I Want To Draft Like It’s 1999

An NBA draft where the #1 overall consensus is a power forward, and a ton of guards are to be had including an intriguing foreign guard? No I’m not talking about this Thursday’s NBA draft where Blake Griffin is likely to go #1, there is a lot of depth at guard, and everyone is wondering where Rickey Rubio will land. I’m talking about the 1999 draft where Elton Brand went first, guards were taken in 7 of the next 10 picks, and Manu Ginobili quietly landed to the Spurs in the second round.

Of the top 10 picks, 9 of them had solid to spectacular careers, but only one of those stayed long enough to be seen as a success for the team that drafted him: Shawn Marion. A lot of these players were traded to other teams before they could really help the team that drafted them like Brand, Francis (a draft day holdout), Odom, Hamilton, Andre Miller, and Jason Terry. Number 5 pick Jonathan Bender never lived up to his potential due to injury. Wally Szczerbiak stayed with Minnesota, but was taken too high at #6. Baron Davis stayed with the Hornets for 5 and a half seasons, but was traded midyear to Golden State where he engineered one of the biggest first round upsets in history.

Although there was plenty of value at the top 10, the next 10 was filled with busts. Only Ron Artest (#16), Corey Maggette (#13) and James Posey (#18) were worth noting. As for the rest of the draft, there were two European superstars taken late in Kirilenko (#24) and Manu Ginobili (#57), and a few fillers (Jeff Foster #21, Kenny Thomas #22, Devean George #23, and Gordon Giricek #40).

Knick fans remember this draft for grabbing Frederic Weis one pick before Ron Artest, but that may not have been the biggest bust of the draft. As I previously mentioned the top 10 all netted solid players except for Bender. If you want to excuse him for injury, then nearly every pick 11-14 (except for Maggette) could be seen as failures as well. Trajan Langdon at #11 is a candidate, although he’s had a good career overseas. Aleksandar Radojevic (from the powerhouse Barton County Community College) was taken 3 picks prior to Weis. And the Timberwolves struck out the pick before New York’s with Duke’s William Avery.

So how might this draft have turned out? Here’s my re-draft, not necessarily in order of how they should have been taken. But rather in how one alternate earth might have been for the first 16 picks.

#1 Chicago – Elton Brand
The Bulls made the right pick. Actually in our reality they made 2 right picks with Artest at #15. The problem was that they gave up on that team too early. Chicago could have been a mid-west powerhouse with Brand, Artest, and Brad Miller with a supporting cast of Jamal Crawford, Fred Hoiberg and Jake Voskuhl. The problem was the team was still young & surrounded with little else. Marcus Fizer? Khalid El-Amin? Corey Benjamin? Bryce Drew? Michael Ruffin? Dragan Tarlac? Dalibor Bagaric? No wonder they won 15 games in 2001.

#2 Vancouver – Lamar Odom
Vancouver didn’t deserve Steve Francis, but they didn’t really need him either. They had grabbed Mike Bibby in the draft before, and as New Yorkers learned Francis didn’t play well with other point guards. Instead they should have grabbed Odom. The Grizzlies had an awful team, but Bibby, Odom, and Shareef Abdur-Rahem would have been a respectable threesome. Looking at their history, they were doomed to failure by their poor drafts Reeves #6, Abdur Rahim #3, and Antonio Daniels #4 is hardly the core you want to build a franchise on.

#3 Charlotte – Baron Davis
Davis was the right pick here.

#4 Los Angeles Clippers – Steve Francis
Now these two deserved each other.

#5 Toronto – Ron Artest (traded to Indiana)
The Raptors originally drafted Bender and traded him for Antonio Davis. Why would Toronto do such a thing? They have Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady, and Doug Christie. So there goes the shooting guards and small forwards. They could use a point guard, but that isn’t a priority with Carter & McGrady taking up a big share of the offense. They need a big man, but there really aren’t any in this draft (Jeff Foster?). I see why they traded this pick, they had two dynamic scorers and needed some front court depth (past Charles Oakley). So I have the Raptors trading this pick still, and Indiana selecting Ron Artest instead. The Pacers would end up with Ron after a few seasons later anyway. The Pacers would have Artest to defend Allan Houston in the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals (which Indana won) but they could also use him to shut down Kobe Bryant in the Finals (which they lost in 6).

