Knicks 2007 Report Card (A to Z): Jerome James

KnickerBlogger: At the time of Jerome James’ signing, I kept some quotes from RealGM’s Knick message board, because they were quite optimistic. Unfortunately RealGM has decided to scrub their message board of anything over a certain age, so I can’t link to these quotes, nor can I attribute them to the original author. I can’t take credit for the wisdom of the quotes, but I can take credit for the title in bold for each of them.

There’s a Nazr Thomas?

Certainly James is as good as Nazr and Kurt Thomas.

Jerome James has a jump shot from 7 feet away? or Is “size” an SAT word?

James has the sice and strength to hold down the middle for us and he’s shown great ability in the playoffs (when it matters the most). Let’s give his 7 footer a shot before we bash Isiah, please.

Better than Wilt too, although I’m pretty sure the stats don’t back that up either.

James is also better than Hunter, even if the stats don’t back that up.

I guess another roommate could help pay the rent.

Please live with Jerome James- He will get more rebounds he played along side with Evans and Fortson- he will only get more rebounds. He will get more minutes which will produce into more rebounds!

And if he doesn’t?

If James plays to the potential he showed in the playoffs, he’s a good choice.
I restate what I just said: Centers tend to be overpaid. All James has to do is clog the lane, body up on defense, and rebound. The Knicks will be fine.

Paging Red Holzman

I still think, though, that James will play like he did in the playoffs with the right coach for the Knicks.

F this quote!

F the stats, F how much we paid him. How about the fact that IT saw something in James that he thinks is worth bringing him to NY!!

It’s hard to look historically back on the Jerome James signing and see any positives. With one good playoff series, after 5 years of mediocre play, James could have hung a sign on his head that said “someone will overpay me.” And the Knicks did. It’s not the worst move that Isiah Thomas has done, but consider that the James signing had two negative aspects. The first was the loss of Jackie Butler. James’ contract made Butler expendable. And although Butler languished at the end of the Spurs bench, remember that he’s still only 22 years old and is $18M cheaper than James. Butler was recently acquired by Houston, to backup Yao Ming and the undying zombie known as Dikembe Mutombo.

Second is that James’ signing hurt the Knicks on the court this year. James’ worst trait as a ‘defensive specialist’ was his awful foul rate. James committed 11 fouls for 40 minutes – nearly double the next Knick (Malik Rose) and nearly triple that of fourth string center Kelvin Cato (4.2 PF/40). That ratio is so bad, that given the opportunity Jerome James would foul out of a game in 22 minutes. I’m convinced that Cato would have been a better solution for the Knicks (again at a fraction of the cost). While neither Cato nor James could score, Cato was much better on defense. You could judge them by point differential (the Knicks were 10.2 points per 100 possession better with Cato on the court, versus 6.9 for James) or traditional stats (4.2 to 2.2 BLK/40, 1.3 to 0.9 STL/40, 13.1 to 9.7 REB/40). Although the Knicks were desperate for defense, Isiah could have found a better solution than playing Jerome James.

KnickerBlogger’s Grade: F

2008 Outlook: Two things will keep James a Knick for another year. The first being James’ contract, the second being the lack of defense from the rest of the team. Isiah Thomas was so desperate for defensive help that he inserted James into starting lineup for a stretch this year. Just because James started, didn’t mean he’d get a lot of playing time. Frequently he would head to the bench after 2 fouls and never come back into the game. With 17 players under contract, there is a possibility that Jerome James will get cut, but something tells me Isiah likes his moxie, and James will see some court time in 2008.

Dave Crockett

I’ll tell you what bothered me most about the James signing. Basketball defense begins on the perimeter; the objective of good defensive teams is to keep the offense from getting the ball to high percentage areas. Defense in “the paint” is vital but is unlikely to matter much if the offense is getting easy shots. Until he signed Jared Jeffries and drafted Renaldo Balkman it wasn’t clear that Thomas paid much attention to his perimeter defense. Thomas didn’t just overpay for what he thought he was getting in James he was wrong for thinking it in the first place, especially considering his ability to find cheap defensive specialists in the bargain bin (e.g., Kelvin Cato). I actually count “Big Snacks” as Thomas’ worst move. It was not his most expensive or most destructive but it was his most wreckless. It was the equivalent of looking both ways and still walking out in front of traffic.

