Looking At The Knicks Wins, By The Numbers

With the Knicks winning 3 of the last 4 games after an abysmal start, it’s a good idea to look at the numbers to understand why. So I’ve compiled the four factors of their last 3 victories.

TEAM POSS   OE   eFG  TO  OREB  FT
PHO  96.4 102.7 48.1 17.6 23.1 32.5
NYK  99.7 126.3 56.8 12.0 35.2 18.9
     
NYK  91.8 124.2 64.7 13.1 17.5 16.7
ATL  91.0 117.5 47.8 6.6 31.6 23.3
     
NJN  93.3 103.9 53.1 15.0 15.6 15.0
NYK  92.0 115.2 50.6 17.4 33.3 36.4

In 2 of the games New York bested their current defensive efficiency of 111.1. But the points allowed per possession in these games aren’t particularly good. Additionally against Atlanta, New York played far below their average.

On the other hand in every game the offense has as good or better than the league’s best rating (115.3). In the Phoenix and Atlanta games the team shot exceptionally well (56.8% & 64.7% eFG%). Turnovers were slightly better in those two games as well. However against the Nets, New York was beaten in shooting and turnovers. Instead they rebounded extremely well and camped out at the free throw line against the Nets.

So what has lifted the New York offense? Chris Duhon had one good shooting game (25 points on 16 shots) but compiled only 12 points on 20 shots in the other two games. Meanwhile Chandler has one good game (14 points on 11 shots against the Suns), one average game (18 points on 17 shots against Atlanta) and one sub par game (6 points on 7 shots against New Jersey). So it appears that neither of these players, who have been hurting the offense all year, have become more consistent performers.

Instead the Knicks offense seems to be fueled by 3 players. In these wins they’ve gotten good scoring from David Lee (66 pts on 40 shots), Al Harrington (75 pts on 49 shots) and Larry Hughes (52 points on 33 shots). To a lesser extent you can add Danilo Gallinari to the list. Gallo missed the middle game, but still punched in a healthy 38 points on just 25 shots in limited minutes.

So what does this ultimately mean? First it helps when the defense is contributing. The team has done a good job of limiting opposing shooting percentage, which was one of D’Antoni’s goals at the beginning of the season. But it’s important to recognize that this roster won’t ever produce good results on that end of the court. I guess the Knicks just need not to play horribly on defense to have a chance.

The next thing I might assume is that it also helps when the Knicks get production from Duhon and/or Chandler. Each of them had one good game, and seeing that they play the most minutes, New York needs to get something from them other than a goose egg.

Lastly Lee, Harrington and Hughes have stepped it up. Lee has increased his scoring volume, Harrington his efficiency, and Hughes is playing his best basketball in years. However it’s unclear whether this trio can keep this level of play up. Although I’d expect Lee to contribute with his efficiency, I’m not sure if he can give the team 22 points every night. And conversely for Harrington, it’s not likely that he’ll average 3 points for every 2 shots he takes. As for Hughes, he’s clearly playing some of his best basketball now, and odds are it won’t last.

With D’Antoni shortening the rotation to these players plus Jared Jeffries and the occasional Toney Douglas sighting it’s unlikely that the Knicks are going to get a lot of production outside of this sextet. For the team to proceed with their winning ways, they’ll need these players to continue with their higher level of play. Only time will tell if this effort is sustainable.

Some Thoughts, Good and Bad

The Good:

The Knicks almost beat the Celtics, and for the most of the game they were competetive with one of the best teams in the NBA. In fact New York had a 5 point lead to start the 4th quarter, but couldn’t extend it past 6 points.

Nate Robinson had his best game of the year, and first good game in nearly a month. Last year Robinson averaged 29.9 minutes a game and was a pivotal piece of the Knicks season. He gives New York scoring and rebounding at the guard spot off the bench. Sure Nate is still struggling with maturity issues and clearly gets under D’Antoni’s skin, but without a doubt New York needs him playing well for a successful 2010.

Wilson Chandler showed some signs of improvement. His stat line was still poor, but he played tough defense on Garnett and showed some smart play. A few times Chandler took the action to the bucket, and late in the 4th quarter smartly avoided committing an offensive foul by dishing off to Lee for an easy score. I’ve said on more than one occassion that Chandler needs to shoot better or drive to the hoop more often, and he seemed to do the latter frequently against Boston. Hopefully he can keep it up.

