New York Knicks 103 – Memphis Grizzlies 98 – Game Recap

Picture this: you’ve been ousted by your former employer because of friction in the workplace, which were probably caused not only by you, by you alone paid the price. You go to work for an upstart, if disjointed, new young company. Fate intervenes and pits you up against your former employer in a nation wide competition for best businesses; you probably know you shouldn’t stand a chance to win and you would benefit more for your company developmente by just letting your youngest team members learn on the way, while getting the most experienced ones to just provide support and a sort of backbone. But no, you have to win. It’s personal.

Well, I completely understand that. Sometimes it’s really personal. So this time I’ll set aside my usual rants about veterans and rotations and whatever. It feels good for Fiz. You could see it in his eyes, and especially in the post-game hug with Mike Conley. His clash with Marc Gasol last season could have been an unwashable stain in his NBA career. Now it looks like it’s just another bump in the rearviewmirror.

Getting to the game: it was great! You see, I’m used to low-scoring games, what with my European upbringing, and rooting for the Knicks makes it so that we’re usually fond of players who give their all on the court to prevent the other team from scoring easily, but I have a soft spot for well-played games that are not shoot-outs. Now, don’t think that I don’t like those crazy scoring nights around the league that tend to happen daily this season, but well, they look like blockbuster cinema. It’s fun and everyone likes it, but sometimes a real fan wants to appreciate something closer to the nature of the game. Or maybe it’s just me longing for the past days where I banged and raised elbows and profusely sweated and fouled hard guys trying to score easy baskets, and I had my freeflowing locks a-la Christian Laettner blocking my view on the court, while nowadays I never play anymore and I’m scratching my bald head at the last 350 words.

Let’s try it again.

Getting to the game: it was great! A hard fought, gritty win on the road against the team with the best record in the Western Conference, with a few heartening performances along the way and a thrilling finale where our guys showed up in the clutch. Let’s delve into details!

The good:

– Enes Kanter (21 pts, 26 rebs, 3 ast, +9 +/-) threw in a performance for the ages, netting 14 points and 11 rebounds in a single quarter, the third. It’s his second 20-20 game for the season, and his 26 rebounds are a career high and a season high for the whole league. He played a Thibs-approved 42 minutes, but didn’t seem gassed at all in the waning minutes (insert joke here about how not playing defense make the feat easier, as you rest on the court for half the time). There were times, especially in the third quarter, where he utterly dominated the mountain-like Marc Gasol under both rims. I am always thankful for Enes, since he got us out from the Melo contract with the added benefit of the MitchRob pick, but I’m routinely harsh with him. Not tonight. I was happy to root for his monster performance. Amazingly, his game score for tonight amounts just to third-best for the season. I wish it was easy to root wholeheartedly for him this season, sadly it’s not recommendable, as it wouldn’t be recommendable to fall in love with a crazy-hot partner who you know won’t be around in a few months and will ruin some of your most promising friendships.

– Emmanuel Mudiay (17 pts, 2 rebs, 4 ast, +5 +/-) was again pretty good on offense, shooting a perfect 5-for-5 from the line to offset his subpar shooting night (5-for-12) and being the protagonist of the highlight of the game, a late-game breakaway and-one dunk after a Burke steal with less than 100 seconds to go. Mudiay has been legitimately good at attacking the rim this season. He falls to the ground like he did in past seasons, but this year he usually converts the shot. It’s funny that I refer to a 5-for-12 night as “subpar”: if he ended the season shooting 41.7% from the field it would still be his most accurate average by far. For the current season, instead, he’s shooting 49.2% from the field and is on the verge of breaking the .100 WS/48 threshold that basically would posit that he has become an average NBA player. It’s genuinely astonishing and at the same time it functions as a glimmer of hope for the development of a certain other offensively challenged kid with African roots. Mudiay found a way to be a contributor even against the top defense in the League, and that’s really something. If this is the real Mudiay, I’d count it as the highlight of Fiz’s career.

– Noah Vonleh (7 pts, 6 rebs, 2 ast, +17 +/-) took more than a backseat to Kanter’s amazing night, but make no mistake: he’s the glue that keeps everything together. Simply put, when he’s on the court it’s almost impossible for the Knicks to be outmatched in physicality and effort, and as a tertiary ball-handler he shows a lot of confidence, and his teammates rely on him to create from time to time. Memphis would have certainly escaped with the win if he wasn’t there grabbing some hard boards in the fourth (you know, the ones where you have to jump high, something that Enes doesn’t exactly excel in). Great signing from the scrap heap, wish we could have him for a few more years.

The bad (or more on point, the meh):

– Kevin Knox (0 pts, 2 rebs, 1 blk, -4 +/-) is not ready for this type of games. He shot the ball three times and he never did so in rhythm. It’s hard to find your spots against a team as defensively prepared as Memphis, so that’s not entirely his fault, but his contributions nowadays seem to came only by his points scored, and when he doesn’t hit shots he’s worse than useless, he’s actively detrimental. His road to be a competent NBA rotation player will be bumpy and we have to be ready and patient. As of now I’d say there’s a 30% chance that Kevin will be an NBA player in 5 years, but there’s no way to know for sure. I didn’t have a lot of expectations from him this season, I’d say we’re par for the course.