The Eddy Curry Study

“There is real hope that Eddy will develop into a league-leading center,” (Knicks owner James) Dolan said. “If you watched the second quarter of the San Antonio game he was pretty good. That’s Larry’s job … to get him from one quarter to four quarters.”
New York Daily News
March 02, 2006

Whether it’s due to the variety of cultures or the sheer number of inhabitants, New Yorkers rarely agree on anything. However, thanks to James Dolan & the Knicks front office, 2006 has given New Yorkers a topic all can agree upon: The New York Knicks suck. While Big Apple residents often have the propensity to overstate their cases, it’s hard to be a contrarian on this issue. At 17 wins and 44 losses, New York is dead last in the NBA standings. Additionally the Knicks have the NBA’s worst salary cap situation. Not only do they currently have the league’s highest salary, but they continue to trade for and sign players to exorbitant long term contracts.

Since their 2000 season ended, the boys in blue & orange have been in a slow & steady decline. It’s no coincidence that the Knicks demise is accompanied by two major events that left them absent of a quality big man. Patrick Ewing was traded to Seattle in the summer of 2000, and Marcus Camby was sent packing over a year later. While I’m not obtuse enough to think that you need a dominant center to win in the NBA, New York’s most successful teams have been lead by the man in the middle. The 70s Knicks wouldn’t have been the same without Willis Reed. Patrick Ewing kept the team afloat in the 80s and 90s. And Marcus Camby almost catapulted them to an improbable Finals victory in 2000. Since then, the Knicks have attempted to fill this void with undersized power forwards like Kurt Thomas and Mike Sweetney. New York’s only playoff appearance in this period was when they had a serviceable (but past his prime) Dikembe Mutombo roaming the paint.

It’s probably these kinds of thoughts Isiah Thomas had in his head when he signed Eddy Curry for 6 years and $60M. Curry is only 23 years old, and at a listed 6’11 285lbs is no undersized power forward. There is no doubt that once Curry releases the ball, he is an able scorer. In David Crockett’s last KB.Net article, he said of Curry:

You can count nine centers with better offensive production (Shaq, Duncan, both Wallaces, Ilgauskas, Brad Miller, Zo, Okur, and Gadzuric), and all but Gadzuric are a good bit older than Curry.

And this is where the opinions of Curry begin to diverge. Although he doesn’t lack the ability to score, it’s the other aspects of the game that elude Eddy. He seems disinterested on the defensive end, is a timid defensive rebounder, and turns the ball over too often. When Isiah Thomas decided to pursue Eddy Curry, he must have thought that these attributes would change. In fact the quote above shows that the Knicks owner, James Dolan, feels the same way. But is this true? How likely is it that New York’s present center will become their center of the future?

To answer a question like this, we just need to look in the past. To find players similar to Mr. Curry, I limited myself to 23 year olds who were 6’10 or taller. I also limited myself to the last 25 years, or what I would term the modern era of the NBA (1980 or since). This is due to the changes in the game including the ABA/NBA merger, the three point line, gaps in statkeeping (blocks, steals, turnovers), etc. Using this information, we can gauge how likely it is for Curry to become a more productive player. If we look at 23 year old players whose defensive rebounding rates were close to Curry’s (5.0 & 6.2 DREB/40 min) we find that after 3 years those same players on average saw a meager increase of 0.5 defensive rebounds per 40 minutes. Optimists will find comfort in the knowledge that there were a few players who started out as timid as Eddy, and turned into excellent rebounders.

Marcus Camby was an awful rebounder for the Toronto Raptors, which is probably the reason they traded him to New York. In his first two years he averaged 5.5 and 5.3 defensive rebounds per 40 minutes. In New York, his rates steady increased until blossoming as a full time starter in 2001. That year Marcus averaged 9.9 defensive rebounds per 40 minutes, nearly double his average in Toronto. Another player who went from hyalophobe to hyalophile is Jayson Williams. Like Camby, in his first two seasons Williams showed a fear of glass for the Sixers. And just like Marcus, Jayson nearly doubled his defensive rebounding by age 26, snaring 10.0 DREB/40min.

Camby and Williams show that it’s not impossible for Curry to become a strong rebounder. However if you’re going to start to tout Curry as a future All Star, you might want to preface your statement with something to the effect of being a blind optimist who will be winning the lotto in the near future. By looking at defensive rebounding averages of all players from age 23 to 36 (see graph below), players will hit their peak around the age of 27 and begin to decline at around 32. From this data it might be reasonable to incur that Curry will be at best a league average rebounder for a man of his size, and at worst remain a poor rebounder.