The Bad:

You’ve probably already heard about Eddy Curry’s mindless technical foul. What has also bothered is how he’s played since his first game. During his tenure here, it always seemed that the New York guards had trouble getting him the ball in the post. But what I’m finding is that Curry is lackadaisical when it comes to catching passes. This year a lot of entry passes are getting bobbled or plain ending up in the other team’s hands. Granted he’s got a lot of rust to shake off, but Curry has to do a better job catching the ball, even if the pass isn’t thrown perfectly.

I’d also like to see him do more than just plant himself on the blocks. The team should use on the high screen or off the ball as well. When Curry’s on the floor, the team should have guys drive to the hoop more (namely Douglas, Nate, Chandler) and let Eddy pick up some easy buckets from double teams or offensive rebounds. Additionally Curry (and Lee) should be allowed to be aggressive on the offensive boards, instead of worrying about transition defense.

In order of minutes received, Sunday’s top minute getters were: Duhon, Harrington, and Hughes. Meanwhile Nate Robinson had a sizzling 19 points on 11 shots in 26 minutes (and blocked 2 shots). Gallo shot well and had a few strong rebounds, and only managed 24 minutes. Toney Douglas was on the court for only 6 minutes.

This is a disturbing trend because the Knicks should be playing their youngsters more. I understand the need for winning games, but if Nate, Gallo, and Douglas aren’t getting action when they’re playing well (or in Douglas’ case his replacement was playing awful), when are they going to see playing time? Al Harrington isn’t going to score 30 points on 21 shots every night, while Duhon and Hughes combined for 7 points on 17 shots (3-17). D’Antoni is generally good at finding playing time for the kids, but I hope that philosophy doesn’t get lost when it comes to crunch time.

Knicks 110 – Pacers 103

Good evening Mr. and Mrs. America, from border to border and coast to coast and all the ships at sea!  Recap Robert here. For those who chose to say, take in the theater or perhaps venture out to the local motion picture house or perhaps to play the role of social gadfly and sally forth for a stroll about the boulevards of our fair city, taking in the local color and engaging in witty badinage with the citizenry — shopkeepers, wand’ring minstrels,  and whatnot, I have some surprising, nay shocking news. Our beloved sporting collective, the cagers known far and wide as the Knickerbocker Basketball Club of New York, managed to score MORE points than their esteemed opponents, thereby proving victorious in this evening’s contest.

Honestly, they kinda screwed up the lead/theme I had going for this recap. I was gonna vent about lousy officiating, how the Nix never get the calls, and as a result, we get 4 and 5 point swings at crucial moments/turning points in the game. I was going to follow that by ripping MD’A a new one for sitting Hill, Douglas, and Gallo when the boys were clearly on cruise mode and end it w/a whole, “The Pacers have a plan on offense and defense and the Knicks look like 5 guys who showed up for a pickup game” screed. And they go and eff it up by, well…winning. But I’ll take wins and being forced to re-write my purple prose any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

The thing that’s so frustrating about this team is that when the 3 pointers are falling, every other aspect of their game somehow magically rounds into form. To wit: They were down 19 in the middle of the 3rd while enjoying what must have been a pleasant view of watching Tyler Hansbrough do a great David Lee circa ’05-’07 impression. (Side note — I loathe the “Caucasians can only be compared to Caucasians, Euros to other Euros, Overrated bigs from Arizona, etc. etc.,” thing, but here, the comparison is pretty apt.) Suddenly, Hughes cans a couple of threes and magically, the defense gets stingy,  they’re driving to the basket, getting to the line, and/or finding Curry down low. Over the last 4:07, they outscored the LarryBirds 13-4, forced 4 turnovers, shot 66% from the field and basically made it a game again. Same thing happened in the 4th. The lead vacillated between 9 and 13 and they hadn’t made a trey all quarter until w/5:37 to go, Al Buckets cans a bunch of shots from downtown and once again, the NYers are scrambling for lose balls, rotating like mofos on D, beating lazy defenders down the floor – basically doing all the little things good teams do — and they outscore ‘em 24-6 to win in a flourish.

