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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Knicks Roster Analysis – Power Forwards

After some excellent insights from both Bob Chaikin and Dave, we’re on to the Knicks’ power forwards. 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.

Kurt Thomas

Year    MPG   PPG   RPG  APG   TS%  Reb%  Pass   Off   Def  Win%  WARP  Value  Salary
01-02 33.8 13.9 9.1 1.1 .542 15.6 0.03 89.9 90.8 .502 5.9
02-03 31.8 14.0 7.9 2.0 .511 14.5 0.23 89.4 89.8 .484 4.5
03-04 31.9 11.1 8.3 1.9 .503 15.0 0.19 87.8 89.5 .457 3.0 $3.446 $5.885

Last Thursday, before the draft, I wrote that a deal of Thomas for Jerome James and the 12th pick would be good for both the Sonics and the Knicks. You’ll have to excuse me for that one; I was apparently delusional because of writing too much about the draft. Thomas’ game is showing some steady signs of decay, both in terms of traditional statistics and more advanced metrics. Last year, his offensive game cratered, as he was very inefficient without using many possessions. His rebounding has been consistent, but neither that nor his defense is good enough to keep him valuable unless he’s scoring better than he did last year.

The real reason a Thomas trade wouldn’t have been good for the Sonics (or most anyone else) is the extension he signed during last season. Thomas is now signed up for three years after this one, presumably with standard 10%-12.5% raises. That means by 2007-08, Thomas will be pulling in $8.09 million. He’ll also be 35 then, and, given the current trend, it’s tough to see Thomas being a particularly valuable player. The raises in contracts can often make them a lot worse than they look. You look at the salary numbers I report above, and Thomas looks overpaid, but not drastically so. The problem is that his salary and production will likely be headed in different directions in the years to come.

There was a school of thought that Thomas’ numbers would improve with him returned to power forward instead of playing out of position at center, as he did almost exclusively during 2002-03. That was pretty clearly not the case on offense, which is backed up by 82games.com’s by-position data. Thomas defended power forwards better — especially when you take into account that power forwards in general have higher PERs than centers — but I doubt the difference is big enough to overcome the greater positional scarcity in the middle. Thomas is simply more valuable as a center.

What can Thomas do to get back on track? The biggest thing would be getting to the line more. Thomas is a good foul shooter for a big man, hitting 83.5% last year, but he doesn’t get to show off the skill very often. When Thomas was at his most efficient, 2001-02, his FTM/FGA ratio was 0.23; the last two years, it’s dipped to 0.13.

From a Knicks perspective, I think Thomas would be best utilized as a combo four/five, coming off the bench behind the starters at both positions. He’s productive enough to keep around, but if the Knicks get an offer that doesn’t return them an equally bad contract (read: Jerry Stackhouse), they have to seriously consider it, especially if they can use him in a multi-player deal to upgrade either small forward or center.

Mike Sweetney

Year    MPG   PPG   RPG  APG   TS%  Reb%  Pass   Off   Def  Win%  WARP  Value  Salary
03-04 11.8 4.3 3.7 0.3 .544 18.3 0.02 88.1 89.3 .563 1.7 $3.266 $1.979

It was about a year ago that I fell in love with Sweetney. He had the best college stats of any player in the 2003 Draft, and in my newfound infatuation with these numbers, I was desperately hoping he’d be left on the board when my Seattle SuperSonics picked 12th. Unfortunately, even a blind squirrel finds acorns now and again, and Scott Layden scooped Sweetney up three picks ahead of the Sonics. It might just have been the best move of Layden’s time in New York.

Sweetney spent the first half of the season buried, but finally found some playing time after Lenny Wilkens took over the New York helm and acquitted himself quite nicely. That 54.4% true shooting percentage is outstanding for a rookie, and Sweetney was a fabulous rebounder, pulling down nearly one in every five available rebounds. He was also one of the few Knicks not to embarrass themselves during the playoffs.

One of my few concerns about Sweetney was whether he could translate his ability to get to the free-throw line to the NBA, but that wasn’t really a problem. Entering this season, he has breakout written all over him (not literally; that would be strange).

Want some incredibly exciting news, Knicks fans? Here are Sweetney’s best age-21 comparables. Number one? Zach Randolph. Number two? Carlos Boozer. If I’m running the Knicks, I do whatever I can to ensure that Sweetney is playing at least 30 minutes per game next season, and let the results speak for themselves. Most Improved Player isn’t a bad guess, and I’ll pick Sweetney so long as a path is cleared for him to start.

