Knicks Draft Rautins and Fields

38th pick: Andy Rautins
[NBADraft.Net, Draft Express, HoopsAnalyst]

39th pick: Landry Fields
[NBADraft.Net, Draft Express, HoopsAnalyst]

In my mock draft, I grabbed two guys that wouldn’t have fit D’Antoni’s system very well. It appears that Donnie Walsh had the exact opposite idea. Although the Knicks needed some defensive big men to protect the paint, New York turned to players that are known for their scoring and are likely to fit into D’Antoni’s offense.

To say that these picks were unexpected is an understatement. Neither DraftExpress nor NBADraft.Net had either player in their mock draft. Much like past picks of Renaldo Balkman (Rondo), Jordan Hill (Ty Lawson), Toney Douglas (DaJuan Blair), and Channing Frye (Andrew Bynum) there will be questions going forward whether the Knicks should have taken a higher profile player (Varnado, Stephenson, etc.)

Last year D’Antoni had two players that didn’t necessarily fit his mold, as Jordan Hill appeared to be too raw offensively and Toney Douglas was a point guard that isn’t a natural distributor. This year should be different. Rautins ability to hit the three ball at a high rate (40.75) combined with strong court vision should make him a good option in the half court. Meanwhile Fields ability to get to the hole and draw contact (8.8 FTA/40 pace adjusted) should be a much needed addition to a team that was second worst in the NBA at getting to the free throw line. Hence Knick fans should expect more playing time from these two players than Hill or Douglas received last year.

As for whether or not these players will pan out, the pundits are skeptical. HoopsAnalyst’s Ed Weiland said that Rautins “looks like nothing more than a very valuable college role player” and NBADraft.Net questioned his “athleticism, size and strength.” On the other hand Weiland speculated that Fields “good enough to find a place in a rotation and possibly stick in the league for a long time.” The next step in these player’s evaluation will be in July’s summer league, which is usually a good yard stick for how one will transition from college to the NBA.

Hill Fails To Impress (& Knick Tidbits)

Knick fans that hoped the 2009 #8 pick would pay immediate dividends are going to be disappointed. Mike D’Antoni said Jordan Hill “got a ways to go” with regards to being NBA ready. A quote like this would be expected if New York grabbed a teenager from Europe like Ricky Rubio or Brandon Jennings. But Jordan Hill is 22, and spent 3 years in Arizona. Shouldn’t he be ready to contribute to the NBA now?

Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by the Knicks recent power forward draftees. Channing Frye, like Hill, was 22 year old #8 overall pick from Arizona and managed an 18.1 PER in 1500+ minutes his first season. David Lee, taken in the same draft, had a 15.4 PER in 1100+ minutes that same year. The 9th overall pick in 2003, Mike Sweetney, was buried on the IR due to incompetent management. But he still was able to perform on an NBA level with a 17.2 PER his first season. Even Nene Hillario who was traded by the Knicks on draft day put up a PER of 15.4 in 2200+ minutes as a 20 year old rookie for Denver.

Hill’s defenders say he started playing basketball late, and that he’s still learning the game. But 2010 is a win now year, with the Knicks not owning their own pick in the upcoming draft. And Walsh didn’t really seem interested in spending money this summer to improve his team, even on his own players. The only trade they made this summer was for a backup center in Darko Milicic. So with no other avenues to improve the team now why would the Knicks take a player who was a project? Surely there was someone that was more ready to contribute this season (Blair seems the part, and Lawson had a nice preseason). Perhaps Walsh didn’t mind taking someone unpolished, but then he should have aimed for someone that was younger or had a bigger upside.

It sounds rough to be critical of a rookie before the season even starts. I can understand Hill not making the rotation, especially with the veterans ahead of him. But I would have liked to hear the coaching staff speak more positively of him. Maybe something along the lines of “he’s good, but he’s going to have to wait his turn.” Perhaps a better showing in either summer league or the preseason would allow me to look past his current state. I’m sure Hill will get some minutes at some point this year, and I can only hope that he can get some positive reviews for his on the court play.