#6 Minnesota – Manu Ginobili
I’m going to go out on a limb here. Before Garnett went to Boston and won a title, people argued how the league would have been if he had swapped teams with Tim Duncan. That the two were equally good, and Duncan won those championships because of his supporting cast. So let’s see how Garnett would have done with the Argentine at his side. Also in this Bizzaro universe Kevin McHale would be a genius.

#7 Washington – Rip Hamilton
Washington really sucked. It doesn’t matter who they draft here. The guy is going to be gone by the time Jordan arrives. Might as well be Rip so that the Pistons improbable championship still occurs.

#8 Cleveland – Shawn Marion
Cleveland took who they thought was the best guy on the board, Andre Miller. And normally I agree with such a signing, except the Cavs had two young (but undersized) guards on their roster already: Brevin Knight and Earl Boykins. Miller’s arrival meant that both would be gone within a year. Cleveland let Boykins go, but traded Brevin Knight for Jimmy Jackson, Anthony Johnson and Larry Robinson. All three would be off Cleveland’s roster by the next season. I hate it when a team overloads at one position and fails to net anything substantial from trades. If we’re not taking Andre Miller here, then you can have an up-tempo team with Knight/Boykins. So I think Shawn Marion is the right fit here.

#9 Phoenix – Corey Maggette
The Suns are probably crushed that they didn’t get Marion. They have Jason Kidd, and are about to offer Anfernee Hardaway to a huge contract. Maggette’s scoring and rebounding would be adequate in lieu of Marion’s energy game.

#10 Atlanta – Trajan Langdon
The Hawks have Mutombo and Rider and are in dire need of a point guard. So with Andre Miller on the board, they’re going to draft Trajan Langdon. This way by 2005 they’ll have learned their lesson and take Deron Williams or Chris Paul with the #2 pick instead of Marvin Williams.

#11 Cleveland – Jason Terry
With the Cavs comitting to an up-tempo offense with their #8 pick, they should take Terry here. Knight, Terry, Marion, and Donyell Marshall are undersized, but should make for a laser fast offense. With Zydrunas healthy in 2011, that’s not such a bad team.

#12 Toronto – Aleksandar Radojevic
As I said earlier, the Raptors really need front court depth, so this is why they reached for the 7-3 Euro. And this is why you don’t draft for need.

#13 Seattle – Wally Szczerbiak (traded to Orlando)
The Magic who acquire this pick in a trade have Darrell Armstrong, Bo Outlaw, and Ben Wallace. They need someone who can score, and don’t care about defense. Wally fits the bill here.

#14 Minnesota – James Posey
In this world, McHale is a genius, and the best player on the board is Andrei Kirilenko. But taking Kirilenko after reaching for an unknown in Ginobili would get him fired. Also having Kirilenko and Garnett on the court at the same time would be too weird. That’s like 60 combined feet of skinny arms & legs. Terrell Brandon, Manu Ginobili, James Posey, Kevin Garnett, and Rasho Nesterovic – that’s a nice team for 2000.

#15 New York – Andrei Kirilenko
Ahhh to dream. The Knicks dared to take a European, but clearly the wrong one. In 2000, Kirilenko would have fit in well with that Knicks team giving them so much depth. The starters would have been Ward, Houston, Sprewell, LJ and Ewing with Camby, Kurt Thomas, Childs and Kirilenko off the bench. That’s one scary team defensively. Additionally AK-47’s arrival might have prevented the team from trading Ewing for Glenn Rice, keeping the franchise from self destruction via salary cap. Perhaps the 2001 Knicks with Camby starting, Ewing coming off the bench, the addition of Mark Jackson, and Kirlenko instead of Rice could have given the team another title run.

#16 Chicago – Andre Miller
Here are your early aughts Bulls: Andre Miller, Jamal Crawford, Toni Kukoc, Elton Brand, and Brad Miller. Not a bad rebuild post-Jordan. Try not to break that team up this time.