By using this same technique, we can also analyze his turnover and blocked shot rate. The next two charts reveal that both turnovers and blocked shots decrease steadily as a player ages. That turnovers decrease is a good sign for the Knicks, since it’s a major weakness in Curry’s game. As poster NGLI pointed out, the Knicks young center is prone to being stripped due to keeping the ball too low and is called for offensive charging by bowling over his defenders. If Eddy can improve on his career 3.3 TO/40 minutes, it’d make him a legitimate offensive option, one the Knicks can feed into the post without effectively giving the other team the ball in the process. As for blocked shots, it looks as if it’s a skill a player either has or does not have. I did eyeball a few of the league’s best shot swatters, and their rates do increase. Nonetheless for everyone else it’s just a skill that erodes as a player gets older.


Armed with this data it’s clear that Eddy Curry will remain a “Baby Shaq” and never become the real deal. The safe money is that he should be able to reduce his turnovers enough to become an offensively productive center. Unfortunately he’ll never be strong on the defensive end, either in rebounding or blocking shots. Now is this the definition of a “league-leading center” that the Knicks front office had in mind when they gave away a couple of first round picks and signed Curry to $60M? That’s something New Yorkers can debate about for the next few years.

2005 NBA Preseason Starts

The NBA preseason started this past weekend, and excuse me if I don’t get excited. I’m a bit curious maybe even intrigued, but certainly nowhere near excited, overjoyed, or thrilled. Preseason for any sport is like playing the demo of a video game. It’s great for a few moments, but the novelty quickly wears off. In preseason, if the Knicks go undefeated or if they don’t win a single preseason game my attention might be piqued. But anywhere in the middle, and I don’t think it matters what their record is.

Preseason games just don’t matter. When the score doesn’t count, coaches do strange things like play all of their players. Sarcasm aside, I can’t get interested in a game where Dikembe Mutombo is out there for 22 minutes against a Shaq-infused Heat while a healthy Yao Ming sits on the bench. That’s not the Jeff Van Gundy I’m used to seeing, the ex-Knick coach who wouldn’t give minutes to Camby or Sprewell when they first arrived.

There are only two reasons why I’d have any interest in the NBA preseason. First is injuries. Obviously, preseason injuries can carry over to the season, but that’s not what I’m concerned with. More important is how players have recovered from last year’s injuries. If it seems it’s been more than a year since I watched a healthy Allan Houston, it’s because it has been that long. As a Knick fan, I’m interested if H20 has that lift off when he shoots his jumper, and whether he can move laterally on defense. If Houston looks like the limited player we saw last year, then it might be time to invest in a Jamal Crawford jersey.

The second reason I’d pay attention to the preseason is to watch the young guys. I’m not saying that preseason success or failure is the ultimate test of a player’s worth. However it can’t hurt if a player has a good preseason (or a great summer league), and it isn’t a great sign if a player struggles that should be having some modicum of success against second tier players. In the plus column, a good preseason for a young player might earn him the coach’s favor & some extra minutes when the games are for real.

Other than a glancing interest, I’m not going expend time on the NBA preseason when I have what is looking like a great Fall for New York sports. The Jets & Giants are a combined 8-1. Meanwhile the Yankees and Red Sox face off in what could be the biggest professional sports rivalry of the new era. The Celtics/Lakers are a decade old. The Bulls/Knicks are happily trading players. The Cowboys, Pigskins, Packers, Raiders, and Niners are all mediocre. The Dodgers and Yankees no longer segregate a city. The odds that the Cubs and White Sox make the playoffs in the same year is minimal.

The Mets were awful (again) this year, but Met fans can rally around the Red Sox in their battle against the “Evil Empire”*. It feels like there has been a sympathetic shoulder extended from Queens to Boston since 1986. Met fans would have been happy beating any AL team to win a World Series: Detroit, California, or Toronto would have been as good as any non New York team. It just happened that their second miracle run coincided with Boston’s then 68 years of psychological torture (now at 85 years). Like accidentally running over your neighbor’s dog, the Mets inherited part of the guilt that is passed along in Boston from generation to generation.

Want to spot the Met fans during playoff time? Go to any NY bar during one of the AL Series games, and keep track of the patrons. Cross anyone off your list that cheers when the Yankees or Red Sox score. Anyone left will have a secret smile when the Sox are doing well. Met fans in New York don’t dare cheer openly against the Yankees in October, for fear of reprisal.

* POST NOTES: If anything should bear the adjective “evil”, it should be Ben Affleck’s 2003 movies: Paycheck, Daredevil, and Gigli. Who in the movie industry signed off on Elektra, the Daredevil spin off? It had to be Matt Murdock, because it couldn’t be anyone who actually saw Daredevil. While I’m on a movie kick, can someone tell George Lucas that when you redo old movies, you’re suppose to take out the bad scenes, not insert them!

