Utah Jazz 137 – New York Knicks 116 – Game Recap

“Hello, my friend. Stay awhile and listen”*

Today I’d like to tell you the story of Dorando Pietri. I don’t know if many of you already know it just as I don’t know if I use this example pretty often just because the guy was Italian and the episode got stuck in my mind in a bizarre exercise of weird patriotism.

You see, Dorando Pietri was a marathon runner from a little town less than 100 km from where I live. We’re talking about times when sports was much more about the discipine itself than whatever it is that surrounds the ahtletes (endorsements, doping scandals, and so on). This was a guy who started running competitively, the legend says, because he randomly participated in a race (in work clothes) where he, as a debutant, promptly beat the national champion of the time. It was 1904. Thinking to himself “hey! I must be good!” he started running more, and more, and more, and in three years became the undisputed best Italian runner on long runs from 5000 mt to the marathon itself.

In 1908, the Olympics were held in London and he participated, having regularly qualified for the event. At the time, the length of a marathon wasn’t thoroughly regulated. It had to be at least 42 km long, but the official distance was not instituted until 1921, when they set the London 1908 length as the standard from then on. Well, Dorando Pietri was well on his way to win the race with less than 3 kilometers to go, when evidently he started running on fumes. Then on fumes of fumes. Entering the stadium where the final lap would have to be taken, he chose the wrong path and had to be redirected by the umpires, who also helped him when he fell over for the first time. Before crossing the finish line he tripped over and fell three more times. He was able to finish the race (still in first place!) only because he was helped every single time by the umpires. It took him 10 minutes to “run” the last 350 meters, after having run the other 41,950 in 165 minutes. In the end, the umpires’ help got him disqualified from the race, but his legend was still set in stone as the man who crawls to the finish line no matter what, while struggling in an otherworldly way thanks to fatigue and/or exhaustion.

Well, Dorando Pietri is me.

*bonus points if you get this citation

***

I can’t even start to tell you how hard it is to recap these final games. At times, it might even look like I’m not even trying, which maybe subconsciously it’s true, like some sort of maneuver to avoid further psychological trauma. The truth (or the conscious one at the very least) is that I never imagined the situation would have ever been so bleak. I remember the 2014/15 season very well. I found myself able to watch that slog because in the end it was kinda easy to root for some of those scrubs. Galloway, Lou Amundson, even early Lance Thomas: very bad players who tried their darndest to… well, do something, I guess? It was hard to watch but it was kinda easy to sympathize.

This season just drained almost every possibile smidge of joy from watching the team. I said it a million times: it’s not the losing. It’s not even the beatdowns. It’s the fact that for most of the time, I don’t have anyone, anything to root for. It’s starting to feel a bit stale even rooting for Mitch. I was happy to see him post respectable numbers again, but did they matter? No they didn’t. Finally guys were passing him the ball again, but well… when you’re down 30, it’s not like anything still has value, right?

This is why recapping (or doing something else, but still Knicks-related, about) these games is like being Dorando at the entrance of the stadium: you’re trying to do it, but man, you don’t know where you’re supposed to go, or what’s your name, or why you’re in this place to start with. You, my friends, are my umpires. Somehow, you keep helping me every time I fall and feel the urge not to write a single word about this terrible team, at least until October (a very heavy stretch of work-related days doesn’t help either).

I can see the finish line. It’s just soooo far away…

***

There are a few things to say about the game, apart from the fact that it was over very early (the first quarter ended 39-25 for Utah; the first half ended 74-47) and that we had a lot of guys on the shelf, so let’s tackle them:

– Kevin Knox’s March is going pretty well on the offensive side of things. For the month he’s shooting 42.6% from the field and a blistering 48.5% from three. He’s turning the ball less, assisting a bit more and not coincidentally his usage has gone down (19.3%) while his TS% is pretty much at league average (54.9%). Tonight he scored 27 points on 17 shots and grabbed 8 boards. His defense was simply atrocious (Ingles is a very good player, very underrated, but his shot release is not very quick and still Kevin found a way to leave him open time after time after time), but I’ve come not to expect anything from him on that side. I don’t have much faith in Knox, but it’s good to see he’s trending up a bit.

