Knicks 2010 Season Preview Part 3

[Part 1 is here.]
[Part 2 is here.]

David Lee – Power Forward/Center

What the Stats Say
Amid all the hubbub about David Lee “playing out of position at center” and the Knicks “needing to find a true big man so that Lee can move back to his natural position,” one simple fact has largely been lost: David Lee is better at playing center than he is at playing power forward. Don’t believe it? Check out this dichotomy (courtesy of

David Lee 48-Minute Production by Position (2008-2009)

POS FGA eFG% FTA iFG Reb Ast T/O Blk PF Pts PER*
PF 13.7 0.491 4.1 67% 10.3 2.6 2.6 0.3 6.0 16.0 11.5
C 16.3 0.552 5.7 68% 16.6 3.0 2.5 0.3 4.3 22.4 22.0

Too small a sample size? Lee’s 2007-08 numbers, mostly compiled at the 4, tell a less extreme version of the same story:

David Lee 48-Minute Production by Position (2007-2008)

POS FGA eFG% FTA iFG Reb Ast T/O Blk PF Pts PER*
PF 12.3 0.543 4.7 74% 14.0 1.8 2.1 0.6 4.0 17.3 18.7
C 13.6 0.570 5.2 73% 16.7 2.2 1.6 0.5 4.8 19.6 23.4

Pretty overwhelming, no? Combine the two seasons and Lee has a solid starter’s PER at the 4 and approximately Patrick Ewing’s career PER at the 5. But when you think about Dave’s game, it all kind of makes sense. Emergent 15-footer notwithstanding, Lee scores and rebounds way more efficiently when closer to the basket. He draws more fouls (and gives fewer fouls) against centers than against quicker, more explosive power forwards. And everybody’s offense improves when there’s no Zach Randolph or Eddy Curry on the floor.

Given that Lee defends the five better than the four also (says so here), the idea that the Knicks can compete while playing a skinny young stretch 4 and a 6’9″ center may not be so crazy after all. (You know what, forget that I said that. It is crazy. Maybe not “We are completely confident that we can move Jared Jeffries’ contract “crazy, but certainly “Sure, Starks is 2 for 16, but I’ve got a good feeling about this next shot” crazy.)

What My Gut Says
It’s hard to be critical of a guy like Lee, who has been efficient, hard-working, and likable since day one. There’s no doubt that Dave is capable of being a key player on a championship team and, bless his heart, he actually seems to hope that team will be (a very different version of) the Knicks. His defensive shortcomings have been well-documented and his offense largely comes from put-backs and fastbreaks, but he’s excellent at what he does and there’s no reason to believe that he’s in line for a step back this year.

Al Harrington – Forward/Sneaker Salesman

What the Stats Say
That players generally perform better against bad teams than against good teams is essentially a truism. It is the rare player who is able to elevate his game to such an extent that he puts up his best numbers against the league’s elite. For the most part, players show a weak but consistent inverse relationship between opponent quality and statistical achievement.

And then there’s Al Harrington, whose shooting splits look like this:

Player Opp Gm Min Fga Fg% 3pA 3p% Fta Ft% Pts
Harrington Good 22 764 16.7 .398 6.2 .316 4.4 78% 18.6
Harrington Average 27 983 17.6 .432 7.0 .349 3.9 82% 20.9
Harrington Poor 19 632 15.8 .525 6.2 .436 4.4 79% 22.8

That all rounds out to a .457 eFG% against good teams (which, were it his full-season mark, would have been good for 161st out of 181 eligible NBA players), .501 against average teams (102nd of 181), and a staggering .611 against “poor” teams (3rd of 181, trailing dunk-and-layup-only centers Erick Dampier and Joel Przybilla).

The disparity in Harrington’s splits is by far the most extreme of any Knick, and likely tell the story of a player who feasts on open looks against undisciplined defenses but struggles to adjust his game when met with legitimate defensive resistance.

What My Gut Says
To watch Harrington in small doses is to wonder why he isn’t a superstar; to watch him every night is to wonder whether he could ever get serious minutes on a winner. His size, athleticism, shooting, and ball-handling ability provide him with an extremely rare skill set, but his streakiness, frequently poor shot selection, and puzzling inability (unwillingness?) to rebound suggest that he is less Dirk Nowitzki than (a poor man’s) Charlie Villanueva. He certainly fits the system, he seems to genuinely love being a Knick, and, on a bad team, he provides enough matchup headaches to be a net positive. But his long-term desire to remain in orange and blue will prove futile unless accompanied by a willingness to play for far below his perceived market value – he’s not an efficient enough scorer to be the second option on a contender, nor is he good enough at anything else to be an effective role player.

