2009 Report Card: Chris Wilcox

The Knicks acquired Chris Wilcox in February in exchange for a barely used Malik Rose. It seemed that Wilcox was going to play center and push the undersized David Lee back to power forward, but instead Wilcox spelled Lee at center. Looking at his most frequent 5-man units from 82games, Lee doesn’t appear in any of them.

Watching Wilcox play, gave me a new appreciation of Lee. Both players have a similar style, but Wilcox lags behind in multiple areas. He was less efficient when it comes to inside scoring, and he was less able to stretch the offense. According to 82games, 80% of his attempts were inside. If the knock on Lee is his desire to stay near the hoop, then Wilcox must be tethered to it. And despite playing with the same support cast, David out rebounds Chris by a far margin. Wilcox’s one saving grace is his adequate block rate.

Name Jump eFG Inside eFG Inside % reb/36 to/36 ast/36 blk/36
Wilcox 35.0 57.3 80% 8.9 2.2 1.5 0.9
Lee 35.2 64.1 68% 12.1 1.9 2.2 0.3

Even though New York is still short on big men, they decided not to keep Wilcox for 2010. Newly acquired Darko Milicic and Eddy Curry are likely to take any minutes that would have gone to Wilcox. I guess the Knicks have filled their quota of lottery center busts.

Report Card (5 point scale):
Offense: 2
Defense: 2
Teamwork: 2
Rootability: 1
Performance/Expectations: 2

Grade: D F I was going to give Wilcox a D, until I remembered this. If I recall correctly, he did this more than once as a Knick.

Similarity Scores:

z-Sum FLName Year Tm PER TS% eFG% PTS ORB TRB AST STL BLK TOV
.000 Chris Wilcox 2009 TOT 13.2 .517 .496 15.3 3.3 9.5 1.6 0.9 0.5 2.6
.024 Pat Cummings 1983 DAL 14.6 .526 .493 15.8 3.5 10.4 2.2 0.9 0.5 2.5
.032 Rick Robey 1982 BOS 11.0 .511 .493 13.8 3.5 9.0 2.1 0.8 0.4 2.8
.033 Marc Jackson 2001 GSW 16.1 .534 .471 16.2 3.0 9.2 1.5 0.9 0.7 2.4
.045 Mike Jackson 1976 VIR 13.2 .549 .499 15.8 3.4 9.8 1.8 0.7 0.5 3.1
.046 Jason Caffey 2000 GSW 12.4 .515 .479 14.2 3.2 8.0 2.0 1.0 0.3 2.8
.054 Kenny Carr 1982 TOT 14.7 .543 .504 16.7 3.1 9.9 1.6 1.2 0.4 2.8
.061 Kenny Thomas 2004 PHI 15.9 .527 .469 13.4 3.5 10.0 1.5 1.1 0.4 2.3
.071 Armen Gilliam 1991 TOT 15.5 .542 .487 16.9 3.0 8.1 1.4 0.9 0.7 2.4
.073 Dwight Jones 1979 HOU 10.9 .505 .458 13.6 3.3 9.7 1.7 1.0 0.8 3.0

2009 Report Card: David Lee

After 3 years of coming off the bench, David Lee finally earned a starting spot in 2009. Lee started 74 of 81 games (D’Antoni toyed with a Randolph/Chandler front court in November), 19 more than in his 3 previous seasons combined. On the court, Lee expanded his repertoire showing some new moves in the low and mid post while adding a jump shot. This, along with being emphasized in the offense with pick and rolls, allowed his pts/36 to increase to a career high of 16.5. However it’s not necessarily the scoring increase that elevated Lee from reserve to starter. KnickerBlogger readers and stat savvy fans understood that for a few years David Lee has been the most productive of the Knick front court players.

Much like his draftmate Nate Robinson, the expanded role exposed a flaw in Lee’s game: his defense. Lee’s block shot rate hit the lowest of his career (0.3 blk/36) and was similar to that of another notoriously bad defender in Zach Randolph. Granted in Lee’s defense, Coach D’Antoni played him as an undersized center (6-9), but even at PF, Lee’s help defense is sub par. Ideally the Knicks (or whoever signs Lee) will want to pair him with a center that can turn back some shots.