– Mitchell Robinson (0 pts, 2 rebs, 1 stl, -5 +/-) was the primary suspect on everyone’s list of “player less suited to play against Memphis”, and that list was correct. The rail-thin Mitch could do nothing against the Gasol behemoth, nor against the rangy Jaren Jackson Jr. He was completely out of sorts in all of his 13 minutes of play, particularly on defense. Nights like this act like a much needed reminder that Mitch has still a lot to get to NBA-starter level, but well… he’s a 20 year second-round pick rookie who’s exceeding expectations by a lot, so he’s more than forgiven. He’s still leading the league in BLK% even after this empty performance, go figure.

Fun-sized bits:

– Trey Burke was more than instrumental in securing the win, with his great interception for the Mudiay’s dunk and his 8-for-8 from the line, but man… he clunked a lot of shots. He was 3-for-15 from the field, playing a big part in the awful 37.4 FG% posted by the Knicks team. Being a six-foot guard has to be scary on a night where Memphis set its franchise record for blocks in a game.

– Tim Hardaway Jr had his second bad shooting night in a row, but made up for it with some charity stripe forays (22 points on 16 shots, 7-for-7 from the line). All in all a very transparent game from him, but in the end we needed a few of his buckets to take home the W. Sitting comfortably at 23.3 ppg on 55.5 TS%, he’s playing the quintessential high volume-average efficiency scorer role risen to prominence in many Melo years.

– Speaking of Melo: do you realize this would have been the last year of the contract Phil gave to him? And he’s apparently out of the league? How’s it goink?

– For the second straight game, Frank played 13 minutes. They weren’t bad, but Fiz looks to have shifted into “Frank is a wing who will play minutes accordingly to the game flow” mode. I’m not sure if I like this, but Frank’s not complaining. 7 points and 6 boards for him. A little more substance in his game for once.

– Exhibit A about Frank’s shot being irreparably broken: a hideous airball from three (with his feet set) in the first quarter just after a clean make from the corner 90 seconds before. Exhibit A about Frank’s shot needing only some confidence: the kid is shooting 15/16 from the line for the season and his stroke looks pure. I think Frank has to make a mental leap to become a good player; the downside of that is that mental leaps are the hardest to successfully complete.

– Zo with another double figures scoring night, but this time he wasn’t efficient (5-for-12). Credit Memphis for making his efforts at the rim much harder than they were in his first 20 games.

– Mario started again. Didn’t do a lot again. But he was a bit better and didn’t get in the way (and looked a bit more focused). Can we please see more Dotson and less Mario? Thank you.

– For all the people who think that winning useless games is better because it helps building a winning culture: if the byproduct of said “winning culture” is a Knox instead of a JJJ, I don’t want to win anymore. To me, JJJ is going to be the second best player in this rookie class.

– Lastly, for all my rants about winning useless games, we’re at 7-14, which means we won a third of the games we played, which means if we keep this W/L ratio we’ll end up at 27-55, right around where I predicted at the beginning. It’s easy to get carried away by the tanking passion.

Let’s see what our guys are made of on Tuesday against Detroit! For now it’s all. See you!

Knicks 2010 Season Preview Part 4

[Part 1 is here.]
[Part 2 is here.]
[Part 3 is here.]

Eddy Curry – Center/Big Contract

What the Stats Say
There are two Eddy Curry stats that Knick fans seem to care about right now:
1. $11,276,863 – Curry’s toxic 2010-2011 cap number, an amount which is to the summer of 2010 what a sudden, violent intestinal problem is to a date: impossible to cure, impossible to ignore, and sure to leave you alone at the end of the evening, dreaming of what might have been.
2. 318 pounds – Curry’s reported weight, 40 pounds less than it was at its peak last season and about 40 pounds higher than needs to be for him to effectively guard an athletic center.
But all jokes and criticism aside (if I have to), we shouldn’t forget that Curry is really, really good at exactly one thing: scoring. From inside 6 feet. When fed the ball in perfect position. Until he gets tired. Or into foul trouble.

What My Gut Says
“He’ll get shots,” say those in the know. Since objective #1 for the Knicks from this moment until the trade deadline will be to move Curry for an expiring contract, it only makes sense for D’Antoni to put him five feet from the hoop, paint a target on his chest, and tell Chris Duhon to throw the ball at it until the trade partners come a-calling. I suppose that this plan is fine, since the 2009-2010 Knicks season is a dress rehearsal with stand-ins in place of the long-awaited leading actors.

Curry had such an awful 2008-09, both personally and professionally, that it is impossible not to root for a career renaissance, even apart from our more selfish desire to see him enhance his trade value. But it is far more likely that Curry is who we think he is. If he can stay on the court, we can expect the usual pairing of good per-minute scoring statistics with dreadful rebounding, shot-blocking, and turnover numbers.

