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Friday, August 22, 2014

Game 1: Postgame Observations

The first pre-season game for the Knicks tipped off this evening in Columbia, SC against the Sixers. Living as I do in Columbia, around the corner from the Colonial Center no less, I strolled on up, bought a ticket and settled in for the first action of the season.

I had three main questions in mind to jot notes on during the game.

1. How does Zebo look physically?

2. Will the Knicks look to run?

3. How will Chandler, Nichols, and Jordon look?

Zebo. Physically, he looked noticeably trimmed down from last season and in pretty decent shape. I’ll have to see him on TV to do a fair comparison though. It’s possible that merely seeing him live took off 10-15 lbs. I doubt it though. He looked quick, bringing the ball up the floor on at least two or three occasions. Offensively, any lingering doubts I might have had about his ability to play alongside Curry and Lee were alleviated. Zebo played a mostly turn-and-face game in the 15-18 foot area, put the ball on the floor, and posted up only occasionally. He was quite active on the boards as well. (As of the time of writing–less than 60 minutes after the end of the game–the box score has not been posted.) On the downside, Randolph is not a good defender though, picking up 5 fouls. Having said that however, in what was a theme on the night, the Knicks starters were as committed to the defensive end as I can recall. Randolph defensively was certainly active, challenging shots, if not always in the right place. (Side note: Jamal Crawford was especially active defensively, using his long arms to get numerous deflections.)

Picking up the pace. It was clear in the first few minutes the Knicks were making a concerted effort to really push the ball up the floor. The starters (Marbury, Crawford, Richardson, Lee, and Randolph) played until about 3:40 left in the first quarter when Thomas made wholesale substitutions. The team continued to run despite several point blank misses early in the game by a variety of players. Nevertheless, it was refreshing to see the team look to run off makes and misses. In addition, the halfcourt sets early in the game featured what appeared to be more movement and cutting. It’s quite possible that there wasn’t more cutting, just crisper, harder cutting. To the naked eye though, it seemed like the Knicks had more motion in the halfcourt offense. The Knicks got out to an early lead and were hardly threatened on the night.

Chandler, Nichols, and Jordan. As you might expect the rooks were a mixed bag. Wilson Chandler saw by far the most minutes. It’s easy to see what the Knicks like in the youngster from DePaul. Much like what we saw in summer league Chandler flashed his athleticism with one monster dunk. He hit a three pointer (if memory serves). He rebounded well and defended Igoudala well in stretches. He also took numerous poor shots and ultimately fouled out. Nichols and Jordan interestingly entered the game for the first time in the 4th quarter with the Knicks attempting to hold on to a lead that was shifting back forth between 10 and 8. By that time the offense had far less continuity. Nichols did manage to hit the two three point shots he attempted (one attempt was nullified by a Philly foul). Not having seen Jordan until tonight I was unsure what to expect. Jordan was matched against Louis Williams, the uber-quick high schooler Philly drafted two seasons ago. Jordan’s got handles. Stylistically he’s more Luke Ridenour (similar build, similar crossover move) than I’d pictured. I believe Jordan hit his only attempt, a 20 footer up against the buzzer. He did make a behind the back pass to David Lee, who put the ball on the floor but was unable to finish the play. I don’t think Jordan would have been credited with an assist anyway. Defensively though, Louis Williams blew right past him. Jordan is quick but physically he’s built a lot like Ridenour. Defense is going to be a problem for him, but if the Knicks are as committed to picking up the pace as they led me to believe tonight this kid could come in handy. It’s obvious he has real court vision, a trait in very short supply in NY’s backcourt.

Finally, another “rookie” who got some burn tonight was Randolph Morris, who began the 2nd half with the starters. Since I anticipate nights where Curry is in foul trouble (or the Knicks are trying to protect him from foul trouble) I suspect Morris may see key minutes. On the plus side, he displayed some touch on his pick and pop jumper (from about 12 feet). He hit the boards hard. He also looks to be able to run. On the minus side, he’s got terrible, terrible hands. He fumbled everything he touched. And, although he’s reasonably athletic overall his feet are not exceptionally quick so he has trouble sliding over and rotating. Thus he’s prone to fouls. (By contrast, Philly rookie Jason Smith is a far more fluid athlete.) Overall, again, a mixed bag but enough good stuff to hope the Isiah buys out Jerome James and goes to the kid as the full time backup.

31 comments on “Game 1: Postgame Observations

  1. Adam L

    This site loves to do stat crunching. Maybe you’ve got something for this question I recently posted elsewhere as well:

    A lot of the discussion about Knicks potential starting lineups, and substitution patterns, etc, seem to be focused on “scoring off the bench.” Its used as the main argument for starting Q and Jeffries/Balkman instead of Q and Jamal.

