It’s only been 12 games, but it looks like Knicknation has turned on Eddy Curry. Posts on various message boards show New Yorkers’ disdain for their “center of the future.” At UltimateKnicks, a post was titled “I’m done with Curry….” and it was met with no resistance. One Knicks4Life poster started a thread two weeks ago called “The Eddy Curry Watch” and went from the opinion “Got to admit, he looked pretty good out there” to “I’m done defending Curry” in two weeks. Even on RealGM, where the hardcore optimists take up residence, posts are proclaiming “Curry has got to go.”
However there are still a few people that are still optimistic on Curry’s future.
“We’re not asking Eddy to dominate the league at 23 years of age. That’s a tall task for anyone. I don’t remember too many 23-year-olds coming in and dominating, regardless of how long they’ve been in the league. Twenty-three is still 23.”
You might expect that quote to come from a body-painted rabid Knick fan on a message board, but instead those words come from Knicks President & Coach Isiah Thomas. That quote comes from the New York Daily News along with this tidbit:
Still, [Isiah] has made a Ewing-esque guarantee about Curry’s future, and yesterday named some other top-tier big men in arguing that the sixth-year pro will take as long as they did to develop. Those names included Yao, Jermaine O’Neal – whom Thomas acquired and coached in Indiana – and one guy whose number hangs from the Garden rafters.
“I saw Patrick Ewing in the gym (Saturday) night,” Thomas said. “I remember Patrick at 23. Do you remember what the Knicks’ record was when Patrick was 23? … I’m just saying, it takes awhile.”
While I don’t expect Isiah to badmouth one of his own players, I don’t think Thomas should expect Knick fans to swallow his words hook, line & sinker. Let’s look at the facts and discuss whether Eddy Curry is similar to Jermaine O’Neal, Yao Ming, and Patrick Ewing? Curry turns 24 in a couple of weeks, which means last year he was 23 for a majority of last season. So let’s look at our 4 players at the age of 23:
Ewing 20.0 pts, 22.5 pts/40, 47.4% efg, 52.6% ts%
O'Neal 19.0 pts, 20.2 pts/40, 48.0% efg, 52.1% ts%
Y.Ming 17.5 pts, 21.3 pts/40, 52.2% efg, 58.6% ts%
CURRY 13.6 pts, 21.0 pts/40, 53.8% efg, 58.3% ts%
Curry’s scoring and shooting percentages are right up there with the other three, only his points per game lags behind. Since that’s a function of his minutes, let’s look at some of his other stats to see why he’s not getting the playing time the other 3 received. We’ll use the stats per 40 minutes to even things out, since the minutes per game are radically different between the 4.
OTHER STATS (per 40 minutes)
Ewing 10.2 REB, 2.3 BLK, 3.9 TO, 4.3 PF
O'Neal 11.2 REB, 2.5 BLK, 2.6 TO, 4.0 PF
Y.Ming 10.9 REB, 2.3 BLK, 3.0 TO, 4.1 PF
Curry 9.2 REB, 1.2 BLK, 3.8 TO, 5.1 PF
It’s clear from the fouls that Eddy can’t get more minutes, however it’s not just the fouls that keeps Curry on the bench. He lags behind all 3 in rebounding, blocked shots, and fouls. Only Ewing’s high turnover rate keeps Eddy from running the table. Curry’s blocked shot rate is especially damning. The Knicks current center’s blocks shots at half the rate of the others. This confirms eye witness testimony of Eddy’s poor defense. From these numbers, it’s obvious that Curry is poor in areas vital to the center position, which is the primary reason he doesn’t receive more minutes.
Curry’s backers say that his poor defense, high foul rate, & lack of rebounding are a factor of his age. Unfortunately this statement is in direct contradiction of the evidence above. Ewing, Yao, and Jermaine O’Neal were all good rebounders, had their fouls under control, and were dominant in the paint even at the tender age of 23.
Thanks to basketball-reference.com, we have another way to judge a player’s potential. Similarity scores look at a player’s stats, then finds other players that had similar numbers. For example if you wanted to know if Chris Paul is likely to be good, one way would be to look at the players that were most similar to him. Good news for Hornet fans, as Paul’s most similar are Stephon Marbury, Mike Bibby, Isiah Thomas, and Gilbert Arenas. Meanwhile Garnett’s comparables at age 23 predicted a Hall of Fame career: Bird, Duncan, Webber, and Ewing. And how do our four players match up?
Most Similar at Age 23
Ewing: Jermaine O'Neal, Keith Van Horn, Pau Gasol, Derrick Coleman, Tim Duncan
O'Neal: Patrick Ewing, Pau Gasol, Derrick Coleman, Bryant Reeves, Shawn Kemp
Y.Ming: Ralph Sampson, Rik Smits, Pau Gasol, Jermaine O'Neal, Georghe Muresan
Curry: Jeff Ruland, Mitch Kupchak, Sharone Wright, Jamaal Magloire, Leon Douglas
At 23 years old Ewing, O’Neal, and Ming compared to All Stars and/or players that were very good early in their career. On the other hand, Curry’s most comparables leave a lot to be desired. The one thing they have in common is they were all washed up by the age of 28.
For those that aren’t into statistical methods, there are still other ways to judge a player’s value.
Awards by the age of 23
Ewing: All Star, Rookie of the Year, All Rookie Team
O'Neal: All Star, Most Improved Player, All NBA Team (3rd)
Y.Ming: All Star, Rookie of the Year, All Rookie Team
Just as the statistics predicted, Patrick Ewing, Jermaine O’Neal, and Yao Ming were acknowledged by their peers for their fine play. All three became All Stars before the age of 24, and all three were given some other award. And again Curry is the odd man out, lacking in any kind of hardware.
So what do all these facts tell us? First that Curry’s age isn’t an excuse for his lack of development. Just using the players Isiah chose, we’re able to show that 23 year olds can play at a high level. Ewing went to a four year college, Yao Ming came form another country, and Jermaine O’Neal skipped college. Despite coming to the NBA from different routes, all three made their mark by the age of 23. Second Curry’s lack of college experience isn’t an excuse either. Just like Curry, O’Neal came to the NBA out of high school. Before age 23, Jermaine O’Neal played in only 5076 minutes compared to Curry’s 6683. Despite Curry having a season’s worth of minutes over O’Neal, Jermaine was the one to become an All Star. But O’Neal isn’t the only player to accomplish this. Dwight Howard is only 21, and is poised to become one of the East’s best centers. Toronto’s Chris Bosh appeared in his first All Star game at age 21. While Isiah Thomas might be throwing out names like Ewing, Yao, and Jermaine to make Curry sound like a promising young player, it’s clear no matter how you look at it that Eddy Curry will not become a “league-leading center.”