Darko Milicic – Center

What the Stats Say

Much has been made of Darko’s capacity to upgrade the Knicks defensive interior. The hype may be legitimate, if only because the odds are generally in favor of any alteration to something as bad as the Knicks shot-blocking last season. But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s look at NBA centers’ offensive stats when guarded by the three Knicks who played significant minutes at the 5 last year:

Opponent Counterpart 48-Minute Production (At Center)

Player FGA eFG% FTA iFG Reb Ast T/O Blk PF Pts PER*
Milicic 14.7 0.576 5.2 51% 12.7 2.1 2.2 2.5 5.4 20.5 21.7
Harrington 14.2 0.482 6.4 63% 12.8 2.2 3.1 1.8 5.1 17.6 15.4
Lee 15.8 0.525 5.4 57% 14.7 2.4 3.2 2.5 4.9 20.5 19.7

Positional data isn’t perfect and I didn’t see enough of the Grizzlies last year to know if there’s a legitimate explanation for a guy developing a reputation as a plus defender while allowing an all-star caliber PER and an off-the-charts eFG% to opposing centers. I’m willing to hear out anyone who has such an explanation. But until I do – I mean, wow. Those numbers bum me out.

What My Gut Says
My immediate, and continued, response to the Darko Milicic acquisition is two words long: “Why not?” He’s a more formidable body in the middle than either Harrington or Lee and should keep up with D’Antoni-ball far more ably than Curry. The distribution of minutes among Knicks taller than 6’9″ remains TBD, but Darko is the rare Knick who doesn’t replicate the skill set of anyone else on the team. That alone is reason enough for constrained optimism – the minutes that he is on the court will look different from the minutes that he isn’t, and we’ve all become well acquainted with what the “isn’t” looks like.

Jared Jeffries – Center?/Forward?/Guard?

What the Stats Say
As with Eddy Curry, dollars and cents come up more frequently than points and rebounds when Knicks fans discuss Jared Jeffries. Of the two albatrosses on the Knicks payroll, Jeffries is taken to be by far the easier to move, which is probably accurate given his smaller contract and purportedly broader skill set. But it should be noted that, if Jared Jeffries is indeed a useful basketball player, the statistic capable of demonstrating that usefulness remains hidden. To wit, the following is a list of the 5 worst PERs among players who have played 10,000 minutes since the beginning of the 2002-03 season, Jeffries’ first in the NBA:

Rk Player Years G MP TRB/36 PTS/36 STL/36 BLK/36 FG% 3P% FT% PER
1 J. Collins 03-09 495 11995 6.5 6.2 0.9 0.9 0.409 0.185 0.639 7.0
2 B. Bowen 03-09 571 16992 3.6 7.7 0.9 0.4 0.425 0.408 0.575 8.1
3 T. Hassell 03-09 514 12935 3.9 7.9 0.6 0.6 0.453 0.271 0.767 8.2
4 J. Jeffries 03-09 440 10105 6.9 8.3 1.1 0.7 0.432 0.242 0.576 9.8
5 C. Robinson 03-07 364 10178 4.4 11.5 1 1 0.396 0.349 0.665 10.5

Critics will immediately point to Bowen’s inclusion on this list as evidence that PER massively undervalues defensive stoppers, which it undeniably does. And in the last two years, the Knicks have allowed between 2 and 3 fewer points per 100 possessions with Jeffries on the court than without him – a considerable improvement. But Bruce Bowen he is not, and Jeffries’ inclusion on this list underscores what we already know – that outside of very specific matchups, his total lack of offensive value likely cancels out whatever benefit his defense provides.

What My Gut Says
Jared Jeffries is a good athlete, a hard worker, and a versatile defender. He is also a very poor jump shooter with an astonishingly high turnover rate (14th of 152 players with 10,000 minutes since his rookie year) for a player who rarely attacks the basket or gets assists. He is the kind of player that you want on the end of your bench to play 5-10 minutes a few games a year when particularly unusual matchups present themselves. He is not the kind of player to whom 5-year, $30 million contracts should be given by teams who already wallow in salary cap hell. Isiah is dead – long live Isiah.

2009 Report Card: Donnie Walsh

It was with fanfare befitting a peaceful transfer of power from despotism to enlightenment that Donnie Walsh inherited Isiah Thomas’ job as New York Knicks president of basketball operations in the spring of 2008.  But as with so many European monarchs, African generals, and Spinal Tap drummers before him, the excitement surrounding Walsh’s arrival soon gave way, at least in part, to the grim realization that the pitfalls of previous years had not all departed with his predecessor.  An impossible cap situation, a meddling owner, and a frequently unmotivated core of players were all holdovers from the Isiah era which Walsh has been forced to address, with varying degrees of success.

Walsh’s first Knicks team finished with a record of 32-50, worse than three of the five Knicks squads that Isiah oversaw.  But Walsh’s job was never about 2009 and, unlike Isiah, he immediately proved willing to accept that short term failure was a necessary and acceptable side effect of true progress.  To this end, it is undeniable that the poker-faced Bronx native has moved a dysfunctional franchise in the right direction, but his advances have not come without missteps.  That these mistakes have come with little popular backlash is cause for gratitude to Isiah – critics of Walsh would be far more vocal had his hiring not come on the heels of such unmitigated failure.

