First Round Thoughts

Just opening this up for people to talk about the first round. I haven’t seen a lot of games, but I did catch a few good ones. I saw the Celtics lose in overtime, the Lakers crush the Jazz, and a bit of the Nuggets/Hornets. Of the few games I saw, it was interesting how many ex-Knicks (and potential ex-Knicks) were involved on winning teams: Trevor Ariza, Joakim Noah, Tyrus Thomas, Nene. It’s hard not to be a little bitter about it, at least for another year…

As for the upsets, the East looks like a one man race at this point. The Celtics clearly aren’t the same without Garnett. Orlando lost to the Sixers? OK so that’s more likely to be a fluke than not, but it does raise questions at this point about the Magic. And if you thought the Heat were a Wade explosion from potentially beating the Cavs…

Who Will Win the Western Conference?

According to at least one gambling site, the Lakers are by far the favorite to win the West. But how far ahead of the rest of the field are they? Los Angeles was 11 games better than any other Western team. But the Lakers are only 55 win percentage points better than the Trailblazers, .739 to .684, when using expected win percentage based on run differential. That’s a bit closer than the 134 point difference when looking at actual win percentage. Additionally the Lakers are most likely going to face the Jazz, Blazers, and Spurs/Nuggets. Certainly that’s tougher than the Pistons, Hawks/Heat, and Magic/Celtics that will meet Cleveland in the East.

So what do you think, can any Western team derail the Lakers?

{democracy:27}

Knicks’ Week in Advance 11/24/2008

Hello all. Thomas B. here with the second installment of Knicks’ Week in Advance. This article appears exclusively on Knickerblogger.net (everyone else-including Stern Must Go-turned me down). I will compare the Knicks’ Four Factors to those of their opponents this week.

I’m glad the Knicks beat the Wizards Saturday. The win spared me from drafting an open that parodies those Time Life Books commercials from the 1980s:

November 2008. The administrator of a popular blog contacts a man of limited basketball knowledge and invites him to join the staff. Shortly thereafter, the Knicks begin a losing streak that has yet to end. Coincidence? Read the book.

Thankfully, the Knicks won so that open won’t be needed. Besides, about 2% of the population would have got the reference anyway. Such is my sense of humor.

This week the Knicks have home games against Cleveland and Golden State with a road trip to Detroit in between.

Tuesday, November 25 – Cleveland

TEAM POSS EFF eFG TO OREB% FT/FG
New York Knicks-Offense 98.4 106 50.1 14.5 21.8 19.3
Rank
1
14
11
6
29
28
Cleveland Cavaliers-Defense 88.8 104.8 46.8 16.6 28.1 26.4
Rank
26
12
8
11
20
24
New York Knicks-Defense 98.4 107.4 50.9 15.2 28.6 19.1
Rank
1
21
27
21
24
3
Cleveland Cavaliers-Offense 88.8 114 51.8 15 29.4 28.4
Rank
26
1
2
11
7
3

[First meeting of the teams this year.]

This will be the third straight Tuesday on which the Knicks meet one of last year’s playoff teams (Spurs and Boston previously). The Cavs went 9-1 over the last 10 games and look to be clicking. Conversely, the Knicks are going to work three new players into the rotation.

What to watch for: LBJ. Since the Knicks have the cap room to dream about Lebron, I think LBJ might start showing the garden crowd exactly what they could get on about July 24th 2010. That is if the price is right.

What to watch for 2: Of all the players brought in, I think Cutino Mobley can have the best immediate impact due to his defense. He and Duhon give the Knicks their strongest defensive backcourt since perhaps Derek Harper and John Starks. That’s a good thing, since the Cavs are 2nd in shooting (eFG%: 51.8%), and 1st on offense (OE: 114 pts/100poss). Much of this is due to strong backcourt play. Mo Williams and Delonte West are both shooting above 40% from behind the arc, with West’s 66.2 eFG% leading the team. The Knicks need to eliminate open shots by pressuring the ball and cutting off passing lanes. If Duhon and Mobley can pressure the backcourt, they could push Williams’ and West’s so-so assist ratios down, while bringing their slightly below average turnover ratios up.

