Center: This is one area that the Knicks have certainly upgraded. While Nazr Mohammed filled the position reasonably well last year, his departure left a 6’10 foot void in the middle of Knicks’ lineup. Herb Williams did the best he could with a rotation of Mike Sweetney, Kurt Thomas, Malik Rose, Maurice Taylor, and any fan 6’7 or taller willing to don a uniform for a few minutes.
This year Knick fans should notice an instant transformation at the 5. When the Knicks acquired Curry, the press was quick to compare him to Patrick Ewing, but I was reminded of another young Knick center. Marcus Camby arrived in New York in a controversial summer deal. Both players were former high lottery picks, with health issues, whose previous teams had soured on them, and were brought over in controversial summer trades. If Gothamites are looking for a bright comparison, it would be fantastic if Curry’s could break out for New York like Camby did years ago.
There is one problem with comparing Curry to either Ewing or Camby. Both of the former Knick centers excelled at rebounding & defense. In the 2006 Basketball Forecast, John Hollinger said that Curry was among the 5 worst rebounding centers in the league, meanwhile Dan Rosenbaum had him ranked as the 5th worst defensive center in the league. Watching him during the preseason, Curry’s defense appears as poor as advertised. His ‘D’ suffers from poor footwork, being out of shape, and a general indifference. The Knicks young center is a beast when he has the ball, but shies away from contact at all other times. The blocked shots that I recall from preseason were from the weak side, and unfortunately Curry doesn’t have Camby’s athleticism to be a force in that manner.
Eddy is a fantastic scorer who does so at a very high rate. Big men that shoot well usually get a lot of easy buckets from tip-ins, but Curry was a pitiful 89th in offensive rebounds per minute last year. This just means that Curry’s skills as a scorer are even more impressive than his 54% might indicate. Luckily 82games.com tracks such things, and Curry only scored 2% of the time on “tips”. In comparison Nazr Mohammed rebounding tips comprised 7% of his scores, and Mike Sweetney tipped the ball in 4% of the time. Kurt Thomas matched Curry’s 2%, which is a bad sign since the pick and roll specialist Thomas only ventured into the paint when he was lost.
Eddy’s size presents problems for opponents trying to defend him. Defenders that that allow him to get too deep in the paint are likely to fall victim to one of his variety of post moves. Fronting Curry isn’t a better proposition, as his soft hands allow him to handle the lob and he can finish the alleyoop as well as any big man in the league. Eddy Curry’s addition means that the Knicks have a legitimate second scoring threat next to Marbury, which should improve New York’s offense tremendously.
Before acquiring Curry, the Knicks signed Jerome James to help bolster the middle. Like Curry, and unlike any of the Knicks centers last year, James’ size is more than adequate for the position. Jerome will be able to protect the rim, and will provide a bit of muscle as his 8.4 fouls per 40 minutes will attest to. Unfortunately, James also shares Curry’s lack of rebounding and offseason conditioning.
The Knicks also have a pair of young players that should be able to fill in at center for a few minutes a game. The number 8 pick in this year’s draft, Channing Frye, and undrafted CBA prospect Jackie Butler have gotten good reviews from Larry Brown. Of the two, Butler is more likely to see time at the 5 for two reasons. The first is that Frye’s slender build will make him more suitable for power forward his first year. The second is despite his inexperience, Butler is the Knicks’ best rebounder. Unfortunately like most young players, Jackie finds himself committing mental mistakes. In one summer league game, Butler had 3 whistles on him in what seemed like a 5 minute stretch. If he wants to earn playing time, he’ll have to cut back on the gaffs.
Power Forward: In recent history, the Knicks have had a glut of power forwards. This year seems to be no exception. Less than a month ago I asked Knick fans “By January 1st, who is the Knicks’ starting PF?” The most popular choice was Malik Rose, which was my answer as well. I chose Rose due to the Knicks lack of defenders, but after watching a few preseason games, I’m going to switch to Antonio Davis.
Malik Rose is an intelligent player who understands the concept of team defense. Rose is rarely lost in a defensive rotation and has a sneaky array of moves to thwart opposing players. However he is staring down the wrong side of 30, and won’t be able to compensate for his lack of size with physical ability anymore. Davis’ height has allowed him to age more gracefully than Rose. Despite nearing the end of his career, Davis’ rebounding and defense is still at an acceptable level. Although Rose was never a big shot blocker, his per minute rate is half of what it was just a year ago, and less than a third of what it was at its peak. Malik’s rebounding dipped noticeably as well, grabbing only 7.4 boards per 40 minutes for the Knicks.
If rebounding and defense will keep Davis as the starter, then it’ll be the same thing that will keep Maurice Taylor off the court. Taylor will have the role of scoring big man off the bench, and he’ll be limited to 15 or 20 minutes a game, depending on how often the Knicks are behind. Joining Taylor on the bench will be the rookies, Channing Frye and David Lee. Although Frye was taken much earlier in the draft, Lee has been the more impressive of the two. A natural lefty, Lee has become ambidextrous and is a handful (punny!) for defenders when he’s in the post. He can score with either hand, and seems to have a wide array of moves in the paint. Lee was thought of as a good rebounder in college, and hopefully that skill will transfer over to the NBA.
I’m still not sure what to expect out of Frye. His frame resembles that of Marcus Camby, but he lacks Camby’s high flying theatrics. On the other hand Frye has a nice touch from the outside and should make a fine partner for Marbury on the pick & roll. With the depth at power forward and Brown’s predisposition towards rookies it’s hard to tell exactly who will see playing time.
Point Guard: I bet you thought I was going to talk about the Knicks’ small forwards, but the only other position I’m sure about is the point guard spot. Despite reports of a Brown enforced Iversonian-esque move to shooting guard, Stephon Marbury will run the point for the Knicks. The reason is simple, neither Crawford nor rookie Nate Robinson are able to run the point for an extended period of time. Crawford still suffers from poor shot selection, and while the NBA doesn’t keep it as an official stat, I would bet that he led the Knicks in airballs from off balanced jumpers this preseason. The Knicks will rely on Jamal to run the point for a few minutes a game, but leaving the ball in his hands for too long is like putting a gun in Charlton Heston’s hands at an NRA rally. The pressure to shoot becomes unbearable.
Meanwhile Robinson is still learning what he can do at this level. Ironically his rebounding has remained impressive as he tied for the Knicks lead in total rebounds. This should be taken with a grain of salt considering he was also second in total minutes and the Knicks don’t have a lot of good rebounders. Nate’s biggest weakness has been his passing, which shouldn’t be a surprise because he’s more of a shooting guard that needs the ball in his hands than a point guard. He throws too many lazy college passes which end up as NBA turnovers. The Knicks diminutive guard is best suited at going to the hoop with reckless abandon, and using his blazing speed to convert steals into easy buckets. It will be those attributes that keep him Brown’s rotation.
Tune in tomorrow for Part II. For optimists I will have a best case scenario for the 2006 Knicks. For pessimists, there will be a worst case in hell prediction. For small forwards & shooting guards I’ll break down those positions as well.