The Worst Article Of 2007

Folks it’s about that time of year again, to announce the worst article of 2007. While there were many fine candidates throughout the year there’s one article that was published just 2 days ago that has surpassed all others. I’m proud to say that this work is right up there with previous winners such as Charlie Rosen’s most overrated list, and Frank Hughes 2004 piece. The winner for KnickerBlogger’s worst article of 2007 is brought to us by Lou V. of paperbacknovel titled “Why the Knicks Don’t Suck.. Anymore, But the NY Post and NY Daily News Do (Suck).”

I don’t know what the internet comparable version of “don’t judge a book by it’s color”, but maybe it should be “judge an article by it’s title.” It certainly applies to this year’s worst article winner. Notice the improper use of the ellipsis (two dots instead of three), and how the author has to add the final “(Suck)” in parenthesis because he decided to throw in the word “Anymore”. If the author wanted a better title, he could have dropped both words for a simpler title: “Why the Knicks Don’t Suck, But the NY Post and NY Daily News Do.” But why go for clarity when you’re aiming for much lower?

While I have to admit I thought at first that this would be an Onion-esque satirical piece, I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t. The author, Lou V., starts off by bashing the local media for “getting their [readers’] attentions off real economic and political issues by parading sports and the lottery in front of them.” A reasonable start to an article, as I’ve certainly taken my shots at the mainstream news. Unfortunately he follows it with this monstrocity:

… the Knicks are fine. They remain as they were to start the season — a young, athletic team with guys who can score; they have great chemistry, believe in their coach, and are progressively playing better defense… They’re not a championship team yet, but they’re a good team; a playoff-caliber team.

I guess if you’re going to define “good” as being one of the worst teams in the league, then the 5-11 Knicks are good. By those standards, the 6-10 Clippers are great, the 7-8 Bucks are awesome and the 8-9 Nets are unbeatable. Just about the only thing true in these sentences is that the Knicks are a young athletic team with guys who can score. They do not have good chemistry, and they certainly don’t believe in their coach. Their defense hasn’t progressively improved, in fact it’s been about the same for the last 2 years. No the Knicks aren’t a championship team. No the Knicks aren’t a good team. No the Knicks aren’t a playoff-caliber team. Of course the author throws in this nugget in the same paragraph: “… James Dolan, owner, who has proven to be a stand-up, moral guy …” More on that later.

In his next section Lou V is a bit more sensible. Lou talks about how Isiah was “castigated” by the Renaldo Balkman selection, and states that Larry Brown was viewed favorably due to racism. There’s definitely a valid point to be made with Balkman. Many in the mainstream media criticized Thomas relentlessly for the selection, one that is looking better and better by the day. And yes claiming Larry Brown was liked not because he is one of the better coaches of his generation, flaws and all, because of the color of his skin is one of the more reasonable claims of this column. Read on.

The next section titled “Why Isiah Thomas Doesn’t Suck” is laughable. The author claims that “Isiah has turned the Knicks around in 3 years at the helm as GM.” and “Most GM’s in the NBA would exchange their best three big men for [Curry-Randolph-Lee]in a heartbeat.” I guess you could debate that Isiah has only been around for 3 years, since he is 19 days short of his fourth season. However what’s not debatable is that he’s turned the team around. The Knicks have only bested their ’03 record of 37 wins once in Isiah’s tenure, and are on track for only 25 wins this season.

But it’s the author’s second assertion that has me thinking. How many teams would trade their top 3 big men for the Knicks? Well I think I can safely omit Boston, Orlando, Toronto, San Antonio, Phoenix, Utah, Dallas, and Houston due to their star power at those positions. I might add Miami (Shaq), Chicago (Ben, Thomas, Noah + didn’t want Curry in the first place), Denver (Camby, Nene, K-Mart), Clippers (Brand), Portland (Oden), and Memphis (Gasol). Then there are teams where these three wouldn’t fit in like Golden State (Nellie-ball), and Detroit (‘Sheed/McDyess). Not counting teams that wouldn’t do it for reasons of fiscal irresponsibility, I count 16 teams that wouldn’t trade for our trio tower. Of course I guess a team like the Nets or Lakers might (Bynum?), so Knick fans might want to put in an order for that Kwame Brown or Nenad Krstic jersey they’ve been pining for.

What puts this article at the top of my list is the sidebar containing “Isiah Thomas’s Knicks’ Resume.” Some of the gems:

“Zach Randolph and Fred Jones for Channing Frye? This may go down as one of the great Knick trades ever.”

“Acquired Tim Thomas from Milwaukee and center Nazr Mohammed from Atlanta in a three-team trade…. Mohammed played some good ball in NY, but then helped Isiah rebuild with the trade listed below this one. Tim Thomas played some ball in NY, but then helped Isiah get Eddy Curry from Chicago. This Feb 2004 trade was a fantastic setup trade for the Knicks.”

