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.

Just Say No to Douby

According to the New York Daily News, the Knicks are going to give Quincy Douby a chance to make the team. As a college prospect Douby intrigued me. During his last year at Rutgers Douby scored efficiently, averaging 24.9 pts/36 with a 55.6% eFG and a TS% of 60.1%. His steals (1.8 stl/36) and rebounds (4.2 reb/36) were enough for a guard who was primarily a scorer. The Knicks didn’t get a chance to draft Douby that year because Sacramento took him 19th, one pick before New York selected Renaldo Balkman.

However Douby’s NBA career never took off. In three seasons, the Kings only played him thirty minutes or more in a game five times. Needless to say, he was unable to crack the rotation. It’s hard to fault Sacramento, since Douby’s stats have been disappointing. For a player who was an efficient scorer in college, he hasn’t been able to adjust to the NBA level. Douby’s career scoring is weak (13.7 pts/36, 47.6% TS%, 44.1% eFG) for a player that doesn’t offer much else but scoring (9.3 PER). What’s most disappointing is Douby’s sub-par three point percentage (30.6%), despite his high attempt rate (5.1 3pa/36).

If Douby, a Brooklyn native who played at Rutgers, looks good in this tryout, New York could sign him to a contract. Unfortunately this would be the same mistake they made in preseason with Anthony Roberson, which backfired on the team. Even when the Knicks were in dire need of another guard, Roberson wasn’t deemed good enough to earn playing time. He was finally dealt to Chicago in the Hughes deal, for nothing else than to give the Knicks another chance at filling his spot on the roster.

Ironically Douby has a lot in common with the person he may replace. Roberson and Douby are only a year apart in age, and both players have struggled to earn playing time in the NBA. Both are scoring guards who don’t offer much else. However a look at the stats show Roberson to be the superior player. This should send red flags to the team. If Roberson was wasting a roster spot then why would they sign Douby who has been outperformed by Roberson on the NBA level?

  Player  G    MP  FGA 3PA  3P% FTA  FT% TRB AST STL TOV  PTS  PER  TS% eFG%
   Douby 136 1462 13.5 5.1 .306 2.0 .890 3.6 2.0 1.2 2.0 13.7  9.3 .476 .441
Roberson  59  568 15.1 8.6 .368 0.6 .900 2.7 2.2 1.5 1.5 16.0 11.6 .522 .513

In the near future the Knicks are aiming to sign one or two big free agents, and to accomplish that goal they are going to have to be frugal with their money. So far the media has concentrated on Lee, Robinson, and Duhon as the linchpin to the Knicks free agency success. While this may be true, the team will still need to fill the rest of their roster cheaply. Identifying bargain NBA players like Von Wafer, Matt Barnes, and Ime Udoka could mean the difference between having a great team in 2010, and one that is still a few mid-level free agents away from competing for a title.

Knicks Make Small Gains

New York pulled the trigger on two deals today before the NBA trade deadline. The bad news is that neither deal opens up any more cap space for 2010. The good news is that the moves will give the team a little more flexibility this year. In the bigger deal, New York acquired Larry Hughes for Jerome James, Tim Thomas, and Anthony Roberson. In a second deal, the Knicks sent Malik Rose to Oklahoma City for Chris Wilcox. Hughes will make $12.8M this year and $13.7M next year, while Wilcox’s $6.8M contract will expire this year. Hence from a salary cap perspective, this is a lateral move for the Knicks.

The most obvious improvement is in the Wilcox/Rose deal. Malik Rose saw playing time early on, but has been racking up DNP-CDs since. The veteran has played in only three games since Christmas. Wilcox is 8 years younger, and has been productive. Although his PER is down this year (13.4), he’s had an above PER the two years prior (16.3 in 2008 & 16.6 in 2007). He should provide the Knicks with much needed depth at the F/C spots, and that alone will help the team this year. I’m not sure why the Thunder made this deal, unless they’re eying Rose for a coaching position.

As for the Knicks other deal, it’s not necessarily who they got that makes them better. Larry Hughes is an aging slasher/defender who perhaps was never a great defender despite his reputation. Kevin Broom and I used to discuss Hughes’ defense, and Broom thought that Hughes’ gambles on the defensive end hurt the team. As for the slasher aspect, Hughes averaged 6.9 FT/36 in 2005 and that number has decreased in every full year since (5.4 in 2006, 4.3 in 2007, 3.4 in 2008). That means he’s either not able or not willing to get to the hole more, which would explain his tumbling shooting numbers. This year has been a small rebound year for Hughes, as his TS% has increased nearly 60 points from last year (TS% 52.5%) But at this point it’s possible due to the small sample size instead of a real improvement.

