New York Knicks Preseason Preview 2011

[The good folks at CelticsBlog.com, have been kind enough to invite us to participate in the 5th annual blogger preview. Here is my entry.]

Team Name: New York Knicks
Last Year’s Record: 29-53
Key Losses: David Lee, Al Harrington, Chris Duhon, Tracey McGrady, The Stench of Futility
Key Additions: Amar’e Stoudemire, Raymond Felton, Anthony Randolph, Kelenna Azubuike, Ronnie Turiaf, Roger Mason Jr., Landry Fields, Timofey Mozgov

1. What significant moves were made during the off-season?

If you’re reading this section curious about what New York has done, then you’ve probably just awoken from a coma. Although if you’ve been a Knick fan over the last decade, that’s understandable. In any case, let me be the first to give you the good news. New York signed All Star Amar’e Stoudemire this offseason and has room to sign another top free agent. The bad news is that the team was aiming for two of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh. Instead the trio have formed the most hated thing this side of Justin Beiber.

The Knicks also inked Raymond Felton to replace the inept Chris Duhon. Although the team did let home grown All Star David Lee go, getting Anthony Randolph in return could neutralize this loss if the young forward can reach his potential. Ronnie Turiaf will provide much needed shot blocking. Second round pick Landry Fields looked quite impressive in summer league, and Timofey Mozgov showed promise for Team Russia.

2. What are the team’s biggest strengths?

The Knicks greatest asset in 2011 should be their athletic versatility. There’s no arguing that Amar’e Stoudemire, Raymond Felton, Anthony Randolph, Ronnie Turiaf, and Timofey Mozgov are more physically able than David Lee, Chris Duhon, Jared Jeffries, Al Harrington, Darko Milicic, and Earl Barron. With a core of Felton, Randolph, and Stoudemire, the team could go big (add Gallinari, and one of Turiaf, Mozgov, Curry) or small (add two of Azubuike, Fields, Walker, Douglas, Mason, or Rautins). D’Antoni should be able to put out some interesting lineups, causing mismatches for their opponents. If Randolph or Gallinari can run the offense like Lee did last year, the Knicks could get very creative on the floor in a point guard-less offense when Felton needs a rest.

If I had to choose a second strength it might be D’Antoni’s offense. The past two seasons New York featured a ragtag lineup due to the state of the franchise from the Isiah Thomas era. In back to back years the Knicks finished 17th in offensive efficiency, and this year’s team seems more tailor made for the coach. Given the pick & roll tandem of Stoudemire & Felton, the outside shooting of Azubuike, Mason, and Rautins, and the development of youngsters Gallinari, Douglas, Walker, and Chandler, D’Antoni should have plenty of weapons to assault opposing defenses.

3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?

New York has been a bad rebounding team for D’Antoni’s tenure, and this is one area Donnie Walsh failed to address in remaking the team. Stoudemire, Gallinari, and Turiaf aren’t good rebounders, and the loss of hyalophile David Lee will hurt the team as well. According to my stat page, the Knicks were 27th on both offensive and defensive rebounding last year. Knick fans who cringe at their team forgoing any second opportunities while allowing tip ins from the opposition will have a furled brow for much of the season. Perhaps Randolph and Mozgov can work their way into heavy minutes and help prevent the bleeding.

Last year the Knicks were tied for 3rd worst defense in the NBA, and it has been a recurring issue with the team for the last decade. The Knicks have some good defensive pieces in Azubuike, Randolph, Douglas, and Turiaf. However most of the team (including the coaching staff) leans to the offensive side of the spectrum. If New York isn’t among the 10 worst defenses this year, it should be considered an accomplishment.

4. What are the goals for this team?

On April 29th, 2001, Allan Houston and Latrell Sprewell combined for 44 points and led a Marcus Camby-less New York to victory over Toronto. Despite being up 2 games to 1 in a best of 5 series, the Raptors would win the next two games and knock the Knicks out in the first round. That was the last New York playoff win. The Knicks should aim to end that drought before the streak reaches its 10th birthday. To do so, they’ll need to do better than the 8th seed, since that spot will likely face the Miami Heat, who will likely sweep their first round opponent.