“Despite the criticisms, Marbury has played a lot of all-star basketball in NY. The final word is still out on this trade as there is still that conditional 1st-round pick hanging out there in 2009 or 2010 that Phoenix gets from NY, but so far, NY got Stephon Marbury for a bunch of crap — including Knick-franchise-of-the-future-according-to-Stu-Laden, Michel Lampe. Penny Hardaway was used by Knicks to help get Stevie Francis, who was used to help get Zach Randolph. Phoenix used this trade to get $7-million under the cap, enabling them to sign free agent Steve Nash, and catapulting them to an elite team. This trade looks good for both teams right now, for different reasons.”

The Knicks best trades of all time: Dave DeBusschere for Bellamy; Riordan and Stallworth for Monroe; Oakley for Camby; and Zach for Frye? Um yeah… The author also credits Isiah for drafting Trevor Ariza and Demitrius Nichols, ignoring the fact that the first was traded and the second’s expulsion from the club was a classic blunder.

Not to be outdone, the author concludes with “Why James Dolan Doesn’t Suck.” He states that “Dolan’s handling of the Anucka Browne Sanders case is prototypical of his high moral fiber.” I guess I couldn’t have said that better myself.

2008 Season Preview: The Frontcourt

The Frontcourt
This year the New York offense will center around their big men. Last year Eddy Curry shot efficiently, and was a good rebounder on the offensive end. But he struggled to find his teammates when double teamed and turned the ball over too frequently. It’s possible that Curry was overused on offense, and was force fed the ball more than he was comfortable with. This year Zach Randolph should be able to take some of the scoring burden off of Curry. Randolph and Curry’s games overlap in many of the same areas. Both can score in the low post, both are turnover happy, and both have trouble sharing the ball with their teammates. If you want to get more granular in the comparison Randolph isn’t as efficient with his shot, but he’s a better rebounder, passer, and turns the ball over less often.

Despite Randolph’s near All Star level offensive game, it’s unclear whether he will help the offense in 2008. Zach replicates much of Curry’s game, so the law of diminishing returns comes into play. Additionally he’s taking minutes away from the last year’s most effective Knick: David Lee. The second year player was a perfect compliment to his ball-needy teammates, providing excellent rebounding and finishing around the basket. Barring an injury to Randolph or Curry, Lee will be lucky to match his 2007 average of 29.8 min/g. On the other hand, Randolph will also assume some of the minutes the team gave to Channing Frye and Malik Rose, who were horribly unproductive last year. Lee’s injury was devastating to the Knicks not only because they lost his production, but because Frye & Rose had to pick up the slack. This year the Knicks are better protected against injury with their depth.

For all the optimism on the offensive pairing of Zach Randolph with Eddy Curry, there should be an equal amount of pessimism on the defensive end. Say what you want about Channing Frye, but Frye?s blocked shot rate (0.9 BLK/40) is greater than the sum of Randolph (0.2) and Curry (0.6). Knicks on the perimeter that are looking at the front court to erase their mistakes will be sorely disappointed. It’s possible that Curry could become more aggressive in the paint. His block rate nearly halved last year as he attempted to avoid foul trouble. With a second scorer, it?s possible that Isiah isn?t as reliant on Curry to stay on the court.

If you’re looking for a silver lining defensively, Randolph was nearly 1 defensive rebound per 40 minutes better than Frye last year, so that should help the defense slightly. David Lee is an average defender, but certainly not better than that. Compared to Randolph and Curry, Lee has good foot speed, but he has trouble with bigger players. Ultimately New York will give the Milwaukee Bucks (Bogut, Villanueva, and Jianlian) a run for the money when it comes to the NBA’s worst defensive frontcourt trio.

At the end of the Knicks’ bench will be Malik Rose and Randolph Morris. Rose will see time due to his defense. He’s a shrewd and tenacious defender, but he’s physically limited what what he can accomplish. On the other end of the court Rose is an awful shooter who frequently gets stuffed underneath the basket. Undersized for his position, Rose no longer has the lift to score down low. Ironically Rose’s best asset on the offensive end is his ability to pass the ball into the post, something the guards have trouble doing.

Nearly the opposite of Rose is Morris. At 6-10, Morris is able to play either forward or center, and only has 43 minutes of NBA action under his belt. In the summer he was able to face up players on the blocks and shoot from 12 feet. We’re still unsure exactly what his strengths and weaknesses are, but this year we should get the chance to find out. Jerome James will eat up a roster spot and anything with 3 feet of his mouth.

