Statistical Analysis. Humor. Knicks.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Preview & Game Thread: Exchanging Emails about the Knicks and Clips

The Knicks take on the excellent Los Angeles Clippers tonight at the Garden, a difficult task on a back-to-back. Ahead of the contest, I exchanged some emails with ClipperBlog senior contributor and my good friend, Fred Katz.

JONATHAN TOPAZ, KNICKERBLOGGER: So we have a deal, right? We give you the 30-year-old who said he wants to be a free agent next year (Carmelo Anthony) in exchange for the phenomenal and still-very-much-improving 24-year-old superstar who is under four more years of team control (Blake Griffin). Cool? Just sign here and here. If you want, we’ll even throw in a petulant man-child with a penchant for long, contested 2s and untying opponents’ shoes.

FRED KATZ, CLIPPERBLOG: I can’t even bring myself to laugh at the notion of trading Griffin for Melo. Can we never talk about this again? And as for J.R., the Clippers currently have only 14 guaranteed contracts on the roster. That means they could easily trade for him and have room to sign his brother, Chris, so I guess the deal wouldn’t be all bad news.

As for the Melo-Griffin trade rumors, the report only said the Clippers spoke about the deal internally. Neither team ever actually proposed a deal. Don’t we think it’s supremely possible that someone, be it general manager Gary Sacks or team president Andy Roeser or whomever else, mentioned Melo in casual conversation, the rest of the people in the room had little reaction because there wasn’t any sort of concrete plan, and then that was it? None of that information made sense for the Clippers. None of it. I’m just glad it’s over.

TOPAZ: The report struck me as this season’s installment of trade-rumor-as-wish-fulfillment. Knicks fans are particularly susceptible to these absurd reports because the franchise so clearly doesn’t have a plan. The team is hopelessly capped out for next season, has just a couple of young assets, has no 2014 draft pick, and very clearly has no long-term strategy. Plus, they face a huge, damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t decision: letting Anthony go for cents on the dollar (or for free) and still being over the cap in 2014-2015 vs. paying an aging Melo $30 million a year while he’s in his decline. A deal that would give the Knicks a young superstar, while avoiding the $129 million, cap-destroying contract the team will inevitably give Anthony, would be the deus ex machina this team desperately needs. And it clearly won’t happen.

But onto a team that actually does have a plan, and a pretty good one — the Clippers. The Clips are a team with a top-five player (albeit, an injured one in Chris Paul, but the team is more than treading water without him), a top-20 player in Griffin, a young center who might be putting all the pieces together, a strong supporting cast, and a great coach who seems to know just what to do with this team. What are the lessons the Knicks can learn from the Clips in roster-building and/or avoiding self-destructive behavior?

KATZ: I think the No. 1 thing I’ve learned from Doc Rivers this season is how important it is to send one consistent message to each individual player throughout a season. Look at what’s happened with DeAndre Jordan.

As soon as Rivers came to L.A., he started touting D.J. as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. He didn’t say he was a potential one. He didn’t use any qualifiers. He didn’t say “if he does this” or “if he improves on that”. He flatly said Jordan was a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, something Jordan definitely had never heard from Vinny Del Negro in his years of sitting on the bench during fourth quarters.

Maybe a proclamation that bold seemed like an egregious reach at the time. But anyone who watched the Clippers last year knew Jordan deserved more playing time, knew he had earned more than 1.8 fourth-quarter minutes per game. It was nice to see Doc come in and immediately give DeAndre some deserved confidence and then some.

Now, D.J. is one of the best rebounders in the NBA. He understands help defense so much better than he ever has. From day one, Doc made it clear he had a Big 3. It wasn’t just about Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Jordan was just as important. The message has been consistent, which is hardly what we could say about the messages Mike Woodson has sent to guys like Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith…

TOPAZ: The Knicks certainly aren’t a good coach away from being a title contender, but boy, has Mike Woodson had a rough season. And rotational issues aside, he’s done an awful job with Iman Shumpert, an extremely talented player whose down season has come as his coach and front office have sent him (at best) mixed messages. Woodson isn’t to blame for the bulk of Shumpert’s struggles, but he hasn’t helped. And we’ve seen nothing of the sort of public support like Rivers gave a young, once-struggling player in Jordan.