If Walsh’s patience and indecipherability are his greatest qualities in negotiation, they may also be his best assets in avoiding the kind of criticism that is typicaly heaped upon New York pro sports executives by media and fans.  His stern demeanor and unshakable calm suggest to observers, even at moments of seeming misjudgment, that he knows more about the situation than they do and so deserves their trust.  A move-by-move analysis of Walsh’s Knicks tenure reveals a well-reasoned overall plan that has been tarnished by some truly baffling decisions.  With the belief that the moves a general manager doesn’t make are as important as the moves he does make, I offer this chronological assessment of Walsh’s first season-plus on the job:

May 10, 2008: In his first, and thus far best, major move as Knicks president, Walsh signed Phoenix Suns coach Mike D’Antoni to a 4-year, $24 million contract.  D’Antoni’s hiring has resonated with fans (seen in the sense of pride that came with a prized coaching commodity choosing the Knicks over a handful of other suitors, as well as the entertaining brand of basketball to which they are treated each night), Knicks players (seen in the career years put up by David Lee, Al Harrington, Nate Robinson, Wilson Chandler, and, for the first 50 games, Chris Duhon), and players around the league (D’Antoni’s relationship with soon-to-be-max-contract-signers LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and Kobe Bryant may prove to be his most important asset as the Knicks’ coach).

Grade: A, and if LeBron’s affection for D’Antoni leads him to New York, it becomes an A-plus.

Draft Night, 2008: With the sixth pick, Walsh chose Danilo Gallinari, whose struggles with back trouble and flashes of promise have both been well-chronicled on this and other sites.  While the jury remains out on Gallo, we have a better idea about some of the guys Walsh could have taken.  Of the lottery picks remaining on the board at #6, Eric Gordon (chosen 7th, 14.98 rookie PER), Brook Lopez (chosen 10th, 17.94 rookie PER), and Anthony Randolph (chosen 14th, 16.94 rookie PER and an absolute monster of a summer league) have looked the most promising thus far.

However, simply lining Gallo up against these three doesn’t quite create a proper lens for evaluating Walsh’s choice.  Looking back through Chad Ford’s archives reminds us that Gordon and Joe Alexander (chosen  8th, 10.19 rookie PER) were the two most likely Knicks picks had they passed on Gallinari, and the early returns suggest that Walsh may have dodged a bullet by passing on Alexander’s unique, but extremely raw, skill set.

Grade: C-plus.  We all love Gallo and it’s tempting to give Walsh an incomplete here.  It’s also probably unfair to criticize Walsh for passing on Lopez and Randolph, as the former was universally regarded as low on upside and the latter as a potential bust.  Still, it’s impossible to ignore how well Gordon, Randolph, and Lopez would all fit into D’Antoni’s system, and one would be hard pressed to find a non-Knicks fan who would put an unproven 21-year-old who already has back problems on the same level as any of these three.  I think there are decent odds Gallinari will prove this grade wrong but at the moment this looks like an OK, but not great, pick.

July 4, 2008: Walsh signed former Bulls PG Chris Duhon to a 2 year contract at the full mid-level ($12 million).  The price tag here looks high now, given the lower salaries being handed out this offseason and the incredibly frustrating second half to Duhon’s 2008-09 season.  Still, the Knicks have never minded paying out  luxury tax dollars and Walsh brought in a point guard who generally stays out of his own way and makes his teammates better on the offensive end.  If Duhon’s ability to create easy baskets can turn Curry into a tradable commodity this season (it’s a long shot, but hey, a guy can hope), it becomes a great signing.  Until then, Duhon is a player who doesn’t set his team back on the court, creates reps for a young core in need of development, and doesn’t set the franchise back in its hunt for prime talent in 2010.  Pretty good move for the mid-level in a lackluster free agent summer.

Grade: B.

November 21, 2008: Walsh put on his Kevin Pritchard hat for a day and swung two trades that cleared up $27 million in 2010 cap room.  In sending Zach Randolph to the Clippers and Jamal Crawford to the Warriors in exchange for a useful forward in Al Harrington, a useless forward in Tim Thomas, and a soon-to-retire combo guard in Cuttino Mobley, Walsh dismantled the slim playoff hopes of what was then an above-.500 team.  More importantly, however, he overhauled the team’s long term cap position, picked up a trade chip in Mobley’s tax-free contract, and rid the team of two shoot-first players who were almost certainly stunting the development of their younger, more promising counterparts.   A complete no-brainer.

Grade: A-minus.  It’s a move any good GM would have made if it was available but, what can I say, it’s a good career move to succeed Isiah.

February 19, 2009: An unstoppable force (the Bulls’ desire to trade Larry Hughes) met an immovable object (Jerome James’ contract) and the unstoppable force won as the Knicks flipped James and Tim Thomas for Hughes.  Largely seen as a garbage for garbage deal, the move was supposed to make the Knicks slightly better in the short run without helping or hurting their long-term cap situation and, mainly, sparing their fans the nightly sight of James smiling and joking around on the end of the bench during 20-point losses.  A mostly useless move in the long run and maybe a net negative, as Hughes took some minute that would likely have gone to Nate and Chandler otherwise.  Hughes also brought back some of the poor shot selection and general grumpiness that had mostly departed with Crawford and Stephon Marbury, respectively.  In the end, the trade’s impact, positive or negative, was minimal and we stopped having to listen to Jerome James jokes.

Grade: C (in a one-credit class with little effect on overall GPA).