Other News:

  • You can throw away any chance of Eddy Curry getting into the rotation early in the season to increase his trade value. Curry talked about his offseason conditioning publicly on Twitter, then hurt his foot in the first practice. Although it was initially thought that the injury wasn’t serious and he’d be back quickly, Eddy didn’t play in a single preseason game. The team has told Curry to not come back until he reaches a certain weight, implying that his summer regimen wasn’t as advertised. Curry threw away his 2009 season, and so far he’s on pace to do the same in 2010.
  • Not only are Eddy Curry and Jordan Hill out of the rotation, but it seems that Larry Hughes didn’t make the cut either. Hughes probably didn’t expect this to occur (he started 57 of 68 games in 2008, and 20 of 55 last year), and it’ll be interesting to see how he responds. Although the Knicks could afford to let someone like Stephon Marbury hang in the wind (especially considering Marbury’s actions after the team let him go), the front office and coaching staff could lose serious face if this situation gets that ugly.

    From a simple perspective it seems that Hughes was beaten out by Toney Douglas (and perhaps Danilo Gallinari) who are likely to eat the bulk of his minutes along with Nate Robinson. But it’s more likely that this is just coach D’Antoni going with his youngsters.

  • Looks like the Knicks have a new end of bench guy, for now. Marcus Landry replaces Joe Crawford (and Chris Hunter) as the Knicks rotate in a new 12th man yet again. Sorry if I’m indifferent on this signing, but New York seems to grab these guys and tend to never use them in a meaningful way. The best analogy I can come up with it my 2 year old who’ll snatch a toy the minute another child becomes interested in it, not really play with it, and then casually discard it when the next shiny thing comes along.
  • Knicks Draft Hill/Douglas

    In the 2009 draft, it seemed as if the stars would align for New York. Rubio was passed over for the first 4 picks, and it seemed he might drop to the Knicks. But Minnesota snapped him up with the 5th pick. At that point it appeared that the Timberwolves would be done with taking point guards, but they grabbed Syracuse’s Flynn with the following selection. All that stood between New York and Stephen Curry were the Golden State Warriors. Clearly they didn’t need a guard, especially with 6’3 Monta Ellis signed to a lucrative $66M deal. However the Warriors grabbed Curry with the #7 pick, giving them a 6’3 backcourt for 2010. New York’s dreams of either Rubio, Evans, or Curry were not to be.

    But the oddities didn’t end there. The Knicks, in desperate need of a guard, took 6-11 forward Jordan Hill with the 8th pick. New Yorkers seemed stunned by the move. Some of the non-profanity laced comments from the KnickerBlogger chat session from draft night:

    Lee: lock your doors.. we may have a riot.
    Thomas B: Even stern was like..wait what?
    Dan Panorama: listen to the boos!
    BigBlueAL: Channing Frye part 2
    Owen: There goes David Lee
    Dan Panorama: no one wants jordan hill, who would we even trade him for???
    Thomas B: Okay when the 1st thing you say is wingspan…..
    jon abbey: there had better be a trade in the works
    Brian Cronin: this is so not cool

    At this time it’s unknown if New York will keep Hill. The Timberwolves selected point guards in back to back picks (Rubio, Flynn), so it’s possible that a trade might be in thw works. New York can’t officially trade either Lee or Robinson until the first week of July when the veil lifts on restricted free agents. It’s possible that Hill was selected for another team, in a trade that will be announced in the coming days.

    From all accounts, Hill appears to be an energy big man, who has an unpolished offensive game. He can rebound and block shots, both things that are needed by New York. However Hill was rated poorly by two statistical studies. Hollinger had Hill in his disappointment section, noting:

    The other big surprise down here is Jordan Hill, who could go as high as No. 4 but rates 26th in the Draft Rater. Hill had solid rebounding and scoring numbers, but his percentages weren’t off the charts, and his poor assist and turnover numbers were a red flag. Although one might think that ballhandling categories wouldn’t matter for a power forward, apparently they do — pure point rating (a measure of how a player passes and handles the ball) is a pretty strong success indicator for frontcourt players, and only four prospects rated worse than Hill.

