brown. Thomas was widely criticized for taking Renaldo Balkman in the draft. The Knicks’ owner James Dolan gave Thomas an order to improve the team or pack his bags. Thomas was forced to take over as coach of the Knicks, something he promised he wouldn’t do. His reputation as a coach and a general manager were both on the line. In mid-March the Knicks were 29-34 and held the 8th and final playoff spot. Isiah Thomas was given a contract extension as was safe for another year.

However, the team floundered down the stretch. After re-signing Thomas, the Knicks would win only 4 of it’s last 15 games and ended up in 11th place in the East. All in all were 33 wins disappointing? It depends on your expectations. Of the 79 teams in NBA history that had a winning percentage equal to or worse than the 2006 Knicks 23 win team, only 19 of them won 33 or more games the next season. The average improvement of those 79 teams was 8.7 wins, something the 2007 Knicks exceeded. Given those expectations, it’s hard to say Isiah Thomas did a bad job as coach of the Knicks.

However it’s hard to argue that he did a superlative job. Isiah’s main flaws:

  • Allocation of minutes. I’m sure just about every fan quibbles with the substitutions of a coach. In fact I’d be shocked to hear that for each non-playoff team there exists one fan that agrees 100% with the minutes doled out. Nonetheless Isiah Thomas made a few poor decisions along the way. I’ll start by saying that perhaps David Lee’s playing time wasn’t the worst of them. Sure he was the best player on the team, but Thomas still found 30 minutes a night for him. Instead of quibbling over 5 minutes a night for a second year player that came from nowhere, I’d rather concentrate on more heinous crimes.

    Like giving 1307 minutes to Jared Jeffries. Isiah acquired Jeffries with the mid-level exception, and to say Thomas has made bad decisions with the mid-level is like saying Barry Bonds has hit a few home runs. Jeffries followed Vin Baker and Jerome James as free agent strike outs by Isiah. Despite Jeffries’ total ineptitude, Isiah called his number for 23.8 minutes a game. Sitting on the bench behind Jeffries was a superior player in Renaldo Balkman. And Isiah Thomas could have, for lack of a better term, bitch-slapped his draft day detractors by letting Balkman shine in extended minutes.

    But Jeffries wasn’t the only crime. Thomas gave 11 starts to last year’s mid-level exemption Jerome James in order to kickstart the Knicks defense. This was maybe the oddest decision of Isiah’s coaching tenure. Thomas allowed James to play a handful of minutes, only to banish him to the bench for the rest of the game, never to return. Although some of this was done with Lee injured, Thomas had better options to improve the New York defense (Cato, Balkman, Collins, etc.) Hopefully the fine summer league play of Balkman and Morris will mean the end of meaningful minutes to both Jeffries and James.

  • Player development. The only Knick to improve in 2006 under Larry Brown was Jamal Crawford. Brown contained Crawford’s untamed offensive game, and got him to play smarter basketball. With Brown’s tutelage, Crawford attempted fewer wild shots from the perimeter, and drove to the hoop more often. Unfortunately it seems that Isiah Thomas undid most if not all of Brown’s good work. Last year Crawford reverted to his old self: unnecessarily heaving up off low percentage shots. Jamal’s shooting percentage plummeted (47.4 to 45.8 eFG%, 54.4 to 51.7 TS%) as Thomas gave him carte blanche to shoot at will.

    Crawford wasn’t the only player to regress under Thomas. Channing Frye had a sparkling rookie campaign, but floundered miserably as a sophomore. It’s hard to believe that Thomas couldn’t find any way to increase the forward’s confidence. Frye was psychologically shaky, often passing up on outside shots that found the bottom of the net just a year ago. It’s hard to say what caused Frye’s slump, but it’s the coach’s job to motivate his players. And in this case Isiah failed.

