Roster Spots

Recently there’s been some discussion in the comment section at KnickerBlogger about the Knicks roster needs. Coach D’Antoni is known to keep the rotation short, but a 7 man team seems to be small even for him. The problem seems to be the lack of quality at the end of the Knicks’ bench.

Malik Rose saw time early on, but D’Antoni probably got tired of seeing Rose end up with the ball under the hoop and unable to finish. (I sure was!) Roberson made a name for himself in the summer league, but played his way out of the rotation. Jared Jeffries, who was supposed to perform a cocoon act reborn as a D’Antoni center, has been more caterpillar than butterfly. Additionally the Knicks have Eddy Curry who is suffering from a knee injury, Danilo Gallinari who is suffering from a back injury, and Jerome James who is suffering from sucking. James actually saw some live court time in the Knicks blowout of the Kings, but even against Shaq, James and his valuable 6 fouls stayed rooted to the bench.

Obviously most of these guys are not good enough (or healthy enough) to help the team this year. With the retirement of Mobley and the possible buyout of Marbury, the Knicks may have two roster spots open. But the question remains what kind of player(s) do the Knicks need?

The most glaring need is guard, or more specifically point guard. Duhon takes the lion’s share of the duties, with Robinson giving him a breather for a few minutes a night. This works out when the pair are healthy, but recently Robinson’s injury exposed the lack of depth. The Knicks third (and last) guard on the roster, Roberson, was unable to run the point. Roberson is more of a undersized scorer, and D’Antoni was so reluctant to use him that the he prefered the Knicks to have 5 forwards on the court instead of Roberson guiding the offense.

New York needs a point guard, not to make the rotation but rather to provide insurance in case either Duhon or Robinson get hurt again. Even if an injury forces this guard into action, they would only see 5-10 minutes to give the starter some breathing time. The Knicks don’t even need to swing a deal to acquire a player of this type. Jared Jordan was just signed to a NBDL team, and former Knick Frank Williams is already one of that league’s better point guards.

As for the second roster spot, interior defense is an issue, but this is a hard need to fill. Players that can block shots, rebound, run the floor, and don’t embarrass themselves on offense are much more difficult to find. To borrow from David Berri, there’s a short supply of tall people. The Knicks wouldn’t be able to grab a player like this off the developmental league or waiver wire. They might be able to find a player that does two of these, but that player isn’t likely to break the rotation. A player like Joakim Noah might be a good fit, but the Knicks are low on resources to make a trade like that.

Instead the Knicks should concentrate on another weakness: small forward. Wilson Chandler has supplanted Quentin Richardson from the starting lineup, and has performed admirably for a 21 year old. However Chandler shows his age often. He settles for the jump shot too often, isn’t great at finishing around the hoop and doesn’t pass well. I can’t think of another player that hits the backboard on the corner three as often as Wilson. Although he’s the Knicks best shot blocker in the rotation, he’s not freakishly athletic like Prince or Marion.

On one hand I’m reluctant to suggest the Knicks grab another SF, since that may cut into Chandler’s time. And on a rebuilding team, giving minutes to your young small forward is a good thing. However in a Hermian world where teams play to win the game, getting a SF that can rebound, defend the paint, and score inside would help the team greatly. Of course the Knicks gave away just that type of player (Balkman) and it’s likely the Knicks will grab Ewing Jr. in an attempt to fill that role.

John Hollinger usually notes that when a team suffers from an injured player, it’s not the drop-off from the starter to the first reserve that hurts the team the most. But rather the team suffers because they have to dig deeper into the bench to replace the minutes that the reserve player used to fill. The Knicks started off the season with a decent rotation, but as injuries and trades have robbed them of quality players, the end of the bench has come back to haunt them. Even if players like James, Marbury, and Rose aren’t playing much, they’re taking up roster spots of players that could be contributing. By robbing the team of players that might prove useful even in spot minutes, these players are hurting the team just as much as if they were playing badly on the court.

Knicks Woes Are Unguarded

After a 6-4 start, the New York Knicks agreed to a pair of trades have shipped away their two top per-game scorers. Since that day, the team has dropped 8 of 11 games. One could look at that situation and say Crawford and Randolph were worth much more to this current Knick team than we thought. Certainly this agrees with the traditional wisdom: the Knicks traded 40 points per game. It seems to reason that it’s not easy to make up that much scoring. However a closer look shows that it’s not the quality of these two players, but rather the lack of depth at the guard spot which has caused the team to perform so poorly.