Not to get too Phil Jackson here, but after the 3’s, the whole energy/dynamic of the team changed. Watching the game, you could sense it. Even if the score was still pretty bleak, I (and they) thought they could make a game of this. (One thing they gotta fix — Jordan Hill is the worst towel-waver I’ve seen in a long time. He needs to either start or get in touch w/Jack Haley, stat.) When this team is hitting from downtown (and everyone on the roster is shooting worse from downtown than last year, save Gallo), they can be pretty decent. It’s something I think we all knew heading into the year, but it’s really remarkable (in this game at least) how much their confidence/collective psyche is dependent on their long-range shooting. Anyway, we can all smile now. The world is a glorious and just place again. Let’s all bask in the glory of said win and hopefully our lovable collection of pituitary cases can try to remember what led to the win at least until Saturday afternoon v. the even more hapless NJ Nyets. Some individual performance assessments:

EDDY CURRY – Eddy! Eddy! Eddy! First things first. That Plaxico Burress-esque goat he’s rockin’ is badass. And, it actually makes his face look thinner by accentuating the downward slope of his mandible. Facial aesthetics aside, I was impressed and genuinely happy for Mr. Curry. It was like a mini bit o’ time-travel back to the ’06-’07 season. He was very good in the low post, drew a ton of fouls on offense and got called for an equal amount on defense, shot horridly from the FT line, and turned the ball/couldn’t kick the ball out whenever he was double and triple teamed. Good times. W/this team, his inability to defend the post is less noticeable b/c, well, no one else can either. If he keeps this up, he’s an asset for short stints (like when the 3’s aren’t dropping) and might…gasp…actually be tradable.

LARRY HUGHES – A comeback season for Larry at this stage of his career would be pretty much unprecedented. Can anyone else think of a volume shooting 12-year vet who shot .410 from the field, .489 TS% and .437 eFG% for his career that suddenly morphed into a smart, solid efficient 2? I can’t. It leads one to think that his #’s will regress to mean over the course of the season, but Larry’s seems to have genuinely altered his game/figured out how to play as he’s gotten less “athletic.”

AL HARRINGTON – Oh Al. I can’t stay mad at you. Even if that two-tone mouthpiece really makes you look as bucktoothed as Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. One thing that confuses me. Why isn’t Harrington a better defender? He’s certainly got the length/athleticism (Sorry about that. I promise not to write “athleticism” any more. I feel like Jay Bilas and that’s not a good thing.) to be effective, and that steal in the 4th was money. Is it just effort? W/Al, I’m tempted to say no. Al certainly tries very, very hard, at times to his detriment. So what gives?

CHRIS DUHON – Admit it. We were all secretly hoping that that stinger he suffered in the 3rd was serious. I certainly did. But then again, I’m a bad person. Duhon at least got in synch W/Lee on the pick and roll tonight. (Why Hibbert/Jones/Hansbrough switched to cover Du the whole game is really beyond me). I can actually live w/the atrocious shooting for now. He’s going to start those hitting eventually, right?. It’s the silly passes and 35 foot 3’s that are so galling and seemingly avoidable.

WILSON CHANDLER – He was having his best game of the season before getting in foul trouble (& that charge that fouled him out was a [channeling C. Barkley] turr-a-bull call, just trrbll!). Even so, he still seems inclined to pull up rather than go hard to the hole, possibly (and I’m speculating here) b/c he’s worried he doesn’t have the lift to pull it off.

DAVID LEE – (Use your Seinfeld voice when reading this) Hey, what is the deal with David Lee’s rebounding? I mean come on! You built your entire game on getting after lose balls, tip-ins, and hustle plays but for a solid week or two, you’ve looked more sluggish/lethargic than I did when I was 6 and some friends and I drank a bottle of Robitussin b/c the older kids said you could catch a buzz off of it. I mean, really! (Resume regular thinking voice)

JORDAN HILL, TONEY DOUGLAS, DANILO GALLINARI – As I mentioned about, when the game looked like it was gonna be a rout, I was pounding nails into the floor w/my forehead b/c this trio was riding the pine. Despite the fact that they won, why was Douglas benched for the 2nd half? Why was Gallo yanked so early in the 2nd & 3rd? Yeah, they’d both had uneventful games to that point, but they were certainly no less at fault for the burgeoning deficit than the other fellows. Is this a case of “trusting the vets” or just getting lucky w/the right combo at the right time. As w/all games in which Gallo doesn’t play a lot, I assume Knick fans start collectively praying to some obscure Italian saint that it’s not his back flaring up.