As far as the Clips go, it seems they’ve had all the necessary elements to build a strong team: good drafting (particularly Griffin and Jordan, a 2nd rounder), luck (the incredible way the Clips got Chris Paul and landing a great prospect with the #1 pick in Griffin), and strong depth moves (trading for Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick, signing Jamal Crawford and Darren Collison.)

Thanks to all that, the Clips are 4th in offensive rating and 8th in defensive rating and a title contender. Do they even need the extra big everyone says they do?

KATZ: For now, it looks like they definitely need a third big in some form. A team can get through a regular season with a flaw like that. Heck, a team can dominate a regular season with a flaw like that. Go small, take advantage of some matchups, and hope for the best. Often, if you have talent, that strategy can work for 82 games. But come playoff time, it’s a different story.

The defense tends to fall off a cliff when Jordan leaves the floor. Sure, D.J. still has his flaws (he can over-hedge on the pick-and-roll and will still sometimes get caught out of position), but he’s one of the 10 or 15 best defenders in the league. And when Antawn Jamison, Byron Mullens, or Ryan Hollins comes in as a replacement, the D just doesn’t have the same effect.

You have to ignore the on/off court numbers with Jordan, which say that the Clippers’ defensive efficiency is actually better with D.J. off the floor. Really, though, that stat is a glorified plus/minus that doesn’t account for the frequent times that Rivers needs to bring Jordan in to play with the second unit and clean up its mistakes. At this point, a good team — nay, a well-coached team — can exploit the defensive flaws of the Clippers’ bench. Maybe Andrew Bynum wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world.

TOPAZ: Bynum might be worth a look, but he has just been dreadful — 42 eFG% (!) despite seemingly being unable to move from under the basket. He also can’t be trusted to stay healthy, obviously. The Clippers, ironically, might need to find their KMart — a defensive/rebounding/energy guy who doesn’t need offensive touches and who can solidify the second unit on defense.

I’m sorry to keep coming back to Griffin, but he’s just such an intriguing player to me. Of course, a big part of that is his remarkable athleticism and dunking ability, as well as his potential (isn’t it amazing that people seem to forget he’s just 24?). But also, I think, because the debates that swirl around Blake are similar to the ones we’ve seen with Melo — namely, can this excellent offensive player, whose defensive issues raise questions about effort and his “elite-ness,” put it all together? This site is full of brilliant, statistically minded people, and still, so many debates revolve around the elemental question of whether Carmelo Anthony is good enough to lead the Knicks to a championship. Given how dysfunctional the Knicks are, we probably won’t ever get a chance to find out.

You and I are both big Griffin believers, but I’ll still ask you: Can Blake Griffin ultimately be the best player on an NBA championship team?

KATZ: Remember when the Knicks acquired Stephon Marbury and Keith Van Horn and every overly optimistic Knicks fan thought Starbury could lead the team to a championship? Well, this is nothing like that.

Absolutely, Griffin can be the best player on a championship team. And I say that with a stubborn, you-can’t-convince-me-otherwise mindset that would probably leave most people annoyingly walking away from me.

The production we’ve seen from Griffin over the past month is what we would see from a top-six or seven player. Over his last 15 games, he’s averaging 26.0 points, 10.1 rebounds, and 3.9 assists on 54-percent shooting. He’s making 76 percent of his free throws on 9.0 attempts per game since Nov. 29. The free-throw problem doesn’t exist anymore. It’s not an issue.