Prior to the start of the season, I called the guard spot the Knicks “deepest“. D’Antoni had a rotation of Duhon, Crawford, Robinson, and Collins with Roberson and Marbury on the bench. However since then, New York traded Crawford and Collins, Robinson hurt himself, and Marbury has Marburied himself off the team. This has left the Knicks without any depth at guard. Over the last few games Duhon has played more than 40+ minutes in just about every game, Richardson has slid over to shooting guard, and D’Antoni has so little confidence in Roberson that he’s used 5 forwards on the floor instead of playing the team’s summer league signee.

These series of events underscore two failures of the team. The first is their dealing with Marbury. Perhaps Stephon’s relationship with his teammates made it impossible for D’Antoni to bring him back into the rotation and still keep his respect. And maybe Marbury wouldn’t have accepted a role off the bench at shooting guard. Obviously we’ll probably never know the truth, but this should have played out before the season started. This way if Marbury refused the playing time the Knicks could have worked on a deal sooner, and replaced him on the roster by the time they moved Crawford and Collins.

The second failure is the team’s lack of roster management. Keeping Roberson over Balkman is proving to be a mistake. For the last two games, the Knicks have had two healthy guards on the roster: Duhon and Roberson. Yet Roberson has racked up consecutive DNP-CDs. In other words D’Antoni thinks so little of him that he can’t even break into the rotation when he’s the only other guard on the team! What does that say about the Knicks ability to scout players? To make matter worse, two players that the Knicks chose Roberson over, Renaldo Balkman and Von Wafer, both recently started & had good games for their new clubs.

Granted New York might not be suffering this much if not for two unfortunate incidents. One being Robinson’s ill-timed injury, the other Mobley’s failed physical. Had one or both of these players been available to play, some of the above problems may not have been as glaring. Although the end of the bench may not be the worst place to make a mistake, right now these bad decisions have cost the Knicks a handful of games. Nonetheless it doesn’t absolve the team of these poor moves. And it may shed some light into some of the problems the team may have while rebuilding a winner.

Curry To Go

With the Knicks finally poised for considerable salary cap space in 2010-11, the LeBron James countdown has officially begun. More than a year and a half before it’s possible, New York is already salivating at the chance to welcome James to the fold. But it’s no foregone conclusion that The King will join the Knicks. James says championship contention is his top priority, and we should take his word for it. If that’s the case, the Knicks have a long way to go to before they can secure James. Building a championship level supporting cast will be a difficult journey. And it’s one that must begin with the trade of Eddy Curry.

The Knicks will be expected to lure a second superstar to play sidekick to James. According to current salary commitments, the Knicks will have enough room under the cap to offer two free agents the max if they don’t re-up their current core of young players–Nate Robinson, David Lee–and pick up the team options on Wilson Chandler ($2.1M) and Danilo Gallinari ($3.3M). To keep their youngsters, and still sign two max FA’s, the Knicks must unload Eddy Curry’s contract ($11.2M) without taking on 2010-2011 dollars.

Curry has his flaws, but due mostly (or exclusively, really) to his scoring talents, he’s still an above average center in a league that starts Udonis Haslem, Zaza Pachulia, and Robert Swift at the pivot. Curry’s not playing right now, so a trade is highly unlikely. But we can dream of the day the Knicks’ league-leading pace will artificially inflate his per game numbers. Better yet, we can speculate on how exactly to get rid of him.

Mr. Curry to the Courtesy Phone
For the sake of argument, I’m assuming that teams that would want a player like Curry are in need of: (a) bench/low post scoring; (b) big man depth; (c) are playoff bound in 2008-09; (d) and won’t have cap space in 2010 anyway.

Also, for the sake of argument, I’m assuming that the Knicks are literally willing to give Curry away. If I were Donnie Walsh, I’d trade Curry for a sack of potatoes, as long as the tubers’ contract expired on July 1st, 2010. Of course, the Knicks could get lucky and find a team that’s willing to trade an unprotected first round pick for Curry, but for that to happen, they’d probably have to trade Isiah Thomas to the Clippers first.

None of the following deals are likely, but to prevent the absurd, I’ve omitted possible trades to teams like Chicago and Milwaukee that may need a player with Eddy Curry’s skill set, but don’t want Eddy Curry.

CHARLOTTE Nazr Mohammed & Adam Morrison for Eddy Curry
Off-court, Charlotte would prefer to unload Gerald Wallace’s contract. On-court, they need a center to move Emeka Okafor back to his more natural power forward position. Okafor’s defense can cover for Curry’s lapses, and vice versa. They’d be great platoon partners.