What’s more important about the Bulls trade is that the Knicks unloaded three players for one. Much like Malik Rose (160 minutes played), Jerome James (10 min) and Anthony Roberson (253 min) have seen few minutes this year. With New York wasting roster spots on these three plus Curry (3 min) and Stephon Marbury (0 min), the team has been playing shorthanded nearly the entire year. With two new roster spots freed, the Knicks can grab two players from the D-League to fit specific roles (shot blocker?, point guard?) that the team needs.

In both of these deals New York has given up only one player who was in their rotation: Tim Thomas. The Knicks will be able to replace his role on the team with two players. The first is Wilcox who will give New York a big body to defend the post. The second is Gallinari who will provide scoring from the perimeter. Giving the rookie more playing time is the icing on the cake for the Knicks.

Knicks denied Disabled Player Exception for Mobley

Steve Adamek of the Bergen Record reports that the league denied a disabled player exception for Cuttino Mobley late Friday.

The league, Walsh said, essentially determined that Mobley’s heart condition, which forced him to retire shortly after the Knicks acquired him from the Clippers on Nov. 21, but with which he had played this season, was a pre-existing condition.

Mobley is now like anyone else on the roster. The Knicks could buy out his contract, worth more than $8.9 million this season and another $9.5 million next season, which would clear a roster spot (he would be waived), although the money would not come off their cap. They could also simply waive him without a buyout.


Obviously this closes the door on a number of possibilities Donnie Walsh had to alter the Knicks’ roster. A two for one deal to move Marbury is now even more unlikely unless a small contract like Anthony Roberson’s is bought out. The denial also prevents Walsh from trading the exception for a player with up to a 4.5 million dollar contract.

Knicks Sign Roberson

The Post is reporting that the Knicks have agreed in principle on a two-year deal with Anthony Roberson. (I always want to call him El Roberson, after the former Kansas State quarterback. Note: Anthony has nothing to do with El as far as I know.) What remains unclear is whether the second year of the league minimum deal will be a team option year. Since the signing puts the team one guaranteed contract over the limit other deals will be forthcoming, and this may spell the end for Marbury in NY. Certainly, one possible reading of Marbury’s interview on yesterday’s replay of the Knicks/Cavs game strongly suggests that he thinks he will be moved. “I just want to play, no matter where it is…” “It’s a business. I understand that…” Of course, even if Marbury thinks he’ll be moved that doesn’t mean he will be. The Knicks could clear a roster spot in any number of other ways. Donnie Walsh allegedly already passed up an offer from the Clippers; Zach Randolph for a second round pick in a straight salary dump. Presumably, he’s holding out for a bigger deal. (Interestingly, the Clips actually made that deal–only for Marcus Camby instead of Zeebo.) The Knicks are also widely thought to be entertaining buyouts for Jerome James (or perhaps an injury settlement) and potentially Mardy Collins (who incidentally looks a lot better–quicker–at the lighter weight). Malik Rose’s expiring contract could also potentially be a part of a pre-season deal. So, although this move does not absolutely spell the end of Marbury’s return to NY he may want to stop by the Post Office and pick up one of those “So, You’re Moving?” packets. They’re chock full of useful information, sometimes even coupons.

As for Roberson, it appears the Knicks see him as an end-of-the-bench shooter in the mold of an Eddie House. In that sense I have no specific issue with the signing on its own merits. As pointed out in a previous post, Roberson’s a shoot first (second and third) guard. His low assist rate (8%) and high usage rate (21.4%) make it a stretch to refer to him as a combo guard as the Post does (and as the MSG crew did during the telecast). Recalling his play at the University of Florida (on the same team as David Lee) I am reminded of the old Nike Basketball ad with Gary Payton and Jason Kidd where the pair show up at a boy’s house to confiscate his basketball because he refuses to share it. After dusting the ball for prints and finding only the boy’s, Payton says, “You ain’t even lettin’ the ground touch the ball!” That’s Roberson’s game–pure gunner. Fortunately, in his brief stints for Golden State and Memphis he has shot the ball reasonably well.

First Game Wrap Up

Gallinari:

He was downright awful in the first half. I went back to the play-by-play and compiled his stats at the half: 0-4, 3 TO, 1-1 REB, 3 PF, 1 AST, 0 BLK, 0 STL, 0 PTS

He had 2 turnovers and a foul in his first 3 minutes. He had two shots where he was forcing the action – wild up-and-unders that fooled no one. Gallo he didn’t really show any tenacity outside of the offense. There were a few occasions I felt he gave up on a ball that he might have dove for, and he didn’t do anything spectacular on defense. He made a couple of rookie mistakes, one being the cardinal sin of defense: fouling a player on a fast break and allowing him to make the shot.