    What’s your take on the relevance of all this? Do teams actually sit around and think about this as a strategy? I’ll try to be more specific:

    For one, teams in the NBA, and especially the Knicks, do not sub in whole units. So regardless of the depth of the bench, there is almost always at least one starter on the floor. Granted, sometimes there is not, but it is not for extended minutes, right?

    Secondly, specific to the Knicks roster, do we need a “scorer” off the bench for our “second unit” to have offensive firepower? I would say our second unit is designed to run the floor and finish off the break. with guys like Nate pushing and Balkman and Lee filling the lanes, we could score plenty without having a “proven scorer” in the bunch.

    So, I guess my overall question is, what’s your opinion on all of this? How important is this stuff, and what side do you take? Is there evidence in the NBA that different coaches take different approaches to this issue? (ie: having Gordan off the bench in Chicago is one method, having the “change the pace” subs of the Mavs would be another).

    Are there stats that show overwhelming evidence for one side over the other?

    Thanks!

  2. Mike K. (KnickerBlogger)

    Adam – good question. I don’t think there is any statistics that would back this up, but I can tell you one thing: you want to give your minutes to your best players. It doesn’t matter if they’re starting or not as much as it’s who gets the most minutes.

    Beyond that things get a little complicated. If you’re a team like Chicago that struggles to score points, having a scorer is important, whether or not he’s coming off the bench. However sometimes it may not be that easy to just start your 5 best because how guys mesh with each other and their team’s system. You really don’t have to look further than Marbury/Francis to see what happens when you have two guys that don’t mesh well with each other.

    In the NBA someone like Matt Barnes may not do well in a post-heavy half court offense (like Brown had). But put him in Golden State under Nellie’s wide open offense/zone defense, and he’s a viable asset. The same goes for bench guys. You don’t want 5 guys out there at the same time that have overlapping skill sets. Imagine having 5 guys out there that all drive to the lane, but are poor at hitting the outside shot. That would be an awful offense, since the d can just collapse on it. So there is a little art to substitution (and roster management) and changing your team’s strategy based on who is on the floor.

    “For one, teams in the NBA, and especially the Knicks, do not sub in whole units. So regardless of the depth of the bench, there is almost always at least one starter on the floor. Granted, sometimes there is not, but it is not for extended minutes, right?”

    I agree 100% and I’ll take it further. Playing reserves solely against each other (aka Garbage time) occurs very rarely. See this study:

    http://sonicscentral.com/apbrmetrics/viewtopic.php?t=1462

    The last conclusion I have from this is that there is far less garbage time than I would have anticipated. If I see a player who has played 300 minutes on the year, I assume he’s a garbage time player. And while he may be only playing against bench players, he can’t only be playing in garbage time because no team has 300 minutes of garbage time on the year.

  3. jon abbey

    “I can tell you one thing: you want to give your minutes to your best players. It doesn?t matter if they?re starting or not as much as it?s who gets the most minutes.”

    you can go too far with this, though, almost no one can play 43+ minutes consistently and keep up their level of play, which is why I like Crawford as the 6th man. he can come in 6-8 minutes into the game and still get his 38 minutes or so. there’s also something to be said for a sixth man whose job is simply scoring, shooting early and often, a la Vinnie Johnson or Ben Gordon. this is the role I think Crawford is best suited for on this team.

  4. Caleb

    “there?s also something to be said for a sixth man whose job is simply scoring, shooting early and often, a la Vinnie Johnson or Ben Gordon”

    The man for this job opening is Nate Robinson – perfect fit, in 20-25 minutes a game.

  5. dave crockett

    KB –

    Zach’s fouls as I recall:

    * reaching/out of position (2)
    * offensive foul on a screen (1) – on this one he gave a Kurt Thomas-style “sending a message” foul as he set a screen on Igoudala who had been hounding Q-Rich
    * reach-in (1) – this reach in foul was in the act of covering for Randolph Morris, who was slow on the rotation

    So, he didn’t pick up any fouls defending Philly’s post players. Dalembert and Calvin Booth played most of the minutes at center. Both scored on pick-and-pop type plays.

    Jordan didn’t make the box? Huh, he hit a jumper as the shot clock expired to push the lead back up to double-digits late in the game. I was pretty sure it counted.

  6. dave crockett

    Looking at the box, it appears that perhaps one of the 2 reaching/out of position fouls that may have gone against Randolph initially was changed to David Lee. I don’t recall Lee being whistled for a foul.