Trade Deadline, 2009: The Knicks engaged in a well-chronicled negotiation with the Sacramento Kings, who asked for Nate Robinson and Jared Jeffries in exchange for Kenny Thomas’ soon-to-expire contract.  With the Knicks still loosely in playoff contention, Walsh turned down the offer and chose not to rid himself of the nearly $7 million committed to Jeffries in 2010.  A puzzling, disturbingly Isiah-esque move whose questionability has been compounded by the complete disinterest that Walsh has displayed in re-signing Nate this offseason.  If Robinson is truly so expendable, and it’s likely he is, then why endanger the future for only a few months of his services?  This inaction made little sense at the time and makes even less sense now.

Grade: D-minus.

2009 Draft, Lead-up: Another instance in which Walsh seemed to contradict his general mission statement of financial flexibility, as he reportedly rejected an offer of the #5 pick and some expiring contracts for Wilson Chandler, Jeffries, and Hughes.  This rumor always seemed a bit sketchy from the Wizards’ side, but if this offer was truly on the table, I can’t imagine Walsh’s resistance to it.  Trading Jeffries is a desirable goal, Hughes has no long-term value, and Chandler, while a promising young player, is more likely than not to become an effective wing who is generally indistinguishable from any number of other small forwards in the league.  The negligible , if even existent, talent drop off from Chandler to the #5 pick in the draft (which turned out to be Ricky Rubio, though no one would have guessed it at the time) seemed a small price to pay for the disposal of a considerable financial obstacle.

Grade: D.  It’s worth noting that a few different versions of this trade were bouncing around during draft week, some of which would have been less of a windfall for the Knicks.  None of them, however, seemed particularly logical to reject as the Wizards displayed genuine interest in both Jeffries and Hughes.

Draft Night, 2009: Walsh played the hand he was dealt at #8, picking Jordan Hill after watching Rubio and Stephen Curry disappear in rapid succession.  An uninspiring, but far from disastrous, summer league performance has left Hill as a general mystery to Knicks fans at this point, but he’s big and athletic and he got enough numbers in college (although his FG% leaves something to be desired, considering his layup-and-dunk-heavy shot selection) to suggest that he’ll be a useful role player at the worst.  Walsh’s bigger coup on draft night was the effective purchase of Toney Douglas’s draft rights from the Lakers, just the kind of low-risk, solid-upside maneuver that the Knicks never seem to make.  If Douglas develops into a serviceable back-up point guard with a jump shot and an above average defensive skill set, which seems likely, this pick is a success.

In a final draft night move, Walsh acquired Darko Milicic from the Grizzlies by sending Quentin Richardson off on the first leg of his summer-long tour of NBA mediocrity.  Another low-risk move that might suit D’Antoni’s system well.  Given what he had to work with, a sound if unspectacular draft night for Walsh.

Grade: B-plus for draft night in a vacuum.  However, if you consider that Walsh could have had Rubio or Curry at five had he made the Wizards trade, it’s a C-minus.

Free Agency, 2009: I don’t know.  Do you?  I think Walsh was right not to pay for Iverson.  I would have loved a year or two of Nash at the mid-level, but I get the feeling that was never as close to a reality as we all were hoping.

If Walsh wins his ongoing staring contest with Ramon Sessions (17.65 PER, 23 years old) and signs him for two years at a low 2010 cap number, it will be a way better long-term move than signing Jason Kidd (16.95 PER, 36 years old) would have been, as the Knicks will acquire a young, affordable point guard who can defer to his teammates and can wait until after the Knicks make their big free agent splash to receive his long-term payout.

Additionally, Walsh has done well not to give in to unrealistic demands by either Lee or Robinson in a depressed market, but until their situations are resolved (ideally with Nate walking or taking a cheap one-year deal and Lee staying on for something near the mid-level), it’s hard to get a read on Walsh’s current plan or his level of confidence in the LeBron/Wade/Bosh sweepstakes next offseason.

Grade: Incomplete.

All told, Walsh’s tenure got off to a promising start but has suffered from several moments of seeming hesitance to take the final plunge and commit to any one comprehensive strategy.  Walsh has clearly leaned toward building for the future at the expense of the present, which is a welcome change from the Isiah era, but his unwillingness to part with anyone of value as a pot-sweetener in the unloading of bad contracts has stunted the Knicks progress toward an ideal 2010 cap situation.  As it stands, the team has a top-flight coach and more young talent and long-term financial flexibility than anyone could have realistically expected 16 months ago.  But one worries that Walsh has hedged his bets a bit too much and will fall short of a free agent jackpot next summer.

Overall Grade: B

I Want To Draft Like It’s 1999

An NBA draft where the #1 overall consensus is a power forward, and a ton of guards are to be had including an intriguing foreign guard? No I’m not talking about this Thursday’s NBA draft where Blake Griffin is likely to go #1, there is a lot of depth at guard, and everyone is wondering where Rickey Rubio will land. I’m talking about the 1999 draft where Elton Brand went first, guards were taken in 7 of the next 10 picks, and Manu Ginobili quietly landed to the Spurs in the second round.

Of the top 10 picks, 9 of them had solid to spectacular careers, but only one of those stayed long enough to be seen as a success for the team that drafted him: Shawn Marion. A lot of these players were traded to other teams before they could really help the team that drafted them like Brand, Francis (a draft day holdout), Odom, Hamilton, Andre Miller, and Jason Terry. Number 5 pick Jonathan Bender never lived up to his potential due to injury. Wally Szczerbiak stayed with Minnesota, but was taken too high at #6. Baron Davis stayed with the Hornets for 5 and a half seasons, but was traded midyear to Golden State where he engineered one of the biggest first round upsets in history.

