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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Knicks Roster Analysis – Centers

It’s time to conclude the Knicks roster with the center position. If you haven’t read my point guard analysis, that’s probably worth reading before this post so that you understand what I’m doing here.

Nazr Mohammed

Year    MPG   PPG   RPG  APG   TS%  Reb%  Pass   Off   Def  Win%  WARP  Value  Salary
01-02 26.4 9.7 7.9 0.4 .490 17.2 0.00 87.8 90.9 .452 2.4
02-03 12.8 4.6 3.7 0.2 .452 16.4 0.00 86.2 90.0 .426 0.2
03-04 20.1 7.4 5.9 0.5 .542 16.8 0.01 87.9 89.2 .508 3.6 $4.308 $5.250

Both Dave and I have discussed our opinion that going from Keith Van Horn to Tim Thomas was a downgrade for the Knicks at small forward. Still, four and a half months later, that deal looks good, because the Knicks did well to pick up Mohammed from Atlanta along with Thomas. Mohammed’s season statistics were very good, and he was even better with the Knicks, averaging 9.1 points and 7.7 rebounds per game and shooting an incredible 56.3% from the field.

I don’t know if it was KnickerBlogger or someone else, but I’ve read a comparison between Mohammed turning it on in New York and what he did after being traded mid-season to the Hawks in 2001. Then, Mohammed went from a non-factor in Philadelphia to averaging 12.3 points and 7.7 rebounds per game as a starter in Atlanta. That’s what got Mohammed his current five-year, $25 million contract, as he became a free agent that summer. I was rooting for the Sonics to sign Mohammed in their quest for a center way back when, continuing a pro-Mohammed trend; I also wanted the Sonics to draft him instead of Vladimir Stepania way back in 1998. (Score two for me.)

The question is, can Mohammed keep up his performance from last season? My answer is probably not. Mohammed is 26, so we would expect him to be nearing his peak, but he also had never shot better than 47.7% in a season before last year’s 52.1%. And, while he was plagued by injuries in 2002-03, he shot just 42.1% from the field that season. My research indicates that players — even young ones — who take that kind of a leap in two-point shooting tend to give much of it back the next year. In Mohammed’s case, that decline is tempered by the fact that his “real” shooting percentage before this season was closer to 47% or so, but I’d be mildly surprised if Mohammed shot better than 50% next year.

Even at that level, Mohammed still has a lot of value. He’s one of the league’s best rebounders, pulling down around 17% of available rebounds over the last three seasons. Mohammed’s defense is a little tougher to rate. His on-court/off-court ratings aren’t of a ton of use because he was playing opposite two of the NBA’s better defensive centers in Dikembe Mutombo and Theo Ratliff. In New York, Mohammed’s position defense rated as horrendous, but he was great in Atlanta, allowing just 41.8% effective field goal shooting. I rate Mohammed as a below-average defender for a center because he doesn’t block a ton of shots.

Overall, Mohammed is of similar value to Thomas, barring him continuing to play at the level he enjoyed after the trade. He’s certainly an acceptable starter, but unlikely to ever rank amongst the NBA’s best at the center position. Mohammed’s number one comp is a good one, last year’s Brian Skinner. Like Mohammed, Skinner a year ago was coming off of a shooting season (55.0%) he was unlikely to repeat. In fact, he didn’t, shooting 49.7%, but that and his defense/rebounding was still good enough to make him a useful starter.

Dikembe Mutombo

Year    MPG   PPG   RPG  APG   TS%  Reb%  Pass   Off   Def  Win%  WARP  Value  Salary
01-02 36.3 11.5 10.8 1.0 .574 16.8 0.02 89.5 88.9 .543 8.7
02-03 21.4 5.8 6.4 0.8 .445 17.0 0.04 85.8 88.8 .454 0.6
03-04 23.0 5.6 6.7 0.4 .523 16.9 0.01 86.8 87.3 .520 3.8 $4.461 $4.496

The opposite side of the issue with two-point percentage is illustrated by Mutombo. In 2001-02, he had one of his best offensive seasons, shooting 50.1% from the field. Then he went to New Jersey and shot 37.4%. Even with his age, it was obvious Mutombo wasn’t that bad, and he was one of the three guys I specifically mentioned as likely to see a two-point percentage rebound prior to last season. (The others were Jeff Foster, who I also nailed, and Chucky Atkins, whom I did not.) Lo and behold, Mutombo bounced all the way back to 47.8%, and while he wasn’t quite as effective as he was in 2001-02, he was still a very productive player indeed.