    While Ed Weiland’s words were just as unkind:

    …Hill just doesn’t look like anything more than a career journeyman. There is some good stuff in his career. I like that he shot over 60% his first two seasons. I like that his rebound rate has consistently improved. I like that he destroyed both Cole Aldrich and Josh Heytvelt in head-to-head matchups this year. I don’t like that he can’t get his SB40 over 3.0. This is something that even the rawest of top PF prospects should be able to do. I don’t like that his team was so ordinary despite featuring two first round draftees. What bothers me the most is his .537 2-point pct. this year when he became a top scoring option. History simply hasn’t been kind to such players. I feel any team drafting Jordan Hill in the top 10 and expecting him to become something of a cornerstone will come to regret it. He looks like nothing more than a decent journeyman.

    The Knicks first round didn’t end there. New York bought Los Angeles’ pick and took defensive minded guard Toney Douglas with the 29th pick. Again Hollinger was down on Douglas, ranking him 62nd among potential draftees. Weiland was a little more positive saying that “his defensive chops and the scoring ability he flashed this year, Douglas should be a lock to go later in round 1… When investing a 1st round pick after #20 in a weak draft a player like Douglas who meets all the important criteria on scoring, efficiency and defense seems like a better gamble than most.”

    As I said earlier it’s still unknown whether the team will keep both players. Most likely Douglas will stay, but the waters seem murky around Hill. And these picks don’t really give any insight to what the team might do with their unrestricted free agents. Had the Knicks taken Stephen Curry, I thought it was going to signify the end of Nate Robinson, since the two would provide the same roles and weaknesses. Meanwhile Hill should be able to play alongside Lee, so Knick fans shouldn’t feel threatened by the move. New York will have to wait until July to see how things might play out.

    Changes in the CBA Could Help the Fans

    Back in February the New York Times published an article on agent David Falk and the next NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement. In it, Falk said that the NBA owners will push for serious changes in the next CBA and since they are prepared to lock the players out for two seasons, they will likely get their changes approved. Two weeks ago the player’s union president, Billy Hunter, refuted the claims that the league will win on all fronts, saying the players would negotiate not surrender. As opposed to the overhaul Falk is suggesting, Hunter said the players will only agree to minor changes to the CBA. Some of the changes that Falk is proposing won’t affect the average fan, like the percentage split between players/owners or the age limit. However there are a few changes to the salary cap that could benefit the common follower.

    Understanding the ramifications of the NBA’s salary cap can be difficult for the average viewer. The NBA has a soft cap, meaning all teams over the cap are unable to sign new free agents except for the mid-level exception (about $5/$6M per year) and the low level exception (about $1/$2M per year). Using the Bird exception a team over the cap can usually resign their own player. Additionally a team that is over the cap can only swap players whose annual salaries match. Although the rules are simple, their constraints make for strange results. For instance, last year the Blazers sent Zach Randolph to the Knicks for Steve Francis and Channing Frye. Randolph played nearly every game for the Knicks for a year and a half, while Portland instantly cut Francis, and Frye eventually fell out of the rotation. Yet the Blazers received the better end of the deal!

    NBA trades aren’t evaluated at the talent level, but at the financial one. There’s a problem with the league when fans can’t analyze a trade without consulting an accountant. It’s hardly something you’d expect from a business in the entertainment field. The issue stems from guaranteed contracts, or more specifically bad contracts. Nearly all NBA contracts are guaranteed, which means that if a team cuts a player, his contract stays on the cap for its entire length. A player can be overpaid when a team misjudges his potential (Eddy Curry, Larry Hughes), the player regresses due to injury (Antonio McDyess, Darius Miles), or bad management (Jared Jeffries, Jerome James). Since NBA contracts can last 6 years, when a team hands an oversized contract to a player the effects last a long time. Once the contract is signed, the only option the team has to get out from its length is to trade for another player with a contract of similar size but shorter length. But from the league’s perspective, the unwanted contract isn’t removed. It is just redistributed to another team. Hence as these bloated contracts float from team to team until their final demise, the overpaid player becomes a burden on the entire league. It’s not a surprise that players with bad contracts are the ones that are frequently mentioned in trade rumors, since teams are always looking to move them.