Knicks 2007 Report Card (A to Z): Coach Isiah Thomas

KnickerBlogger: Isiah Thomas started off the 2007 with a lot of pressure on his shoulders. New York had just come of a disastrous 23 win season under Larry Brown. Thomas was widely criticized for taking Renaldo Balkman in the draft. The Knicks’ owner James Dolan gave Thomas an order to improve the team or pack his bags. Thomas was forced to take over as coach of the Knicks, something he promised he wouldn’t do. His reputation as a coach and a general manager were both on the line. In mid-March the Knicks were 29-34 and held the 8th and final playoff spot. Isiah Thomas was given a contract extension as was safe for another year.

However, the team floundered down the stretch. After re-signing Thomas, the Knicks would win only 4 of it’s last 15 games and ended up in 11th place in the East. All in all were 33 wins disappointing? It depends on your expectations. Of the 79 teams in NBA history that had a winning percentage equal to or worse than the 2006 Knicks 23 win team, only 19 of them won 33 or more games the next season. The average improvement of those 79 teams was 8.7 wins, something the 2007 Knicks exceeded. Given those expectations, it’s hard to say Isiah Thomas did a bad job as coach of the Knicks.

However it’s hard to argue that he did a superlative job. Isiah’s main flaws:

  • Allocation of minutes. I’m sure just about every fan quibbles with the substitutions of a coach. In fact I’d be shocked to hear that for each non-playoff team there exists one fan that agrees 100% with the minutes doled out. Nonetheless Isiah Thomas made a few poor decisions along the way. I’ll start by saying that perhaps David Lee’s playing time wasn’t the worst of them. Sure he was the best player on the team, but Thomas still found 30 minutes a night for him. Instead of quibbling over 5 minutes a night for a second year player that came from nowhere, I’d rather concentrate on more heinous crimes.

    Like giving 1307 minutes to Jared Jeffries. Isiah acquired Jeffries with the mid-level exception, and to say Thomas has made bad decisions with the mid-level is like saying Barry Bonds has hit a few home runs. Jeffries followed Vin Baker and Jerome James as free agent strike outs by Isiah. Despite Jeffries’ total ineptitude, Isiah called his number for 23.8 minutes a game. Sitting on the bench behind Jeffries was a superior player in Renaldo Balkman. And Isiah Thomas could have, for lack of a better term, bitch-slapped his draft day detractors by letting Balkman shine in extended minutes.

    But Jeffries wasn’t the only crime. Thomas gave 11 starts to last year’s mid-level exemption Jerome James in order to kickstart the Knicks defense. This was maybe the oddest decision of Isiah’s coaching tenure. Thomas allowed James to play a handful of minutes, only to banish him to the bench for the rest of the game, never to return. Although some of this was done with Lee injured, Thomas had better options to improve the New York defense (Cato, Balkman, Collins, etc.) Hopefully the fine summer league play of Balkman and Morris will mean the end of meaningful minutes to both Jeffries and James.

  • Player development. The only Knick to improve in 2006 under Larry Brown was Jamal Crawford. Brown contained Crawford’s untamed offensive game, and got him to play smarter basketball. With Brown’s tutelage, Crawford attempted fewer wild shots from the perimeter, and drove to the hoop more often. Unfortunately it seems that Isiah Thomas undid most if not all of Brown’s good work. Last year Crawford reverted to his old self: unnecessarily heaving up off low percentage shots. Jamal’s shooting percentage plummeted (47.4 to 45.8 eFG%, 54.4 to 51.7 TS%) as Thomas gave him carte blanche to shoot at will.

    Crawford wasn’t the only player to regress under Thomas. Channing Frye had a sparkling rookie campaign, but floundered miserably as a sophomore. It’s hard to believe that Thomas couldn’t find any way to increase the forward’s confidence. Frye was psychologically shaky, often passing up on outside shots that found the bottom of the net just a year ago. It’s hard to say what caused Frye’s slump, but it’s the coach’s job to motivate his players. And in this case Isiah failed.

  • The defense. We’ve spent a lot of time on this blog dissecting the Knicks offense. However the Knicks’ offense was ranked 10th on March 12th (when Thomas’ contract was extended) before a rash of injuries helped to sink the team. On the other hand, the New York defense was ranked a pitiful 27th at that time and they finished 24th by the season’s end. While part of the problem is due to the construction of the team (which is the fault of Isiah Thomas the president), a share of the blame goes to the coach.

    Thomas failed to make the defense better on any level. He failed to make his players defend better. Take for instance Eddy Curry. Instead of teaching him proper defensive fundamentals, Thomas instructed Curry to avoid fouls. Curry’s foul rate was the lowest of his career, and consequently his block rate was halved. On the other end of the roster, the perimeter was still porous. Knick guards had problems keeping opponents from penetrating, exacerbating Curry’s problems.