  • The defense. We’ve spent a lot of time on this blog dissecting the Knicks offense. However the Knicks’ offense was ranked 10th on March 12th (when Thomas’ contract was extended) before a rash of injuries helped to sink the team. On the other hand, the New York defense was ranked a pitiful 27th at that time and they finished 24th by the season’s end. While part of the problem is due to the construction of the team (which is the fault of Isiah Thomas the president), a share of the blame goes to the coach.

    Thomas failed to make the defense better on any level. He failed to make his players defend better. Take for instance Eddy Curry. Instead of teaching him proper defensive fundamentals, Thomas instructed Curry to avoid fouls. Curry’s foul rate was the lowest of his career, and consequently his block rate was halved. On the other end of the roster, the perimeter was still porous. Knick guards had problems keeping opponents from penetrating, exacerbating Curry’s problems.

    Even if Thomas isn’t to blame for the player’s inability to defend, you could fault him for not using better defenders or schemes. Balkman, who shined as a defender his rookie year, saw only 15.6 minutes per game. Cato, who was certainly no worse defensively than any of the other Knicks centers, played less than a hundred minutes on the season. Additionally Isiah fell in love with a small lineup. Just look at Nate Robinson’s top floor units. The second most frequent unit is a three guard alignment, and two others have Jamal Crawford as the small forward. Crawford played 8% of the team’s total minutes at SF, Mardy Collins played 6%. Meanwhile David Lee only spent 5% at SF. Putting out an undersized unit isn’t done to bolster the defense.

Despite these flaws, Thomas did a commendable job last year. With how much of a crapshoot getting a coach is, it’s hard to think that a random coach could have done better. In the NBA the great coaches are few & far in between, and at the bottom there is a rotating door of assistants and college coaches who fail miserably. That the Knicks improved more than the average team in their situation, shows that Thomas did a fair job.

KnickerBlogger?s Grade: C+

2008 Outlook: The Knicks added some bigger players to the roster, so it’s possible that we’ve seen the end of the small lineup. Instead, we could see lots of big lineups. David Lee could see serious playing time at small forward. Renaldo Balkman (6-8), Demetris Nichols (6-8), and Quentin Richardson (6-6) could see time at shooting guard. Isiah could improve the team by playing the Knicks’ better defenders more often. Balkman should see an extra 10 minutes this year. Collins could see some situational duty. With a poor defensive front court in Curry and Randolph, the Knicks might zone it up more next year. On offense, Isiah Thomas will have to work Zach Randolph into the playbook.

Although last year Thomas received an ultimatum to improve, he’s probably under the same sword of Damocles this year. Certainly the bar is raised again, because 33 wins isn’t going to cut it in 2008. Thomas has a lot of questions to answer this upcoming season. How will Zach Randolph fit in with this team? How many minutes will he find for David Lee? Who will play small forward? Will top summer league performers Renaldo Balkman and Nate Robinson get more playing time? How will the rookies fit in to this team? But no matter what the answers to these questions are, Thomas will be forced to improve. It’d be hard to see the Knicks not make the playoffs and Isiah keep his job.

Knicks 2007 Report Card (A to Z): Malik Rose

KnickerBlogger: Malik Rose brings one unique thing to the Knicks. On a relatively young team with little playoff experience, Rose is the wily veteran. His signature move is bodying up against a stronger post player, only to pull the chair (and the player’s jersey) out from underneath causing a turnover. On offense Rose has a nice trick play where he lobs the ball from the perimeter to Eddy Curry for an alley-oop.

Unfortunately, Malik Rose uses these gimmicks because he’s declined so much physically. An undersized power forward to begin with, Rose’s leaping ability has ceased to be. From 2002 his total rebounds per 40 minutes has steadily decreased from a robust 11.4 to a subpar 8.6. Meanwhile his blocked shot rate went from passable (1.0 BLK/40) to feeble (0.4 BLK/40), his scoring went from healthy (17.9 PTS/40) to sickly (9.5 PTS/40), and his shooting percentage went from bad (46.4% eFG) to hideous (40.3% eFG). Simply put, Rose is really bad at a lot of things.