Danilo showed positive signs in the second half, and ended with a decent line: 5-11, 4 TO, 4-2 REB, 5 PF, 2 AST, 1 BLK, 0 STL, 14 PTS

He gained confidence with a two handed dunk, and showed an accurate jumpshot. I have to give him credit for going to the hoop a couple of times as well. It’s hard to make assumptions of a player by one half of a summer league game, but I don’t think Gallo is going to be a regular contributor this year. And I’m fine with that, since the team drafted him for the future, not the present. There was enough to like about him, like how he came back from a dreadful first half. He showed ability and confidence. I think it’s going to take him a year before he learns the nuances of the NBA.

Wilson Chandler

Speaking of learning the nuances of the NBA, Wilson Chandler seems to have developed significantly from last year. Not only did he lead the team in scoring (11-21, 2 TO, 26 points) but he was seemingly omnipresent. Chandler had 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks. When on the floor with Balkman the pair made the Knicks tough defensively, especially on the interior. They had a combined 4 blocks, about the number Zach Randolph would get in about 2 months. “Ill-Will” was certainly the Knicks best player on Monday.

Boxscore here: http://www.nba.com/summerleague2008/games/boxscore.jsp?gameId=1520800013

Renaldo Balkman

Balkman was his usual self, with not much change from last year. As always Balkman was great in pushing the ball up in transition, converted a few baskets around the rim, and played excellent defense. It didn’t bother me that he didn’t attempt a jump shot; what bothered me is that he didn’t make either of his free throws. Balkman would be fine without a mid-range game, but if he can’t hit free throws it really hurts his game.

Mardy Collins

The guy that I would cut in a second had a pretty good game yesterday. Unlike Balkman, Collins hit 8 of his 9 free throw attempts. And while I don’t expect him to go from 60% to 89% from the charity stripe, it’s nice to know that he probably has improved that aspect of his game. (Maybe he can show Balkman his technique.) Collins also hit his only three point attempt. Mardy’s game in the half court consisted of driving into the paint and trying to make things happen. It was a nice improvement, and if he can hit his free throws, an occasional three, and do a better job running the offense, there might be room on this team for him.

Anthony Roberson

Roberson was the surprise of the game. The 6-2 guard scored 22 points on 19 shots, but didn’t have a single assist. He reminded me a bit of Nate Robinson, minus the rebounding, passing, and childish demeanor. Roberson had two stints in the NBA for Memphis and Golden State, and his per minute stats show the same thing: decent scoring no passing. His efficiency (53.2 ts% and 52.6% efg) was good and his 1.5stl/36 was better than average. Quentin Richardson praised Anthony during the telecast saying the youngster was playing very well in practice. While a team could do much worse at the end of their bench, I’m not sure where he fits in on the Knicks’ roster. They have enough shoot first players at this point. On the other hand Roberson clearly has NBA talent, and the team roster might be very different in another year or two.

Knicks 2008 Summer League Roster

No Player Pos Ht Wt Born AGE College/Country 2007-08 Team Yrs Pro
32 Renaldo Balkman F 6’8 208 7/14/84 23 South Carolina New York (NBA) 2
21 Wilson Chandler F 6’8 230 5/19/87 21 DePaul New York (NBA) 1
25 Mardy Collins G 6’6 220 8/4/84 23 Temple New York (NBA) 2
8 Danilo Gallinari F 6’9 225 8/8/88 19 Italy Armani Jeans (Italy) R
18 Dan Grunfeld G/F 6’5 198 2/7/84 24 Stanford Valencia (Spain) R
7 Antonio Graves G 6’2 190 4/17/85 23 Pittsburgh Pittsburgh (CBA) R
6 Marcus Hall G 6’2 175 8/6/85 22 Colorado Colorado (NCAA) R
36 Delonte Holland F 6’7 220 3/2/82 26 DePaul Cimberio Varese (Italy) R
30 Brandon Hunter F 6’7 266 11/24/80 27 Ohio Angelico Biella (Italy) 3
1 Antione Johnson G 6’1 185 9/21/85 22 Albany Gazi (Turkey) R
40 Paul Miller F/C 6’10 250 11/17/82 25 Wichita State SPEC Polonia (Poland) R
2 Anthony Roberson G 6’2 188 2/14/83 25 Florida Hapoel (Israel) 2
4 Nate Robinson G 5’9 180 5/31/84 24 Washington New York (NBA) 3
5 Von Wafer G 6’4 195 7/21/85 22 Florida State Portland (NBA) 3
55 Zhang Songtao C 6’11 212 10/27/87 20 China Beijing (China-ABA) R