Kevin’s Off-season Plan

I’ll be the third person to officially lay out on an off-season plan of attack for the Knicks. Presumably, you’ve already read Dave’s take, and Chad Ford recently put together his “summer blueprint”. I don’t have Insider, so I haven’t read all of that one, but if the free part I linked is any indication, it’s as insipid as Ford’s “blueprints” traditionally are.

I can’t copy Ford’s stuff and don’t care nearly enough to re-type it, but, to summarize, Ford complains that Isiah Thomas has locked the Knicks into long-term mediocrity with his moves and left them with no chance in the free-agent market. That’s true, of course, but no more so than it was true when Thomas took over the team. With Houston’s mammoth deal and a few others on the books, the Knicks weren’t getting under the cap in the foreseeable future anyway, so all Thomas really did was spend more of Cablevision’s money. Raise your hand if you care about Cablevision’s bottom line. I didn’t think so.

If there is an argument to be made, it would center on Thomas dealing youngsters like Milos Vujanic and Maciej Lampe, as well as some picks, but it would be a relatively weak one. Vujanic and Lampe can’t hold a candle to Stephon Marbury and Mike Sweetney at their respective positions, and the Knicks’ picks wouldn’t have had a huge impact either. New York can get players of similar ability, if not potential, in free agency.

Brendan at the These Days blog (which I found thanks to its link to KnickerBlogger) has a slightly different Knicks rant that I can get behind:

I understand that to rebuild the Knicks is a 5 year job, minimum. As a fan, I’d much rather watch that than any more of this high-paid dreck. Isaiah Thomas, for the most part, deserves credit for the way he’s been able to make trades with the mess Scott Layden left him- but he’s still executing an interest-annihilating and utterly dreadful strategy handed down from on high. The result is, even when I read something really interesting like Kevin Pelton on Knick power forwards which teaches me something that I didn’t know, like how good Mike Sweetney was, all I can think is ‘dang, now I’ll be really annoyed when he’s tossed in on some deal for a guy like…Malik Rose’. And so it goes, at the Garden.

In a broader context, are the Knicks in a good position? Of course not. But that’s not Thomas’ fault; he inherited a mess, and if he has to sweep some junk into a corner so the house at least looks presentable enough for guests, well, I don’t think that’s a huge mistake.

Assuming that Thomas doesn’t dump Sweetney for a journeyman — and please, if that is going to happen, let Sweetney come to Seattle for Jerome James! — I actually think there is a way the Knicks can make some slight modifications to remain competitive in the East without sacrificing their youth.

I outlined some of what I’d look at in my position-by-position analyses, but let’s start with this. Entering the summer, my ideal Knicks rotation would look like this:

PG Marbury	  Williams
SG Houston Williams
SF T. Thomas Johnson/Ariza
PF Sweetney K. Thomas
C Mohammed K. Thomas

Houston is now the only starter on the wrong side of 30, Thomas the only backup that old. It’s a decent start. Giving minutes that went to Dikembe Mutombo and Othella Harrington to Sweetney should alone be worth a couple of wins. Trying to put a round number to that, by the win-based system I’ve introduced, giving Sweetney Harrington and Mutombo’s minutes and replacing Sweetney’s minutes with a replacement-level player improves the Knicks by one win, right on the top. Amazingly, replacing Shandon Anderson with Dermarr Johnson projects as worth about a win and a half over the course of the season. A healthy Allan Houston (fingers crossed) adds another win or two, as compared to Anderson and Anfernee Hardaway. So, barring major injury, it’s not unreasonable to think the Knicks might improve next season.

Even though Ford points out the Knicks won’t be luring Kobe Bryant or Rasheed Wallace to New York any time soon, that hardly means they’re finished in free agency. The name most bandied about at the moment is Chicago’s Jamal Crawford, but, even though Crawford’s a Seattle native, I’m not a big fan, certainly not for the Knicks. Crawford’s a low-efficiency, high-possessions tweener who isn’t very good on defense; barring a Houston injury, he does nothing for the Knicks, really. I’d rather give those minutes to Frank Williams, who at least brings some complementary skills relative \to what the Knicks already have.

Unfortunately, with their mid-level exception, the Knicks will have a hard time picking up someone who’s better than their two weakest starters (Thomas and Mohammed). The best they can probably hope to do is upgrade their reserve core, making a logical target for me a backup small forward who can also play some shooting guard and step in if Houston gets hurt.

Looking around, you’ve got guys who will likely have any offer matched by their current team (Darius Miles, who’s an interesting prospect after putting up off-the-charts numbers in Portland) or don’t fit the Knicks’ needs (Rodney White).