Overall Lee had a typically good season. He provided efficient scoring with excellent rebounding, and didn’t eat up too many possessions. He silenced his critics who said the half court set would stall with Lee in the mix. D’Antoni frequently featured Lee with pick & rolls, and the New York offense increased to the middle of the pack (17th, 108.1 pts/poss). Lee was 4th among Knick regulars in points per minutes, so talk about him being a garbage man is unfounded. There are a lot of players in the NBA with the ability to create a shot in isolation, but too often they do so at the high cost of missed shots, turnovers, and a lack of fundamentals. Thank goodness David Lee isn’t one of those players.

Report Card (5 point scale):
Offense: 5
Defense: 2
Teamwork: 5
Rootability: 5
Performance/Expectations: 4

Grade: B+

Similarity Scores:

z-Sum FLName Year Tm PER TS% eFG% PTS ORB TRB AST STL BLK TOV
.000 David Lee 2009 NYK 19.0 .590 .549 16.5 3.3 12.1 2.2 1.0 0.3 1.9
.095 Jerome Whitehead 1982 SDC 16.7 .599 .559 16.2 3.8 10.8 1.7 0.8 0.7 2.3
.115 Loy Vaught 1994 LAC 16.0 .566 .537 14.9 3.7 11.2 1.3 1.3 0.4 1.6
.116 A.C. Green 1989 LAL 17.8 .594 .532 15.6 3.7 10.6 1.5 1.3 0.8 1.7
.134 Michael Cage 1987 LAC 17.1 .579 .521 15.5 4.4 11.4 1.6 1.2 0.8 2.1
.161 Chris Wilcox 2008 SEA 16.3 .554 .524 17.1 2.6 9.0 1.5 1.0 0.7 2.1
.162 Tyrone Hill 1994 CLE 18.4 .590 .543 15.0 4.6 12.4 1.1 1.3 0.9 1.9
.166 Tom Owens 1975 TOT 19.4 .565 .527 16.9 4.0 12.3 2.8 0.5 1.1 2.1
.166 Brad Daugherty 1991 CLE 19.9 .583 .524 20.1 2.2 10.1 3.1 0.9 0.6 2.6
.166 Kenny Carr 1981 CLE 17.0 .560 .511 16.9 3.6 11.5 2.6 1.0 0.6 3.2
.174 Calvin Natt 1982 POR 19.0 .622 .577 18.4 2.7 8.5 2.1 0.9 0.5 1.9

For Knick fans that envision David Lee as a borderline All Star (including his agent), this has to be a disappointing list of comparable players. But overall this isn’t such a bad list to be in. The top 4 players (Wilcox is still active) were all in the league for 11+ seasons, with Green & Cage banging until their late 30s. And there is one other ray of hope: Lee outclasses most of these players.

At his current age (25), Lee has already become a league leader in his key strengths (rebounding & scoring percentage). In the two seasons he’s had enough minutes to qualify for league leaders, Lee has been in the top 10 in fg% twice, and in his first season as a starter he was in the top 5 in both offensive and defensive rebounds. By the age of 25 Cage was in the top 5 in offensive rebounding once and Vaught was among the top 10 in field goal percentage. Other than these two instances, none of Lee’s other top 5 comparable players accomplished either of these goals by the same age.

So what to make of this list? Clearly Lee’s defensive inefficiencies put him in a lower tier of players. To use a food analogy, this group of players are the hamburgers of the league. They’re not something that you’d necessarily look to build around, but if you were deprived of them, you’d feel something was missing. There aren’t many White Castle sliders (Wilcox?, Carr?) and there are some Jackson Hole Wyoming savory burgers (Green, Cage, Daugherty). And although David Lee is still a hamburger, he’s made of Kobe beef.

Pre-Draft Camp Mock and Draft Thoughts Part II: L-O-T-T-O!

If you haven’t already done so take a look at Part I, done prior to the lottery.

Now that the ping pong balls have bounced, leaving our beloved Knickerbockers no better or worse off than they’d have been just based on record, I’ll re-work the lottery picks and post the remainder of this first round mock.