Wednesday, November 26 – Detroit

TEAM POSS EFF eFG TO OREB% FT/FG
New York Knicks-Offense 98.4 106 50.1 14.5 21.8 19.3
Rank
1
14
11
6
29
28
Detroit Pistons-Defense 89.7 106.8 49.3 15.2 25.5 26.6
Rank
24
19
20
20
10
25
New York Knicks-Defense 98.4 107.4 50.9 15.2 28.6 19.1
Rank
1
21
27
21
24
3
Detroit Pistons-Offense 89.7 108.2 48.4 15 28.4 26.3
Rank
24
10
17
12
10
8

[First meeting of the teams this year.]

While still a very talented team, these are not the same defensive minded Pistons of recent years. The Pistons are in the bottom third of the league on defensive (DE: 106.8, 19th), eFG% (49.3%, 20th), and turnovers (15.2 TO/100poss, 20th). Unfortunately, the Knicks’ are ranked lower than the Pistons’ in each of those defensive categories. The Knicks have an edge on offense in terms of shooting (eFG%: 50.1%, 11th), so they should look to exploit that.

What to watch for: The Knicks’ backcourt defense. Iverson, Hamilton, and Stuckey are the Pistons’ highest usage players and the least efficient shooters. The Pistons also lack a true point after trading for Iverson, so the Knicks have to keep the pressure on him to disrupt the offense. This is true when dealing with Iverson in general.

Once Iverson has decided he is going to shoot, nothing short of a stoppage of play will change his mind. The trick is to invite him to take a bad shot. I say invite because you don’t have to force him into it. Much like Crawford, he does it willingly. Once Iverson is pressing on offense, he forgets to pass and the rest of team is taken out of the game. Easier said than done, but there you go.

What to watch for 2: Rasheed Wallace vs. the three headed forward. Now that Harrington and Thomas will join Chandler at the power forward spot, D’Antoni can throw three versions of pretty much the same player at Wallace. Once Gallanari gets healthy, we will have four 6’9-ish forwards who like to work outside of the paint. Not since Robert Palmer have I seen such symmetry.

The good news is that between Thomas, Harrington, and Chandler, we may have enough bodies to wear Wallace out, foul him out, or just plain psych him out. Wallace is the best interior defender on Detroit, so the Knicks would do well to get him into foul trouble. Generally, you do that by posting or driving, and that’s not what “simply irresistible” does very well.

Saturday, November 29 – Golden State

TEAM POSS EFF eFG TO OREB% FT/FG
New York Knicks-Offense 98.4 106 50.1 14.5 21.8 19.3
Rank
1
14
11
6
29
28
Golden State Warriors-Defense 96.6 107.9 49.5 16.3 30.4 23.4
Rank
2
25
22
12
29
12
New York Knicks-Defense 98.4 107.4 50.9 15.2 28.6 19.1
Rank
1
21
27
21
24
3
Golden State Warriors-Offense 96.6 107.2 47.1 15.2 31 26.5
Rank
2
11.5
19
15
4
6

[First meeting of the teams this year.]

Take a good look in the mirror Knickerbockers, the image staring back at you is that of the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors are slighty more efficient on offense while the Knicks are slightly better shooters. Golden State shares the Knicks’ defensive woes with both teams in the bottom third of the league in the defensive stats.

What to watch for: The return of Jamal Crawford means more offense for Golden State, but far less defense. I’d love to see the Knicks exploit this by having Q play some minutes at the two and work Crawford in the post. The Knicks could play that lineup if Lee, Harrington, and Chandler play the front court.