Couple of general thoughts on the Pacers – For all the folks (myself included) who are aghast at passing on Lawson/Blair/Jennings, how good would Danny Granger look at PF in SSOL? I remember bellowing something bellicose about the folly of passing on him for Frye in the ’05 draft. For the first year at least, I was thoroughly mocked on nykfp.com b/c Frye looked like a stud. I think everyone’d take Granger in a heartbeat now. Alls I’m saying is, give the rooks time, yo.

Larry Bird really hasn’t aged well, has he? At this point, he looks like a cross between W.C. Fields and Joe Lieberman.

Hibbert seems so out of place in today’s NBA. If it were 1987, he’d be a nice, slow-footed big w/some decent low-post moves who could contribute on a winning team. Think Kevin Duckworth and his ilk. Now, how many times a year does Hibbert play against someone his size/style? W/Yao out and w/Shaq’s decline I think we’re down to Perkins, Kaman, and Bogut

Anyways, that was fun to watch. Winning. Hmm. A fella could get used to this…

Three Days of Practice

True leaders gone,
Of land and people.
We choose no kin but adopted strangers.
The family weakens by the length we travel…

— “Three Days” by Jane’s Addiction

Yesterday after last night’s post game interview, Mike D’Antoni said the team had three days of practices to figure out what’s wrong before the next game against Indiana. Clearly at 1-9 the team needs a shakeup, so I thought as Knick fans we could discuss what changes you’d like to see come Wednesday.

The 2009 Knicks gave up 110.8 points per 100 possessions and were ranked 23rd. This year they are allowing 109.4, which is ranked 21st. So the defense is about the same as last year, which is what everyone expected. Doing the same comparison on offense shows a serious decline from 108.1 (17th) to 100.2 (25th). Scrutinizing the offensive 4 factors reveals the team’s main weakness. Their eFG has dropped from 50.3% to 47.7%. Other than that, the team has done slightly better with regards to turnovers, and slightly worse at rebounding.

So with those statistics in mind, I think it’s clear who needs to sit. Chris Duhon (29.2% eFG, 36.7% TS) should be at the top of the list, and in fact I’d lobby for him to receive his first DNP on Wednesday. In D’Antoni’s offense, the point guard is critical to the team’s success, and Duhon is the main culprit to their scoring woes. Duhon’s decline is baffling, because players don’t normally decline without reason. Perhaps there’s either a lingering injury or some off-court matter that is causing his putrid performance.

In his place I would play the rookie Toney Douglas. For all the talk of the Knicks passing on drafting Jennings, Lawson, and Blair, Douglas is quietly having a good November (21.1 pts/36, 59.8% eFG, 60.7% eFG). His assists are low, but perhaps that’s because he’s been more of a shooting guard in the offense (2.1 to/36, 1.5 ast/36). Handing the offensive reigns over to him, even if Douglas looks to score first, couldn’t be any worse than what Duhon is doing.

Next to Douglas would be Danilo Gallinari (58.4% eFG, 62.3% TS), David Lee (54.8%, 57.0%), and Larry Hughes (53.3%, 58.6%). Which leaves one spot open. Currently Wilson Chandler has been filling that role, but his shooting has been really bad as well (42.0%, 44.8%). In fact his three point percentage is at a point that he should just really stop taking them (21.9%). Unfortunately there isn’t another Knick who is shooting well enough to be a clear candidate to take his place. So my choice would be Darko Milicic. While Darko isn’t going to help the offense, he doesn’t take a lot of shots and he’ll theoretically help the team defensively.

A lineup of Douglas, Hughes, Gallo, Lee, and Darko should be decent enough defensively without sacrificing too much offense (unlike if they played Chandler and Jeffries). It would end the small ball lineup D’Antoni craves, and give the Knicks a little more size. Shifting Lee to PF would benefit him defensively, Douglas and Hughes would make a strong back court, and Darko could help with penetrators in the paint.