Griffin is one of the four or five best passing bigs in the league (along with Kevin Love and the Gasols) and he’s capably run the Clippers’ offense with Chris Paul out of the lineup. He’s creating for others. He’s probably the only natural power forward who can get a defensive rebound, bring the ball up the court on his own, and run the fast break as if he were a guard. And he does that, while making generally good decisions, multiple times a game.

Plus, his transition defense is way better than mine.

TOPAZ: That’s not really saying much. The last time we played, you were so out of breath that you stopped running. Entirely. On one offensive possession, you were trailing the team (because you were walking) and there was a steal at the top of the key. With the rest of our team running back on defense, you literally watched the guy dribble by you because you didn’t even have enough energy to turn around.

KATZ: You know what? I didn’t think it would be fair to cherry pick on defense. The guy made a great defensive play. What am I supposed to do? Stay in front of him to stop the layup? That wouldn’t be fair. And let’s be truthful here; it’s not like the Knicks’ transition defense is that much better.

On that note, do the Clippers take advantage of that defense and run the Knicks out of the Garden or do the recently (somewhat) revived Knicks make this a game?

TOPAZ: Unfortunately, I can’t really see this being much of a game. The Clippers have been a dynamic offensive team even without Chris Paul, winning five out of six games without him while putting up gaudy scoring totals.

Meanwhile, the Knicks look gassed. This will be their fourth game in five nights, and the second night on a back-to-back where it seems that the entire team is banged up or sick (Tyson Chandler). They still can’t stop anybody, and their poor transition defense makes them particularly vulnerable to fast-paced teams like the Clippers. You never quite know with the Knicks, who have had wins over the Spurs, Heat, and Mavs in the past two weeks, but I’ll certainly take the Clips in double-digits. Your thoughts on tonight’s execution game?

KATZ: I’m just trying to figure out how the Knicks are planning on guarding Blake Griffin. Do you throw Chandler on him and then let Andrea Bargnani go down low and try to box out DeAndre Jordan? And isn’t Bargnani the most likely 2014 candidate — of any player on any team — to get Mozgoved (even in a post-Kris Humphries world)?

With the way the Clipper offense is running in two games since Redick’s return — scoring 252 total points and going over 120 in both games — it’s hard to see them slowing down anytime soon. Maybe it’ll happen later in their seven-game road trip. Maybe they’ll get a little tired, hit a slump, and the offense won’t be quite as dominant as it is now. But this is game one of that trip. And it’s only their second game in the past week. The Clippers are going to be fresh and the matchups are in their favor. Now, all that’s left to do is hope we get to see J.R. Smith do something funny.

TOPAZ: Well Fred, there are few certainties in life, but J.R. Smith embarrassing the Knicks on a nightly basis is one. Speaking of which … should I go ahead and throw him in so we can finalize our trade?

If you’d like to read more words about tonight’s game, our own Robert Silverman went 3-on-3 with Fred Katz and Michael Shagrin at ClipperBlog. The full article can be found here. Go Knicks!

108 comments on “Preview & Game Thread: Exchanging Emails about the Knicks and Clips

  1. er

    I find it laughable that everyone thinks the Blake for Melo trade is laughable. I think that same team with Melo instead of Blake could win the Chip. You would have a knockdown shooter in Reddick. Cp3 Orchastrating, melo being the best stretch 4 in the Game. Jordan patrolling the paint. Crawford being a sane JR.

    idk maybe its just me

    Also blake will be 25 before melo is 30 just sayin

  2. Donnie Walsh

    I don’t know… This feels like Topaz interviewing Owen back in 2008 about whether the Knicks should trade David Lee for Kobe Bryant.

    I get that the Clippers have been as bad as the current Knicks since forever (literally), and they finally have players to be excited about, but I think any objctive person can realize the mutual benefits of a Griffin for Anthony trade. Even when healthy, the Clippers are not the best team in a very competitive conference. Griffin and Paul may be the next Mailman and Stockton over the next 12 years, but more likely they’ll be the next McDyess and Kidd in Phoenix, circa 1998– a team with a savant PG and a specimen PF that won 56 games, but saw the window close quickly.