A playoff spot would mean success for the Knicks. A playoff win would be a nice bonus. Anything beyond a second round appearance would be a Gotham fantasy. On the other hand, entering the draft lottery would be seen as a complete failure considering the team has offered Houston the right to swap picks.

5. Who is D’Antoni going to alienate this year?

In 2009, Stephon Marbury was exiled from the team. In 2010 Nate Robinson was chained to the doghouse for most of the year, and was joined by Darko Milicic and Larry Hughes. As I mentioned last year, the D’Antoni Rules aren’t kind to players who aren’t in the rotation. The combination of D’Antoni’s short rotation and his inability to communicate with his players inevitably leads to a player being irate over a lack of playing time. This year’s likely candidate is Mozgov, given his inexperience and D’Antoni’s gigantasophobia. If I had to put money on a dark horse I’d take Turiaf or Chandler. The former has a Twitter predilection that might hit a nerve with the communicationally challenged D’Antoni. The latter because after having no competition at shooting guard for two seasons, Chandler might find himself on the outside looking in. Azubuike, Fields, and even Mason could push Wilson for playing time, and those players fit D’Antoni’s offense better than Chandler.

2010 Report Card: Al Harrington

I really don’t have too much to say about Al Harrington that I didn’t say last year. Harrington is a guy who will create a lot of shots (20.9 pts/36) and makes them at a good percentage (54.6% TS%) considering his volume. But that’s where the positives end; he’s not a good passer, rebounder or defender. Perhaps one new wrinkle was pulling the chair out from under post defenders this year, something I don’t recall him doing in previous seasons.

The Knick forward is like a cheap beer. It’s not what you’d want when things are going well, but when you’re desperate to keep that buzz going it’s what you’ll accept. Harrington is not good enough to stay on the court for long, but when the offense is struggling to make shots he’s the guy you want in the game. As a Knick fan I found myself wanting him in the game at times when the team couldn’t buy a bucket, and then feeling buyer’s remorse after.

Report Card (5 point scale):
Offense: 4
Defense: 1
Teamwork: 1
Rootability: 1
Performance/Expectations: 3

Final Grade: C-

Similarity Scores:

z-Sum FLName Year Tm PER TS eFG PTS ORB TRB AST STL BLK TOV
.000 Al Harrington 2010 NYK 16.8 54.6 50.3 20.9 1.4 6.6 1.8 1.0 0.4 2.2
.053 Clifford Robinson 1996 POR 16.3 53.2 49.2 19.9 1.5 5.4 2.3 1.0 0.8 2.3
.079 Mike Mitchell 1985 SAS 16.5 53.3 49.9 23.0 1.8 5.3 1.9 0.8 0.3 1.8
.081 Calvin Natt 1986 DEN 18.6 56.2 50.5 21.8 2.2 7.8 2.9 1.0 0.2 2.3
.084 Corey Maggette 2009 GSW 16.9 58.2 47.9 21.5 1.1 6.4 2.1 1.0 0.2 2.7
.087 Terry Teagle 1990 GSW 14.8 52.9 48.1 20.0 1.7 5.6 2.3 1.4 0.2 2.2
.089 Keith Van Horn 2005 TOT 15.7 55.0 50.4 16.7 2.1 7.0 1.8 0.9 0.5 1.9
.093 David West 2010 NOH 18.9 56.0 50.8 18.8 2.0 7.4 2.9 0.9 0.7 2.1
.098 Glenn Robinson 2002 MIL 19.1 53.7 49.3 21.0 1.1 6.2 2.6 1.5 0.6 2.7
.104 Rudy Tomjanovich 1978 HOU 17.1 51.3 48.5 21.0 1.7 5.9 1.4 0.6 0.2 1.6
.108 Wayman Tisdale 1994 SAC 15.8 54.1 50.1 18.6 2.2 7.9 2.0 0.5 0.7 1.7

One interesting thing about Harrington is that he hasn’t always been this efficient. His TS% was well below average until the 2007 season.