Rose does have some other positives. He’s still fairly mobile with good lateral speed, and can rebound decently on the offensive side. However he should be banned from attempting any shot after grabbing a rebound. According to 82games.com, Malik Rose gets 25% of his shots blocked in “close” range. Clearly everyone knows Rose like to pump fake twice before putting the shot back up. His strength is in his man to man defense, something Rose is good at despite his lack of height and leaping ability. Unfortunately, he has too many holes in his game at this point in his career to be a productive player.

KnickerBlogger’s Grade: F

2008 Outlook: With a strong rotation of Randolph, Lee, Curry, and Morris; Rose is likely to be the odd man out this year. He should sit on the end of the bench in a glass case that reads “Break only in case of emergency”. There are a handful of scenarios that Malik Rose should be used for.

  • One possession defensive replacement.
  • When a PF is torching the Knicks, and they need someone to douse the flames.
  • When the difference in score is 20 points or more (in either direction).

Although mostly useless, there are two reasons why Rose shouldn’t be a salary cap casualty. The first is that he becomes a free agent in the summer of 2009, and therefore he could be used to provide salary relief in case there is another superstar exodus next year. The second reason is that Rose has a pretty high basketball IQ. I’ve heard Rose speak during one of the Knick summer games, and he had a good eye for the game. In fact there is a certain young Knick with a similar build that could learn a few tricks from Rose. Should some of Rose’s knowledge rub off on David Lee, the Knicks would be reaping the rewards for years to come.

Brian Cronin – Yeah, as a basketball player, Rose has passed his usefulness (and really, what’s the shame in that? The guy had a lot of great years and has two rings to show for it and a whole pile of money), but man, I love to at least have one of these overpaid guys on the bench who don’t play actually be a GOOD role model, and NOT the proverbial “team cancer,” and that is what Rose is.

I would not be surprised at ALL to see him land somewhere as an Assistant Coach when his career is finally over (by the by, does anyone think Rose has enough in him to get even a one-year deal after his contract expires?).

So good for you, Malik! You’re a fun guy to have on the bench. No shame in that. And the trade for you got the Knicks David Lee, so that is also quite cool!

Knicks 2007 Report Card (A to Z): Nate Robinson

KnickerBlogger: New Yorkers absolutely loved Nate Robinson when he first came to the Knicks. Coming out of the University of Washington, Robinson was a lilliputian guard with colossal physical abilities. Last year Robinson did what you’d expect from an undersized shooting guard. He led all Knick guards in eFG% (51.3%) and 3P% (39.0%) and showed despite his short stature he could get to the line (TS% 55.2%, second among Knick guards). Due to his efficient scoring ability, Robinson was second on the team in points per 40 minutes (19.0 pts/40) only behind Eddy Curry. Not just a one dimensional scorer, among Knick guards Robinson was the best in respect to offensive rebounds (1.6 OREB/40) and turnovers (2.1 TO/40), and second best in respect to steals (1.5 STL/40). Yet despite all that, Robinson is no longer a fan favorite. So what happened?

Simply put, Nate Robinson is his own worst enemy. Along with his diminutive stature and his youthful enthusiasm, Robinson comes with a childlike temperament. There’s a fine line between having a zest for the game and acting like a grade schooler. Robinson not only crosses that line, he lives on it. Less than one month into the season, Nate attempted an in game alley-oop dunk on a fast break, only to be called for traveling on the play. Throwing away points on a losing team for the sake of showboating is among the game’s cardinal sins.

Robinson exacerbated his image problem by perpetually arguing with officials. It’s annoying when a marquee player like Tim Duncan disputes every call, but it’s downright unbearable when a bench guy like Robinson does it. Unfortunately, Nate gave himself plenty of opportunities to argue with officials as his foul rate (4.7 PF/40) was equal to Marbury (2.7 PF/40) and Crawford’s (2.1 PF/40) combined.