Nate Robinson would be the 6th man to provide scoring off the bench. If Curry were ready, I would use him in a center platoon with Darko, perhaps giving Jordan Hill some minutes there too. This would keep New York in a more traditional alignment for most of the game. And the rest of the minutes can be split between Chandler and Harrington. Actually the latter could earn a DNP in my book, if the Knicks can replace Lee in another way. All Harrington contributes is scoring, and this year his shooting has been substandard (44.2% eFG, 51.3% TS). Which means Harrington isn’t giving the team anything. Visually he’s been unbelievably selfish on the court taking just about every possession he can get his hands on.

Well that’s my take on the Knicks rotation. What’s yours?

Hawks 114 – Knicks 101

Y’all may not realize it, but the turning point in yet another Knicks’ loss came with about 1:30 to go in the 2nd quarter. You see, I went over to my Pop’s house to watch the tilt v. Atlanta. Like your humble correspondent, he’s a long-suffering fan (he used to rock me to sleep when I was a wee ‘bairn while listening to the ’72-’73 team march to the championship). For reason’s that are a mystery to us both, some grand karmic disorder is set in motion when we watch the game on the teevee together. We’re just plain old bad mojo. So, when he descended from his studio right before the half (shameless plug: www.burtonsilverman.com), the planets aligned in the worst possible way. In my notes I scribbled, “Close out the half well. Break their spirits! March to Xanadu on a road of their bones!” But alas, ‘twas not to be.

A big turning point came via our beleaguered PG’s utterly boneheaded play w/10 seconds left, Knicks up 9. Whether he was seized by the furies or what, he launched an ill-advised trey w/6 seconds still on the clock, leading to a long rebound and fast break finish for the Hawks.

So, instead of being up 11 (or 12, but at a minimum 9) at the half, suddenly the lead is a manageable 7 and the fine denizens of Atlanta walk into the lockerroom clearly pondering some variation of, “Gosh golly. We’ve missed a ton of easy shots. There’s no ball movement on offense. We’re getting torched by Toney Douglas of all people and the Knicks are easier to psychologically topple than a 2 year old’s blocks. Sweet!” I’d assume Mike Woodson impressed them how fortunate they were to find themselves in such a situation, but I’m not entirely convinced that Mike Woodson is a sentient being. Seriously, did he move the entire game? Now, it’d be easy to blame C-Du (Or MD’A for continuing to start him) for this dire turn of events. But personally, I think it’s me and my Dad’s fault. If we were true fans, we would have switched to watching the ‘Top Chef’ marathon. Being selfish, we stayed glued to the set until the inevitable conclusion.

My glib thoughts on my family’s psychic powers over basketball games notwithstanding, here are some thoughts on our hardwood heroes:

AL HARRINGTON – It’s amazing to me how he can look like an all-star (or at least a more motivated Tim Thomas) for one half and then seemingly forget all the things that led to his success in the other. He’s great off the dribble v. traditional PF’s/C’s and can post smaller players. When he overdribbles, the rest of the team stands around and watches, mainly because they know the ball has a better chance of escaping the gravitational pull of the sun than Al’s clutches and/or he launches contested jumpers. And how did you miss that dunk? Did the ghost of Tree Rollins emerge from the ether and swat it away?

CHRIS DUHON – Boy is he a mess. He’s got zero confidence in his shot right now. As a result, teams are sagging on the pick and roll and severely reducing Lee’s effectiveness. He’s turning the ball over at an alarming rate and making some godawful decisions (see above). I can only assume he hasn’t been benched b/c MD’A is worried that another setback will send his self-esteem below Emily Dickinson’s. But honestly, he’s a liability on the court right now.

DAVID LEE – was playing an inactive/listless game for him even before sitting early in the 3rd after his old college chum Al Horford decimated him in the low post and repeatedly beat him down the court. I was probably as stunned as the rest of you to see him Charles Smith a series of put-backs in the fourth. I think I even summoned my inner Bill Walton and bellowed, “Throw it down, big man!”

LARRY HUGHES – I refuse to live in a world where Larry Hughes is one of our best players. For the most part, he makes good decisions w/the ball, hits the open jumper, plays the best perimeter d on the team and gets a real bang out of sending a closing defender hurtling towards midcourt w/a headfake on foul-line extended 3’s. He did chuck up a couple of heylarryhughespleasestoptakingsomanybadshots.com specials in the 2nd half, but for the most part, played well. And he certainly didn’t warrant a benching.