If True, Walsh Move a Step Forward

Although there has been no official word, a few different sources have reported that the Knicks have hired Donnie Walsh to oversee their franchise. Walsh isn’t the sexy move that Colangelo or West would have been, and his tenure in Indiana isn’t without it’s flaws. However for the Knicks in the Dolan era, playing it safe shows a marked improvement.

Since Dolan took sole possession, many of the the Knicks moves have been risky get rich quick schemes. Some of the hallmark transactions include trading for Glenn Rice, Antonio Mcdyess, Stephon Marbury, Steve Francis, Eddy Curry, and Zach Randolph. If these deals have one thing in common, it’s that each one failed to account for the Knicks long term future. Rice was exchanged in favor of Patrick Ewing’s massively expiring contract. McDyess was gotten in lieu of the #8 pick (Nene). Meanwhile the rest took away the Knicks financial flexibility, not to mention four first round picks and a few young players. But despite surrendering all this, New York finds itself at the bottom of the league hoping to lose games in order to get a better draft pick.

During Walsh’s tenure, the Pacers rarely went for the big move. The early ’90s Pacers were built primarily through the draft. Reggie Miller, Rik Smits, Antonio Davis, and Dale Davis were taken in successive years. Meanwhile the early ’00s Pacers were constructed through shrew trades. Walsh paid pennies on the dollar for Jermaine O’Neal (Dale Davis) and Ron Artest (Jalen Rose & Travis Best). These deals are the antithesis of the recent New York acquisitions.

Compared to Walsh, Scott Layden and Isiah Thomas were inexperienced, impatient, and incompetent GMs. Fans were happy at the trade deadline this year when New York didn’t make any deals. Not because the team didn’t need to move players, but because Isiah Thomas didn’t have a chance to further damage the team. With Walsh at the helm, New Yorkers won’t hold their collective breaths anytime the ESPN ticker announces a Knick trade. If Donnie Walsh assumes the helm, he will be the first capable GM in the James Dolan era. And that’s a small step forward for a franchise wrapping up its 8th straight losing season.

Is This Worse Than Any Isiah Trade?

It is now official, Shaquille O’Neal has been dumped traded to the Phoenix Suns in exchange for Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks. I think we all, more or less, agree that this is a horrible trade for the Suns, trading the better, younger player on a team with the best record in the Western Conference for an older, worse player who, as a kicker, is not just injury prone, but currently injured.

What I wonder, though, is this such a bad trade that it is even worse than any Isiah trade? Read More

Why The 2008 Knicks Can’t Win (Some Plays Count)

The other day I was on the train and overheard two Knick fans talking about the state of the team. The first man asked the other what was wrong with the team to which the second replied: “Isiah has to go. They have a good team on paper.” It seems that there’s the idea floating around Knick-nation that with a coaching change and a few tweaks the Knicks could have a good team. However, watching last Wednesday’s loss to the depleted Kings gave me a clear picture of why the Knicks just can’t win with this current roster. In reality it was just two Kings that helped sort things out: Brad Miller and John Salmons.

One one possession (4:28 1Q) Miller is on the left blocks being fronted by David Lee. Salmons has the ball, lofts it over Lee to Miller, and Brad has an unobstructed path to the hoop for an easy two points. After Lee fronts Miller, someone is supposed to give backside help. On this play Eddy Curry is on the weak side, but he’s oblivious to what’s happening with the ball. Curry is engrossed in covering the ever dangerous Mikki Moore on the weak side. Miller’s layup exposed two weaknesses – Lee’s inability to play better man to man defense and Eddy Curry’s lack of awareness on defense.

In the second quarter at the 5:51 mark, the Kings bring the ball up on offense. Brad Miller is on the far side behind the three point line while Garcia and Moore play the high pick & roll. Lee is defending Moore and helps double on the pick & roll. Garcia passes the ball to Miller who is standing behind the three point line. Even though Miller is able to hit from downtown, Curry gives him space is and is about 2 feet from the paint. Despite Curry playing Miller deep, Miller is able to dribble right past him. Lee, recovering from the high screen, comes over to help, but can only offer token resistance by putting up his arms. Miller scores an easy two points over David Lee. Again Curry and Lee have revealed their weaknesses on defense. This time Curry shows his inability to stay with his man on the perimeter (something I’ve mentioned often here) and Lee is unable to provide assistance in the form of shot blocking.