    While it’s easy to lay blame at the feet of the team presidents that hand out such ridiculous contracts, it’s ultimately the fans that end up suffering. One GM with a few bad moves can cripple a team for half a decade. It will take the Knicks two years post Isiah Thomas (on top of the four years with Zeke at the helm) to be able to get out from the salary cap landslide he created. But this isn’t isolated to the Knicks, because bad contracts are commonplace in the NBA. One misguided front office can hurt a team years after they have been removed.

    Adding to the problem is the league’s tough stance on guaranteed contracts, which are seemingly written in stone. Darius Miles was given a contract extension by Portland back in 2004 that lasted until 2010. He played his last game for the Blazers back in the 2006 season. The team petitioned the league to remove his contract from their books due to injury, and the league capitulated. However this year Miles has resurfaced to play in a handful of games for Memphis, and the league has applied his salary back to Portland’s cap. Also this year the Knicks received Cuttino Mobley in a trade, who was forced to retire due to a heart condition. New York was denied a disabled player exception from the league, even though Mobley’s “hypertrophic cardiomyopathy had progressed to the point that playing professional basketball could be life-threatening.

    The two other major American sports don’t have this problem. Major League Baseball’s lack of a salary cap means teams are able to sign any player regardless of how much the team has already spent. Unfortunately this model would be a disaster for the NBA because the league isn’t as stable and lucrative as baseball’s. However the NFL’s model would be a good fit. Football has a hard cap, which means teams are not allowed to exceed their cap number. And to allow teams to accomplish this goal, most contracts in the NFL are not guaranteed. According to wikipedia:

    Because of this treatment, NFL contracts almost always include the right to cut a player before the beginning of a season. If a player is cut, his salary for the remainder of his contract is neither paid nor counted against the salary cap for that team. A highly sought-after player signing a long term contract will usually receive a signing bonus, thus providing him with financial security even if he is cut before the end of his contract.

    Which leads us back to the NBA’s next CBA. Falk suggests the owners will push for a hard cap and shorter contracts. And I hope they win, because the soft cap/guaranteed contract is bad for the league and its fans. Imagine if player deals were only guaranteed for the first 3 years. Almost instantly the Knicks could have jettisoned any unwanted players and reshape their team in a single offseason. On his first day Donnie Walsh could have cut Stephon Marbury, Zach Randolph, Eddy Curry, Jerome James, Jamal Crawford, and Malik Rose. With the players cut from other teams, Walsh could have had a wider berth of players to chose from when building the 2009 roster. Unfortunately the current cap rules forced Walsh to stick with these undesirable players and allowed him to trade them only for matching salaries (and in Eddy Curry’s case – not at all). It’s easy to see why this would benefit teams and their fans. Bad franchises would be able to fix their mistakes quicker, which means fans wouldn’t have to wait years for the hometown squad to turn things around. And since winning correlates to ticket sales more than anything else, it means the owners would see more money in their pockets.

    Switching to a hard cap would probably add one more added benefit to the league: parity. The NFL’s popularity can be partly attributed to the ability of teams to make single season turnarounds. This means that every franchise with competent management (everyone but the Oakland Raiders) has a chance to make the playoffs and go to the Super Bowl. Last year the Dolphins, Falcons, and Cardinals had years that surpassed their fans’ wildest dreams. Over the last three years, the NFC has seen a different winner in 3 out of 4 of their divisions. In that same time span the NBA has had only 1 of their 6 divisions with three different winners (the Southwest). With the current rules, rebuilding in the NBA is a slow and tedious effort. Allowing GMs to cut their players without long term harm means that more players would become free agents each year. This increased player movement would give teams more flexibility to address their needs.

