you can’t tell the future in a cookie
but do you ever get the hint?
and you can place your hand on a crystal ball
do you ever think you’ll win?
— “Tales From Tomorrow”
Today Lenny Wilkens proclaimed (for the second time) that Nazr Mohammed will be the Knicks starting center. I’m glad I predicted in my last column that he would be the Knicks starter. Of the numerous articles I’ve read, none have mentioned the one problem that keeps Nazr from being the Knicks’ starter: his foul trouble. Here’s a quick recap of Nazr’s Knick history:
2/20 – His first game as a Knick, Mohammed backs up Mutombo. Nazr plays 17 minutes, but commits 4 fouls. He only scores 2 points, but has 6 rebounds and 2 blocks.
2/22 – Again the backup, Nazr only plays 12 minutes, and again he gets 6 rebounds.
2/24 – Wilkens decides to make Mohammed the starter (for the first time). He plays well for 33 minutes, scoring 15 points, and grabbing 8 rebounds. He stays out of foul trouble, with only 2 PFs.
2/25 – Nazr starts again. This is the game Tim Thomas hurts his elbow, and the Knicks are shorthanded. Mohammed’s time is limited to 17 minutes due to 4 fouls.
2/27 – Unhappy with Mohammed’s foul trouble, and fed up with Mutombo’s inability to cover his own man, Wilkens plays Kurt Thomas at center, and Harrington at PF. Nazr plays well of the bench for 23 minutes, with 12 rebounds and 5 points (and only 2 fouls). Harrington shows he’s not the answer as the starting PF.
2/29 – Wilkens continues with his Kurt Thomas at center (again) experiment, but this time Sweetney starts at PF. The rookie gets into foul trouble quickly in the first quarter, and the PF/C minutes are split between Harrington (8), Mutombo (14), and Nazr (17). Nazr is a non-factor with only 2 points and 2 rebounds.
3/03 – Mohammed to start at home against the Sixers.
In his 6 games, Mohammed has had 2 good games, 2 games where he’s had foul trouble, and 2 non-factor games due to not enough minutes. If being in foul trouble in 2 out of 4 or 6 games seems to be a lot, it’s because it is. His average this year of 5.8PF/48min is below his career average of 6.1. In case you think this might be inflated due to his limited minutes (small sample size), when he started 73 games in ’01, he averaged 5.6. Keith Van Horn who was criticized for committing dumb fouls, only had 4.6FP/48min. Across the river, Jason Collins (5.2) and Kenyon Martin (4.8) foul less than Mohammed. The Knicks have a problem in this area, since Sweetney (6.0) and Harrington (7.3) are also foul prone. Only Deke stays out of trouble with 4.5PF/48min. I guess arguing with the refs on every play pays off for Mt. Mutombo.
At this moment, the only thing stopping Nazr Mohammed from being the Knicks starting center is himself. I think even if Nazr can’t stay on the court, he’ll still start, since the Knicks don’t have any options in this area. I’ll be shocked if Mutombo or Harrington starts again (unless players get injured). If Sweetney develops into a solid contributor, then Wilkens might be pushed into putting him into the starting role, and moving Kurt to center. However I don’t think that will happen this year.
Mohammed would be smart to make a name for himself now, before Vin Baker comes to town. If he?s plays well and becomes entrenched as the starter, it will be harder for Baker to take that spot away. That’s the only legitimate threat Mohammed has, other than the officials.