Harrington-Efficiency-ts

So how did Harrington become a more potent scorer? By increasing his three point percentage. Al didn’t have the three point shot in his repertoire until the 2006 season, and he didn’t make it a major part of his offense until 2007.

Harrington-Efficiency-3pp

Harrington-Efficiency-3pa

When Harrington’s percentage and attempts both peaked, his TS% finally reached a proper level. Interestingly enough, that didn’t happen until a few seasons ago, so for much of Harrington’s early career he wasn’t an efficient scorer.

Milwaukee 83 – New York 67, The Good And The Bad

You didn’t have to look too deep last night to see examples of the opposing extremes. In a night where the franchise honored the 1970 championship team, their modern day heirs put up a 67 point stinker. Another polar event was the benching of Chris Duhon, who despite being third on the team in minutes played racked up a DNP in favor of newcomer Sergio Rodriguez. The Knicks scored 118 (albeit in overtime) against the #3 defense just two nights prior, but struggled to put up half that against the Bucks. Newly anointed savior Tracy McGrady followed up a 26 pts on 17 shots masterpiece with a 15 pts on 14 shots clunker.

But it wasn’t limited to T-Mac, as the entire team looked bad shooting. Chandler and Gallo, two youngsters who were supposed to thrive with the addition of talented passers, were a combined 4-14. Eddie House put up a Crawford-esque 4-16, Al Harrington was a meager 3-9, and Sergio Rodriguez made his predecessor look like a viable option with his 2-8 night.

The 1970 Knicks were known for their teamwork and fundamentals, as many of the telecast’s guests pointed out, and last night’s team failed to play as a unit. Rodriguez had lots of energy, but nearly too much for his teammates. He racked up 8 steals, and often pushed the ball up the floor. The problem was he was met by superior opposing numbers as the rest of New York jogged their way up the floor.

Other than cohesiveness, the Knicks lacked one other crucial aspect. With Lee bringing his game out to 15 feet and adding a long range bomber in Eddie House, the Knicks lack scoring in the paint to open the exterior. One play that stuck out in my mind was when Tony Douglas received the ball right under the hoop, but was unable to even get a shot off. Al Harrington can drive to the hoop, but he rarely passes the ball in that scenario. We’ve seen Tracy McGrady get the ball in a mid-post iso, but I’m not sure if he has that first step to get past his defender. The team is lacking someone that can really slash to the hoop. Perhaps they’ll get a view of one tonight as they face Nate Robinson and the Celtics.

One Months Time

“Oh well I look at you and say
It’s the happiest that I’ve ever been
And I’ll say I no longer feel I have to be James Dean
And she’ll say
Yah well I feel all pretty happy too
And I’m always pretty happy when I’m just kicking back with you”
–“Five Years Time” Noah and the Whale

For the first time in years, there is optimism for Knick fans. Looking at the reaction on Twitter, fans are eager to grab T-Mac jerseys first thing tomorrow morning from the NBA store. The Daily News put the words “Former All Star” in the title of one of their articles describing T-Mac. Even an old friend on my facebook seemed to wonder why I was so down on grabbing such a big name as Tracy McGrady.

My grades from yesterday’s post reveals that I’m less than pleased with how the team did on the trade deadline. While there seems to be a euphoric fog following the team, I’m curious how people feel things will work out. So I propose the following question: “In one month, what will the starting lineup and rotation look like?”

My optimistic side says:
Rodriguez
McGrady
Chandler
Gallo
Lee
bench: House, Harrington, Douglas

This lineup would mean that McGrady and Rodriguez are playing well, which from a long term perspective isn’t such a bad thing. Nothing would make me happier to have Rodriguez and Douglas relegate Duhon to the bench for good. I’d settle for Sergio starting, and Duhon coming off the bench, but that doesn’t bode well for Douglas’ future. Actually I could also live with House starting at point guard, and letting the offense run through McGrady. I imagine that might be the Knicks “best offensive 5” team, which could prove useful considering their lack of size. What I would hate to see is this:

My pessimistic side says:
Duhon
Chandler
McGrady
Harrington
Lee
bench: Gallo, House, Bender

Duhon remains entrenched as starting PG, and between him and McGrady there’s no need for another PG, leaving Douglas and Rodriguez out of the rotation. D’Antoni finds Gallo/Chandler too small for the 4, and inserts Harrington into the starting lineup instead.