    Of course the biggest hurdle in this change would be the players. Overall shorter contracts probably wouldn’t fly with players, since that curbs the earning power of the sports’ best players. And many players would balk at non-guaranteed contracts, since that wouldn’t allow them get that lucrative 5 or 6 year deal for financial security. However by asking for non-guaranteed contracts instead of shorter ones, the league can keep their top earners happy (who would cut LeBron or Kobe?) while making a pitch to the underpaid. For instance if teams weren’t bound by large contracts to undeserving players, there would be more money to sign those who merit it. In other words, some of the younger Knicks might be splitting Stephon Marbury’s $19M per year. And Portland could take the nearly $40M they’re giving to Steve Francis, Raef LaFrentz, and Darius Miles and use that on some of the players that have actually played for the team this year.

    Perhaps to even things out for the players, the league would have to make the concession to raise the salary cap. Currently the cap is at $57M, but since it’s a soft cap teams can exceed that number. Using the salary data from hoopshype, it seems that the league paid out an average of $72M this year. Although some players may object to such a concession, there seems to be room for negotiation. And it does redistribute the wealth to players that deserve it more. If there’s resentment in NBA locker rooms over disproportionate salaries, this would go a long way to remedy it. When some players are getting paid more than they are worth, it hurts both the league and the players that deserve more money. And last but not least, the fans.

    Addition By Subtraction?

    Here in Georgia, we’ve struggled with drought for several years. Last fall, folks with lakefront lots on Lake Lanier saw their boats sitting on mud flats, and Atlanta was down to its last 60 days of water.  Governor Sonny Perdue decided to organize a prayer circle and pray for rain. (He also sued Florida and Alabama). A few hours after the group prayer on the steps of the state Capitol, the clouds burst and Lo! there was rain. What does this have to do with basketball? Well, the Knicks have gone through a long drought….

    But I promised to talk about “addition by subtraction.” Posters offered: 1) trading Stephon Marbury for Jason Kidd; 2)  trading Marbury for Steve Nash; 3) trading Zach Randolph for Steve Francis & Channing Frye; 4) trading Isaiah Rider for Sean Rooks & change; 5) trading Dennis Rodman for Will Perdue; 6) Firing John McLeod (!) and  7) trading Allen Iverson for Andre Miller.  

    It’s clear that to most people, “addition by subtraction” means “trading a star player.” But usually, a player “subtracted” means others “added.” After all, Channing Frye’s mother doesn’t refer to “the Zach Randolph trade.” In some of these examples, one team did get a lot better – but the key was clearly the addition (MVP Nash, 2nd-place MVP Kidd) — NOT the subtraction.  Other examples are more complicated. The Blazers got substantially better after dumping Randolph, as did the 76ers after buying out Webber. The Sixers also improved after trading their superstar for a supposed role player. Are these examples of better chemistry? 

    The year he was cut, despite a high usage rate of 23.4, Webber had a TS% of 40.9 and was one of the worst defenders in the league. Not surprisingly, his replacements were better. Randolph’s minutes were largely taken by LaMarcus Aldridge; some of his shots went to Brandon Roy. Both players are more efficient shooters than Randolph, and better defenders. Portland also got back the services of Joel Przybilla, who missed 2006-2007 due to injury. While Randolph is an excellent rebounder, Przybilla is even better – a rebound rate almost 20 percent higher. He’s also a good defender. Meanwhile, as Ted Nelson noted, even before the trade some people considered Andre Miller an equal or better player to Allen Iverson.

    Which brings us to Stephon Marbury. Some suggest that the Knicks would help themselves most with a buyout, rather than letting Marbury sit on the bench or trading him. In theory, Marbury offers terrible “intangibles,” and cutting him would improve team chemistry, leading others to play better. 

    Paraphrasing Dave Berri, in sportswriter-speak “intangibles” are everything but scoring, measured by points-per-game.  The Knickerblogger reader knows better.  “Intangible” just means we can’t measure it. About the only statistic for which we don’t have a pretty reliable measure, is off-the-ball defense. With that in mind – Stephon Marbury doesn’t have bad “intangibles.” He’s just a mediocre player: a slowing 31-year-old: average on offense, abominable on defense and offering little else. Four statistical ranking systems all tell the same story: a steady decline over the past three years, from a starting point either slightly above or slightly below average. 