    Even if Thomas isn’t to blame for the player’s inability to defend, you could fault him for not using better defenders or schemes. Balkman, who shined as a defender his rookie year, saw only 15.6 minutes per game. Cato, who was certainly no worse defensively than any of the other Knicks centers, played less than a hundred minutes on the season. Additionally Isiah fell in love with a small lineup. Just look at Nate Robinson’s top floor units. The second most frequent unit is a three guard alignment, and two others have Jamal Crawford as the small forward. Crawford played 8% of the team’s total minutes at SF, Mardy Collins played 6%. Meanwhile David Lee only spent 5% at SF. Putting out an undersized unit isn’t done to bolster the defense.

Despite these flaws, Thomas did a commendable job last year. With how much of a crapshoot getting a coach is, it’s hard to think that a random coach could have done better. In the NBA the great coaches are few & far in between, and at the bottom there is a rotating door of assistants and college coaches who fail miserably. That the Knicks improved more than the average team in their situation, shows that Thomas did a fair job.

KnickerBlogger?s Grade: C+

2008 Outlook: The Knicks added some bigger players to the roster, so it’s possible that we’ve seen the end of the small lineup. Instead, we could see lots of big lineups. David Lee could see serious playing time at small forward. Renaldo Balkman (6-8), Demetris Nichols (6-8), and Quentin Richardson (6-6) could see time at shooting guard. Isiah could improve the team by playing the Knicks’ better defenders more often. Balkman should see an extra 10 minutes this year. Collins could see some situational duty. With a poor defensive front court in Curry and Randolph, the Knicks might zone it up more next year. On offense, Isiah Thomas will have to work Zach Randolph into the playbook.

Although last year Thomas received an ultimatum to improve, he’s probably under the same sword of Damocles this year. Certainly the bar is raised again, because 33 wins isn’t going to cut it in 2008. Thomas has a lot of questions to answer this upcoming season. How will Zach Randolph fit in with this team? How many minutes will he find for David Lee? Who will play small forward? Will top summer league performers Renaldo Balkman and Nate Robinson get more playing time? How will the rookies fit in to this team? But no matter what the answers to these questions are, Thomas will be forced to improve. It’d be hard to see the Knicks not make the playoffs and Isiah keep his job.

Knicks 2007 Report Card (A to Z): David Lee

KnickerBlogger Despite standing only 6’9″, David Lee’s main strength is his rebounding. He combines excellent positioning, exceptional timing, good leaping ability, and a desire to capture missed shots on both ends of the floor. Not only is Lee the best rebounder on his team, but he’s one of the best in the NBA. Among players that logged 1000 or more minutes in 2007, Lee finished 5th in per minute rebounding. Compared to the other hyalophiles, Lee committed the fewest fouls and scored the most points.

Per 40 Minutes Height Tm OREB DREB TREB PF PTS
Reggie Evans 6’8″ DEN 5.5 10.8 16.3 5.1 11.5
Dikembe Mutombo 7’2″ HOU 5.1 10.1 15.1 4.8 7.1
Tyson Chandler 7’1″ NOK 5.1 9.3 14.3 3.9 10.9
Jeff Foster 6’11” IND 5.8 8.2 14 4.6 7.4
David Lee 6’9″ NYK 4.5 9.4 13.9 3.6 14.4

Not just a one trick pony, Lee is also adept at running the floor and strong at finishing around the hoop. A natural lefty, David Lee is ambidextrous which allows him to score with either hand. Although he doesn’t possess the extra wide body that Curry or Sweetney has, Lee isn’t slender, and can shield the ball with his body. Lee shot a robust 60% eFG from the field, and is such a good free throw shooter (81.6%) that he ranked third on the team in free throw shooting percentage. As a bonus, Lee doesn’t dominate the ball on offense. The Knicks don’t need to run any plays for him, as he’s able to produce his own offense by his rebounding and his ability to move well without the ball.

Although Lee is slightly undersized at power forward, his defense is passable. He has good footwork and is strong enough to not get bowled over against other post players. Additionally Lee can play the small forward or center spots, albeit in short stints depending on the matchup. If Lee were 2 inches taller he probably would excel as a shot blocker, but he is only able to alter shots of smaller players. Among the Knick forwards/centers Lee committed the fewest per minute fouls, which allows him to stay on the court for long periods of time. According to 82games, the Knicks were 2.5 points per 100 possessions better on defense with Lee on the court. Even if that number comes from his outstanding rebounding, he clearly doesn’t hinder the team with his defense.

In 2007, the Knicks record was 26-32 (.449) with David Lee and 7-17 (.291) without him. In the three games after the suspensions from the Denver fight, Lee averaged 13 points and an incredible 17.7 rebounds. Last year he led the Knicks in 4 important categories (eFG%, TS%, OREB/40, and DREB/40) and had the highest PER on the team. Quietly he was New York’s most valuable player.