Robinson’s immaturity causes his actions to be viewed by the public through tinted glasses. Take for instance Nate’s role in the Denver melee. In the past plenty of Knicks have improved their public image through fisticuffs. Fighting improved Starks, Childs, and L.J.’s popularity among Knick fans. Although Nate was an instigator in the event, it’s hard to believe that a player with a calmer outward demeanor like Eddy Curry would have been seen in the same light. Had Curry been involved, the local airwaves would be talking about his moxie and willingness to defend his teammate. But Robinson was vilified for his role. It’s ironic considering a few years ago, Knicknation was up in arms when no one came to the rescue of Tim Thomas after Jason Collins slammed him to the floor.

To be fair, Nate’s negatives aren’t all in his head. His defense is suspect, and his assist rate is minuscule for a guard. While 82games.com says the Knicks are 2.4 points per 100 possessions better defensively with Robinson on the floor, opposing PGs are better than average (16.3 oPER) when Nate guards them. To the eye Robinson struggles mightily against the pick & roll, and other than the steals he doesn’t do anything particularly well on defense. I would rate him a mediocre to average defender.

Most people expect Robinson to be a point guard due to his height, but he’s really more of a shooting guard. Even accounting for that, his assist rate is subpar. As I said earlier, the Knick offense allows all the guards to play the point interchangeably. But it seems that Robinson isn’t sharing enough with his teammates. To put things in perspective, his 2.7 AST/40 is about the same as David Lee’s 2.4 AST/40 who rarely touches the ball. Nate does have the ability to make the spectacular play, and can pass the ball on his drives. It just that he desires to take the shot instead of making the pass. Normally you wouldn’t mind that from a guard that shoots as efficiently as Robinson. But then again Robinson suffers from his poor image, one that being a greedy guard certainly fits in with. In a way, for Nate Robinson hell is other people.

KnickerBlogger’s Grade: C, due to bad behavior.

2008 Outlook: With Nate Robinson entering his third season, it’s time to evaluate whether his poor decision making in the past was just youthful exuberance, or if it will continue to be a Rasheed Wallace like permanent petulance. I don’t expect Nate Robinson to turn into John Stockton, because he’s such an excitable person. What I would like to see is for Nate to take his job a little more seriously.

Robinson played 21.4 min/g under Larry Brown, and 21.2 min/g under Isiah Thomas. It seems that two coaches, who had very different views & philosophies, saw Robinson in the same light. If Nate wants to shed his role as spark off the bench, he’ll need to shed his image as a circus act crammed into a basketball uniform. It’ll be interesting to see how Nate plays in the preseason. I can envision Isiah giving Robinson more minutes due to his strong summer showing. If Nate can continue his productive ways, it could mean more playing time when the season starts. That would be a good thing, since the Knicks are paper thin at shooting guard, and they could use Robinson’s production.

Dave Crockett

In many ways KB’s take on Robinson has been by far the most “fair and balanced” (pardon the regrettable and unintended pun) I’ve read. I agree with his take on Robinson in total, but I also wish to offer a complementary perspective that’s less about Robinson’s performance than Robinson as a character in the theater that is professional sports. It’s easy to forget that sports is more than the simple pursuit of competitive dominance since that is precisely what the regular visitors to this blog come to read about and discuss. But, pro sports is also improv theater and all good theater (or “good copy,” to use the parlance of journalists) needs “heroes,” “bad boys,” and “villains.” As the great fat sage, Charles Barkley, is purported to have once said, “They can love you or they can hate you. Both sell tickets.”

Robinson, through a combination of his own immaturity as well as the fickle nature of media and fans, has gone from being a precocious but impish bad boy to something of a villain in just two full seasons. Though Robinson has clearly been the catalyst for his own fall from the good graces of many Knicks fans I also think he’s suffered from a demand for a steady of supply of villains that is becoming insatiable. Most of the time in professional sports players move seamlessly between the basic “villain,” “bad boy,” and “hero” roles for any number of reasons through a process that is reasonably organic and not always totally predictable. (I suspect many readers aren’t old enough to remember when Muhammad Ali was a villain to much of the American sporting public. He was hated in no uncertain terms. He had perhaps the most amazing role transformation ever.) But increasingly, the theater of pro sports has come to resemble the theater of pro ‘rasslin’ in its predictability, its cardboard cutouts of who gets assigned to which roles and for how long.