In this game, John Salmons scored a lifetime high of 32 points. Reading over the play-by-play Salmon had 6 baskets recorded as “Driving Layup”. Watching the game it felt like it was 30 baskets. I could have analyzed any of his layups, but I chose to review his first – 40 seconds into the game. At the top of the key, Miller passes the ball to Salmons who is at the free throw line extended. Miller sets a pick on Salmons’ defender (Jeffries). Miller’s man, Eddy Curry is supposed to help, but again he’s unaware of what’s happening and fails to react to the pick & roll. Salmons goes right past Curry unhindered. Zach Randolph watches the play unfold and moves in front of the restricted area in preparation for Salmons’ approach. Yet Salmons drives right past Randolph for the easy layup. A series of mistakes on this possession lead to an easy bucket: Curry’s inability to read the screen, his failure to slow down Salmons’ drive so that Jeffries can recover, and Randolph’s futile help under the basket.

These plays expose a fundamental flaw with the current Knicks team: the lack of interior defense. It’s no secret that nearly every player on New York is a bad defender, but good defense usually begins from the inside. There’s a reason that bigmen who are offensively limited but can prevent scoring can have long careers. Players like Eddy Curry, Zach Randolph, and David Lee aren’t strong defenders so they need a defensive minded compliment in the frontcourt. In Curry’s only winning season, he was flanked by a few strong defenders: Tyson Chandler, Antonio Davis, and Andres Nocioni. In Randolph’s only winning season, he was coupled with Rasheed Wallace, Arvadys Sabonis, and Dale Davis.

Instead of a frontcourt pairing of an offensive player with a defensive player, the Knicks have two poor defensive big men on the court at nearly all times. And this has been a recipe for disaster. New York is dead last in the league in defensive efficiency, and there isn’t a coach in the world that could make the current rotation average defensively. Without the addition of a defensive frontcourt player to the rotation, New York will remain a bad defensive team. The Knicks aren’t a good team on paper, they’re just plain bad on defense.

K-Dawg Tearing It Up

Bravo to Kelly Dwyer for these gems:

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2007/writers/kelly_dwyer/04/30/inside.nba/index.html

I love watching Dallas’ Jason Terry and Golden State’s Baron Davis go at it, especially while taking into context their respective career arcs. Both were drafted in 1999, with Davis going to a ready-made playoff contender in Charlotte that had hopped up the lottery. By his second season, he was starting on a conference semifinalist. Terry, meanwhile, had to toil away in relative obscurity with the Atlanta Hawks, earning an unfair label of a wild chucker on a bad team. The Hawks stunk, but it was Davis that boasted the chucker instincts, while Terry honed his craft with a more subdued screen-and-roll attack with whatever defensively challenged power forward the Hawks brought in that year.

Now they’re going back and forth in the midst of an ultra-exciting first round matchup between the Warriors and Mavericks, and I have to wonder if Terry’s regressed a little. The stats are there (almost 20 points a game), but his shooting percentage is down, and he was killing Dallas in Game 4 with his inability to get Dirk Nowitzki the ball. Nowitzki deserves plenty of blame for not being more aggressive, and he is being zoned away from easy looks for most of the game, but Terry has to find ways to lob him the rock with the 6-7 Mickael Pietrus guarding the Maverick All-Star. Dallas is done if he doesn’t.

AND

It isn’t first-time playoff jitters, or shot-happy point guards, or a lack of energy — the real reason Toronto’s Chris Bosh is having an up-and-down postseason is the defensive play of New Jersey’s Jason Collins. Bosh is averaging just under 18 points per game on 43 percent shooting, down from a regular season that saw him throw in 22.6 points per game while making half his shots. Though Bosh has had his moments during Toronto’s first-round series, Collins’ athletic defense, exemplary footwork and exquisite timing has kept the Raptor big man from taking over.