Somewhere in the middle lies:
Rodriguez
McGrady
Chandler
Gallo
Lee
bench: House, Harrington, Douglas, Bender

Yes a 9 man rotation wouldn’t be out of the question, although I don’t see a lot of minutes for Douglas/Bender. Chandler and Gallo rotate at the 4 defensively so neither are continually over matched. Duhon is nowhere to be seen, and the Knicks have 2 scorers off the bench in House & Harrington.

So how do you see the lineup in one month?

Why I Hate…

[After Saturday night’s defeat against Cleveland, the self loathing Knicks fan comes out and spews some venom.]

Chris Duhon
Well there’s the obvious statistical reasons. Players are supposed to get more efficient when they shoot less. Duhon averages 8.7 pts/36 with a TS% of 48.0%. Just to put that in perspective, Jared Jeffries scores 6.6 pts/36 with a TS% of 50.7%. Yes Jared Jeffries is more efficient than Duhon. If you gave Duhon’s extra shots to Jeffries, their numbers might be identical. Here’s a note to NBA players: if you can be compared to Jared Jeffries on offense, you suck.

Watching Duhon drive the lane is like watching your least mentally stable friend trying to pick up the most drunk girl in the bar. Both are way in over their heads, and the results are going to be ugly. I’m dumbfounded at how many shot attempts in the paint from point blank Duhon passes out of. It’s like Duhon’s bigger brothers were Ben Wallace and Josh Smith, and he’s been irreparably scared from scoring inside.

What sealed the deal was Duhon’s actions with 3:12 left in the Cleveland game. New York was down by 20 at half time, but they clawed their way back to a 3 point deficit. Nate has the ball on the top of the key & Duhon is on the wing calling for the ball. Nate gives him the ball and without hesitation Duhon launches up a three. Of all the Knicks on the court, I was dumbfounded that Duhon would demand the ball then take the last shot given his poor offensive play and his unselfishness. Was this a way for him to try to get back his starting job through heroics? In any case the shot careens off the rim and the Cavs will hold onto the victory with a little help from…

Al Harrington
I’ll give you this, when the Knicks offensive is reeling and I want them to just score a freakin basket already! I hope the ball lands in Al Harrington’s hands. Yes I received some slack for being pro-Harrington at times, because all the guy does is score, but unlike Duhon he’s not awful at it. A TS% of 53.8% is good for a guy that averages 21.5 pts/36.

Saturday night I watched the second half from a bar, and had to give back stories for some of the Knicks to my wife. When Harrington got the ball I said two things. First is that sometimes they play “You Can Call Me Al” by Paul Simon after he scores (she likes Paul Simon). Second is that when he gets the ball he’s not likely to give it back. And the latter is what kills me about Al. Everyone watching a Knick game knows when Al Harrington is going to shoot; when he gets the ball and makes that quick first move. That’s it the ball is going up – no matter how many defenders converge on him or how many of his teammates are open.

So with 1:51 left in last night’s game, with the Knicks down 5 and needing a score Harrington gets the ball and puts up one of the ugliest shots I’ve ever seen. If I recall correctly, Lebron James is guarding him and Al wildly chucks it off the glass. That’s it game over. Having Al Harrington on your team is the proverbial “he who lives by the sword, dies by the sword.”

Mike D’Antoni
When cornered by my wife Saturday night, I admitted that I like D’Antoni and that I think he’s one of the league’s best coaches. But I added “you have to deal with his quirks.” Now every coach has his quirks, and I’m fine with most of D’Antoni’s. Sure I’d like his rotation to be longer, to have him use a 7 foot center, or perhaps for him to communicate with his players on rotation issues. But he’s a good coach with a solid offensive and cares about defense. Even D’Antoni’s harshest critics have to admit that he’s better than the past few Knicks coaches.