Charlotte won‘t make the playoffs this year, but they are looking to reorganize their team. Various rumors suggest they’re ready to give up on Morrison, and could use Curry’s scoring instead. The salaries match, but Nazr has 2010 money on the books, so the Knicks would only save about $4 million. The Knicks would decline Morrison’s option and renounce his rights.

With Nazr for Curry, they’d have an easier salary to unload in the off-season, and that $4 million in savings can help off-set the salary commitment for their 2009 first round draft pick.

NEW ORLEARNS Mike James & Hilton Armstrong for Eddy Curry
The Hornets are getting absolutely nothing out of James and Armstrong, with the former losing his rotation spot to Devin Brown and the latter doing his best impression of a lamp-post fifteen minutes a game. With front court depth a major issue heading into the post-season, the Hornets could jettison two players who don’t contribute for a third big man who can provide scoring punch when Tyson Chandler or David West take their breathers.

Curry has always been an embarrassingly bad rebounder, so it may come as a surprise that he could actually help the Hornets in that regard. Believe it or not, his career rebound rate is slightly superior to Armstrong’s. And Curry would do it while scoring twice as much. We focus on Curry’s flaws so often, we often forget how many teams play total stiffs just by virtue of them being the tallest guy in the gym.

The Hornets are playoff bound and will need some help to get past the Lakers. Curry doesn’t come cheap, but one wonders if they’d be willing to roll the dice with the man-child, picking him up to provide the front-court depth and second-team scoring they so desperately need.

DENVER Steven Hunter and Chucky Atkins for Eddy Curry
Like the Hornets, the Nuggets can trade two players who have spent most of the year in business suits for a productive big man. Considering they’ve played Renaldo Balkman at the pivot, they could use a center that puts the ball in the basket.

Hunter and Atkins come to the Knicks for blatant salary implications, while Denver gets another scorer. In fact, with Denver’s trade exemptions, they could acquire Curry without giving anything more than a 2nd round draft pick in return. But considering that Denver is reluctant to pay the luxury tax, the Knick could do them the favor of taking back some monetary flotsam in return.

Playing the Field
There are other deals that make less sense. Would Dallas trade Jerry Stackhouse and Antoine Wright for Curry? It would help their bench scoring, but eat up their 2010 salary cap flexibility. Maybe Atlanta could unload two unproductive point guards in Speedy Claxton and Acie Law for Curry. Washington could trade the Knicks two centers who don’t even play: Etan Thomas and Darius Songalia. But stuck in the Eastern Conference basement, and with a pair of intriguing, young bigs, would they bother? Would Sacramento shuffle about salaries, getting Shareef-Abdur Rahim and Mikki Moore off the books for Curry?

Knicks fans are dreaming of bringing James to New York in 2010. But unless the Knicks can unload Curry’s contract before then, it’s unlikely they’ll be in position to assemble the championship-level supporting cast James demands. Considering the cost of Curry, the Knicks will have to get creative to clear him in time for what could be a very special summer.

Odds & Ends 11/9/2008

* Don’t forget there’s a game on Sunday 11/9 at 3pm against the Jazz. Jet fans without pip may want to head to their local bar and scout out the proper location to watch both games simultaneously.

* Interesting stat from the guys over at SNY’s Knicks blog

Chris Duhon
59 (TS) 52 (TOS) 5(TUS) 2(SW) 88%(PP) 71.4% (NP-un) 50% (NP-sw)
Jamal Crawford
40 (TS) 4 (TOS) 10(TUS) 26(SW) 100%(PP) 80% (NP-un) 76% (NP-sw)
Nate Robinson
42 (TS) 8(TOS) 26(TUS) 8(SW) 75%(PP) 88% (NP-un) 75% (NP-sw)

Confused? Okay allow me to explain. Chris Duhon has been screened 59 times on the ball this year- he has got over the screen 52 times. When he gets over, a “positive play” happened 88% of the time (46 out of 52). When he got under the screen, a negative play happend 71% of the time- (5 out of 7) and he doesn’t really switch much and is 50% (1-2).

Got it?

They list the stats for Duhon, Crawford and Nate, and explain what they mean. One of the things that drove me crazy in the Isiah era was how the guards almost never went over screens and that the Knicks never hedged with their big men. But in the D’Antoni era, I’ve seen more of both, guards going over the screen and big men hedging. It’s possible that for the former, having a good defender like Duhon replace a bad defender like Marbury in the lineup helps. But with the latter, the Knicks have had the same forwards (with the possible exception of Chandler playing more PF), and I’ve seen more of them stepping out to slow down penetration.