Collins continues to be underrated. We’re not saying he should be playing 30 minutes a night; his pathetic offense and poor rebounding can hurt a team in the long run. But he’s as good a defensive player as this league boasts. The idea that he garnered zero Defensive Player of the Year votes (or, one less than Kobe Bryant), that hurts.

AND

A recent trend you shouldn’t pay much attention to: commentators pointing to field goal defense allowed as a way of gauging defensive aptitude.

Now, it certainly helps a team’s defensive case if it holds the opponent to a certain mark from the floor, but it’s far from an end-all stat. For instance, Chicago led the NBA in field goal percentage allowed during the 2005 and 2006 seasons, but were those Bulls teams the best defensive team in the NBA? Hardly. Scott Skiles’ team sent its opponents to the free throw line at an alarming rate, and its rash of turnovers on the other end allowed for several extra possessions per game in which the opponents could throw in a bucket or six. Neither of these realities can be accounted for when pointing to field goal percentage defense.

At the end of the day, just go with points allowed, adjusted for pace, as your end-all. Ironically, Chicago led the NBA in that stat in 2006-07, despite finishing second to the Houston Rockets for the lead in field goal percentage defense. The difference this season? More calls going in Chicago’s favor, and less chance for the opponents to alter the score from the line.

AND there’s more. He starts the article talking about Kirilenko, using 82games, and what team would benefit most from getting him (and no it’s not the Knicks). Think about it for a second before you read the article. Which team would most benefit from AK-47? Dwyer hits on a few other things, including the Bowen-AI-‘Melo relationship, Jason Kidd’s series, Antonio Daniels and Rich Kelley.

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2007/writers/kelly_dwyer/04/30/inside.nba/index.html

Would you have kept Rose and Taylor’s contracts?

One of the more irritating things this season reading John Hollinger has been his consistent (not constant, as he has only brought it up a few times, but he has done so consistently – the same talking points) harping on the Knicks paying off of Jalen Rose and Maurice Taylor, which kept the Knicks from using their salaries in a similar way to the way they used Antonio Davis and Anfernee Hardaway last year, to trade to teams trying to clear salary cap room (a move that was pretty clearly done by the owner as an attempt to keep Isiah Thomas from doing those trades, as they usually involve taking on more salary).

My problem with Hollinger’s criticism is that I just do not think it is reasonable to believe that, had the Knicks kept the salaries and done similar moves to last year, Hollinger wouldn’t have (probably rightfully) ripped the Knicks for doing what he is currently chastisizing them for not doing! A true lose-lose proposition.

First off, the idea that, had the Knicks kept Jalen Rose’s contract, they would have been able to pick up Pau Gasol (as Hollinger recently suggested) is pretty silly.

But there probably would be a couple of other players that the Knicks could have at least been in the running for had they kept Rose and/or Taylor’s contracts.

My question is, do you think the Knicks are better off letting the contracts expire, or do you think they should have kept the salaries to make trades?

I personally think it is better to just take the money loss (and the Balkman pick that they got with Jalen Rose) and let the money come off the cap. The Knicks won’t be under the cap any time soon, but I’d prefer to keep that possibility an actual possibility, which would not be the case if they kept trading salaries for longer-term contracts. And really, who really WAS available this year? Anyone who could really change the Knicks? If Gasol could have been gotten, I guess that would have worked, but I sincerely doubt the Knicks would have been able to get Gasol.

But I’m interested in hearing from the rest of you folks. What do you think the Knicks should have done with Rose and Taylor’s contracts?

Knicks 107 Lakers 106

At the risk of over-selling this road victory I was most impressed by two things the Knicks did well.

