Interview With Donnie Walsh

Before the 11/6/09 Cleveland game I was able to ask Mike D’Antoni and Donnie Walsh a few questions.


Mike Kurylo It seems like the team is struggling from three, except for Gallinari. In the preseason you had a few guys like Joe Crawford and Morris Almond who could knock down the three…

Mike D’Antoni Morris Almond was never in the preseason… He was in the summer league.

Mike Kurylo I’m sorry you’re right summer league. Are there any thought of bringing in another shooting guard?

Mike D’Antoni No.


Mike Kurylo Do you …

Donnie Walsh Where are you from?

Mike Kurylo KnickerBlogger.Net. It seems that there are a lot of guys that are free agents at the end of the year on your own team. So just by chance you may have a lot of roster spots open.

Donnie Walsh You’re wrong.

Mike Kurylo OK. I’m sorry for assuming.

Donnie Walsh That’s what’s happening. You’re writing what you think. I like the players on my own team.

Mike Kurylo But it seems that by chance some guys will just sign with another team. For instance if you have 7 free agents, it’s possible that you may only be able to resign 3 or 4. So I was wondering if you were looking at other avenues of signing players.

Donnie Walsh Of course.

Mike Kurylo Where are you looking? Are you looking in the D-League or in Europe?

Donnie Walsh All of the above.

Mike Kurylo How do stats fit into the picture with your scouting? Do you use them half and half or do you rely mostly on scouting?

Donnie Walsh I umm… [to Larry Johnson] Hey Larry how are you? It’s good to have you here.

LJ: Look at you always working.

Mike Kurylo So my question is: How do stats fit into the picture?

Donnie Walsh I don’t know quite what you mean. Am I impressed at how many point a guy scores per game? No.

Mike Kurylo How about other stats like …

Donnie Walsh If a guy is averaging 30 points per game and a scout calls me up and says this guy is the real deal, then I’ll go watch him.

Mike Kurylo What stats are you looking at? Are you looking at true shooting percentage and any of the newer stats?

Donnie Walsh Of course we’ve got all of that.

Mike Kurylo Are you familiar with John Hollinger or Dave Berri…

Donnie Walsh I’m not overly impressed if his true shooting percentage [is X] and that means something. It’s part of the picture.

Mike Kurylo I’m a big stat guy and I feel like in baseball that 80-90 percent of a player’s value is captured in stats, in my opinion. But in basketball it doesn’t seem to be as reliable.

Donnie Walsh Because basketball is a 5-man game that has to be played together. You’re not just getting [up to the plate] to hit a baseball.

Mike Kurylo Basketball is not a one-on-one game. And the defensive stats in basketball, blocks and steals, just don’t cover what happens on that end. Someone like Bruce Bowen…

Donnie Walsh You know it’s very difficult to [quantify this]. Coaches try to do it. They come up with deflections and challenges and different stats to determine who is doing a good job defensively. But you can see that by watching. You’re right. A guy that blocks shots may be good or bad [defensively].

[Inaudible due to loud music – but Donnie and I talked about a defensive scoresheet.]

Donnie Walsh Look I don’t think gut instinct is foolproof and I don’t think stats are foolproof. I think a combination of different things [are best.] We do a lot of checking and try to get as good picture we can of the guy.

What’s Wrong With the Knicks?

The New York Knicks have limped out to a 1-6 start, their worst since 2003 when they began the year 1-8. That season, they eventually finished 37-45, which would actually be an improvement for this team. So although history shows us that all is not lost, there are some issues the team must overcome to get back on track.

Not to Three?
The team’s three point percentage of 30.3% is 57 points lower than last year’s average, but that number isn’t indicative of how bad New York’s shooting has been. That percentage is inflated by Danilo Gallinari’s sizzling 46.6%. The non-Gallo Knicks are shooting an appallingly bad 22.5%. And while the knee-jerk reaction is to blame non-shooter Jared Jeffries and rookie Toney Douglas, the pair are actually 2nd and 3rd on the team respectively in three point percentage. It’s the regulars of Hughes, Harrington, Duhon, Chandler, and Robinson that are sinking the team.

For some teams, going through a cold spell from behind the arc might be a nuisance, but D’Antoni’s offense requires the team to make their treys to open up the inside. I documented this here, showing how other teams are clogging the middle and daring the team to beat them from the outside. That said this is probably an early season funk, and more likely than not New York will end up in the middle of the pack with regards to three point shooting. Hopefully the drought will end sooner than later.

Ill Ill Will?
It seems that Knick fans are split on their opinion of Wilson Chandler. Some see a youngster with a lot of upside, while others see caution flags from his advanced stats. But neither side envisioned him playing this poorly. Chandler has been dreadful in 2010, starting off the year with a PER of 7.7, nearly half of his 2009 rate of 12.9. The decline is entirely due to his anemic shooting: 39.9% TS% and 20.0% 3P%.