Jordan Hill – Forward/Center

What the Stats Say
According to, Hill was the 14th best offensive rebounder in Division I last year, which, if it translates, will be a major addition to a Knicks team that ranked 27th of 30 NBA teams in offensive rebounding rate last year. But, as is often the case with bootlegged copies of foreign movies and the entire musical career of David Hasselhoff, the problem may lie in the translation. To quote John Hollinger’s pre-draft player evaluations:

The other big surprise down here is Jordan Hill, who could go as high as No. 4 but rates 26th in the Draft Rater. Hill had solid rebounding and scoring numbers, but his percentages weren’t off the charts, and his poor assist and turnover numbers were a red flag. Although one might think that ballhandling categories wouldn’t matter for a power forward, apparently they do — pure point rating (a measure of how a player passes and handles the ball) is a pretty strong success indicator for frontcourt players, and only four prospects rated worse than Hill.

Time will tell.

What My Gut Says
Hill’s summer league performance doesn’t have anybody jumping out of their shoes. He disappeared for long stretches and, even at his best, didn’t do anything to suggest that he has anything approximating star potential. But, as has been said before, if you’re 6’10” and athletic, you’ll get your fair share of opportunities. Hill should get some burn this year, but his true worth will be determined down the road, after free agency clears up the frontcourt logjam and the Knicks’ intended investment in two high-priced free agents places an added premium on the value of young, inexpensive talent.

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Kevin McElroy

Kevin McElroy watches the Knicks and owns a computer.

11 thoughts to “Knicks 2010 Season Preview Part 3”

  1. Re the Lee nos. – can one really assign a traditional positional role like center in a D’Antoni offense? Weren’t a good portion of his previous PF nos. compiled in the “Crawford lobs to Curry” offense? How does Lee get a putback when the girth of Curry’s ass keeps him ten feet from the basket?

    Speaking of which, isn’t there a fan safety clause which would allow contract escape? One which would say that Curry, because of his enormous gravitational field, might bring the Garden down, literally, thus endangering public health? Or that Hughes’ bricks might as likely strike a fan as the rim? Then maybe we keep Crawford, Hunter, and Landry. Three hungry guys are a nice asset.

    Personally, I can see Lee and Darko working well together; Darko in the traditional 5 role on defense and part of a three or four-forward offense.

  2. Great piece, that’s a very nice insight into Harrington, did not realize he had such dramatic splits.

  3. Bill Simmons has an interesting excerpt from his new book up on ESPN detailing how Gus Johnson brokered a truce in his feud with Isiah Thomas, who he has killed in his column for years. Worth a gander. It’s funny, I was off Simmons for a while but I have gone back to liking him, his podcasts are entertaining and I respect that he was the driving force behind ESPN’s 30 for 30 project.

    Here is the link…

    Here is the footnote to the part of their conversation about Curry and James.

    “12. His funniest-in-retrospect explanation was for the hideous Jerome James signing. As Isiah spun it, he signed James to be his center, then had a chance to land Curry a few weeks later and went for it. A bummed-out James felt betrayed and never dedicated himself, but hey, Isiah had a chance to get a young low-post stud like Curry and it was worth the risk. I swear, this made sense as he was saying it. He swayed me enough that I never had the urge to sarcastically quip, “Hey, anytime you can lock up Eddy Curry and Jerome James for $90 million and lose two lottery picks, you have to do it.”

  4. Mobley can’t be taken off the roster until one year after the physical that declared him unable to play. If the Knicks waive him before that time it will cost them $15 million.

    Sometime around December 1st his spot should open up.

  5. Uh according to 82games Lee only played 4% of the team’s PF minutes compared to 66% of the C minutes.

    All you need to do though is check the 5 man units to know they don’t know which player to assign to what position. Jared Jeffries was the starting center for a good portion of the year and they have him listed as a SF.

  6. Which means that the compiled stats are wrong.

    Also, isn’t it a bit one-sided to only show his offensive production and not his defensive production? There’s a reason why Lee shouldn’t be regarded as a long term center despite his “increased” production. Opposing centers recorded 19.7 PER against Lee.

  7. Rashidi –

    Fair points but for the following:

    1) the 4%/66% issue was the reason I included last years numbers, which were PF-heavy but much closer to an even split

    2) PF’s have an even higher PER against Lee than C’s do, check the page.

    3) I believe typically ranks players according to height in determining positions: i.e., the tallest guy on the floor is identified as the center. As the Darko section in Part IV will discuss, the data is clearly imperfect. But even looking at it from that angle, its still interesting to note that Lee has been better in each of the past two years when the biggest guy on the floor.

    At any rate, you and I reached the same conclusion, which is that David Lee at center doesn’t make sense as a long term option. But I do think its fascinating to look at these numbers that, at the very least, are cause to question why that is the case.

  8. “Jared Jeffries was the starting center for a good portion of the year and they have him listed as a SF.”

    How long was Jeffries the center? A week? On the season he chased around PGs much more than centers. And 82 games does positional ranking by subjective rankings, not necessarily height.

  9. 82games is currently listing..

    Jeffries as a SF/SG
    Chandler as a SF/PF
    Gallinari as a SG/SF

    Chandler was the starting SG the first half of the season and they are giving his minutes to anyone else they can. We all know for a fact Jeffries hasn’t played a minute at SG this season, he’s been a PF and the only time you could argue he’s a SF is if you try really hard not to think of Harrington as the SF.

    Gallinari on the other hand they swear is the starting SG and not the starting SF.

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