The best fit I could come up with was Toronto’s Morris Peterson. Peterson isn’t really young, as he’ll turn 27 over the summer, but he’s in the prime of his career, he’s a good outside shooter (which my vision of the Knicks wouldn’t really have on the bench) and a quality defender who shut down opposing small forwards last year.

Peterson is a restricted free agent himself, but the Raptors aren’t in great financial shape and might have to choose between signing a point guard and re-signing Peterson. He could be had for a pretty reasonable deal — maybe three years, $10-$12 million? — and would be a huge upgrade on Anderson playing a similar role.

Lo and behold, this might not be a completely implausible thought; Newsday mentioned Peterson in a recent free-agent roundup.

Now that we’re through free agency, we’ll have to look at the trade market. The first move I’d make is with the Sonics. The Knicks have been linked to James for two years now, and a deal that would make sense for both sides is Dikembe Mutombo and Cezary Trybanski (for cap purposes) for James. Mutombo is probably the more valuable player, but not really wanted in New York from what I read about him while researching my centers breakdown. The Knicks basically take a chance that James can make good on his promise, and it’s not really a risk for either side since both players’ contracts end next year and neither is penciled in as a key player next year.

After making those moves, I go fishing for a bigger deal with the Thomases and/or Mohammed as the lures, trying to upgrade either small forward or center. I’m not sure I could find any takers or make anything make sense, but it’s worth a look. Kurt Thomas wouldn’t really be a big loss; we could fill in his minutes with James (or Mutombo) and possibly a low-level-type free agent power forward (Vin Baker? Michael Doleac? There’s not a whole lot else out there).

Beyond that, I look at some buyouts (Hardaway, Norris, Anderson) and sign some cheap, underrated guys: Richie Frahm, Jaime Lloreda, Zendon Hamilton, keep Andre Barrett around as my third point guard. Good times.

Depending on who, if anyone, I can trade for, I project this team to win somewhere between 40-45 wins. Unless the bottom really falls out, it’s a playoff squad, with the potential to get as high as around the fourth or fifth seed (depending on how Miami fares). At the same time, it’s a reasonably young squad. These aren’t the Baby Bulls or anything, but virtually all the contributors are young enough that they’ll still be productive in two-three years. Again, depending on the trade, I haven’t done any further damage to the salary-cap situation, so the long-term sacrifice is minimal. And if Sweetney turns out to be as good as I think he might be ? well, maybe life isn’t so bleak at the Garden after all.

With KnickerBlogger’s return on the horizon, just a couple of days away, that wraps it up for me unless the Knicks do something exciting over the weekend, and, presumably, for all of us guest bloggers. I hope the readers out there have enjoyed this as much as I have — it really was a fun exercise looking in detail at a team I’d followed only casually beforehand, and I’ll be rooting for the Knicks the rest of this summer and into the season. I mentioned to KB recently that I wished I had a team blog, and he retorted he wished he worked for a team, so I suppose the grass is simply greener on the other side. It was certainly nice to spend a couple of weeks on this side of the fence, and I’d like to wrap up by thanking KB for the opportunity.

Kevin Pelton writes “Page 23” for Hoopsworld.com on a semi-regular basis. He can be reached at kpelton@hoopsworld.com.

Knicks Roster Analysis – Centers

It’s time to conclude the Knicks roster with the center position. If you haven’t read my point guard analysis, that’s probably worth reading before this post so that you understand what I’m doing here.

Nazr Mohammed

Year    MPG   PPG   RPG  APG   TS%  Reb%  Pass   Off   Def  Win%  WARP  Value  Salary
01-02 26.4 9.7 7.9 0.4 .490 17.2 0.00 87.8 90.9 .452 2.4
02-03 12.8 4.6 3.7 0.2 .452 16.4 0.00 86.2 90.0 .426 0.2
03-04 20.1 7.4 5.9 0.5 .542 16.8 0.01 87.9 89.2 .508 3.6 $4.308 $5.250

Both Dave and I have discussed our opinion that going from Keith Van Horn to Tim Thomas was a downgrade for the Knicks at small forward. Still, four and a half months later, that deal looks good, because the Knicks did well to pick up Mohammed from Atlanta along with Thomas. Mohammed’s season statistics were very good, and he was even better with the Knicks, averaging 9.1 points and 7.7 rebounds per game and shooting an incredible 56.3% from the field.

I don’t know if it was KnickerBlogger or someone else, but I’ve read a comparison between Mohammed turning it on in New York and what he did after being traded mid-season to the Hawks in 2001. Then, Mohammed went from a non-factor in Philadelphia to averaging 12.3 points and 7.7 rebounds per game as a starter in Atlanta. That’s what got Mohammed his current five-year, $25 million contract, as he became a free agent that summer. I was rooting for the Sonics to sign Mohammed in their quest for a center way back when, continuing a pro-Mohammed trend; I also wanted the Sonics to draft him instead of Vladimir Stepania way back in 1998. (Score two for me.)