KnickerBlogger’s Grade: A

2008 Outlook: Despite Lee’s outstanding sophomore season, there are a few questions that 2008 will bring:

1. Was 2007 a fluke?
Too often have we seen young players have a fantastic year, only to fall down to earth never to reach that level of play again. Hopes may be high for Lee to continue to progress, and one only needs to look at Lee’s draftmate Channing Frye to see how far a young player can slide from a single season. On the positive side, Lee’s pertinent stats are nearly identical from his rookie year, with one exception: his defensive rebounding. Lee grabbed 2.6 DREB/40 more in 2007, which is more likely due to his switch to power forward (from small forward under Brown) and Curry’s increase in minutes (Curry is a poor rebounder).

2. How will the injury affect Lee?
Of all the questions, this one is the most concerning. Lee’s injury seems to have been misdiagnosed, his return date kept sliding, and he made a token appearance hobbling at the end of the season. Since Lee uses his jumping ability to secure a lot of his rebounds, suffering an ankle injury should cause some concern. It’s probable that he missed the summer league because he’s still not 100%, although there were reports that he was working out with the team. Watching him early in the pre-season should give fans a good indication if this injury is behind him or not.

3. How much will he play?
Prior to draft night it seemed that David Lee would have a bright future in New York. He only had Channing Frye, Malik Rose, Jerome James, and Randolph Morris to compete with for the starting spot in the Knick’s lineup. Considering that group of talent, Lee should have been a lock to start in 2008. That all changed when Isiah Thomas acquired Zach Randolph on draft day. Now Knick fans are wondering if David Lee will see enough court time this year. Consider that last year Curry and Randolph averaged a little over 35 minutes a game each. If the duo play the same amount of minutes, and David Lee backs up both players, it only means he’ll play about 25 minutes a game, less than the 30 he played last year.

But the problem with that logic is that the Knicks can’t just use only three players for two spots all year. There’ll be times that they’ll need a defensive presence in the paint, so they may have to look to Rose, James, Morris, or Cato (considering any of these players are on the roster come November). While Lee can play small forward for short stretches, there’ll be nights that the matchup will make it impossible. Additionally small forward seems to be the Knicks’ deepest position, so Lee may have a hard time finding minutes there either. My ideal situation, while still being realistic, would be for Isiah to occasionally use Lee as a small forward in a big lineup to force other teams out of their comfort zone, slightly cut back on Curry and Randolph’s minutes, be open minded in the fourth quarter and use Lee down the stretch especially when Zach or Eddy are having an off night.

4. Can he generate more offense?
With Isiah’s offense centered on the low post play of Eddy Curry, and now Zach Randolph, it becomes important for all the Knicks on the floor to knock down an open jumper. Unfortunately Lee hits only 29% of his jump shots according to 82games.com. His shot looks awkward, and maybe part of it is due to being left handed. Nonetheless it appears as if he doesn’t square his shoulders to the hoop. Often relying on others to score, his usage is very low and his per minute scoring is only tied for 7th on the team. While Lee is plenty valuable without a jump shot, for him to go from being a very good complimentary player to an All Star will require a bit more scoring volume. A 15 footer would go a long way in Lee’s development.

Dave Crockett

Lee’s career has been one I have followed with some interest since seeing him in listed as a McDonald’s HS All-American in 2001. I suspect most Knickerblogger readers are not familiar with the St. Louis metro area, which is where I spent my high school years some 20+ years ago. Lee’s high school, Chaminade College Prep, suffice it to say is not to be mistaken for the prototypical high school sports powerhouse. (Back in my day Chaminade actually ran a single-wing offense in football.) So when this mop-topped, rosy-cheeked lad won the McDonald’s slam dunk contest I was, to say the least, intrigued. Unfortunately for Lee he virtually never had a play run for him at Florida until his senior season, overlapping as he did with trigger-happy guards Anthony Roberson and Matt Walsh. Fortunately for Knicks fans Lee learned how to be uber-productive without the ball in his hands. His long arms, timing, and knack for positioning virtually ensure that he will always be a quality rebounder.

The key for Lee going forward will be developing a 15-18 foot jump shot. If he never improves in that area he still promises to be an exceptionally useful complimentary player, along the lines of A.C. Green–the player to whom he compares most favorably at the same age. But if he can improve his ball-handling and his shot–a feat that may require reconstructing that ugly looking thing–I see Lee’s peak years comparing favorably to those of Larry Nance or Horace Grant (i.e., very good, though probably not Hall of Fame).