1. The Knicks limited their turnovers.

I recently remarked to a friend, “if the Knicks aren’t going to play any defense the least they can do is force the opposition to play some.” On the season the Knicks manage to fritter away almost 19% of their possessions. We saw the clearest implications of this team’s “butterfingers complex” at Utah. Twenty-two turnovers allowed a team that NY had otherwise outplayed most of the night to hang around until their most explosive scorer exploded. Last night against LA the Knicks turned the ball over a more reasonable 11 times. In fact two players, Marbury (6) and Richardson (5), were responsible for all of them and both had an uncharacteristically poor games in that regard. In the first half NY consistently found themselves down by 5 and 8 points–the Lakers shot a sizzling 40.7% from 3 point range for the game. In the past, the Knicks would compound a team’s hot shooting by turning it over, allowing the opposition to push a 5 or 8 point lead to 15 or 20. Last night NY never allowed LA to run away and hide. An 11 turnover night is probably a somewhat unrealistic expectation for this team going forward, but there is no reason the Knicks cannot be in the middle-of-the pack on turnovers at 14 or 15/game. For all the discussion that has come out of the Utah loss, the Knicks have generally performed well in games where they have a late lead and in close games. When the Knicks keep the game close they are a tough, tough cover.

2. The Knicks defended well in the last five minutes.

Although the Knicks are not blessed with very good defensive players, the Knicks are certainly exerting more effort on defense since the beginning of the season (and more than at any point last season). Stephon Marbury has been impressive in his efforts on defense recently, definitely since the start of the new year. Keeping in mind John Wooden’s adage not to mistake activity for outcome, Marbury’s efforts last night on Kobe Bryant were noteworthy. He consistently fought through screens, and did a relatively decent job of keeping Bryant from getting into the lane at will. Of course, Bryant spent much of the night at the free throw line (11 FTAs), so let’s not start the petition drive to get Marbury onto the All-NBA first team defense just yet. Nonetheless, I have been very critical of Marbury’s defensive effort in the past. So I would be remiss to ignore the most sustained defensive effort of his career and its deeper meaning. Thomas, for all the slick PR spin on his team’s shortcomings and assorted shenanigans, has managed to get Stephon Marbury of all players to recognize the value of defense and pay it more than lip service. Helping players confront their weaknesses and then improve on them (rather than merely exposing them in the press) is a trait I find to be much undervalued in coaches. As a friend once said to me, “getting a gunner to play defense is a sign he respects his coach.”

The next hill to climb for any coach trying to turn a poor defense into a respectable one is to get players to defend well in the last five minutes. (Then of course you try to get them to defend the whole game, but baby steps people, baby steps.) The Knicks did a poor job against the Jazz on Saturday but appeared to have learned some things from that loss. Below is the play-by-play for the Lakers only from the 5:04 mark in the 4th quarter.

5:04 [LAL 96-95] Bryant Free Throw 1 of 2 (26 PTS)
5:04 [LAL 97-95] Bryant Free Throw 2 of 2 (27 PTS)
4:30 [LAL 98-95] Evans Free Throw 1 of 2 (14 PTS)
4:30 [LAL 99-95] Evans Free Throw 2 of 2 (15 PTS)
3:53 Bryant Jump Shot: Missed
3:51 Odom Rebound (Off:3 Def:6)
3:50 Odom Turnover:Foul (5 TO)
3:24 Parker Jump Shot: Missed
Team Timeout:Regular 2:41
2:41 [LAL 100-101] Evans Free Throw 1 of 2 (16 PTS)
2:41 Evans Free Throw 2 of 2 missed
Frye Rebound (Off:2 Def:5) 2:40
2:00 Parker 3pt Shot: Missed
1:58 Odom Rebound (Off:4 Def:6)
1:58 [LAL 102-103] Odom Layup Shot: Made (12 PTS)
0:59 [LAL 103-103] Bryant Free Throw 1 of 2 (28 PTS)
Team Timeout:Regular 0:59
0:59 [LAL 104-103] Bryant Free Throw 2 of 2 (29 PTS)
[LAL 106-105] Bryant Running Jump Shot: Made (31 PTS)
Team Timeout:Regular 0:07
0:00 Odom Jump Shot: Missed Block: Lee (1 BLK)

By my count that’s 2 for 6 from the field, including a drawn charge and an excellent defensive stand on the last play. The Knicks gave up 8 FTAs and some untimely offensive rebounds over that span but played quite well from the field defensively.

It was perhaps the season’s most satisfying victory. It reminded me of last season’s quip from Antonio Davis about how the team’s 7-game post-holiday winning streak was “fool’s gold” because the defensive effort wasn’t there. Let’s hope last night’s victory leads to real gold this time around.