1. LA Clippers – Blake Griffin, PF, Oklahoma: If Mike Dunleavy’s recent declaration of undying love for Blake Griffin is true then he’ll probably trade players to clear room for his new beloved. If it’s not true then the #1 pick may represent a rare opportunity to clean up a roster that is a mess, possibly in one fell swoop. (Previously: Ricky Rubio)

2. Memphis – Ricky Rubio, PG, Spain: Choosing Rubio has its advantages, regardless of whether he wants to play in Memphis. His rights become an asset for the asset-starved Grizz. Even though Memphis should do this, no player in this draft generates more ambivalence for me than Rubio. The talent is evident, but there are lots of reasons it may not work out for the team that drafts him. (Previously: Demar DeRozan)

3. Oklahoma City – Hasheem Thabeet, C, UConn: Thabeet may be a one-trick pony but his trick is precisely what OKC needs. He’s a defensive anchor, with a decent shot at becoming a more athletic Mutombo. The downside is that he will probably never be even an average offensive player. But, in this draft there’s something to be said for being fairly certain of a player’s “floor”. (Previously: Brandon Jennings)

4. Sacramento – Brandon Jennings, PG, Italy: Sactown will most likely take the best PG left on the board. I suspect Rubio would prefer Sactown over Memphis, and perhaps a deal can be struck. (Previously: Blake Griffin)

5. Washington – Jordan Hill, PF, Arizona: The Wiz is the team I think most likely to deal its pick. If they keep it they’ll be looking for depth that could help in a pinch, but with some upside. Hill is a lot like Chris Wilcox. (Previously: Hasheem Thabeet)

6. Minnesota – Tyreke Evans, G, Memphis: I think Minny opts for the highest upside player on the board regardless of position. It could be Evans, depending on workouts. It could also be Hill, Jennings, DeRozan, or Lawson. Almost literally nothing they do would surprise me, which I hope they interpret as a challenge. (Previously: Evans)

7. Golden State – James Harden, G, Arizona State: I’ve loved to watch this kid play since he was a junior in high school. To me he’s the 6’5″ Paul Pierce. Other mocks have him higher right now, but I expect that on draft night he’ll slide in between 5 and 8. (Previously: Jordan Hill)

8. New York – Ty Lawson, G, UNC: I almost pulled the trigger on Lawson in the previous version. Now that I think Nate Robinson most likely will be signed-and-traded this July, Lawson becomes a better fit. He used to be just a fly-down-the floor guard (and frankly, there is something to be said for that) but his screen roll game has really evolved. I expect him to shine in workouts. He may be this year’s Westbrook–an already well-regarded player who vaults up the board based on superior workouts. Oh, and I really hope Walsh can find a 2nd round pick this year. This draft has some potentially very useful role players. (Previously: James Harden)

9. Toronto – Stephen Curry, G, Davidson: Is it possible to NOT love Steph Curry’s game? He fits Toronto like a glove, even down to his weaknesses (i.e., lateral quickness, overall athleticism, defense). He’s also the right kid to play outside the lower 48. This is a makes-too-much-sense-NOT-to-happen move if Curry is available. (Previously: Stephen Curry)

10. Milwaukee – Dejaun Blair, PF/C, Pittsburgh: Blair’s rebounding and long arms may get him to the top ten. (Previously: Ty Lawson)

11. New Jersey – Demar DeRozan, SF, USC: I think DeRozan is the biggest gamble this draft. It’s just not clear if he’s really good at anything yet. Add to that, he may be leaving town one step ahead of the sheriff with allegations of payola hanging over Tim Floyd at USC. Having said that, I’d honestly be a bit surprised if someone doesn’t pull the trigger on him earlier. (Previously: Jeff Teague)

12. Charlotte – Gerald Henderson, SG, Duke: With Larry Brown making personnel decisions, there is simply no way to anticipate what he’ll do. What I can probably write down is “scrappy, hard-nosed defender with a high basketball IQ” and just wait to fill in the name. I like Henderson as a solid sixth man who plays both ends. (Previously: Gerald Henderson)

13. Indiana – Jrue Holiday, G, UCLA: Holiday was probably among the most shocked when Darren Collison return to UCLA for his senior season. That moved Holiday to SG, where he struggled playing limited minutes out of position for a team with a style that doesn’t exactly fit his strengths. I’m not an “everyone should play one year!” guy, but Holiday should go back to school for another year. He’d definitely move to PG this year and could vault himself into the top 5 of next year’s draft. He may yet do so in this draft based on workouts, but the new format doesn’t allow as many chances for teams to see players as in the past. As of this writing he hasn’t hired an agent, but everything I have read suggests that he’s in the draft to stay. (Previously: Earl Clark)

14. Phoenix – Johnny Flynn, PG, Syracuse: The rumor mill says that Phoenix likes him. We’ll take that as a baseline pick. (Previously: Johnny Flynn)

15. Detroit – Earl Clark, F, Louisville: I am not a fan of Clark’s offensive game, particularly shot selection, but he’s a good defender. (Previously: Wayne Ellington)

Once we get out of the lottery, beauty will be in the eye of the beholder. I expect trades galore and one or two “who the hell is that guy!?” selections as well.