    As for Jordan not appearing in the box, I wonder if they just don’t have him in their database yet. He’s wearing #1. Has anyone worn that recently?

  7. Ken "The Animal" Bannister

    How quickly we forget…or is this rather a case of purposeful amnesia (like the current “We would have won the Vietnam War if it weren’t for those darned protesters/anti-war hippies” train of thought espoused by W. Kristol et al.)

    At guard, from the University of Maryland, #1 in your program, and in our hearts…Steve Francis!

    PS – if Houston does make his comeback w/the Knicks, rumor is that Jeffries will reliquish #20 and snag #1 – assuming Jordan is banished to ply his trade in Beskitbullistan and/or points east.

  8. Frank O.

    The media, once again, completely downplayed what Lee did. He had 18 points and 6 boards in 30+ minutes.
    He made almost all his shots and hit 8 of 9 from the line. I see him going to the line a lot this year simply because he causes havoc around the basket.
    I think the act that all of Randolph’s points appeared to come from 12 ft and beyond was impressive.
    By the way, Chandler is going to be a player in this league. He can shoot, he’s athletic as all get out, and he hustles.
    But it is too early to draw any conclusions,and with Zeke on the bench, well, something stupid could be just around the corner. Just keep the city dancers, and interns away, and the Knicks may just be okay…

  9. PrezIke

    Frank, I’m not so certain that Lee’s game was intentionally downplayed, but questions about Randolph are most certainly more at the forefront of Knicks fans’ minds as many have never or rarely seen him play.

    Beck’s piece in the NY Times tried to directly address questions that have been raised about Randolph, which seemed to be the reason behind its focus. Lee has received plenty of praise, in my mind, from fans and journalists, so I’m not quite following the notion that there has been a history of such treatment.

  10. Caleb

    I don?t think Nate can get his own shot in a half court offense enough, certainly not like those other guys.”

    Whether or not this is true, Nate is the best spot-up 3-point shooter on the team, percentage-wise. So I think he’d be fine in half-court sets. That said, I wouldn’t have any problem gearing an offense to Nate for short stretches. I think he could easily be a Vinnie Johnson/Ben Gordon (or Leandro Barbosa) type scorer.

  11. Caleb

    p.s. I sorta like Fred Jones – if he plays anything like he did in Indy, he’ll be our best backcourt defender, better than Collins and way better than anyone else. That’s a big need for this team.

  12. Funky

    Reports are saying that Fred Jones is going to beat out Demetris Nichols for the last spot. Since Nichols refuses to play in Europe, is it possible that we could lose him to another team?

    Nichols looked like a 2nd round steal to me in summer league, so I’m disappointed by that. I recognize the need for defense in the backcourt, but Nichols seems to be a pretty decent defender. At this point, I’d rather have him as a backup then Nate or Mardy.

    But perhaps I’m alone in my support for him.

  13. Funky

    P.S. Fred Jones takes a pretty decent amount of shots, despite a Jamal Crawford-esque field goal percentage.

  14. Caleb

    Agree that Fred Jones is a terrible offensive player, but Jones knows he stinks. His usage rate was only 14.6 last year; Crawford’s was 23.1.

    I dunno about Nichols – he’s obviously got some potential, but there are reasons he lasted to #53. Sorry ‘Cuse fans, but I don’t see a huge loss if he doesn’t make the team. He wouldn’t get PT this year, and he’s a few years older than Chandler so doesn’t have anywhere near the upside. In fact he’s only 4 months older than Nate Robinson and a year younger than David Lee.

  15. Frank O.

    I think, my comments were probably off on Lee.
    I was happy to see him putting in as many points as he did. I think his path to the starting line up, sadly, will be paved with more scoring…
    He also is handling the ball more and driving more, based on what I read in the papers, which may be why his turnovers were up a bit.
    PrezIke: I read the Times story, and I agree with you about the focus. I didn’t see it before I wrote.
    I was scanning several news sources, some of which didn’t even mention that Lee was the leading scorer.

    True the fans and some in the media love Lee, but the Knicks’ organization seems to view him differently, given he is not seen as a starter.

    I was struck by Hollinger’s PER projections, with two non-starting Knicks among the top three Knicks rated. The rest were so far down that I stopped looking for them. It was Randolph, Lee and Balkman, I think.

  16. harlan

    why are tickets so expensive for tomorrow nights game against macabi. does anyone have some extra or want to sell their tickets for under $50?

  17. Mike S

    Hey Dave or anyone,I heard that Alan Houston
    is back on the Knicks.I’m in Florida trying
    to get information this breaking news.

