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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Looking at the 2005 NBA Draft (Part I)

[This entry comes from Knickerblogger.net?s Director of College Scouting, Dave Crockett. As always I can be reached at dcrockett17@yahoo.com]

Rather than doing the typical ?winners? and ?losers? column I want to try something a bit different in the aftermath of last Tuesday?s NBA draft. As a bona fide NFL and NBA draftnik I?m fascinated by how differently teams in the two leagues approach the draft. In the NFL the ?best player available? approach is heavily favored over drafting based on ?need or fit.? However, all things being equal, the NBA seems to be almost the complete opposite. Although the two strategies overlap, each theoretically has an advantage over the other. In the NBA the disadvantage of drafting the best player available regardless of position is that talent duplication is quite costly. A logjam at a given position can be quite difficult to clear because of the salary cap and the dynamics of the labor market in a given year. On the other hand, drafting to fill specific needs is rarely the best way to accumulate talent and improve a roster. If done wisely drafting the best player available can put a team in a position to meet its other needs via trades or free agent signings by providing greater roster flexibility. It allows the team to make deals where getting back equivalent talent is not the only objective; it may be opening up playing time for a young player already on the roster.

In the days following the NBA draft I?ve noticed that many writers seem to implicitly favor either a ?best player available? strategy or a ?need? strategy, and this certainly colors their perspective on who won and who lost on draft night.

So in this three part entry I?ll try to offer some post-hoc thoughts on Isiah Thomas?s draft night (Part I), as well as the other teams? (Parts II and III). I?ll list each team, the players they acquired, their Chicago pre-draft camp measurements (height in shoes, wingspan, and weight) if available, position, and school along with a few comments based on the teams’ apparent strategy.

Knicks

8. Channing Frye (6-10-1/2, 7-2-1/2, 243.6#), C/PF, Arizona
21. Nate Robinson (5-9, NA, 180#), PG, Washington (f/ Phoenix)?
30. David Lee (6-9, 7.0, 229.5#), F, Florida

?New York acquired guards Quentin Richardson and Nate Robinson (the 21st overall selection) from the Phoenix Suns for F Kurt Thomas and G/F Dijon Thompson (the 54th overall selection)

Overall, Thomas managed to blend best player available with need in this draft consistent with his ?younger and more athletic? mantra. Frye and Robinson are athletic talents at positions of need. In one respect I share the Knickerblogger?s recent pessimism about these picks (and the trade). Alone they do not adequately address defense and rebounding, the team?s biggest weaknesses. However, at least in theory these players help create enough flexibility to address those needs in free agency or via sign-and-trade deals. David Lee, for instance, seems to be precisely the kind of player that could put a pretty bow on an ugly contract (e.g., Malik Rose, Penny, Mo Taylor, or Tim Thomas) in a sign-and-trade deal.

As for the particular players drafted, I thought the Knicks did a pretty decent job. The only other players I could see the Knicks regretting passing on at #8 are Danny Granger and Antoine Wright. I have been intrigued by Granger?s scoring ability, defense, and passing, and said so back in March. Granger apparently excelled in his workouts. Since I was traveling in New Mexico last week I got to read a lot about him personally and he?s definitely a quality kid whose career I?ll be watching. Between those three players I just don?t think the Knicks could have gone terribly wrong at #8. None appear to me to be superstars on the horizon yet each appears too skilled and too smart to be a bust (barring injury). Although prep star Gerald Green was also a possibility my bias about high schoolers, particularly wing players, is that I want an NBA ready body if you?re asking me to gamble on game experience and basketball IQ. Green may yet become a great player but it most assuredly will not happen until he fills out physically. He?s quite likely to be a Dorrell Wright type player where you?ll have to wait until he matures physically to see what you have. By then he?ll be on his second contract.