The question is, can Mohammed keep up his performance from last season? My answer is probably not. Mohammed is 26, so we would expect him to be nearing his peak, but he also had never shot better than 47.7% in a season before last year’s 52.1%. And, while he was plagued by injuries in 2002-03, he shot just 42.1% from the field that season. My research indicates that players — even young ones — who take that kind of a leap in two-point shooting tend to give much of it back the next year. In Mohammed’s case, that decline is tempered by the fact that his “real” shooting percentage before this season was closer to 47% or so, but I’d be mildly surprised if Mohammed shot better than 50% next year.

Even at that level, Mohammed still has a lot of value. He’s one of the league’s best rebounders, pulling down around 17% of available rebounds over the last three seasons. Mohammed’s defense is a little tougher to rate. His on-court/off-court ratings aren’t of a ton of use because he was playing opposite two of the NBA’s better defensive centers in Dikembe Mutombo and Theo Ratliff. In New York, Mohammed’s position defense rated as horrendous, but he was great in Atlanta, allowing just 41.8% effective field goal shooting. I rate Mohammed as a below-average defender for a center because he doesn’t block a ton of shots.

Overall, Mohammed is of similar value to Thomas, barring him continuing to play at the level he enjoyed after the trade. He’s certainly an acceptable starter, but unlikely to ever rank amongst the NBA’s best at the center position. Mohammed’s number one comp is a good one, last year’s Brian Skinner. Like Mohammed, Skinner a year ago was coming off of a shooting season (55.0%) he was unlikely to repeat. In fact, he didn’t, shooting 49.7%, but that and his defense/rebounding was still good enough to make him a useful starter.

Dikembe Mutombo

Year    MPG   PPG   RPG  APG   TS%  Reb%  Pass   Off   Def  Win%  WARP  Value  Salary
01-02 36.3 11.5 10.8 1.0 .574 16.8 0.02 89.5 88.9 .543 8.7
02-03 21.4 5.8 6.4 0.8 .445 17.0 0.04 85.8 88.8 .454 0.6
03-04 23.0 5.6 6.7 0.4 .523 16.9 0.01 86.8 87.3 .520 3.8 $4.461 $4.496

The opposite side of the issue with two-point percentage is illustrated by Mutombo. In 2001-02, he had one of his best offensive seasons, shooting 50.1% from the field. Then he went to New Jersey and shot 37.4%. Even with his age, it was obvious Mutombo wasn’t that bad, and he was one of the three guys I specifically mentioned as likely to see a two-point percentage rebound prior to last season. (The others were Jeff Foster, who I also nailed, and Chucky Atkins, whom I did not.) Lo and behold, Mutombo bounced all the way back to 47.8%, and while he wasn’t quite as effective as he was in 2001-02, he was still a very productive player indeed.

Through February, that is. Shortly after Mohammed’s arrival, Mutombo lost his staring job, and a little after that, he had abdominal surgery that kept him out about a month. Mutombo’s field-goal percentage, above 50% the first three months of the season, sank to the 30s in February and stayed down there in April. It’s tough for me to say whether that was because he was already injured, because he just ran out of gas, or what.

If you make the leap of faith that Mutombo’s age is what the NBA reports, he turned 38 last Friday. Few NBA players, of course, hit that age, but most of them are in the Mutombo mold. 17 of the 59 NBA players to play at the age of 37 before last season were at least one standard deviation above average in terms of height, which about corresponds to 6-11 or 7-feet. Height, as they say, never ages, and while Mutombo has a harder time getting around, he remains as good of a rebounder and shot-blocker as he has been in recent years (down from his Defensive Player of the Year prime, but still very good indeed). On the other hand, 82games.com has Mutombo rated as only a slightly positive influence on the Knicks’ overall defense.

The two things that could trip up Mutombo are injuries and a desire not to hang around too long. It’s not a stretch to believe that he could play a late-model Robert Parish role as a third center until he was in his mid-40s, but that may not be Mutombo’s choice. On the other front, Mutombo also suffered torn ligaments in his wrist that cost him 56 games in 2002-03, but he hasn’t had the knee/back injuries that really prove problematic for most older players.

Mutombo remains a solid option for 15-20 minutes a night off the bench. Whether the Knicks accept him in that role remains to be seen, but Mutombo will surely find employment somewhere next season.