TONEY DOUGLAS – Hit some clutch shots. Penetrated at will. Played good defense. Got a little shot-happy in the 4th when the game had gotten out of hand, but anyone who’s watched the last 3 games (and if you have, I’m sorry that you’ll never get those 7.5 or so hours of your life back), has to realize that he’s playing well enough to warrant starting at PG. Granted, he did start tonight, but having him guard Johnson was a recipe for disaster that was only averted when JJ took half the game to get warmed up/decide to play.

JARED JEFFRIES – First of all, you can’t wear a headband, Jared. Really, you just can’t. It looks awful. Second, for every nice play you make that doesn’t show up in the box score (drawing charges, moving w/o the ball on offense), it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll make one play that turns Knick fans’ collective brains into a substance resembling guacamole. To wit: 4th quarter, 3 on 1 fast break, Nix trying to cut the lead to 6, you’re undefended and you fumble away a perfect bounce pass like the ball was covered with Crisco. “He went to Jared!” isn’t just an annoying marketing slogan for a diamond company, but a cry that emerges from Knick fans between the hours of 7:30 and 10pm.

MIKE D’ANTONI – Um Mike. When the other team’s getting on a run. You can like, call a time out and stuff. Like in the 3rd quarter and you were up 5 (thanks to Toney Douglas doing what Toney Douglas do). When suddenly, your team misses 11 of 12 shots from the field and the other team goes on a 12-0 run. You can like, call a time out then or put in different players and stuff. I’m worried about you, Mike. You are starting to take on a Zeke Thomas-like expression in the 4th quarter these days. It’s a combination of utter despair combined with the vague hope that you might come down with a mild case of the Ebola Virus on the way home, thus freeing you from your contractual obligations to coach this ‘team,’ as it were.

Ok, I’m done being snarky. The boys played well enough to win for stretches, and then just well enough to lose for the rest of the game. Poop.  I (and the rest of us stalwarts) will be back on Fri. night when we get to pine for one Curry that never was (Stephen), and wait for another Curry that might possible be (Fast Eddy).

What’s Wrong With the Knicks?

The New York Knicks have limped out to a 1-6 start, their worst since 2003 when they began the year 1-8. That season, they eventually finished 37-45, which would actually be an improvement for this team. So although history shows us that all is not lost, there are some issues the team must overcome to get back on track.

Not to Three?
The team’s three point percentage of 30.3% is 57 points lower than last year’s average, but that number isn’t indicative of how bad New York’s shooting has been. That percentage is inflated by Danilo Gallinari’s sizzling 46.6%. The non-Gallo Knicks are shooting an appallingly bad 22.5%. And while the knee-jerk reaction is to blame non-shooter Jared Jeffries and rookie Toney Douglas, the pair are actually 2nd and 3rd on the team respectively in three point percentage. It’s the regulars of Hughes, Harrington, Duhon, Chandler, and Robinson that are sinking the team.

For some teams, going through a cold spell from behind the arc might be a nuisance, but D’Antoni’s offense requires the team to make their treys to open up the inside. I documented this here, showing how other teams are clogging the middle and daring the team to beat them from the outside. That said this is probably an early season funk, and more likely than not New York will end up in the middle of the pack with regards to three point shooting. Hopefully the drought will end sooner than later.

Ill Ill Will?
It seems that Knick fans are split on their opinion of Wilson Chandler. Some see a youngster with a lot of upside, while others see caution flags from his advanced stats. But neither side envisioned him playing this poorly. Chandler has been dreadful in 2010, starting off the year with a PER of 7.7, nearly half of his 2009 rate of 12.9. The decline is entirely due to his anemic shooting: 39.9% TS% and 20.0% 3P%.

Chandler did have surgery in the offseason, which prevented him from working on his game during the summer. The good news is that his non-shooting stats have been identical to last year, which means that there isn’t a lingering physical issue that is causing his decline. The bad news is Chandler was never a good shooter to begin with, and that he needed the extra time to work on his jumper. The best the team can hope for is to send Chandler slashing to the hoop more often, which is usually a good prescription for any athletic player struggling to find their range.

There’s No Movement, No Movement, No Movement…
What happened to the movement on offense? The hallmark of D’Antoni’s offense is having some kind of constant motion, either via ball or players. But this year, it seems that the half court offense has become stagnant. And of course there’s the limitation of the roster. Chris Duhon is still passing up easy buckets in the paint, Al Harrington is still refusing to pass the ball, and Jeffries is still getting court time. The one guy who has the multifaceted game to jumpstart the offense, Nate Robinson, is sidelined with an injury.