I don’t agree with every move the team makes (watching this team, I just can’t stop thinking how much Balkman would fit in), however, there is evidence the team is moving in the right direction. The proof is in the little things such as a cohesive offense, drawing up plays during timeouts, more access to the team (I like seeing the locker room speeches & the huddle microphones), and giving more effort on the defensive end. I don’t expect the team to be a defensive juggernaut (can you name a team with a worse defensive roster than New York?). But least D’Antoni has the players trying harder under their own hoop, which I haven’t seen in a long time in New York.

* Basketball Prospectus thinks that Denver got the best player in that trade (“Billups [is] the better player overall”). I do too. Of course they talk about every aspect of the deal, and it’s an all encompassing look on the trade.

Richardson Should Sit

During the Knicks offseason, there has been a lot of conjecture on who will be in the starting lineup. Marbury’s continued presence makes him a threat to Chris Duhon at the shooting guard spot. Should Duhon have an awful preseason it’s possible that he could lose his job to Marbury or even Robinson. There have been questions surrounding the front court, with Lee, Randolph, Curry, and Jeffries being discussed as starting options. Due to the injuries to Curry and Jeffries, it appears that Lee and Randolph will be the starters. This has been strengthened by the pair’s strong play in the preseason.

Meanwhile it was just assumed that the small forward spot would be handed to Quentin Richardson. Although he was coming off a poor year, Quentin’s familiarity with D’Antoni’s offense made him the front runner to start. Two of Richardson’s competitors for the swingman spot were eliminated when Jeffries was injured and Balkman was traded. The only SFs left on the roster were Wilson Chandler and second round pick Patrick Ewing Jr. Chandler is just old enough to buy a beer legally, and Ewing is already on his third team before he’s played a single game.

However the stats show that Richardson isn’t the best candidate for the the position. Looking at Q-Rich’s career, it appears that his production has been erratic and diminishing over the last few years. His yearly PER has been 16.5, 17.4, 12.5, 15.1, 13.6, 9.6, 14.3, and 8.5. It seems that Quentin was a productive player in his first 4 years, but has been a poor player over the last 4 years. The big question mark concerning Richardson has always been his health, and it seems obvious that injuries have reduced him to a below average player.

Luckily for Knick fans, greenhorn Wilson Chandler may be ready. Three games isn’t much to go on, especially preseason ones, but so far Wilson Chandler is outplaying Richardson on a per-minute basis.

Name Min Reb Ast TO Stl BS BA PF Pts TS% eFG
Chandler 73 11.3 3.0 1.5 1.5 1.5 1.0 3.0 21.2 52% 51%
Richardson 50 5.0 1.4 1.4 1.4 0.7 0.0 4.3 15.1 46% 46%

It’s uncertain what Chandler will do in his second season if given extended minutes. His rate stats weren’t bad in limited minutes last year, but his shooting percentages were low (48 TS%, 46% eFG). Unfortunately it’s pretty clear what Richardson will give the Knicks. As I said earlier three games isn’t much to judge a player. But given that Richardson is a veteran coming off 4 poor years, and is the only player on the Knicks familiar with D’Antoni’s offense, you’d expect better in preseason. At worst the rebuilding Knicks should give Chandler a majority of the minutes, and use the opportunity to gauge his development.

So far D’Antoni doesn’t seem to be afraid to make changes. He’s installed Duhon as the starting PG, and toyed around with Jared Jeffries at the 5 spot. Curry isn’t likely to regain his starting spot either. D’Antoni has spoken highly of Chandler, so it’s possible that he may make the switch. If he doesn’t then Chandler may get his chance eventually. During his tenure as a Knick, Richardson has missed an average of 26 games a year. Given New York’s low depth at SF, it’s likely that Chandler will be starting at some point this season.

Preseason

Although the season is still a month away, the Knicks preseason is almost upon us. Here are some thoughts to keep in mind until the season begins.

The Bubble Boys

With 18 players on the roster, there are definitely some players on the bubble. Let’s assume that Chandler, Crawford, Curry, Duhon, Gallinari, Jeffries, Lee, Marbury, Randolph, Richardson, and Robinson make the team. Jeffries will start the season on the injured list, and let’s assume Gallinari joins him (or ends up in the D-League). That leaves 3 spots on the 12 man roster, and 1 spot on the innactive roster for Collins, Ewing Jr., Grunfeld, Houston, James, Roberson, and Rose. If my math is correct, three of those players are going to be cut.