  3. er

    Also the west PFs are actually smaller or not bangers
    Love
    Blake
    D Lee
    Frye
    Ibaka
    TD (exception) Couldnt guard Melo
    LA….Tall but finesse. Couldnt guard Melo
    Manimal
    Zbo a big boy. Couldnt guard Melo
    Terrence jones
    dirk
    Anthony Davis would be the only comparable pf on a contender in the next few years

  4. ruruland

    Wow. That guy was annoying.

    Melo’s heard the Rivers stuff. He’s not happy in general. Big game tonight. Clippers have no one to match up. (it was Hill last year)

  5. Owen

    I am feeling slightly less defensive about my DLee obsession these days, now that he has established himself as an All-Star forward.

    I will maintain to my dying day that if we had signed him for 5 years and 40 million rather than letting D’Antoni send his value through the roof, things would have been much different around here.

    Excellent interview. My comp for Blake is always Barkley, but then I look at Barkley’s numbers and realize he was really an all-destroying offensive force. Blake really is in the perfect spot as Chris Paul’s sideman and this is as good a year as any for them to shock the world and win a title. It’s very possible. Better free throw shooting would be a big help and probably will prolong his career too….

    I expect the Knicks to get brutalized on the interior and get beaten decisively if not soundly. Six point loss.

  6. Jonathan Topaz Post author

    I think that same team with Melo instead of Blake could win the Chip.

    This is really the only argument for a trade from the perspective of the Clippers. If you honestly believe trading for Melo turns the Clippers this year from a mid-level playoff team to a championship favorite, then a trade could make sense (I’d argue that while that deal might make the Clips a bit better this year, it certainly would not catapult them to the top of the Western Conference).

    Other than that, the trade would be really bad news for the Clippers. There is no guarantee Melo would re-up with the Clips, so you’d be trading a 24-year-old, top-2o player who still isn’t at his prime in exchange for a five-month rental. If he did sign an extension, you’d have to pay Melo $30 million a year in his mid-30s. The Knicks instead would get Griffin for 60% of that price with team control for four years as he enters his prime.

    In other words, the trade wouldn’t just be a long-term disaster — it would have bad consequences starting right after this season. Would it improve the Clips so much this year to make it all worth it? I can’t really agree with that.

  7. DRed

    Barkley’s clownish trollery on TV has obscured what a monster he was in his prime. One of my all time favorite players to watch. If you’re too young to remember his playing days, I strongly recommend spending some time on youtube. Chuck was a wrecking ball.

  8. Donnie Walsh

    I am feeling slightly less defensive about my DLee obsession these days, now that he has established himself as an All-Star forward.

    I will maintain to my dying day that if we had signed him for 5 years and 40 million rather than letting D’Antoni send his value through the roof, things would have been much different around here.

    Yeah, didn’t mean to call you out, Owen, and I agree completely. My point was just that fans that are success-starved tend to overvalue their home grown guys, and an objective observer can spot that from a long way away.

  9. Owen

    I saw Barkley play as a kid but his numbers are still eye-popping when you look at them. It’s amazing to me looking at his numbers that Durant and Lebron still come out well ahead of his prime.

    Knicks fans are crazy if they think Melo’s value is in the same solar system as Griffin’s, but sign me up for that trade, sure…..

  10. ruruland

    Clearly Griffin has more value long term. He’s has actually performed better without Paul in his career. But he’s been abused in the playoffs by the likes of Zach Randolph two consecutive years.

    Given Melo’s value as a shooter with a great pick and roll guard, it’s certainly plausible that he would help the Clippers in the playoffs over Griffin, who have spacing and stagnation issues with Griffin and Jordan on the floor together.

    Part of Griffin’s playoff struggles stem from a reduction in transition opps.