What to watch for 2: Rebounding. Neither team is especially strong on the glass, as they each play small. Given the pace and that each team favors jump shot offenses, the team that controls the glass should come out the winner. Look for David Lee to get his first 20 rebound game of the season.

What to watch for 3: What is up with the “Golden State?” Every other team in the league is named after either the city or the state, but the Warriors use the nickname of the state? So even if you know the state nicknames, you still don’t know the city. No wonder they can’t sell out the arena, no one can find the stadium. Yet, somehow the name works. I mean, the Bee Hive State Jazz sure doesn’t work.

Any win this week means the Knicks finish November without a losing record. Wouldn’t that be nice? See you next week.

Two Games Over .500?

Stephon Marbury was the point guard with Allan Houston at the 2. Kurt Thomas and Tim Thomas were the forwards and Nazr Mohammed was in the middle.

The bench players were Mike Sweetney, Anfernee Hardaway, Jerome Williams, Trevor Ariza and Moochie Norris

That was the Knicks team on January 1st, 2005, when a Knick three-game winning streak came to an end with a loss to the New Jersey Nets, 93-87. The Knicks ended the night at 16-14, the last time they were two games over .500 until last night. Read More

Odds & Ends 11/9/2008

* Don’t forget there’s a game on Sunday 11/9 at 3pm against the Jazz. Jet fans without pip may want to head to their local bar and scout out the proper location to watch both games simultaneously.

* Interesting stat from the guys over at SNY’s Knicks blog

Chris Duhon
59 (TS) 52 (TOS) 5(TUS) 2(SW) 88%(PP) 71.4% (NP-un) 50% (NP-sw)
Jamal Crawford
40 (TS) 4 (TOS) 10(TUS) 26(SW) 100%(PP) 80% (NP-un) 76% (NP-sw)
Nate Robinson
42 (TS) 8(TOS) 26(TUS) 8(SW) 75%(PP) 88% (NP-un) 75% (NP-sw)

Confused? Okay allow me to explain. Chris Duhon has been screened 59 times on the ball this year- he has got over the screen 52 times. When he gets over, a “positive play” happened 88% of the time (46 out of 52). When he got under the screen, a negative play happend 71% of the time- (5 out of 7) and he doesn’t really switch much and is 50% (1-2).

Got it?

They list the stats for Duhon, Crawford and Nate, and explain what they mean. One of the things that drove me crazy in the Isiah era was how the guards almost never went over screens and that the Knicks never hedged with their big men. But in the D’Antoni era, I’ve seen more of both, guards going over the screen and big men hedging. It’s possible that for the former, having a good defender like Duhon replace a bad defender like Marbury in the lineup helps. But with the latter, the Knicks have had the same forwards (with the possible exception of Chandler playing more PF), and I’ve seen more of them stepping out to slow down penetration.

I don’t agree with every move the team makes (watching this team, I just can’t stop thinking how much Balkman would fit in), however, there is evidence the team is moving in the right direction. The proof is in the little things such as a cohesive offense, drawing up plays during timeouts, more access to the team (I like seeing the locker room speeches & the huddle microphones), and giving more effort on the defensive end. I don’t expect the team to be a defensive juggernaut (can you name a team with a worse defensive roster than New York?). But least D’Antoni has the players trying harder under their own hoop, which I haven’t seen in a long time in New York.

* Basketball Prospectus thinks that Denver got the best player in that trade (“Billups [is] the better player overall”). I do too. Of course they talk about every aspect of the deal, and it’s an all encompassing look on the trade.

2008 Dog Days of Summer – The Rise of the East?

So it appears the dog days of the offseason are upon us. While there’s a possibility of some roster movement before the Knicks preseason starts, it’s likely that on most days there will be no changes. So until there’s serious NBA news, each week I’d like to come up with a topic for everyone to discuss. This week I’ll stick with the NBA, but as the summer moves on, I promise nothing.

The rise of the East?