Vin Baker

 Year    MPG   PPG   RPG  APG   TS%  Reb%  Pass   Off   Def  Win%  WARP  Value  Salary
01-02 31.1 14.1 6.4 1.3 .517 12.1 0.05 89.2 91.8 .436 1.3
02-03 18.1 5.2 3.8 0.6 .531 11.9 0.02 87.6 90.8 .413 0.3
03-04 24.3 9.8 5.2 1.2 .530 12.2 0.11 88.9 90.1 .472 2.0 $3.131 UFA

Before I say anything about Baker, I want to emphasize that I am as far from possible as objective about Baker. He is one of my least favorite players in NBA history because of his time in Seattle, and as much as I may try to divorce myself from that, it still factors into my thinking.

To demonstrate that, I’ll start by saying I find it a validation of my WARP ratings that they reflect Baker’s uselessness prior to last year more accurately than do my linear-weights ratings. The 2003-04 rating reflects an interesting mix of Baker’s numbers in Boston and in New York. With the Celtics, he was rated at a .494 winning percentage and 2.0 WARP; in New York, those dipped to .393 and 0.0.

A lot of credit for Baker’s great start to the season went to his new svelte physique. Well, amazing as Baker’s transformation was — he looked different facially, he was so skinny — I don’t think it was the real reason he was improved. Baker’s fitness was never really an issue in Seattle after the lockout season; every year we heard how he was in better shape and was going to turn it around, but he never dead. I think, instead, that the noticeable uptick in play stems from the fact that Baker was, presumably, sober. By the time he got to New York, one has to imagine (hope?) he was still sober, but he also hadn’t played for some time and didn’t have a training camp to work his way back into the swing of things.

After his short stint with the Knicks, Baker is a free agent again. There is clearly interest out there in him; big guys are in such short supply, especially in the Eastern Conference, that somebody will give him a chance. I can’t see investing too much money in him, because of the history with alcohol. Even if it weren’t for that, Baker will turn 33 in November, and age alone will take its toll. Thomas seems interested enough by Baker that a return is a possibility, but I don’t see the Knicks gaining much by that.

Othella Harrington

 Year    MPG   PPG   RPG  APG   TS%  Reb%  Pass   Off   Def  Win%  WARP  Value  Salary
01-02 20.3 7.7 4.5 0.5 .567 12.9 0.01 89.7 92.0 .437 1.2
02-03 25.0 7.7 6.4 0.8 .563 15.1 0.04 88.8 92.0 .440 1.6
03-04 15.6 4.6 3.2 0.5 .546 11.7 0.02 87.0 91.3 .357 -0.8 $1.156 $3.150

Before last Thursday’s Draft, some friends and I were trying to make sense of Al Jefferson’s ridiculous high school stats, including better than 42 points per game (besides the fact that high school stats are only one step above meaningless because of the inconsistent level of competition), and one mentioned that Harrington averaged similar stats in the same league. Well, apparently that’s not quite true — he only averaged something like 29 points and 25 rebounds per game — but I had not realized that Harrington was an incredible prospect who was MVP of the McDonald’s All-American game in 1992. Maybe because I was 10 then. I also didn’t know he averaged 16.8 points and 8.8 rebounds as a freshman and won Big East Rookie of the Year before his numbers trailed off, presumably because of Allen Iverson’s arrival on the scene after his sophomore season.

In the NBA, Harrington has found his niche as a high-efficiency, medium to low volume scorer who doesn’t offer a ton on defense and the boards. Harrington’s true shooting percentages are great, but they overrate him, because he’s assisted on a high percentage of his baskets (66% last season) and rarely picks up assists of his own. Harrington wasn’t as efficient last season and also posted the worst rebounding season of his career in terms of rebounds per minute. As a result, he went from an acceptable rotation player to a guy who didn’t deserve to see major minutes.

Harrington’s contract is one of the few on the Knicks that isn’t a problem; he’s signed for just one more year at slightly more than $3.15 million, which is more than he’d pull on the open market but not horrible. He might be included in some sort of deal, but otherwise he’ll play some spot minutes off the bench up front.

Kevin Pelton writes “Page 23″ for Hoopsworld.com on a semi-regular basis. He can be reached at kpelton@hoopsworld.com. Check back Thursday for his analysis of the Knicks’ centers.

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