    And as is so clear by so many different angles, you reduce Melo’s usage and change his shot distribution with a pg like Paul, I think the number comparison would definitely favor Melo (now and in the near future).

  11. DRed

    Chandler at center. Bargs backup center. Melo at the 4. For the 3 minutes Melo sits Bargs plays with Tyson. The Clips are big man. Cant play a rookie.

  12. er

    Topaz, I hear what you are saying. My point was more for the playoffs. To me there is a big two in the west being okc an sas. The clippers with Melo would be three to me. And like Ru said, Melo would cause significant matchup problems out west as a stretch 4 with really only Leonard out there.

    BC it’s surprising that barf is starting and it’s why we hate woody lol

  13. Brian Cronin

    I mean, for crying out loud, they start Jared Dudley at the three! Why in the world aren’t you going small against this team!?!

  14. lavor postell

    Makes sense to start to play big and start Bargnani. I love that Woodson is really playing to our strengths and adjusting the rotations accordingly with the frontcourt injuries….

  15. domiknick

    Trying to get in the head of Mike Woodson and think like him makes my brain hurt. He must really be smarter than me.

  16. Owen

    Love how casually Alan Hahn drops small sample size on us….

    I like Hahn. He’s no Brian Kenny but I like the way he is gently incorporating a fresh perspective….

  17. lavor postell

    Good to see that we decided to abandon the ball movement that got us off to a hot start and settle for long pull up twos

  18. maxwell_3g

    to chim ein on the blake melo thing….. i am anything but a melo fanboy, but I must admit that his performance has been pretty impressive this year, save for when we revert to melo at the end of games. Blake certainly has more long term value but…..
    1) melo would make them legit championship contenders this year. this is big, because i think that they have pretty much plateaued as a team, and they are not contenders right now
    2) this would make chris paul happy, and paul pretty much runs the franchise (at least until doc showed up)

    i would def do it if im the knicks, but at the same time, i dont think its an awful trade for the clips

  19. maxwell_3g

    thank goodness toure is in. im drinking vodka tonight. if woodson had kept him on the bench tonight, my incessant pining for him would have become pretty annoying

  20. lavor postell

    I’m convinced that at some point tonight Woodson is going to try something even more stupid than usual and we’ll see a Tyler-Chandler frontcourt

  21. maxwell_3g

    owen, im not a melo guy, but do you really think blake is better now??? melo’s defense has omproved and is at least what blake’s is, IMO. blake has some of his points laid out for him, whereas melo needs to earn every score. again, not a melo guy, but i think melo is better right now

  22. Owen

    I think Blake is better now. Melo has played great this year but Blake has his ts% up over 58% and is carrying a team far more effectively with Paul out than anyone thought possible.

  23. coyle022

    The officiating thus far has been terrible. calling non-fouls but then not calling obvious fouls…the crawford continuation was atrocious he just flung the ball towards the hoop after getting whacked in the head

  24. maxwell_3g

    i kind of like bilas in the booth tonight. he gives good perspective on younger players. i want to hear if he is surprised about TH2’s success

  25. lavor postell

    Shump is an awful offensive player other than his occasional streaks of hot spot up shooting

  26. ephus

    Bargnani 2014 < Mozgov 2011.

    Can't catch. No basketball instincts. Bad defense. Roulette wheel is done spinning and it came up a loser.

  27. lavor postell

    One of the worst officiated games I’ve ever seen.

    Bargnani 2014 < Mozgov 2011.

    Can't catch. No basketball instincts. Bad defense. Roulette wheel is done spinning and it came up a loser.

    True

  28. ephus

    And if Shumpert does not learn to get around a pick, he will be out of the league quickly.

    Can’t be Bruce Bowen if any pick gets your man free.