  18. Frank O.

    Holy Crap…
    I don’t know what the Knicks will do with another marginal two…

    RealGM Staff Report -
    New York Knickerbockers President of Basketball Operations and Head Coach Isiah Thomas announced on Wednesday that guard Allan Houston has been re-signed as a free agent after a two-season absence from the court.

    “After much thought and prayer, I have decided to return to the NBA as a member of the New York Knicks . I have worked extremely hard in the last year and a half to accomplish my dream of playing in the NBA again,” Houston said.

    ?After my wife and I were blessed with the birth of our fourth child last week, I realized that New York is where I am supposed to be, and the Knick uniform is the one I want to wear. I have seen the Garden in some of its best moments, and I truly believe that this team is on the verge of experiencing that again. This team is hungry and energetic. I hope to contribute in the weeks and months ahead.

    ?Thank you to all of the Knick fans and those that have supported me. I will always be a Knick, and I am committed to helping this team compete for a championship.”

  19. dave crockett

    Frank O –

    I heard it on ESPN radio on my way home today. Yikes. Apart from Jerome James I can’t see who Houston should replace on the roster.

    Also, re: Wilson Chandler. It’d be nice if we got to just sprinkle in his minutes. I’d like for him to mostly be able to watch this year. Seeing him play up close you can *really* see what the team likes about him.

    On the other hand, not surprisingly, he doesn’t have a real good idea of what he’s doing on the offensive end yet. He doesn’t appear to me to have a “natural” feel for where to be in the offense. Consequently, unless he’s spotting up most of his shots were bad.

  20. Frank

    I for one am happy to have Houston back on the team. We definitely need some outside shooting with those beasts in the middle and we certainly have some deadweight we can jettison to give him a chance. This contract isn’t a guaranteed roster spot anyway, and if he looks anything like the old Houston, he deserves a spot and 15 min/game shooting 3s.

    The way I see it, out of these six, 3 need to be cut or traded: James, Rose, Nichols, Collins, Jones, or Houston. I’d prefer to dump James, Collins, and Jones. Here’s why:

    James requires no explanation. Maybe we can stash him on IR in case the whole frontcourt gets injured.

    Collins I like but the complete inability to shoot in a low-post based offense is a huge liability, and he’s not such a great defender that we would really need him. That’s assuming Q is actually healthy.

    Jones similarly is a poor shooter and beyond that has a valuable expiring contract that might net us something useful (ie draft pick) if moved.

    I’d hold onto Houston because presumably he CAN shoot and would be a good role model for the young players on the team.

    I’d hold onto Rose because he can back up both PF and C positions, is a good locker room guy, and has a contract that can get moved sometime soon.

    I’d hold onto Nichols because he presumably has upside (I say this having seen all of about 5 minutes of a summer league game he played in — that said, he did lead the big east in scoring didn’t he? that’s no small feat.) And if he can shoot, that’s a skill that never gets old in the NBA.

    So here’s how I see our roster then:

    6 Guards: Marbury, Jordan, Nate, Crawford, Q, Houston

    6 Forwards: Balkman, Chandler, Jefferies, Randolph, Lee, Nichols

    3 Center equivalents: Curry, Morris, Rose

    Out of these 15, here’s how I envision the rotation:

    Starters:

    G: Marbury, Richardson
    F: Balkman when healthy, Randolph
    C: Curry

    First two off bench: Crawford, Lee

    Other bench players play depending on need (ie. Houston for shooting, Jefferies for so-called defense, and Nate for energy and dumb plays.

    Likely sitting on bench all season except when the Knicks go down by 20 in the 1st quarter: Morris, Chandler

    Inactives: Jordan, Nichols, Rose

    Thoughts?

  21. z-man

    Frank, I agree on all except I would keep collins and dump/trade either rose or jeffries (who i think is a waste when you have renaldo and chandler). Would also start Craw and Bring Lee in as soon as ZR or EC get into foul trouble or Craw a/o Steph have a slow start. I suspect Lee will get plenty of burn no matter what. Also makes for an intriguing second unit scenario: Nate,Balk,Morris,Lee, and Allan to anchor offense. Need more D, bring in Mardy and slide nate over to SG on O. Geez, there are lots of possibilities with this mix, none are Spurs-class, but all intriguing.

  22. Frank O.

    Frank:
    I like the line up. I lament the fact that Balkman would be starting and Lee would not, given I think Lee is a more valuable player, but as is said often, it’s more about minutes than who is starting.
    Lee’s going to get 30-35 every night. He’ll probably get 14ppg and 12rpgs on average.

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