However you have to wonder why D’Antoni had Harrington and Duhon on the floor for the final minutes. On the bench was Danilo Gallinari and David Lee. Gallo had 13 points on 10 shots, with 5 assists. Lee had 5 turnovers, but still managed 20 points on 14 shots, so why not pair him with Hill in lieu of Harrington? But more importantly where is the accountability with Duhon and Harrington? The pair wrecked what could have been a great comeback with lousy decision making. And they frequently make the same mistakes over and over again. Why not let them reflect on their mistakes with some extra bench time? Perhaps sticking them in the doghouse for a few games might prevent another loss from boneheaded mistakes.

The D’Antoni Rules

The rotation is short.

This is a well known characteristic of D’Antoni. The Knicks employed 11 players in the blowout win against Indiana, which is rare for him. The last time D’Antoni went into double digits was December 2nd against Orlando. In between those two games D’Antoni used 8 players every game (including 11 straight) except for two contests where 9 players saw the floor. Factor in that the 8th guy usually doesn’t see a lot of minutes, and it’s essentially a 7 man rotation. For instance Eddy Curry saw “action” in 3 of those games, but he didn’t play more than 7 minutes in any of those games. D’Antoni’s rotation is much like you’d expect from a playoff team. The best guys (according to him) get the lions share of the minutes, a few other guys come in for breathers, and everyone else has front row seats to an NBA game.

You’re either in or your out.

There doesn’t seem to be much of a middle ground with D’Antoni. The Knicks coach has stated that he doesn’t like to put veterans in for spot minutes, prefering to keep them on the bench instead of bringing them in cold. He has repeated this frequently, especially when asked about bringing in a non-rotation player for offensive or defensive purposes in a single critical possession (Darko Milicic, Jerome James, etc.). Chances are if a player is seeing minutes, they’ll continue to get court time. And the converse is true as well.

Injuries doesn’t constitute succession

This was apparent last year when the Knicks were short on guards due to the Crawford trade, Mobley injury, and Marbury refusal. Instead of going to the next guy on the bench like most coaches would, D’Antoni ignored Roberson. New York rode Duhon into the hardwood and even went guardless at times, rather than turn to someone on the end of the pine. So if a player thinks that an injury means that coach D will be forced to insert them into the game, then they’re misguided.

If you’re suddenly out of the rotation, don’t expect a greeting card to make you aware of the fact.

Granted this is a leap for yours truly to state, because I’m not omni-present in the team lockerroom. However Larry Hughes was quoted as saying:

“It’s easy to communicate with a grown man,” Hughes said. “It’s a long season and you always want to have dialog and talk things out. I definitely want the dialog. Let guys know where they stand and you can voice opinions on both sides.

“There’s nothing wrong with voicing an opinion because they’re not facts. It’s what you’re thinking and how you’re feeling. Just to have communication, I think, goes a long way in this league.”

This isn’t the first time a player (or Hughes for that matter) has been unhappy with a lack of playing time and went public about it. However in this case it seems that Hughes isn’t just lashing out from spite. Compare this to Darko’s rant on NBA coaches, and Hughes’ request seems downright reasonable. Unfortunately it doesn’t appear that D’Antoni communicates his lineup changes to his players.

From these rules it’s easier to understand D’Antoni’s priorities. He seems to favor continuity & familiarity over strategic match ups. Granted there are deficiencies to D’Antoni’s system, most notably the lack of time for players outside of the rotation. But even this has its benefits as a young player could crack the starting lineup and see lots of playing time (see Wilson Chandler, 2009). Of course the lack of communication is a serious issue as well. However this system has its fair share of positives. Over the life of KnickerBlogger, I’ve criticized Knick coaches for not putting out a lineup that forced the opposition to adjust to New York’s strengths. And this is exactly what D’Antoni does. If you watched the Indiana game, Hibbert looked like a slow plodding dinosaur against the more agile Knicks.