Putting a damper on some of the superlatives though, I do have my concerns about Lee’s injury. I am still not completely certain of the final diagnosis. Its description in the press even now remains somewhat murky. My initial thinking was that Lee suffered a “high ankle sprain,” an injury commonly suffered by football players. That’s generally a 6-8 week injury. But, it remains unclear if Lee is back to 100% even now.

As for Lee’s minutes this upcoming season, I suspect that after pulling Lee–clearly his most desired asset–off the market Thomas plans to play him. My best guess is that he will be part of a rotation that sees him log some minutes at SF while the lion’s share will come at backup PF when Zach Randolph slides down to C. My sincere hope is that we have seen the last meaningful minutes for Malik Rose and Jerome James, who combined to be on the floor for over a quarter of the team’s minutes in ’06-07.

Brian Cronin – Yeah, the injury problem is my only concern about Lee. It’s not like Lee just developed all these skills out of nowhere. He was basically the same player in his sophomore year as in his rookie year – only more so. ;)

But I’ve seen way too many NBA players get similar injuries to Lee and just have their distinctive abilities, if not ruined, at least diminished for quite awhile. So I am certainly hoping that Lee will recover nicely.

I am not too worried about minutes, really, because, as Dave mentions, if Zeke isn’t going to trade him, I gotta figure it is because he actually plans on using him. I, too, think he will see most of his minutes at the SF position.

As for the grade, come on, could it be any grade BUT an A? Dude was a legitimate contender for the All-Star team in his second season!!

Knicks 2007 Report Card (A to Z): Channing Frye

KnickerBlogger: Channing Frye looked to be one of the better picks of the 2005 draft, earning a berth on the All Rookie 1st team, and was one of the bright spots of the abysmal 2006 season. Frye’s main strength was his jump shot. He showed good accuracy and range on his jump shot, making him an ideal pick and roll partner. Frequently he burned opposing big men who were too slow to guard him on the outside. Although primarily an outside threat, Frye did have the buddings of a decent low post game. And while he was not a fantastic rebounder or shot blocker, Frye certainly didn’t embarrass himself in either category. According to basketball-reference.com, the top 5 comparables to Knick forward/center were a solid group of Sharone Wright, Drew Gooden, Marcus Camby, Joe Smith, and Michael Doleac. Isiah Thomas looked as if he worked his draft magic yet again.

However a funny thing happened on the way to the All Star Game, Channing Frye suffered a horrendous sophomore slump in 2007. His PER plummeted from a vigorous 18.0 to an anemic 10.5. Frye had setbacks in a few major categories namely his scoring (20.4 to 14.4 pts/40), free throw attempts (5.8 to 2.3 FTA/40), offensive rebounding (3.5 to 1.9 oReb/40), and eFG% (47.9% to 43.5%). Frye’s top 5 most comparable players after last year were Michael Doleac, Thurl Bailey, Doug Smith, Anthony Avent, and Steven Stepanovich. Hardly the same class of players as the first 5.

There are a host of theories on what happened to Frye from his freshman to his sophomore season. The first is the Curry-Frye theory, which claims that Frye’s decline was due to Curry’s emergence as the Knicks sole low post player. Pushing Frye out to the perimeter would explain his drop in rebounding and foul shots, but 82games.com shows Frye to have a higher PER at the forward position than at center (where he plays with Curry off the court). So the entire blame can’t be placed on Curry’s shoulders.

The second theory is the Sax-Knoblauch theory, which claims that Frye’s decline was from the pressure to succeed in New York. While the Knicks aren’t as high profile as the Yankees, Frye was visibly shaky at times. He passed up on wide open 20 footers, normally his bread and butter. It’s unknown what could cause such a transformation, but clearly Frye’s suffered from a lack of confidence.

Finally the last theory, also known as the Frye-Injury theory, claims that Frye never fully recovered from his injuries. Channing missed the end of 2006 with a knee sprain, and the summer with a twisted ankle. It may not even be that Frye was physically hurt, but rather disoriented from the lack of cohesion with his teammates due to missing so many games.

KnickerBlogger’s Grade: F

2008 Outlook: Whichever theory or combination of theories you ascribe to regarding Channing Frye’s sophomore slump, 2008 is going to be a make or break season for him. Luckily for Frye, he’ll have a fresh start in Portland. He’ll back up the high profile duo of Oden & Aldridge for a team with little expectations and less brighter lights. With a boost of confidence and an offense that features him a bit more, Frye could show that 2007 was just a bump in the road.

Dave Crockett: I hate to give a guy an F, especially a fellow Arizona alum but… yeesh. This was a throw away season for Frye. For my money–and this is after having seen a ton of his college games–I think the move away from the screen-roll oriented offense along with the injuries were the major culprits. Perhaps more fundamentally though his game was built to be unsustainable; so one-dimensional it was. Frye should benefit from playing for Nate McMillan on a team that will probably run the floor a little more; something I happen to think is a palliative, if not the cure for athletic big men prone to offensive droughts.