Although there was plenty of value at the top 10, the next 10 was filled with busts. Only Ron Artest (#16), Corey Maggette (#13) and James Posey (#18) were worth noting. As for the rest of the draft, there were two European superstars taken late in Kirilenko (#24) and Manu Ginobili (#57), and a few fillers (Jeff Foster #21, Kenny Thomas #22, Devean George #23, and Gordon Giricek #40).

Knick fans remember this draft for grabbing Frederic Weis one pick before Ron Artest, but that may not have been the biggest bust of the draft. As I previously mentioned the top 10 all netted solid players except for Bender. If you want to excuse him for injury, then nearly every pick 11-14 (except for Maggette) could be seen as failures as well. Trajan Langdon at #11 is a candidate, although he’s had a good career overseas. Aleksandar Radojevic (from the powerhouse Barton County Community College) was taken 3 picks prior to Weis. And the Timberwolves struck out the pick before New York’s with Duke’s William Avery.

So how might this draft have turned out? Here’s my re-draft, not necessarily in order of how they should have been taken. But rather in how one alternate earth might have been for the first 16 picks.

#1 Chicago – Elton Brand
The Bulls made the right pick. Actually in our reality they made 2 right picks with Artest at #15. The problem was that they gave up on that team too early. Chicago could have been a mid-west powerhouse with Brand, Artest, and Brad Miller with a supporting cast of Jamal Crawford, Fred Hoiberg and Jake Voskuhl. The problem was the team was still young & surrounded with little else. Marcus Fizer? Khalid El-Amin? Corey Benjamin? Bryce Drew? Michael Ruffin? Dragan Tarlac? Dalibor Bagaric? No wonder they won 15 games in 2001.

#2 Vancouver – Lamar Odom
Vancouver didn’t deserve Steve Francis, but they didn’t really need him either. They had grabbed Mike Bibby in the draft before, and as New Yorkers learned Francis didn’t play well with other point guards. Instead they should have grabbed Odom. The Grizzlies had an awful team, but Bibby, Odom, and Shareef Abdur-Rahem would have been a respectable threesome. Looking at their history, they were doomed to failure by their poor drafts Reeves #6, Abdur Rahim #3, and Antonio Daniels #4 is hardly the core you want to build a franchise on.

#3 Charlotte – Baron Davis
Davis was the right pick here.

#4 Los Angeles Clippers – Steve Francis
Now these two deserved each other.

#5 Toronto – Ron Artest (traded to Indiana)
The Raptors originally drafted Bender and traded him for Antonio Davis. Why would Toronto do such a thing? They have Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady, and Doug Christie. So there goes the shooting guards and small forwards. They could use a point guard, but that isn’t a priority with Carter & McGrady taking up a big share of the offense. They need a big man, but there really aren’t any in this draft (Jeff Foster?). I see why they traded this pick, they had two dynamic scorers and needed some front court depth (past Charles Oakley). So I have the Raptors trading this pick still, and Indiana selecting Ron Artest instead. The Pacers would end up with Ron after a few seasons later anyway. The Pacers would have Artest to defend Allan Houston in the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals (which Indana won) but they could also use him to shut down Kobe Bryant in the Finals (which they lost in 6).

#6 Minnesota – Manu Ginobili
I’m going to go out on a limb here. Before Garnett went to Boston and won a title, people argued how the league would have been if he had swapped teams with Tim Duncan. That the two were equally good, and Duncan won those championships because of his supporting cast. So let’s see how Garnett would have done with the Argentine at his side. Also in this Bizzaro universe Kevin McHale would be a genius.

#7 Washington – Rip Hamilton
Washington really sucked. It doesn’t matter who they draft here. The guy is going to be gone by the time Jordan arrives. Might as well be Rip so that the Pistons improbable championship still occurs.

#8 Cleveland – Shawn Marion
Cleveland took who they thought was the best guy on the board, Andre Miller. And normally I agree with such a signing, except the Cavs had two young (but undersized) guards on their roster already: Brevin Knight and Earl Boykins. Miller’s arrival meant that both would be gone within a year. Cleveland let Boykins go, but traded Brevin Knight for Jimmy Jackson, Anthony Johnson and Larry Robinson. All three would be off Cleveland’s roster by the next season. I hate it when a team overloads at one position and fails to net anything substantial from trades. If we’re not taking Andre Miller here, then you can have an up-tempo team with Knight/Boykins. So I think Shawn Marion is the right fit here.

#9 Phoenix – Corey Maggette
The Suns are probably crushed that they didn’t get Marion. They have Jason Kidd, and are about to offer Anfernee Hardaway to a huge contract. Maggette’s scoring and rebounding would be adequate in lieu of Marion’s energy game.

#10 Atlanta – Trajan Langdon
The Hawks have Mutombo and Rider and are in dire need of a point guard. So with Andre Miller on the board, they’re going to draft Trajan Langdon. This way by 2005 they’ll have learned their lesson and take Deron Williams or Chris Paul with the #2 pick instead of Marvin Williams.