Fortunately for D’Antoni, New York’s roster is conducive to such a set of rules. The Knicks can play the 6-11 Jared Jeffries at any spot, and D’Antoni has put him on both centers and point guards. Chris Duhon and David Lee can always shift over one spot, and the rest of the rotation is filled with forwards that can handle multiple positions like Wilson Chandler (6-8), Danilo Gallinari (6-10), Al Harrington (6-9), and Jonathan Bender (7-0). This roster construction allows D’Antoni to keep the rotation short, and not force him to play someone outside of his comfort zone.

Trading Nate, The Logistics

With Nate Robinson in D’Antoni’s doghouse it’s only natural for Knick fans to expect the diminutive guard to be traded. Nate is in the last year of his deal, and if he isn’t getting playing time now, then it seems unlikely that New York is going to tender him a long term deal. Additionally considering Nate’s instant offense and other tangibles, he’ll likely be courted by a few different teams. Hence it makes the most sense for the Knicks to move him this year, before they get nothing in return for their investment.

Unfortunately trades in the NBA are rarely as easy as finding a match in talent. You also have to be mindful of the salary cap & the rules that accompany it. For instance there have been rumors of the Knicks interested in Tyrus Thomas, but the teams couldn’t swap the two straight up due to the cap rules. And this is where things get interesting.

In the NBA any trade involving teams over the salary cap has to be within of 125% plus $0.1M of the contracts given up. This means if the Knicks traded someone that was making $4M, the most they could get back in contacts is $5.1M ($4M * 1.25 + $0.1M). However there is a rule in place for Base Year Compensation players (BYC) which is meant to prevent teams from signing players solely to match contracts in order to make trades. This was put in place to prevent teams from let’s say giving Morris Almond $10M to trade him with a future first for Luol Deng.

New York signed Robinson for $4M this year, but according to ESPN his BYC amount is $2.02M. This means that when calculating how much the Knicks can receive, we use $2.02M, and when calculating how much the other team can receive it uses $4M. Under the salary cap rules, a team that sends out $2.02M can only receive $2.54M in salaries, hence this makes it impossible to do a 1 for 1 BYC deal with a team over the cap.

Since the calculation is based on a percentage, the only way for a team to trade a BYC player is to include enough salaries so that the team is within the allowed threshold. Figuring out this how much requires a little bit of arithmetic. Solve for x where: $4M + X – (1.25*($2.02M+X)) = $0.1M, and X = $5.5M. So in order to trade Nate Robinson the Knicks would have to include at least $5.5M in salaries.

Knowing this makes for some interesting trade possibilities. One way to work a Nate Robinson for Tyrus Thomas trade would be to add shot-blocking bench-warming centers Darko Milicic ($7.54M) and Jerome James ($6.6M). If the Knicks wanted to shed some salary for the summer, they could include Jared Jeffries ($6.47M) and the Malik Rose trade exception ($0.9M) instead of Darko.

What if, as rumored, the Bulls want Al Harrington? Then the two could do Nate, Harrington and the Quentin Richardson exception for Thomas & Brad Miller. Too one sided for Chicago? Then perhaps the deal could be expanded to something like Thomas, Noah and Miller, for Nate, Harrington, Darko, and Jordan Hill. Although I don’t expect the Bulls to trade Noah so easily, it’s not a ridiculous deal. The Bulls plan on replacing Thomas with Taj Gibson anyway, and Al Harrington would probably eat up some of those minute and more. Between Harrington and Nate, the Bulls wouldn’t lack for scoring. They would be losing a bit at center, but Jordan Hill would give them a young option there.

In any case the Knicks and Bulls do have some options and flexibility in generating a trade. Moving Robinson is easier than moving David Lee because of the smaller salary. To trade Lee, the Knicks would have to pile on $10.1M in salary. Although you have to consider that New York isn’t likely to move Lee, given that he’s the team’s best player and leads them in minutes.