Brian Maniscalco: Here’s a project for an ambitious researcher. Has there ever been another player whose PER dropped by 7 or 8 points in consecutive seasons early on in his career? The magnitude of that drop is so enormous that it must rank among the all time free falls in NBA history, especially for a player so early in his career. If there are players with similar falls from grace, how did they fare in the future? Is this the sort of thing a player can recover from or is it a death knell?

My guess is that Frye will bounce back, but I doubt he will regain the promise he held after his rookie season. I expect him to be a good-to-very-good backup for Portland, and in the best possible circumstances it’s conceivable that he could win a sixth man award or possibly slip into an All-Star game. But after such an awful performance last season I don’t see his ceiling being any higher than that, whereas after his strong rookie campaign it seemed like the sky was the limit.

Michael Zannettis: My feelings about Frye’s play this year are well-documented. Without getting to the free throw line or being a force on the offensive glass, the one player that showed up in his comparables both seasons, Michael Doleac, seems to be the player he’s become. Another name that comes to mind is Maurice Taylor. As we’ve learned from players like Doleac and Taylor is that as sweet as that mid-range jumpshot is, it’s actually the worst shot to take on the court. You’d have to hit it at a ridiculous rate to be a viable offensive player if that was your only skill.

I can’t blame Frye’s struggles on the screen-and-roll, the brights lights of New York, or the tunnel vision of Mr. Curry. Simply put, he didn’t man up. He played soft. As much as we often like to question Curry’s effort level, especially on defense, we have to wonder where Frye’s determination to grab an offensive board went. They don’t call it “fighting” for position, for nothing.

Brian Cronin I took Brian’s challenge, and took a look at every rookie in NBA history who played as many games as Channing Frye did in his first year (65) and ended up with a PER of at least 8 for the season.

Of the 915 matches, only ONE of them had a PER drop as large as Frye’s, John Shasky, who posted a 12.7 PER for the Miami Heat in their expansion year of 1988-89, but only a 2.5 in 14 games for Golden State the following season. Shasky played one more year before his NBA career ended, with a nice rebound PER of 11.1 for Dallas in 1990-91.

So this is basically unprecedented (Shasky wasn’t a major rotation piece like Frye was), which I guess bodes well for Frye, in the sense that it sounds like a bit of a fluke.

However, upon looking through the players, I did note a number of players who suffered decent setbacks (minus 4 or so points) and in almost every case, while there was some bounceback, for the most part, they continued to stay at the lower level or even decline further.

So I don’t think Channing Frye’s future is a bright one.

As for his grade for this past season, I’m gonna be nice and say D-.

What ails the Knicks’ D?

The Knicks are a poor defensive team (24th out of 30 in points allowed per 100 possessions in ’07; 26th in ’06 with more or less the same roster). Conventional wisdom has it that New York’s defensive ineptitude is due in large part to a porous interior defense, where Eddy Curry is a poor rebounder and shotblocker, David Lee is slow to rotate, and the departing Channing Frye was soft. Many worry that the interior D is only going to get worse with Zach Randolph and his poor defensive reputation joining Curry, portending an even weaker defensive squad in 2008.

With all that in mind, the following quote from Isiah Thomas regarding the Randolph trade is more than a little surprising, even though by and large it seems to have gone unnoticed:

I think Zach is a prideful defender right now and I think, as a team, we?ll get better as a defensive unit. Again, because I think we?ll defend the three-point line better than last year. We don?t necessarily give up a tremendous amount of points in the paint. We usually outscore teams in the paint, but we got hurt last year defensively because of the three point line. I?m not necessarily looking to improve our interior defense as much as I am trying to improve the defense on the three-point line. We have to get better on the perimeter. That?s where we had problems last year.

No Knicks fan is going to argue that New York did a poor job defending the perimeter last season. But curiously, Thomas contends that the interior defense is not a key area of concern. But that can’t be right, can it?

This matter bears a closer investigation. Fortunately, we can get a pretty decent picture of how well the Knicks defend different regions of the court using data from 82games.com. (Not all of the stats mentioned here are directly available at 82games.com, but they can be calculated from stats available at 82games.com and basketball-reference.com.) In particular, we can look at how well the Knicks defend shots in the paint, 2 point jumpers, and 3 point attempts. There are a couple of different components we can look at for each portion of the court: how often the opponent tends to shoot there and how well the Knicks defend field goals attempted there. Combining those two components, we can figure out how many points the average Knicks opponent gets from each region of the court per 100 field goal attempts. These data for the 2006/07 season are plotted in the graph below in standardized form, in order to give a side-by-side comparison of how the Knicks’ performance on each measure stacked up against the rest of the league.