16. Chicago – Jeff Teague, G, Wake Forest: Teague is an undersized SG, a high-usage player both years at Wake but improved his TS% from 59% to 62% almost exclusively by getting to the line. He looks like Ben Gordon with a clue.

17. Philadelphia – Chase Budinger, SG/SF, Arizona: I posted a fairly extensive take on him at Arizona Desert Swarm. At this point in the draft he’s a bargain as a 6th or 7th man. It’s also worth noting that Philadelphia currently puts absolute blechhh! on the floor at SG.

18. Minnesota – BJ Mullens, C, Ohio State: This would be a reasonable gamble on size, athleticism, and potential in the high teens.

19. Atlanta – Terrance Williams, SG/SF, Louisville: Like his Cardinal counterpart, Williams brings much more to the floor in defense and other areas unrelated to scoring. For its part Atlanta doesn’t need another mouth to feed on offense. Williams could bring back a little of what they miss since Josh Childress left for Greece.

20. Utah – Sam Young, SF, Pittsburgh: He plays a similar game to Matt Harpring; a little jump shot and a lot of bruises.

21. New Orleans – Marcus Thornton, SG, LSU: I’m not a huge fan of Thorton as a playmaker, where he was often miscast in college. As the new (better) Janero Pargo I like him a lot better.

22. Dallas – James Johnson, F, Wake Forest: I think the Mavs take the most athletic front court player they can find at 22.

23. Sacramento – Tyler Hansborough, PF, North Carolina: Hansborough isn’t a first or even second option in the NBA, but he will rebound, run the floor, get to the line, and should be a decent pick and pop player. DraftExpress’ comparison to Luis Scola sounds about right.

24. Portland – Jermaine Taylor, SG, Central Florida: What Portland needs is a slashing small forward to better compliment Roy, but they won’t get one unless they trade. They’ll probably end up moving this pick, but if not Taylor is a player that could develop into the kind of slasher they need.

25. Oklahoma City – Darren Collison, PG, UCLA: He would join former backcourt mate Westbrook, and projects to a very solid backup PG.

26. Chicago – DaJaun Summers, SF, Georgetown: Gamble on upside.

27. Memphis – Wayne Ellington, SG, UNC

28. Minnesota – Eric Maynor, G, VCU

29. LA Lakers – Jodie Meeks, G, Kentucky

30. Cleveland – Gani Lawal, PF, Georgia Tech

Note: Austin Daye would definitely be in the first round, but right now I am unsure about whether he’ll return to Gonzaga. I hope he does. I love his game. He just needs to put on some muscle.

Samb A Low Risk For New York

Yesterday the Knicks signed Cheik Samb to a 10 day contract. Samb has played for 3 other NBA teams (the Pistons, Nuggets, and Clippers) but has only amassed 106 minutes in that time. His per minute numbers show him to be a strong shot blocker with a very limited offensive game. In fact his shooting numbers are downright laughably bad (TS% 30.5, eFG 27.3%)

Although I’m a big of a supporter of per minute numbers, 106 minutes isn’t enough of a sample to make a good conclusion. This is especially true with regards to a players shooting percentages, which vary more from game to game than their other stats. Luckily Samb has logged 500+ minutes for the NBDL, and his 14.7 pts/36 on 52.8% TS% in the minor league is encouraging. If you combine his numbers from the two leagues, he projects well for a backup center.