#11 Cleveland – Jason Terry
With the Cavs comitting to an up-tempo offense with their #8 pick, they should take Terry here. Knight, Terry, Marion, and Donyell Marshall are undersized, but should make for a laser fast offense. With Zydrunas healthy in 2011, that’s not such a bad team.

#12 Toronto – Aleksandar Radojevic
As I said earlier, the Raptors really need front court depth, so this is why they reached for the 7-3 Euro. And this is why you don’t draft for need.

#13 Seattle – Wally Szczerbiak (traded to Orlando)
The Magic who acquire this pick in a trade have Darrell Armstrong, Bo Outlaw, and Ben Wallace. They need someone who can score, and don’t care about defense. Wally fits the bill here.

#14 Minnesota – James Posey
In this world, McHale is a genius, and the best player on the board is Andrei Kirilenko. But taking Kirilenko after reaching for an unknown in Ginobili would get him fired. Also having Kirilenko and Garnett on the court at the same time would be too weird. That’s like 60 combined feet of skinny arms & legs. Terrell Brandon, Manu Ginobili, James Posey, Kevin Garnett, and Rasho Nesterovic – that’s a nice team for 2000.

#15 New York – Andrei Kirilenko
Ahhh to dream. The Knicks dared to take a European, but clearly the wrong one. In 2000, Kirilenko would have fit in well with that Knicks team giving them so much depth. The starters would have been Ward, Houston, Sprewell, LJ and Ewing with Camby, Kurt Thomas, Childs and Kirilenko off the bench. That’s one scary team defensively. Additionally AK-47’s arrival might have prevented the team from trading Ewing for Glenn Rice, keeping the franchise from self destruction via salary cap. Perhaps the 2001 Knicks with Camby starting, Ewing coming off the bench, the addition of Mark Jackson, and Kirlenko instead of Rice could have given the team another title run.

#16 Chicago – Andre Miller
Here are your early aughts Bulls: Andre Miller, Jamal Crawford, Toni Kukoc, Elton Brand, and Brad Miller. Not a bad rebuild post-Jordan. Try not to break that team up this time.

Mock Three

Since last we talked mock draft the Lakers dispatched with the Orlando Magic and the off-season has kicked into full gear. I was out of town on business and have thus pretty much missed basketball from the past week or so. I suppose that’s fortunate in some ways.

I hope the third version of this mock is less impacted by the rumors, smokescreens, subterfuges, and misinformation that normally clouds my mocks this time of year. My gut tells me that this draft will be the 2006 draft (Bargnani, Aldridge, Morrison were the top 3) of 2009. There will be tons of busts, but a smart front office will be able to find good players late.

Onto the picks…
2009 Mock Draft, 3.0

1. Clippers – Blake Griffin, PF, Oklahoma
Nothing to see here. Moving right along.

2. Grizzlies – Ricky Rubio, PG, Spain
Poor Grizz. This isn’t the draft to have the #2 pick. I still say they’re looking to move this pick to someone who wants Rubio.

3. Thunder – Hasheem Thabeet, C, UConn
I don’t think Thabeet is a top three talent but this draft couldn’t have worked out any better for him. He’ll be an excellent defender and he can run the floor a bit. The Thunder don’t need another guy who needs the ball to be effective.

4. Kings – James Harden, G, Arizona State
I’m guessing the Kings just go best player available regardless of position. I think they wouldn’t mind getting out from under this pick.

5. Wizards – Jordan Hill, PF, Arizona
Hill will provide some rebounding and a big that runs the floor.

6. Timberwolves – Tyreke Evans, G, Memphis
It’s hard to know what Minny will do with a new management team and a lot of picks. Nothing they do would surprise. The 6-10 area just seems about when Evans should go off the board.

7. Warriors – Brandon Jennings, PG, Italy
The Warriors want no part of Jamal Crawford and don’t think Ellis can run the point. Jennings seems like the right fit for this group.

8. Knicks – Stephen Curry, G, Davidson
I just don’t know that there will be a big man available Walsh will like more than Curry. I suspect that a big man is probably the only real competition for Curry.

9. Raptors – Jrue Holiday, G, UCLA
Ultimately, defense, ball-handling, and floor vision will keep him in the league but Holiday is one of the biggest question marks in the draft.

10. Bucks – DeJuan Blair, PF, Pittsburgh
If Milwaukee takes Blair they’ll be putting together a nice little frontcourt.

11. Nets – Demar DeRozan, SF, USC
Lottery pick least likely to live up to expectations. What does he do?

12. Bobcats – Austin Daye, F/C, Gonzaga
I love this kid’s game and maturity but he may not be a player until he’s on his second contract (after he’s filled out a bit). He’s thinner than Anthony Randolph. Just let that roll around in your head for a bit.

13. Pacers – Ty Lawson, PG, UNC
I won’t be surprised to see him go higher in this draft. The way people dismiss his production doesn’t make sense to me. It’s not like Carolina does anything particularly unorthodox. They just play a fast pace.

14. Suns – Jonny Flynn, PG, Syracuse
Flynn is a pure point guard, yet I’m not crazy about his decision making.

15. Pistons – Earl Clark, F, Louisville
I hate his offense but Clark’s a very capable defender.

16. Bulls – Gerald Henderson, G, Duke
The Bulls have claimed that their top off-season priority is to re-sign Gordon. Mmm. Yeah.