Cezary Trybanski

Year    MPG   PPG   RPG  APG   TS%  Reb%  Pass   Off   Def  Win%  WARP  Value  Salary
Year MPG PPG RPG APG TS% Reb% Pass Off Def Win% WARP Value Salary
02-03 5.7 0.9 0.9 0.1 .287 9.2 0.00 80.8 90.2 .162 -0.4
03-04 2.1 0.1 0.1 0.0 .102 3.8 0.00 73.7 87.4 .000 -0.1 $2.047 $1.760

Do you think other GMs gossip about Trybanski on the phone to make themselves feel better because, hey, even Jerry West makes mistakes? Trybanski was one of West’s first signings after joining the Memphis Grizzlies organization, and while he didn’t get a lot of money, he’s been only slightly more useful to an NBA team over the last two years than you would have been.

Certainly, Trybanski hasn’t played enough minutes for us to be certain of his abilities, but he’s been amazingly bad when he has gotten on the court, posting a negative winning percentage last season. Logically, that’s silly, but that’s what happens when you fail to make a field goal all year. Trybanski’s lack of playing time is a form of evidence in and of itself; while we can’t say for certain he can’t play, there’s also no evidence since he came to the United States that he can play. Since I believe that players are bad until proven good, I’m not giving Trybanski much chance to salvage his career. Trybanski will also turn 25 by the start of next season, so he doesn’t have a ton of youth on his side.

According to New York Times, Trybanski will play for the Knicks’ summer-league team, and he may have to show something over the summer to stand a good chance to even make the roster this fall.

I should note about the value listed above that the value system I’m using gives players credit for about $2 million in value just for being a warm body, the NBA equivalent of getting an 800 just for signing your name on the SATs.

That concludes my position-by-position look at the Knicks roster. On Friday or possibly Saturday, I’ll get up my general take on the Knicks and the direction I’d pursue this summer and beyond.

Kevin Pelton writes “Page 23” for Hoopsworld.com on a semi-regular basis. He can be reached at kpelton@hoopsworld.com.

Knicks Off-Season Preview (1 of 2)

Hey Knicks fans. While the Knickerblogger is away on vacation he has asked some of us who bleed orange and blue to pinch hit. The Knickerblogger swings a mighty fine bat but I’ll do my best to measure up.

Two Lessons I’ve Learned from Joe Dumars

In some ways the weeks following the NBA Finals leading into the summer off-season is my favorite time, especially this season since I get to see the Lakers be dismantled. As a Knicks fan I am now at my most hopeful. So what should the Knicks do this off-season? I?ll take a few moments to speculate, hopefully restraining myself from proposing a list of shamelessly lopsided moves in which the Knicks bag Kobe, C-Webb, and ?Sheed for Shandon Anderson, Dikembe Mutombo, and future considerations. In fact I?ll keep my suggestions for specific roster moves at a minimum precisely because what I have learned from Joe is that it’s about identity first then players.

Having listened to numerous interviews with Joe Dumars over the past several weeks what has impressed me most is the clarity of his vision. Dumars?s plan for building a championship NBA franchise in an NBA shantytown is centered on developing identity first and talent a close but clear second. (What I label ?identity? others may call ?direction? or ?philosophy? but you get the point.) Dumars acquires talent (and that includes Larry Brown) to fit an identity not the other way around. That Joe Dumars is one smart cookie. Detroit’s no dynasty in the making – I don’t think – but they’re no one hit wonder either. I believe that Isiah Thomas could learn a couple lessons from his Bad Boys backcourt mate that could help transform the Knicks from playoff also ran into real contenders.

Lesson 1: Establish a basketball identity. At the end of the year one in the E.Z. (Era of Zeke) I really have no sense of what the Knicks are (or are becoming). This is not altogether surprising given that the Knicks followed a bona fide palace coup with a blockbuster trade, a coaching change, and another huge trade. But, presumably the point of blowing up the roster was to move the Knicks in a new direction. I am just uncertain about what direction that is. Put another way, can any of you sum up what ?playing the game the right way,? a mantra we heard repeatedly from Detroit players, means to these Knicks? For Detroit we know that playing the right way means nonstop hustle, suffocating help defense, and sharing the ball. For the Knicks I am uncertain what it means, unless clearing the floor for a terrible shot by Marbury constitutes playing the right way.

To be fair, these identityless Knicks did manage to make the playoffs. Unfortunately they spent this year?s first round pick dragging themselves across the threshold. Consequently, if the Knicks are to get younger and more athletic, to use Thomas?s oft-repeated phrase, then more roster turnover must be on the horizon. Frankly, turnover is not necessarily a bad thing on a team with so much flotsam and jetsam. Nonetheless ?younger and more athletic? is more of a description than an identity. An identity helps answer the question, what purpose would a proposed roster move serve? That’s why you establish it before you make a move. So, here we are at the end of year one E.Z. I think it?s fair to pose the question who are these Knicks? Maybe you all have an answer but I sure don’t.