    PER: 16.52, 15.36, 13.84  (15 is average)

    WP/48: .092, .070, .050  (.100 is average) 

    Roland Rating: +1.5, 0.0, -4.6

    Adjusted Plus/minus:  7.57, 2.88, TBD

    The Knicks will defend better with Chris Duhon on the floor, and they might play better overall. But that’s not saying the team would play better with Marbury in Boston, or sitting home. Back in Georgia, Sonny Perdue thanked the powers that be for sending rain. Do you prefer a simple explanation, or the intangibles? 

    p.s. The Timberwolves improved 14 games the year after trading Isiah Rider. They had several similar players take his minutes; they also gave an extra 800 minutes to Kevin Garnett and replaced Spud Webb with the rookie Marbury. The Spurs didn’t really improve post-Rodman until Tim Duncan arrived. 

    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

    Isiah’s Comments a Relief

    It’s 5:30am, and I can’t sleep a wink.

    According to the New York Post, Isiah Thomas has stated that he won’t make any trades this year as the deadline approaches. Although the Knick season has been a debacle this year, Thomas’ words come across as a belated Christmas gift to the team’s fans.

    Thomas’ first trade as the Knick president was to acquire Stephon Marbury in a trade with the Phoenix Suns. At the time New York was a floundering franchise. Coming off a near championship run, the Knicks were overloaded with awful contracts given to Allan Houston, Howard Eisley, and Shandon Anderson among others. In the Suns deal, Isiah picked up not one but two outrageously bad contracts, Stephon Marbury’s and Anfernee Hardaway’s. Instead of attempting to reduce the Knicks salary cap woes, Thomas added to it.

    And as Thomas’ tenure in New York progressed, he continued in that manner. He acquired highly paid players like Marbury, Hardaway, Jalen Rose, Steve Francis, and Zach Randolph. And he overpaid for mediocre players like Eddy Curry, Jared Jeffries, Jerome James, Jamal Crawford, Malik Rose, Jerome Williams, and Quentin Richardson. In essence what Isiah Thomas has done is collect a team of untouchables; players that other teams wouldn’t trade for due to the salary cap implications. No one could afford an aging (among other things) Stephon Marbury for $20M. Zach Randolph is owed at least $60M over the next 4 years. Eddy Curry has a player option for $10M in 2009, one he’ll certainly take given that no other team would pay him that much. The Knicks would have to offer incentive for another team to take Quentin Richardson, Jamal Crawford, Jerome James, or Jared Jeffries off their hands.

    Much like the team he assembled, Thomas is over matched when competing against the rest of the league. The proof can be seen in Isiah’s trading partners. Phoenix nearly became overnight winners after Thomas freed them of Marbury and Hardaway. Orlando is now an Eastern powerhouse since Steve Francis left. Chicago had success once Isiah took Crawford and Curry off their hands. Toronto is up and coming since Jalen Rose was shipped south. And the newest member of the “Thank You Isiah” club is Portland. The Trailblazers could improve by 10 wins without Zach Randolph.

    While Isiah has crushed any optimism for the 2008 season, the only positive thing New Yorkers have at this moment is that their younger players can turn into solid pros. The Knicks only hope is that David Lee, Renaldo Balkman, Nate Robinson, Wilson Chandler, and Randolph Morris will turn into solid pros. But that hope is meaningless if Isiah chooses to trade one of these players, something he has done in the past. Thomas sent 20 year old Trevor Ariza to Orlando in the Steve Francis deal, and he shipped Channing Frye to Portland after just his second NBA season. Ironically both players are doing well this year for a pittance.

    So Isiah’s statement “I don’t see us being active at the trade deadline” is a big relief to Knick fans. This season has been a comedy of errors for the Knicks, and if Thomas’ words ring true, there is one less thing to keep Knick fans up at night.