Season   Tm  G  MP  FGA FTA  FT% ORB  TRB AST STL BLK TOV  PF   PTS  PER  TS% eFG%
2007-08 DET  4  31  4.6 2.3 .500 3.5  8.1 0.0 1.2 2.3 1.2 9.3  8.1 12.0 .717 .750
2008-09 TOT 16  75 13.9 2.4 .600 4.3 10.6 0.5 1.4 4.8 1.4 3.4  7.2  7.2 .240 .207
NBA Career  20 106 11.2 2.4 .571 4.1  9.8 0.3 1.4 4.1 1.4 5.1  7.5  8.6 .305 .273
NBDL Career 20 508 12.7 2.8 .744 2.6  9.6 0.9 0.9 5.3 2.1 4.6 14.7 17.9 .528 .497
NBA+NBDL    40 614 12.4 2.7 .714 2.9  9.6 0.8 1.0 5.1 2.0 4.7 13.5 16.3 .490 .458

Samb holds up well when compared to some other NBA centers at approximately the same age/number of years in the league. His rebounding isn’t as strong as Ben Wallace or Andris Biedrins, and Big Ben was chipping in with nearly 2 blocks per 36 minutes. Additionally Samb compares poorly to the lot from an offensive standpoint (if you value his NBA numbers over his NBDL). However his blocked shots are the best of the bunch. In fact there have only been 54 seasons in which a player averaged more than 4.0 blocks/36 in 1000 minutes or more.

        Player   To   G   MP   FGA  FG% FTA  FT% ORB  TRB AST STL BLK TOV  PF  PTS
     Cheik Samb 2009  20  106 11.2 .273 2.4 .571 4.1  9.8 0.3 1.4 4.1 1.4 5.1  7.5
Samb NBA+NBDL   2009  40  614 12.4 .458 2.7 .714 2.9  9.6 0.8 1.0 5.1 2.0 4.7 13.5
  Jackie Butler 2007  69  848 10.8 .539 3.8 .775 3.1  8.7 1.3 0.8 1.3 3.1 6.1 14.6
   Jerome James 2002  72  991 10.8 .481 2.6 .500 3.5  9.0 0.9 1.0 3.3 3.0 6.7 11.7
  Steven Hunter 2004 145 1752  8.3 .506 4.3 .464 2.7  7.4 0.5 0.4 3.1 1.2 4.9 10.4
   Dan Gadzuric 2004 124 2020  8.8 .512 3.1 .500 3.4  9.7 0.7 1.3 2.8 1.3 5.5 10.6
Andris Biedrins 2009 309 7469  9.1 .602 3.2 .535 4.3 12.2 1.5 1.1 1.9 1.7 5.0 12.6
    Ben Wallace 1998 101 1321  5.7 .481 3.2 .347 3.7 10.4 0.5 1.9 2.3 1.3 3.9  6.6

The big question is will Samb ever see that many minutes? It’s hard to tell with D’Antoni. He seemingly coveted Chris Wilcox when in Phoenix, but now that the team has acquired him, the center has yet to see any real minutes. Wilcox has played in only 5 games, and has yet to play more than 12 in any game for New York. My gut feeling is that D’Antoni might throw Samb a few minutes early to see if he’s useful, but that you won’t see him again until the Knicks are officially out of the place race. It’s very likely that Samb won’t see any minutes this year at all. New York may just hold him on their roster for the summer league and re-evaluate him at that time.

To put things in perspective the last time the Knicks picked up a shot blocking center in Jerome James, the deal was 182 times longer than Samb’s. The shot blocker they picked up prior to James, helped them reach the playoffs (Dikembe Mutombo) in 2004. This is a good low risk-medium reward deal for the Knicks. It’s something that the team has been weak at considering the Roberson/Von Wafer mistake over the summer. If Samb can join the legion of NBDLers who have become solid NBA players he will give New York another cheap player to help the team win now. Additionally players like Samb could help New York field a competitive roster for 2011 without hurting them fiscally.

Knicks Make Small Gains

New York pulled the trigger on two deals today before the NBA trade deadline. The bad news is that neither deal opens up any more cap space for 2010. The good news is that the moves will give the team a little more flexibility this year. In the bigger deal, New York acquired Larry Hughes for Jerome James, Tim Thomas, and Anthony Roberson. In a second deal, the Knicks sent Malik Rose to Oklahoma City for Chris Wilcox. Hughes will make $12.8M this year and $13.7M next year, while Wilcox’s $6.8M contract will expire this year. Hence from a salary cap perspective, this is a lateral move for the Knicks.

The most obvious improvement is in the Wilcox/Rose deal. Malik Rose saw playing time early on, but has been racking up DNP-CDs since. The veteran has played in only three games since Christmas. Wilcox is 8 years younger, and has been productive. Although his PER is down this year (13.4), he’s had an above PER the two years prior (16.3 in 2008 & 16.6 in 2007). He should provide the Knicks with much needed depth at the F/C spots, and that alone will help the team this year. I’m not sure why the Thunder made this deal, unless they’re eying Rose for a coaching position.