In Robinson’s case, since the Denver fight I see him being typecast as a particularly crappy villain archetype, and I really hope he’s allowed to work his way out of it. I call it the “Jeff George” villain archetype. Sometimes a player opens himself up to fan/media disdain by doing something over-the-top or exposing himself as a jerk and for whatever reason isn’t allowed much of a shot at redemption. Soon, the guy just can’t do anything right. The media fits him with a black top hat and a curly-Q mustache and it becomes obvious to the audience that he’s the guy to hate. (Note: I’m talking about sports-related stuff here NOT criminal or near-criminal behavior.) If you remember former NFL QB Jeff George, he was by most accounts a pompous jerk; universally reviled by fans, media, opposing players, even teammates and coaches. You would think by the way people couldn’t wait to denounce him that the NFL was not littered with similarly unbearable jerks. But of course it was, and is. As much as I truly loath Kansas City Star (and former ESPN.com) columnist Jason Whitlock, I must agree with his sentiment that no one can point to anything George ever said or did that was uniquely awful.

Robinson, though not having “achieved” anything approaching the pariah status of George, seems to be quickly approaching the “can’t do anything right” status that is the hallmark of the Jeff George villain archetype. Hell, watch any Knick’s telecast with Mike Breen (even before the fight) and you’ll see what I mean. Regardless of what Robinson actually did on the court Breen would raise questions about his immaturity and decision-making, typically citing his ball-handling, shot selection, and his role in the Denver fight as prima facie evidence. So a poor shooting night or any turnover became proof of Robinson’s immaturity and poor decision-making. Yet somehow a good shooting/low turnover night did not indicate maturity or improved decision-making. The “Nate Robinson cautionary tale” always spins such a night as proof of how much talent Robinson is potentially squandering by his immaturity and poor decision-making.

My outlook for Robinson in 2008 completely mirrors KB’s in most respects. I believe Robinson is quite important to the Knicks playoffs chances. Not only are the Knicks thin at the SG, my entirely intuitive suspicion is that Crawford’s injury last season may be the first in a string of small-but-ongoing leg-related ailments that may keep him shuttling in and out of the lineup. So I believe the Knicks need Robinson to improve; it’s not a luxury. To do so he will have to start with the man in the mirror. Whether he is the new Jeff George or the new Bozo the Clown he simply must learn to focus on things that help the team win and leave the nonsense alone–period. But, I also urge the fans not to give up on this kid. He’s already a useful player and has the chance to get even better.

Brian Cronin – Man, Dave just reminded me of how annoying Mike Breen can be sometimes. The man is a GREAT announcer, but I think he works better on national telecasts, where he is not close to the situation, because man, he certainly seems to have soured upon the Knicks.

Breen reminds me of the stereotypical middle age guy complaining about how the NBA is “all thugs” nowadays. Those guys annoy me so much.

Anyhow, as to Robinson, the guy definitely exhibits some weird behavior, but since the fight, I thought he was actually a lot calmer than before the fight, and he seemed like a real nice asset to the team as an outside shooter. I hated when he tried to control the offense at times (that is not his specialty), but as a guy there to hit the outside shot, I like him there more than most other Knicks, and I think he will be a useful player this season.