– We were so depleted at point guard that we were able to witness to the first minutes in history of Mario Hezonja, PG extraordinaire! It really didn’t go well. Mario played a cool game (by the numbers) when deployed as the power forward, scoring 23 points on 13 shots, but was predictably a huge failure as a backup PG (4 TOs, 2 of them very comical). I’m still happy I got to witness that. It’s like those movies where a random schlub becomes president for a day and funny antics ensue. They can be funny sometimes, not like this reality where a non-random schlub becomes president for four years.

– Henry Ellenson has to be the best ball-handling garbage time big ever. A cool line of 7/9/5 in 18 minutes and a super slick pass to Mitch in the fourth. He can’t defend to save his life and he’s slow, but he’s a guy I can root for. One of the very few. His 5 assists were a tie for team high with Mudiay and DeAndre. Maybe next game we will witness Henry moonlighting as a 6’10” dorky poing guard? He was also the lone Knicks with a positive plus/minus, but it doesn’t mean anything at all in a game like this.

– When Mitchell Robinson ends the game with 14/12/1 and 3 blocks in 30 minutes and you’re still meh, well, I guess that’s the best definition of jaded you’ll ever see around.

– Dotson is another guy who’s posting good numbers in March, but to no avail. Still, if March Dotson was everyday Dotson I’d be ectastic: 17 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.6 apg on 44/40/80 splits are terrific production for a second round pick.

Guys, I don’t know if I’ll be able to recap next game, but it’s not like these games have a lot to say, so, if we don’t see each other after the Denver game, just know I loved you all. Just kidding. I barely tolerated you :)

See you soon!

Does T-Mac Make Sense For New York?

New York Post writer and Stephon Marbury aficionado Marc Berman penned an article titled “T-Mac or bust” in Sunday’s paper.

If the Knicks don’t get McGrady, the Jazz can start making reservations in May for a hotel in Secaucus for the NBA Draft Lottery.

Let’s be real. The current Knicks, 10 games under .500, aren’t making the playoffs without a big upgrade. How cool would it be if the Jazz, which own the Knicks’ first-round pick, had a sense of humor and put assistant coach Scott Layden on the Secaucus dais — a familiar spot during his woeful Knicks presidential term.

Now this isn’t an original idea by Berman; the thought of the Knicks acquiring McGrady has been floating around for some bit. I guess the better question is whether or not McGrady will help the Knicks. Based on his location and production, you can break down McGrady’s career into three stages: the teenager in Toronto, the centerpiece in Orlando, and the sidekick in Houston.

TEAM  PTS TS% 3P% AST  TO  
TOR  16.1 51% 28% 3.6 2.3 
ORL  25.7 54% 36% 4.7 2.4
HOU  22.3 51% 32% 5.5 2.5

McGrady’s scoring in Orlando was pretty good, as he averaged 25.7 pts/36 with a decent TS% of 54%. However outside of those years, T-Mac has been a high volume/low percentage scorer. There’s a clear downward trend in his shooting efficiency since 2003, and in the last 5 years McGrady has had a TS% over 50% only once, an awful rate for someone that shoots so often. On the other hand his assists have risen, so perhaps he’s been able to help the offense a little more over the years by distributing better.

If the Knicks did swing a deal with Houston, it begs the question “whose minutes would T-Mac take?” If you look at it from a positional standpoint (SG/SF), then either Danilo Gallinari or Wilson Chandler would see a reduction in playing time. Gallo (TS% 58.6%) is shooting extremely well and even Wilson Chandler (52.5%) is a more efficient scorer than McGrady. In this situation the Knicks would be downgrading their production.

If you envision D’Antoni as someone who blurs the line with positions, then it’s possible for McGrady to supplant point guard Chris Duhon in the rotation. New York could go guard-less with McGrady, Chandler, Jeffries, Gallinari, and Lee. On defense the Knicks might have to use Jeffries on the opposing point guard, zone up, or even insert Nate Robinson in the lineup, now that it appears Nate’s willing to go over screens. On offense as long as McGrady didn’t dominate the action, he’d be an improvement over the anemic Duhon (TS% 47.4, 8.6 pts/36). Consequently such a tall lineup would give D’Antoni a lot of flexibility and might be problematic for some opponents.

In the right situation, McGrady could be an upgrade to the offense, perhaps a low usage situation could restore his efficiency to the NBA’s average. However the cost could be too high. Berman mentioned in his column that the Rockets are interested in something more than just swapping cap relief. For New York to give up a young player such as Hill or Douglas doesn’t make much sense for a team whose goal is the summer of 2010 (not the spring). Additionally the possibility that D’Antoni uses McGrady instead of anyone other than Duhon and the unlikelihood that T-Mac becomes more efficient (especially after another injury) makes it a less palatable deal for the Knicks.