As for the Knicks other deal, it’s not necessarily who they got that makes them better. Larry Hughes is an aging slasher/defender who perhaps was never a great defender despite his reputation. Kevin Broom and I used to discuss Hughes’ defense, and Broom thought that Hughes’ gambles on the defensive end hurt the team. As for the slasher aspect, Hughes averaged 6.9 FT/36 in 2005 and that number has decreased in every full year since (5.4 in 2006, 4.3 in 2007, 3.4 in 2008). That means he’s either not able or not willing to get to the hole more, which would explain his tumbling shooting numbers. This year has been a small rebound year for Hughes, as his TS% has increased nearly 60 points from last year (TS% 52.5%) But at this point it’s possible due to the small sample size instead of a real improvement.

What’s more important about the Bulls trade is that the Knicks unloaded three players for one. Much like Malik Rose (160 minutes played), Jerome James (10 min) and Anthony Roberson (253 min) have seen few minutes this year. With New York wasting roster spots on these three plus Curry (3 min) and Stephon Marbury (0 min), the team has been playing shorthanded nearly the entire year. With two new roster spots freed, the Knicks can grab two players from the D-League to fit specific roles (shot blocker?, point guard?) that the team needs.

In both of these deals New York has given up only one player who was in their rotation: Tim Thomas. The Knicks will be able to replace his role on the team with two players. The first is Wilcox who will give New York a big body to defend the post. The second is Gallinari who will provide scoring from the perimeter. Giving the rookie more playing time is the icing on the cake for the Knicks.

Diagnosing Patient Frye: What Ails Our Sophomore Slumper?

Healthy, Wealthy, and Young: The Birth of A New Era
Standing 6?11?, being only 23 years-old, and with a promising rookie campaign under his belt, Channing Frye seemed destined to finally fill the gaping productivity hole at the Knicks? power forward position. The Knicks haven?t employed a tall, talented four since the glory days of Charles Oakley. Having suffered through a platoon of the short (Anthony Mason, Larry Johnson), the short and useless (Othella Harrington, Clarence Weatherspoon, Malik Rose, Maurice Taylor), and the short but perennially out of shape (Mike Sweetney), Knicks fans envisioned a bright future of crisp pick-and-rolls, a smooth jumper, and a reasonable defensive presence.

The average Knick fan was in love with Frye, but those fluent in statistical analysis were downright infatuated with him. Frye produced a very healthy rookie PER (18.12) ranking him second in his class, superior to the more heralded big men drafted ahead of him?Andrew Bogut, Marvin Williams, and Charlie Villanueva. The PER was promising in general, but also healthy in its components. Frye?s skill set was broad, which is an underrated quality and a strong indicator of future growth. He created shots, hit the ones he did, kept his turnovers in check, and rebounded well. Frye averaged 20 points per 40 minutes and it?s not hard to see why: he could shoot with range, was developing a low-post game, and hit his free throws. He?s a young big man who could score, and those don?t grow on trees. In all, the only blight on his record was a dismal Curry-esque assist ratio.

It wasn?t youth and inexperience that stood in Frye?s way. His major obstacles were his coach and his health. In his relentless effort to sabotage the Knicks? season, ?Coach? Larry Brown decided to bury Frye behind the inferior, older, shorter, and ultimately unemployment-bound Maurice Taylor. When Frye was finally able to wrestle himself some playing time, he sprained his knee and missed the last month of the season. In the off-season Larry Brown was replaced with the man who drafted Frye, while the months off provided time to heal. Knicks fans indulged high, and arguably, merited hopes that Frye would continue to improve and squeeze the Knicks into the playoffs of a historically weak conference.

We have thus far been grossly disappointed. To label Frye a disaster two-thirds through his sophomore campaign is painfully appropriate. Far from being a fringe All-Star candidate, Frye is posting a paltry 11.74 PER, and having trouble justifying a rotation slot, much less a starting job. Frye’s drop of -6.38 PER is downright ridiculous. We had no reason to believe Frye?s production would plummet, since none of Frye?s metrics were outliers to suggest a regression to the mean.