Lesson 2: Develop young players. Among the many reasons that Joe Dumars decided that Rick Carlyle was not the right fit for what he was building was that Rick could never see what Joe saw in Tayshaun Prince. I think we all see it now.

If the playoff sweep at the hands of the Nets does nothing else for the Knicks hopefully it put to rest once and for all an era of near pathological disdain for young players. Clearly, the series revealed that the kids should have been better developed during the season, particularly when you consider how broken down and tired Marbury, Hardaway, and Kurt Thomas were by the end. The failure to develop Williams and Sweetney during a mediocre season borders on criminally shortsighted, or more accurately pathological. I am not suggesting that Williams and Sweetney are all-NBA talents but each provides more than adequate depth and is the top defender at his position. Besides, this is bigger than Williams and Sweetney anyway. The lesson here is that mediocre teams who overpay for washed-up role players and fail to develop solid, inexpensive young role players end up in salary cap hell and stay there.

Alright, that’s enough for now.

Next time: What the Knicks Should Do Now.

dave

p.s. Dedicated to Ralph Wiley. RIP Ralph. I’ll miss you… and the Road Dog.

Kurt Thomas, ’03 Knicks Rebounding Leader

I don’t know what I can say about Rasheed Wallace’s “foul” against Shaq late in game 2 that someone else hasn’t already said. So, instead I’ll talk about the Knicks. I think it’s been long enough.

According to Knicks Clicks (and the NY Daily News), Kurt Thomas may be traded. I’ve like Kurt since his early days as a Knick. Back then, I had a running argument/joke with a friend. I was the Kurt Thomas supporter, saying he should get more minutes, while he said Thomas’ fouled too often, and should head to the bench. I’m glad to have won that argument, since Kurt turned out some good production as the Knick starting PF/C the past few years. Let’s take a quick look at Kurt’s fouls over the years:

Year	Min/G	PF/G	PF/48
1998 23.6 3.2 6.5
1999 24.6 3.5 6.8
2000 27.6 3.7 6.4
2001 33.8 4.2 6.0
2002 31.8 4.2 6.3
2003 31.9 3.7 5.6

His fouls per game increased, but only because his minutes did as well. Kurt’s first three years he was committing 6.6 PF/48mins. In his last three, Kurt lowered his average to 6.0 PF/48. It’s not the biggest improvement, but to give you an idea, last year 6.6 PF/48 would rank you 12th in the league (Doleac), where 6.0 would put you about 23rd (Dalembert).

In the Daily News article, Kurt was quoted as saying:

I believe I led the team in blocked shots or was second (he was second to Dikembe Mutombo, 123-80). I think I led the team in rebounding (he did at 8.30 per game), so I think my numbers speak for themselves.

No disrespect Kurt, but that’s damning with faint praise. The Knicks’ these days aren’t known for their blocking or rebounding. Last year they were 19th in offensive rebounding% (28%), and 16th in blocked shots per game. Kurt Thomas got the most minutes per game last year at the PF/C positions, so shouldn’t he lead the team in those stats by default? That the 56 year old Dikembe Mutombo got more blocks than Kurt with 8 less minutes per game isn’t exactly a feather in Thomas’ hat. Neither is out producing Vin Baker (18Min/G), Othella Harrington (16 Min), or Michael Sweetney (12Min) by playing double their minutes.

In his defense, the Knicks were slightly better with Kurt on the court than they were with him off the court. His +/- was the 4th best on the team last season, and the team was +2 points (per 100poss) with him on the court instead of off. Of course this stat has many different interpretations. It’s possible that his replacements were bad, or the first team that Kurt normally plays were better than the second team that his replacements played with. Kurt has a reputation as a good man-to-man defender, but his opponents positional stats were a bit high for my taste. When he played, the opposing PF or C (depending on where Kurt played) had a PER of about 17/18. That’s a bit above average, and to give you an example, Kurt’s PER was somewhere around 14.

So here I am at a crossroads. Thomas was a favorite of mine since coming to the Knicks after his leg injuries, and he was a long shot to stay as the starter for this long. But now, his value to the team is questionable. He just doesn’t seem to fit their team mold anymore. Thomas worked well with Ewing and Camby along side him, since they provided the shot blocking and interior defense. If Isaiah can use Thomas to upgrade the team (the rumor this week is Shareef Abdur-Rahim) I would be happy with the deal.