It seems that since Jordan’s second retirement, the NBA has been dominated by the West. For years the NBA’s biggest matchups involved the Lakers, Spurs, Kings, Mavs, or Suns depending on the year. Although the two conferences have split the last 6 championships, it’s generally thought that the West has more teams of championship caliber. For instance if the West’s 6th best team by record, the Utah Jazz, won the title it would be more plausible than the East’s 6th best team (Toronto).

Eventually imbalances like this even out. For most of the 80s & early 90s, the NFL was dominated by the NFC as the AFC would go 14 years without winning a Super Bowl. But since then an NFC team has been crowned champion only 3 times in an 11 year span. So it’s not a question of if the East will catch up, it’s a question of when.

This NBA offseason seems to have benefited the East. Lost in the Baron Davis/Elton Brand/Clippers story was that the Sixers were the big winners. Between Dalembert, Iguodala, and Brand Philadelphia might have one of the league’s best defenses. If Brand is healthy, the Sixers go from a middle of the road team to an Eastern powerhouse. The Chicago Bulls were a 49 win team two seasons ago and ended up with the #1 overall pick this year. Derrick Rose should give them production at the point guard position where Kirk Hinrich regressed heavily. Similarly the Miami Heat added the #2 pick, and Michael Beasley combined with a full season from All Stars Dwayne Wade and Shawn Marion could make them a strong rebound candidate in 2009. Meanwhile there are a few Eastern teams led by young stars that could take a step forward next year, like Orlando, Cleveland, and Toronto.

Last year the league’s two best teams were in the East. The Celtics won 66 games and the Pistons won 59. Although Boston has already lost a key role player (Posey), Detroit’s roster remains largely unchanged. If one or two of the other Eastern teams can break the 55 win barrier, then it’s likely that the gap between conferences may no longer exist.

Euro Trip

What’s the best course of action for America’s best 18 year old basketball player? The answer depends on what year it is. Decades ago a player probably would have gone to college for 4 years to refine their game, possibly get an education, and prepare themselves for the NBA. Although Moses Malone and Darryl Dawkins skipped college and went straight to the pros in the mid 70s, this wasn’t a common decision. In fact for 20 years no other player took this direct route. Even Shawn Kemp and Lloyd Daniels went to college, although neither played in an NCAA game due to off the court issues.

But as time passed, the options for an 18 year old baller increased. Due to some combination of the NCAA increasing its eligibility standards for incoming athletes, the popularization of high school athletics, the increasing amount of underclassman opting out of college, and rising NBA salaries, many players opted to go straight to the pros. When Kevin Garnett decided in 1995 to forgo college and apply for the NBA draft it was a controversial decision. But over the next few years as Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, and Jermaine O’Neal made the same jump (and with a good degree of success) it became more common for players to skip college.

Consider the options at this time for a high school senior that was likely to be drafted in the first round. They could go to college where competing against Division I players could expose a player’s flaws. Waiting an extra year could result in a deeper draft class, and the player would get drafted later. Or the player could suffer an injury, and they would never get drafted at all. Each of these could cause a player to potentially lose millions of dollars. On the other hand a player’s NCAA play could enhance his draft standing, sending him to the top of the draft. Because most first rounders earn at least $1M a year, the difference between $4M and $1M in terms of life changing opportunities isn’t worth the risk of losing it all. For most athletes, the smart choice meant going to the NBA as soon as possible.

This progression continued for about 10 years until the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement set the age limit to 19 for a player to join the NBA. Hence players could no longer make the jump directly from high school to the NBA. Basketball pundits thought this move was to force players to go to college, and the term “one and done” (a prospect who went to college for one year only because they weren’t eligible to apply for the NBA draft) gained popularity. However it may not have been NBA Commissioner David Stern’s intention to send prospective employees to college. In fact when asked about the “one and done” phenomenon recently on Pardon the Interruption, Stern remarked something to the effect of “this is not an NBA problem it’s an NCAA problem.”