Again it seems the lack of an outside threat has hurt the team, but perhaps D’Antoni should be finding another way to generate points. Given his reputation as an offensive coach, he should be able to coax some more production out of this group.

Pennies On the Dollar (Or Thousands of Dollars on the Millions of Dollars)
While one could argue that their precious cap space and a lack of assets prevented them from making a major move, the truth is the team failed to improve at all. The team didn’t deviate from their 2009 roster much, adding only Darko Milicic, Jordan Hill, Toney Douglas, and Marcus Landry. None of these players are averaging 10 minutes per game.

The problem boils down to New York failing to find any low cost help. It’s easy to say the NBA is a superstar’s league, but the truth is that teams need to fill their entire roster. This means front offices need to not only be successful in acquiring superstars, but digging the bargain bin for productive players. The Celtics might not have won a a title without their big trio, but perhaps their troika of youngsters Rondo, Perkins, and Powe was equally important to that championship run. The same could be said for the Spurs for turning the undrafted 30 year old Bruce Bowen and 57th overall pick Manu Ginobili into a part of their core. And the Pistons would not have won their last championship without Ben Wallace and Chauncey Billups – two players that were relative nobodies before their arrival in Detroit.

Every year there seems to be a few unheralded players who find success on the major league level, in addition to homeless veterans willing to play for a bargain. In the Donnie Walsh era, the Knicks have flirted with lots of inexpensive players like Von Wafer, Demetris Nichols, Anthony Roberson, Cheikh Samb, Mouhamed Sene, Courtney Simms, Nikoloz Tskitishvili, Joe Crawford, Chris Hunter and Morris Almond but failed to unearth any rough gems.

For a team that relies on outside shooting so much (New York was 1st in three pointers attempted last year), the team has a glaring hole at shooting guard. The 2-guard position is filled by a small forward (Wilson Chandler), an undersized point guard (Nate Robinson) and an aging slasher with a questionable shot (Larry Hughes). To compound the situation the team does have a free roster spot and there are some options available (Almond, Crawford and Szczerbiak). It would cost the team a fraction of their total salary to acquire a shooter, but for some reason they’re content in staying pat. Having a three point specialist would probably be helpful a few nights over the course of the season. But developing one from the NBA scrap heap into the rotation would be the mark of a good front office.

Cavs 100 – Knicks 91

Not with a bang, but a whimper.

LeBronFest 2K9 has come and gone as Citizen 23 nonchalantly tossed up a jumper-heavy 32-9-8 against a surprisingly listless Knicks’ side.  The King seemed fully aware of the moment, firing up long shots early, often, and with impressive efficiency (8 of 9 on mid-rangers, according to ESPN Stats and Information).  On the rare occasions that he elected to drive, he met predictably little resistance and converted easily.  The Knicks actually managed to contest a number of his jumpers, but their defense had little impact and LeBron showed himself to be every bit the superstar that has us salivating for next summer.

Gallo, Hughes, and Lee each had solid offensive outings, and Jordan Hill even stopped by and showed off a versatile offensive game in an abbreviated appearance.  In the end, however, sloppy passing, poor shot selection, and a particularly ugly chapter in the ever-more-puzzling story of Al Harrington’s 2009-10 season doomed the Knicks to a defeat that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score would indicate.

And so we are left to sit and wait and dream of a summer that seems too far away.  At some point next year, LeBron will return to play his next game at Madison Square Garden, and he either will be wearing a Knicks jersey or he won’t.  We have no new information, no new arguments, no new reasons to believe or doubt that there is a headband-wearing savior on the horizon for the Knicks.

20 players took the floor at some point in tonight’s Knicks/Cavs game, but only one of them really mattered.  Not on the grandest level (in which ending world hunger matters) or on the smallest level (in which it matters to me that David Lee is emerging as an increasingly aggressive offensive player on what he has realized is, for better or worse, his team) but on the NBA’s macro level — a level on which the Knicks have not meant anything in quite a while.

On this night, they looked like a group of guys waiting for someone to come along and change that, and not a group that had any confidence in their ability to change it themselves.   I wish I disagreed with them.