The Knicks not might make the playoffs, but bringing in McGrady may not improve their chances all that much. T-Mac would be an upgrade over Duhon, but that speaks more about Duhon’s poor play. Point guard is clearly the team’s weakest link, and maybe they’d be better off swinging a small deal or sending Duhon to the bench in lieu of a Robinson/Douglas combo.

2010 Poll: Who Will Win the West?

Los Angeles Lakers (Vegas odds to win title: 5:2)
Unlike the East, the West has one clear favorite. Since trading for Pau Gasol, the Lakers have appeared in two straight Finals winning it all last year. Not content to let it ride, Los Angeles upgraded from Trevor Ariza to Ron Artest. This would be a gamble for most teams considering the Queensbridge native’s history, but Phil Jackson has always been able to keep individual personalities from ruining a team.

San Antonio Spurs (6:1)
In an attempt to keep up with the Lakers, the Spurs bolstered their roster in the off season. San Antonio added Richard Jefferson and Antonio McDyess which should give them a stronger rotation. But ultimately the Spurs will only go as far as their top 3. Last year the team suffered injuries to Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, and if they lose either of them (or Tony Parker) they’ll fall short of any title hopes.

Denver Nuggets (8:1)
The conventional wisdom is that teams that finish strong are likely to have a momentum that continues to the next season. This seems logical since many great teams go through phases of success before winning a title. However there’s little evidence to support that claim, and many teams just get lucky in a playoff series. The 2009 Denver Nuggets will probably avoid the fate of the 2007 Warriors or the 2008 Hornets, as they are likely to see the second round in 2010. However I think Vegas is way too kind to their odds, and I would bet against them to make the Western Conference Finals, nevertheless win a championship.

Last year per-minute stud Chris Andersen had a monstrous playoffs, however over the last 3 years each of the Denver bigs (Andersen, Nene, and Martin) has missed nearly the whole year due to injury. And while the other teams in the conference improved this summer Denver merely tread water, losing Kleiza and adding Ty Lawson. Unless they get another playoff boost from a great per-minute shot blocking/rebounder buried on the bench, they’re not likely going to be able to compete against the Lakers for Western supremacy.

The Field (starting at 10:1)
According to Vegas, the Trailblazers rank 6th in the West, however Portland deserves a higher ranking. They had the West’s second highest expected winning percentage last year (68.4%), which correlates well with winning percentage the year after. Portland also had the NBA’s best offense powered by their fantastic rebounding. The Blazers return with their rotation in tact plus Andre Miller. Although not the ideal fit for the team, Miller provides an upgrade over Bayless & Blake. They’re much better than their 12:1 odds would indicate.

Ahead of Portland are Dallas and Utah at 10:1. The Mavericks added Shawn Marion, Drew Gooden, and Tim Thomas. Marion’s production slipped in Miami and Toronto, and Dallas is hoping that their offensive scheme will better fit his talents. Meanwhile the Jazz matched the offer sheet for Paul Millsap, and are hoping that they can collectively stay healthy. Finally the New Orleans Hornets swapped Chandler for Emeka Okafor, which could make them relevant in the West again.

{democracy:36}

Knicks 2009 Summer League Roster

Looking over the Knicks’ roster there are 9 spots that are taken (Chandler, Curry, Duhon, Gallinari, Harrington, Hughes, Jeffries, Milicic, and Mobley). Two more are likely to be filled by Lee and Robinson. That leaves 4 spots possible for the summer league candidates, barring any offseason player movement.

Definites
It’s safe to assume that both draft picks Jordan Hill and Toney Douglas will be on the team’s roster come October. However it doesn’t mean the pair can relax in Vegas, as a poor showing could send them to D’Antoni’s doghouse before training camp even opens. Knick fans will expect both to make the rotation, Hill because of his status as lottery pick, and Douglas because of the lack of depth at guard. New York hopes both can help improve the team defensively, but they’ll need to prove that they’re capable on the offensive side as well. Both will need to play well now and in the preseason to make sure they aren’t sent to the D-League or practice squad. Considering their draft status and the competition, they should be able to give above average performances.