Knicks 2007 Report Card (A to Z): Quentin Richardson

KnickerBlogger: By the numbers, Quentin Richardson’s 2007 season wasn’t all that bad, especially when compared to his 2006 season. Richardson’s rebirth seems to be based on two stats: his rebounding and shooting percentages. Richardson posted the highest per-minute rebounding average of his career (8.7 REB/40), solely due to an increase in his defensive rebounds (7.1 DREB/40). This made him the Knicks third best rebounder last year, which is impressive for a 6-6 swingman. Additionally Richardson had his best shooting season as well. His eFG (50.7%) and TS% (53.2%) were the highest of his career, and his three point percentage (37.6%) was his second best. Quentin lacks the foot speed to beat opponents to the hoop, but he compliments his outside shooting with a post up game. Therefore Richardson doesn’t get a lot of free throws (3.0 FTA/40), and the few he gets aren’t converted at a high rate (69.2% FT%). To the eye Richardson is an average defender, and the Knicks were 1.8 points worse with him on the court. Although the +/- data may be due to the exploits of Renaldo Balkman being a fantastic defensive reserve, Richardson doesn’t look to be better than a solid defender.

Unfortunately there is one more stat of Richardson’s that catches the eye: games played. Over the last 5 years Richardson has surpassed 70 games just once, and as a Knick he has missed 60 games in 2 years. Richardson’s balky back shut him down in mid March. One thing that may have contributed to Richardson’s breakdown is the heavy minutes he played. Quentin averaged 33.1 minutes per game, which may be more than his body can tolerate.

KnickerBlogger’s Grade: Omitting Injury B, Considering Injury C

2008 Outlook: There are two issues to consider with Richardson going into 2008. The first is which position will he play? Let’s assume the Knicks keep Chandler, jettison Fred Jones, and stash Nichols in Europe. The Knicks are likely to have a surplus of small forwards and a dearth of shooting guards. If you take Richardson out of the equation at small forward you can easily divide 48 minutes by Renaldo Balkman, Wilson Chandler, Jared Jeffries, and David Lee. The Knicks will be fine at small forward without Richardson. Shooting guard is another story. The depth chart is Jamal Crawford, Nate Robinson, and occasionally Marbury (assuming that Collins would play the point on offense with any other Knick guard). Even if the Knicks kept Fred Jones, there still isn’t quality depth there. So it makes sense to have Richardson primarily at shooting guard, instead of small forward. Which brings us to our next issue: How many minutes should Richardson play? Considering how much time he has missed, the Knicks would be smart to use the McDyess strategy with Richardson. That is play him sparingly between 20-24 minutes a game. If you took Richardson’s 1621 minutes last year & divided that among 82 games, you’d get 19.8 min/g. I’d much rather have Richardson available for 20 minutes a night for the entire season than have him miss 30+ games.

If you combine the two, Richardson should start the season as the backup shooting guard. In a way this makes a lot of sense. First, moving Richardson to guard will make Balkman the starter at forward. Balkman exceeded expectations last year and had an eye-popping summer league. Stat heads like Balkman due to his phenomenal non-shooting stats, while the casual fans relate to his underdog draft status combined with his blue collar game. Second, putting Q’s name on the shooting guard’s depth chart will drive youngsters like Crawford and Robinson to play better. Isiah can quickly substitute in Richardson for some “veteran leadership” when Crawford launches his patented “22 foot crossover off-balance jumper” or when Nate Robinson decides to play 1 on 5. Richardson’s no nonsense game can be instructional for the two neophytes.

Third, the risk to overplay Richardson will decrease if he’s coming off the pine. If Richardson starts, the temptation will be too great to play him major minutes. Fewer minutes will keep Quentin fresh and ideally, available for a majority of the season. Taught to be tough and confident at every level, most professional athletes don’t like to take a reduced role even to benefit their own health. Being a “player’s coach” Isiah should be able to sell this concept to Richardson. To the public Quentin would be seen as the veteran selflessly sacrificing his personal stats for the good of the team. But behind the cameras Isiah can tell Richardson that this move will allow him to avoid the crippling injuries that an overused and oft-injured professional athlete will suffer in their twilight years.