Through February, that is. Shortly after Mohammed’s arrival, Mutombo lost his staring job, and a little after that, he had abdominal surgery that kept him out about a month. Mutombo’s field-goal percentage, above 50% the first three months of the season, sank to the 30s in February and stayed down there in April. It’s tough for me to say whether that was because he was already injured, because he just ran out of gas, or what.

If you make the leap of faith that Mutombo’s age is what the NBA reports, he turned 38 last Friday. Few NBA players, of course, hit that age, but most of them are in the Mutombo mold. 17 of the 59 NBA players to play at the age of 37 before last season were at least one standard deviation above average in terms of height, which about corresponds to 6-11 or 7-feet. Height, as they say, never ages, and while Mutombo has a harder time getting around, he remains as good of a rebounder and shot-blocker as he has been in recent years (down from his Defensive Player of the Year prime, but still very good indeed). On the other hand, 82games.com has Mutombo rated as only a slightly positive influence on the Knicks’ overall defense.

The two things that could trip up Mutombo are injuries and a desire not to hang around too long. It’s not a stretch to believe that he could play a late-model Robert Parish role as a third center until he was in his mid-40s, but that may not be Mutombo’s choice. On the other front, Mutombo also suffered torn ligaments in his wrist that cost him 56 games in 2002-03, but he hasn’t had the knee/back injuries that really prove problematic for most older players.

Mutombo remains a solid option for 15-20 minutes a night off the bench. Whether the Knicks accept him in that role remains to be seen, but Mutombo will surely find employment somewhere next season.

Cezary Trybanski

Year    MPG   PPG   RPG  APG   TS%  Reb%  Pass   Off   Def  Win%  WARP  Value  Salary
Year MPG PPG RPG APG TS% Reb% Pass Off Def Win% WARP Value Salary
02-03 5.7 0.9 0.9 0.1 .287 9.2 0.00 80.8 90.2 .162 -0.4
03-04 2.1 0.1 0.1 0.0 .102 3.8 0.00 73.7 87.4 .000 -0.1 $2.047 $1.760

Do you think other GMs gossip about Trybanski on the phone to make themselves feel better because, hey, even Jerry West makes mistakes? Trybanski was one of West’s first signings after joining the Memphis Grizzlies organization, and while he didn’t get a lot of money, he’s been only slightly more useful to an NBA team over the last two years than you would have been.

Certainly, Trybanski hasn’t played enough minutes for us to be certain of his abilities, but he’s been amazingly bad when he has gotten on the court, posting a negative winning percentage last season. Logically, that’s silly, but that’s what happens when you fail to make a field goal all year. Trybanski’s lack of playing time is a form of evidence in and of itself; while we can’t say for certain he can’t play, there’s also no evidence since he came to the United States that he can play. Since I believe that players are bad until proven good, I’m not giving Trybanski much chance to salvage his career. Trybanski will also turn 25 by the start of next season, so he doesn’t have a ton of youth on his side.

According to New York Times, Trybanski will play for the Knicks’ summer-league team, and he may have to show something over the summer to stand a good chance to even make the roster this fall.

I should note about the value listed above that the value system I’m using gives players credit for about $2 million in value just for being a warm body, the NBA equivalent of getting an 800 just for signing your name on the SATs.

That concludes my position-by-position look at the Knicks roster. On Friday or possibly Saturday, I’ll get up my general take on the Knicks and the direction I’d pursue this summer and beyond.

Kevin Pelton writes “Page 23″ for Hoopsworld.com on a semi-regular basis. He can be reached at kpelton@hoopsworld.com.

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