Knicks 2006/07 Defense

The data seems to support Thomas’s claim. It seems the Knicks actually did do a good job of defending the paint in ’07. In actual fact, New York was not very good at preventing opponents from scoring once they got in position to get a shot up in the paint. However, this weakness was more than compensated for by the sheer paucity of field goal attempts in the paint by Knicks opponents. Only the Rockets allowed a lower proportion of inside field goal attempts than the Knicks. And in terms of points in the paint per 100 FGA, only the Rockets (3rd in overall defensive efficiency), Bulls (1st), Heat (8th), and Spurs (2nd) were stingier. That is impressive company.

Still, something doesn’t seem quite right. The 4 teams that allowed fewer points in the paint per 100 FGA were all strong defensive teams overall with strong shot blocking presences. Neither of those things can be said for the ’07 Knicks. All 4 of those teams were also in the top 7 in eFG% allowed in the paint, which makes for a natural story: these teams were very good at defending field goal attempts in the paint, thus dissuading the opposition from attempting shots in the paint to begin with. Such a natural explanation for why the opposition attempted so few shots in the paint is not on offer for the Knicks, since they were among the worst at guarding inside shot attempts. This raises one’s suspicion that perhaps the Knicks allowed so few shot attempts in the paint for some reason other than good interior defense.

For instance, perhaps the Knicks just fouled the opposition a lot whenever they got near the rim. This would be poor defensive practice, but it would also have the effect of reducing inside FGA by the opponent. But this excessive fouling in the paint hypothesis doesn’t seem tenable. The Knicks were right at the league average in terms of opponent free throw attempts per 100 possessions, and at the center / power forward positions they accumulated only 0.4 fouls per 100 possessions more than the league average.

Another possibility is that the Knicks did a lot of switching, doubling, and rotating to try to compensate for their poor interior defensive eFG%. Such a tactic could have the effect of limiting interior FGA while leaving the perimeter vulnerable. But is this consistent with the data? The Knicks certainly got crushed from the 3 point line. But they actually did a pretty good job at defending the 2 point jumper, holding opponents’ eFG% below the league average and allowing them to shoot a higher proportion of 2 point jumpers than the league average. (Allowing more 2 point jumpers is actually a good defensive tactic on the whole, since they are the lowest percentage shots available on the court.)

It turns out that this pattern of data is consistent with league trends for the ’07 season. For the league as a whole, defensive eFG% in the paint was significantly correlated with opponent 3 point attempts (r = .42, p = .02), opponent 3 point eFG% (r = .53, p = .003), and opponent points per 100 FGA coming from 3 pointers (r = .52, p = .003). In other words, the teams that defended the paint better also tended to defend the 3 point shot better. However, the correlations between interior defensive eFG% and 2 point jumper attempts and eFG% fail to reach statistical significance. That is, at least in ’07, there was no relationship between how well teams defended the paint and how well they defended the 2 point jump shot.

On the other hand, on a league-wide scale, the proportion of interior FGA allowed was not correlated with interior defensive eFG% and also was not correlated with opponent % FGA and eFG% for 2 and 3 point jumpers. This does not fit so nicely with the hypothesis that the Knicks surrendered so few interior FGA because of a swarming, scrambling interior D that left the perimeter vulnerable. It is possible that the hypothesis is correct nonetheless, and the Knicks were just idiosyncratic in terms of how they defended the paint. But it is also possible that, for all their defensive weaknesses and warts, they were doing something right in order to limit opponent FGA in the paint. So although we may be strongly suspicious of the appearance that the Knicks defended the paint well in ’07, the data presented here does not categorically rule out the possibility that there was some largely unrecognized but positive component to New York’s interior D that allowed them to limit interior FGA, and thus interior points per 100 FGA, by the opposition.

However, the idea that New York’s atrocious defense of the 3 pointer is linked to their poor interior defensive eFG% seems a bit stronger. Not only is this idea consistent with conventional basketball wisdom, but it is also consistent with league-wide statistical trends in the ’07 season. The worse teams defended the paint in terms of interior defensive eFG%, the worse they tended to defend the 3 point shot. (Of course, correlation does not imply causation, but there are independent, observational reasons for believing that a poorer interior defense could lead to a poorer perimeter defense.) The Knicks had a poor interior defensive eFG% and were among the very worst at defending 3s. So if the Knicks are to shore up their defense of the 3 pointer, it could very well require a fortified interior defensive eFG% (e.g. by way of better shot blocking and quicker defensive rotations). If the team focuses on improving 3 point defense while largely neglecting to focus on bolstering the interior defense, as Thomas’s quote suggests, the returns on perimter D could be fundamentally limited.