  29. maxwell_3g

    i have no idea what woodson is doing with these substitutions, but since udrich has not played and toure has, i am precluded from complaining

  30. lavor postell

    I’m going to play a fun game in this second half called take a shot every time Woodson puts out a lineup that doesn’t make sense

  31. maxwell_3g

    this pains me to say, but based on recent performance, the guy who deserves a decrease in minutes is our main man SHUMP SHUMP. he really needs to get it together. he has only taken 2 shots, so I dont expect him to put up big number, but the 3 turnovers have been bad

  32. maxwell_3g

    I’m going to play a fun game in this second half called take a shot every time Woodson puts out a lineup that doesn’t make sense

    get the gatorade and advil ready. its going to be a long second half

  33. ephus

    Melo has a Harden-like line. 14 points with only two made FGs. For all the times we complain about Melo not getting a good whistle, tonight is the flip side.

  34. lavor postell

    It’s amazing that he refuses to play Udrih with Murry. It’s obvious he’s not capable of being the primary ball handler. Then again this is a guy who’s played two bigs this entire game for NO FUCKING REASON! Also this drinking game is getting the best of me. I might not remember the end of this game so that’s a plus.

  35. maxwell_3g

    honestly, those were stupid fouls, but you cant really blame woodson. tyler is going to f up. murry is going to f up. that is the price of playing younger players at first, and personally, im willing to pay it

  36. knickster

    Woodson is pretty weak as a coach, but in all fairness, he is working with a deeply flawed roster.

  37. maxwell_3g

    lavor. u better be thankful that amare is out, or the crazy lineups would be completely out of control. you might not have made it to this point

  38. cgreene

    As was being discussed this afternoon I really blame Shumps lack of development on the organization. I didn’t like the way Woodson yanked him around in the preseason and I thought that set a bad tone. Why would you insinuate that a guy who came off a strong end of season run and good playoffs has to fight for his job instead of pumping him and saying “yes! Shumps our guy!” Woodson came to camp and kept saying he didn’t know who was gonna play instead of coming in and saying “ok this is what we are gonna do. Here’s the plan”. He came without a plan of what roles guys were gonna play and then it spun out of control and he had no feel for lineups and he’s been guessing ever since

  39. BigBlueAL

    Maybe the Nets can embarrass the Knicks on Monday and Woodson gets fired. Sadly Im back to hoping for that after the very brief excitement to the start of 2014.

  40. maxwell_3g

    JVG, Bilas, and breen are an A+ trio in the booth. that State Farm exchange was classic. “The hamster just fell off the wheel”

  41. maxwell_3g

    this is part II of the play “we are not even close to contenders, even if we have hopes to back into the playoffs”. BLOW….IT……UP!!!!!!

  42. lavor postell

    This is fucking embarassing. With a good coach this team would probably be hovering slightly above .500, but with a terrible coach we’re seeing thatr the results are terrible. Amazmign that Melo has tied his ship to Woodson since I have a hard time believing if he didn’t want him here he’d still be employed. Melo must think Woodson is a good coach? I’m confused.

  43. cwolf

    This team is a joke. This is how they defend MSG? Such a soft squad. I wonder what the dudes from the early ’90s Knicks think when they watch these games. Somewhere, Anthony Mason is crying.

  44. knickster

    Melo gave us Woodson by forcing Dantoni out. In spite of Dantoni’s well documented flaws, it would have been interesting to see the Knicks if Melo had bought into his system.

  45. yellowboy90

    Best part of the night was late with the game out of hand Woodson tries to empty the bench after a timeout instead of subbing during the timeout. What a smart coach

  46. JR Sec 112

    Yes, the team is bad. But I agree the worst part of it all is how boring and unlike-able they are. Its becoming unbearable to watch. Bargnani is one of my least favorite Knicks ever.

  47. BigBlueAL

    Woodson, on Bargnani and Chandler tandem: “I don’t think it’s hurting us.”

    This after even the MSG broadcast showed stats during pre-game about how bad they have been when they play together. Unbelievable.

  48. er

    Nicos Murray was dreadful. This team has turned into comedy especially woody

    Hey maybe the Knicks will will the next 7 at home lol

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