I’ve watched every minute of every game this year, and I can state for the record that the Knicks have not been a good team thus far. New York is 2-5 and their 2 wins have come at a grand total of 3 points. While only the most rabid Knick fans expected New York to compete in the East this year, most prognosticators (save for the most rabid Knick hater) expected them to make some kind of improvement on their abysmal 2006 campaign. So far, their expected win% is close to their actual win percentage last year. As of this writing, the Knicks are ranked 22nd on offense and 28th on defense and haven’t shown much improvement overall as a team. While the year hasn’t gone as optimists would hope, there have been some bright spots on the early season. With a couple of adjustments, New York can improve on this horrid start.
The first step is to take a long look at the starting unit, because in every game this year New York has been down by double digits in the first half. Since the Knick bench has come in and sparked the team, usually making up the difference and then some, it makes sense that Isiah should apply the red pen to his starting roster. The first player I would remove would be Channing Frye. I don’t think anyone predicted such a downhill collapse for the Knicks’ best rookie last year. Frye’s sophomore slide is so huge, Disney has contacted his agent for a Splash Mountain commercial tie-in. Although Channing’s defense has been acceptable (per 40 minutes he’s averaging 1.4BLK & 1.7STL), he’s absolutely lost on offense. Frye’s 22% shooting percentage is well below the Tskitishvili-line (currently at 33.8%), and is the only stat I need to communicate how poor he’s been on offense.
But Channing Frye isn’t the only culprit. His frontcourt-mate Eddy Curry has been equally feeble. Although Frye is giving the Knicks some production on defense, Curry has given the Knicks nothing back on the defensive end. The 6-11 Curry has averaged 0.6 blocks per 40 minutes, which is an embarrassment for a player his size. Jamal Crawford, a 6-6 guard not known for his defense, is nearly at the same rate (0.5 BLK/40). Meanwhile, Curry’s 0.4 STL/40 is last on the team among the regular players. While defensive stats don’t tell the whole story, Eddy’s defense has been even worse to the eye. The Knicks’ center is just as bad defending his own man as he is helping contain penetrators into the lane. As a child, Curry was given the nickname “Lurch” for being the quiet giant, but I think the name “David” is more fitting. It’s not because Eddy Curry reminds me of David Robinson, a fantastic defensive center in his own right. It’s because Curry stands around like a giant statue on defense, ala Michelangelo’s famous sculpture.
Usually Curry’s defenders (not the NBA players that actually defend Curry, but guys like Knick’s owner James Dolan who thinks Curry “will develop into a league-leading center”) point to his offensive numbers in an effort to cast him in a productive light. Unfortunately for them, Eddy Curry’s points, turnovers, assists, and fouls are below his career average. In any case, Curry’s defense is so bad at this point he shouldn’t be on the court without a strong defensive player next to him.
If Isiah wants to turn his team around in the first quarter, starting the game off with Curry & Frye on the bench would be a good start. While it’s simple to identify them as the culprits (82games.com has the pair as the two worst Knicks in regards to +/-), finding two suitable replacements isn’t as easy. David Lee is the obvious choice, as he leads the Knicks with a 21.95 PER. Lee’s strength has been his work on the glass, and he’s third in the league in rebounding rate. The ambidextrous forward has a nice touch around the hoop, and he doesn’t demand the ball to score. “Buddy” Lee is able to put points on the board either cleaning up his teammates misses or being the beneficiary of a well placed pass. But after Lee, the choices are slim.
The popular choice might be Malik Rose, who has earned a name for himself by playing fantastic defense the last few games. But Rose’s poor shooting skills and high demand for the ball make him a poor mix with the offensive starters. If the Knick guards can ignore his repeated demands for the ball in the post, it could work, but that’s not likely to work. My choice would be to give Kelvin Cato a try.
Adding Cato & Lee to the starting 5 makes sense on a few levels. First off the starting group already has enough offensive minded players in as Marbury, Crawford/Francis, and Richardson. Let the offense center around these three, augmented by Lee’s strong rebounding. The loss of Curry and Frye’s post skills can be replaced partly with David Lee and partly with Quentin Richardson who can take smaller players on the blocks. Meanwhile on defense, Cato will provide more resistance to quicker guards that get past the Knick perimeter. If the loss of potential offense bothers you remember the Knicks will be able to run more often if they make more stops on defense. And with Cato’s defense and Lee’s rebounding, they should be able to get more stops on defense.
In the meantime I’ve given a pass to the rest of the Knick not because all is well with the guards, but rather because the frontcourt has been disastrous. Additionally Francis’ injury has given him a pass for the early season, and his return will muddle the situation anyway. In the next few games, I imagine that Channing Frye will be benched for David Lee because Frye’s season has been so obviously bad and Lee’s so good. However Eddy Curry shouldn’t receive a free pass due to the amount the franchise has invested into him. While Cato doesn’t have Curry’s potential nor does his numbers on paper make him a logical starter, the Knicks are desperate for defense and it wouldn’t be so bad to see how he affects New York’s on the court chemistry.