Due to a series of fortunate events I was able to catch the Knicks-Sonics game from late Friday night. First my PVR was functioning reliably, giving me the ability to record the game. Second, the game was nationally televised which circumvented the TimeWarner/MSG blackout that has robbed me of one of my favorite pastimes. Of course Time Warner is refunded me two dollars for my inconvenience. If anyone knows a place in NYC where I can watch every Knick game in a month for $2, I’m all ears.
Excluding Friday’s foray into the lighter side of the music realm, the last thing I wrote on KnickerBlogger.Net that related to basketball was:
“I’m not exactly sure that Sweetney playing out of position will hamper his long term development, but he’s certainly not in a role that is allowing him growth.”
My theory that playing the center position is causing the second year player to score less and get into foul trouble more often which is leading to his benching. Watching the Knicks play Seattle, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The player I rant about the most, Mike Sweetney, entered the game with the Knicks down 50 to 48 with a little more than 8 minutes left in the third quarter. Within a minute of entering the game Sweetney had an offensive rebound from 6 feet, and powered his way in the paint for a hard earned two points. On the next series Sweetney intercepted an Evans pass leading to a Marbury score in transition. A few plays later, he would grab a Marbury miss for two points, and his defensive rebound on the next play led to another Marbury transition score.
Sweet-N-Low wasn’t done yet. The Knicks power forward would get an easy score from a double teamed Crawford, and give one back to a cutting Marbury. Additionally he saved another possession with an offensive rebound. Although he ended the quarter in a less than spectacular fashion with an offensive foul on a pick and coughed up the ball on another possession. They were his only two mistakes during the quarter.
Sweetney’s effect was commanding, and I would go as far as saying he dominated the third quarter. With Big Mike on the bench, the Knicks started off the fourth quarter allowing Seattle a 12-1 run, putting the Knicks into a steep hole. Of course regulation would end with Tim Thomas’ heroic three pointer to send the game into OT, and the Sonics’ Lewis and Allen dominating the extra period. All the while “Mr. Third Quarter” never left his seat and watched the rest of the game from the bench.
Only Phoenix is better than Seattle offensively, but their defense is a pitiful 22nd. The SuperSonics live and die with their scoring, and with their potent offense it’s worked great this year. To beat them you either have to shut down their best scorers Allen and Lewis, or take advantage of their weak defense with your best offensive squad.
Admittedly hindsight is always 20-20, but while watching the game I was upset at Herb Williams for not putting in Sweetney after his fabulous performance. My reasoning is simple. The Sonics get most of their points from the SG, SF, and PG position, while they employ a rotating hacking committee at center (10.4 PF/G!). So why would the Knicks play a defensive minded power forward in Malik Rose? The Sonics bigs were ineffective Friday night. Evans, James, Potapenko, and Collison averaged a measly 5 points each. So why not bring an offensive big man that the Sonics had no answer for?
While Rose’s defensive play is a breath of fresh air on a team that shows no ability or effort on that end of the court, Herb Williams should have recognized that the Knicks needed a different look that night. Williams did impress me with his ability to think differently earlier in the game. Putting a small lineup on the floor that included Tim Thomas as the power forward. Although the safe play was to use veterans Kurt Thomas and Rose as the front court, it’s was not the right option this night.
Earlier I said that the Knicks aren’t fostering Sweetney’s growth, and I thought it was Big Mike’s fault due to his declining performance. However even on a night when the Knicks have 53 minutes to spread around, Sweetney gets exactly the 22 minutes he’s averaged as a starter, despite dropping a double double (12 points, 10REB, 6OREB). The next night against Portland, he would play an identical 22 minutes despite dropping 11 points. Sweetney hasn’t played more than 25 minutes in his last 8 games, despite averaging 3.4 offensive rebounds per game.
It’s not that Herb has Sweetney on a short leash, it’s that he has him on an oven timer set to 20 minutes. The NBA isn’t baseball, where you should coddle your young pitchers to save their arms. I couldn’t imagine a better time to let Sweetney prove his worth in a close game where he played brilliantly against one of the league’s best teams. If the Knicks are going to be successful in the near future, they’re going to need to rely on their youth.