And indeed it is. Not only have college players shortened their amateur career, but many have skipped it entirely. Take for example the most famous underclass team: Michigan’s Fab Five. The three most talented players (Webber, Howard, and Rose) all left before their senior year. It’s no longer news when a player applies for the draft. These days it’s news when a player stays around for another year (e.g. 2006 Gators). In this last NBA draft, 4 of the top 5 players were underclassmen on Final Four teams. This attrition must hurt the pool of talent available to NCAA schools.

However there may be another option in the future for young basketball players. Earlier this week the New York Times said that top point guard prospect Brandon Jennings was considering playing in Europe, and yesterday ESPN has confirmed that Jennings has made his decision to go overseas. There are three factors which have opened up this possibility for Jennings. The first is the increased NCAA academic standards. (“Jennings has committed to play at Arizona and his adviser, Kelly Williams, has said that he will find out if Jennings qualified on Friday.”) The second is the age limit to the NBA. (“Even if he enrolls at Arizona, Jennings is expected to spend only one year with the Wildcats.”) The third is that the NCAA doesn’t pay its student athletes, while European teams do. According to the New York Times, “[Jennings] would most likely get a minimum of $300,000, including salary and endorsements”. Although Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress says he can’t see a top European club offering Jennings more than $100,000.

Naturally college coaches are against such a move. (“[Memphis Coach John Calipari] cited the language barrier, games against more physically dominant competition, and the cultural adjustment for a teenager.”) But for a single year in Europe, a player could make enough money to pay for four years of college (one year at Rutgers University costs $20,096). Playing against more skilled players would make them more NBA ready. Teenagers frequently compete in European professional leagues. Knicks draft pick Danilo Gallinari was playing in Italian Serie B1 League at the age of 15. Spain’s Ricky Rubio debuted in the Euroleague at 16. And of course living in another country is a great life experience. Consider that college students typically consider studying abroad as an opportunity.

Ultimately the NCAA is largely responsible for creating these conditions. They make billions off of student athletes while paying them relatively next to nothing. For years they’ve been able to exploit athletes whose desire is to play professionally by controlling a monopoly to the doorsteps of the NBA. The relationship between the NCAA & young athletes have been a one sided affair. According to Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban

Every student who goes to school, post high school is given every opportunity and encouraged to maximize their effort and optimize their resources to achieve their goals. Unless of course they happen to attend a school that is a member of the NCAA and their goal is to be a professional athlete.

Jennings could become his generation’s Kevin Garnett and high school players might consider going overseas the better choice to a year of college. Should he return to the NBA, it will become a viable option, especially for those worried about meeting academic standards. What happens next is unclear. It’s highly unlikely that the NCAA makes a major change, since they won’t pay their athletes. One possibility is the emergence of a basketball minor league, but this interview with the former GM of the Utah Flash shows that the NBDL isn’t ready to fill the void.

An example, we had Brandon Wallace on assignment from the Celtics, he was a draft pick and they sent him to us. He was on our roster, he played for us. And in January, late December, the Celtics cut him and we had no rights to him. And that didn’t make any sense to us. We tried to make it work, we talked to his agent, but we just couldn’t get it worked out. And I think that was a source of embarrassment for the league.

With European leagues breaking up the NCAA’s monopoly on young basketball players, don’t expect things to stay the same. Depending on the contract, European teams can receive up to $500,000 from NBA teams for a drafted player. With Jennings opening the door, foreign teams will have incentive to recruit America’s best underage basketball prospects. Eventually some organization is going to want to keep these players from going oversees. The NBA would have a motive since they would be paying an extra half million dollars for some of their draft picks. The NCAA might want to make a change before their basketball empire crumbles. And the NBDL could take advantage of this opportunity to make themselves a proper minor league. One thing is for certain, future 18 year old basketball prodigies will have more than one option to consider.