Paging Dr. Stats
There?s nothing about Frye’s rookie statistics that suggest ?luck? instead of ?skill.? Frye does nearly everything well (except pass), instead of one or two things spectacularly. In other words, he?s more Elton Brand than Kyle Korver. But Frye?s game is ailing badly. What?s the diagnosis?

Examining Frye?s performance record, reveals that for the most part Frye 2.0 is the same player as Frye 1.0. His turnover rate this season is not only healthy, but slightly improved. His usage rate is down slightly, but nothing alarming. His assist ratio is as small as ever, no change there (and unfortunately no improvement). We run into the first problem with a decreased rebound rate. A downtick that?s bad but not dramatic. However Frye?s main malady is his outright implosion in True Shooting Percentage. Frye went from a better than league average 54.1% to an atrociously bad 47.1%. That?s not a decline, that?s a crash.

There are three components that factor into TS%: 3-pt FGs, 2-pt FGs, and Free Throws. Frye doesn’t take threes, and his free throw percentage is even better this year, so it’s easy to say that his drop in FG% from .477 to .438 is the culprit. At first glance, Frye seems to be losing his shooting touch.

But let’s hold on there, because what FT% doesn’t show is his rate of attempts. Last year Frye shot 5.8 free throws per 40 minutes. This year he’s down to 2.3, which is down a staggering 60%! Frye went from taking a free throw for every two field goals, to shooting one for every four. Essentially, Frye has eliminated free throws from his offensive repertoire. Frye can shoot the rock, but relying on a mid-range jumper for the majority of your shots is career suicide. Take the master of the mid-range, Richard Hamilton. What keeps his offensive numbers up are his prodigious rate of free throw attempts, not just the accuracy of his shot. Ironically, the same plight of all ?J? no drive, is what made Frye?s predecessor, Mo Taylor, such an inefficient offensive player. After calling for Frye to replace Taylor, like a nightmare we?ve just watched the former turn into the latter.

What?s funny is the attacking the basket inclination that has escaped Frye has downright possessed his best friend, David Lee. Lee leads the league in field goal percentage despite lacking any talent as a shooter. Dunks and lay ups are the highest percentage shot, an obvious fact that Lee embraces but Frye seems to have forgotten.

The case of the disappearing free throws extends to a bout of, “Where are the rebounds?” Frye’s rebounding numbers were unimpressive in college. Red flags were raised on draft day, but the Knicks insisted he’d be fine, and his first year in the NBA he was. His rookie rate of 14.2 was reasonable, putting him in line with the second-tiered rebounders at his position, like Andrew Bogut, Rasheed Wallace, and Chris Wilcox. It was nothing to write home about, but Frye was still an above-average performer. This year, his rate has declined to 12.3%, placing him in the unenviable company of Mark Blount and Mikki Moore, the former being infamous for his pathetic work ethic and the latter for his slight frame.

What went wrong? A rebound percentage is made of two components: Offensive and Defensive Rates. In fact, Frye’s defensive rebounding has improved this year, going from 5.9 defensive rebounds per 40 minutes to 6.2. On the other hand, his offensive rebounding is down by a third, from 3.5 per 40 minutes to 2.2. As his friend the Freshman-Sophomore Game MVP demonstrates, offensive rebounds are a function of activity around the basket. They don’t come to you, you go to them.

Looking closely at his numbers?both advanced and traditional?reveal the problem: Frye is not attacking the basket. It?s not that he can?t, it?s that he won?t.

Take Two of These and Call Me In the Morning
In a sense, Frye?s problems are good problems to have. He demonstrated in his rookie season a capacity to grab offensive rebounds and draw fouls, but for some reason he?s gone away from these aspects of his game. Frye is too young to suggest his talent has abandoned him. Rather it seems, he?s switched his strategy. This is a problem of habit not skill, and should be, if any basketball problems can be, correctable. If Frye is sick, he doesn?t need a doctor, he needs a psychologist.

It would seem to reason that if Frye rededicates himself to attacking the basket, his Free Throw rates, field goal percentage, and offensive rebounds will improve. Frye has the talent to drive to the basket, the question is will he embrace that style, reverse his collapse, and once again establish himself as one of the league’s best young forwards.

Michael Zannettis regularly posts on his website www.michaelzannettis.com He addresses topics as diverse as the culture of evolution, possession law, and communication theory. He lives in Astoria and has a fond childhood memory of when the NBA Finals were interrupted by a White Ford Bronco in a low-speed car chase.