Of the veterans Rose is likely to make the team outright, and reports have Jerome James playing a lot in practice. With Walsh’s comments about his dislike of buying out players, it’s likely the team will play James or force him to retire due to injury. Mardy Collins’ can defend but do little else, and with Duhon on the roster the Knicks already have a perimeter defender. Meanwhile Allan Houston is pretending he’s 34 years old again, but unfortunately he was out of the league at that point of his career.

Of the youngsters, Roberson’s preseason play earned himself a guaranteed contract. With the trade of Balkman and the injuries to Jeffries and Gallinari, the Knicks are thin at small forward. This could be good news for Ewing Jr. However both players are far from a guaranteed spot, and it wouldn’t be much of a surprise if both were cut. Dan Grunfeld could probably beat his dad in a one on one game, but probably not anyone else on the roster.

With a new regime, it’s hard to guess what the Knicks will do. My guess is that Rose, James, Roberson, and Ewing Jr. make the cut. They can stash Roberson or Ewing Jr. in the D-League or leave them inactive. But if the Knicks wanted to go young, they might jettison James/Rose for Collins. Or maybe they see the team too offensively heavy at guard (Crawford, Marbury, Robinson) and not enough defense (Duhon) and keep Collins instead of Roberson. Or they might want a smaller lineup and leave Ewing off in lieu of one of the guards. Definitely something Knick fans want to keep track of during the preseason.

The Starting Lineup

It’s obvious that Jamal Crawford will be the starting SG, and you have to think that Quentin Richardson’s familiarity with D’Antoni’s system gives him the edge at SF over the inexperienced Wilson Chandler. At point guard, the team has signed Chris Duhon and coach D’Antoni has been playing him exclusively as the first team point guard. However the Knicks have refused to buy out Stephon Marbury, and the Knicks starting PG of the last four and a half years is still on the roster. For Marbury to get his starting job he just needs to impress his new coach and win over his teammates that he’s alienated over the last few seasons. And President Ahmadinejad might join B’nai B’rith International.

As for the frontcourt, most likely the Knicks will start Zach Randolph, even if only to keep his trade value high. D’Antoni was experimenting with Jared Jeffries at center before Jeffries’ broke his leg, so it looks as if that spot is open for competition.

Ever since Mike D’Antoni was announced as the Knicks’ head coach, pundits have wondered out loud how Eddy Curry would handle the physicality of an up-tempo offense. Curry has been unable to practice due to an illness so you wonder if he’ll get enough practice to be ready by the start of the season. Most likely the Knicks will turn to David Lee to play alongside Randolph.

The Offense

There’s no question that D’Antoni’s offense was successful in Phoenix. The Suns finished either first or second in offensive efficiency in the years he was coach. But the question remains how the 7 second offense will work in New York. D’Antoni won’t have a single All Star to work with, where he had three with the Suns (including a two time MVP). Additionally the Knicks’ offense hasn’t been very good. They’ve only been above average on offense twice since 2000. This makes sense because the Knick offense has been stuck in the 90s with isolations and post scoring emphasis. It’ll be particularly interesting to see how Randolph, Crawford, Curry, and even Marbury responds. The preseason might shed some light on how D’Antoni’s offense will work with average players.

The Youngsters

It seems that during Isiah’s tenure the Knicks youngsters has been stuck behind veterans. Just about every draftee over the last 5 years has had to struggle to earn playing time: David Lee, Wilson Chandler, Renaldo Balkman, Nate Robinson, Randolph Morris, Mardy Collins, Trevor Ariza, Mike Sweetney, and Frank Williams. And it’s not as if New York has had a winning team in that time span.

If the Knicks are rebuilding then it makes sense for the kids to get a lot of run, especially in preseason. Most likely David Lee will win a starting spot, so he should be getting plenty of playing time. I’ll be curious how much playing time Robinson, Chandler, and Collins get, and how they perform inside the Knick offense. It’ll also be nice to get a look at Roberson, Ewing, and Gallinari to gauge their strengths against stronger NBA competition. That is if all these players are on the roster (and in Gallinari’s case healthy).

The Schedule

Oct. 8 Toronto Air Canada Centre, Toronto, ONT 7:00 p.m.
Oct. 10 Philadelphia Wachovia Center, Philadelphia, PA 7:00 p.m.
Oct. 14 Philadelphia Madison Square Garden, New York, NY 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 17 Boston TD Banknorth Garden, Boston, MA 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 20 New Jersey IZOD Center, East Rutherford, NJ 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 21 Boston Madison Square Garden, New York, NY 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 24 New Jersey Madison Square Garden, New York, NY 7:30 p.m.