17. 76ers – Chase Budinger, G/F, Arizona
Budinger is a nice fit for that roster, especially as a decision-maker should they lose Andre Miller.

18. Timberwolves – B.J. Mullens, C, Ohio State
Given Al Jefferson’s health, this would be a decent gamble on size and provide some depth.

19. Hawks – Sam Young, F, Pittsburgh
Young would be a nice fit on Atlanta; a tough guy who can defend both forwards and hit an outside shot.

20. Jazz – Tyler Hansborough, PF, UNC
Hansborough is good value at this point in the draft. He’s going to rebound and run the floor and he’s developing a faceup jumper.

21. Hornets – Jeff Teague, G, Wake Forest
Teague would bring a bit of what Jannero Pargo did, for better or worse.

22. Mavericks – Terrance Williams, G/F, Louisville
Should Williams fall this far he’d be exactly what the doctor ordered Dallas: perimeter defense and depth.

23. Kings – Eric Maynor, PG, VCU

24. Trailblazers – James Johnson, F, Wake Forest
Portland could really use someone that can score in the post–at least a little bit.

25. Thunder – Darren Collison, PG, UCLA
He’ll be a quality backup point in the league.

26. Bulls – Nick Calathes, F, Florida (Greece)
Somebody is going to select Calathes and hold onto his rights. Presumably it will be a team with multiple first rounders that has difficulty moving a late pick. Any number of these late picks may be guys already overseas who can be stashed away.

27. Grizzlies – Wayne Ellington, G, UNC
Right now he’s a one dimensional shooter with a long windup, but worth a late first round gamble.

28. Timberwolves – Omri Casspi, F, Tel Aviv
I’d be stunned if Minny keeps all its picks, but if it does I figure they’ll select Calathes or a player they can stash overseas.

29. Lakers – Marcus Thornton, G, LSU
Thornton is a potent offensive player and a solid rebounding guard who is better in short spurts because of his questionable shot selection.

30. Cavaliers – DeMarre Carroll, F, Missouri
I’m going out on a limb and saying that Mizzou’s version of the “Junk Yard Dog” works his way into the late first round. Carroll has Anderson Varajao’s energy as a combo forward. He’s really improved his jump shot. He has a high basketball IQ, and is a very good passer as well.

2009 Game Preview/Thread: Knicks v. Grizzlies

New York (17-24) hosts Memphis (11-30).  New York won over Memphis in their previous meeting 132-103.  In that game, New York hit 19 of 34 three point attempts (55.9%) and had an eFG% of 69.8.  The only blemish in this game was New York allowing Memphis to post an eFG% 51.8.  Absent New York’s hot shooting and huge advantage in three point makes (+14), New York could have lost this game.

TEAM POSS EFF eFG TO OREB% FT/FG
New York Knicks-Offense 97 105.8 49.4 15.6 23.9 20.6
Rank 2 20 14 17 28 28
Memphis Grizzlies-Defense 89.9 109.2 52.3 16.7 25 24.6
Rank 22 21 29 7 5 20
New York Knicks-Defense 97 109.2 51.6 15.1 27.8 20
Rank 2 22 26 18 20 4
Memphis Grizzlies-Offense 89.9 102.3 47.9 16.1 24.5 25
Rank 22 28 26 21 26 6

What to watch for:  Memphis’ response to the Marc Iavaroni firing.  Strange, coaches usually get fired right afterplaying the Knicks (see Theus and Jordan).  It will be interesting to see how the team, particularly such a young team, responds under a new coach on the road.  In the game immediately following the firing of a head coach, teams have compiled a record of 3-3 this season.  The 3 wins came over Minnesota, Golden State, and Milwaukee.  The losses came against Utah and New Orleans.  So what does all this mean?  New York has to be careful in this game.  Do not expect Memphis to come out flat.  To the contrary, Memphis may come out strong looking to prove themselves.  At any rate, New York still is not good enough to take any team lightly. 

What to watch for 2: Efficient offense.  Memphis is very poor defensive team much like Phoenix.  New York should look to exploit Memphis’ poor defense in the same way the team did against Phoenix.  Memphis lacks quality defensive bigs so New York should work the Lee/Duhon two man game just as they did against Phoenix.  Check out Seven Seconds or Mess Episode 15 for more on how the Lee/Duhon two man game gave Phoenix fits. 

What to watch for 3:  Controlling the pace.  Though Memphis is in the bottom third of the NBA in pace (89.9, 22nd), the team has a number of players who are well suited for a running game.  Memphis has some good wing scoring in O.J. Mayo and Rudy Gay.  The team has a two points who can push the ball (Conley and Lowery) though neither is very efficient shooting the ball (46.0 and 44.0 eFG% respectively).  Finally, the team lacks an effective post option.  Yes, they have Gasol but he takes fewer than 10 FGAs per 36 minutes.  Even if Gasol is efficient inside (51.8 eFG%, 56.6 TS%), Memphis does not give him the touches he needs to be a better weapon inside.  The new coach may look to get Memphis running in order to play to their young athletic scorers.  New York needs to be mindful of this and not get caught in a shooting match like they did in the loss to Washington.  Hopefully, New York’s JJ, Chandler, and Q can provide the defense needed to slow Gay and Mayo.