Probables
At the end of last year the team rotated in some NBDL players, and it looks like two stuck. Joe Crawford and Mouhamed Sene will be playing in the summer league, but they may need to prove their worth. Both of them combined for only 29 minutes last year, so the team isn’t committed to either. While Sene has more NBA experience, he’ll have tougher competition for playing time. New York has bolstered their front court by drafting Hill, trading for Darko, and hiding Eddy Curry’s Ring Dings. On the other hand Crawford will have less competition from the NBA roster, but might get pushed for playing time by Douglas and some of the other summer league guards New York. I wouldn’t bet on either player making the team, but they do have the inside track.

Possibles
One player that could push for a roster spot is Morris Almond. The Jazz selected him with the 25th pick in the 2007 draft, but Almond barely saw any NBA action in two seasons. However he was a prolific scorer in the NBDL, averaging 25.4 pts/36 over two seasons. Although this was due to his high usage (30.9%), to Almond’s credit his TS% was a robust 57.6%. One stat that did stand out in the NBDL is his free throw to field goal ratio. He hit .35 free throws for every shot attempted, and averaged 6.5 ftm/36. Clearly he’s skilled at drawing contact, and his 36.7% from downtown shows that he’s able to score from outside as well.

However Morris peripheral stats are weak. His rebounding numbers could be better for someone who stands 6-6, and his passing, steals, and blocks are weak for a shooting guard. Still he could provide some needed scoring off the bench and could be a poor man’s Allan Houston.

Another candidate is Blake Ahearn, a castaway from the Heat & Spurs. Like Almond, Ahearn dominated the NBDL, scoring 21.9 pts/36 on a sizzling 64.6% TS%. He connected on 43.4% of his three pointers, and was about as perfect as you get (95.5%) from the charity stripe. Unlike Almond, Ahearn has one peripheral stats that is above average, his 4.6 ast/36. At 6-2, Ahearn is more suited for point guard at the NBA level.

Doubtfuls
Yaroslav Korolev was drafted as an 18 year old by the Clippers in 2005 and spent two years in L.A. Yet even though he last suited up for an NBA game 3 years ago, he’s the second youngest player on the summer league team. Korolev is a 6-10 forward who’s father was a basketball coach and is rumored to have a sound all around game. At only 22 years old, he’s definitely young enough to be a “second draft” type of player.

Probably the last guy with a realistic shot at a roster spot is David Noel. He was a second round pick of the Bucks and didn’t play well in his one season. However he did well in the NBDL, scoring 17.1 pts/36 on 60.7 ts% and averaging 5.3 reb/36, 4.4 ast/36, and 1.7 stl/36. His free throw shooting was suspect (68.6%), but he was deadly from downtown (44.6%).

Please God No
Nokoloz Tskitishvili and Alex Acker are both 26 years old. Tskitishvili is looking for yet another chance at the NBA, while Acker is a combo guard who had 2 stints in the NBA (Pistons & Clippers). Nokoloz’s NBA numbers are laughably bad, while Acker’s D-League numbers aren’t very impressive (53.1% TS%).

Hey I Got Free First Row Tickets to the Summer League!
The summer league might be happy days for Valparaiso’s Ron Howard. Rashaad Singleton is a 7 footer, but barely played at Georgia. According to Wikipedia, Warren Carter plays in Spain and thinks Allen Iverson is the NBA’s best player. Wink Adams shot 26.9% from trey his last year at UNLV.

Who Am I Rooting For?
I think there’s the possibility that the Knicks could find a decent player here. I don’t think there are any NBA starters here, but certainly a few guys could contribute as reserves. After reviewing their numbers, Blake Ahearn is at the top of my list. I have a soft spot in my heart for snipers, and the Knicks really need more depth at point guard. I like Almond, but he scares me at the same time. His number suggest a typical me-first-shooter that’s indifferent to the other aspects of the game.

As for the rest, I hope Sene sticks around, even if it’s in the NBDL until New York moves Curry or Jeffries. Korolev has the most intriguing story, but his numbers are so bad as a teenager it’s hard to see him being good at this level. I don’t want Acker or Tskitishvili, and I sure hope the Knicks don’t fall in love with someone who is hot for a few games (*cough* Roberson *cough*). So that leaves Crawford or Noel. Perhaps Noel would be the better choice, considering D’Antoni had Crawford last year & barely used him.

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.