Two entries ago, I ranted & raved about unimportance of the NBA preseason. Being unable to write a column on the Yankees without professional help, I’m forced to eat my words and discuss the NBA preseason. I touched on a few things in preseason that would interest me, and I’ll try to discuss each of them before the season starts.
Today’s topic: What kind of impression are the young players making? Although it’s still early, two of the Knicks younger players are getting a lot of minutes this preseason. Michael Sweetney ranks among the top 5 Knicks in minutes per game. He played impressively over the summer & has had a good preseason so far. Rebounding has been one of Sweetney’s strengths, so it’s no surprise that he’s second on the Knicks in REB/min. His FG% is a bit low (44%), but considering it’s a small sample size of 5 games and that his PSA (points per shot attempt) is higher than last year’s average, it’s nothing to be concerned about.
Sweetney is ready to take over as the Knicks PF, and the Knicks management might hand over the reigns. New York could play small this year, starting Sweetney at PF, moving Kurt Thomas to center, and bumping Nazr Mohammed to “first big man off the bench.” With Mount Mutombo gone, the Knicks no longer have a shot blocker/finger shaker, so they might as well mix & match with their strengths. Thomas’ perimeter shooting game makes him a liability on the offensive boards, but playing along side a strong glass cleaner either at the 4 (Sweetney) or the 5 (Mohammed) would complement his style. Thomas at center could open up the inside by forcing the other team’s center to come out of the paint and respect his jumpshot. The obvious downfall is the matchup on the defensive end. With the big centers in Miami & Cleveland, the Knicks would be forced to abandon this plan, and play their big guys. Playing Thomas at the 5, when the matchup permits, takes away minutes from guys like Baker, Sundov and Bateer, and gives them to Sweetney. The Knicks lack of talent at the 5 and Sweetney’s development makes this idea plausible, but a more ideal solution would be to get a quality center.
Michael Sweetney’s success is not unexpected, but no one would have predicted Trevor Ariza’s play. John Hollinger, author of the 2004-05 Pro Baketball Forecast, described Ariza as the “third-best player on a terrible team,” hardly a ringing endorsement. However, the rookie has been filling the stat sheet like a veteran, not a freshman turned second round pick. The Knicks are giving Ariza a lot of time on the court, in fact he’s second on the team in minutes with 24 min/G. Trevor’s non-scoring traditional numbers are impressive; per game he is averaging 5.8REB, 2.2STL, and 4.4FTA per game. Ariza is second on the Knicks in steals and free throw attempts per minute. He’s a tad behind Sweetney in REB/min, which shows he’s hitting the boards as well. Given his status coming out of college, these are impressive stats.
Before we hit the presses with the Trevor Ariza ROY posters, his game comes with a caveat emptor. His main weakness is his poor shooting, which spans from beyond the arc (0% 3P%), to the free throw line (64%). Ariza’s current eFG% of 38% exposes this shortcoming. He also has a propensity to turn the ball over at an alarming rate. Trevor could make the rotation with his energetic play, but how many minutes he gets will depend on his ability to cut down on his poor shooting & turnovers. After years of first round pick failures, the fact that I’m talking about a Knick second round pick possibly making the rotation is a step in the right direction. For the next few years if Ariza can provide a spark off the bench for a couple of minutes a night, then the Knicks front office can consider that a success.