Dave Crockett: Add to all the stuff KB notes statistically that Q-Rich is easily the Knick least likely to do something stupid with the ball. As much as anything it was comforting to know that the worst you would get from Richardson is a forced shot, and even then he was as likely to run down his own miss as anyone save Lee and Balkman. In the Richardson report card KB gets at precisely what I think is the most critical dilemma facing the team (given its current construction) heading into the 07-08 season. The shooting guard situation is a real concern. Q-Rich has bolted past that point of no return where his usefulness is now largely a function of how his minutes are managed. Given what he brings to the table Q-Rich is probably most valuable playing alongside the other projected starters, particularly if paired with Balkman to allow for defensive cross-switches. But, as KB points out, Richardson would breakdown quickly on starter’s minutes so it makes sense in the abstract to bring him off the bench.

The not-so-abstract downside to benching Richardson is to weaken the starting unit considerably. Jamal Crawford, a worse defender, presumably supplants Q-Rich as the backcourt starter alongside Marbury. This leaves the Knicks (to my mind) overly-dependent on his ability to mature into a reliable starter. I should note that I’m a Crawford fan. I enjoy watching him play as much or more than any Knick but he is clearly not the kind of starting shooting guard this team needs (i.e., a decent defender with a low turnover rate, moderate usage rate, and a good 3pt shooter). Crawford is far better suited to an “instant offense” role coming off the bench and left on a short leash.

It’s unclear how concerned the brass is about the shooting guard situation. Unfortunately, even if they did the Knicks lack clear in-house options to alleviate such concerns (though I’d not rule out the possibility that Nichols might develop into a real option). Additionally, when Reggie Miller and Allan Houston are making comeback overtures that are drawing legitimate interest it’s safe to say the market lacks attractive options.

Knicks 2007 Report Card (A to Z): Randolph Morris

KnickerBlogger: Signed by the Knicks in a draft loophole, Randolph Morris became the first person to play in the NCAA tournament and the NBA season in the same week. Morris played for the Knicks in 5 games totaling 44 minutes. That’s 4 less minutes than a single NBA game.

KnickerBlogger’s Grade: Incomplete

2008 Outlook: From what I saw in Las Vegas, Randolph Morris seems to be a solid, but unspectacular player. It’s harder to judge centers in summer league, because as Dave Berri puts it, there’s a short supply of tall players. On offense Morris showed that he was able to face up and hit a short jumper, and can finish around the hoop. His hands are adequate when it comes to receiving passes close to the basket. On defense he averaged a little over a block per game. His rebounding was good, but not great. There’s nothing that Randolph does that screams “I’m great at this!”, and that is what most scouting reports say. Ed Weiland said “I doubt he?ll ever be anything more than just usable as a player” and Berri said “Randolph Morris had a PAWSmin of 0.128 [ranked 9th in PF/C], which looks pretty good.”

Normally you wouldn’t expect a young player like Morris to get a lot of play. In essence he’s a rookie, and the Knicks have a logjam at C/PF with Curry, Randolph, Lee, Rose, and James. But one thing that might drive Isiah Thomas to play Morris more next year is his expiring contract. Since Morris wasn’t drafted by the Knicks, they couldn’t give him one of those 4-5 year rookie option deals. Unless New York extends Morris’ contract this offseason, Isiah will have to make a decision next year on whether or not to keep him. The Knicks would be in another Jackie Butler situation, but this time they won’t have the option to match if another team signs Morris to a contract.

Finding a usable center in the NBA is no easy task, so Isiah should try to give the kid a chance to prove himself this year. Using Randolph for at least 10-15 minutes a night over about 60 games should let the Knicks better evaluate his talents without allowing other teams to bid heavily on him next year. As an added bonus, being forced to play Morris would mean that Malik Rose should see even less minutes this year and Jerome James can dust off his old Globetrotter jersey.

Brian Cronin – Yeah, from what I have seen of Morris, he doesn’t look like anything more than a solid backup, but solid backup centers are USEFUL in the NBA, ESPECIALLY if they can keep you from signing, say, Jerome James to do the role.

So I think the signing of Morris was a steal by Isaiah.