Channing Frye. He?s a player whose career I have followed very closely. At his best he?s a poor man?s Rasheed Wallace, a long-armed talent who can score in the post, on the break, or out on the floor. At his absolute worst he?s an athletic version of Michael Doleac, a 6-11 screen-roll jump shooter. What I love about Frye, setting aside for the moment that he runs the floor very well, is that he added something to his half-court game every year at Arizona. First he added a little jump hook, then a lefty hook, and finally the 15-18 foot jump shot off the screen-roll. His numbers improved every year despite having never played with an NBA caliber point guard. His harshest critics claim that he?s soft. Though he?s had troubles with strong widebodies (e.g., Eric Williams of Wake Forest ate him up early this past season) ?soft? is a major exaggeration. Channing Frye is no bruiser but neither is Marcus Camby, Samuel Dalembert, Chris Bosh, Rasheed Wallace, or even Tim Duncan for that matter. Lots of guys play center in the NBA who aren?t physically dominant in the mold of Shaquille O?Neal or Ben Wallace. At 6-10-1/2 with a 7-2-1/2 wingspan Frye is plenty tough to be an NBA center. In the 250# range without the frame to get a lot bigger, he?ll never push the bigger centers around. But then, only a fool would ask him to. Like most young post players he needs to learn to better use his athleticism and length to deny post position to stronger guys rather than play behind for the shot block. On the other end though, he?s going to beat the Nazr Mohammeds of the league down the floor by 3 full strides. He?s murder on the screen roll in the 15-18 foot area. He?s a very good passer from the high post. And, he?s going to get you 1-2 blocks (mostly from the weakside) if he plays 20 minutes per night. This season he put up 18 and 16 with 2 blocks and 2 steals against the presumably more physical Lawrence Roberts. He more than held his own against Andrew Bogut (19 and 9 with 3 blocks). He went for 15 and 10 in the Regional Semifinal against Oklahoma State?s physical front line and 24 and 12 with 6 blocks against Illinois in the Regional Final (in one of the 5 best NCAA tournament games ever).

Nate Robinson. This season Nate the Great scored 16.4 points with 3.9 boards and 4.5 assists (better than 2 to 1 assist-to-turnover ratio). He shot 53.9% efg this season and got more efficient offensively each year. (His three season points-per-shot totals were 1.15, 1.32, and 1.41.) So Robinson is probably good enough offensively to stay on the floor as a backup guard despite his stature. But, what I really want to talk about is his defense. Robinson is disruptive. He averaged 1.7 steals, but that really doesn?t quite do justice to his defensive impact. He?s the kind of player that can take the opposing point guard out of the game by not allowing him to bring the ball up the floor or set the offense. Unlike other diminutive guards Robinson is Tim Hardaway strong; strong enough to make it difficult for taller guards to back him down. He?s absolutely?not just pound for pound?stronger than most point guards he saw in college. He?s an energizer. When Robinson signed his contract he became the team?s best perimeter defender since Latrell Sprewell departed. The Knicks have not seen an athlete of his caliber since Anthony Bonner in the early-to-mid 1990s.

David Lee. I missed the end of the first round on television so I didn?t get to hear David Lee get booed by the Garden faithful. Huh? I don?t get it. Who was left on the board that was a significantly better choice with a lower ?bust? probability at that spot than Lee? Lee is a 6-9 lefty who can score with either hand in the post. He has a shot out to the 15-18 foot area coupled with very good run jump athleticism and decent handle for a 6-9 kid. Just wait until the summer league Knicks fans. I bet there?ll be a lot of folks saying ?who knew?? when they see the box scores. Currently, Lee?s part of a logjam at power forward. So it wouldn?t surprise me if his stay in New York is brief but I certainly hope Isiah doesn?t just give this kid away. He’s got some talent and some skill, and that’s all you’re looking for at #30.

Draft Reviews. In the ?publish or perish? world of academics when an up-and-coming young scholar, such as yours truly, submits a manuscript to a journal for publication the editor and some number of anonymous reviewers typically decide its fate in one of three ways. In the best case scenario they may accept the author?s brilliant exegesis for publication, perhaps with only a few cosmetic changes (Accept). That, for all practical purposes, never happens. Rumors and legends persist but they are merely this and nothing more. More likely, if the publication gods are smiling, after the editor and reviewers have sufficiently ridiculed a manuscript they will ask the author to revise it based on their oh-so-helpful comments and to then resubmit it for additional battering (Revise and resubmit, or R&R). Or, in the worst case scenario, they may reject it outright (Reject).

In this draft Isiah Thomas gets a revise and resubmit (with major revisions needed). Certainly Zeke upgraded the talent on the roster. One could quibble about the selection of Channing Frye but no one available at #8 was, as far as I could see, a clearly superior choice. The addition of Robinson was to my mind the real plumb. At #21 the expectations for him should be realistic; come in, make the rotation, and contribute. Robinson should be able to do that on his defense alone. But his athleticism, energy, and charisma could very pleasantly surprise. Given the current roster makeup it?s hard to envision David Lee getting to see the light of day in New York, but he?s a nice pick at the end of round 1. And hey, nothing about the current roster should be taken as given.

Zeke can change this R&R to an acceptance for publication if he can manage to find something that looks like a direction. Some of the parts, though certainly not all, appear to be falling in place but this roster still needs a lot of work.

Up next: Eastern Conference Reviews

Oh, and Happy 4th everyone!