Chandler did have surgery in the offseason, which prevented him from working on his game during the summer. The good news is that his non-shooting stats have been identical to last year, which means that there isn’t a lingering physical issue that is causing his decline. The bad news is Chandler was never a good shooter to begin with, and that he needed the extra time to work on his jumper. The best the team can hope for is to send Chandler slashing to the hoop more often, which is usually a good prescription for any athletic player struggling to find their range.

There’s No Movement, No Movement, No Movement…
What happened to the movement on offense? The hallmark of D’Antoni’s offense is having some kind of constant motion, either via ball or players. But this year, it seems that the half court offense has become stagnant. And of course there’s the limitation of the roster. Chris Duhon is still passing up easy buckets in the paint, Al Harrington is still refusing to pass the ball, and Jeffries is still getting court time. The one guy who has the multifaceted game to jumpstart the offense, Nate Robinson, is sidelined with an injury.

Again it seems the lack of an outside threat has hurt the team, but perhaps D’Antoni should be finding another way to generate points. Given his reputation as an offensive coach, he should be able to coax some more production out of this group.

Pennies On the Dollar (Or Thousands of Dollars on the Millions of Dollars)
While one could argue that their precious cap space and a lack of assets prevented them from making a major move, the truth is the team failed to improve at all. The team didn’t deviate from their 2009 roster much, adding only Darko Milicic, Jordan Hill, Toney Douglas, and Marcus Landry. None of these players are averaging 10 minutes per game.

The problem boils down to New York failing to find any low cost help. It’s easy to say the NBA is a superstar’s league, but the truth is that teams need to fill their entire roster. This means front offices need to not only be successful in acquiring superstars, but digging the bargain bin for productive players. The Celtics might not have won a a title without their big trio, but perhaps their troika of youngsters Rondo, Perkins, and Powe was equally important to that championship run. The same could be said for the Spurs for turning the undrafted 30 year old Bruce Bowen and 57th overall pick Manu Ginobili into a part of their core. And the Pistons would not have won their last championship without Ben Wallace and Chauncey Billups – two players that were relative nobodies before their arrival in Detroit.

Every year there seems to be a few unheralded players who find success on the major league level, in addition to homeless veterans willing to play for a bargain. In the Donnie Walsh era, the Knicks have flirted with lots of inexpensive players like Von Wafer, Demetris Nichols, Anthony Roberson, Cheikh Samb, Mouhamed Sene, Courtney Simms, Nikoloz Tskitishvili, Joe Crawford, Chris Hunter and Morris Almond but failed to unearth any rough gems.

For a team that relies on outside shooting so much (New York was 1st in three pointers attempted last year), the team has a glaring hole at shooting guard. The 2-guard position is filled by a small forward (Wilson Chandler), an undersized point guard (Nate Robinson) and an aging slasher with a questionable shot (Larry Hughes). To compound the situation the team does have a free roster spot and there are some options available (Almond, Crawford and Szczerbiak). It would cost the team a fraction of their total salary to acquire a shooter, but for some reason they’re content in staying pat. Having a three point specialist would probably be helpful a few nights over the course of the season. But developing one from the NBA scrap heap into the rotation would be the mark of a good front office.

Hill Fails To Impress (& Knick Tidbits)

Knick fans that hoped the 2009 #8 pick would pay immediate dividends are going to be disappointed. Mike D’Antoni said Jordan Hill “got a ways to go” with regards to being NBA ready. A quote like this would be expected if New York grabbed a teenager from Europe like Ricky Rubio or Brandon Jennings. But Jordan Hill is 22, and spent 3 years in Arizona. Shouldn’t he be ready to contribute to the NBA now?

Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by the Knicks recent power forward draftees. Channing Frye, like Hill, was 22 year old #8 overall pick from Arizona and managed an 18.1 PER in 1500+ minutes his first season. David Lee, taken in the same draft, had a 15.4 PER in 1100+ minutes that same year. The 9th overall pick in 2003, Mike Sweetney, was buried on the IR due to incompetent management. But he still was able to perform on an NBA level with a 17.2 PER his first season. Even Nene Hillario who was traded by the Knicks on draft day put up a PER of 15.4 in 2200+ minutes as a 20 year old rookie for Denver.

Hill’s defenders say he started playing basketball late, and that he’s still learning the game. But 2010 is a win now year, with the Knicks not owning their own pick in the upcoming draft. And Walsh didn’t really seem interested in spending money this summer to improve his team, even on his own players. The only trade they made this summer was for a backup center in Darko Milicic. So with no other avenues to improve the team now why would the Knicks take a player who was a project? Surely there was someone that was more ready to contribute this season (Blair seems the part, and Lawson had a nice preseason). Perhaps Walsh didn’t mind taking someone unpolished, but then he should have aimed for someone that was younger or had a bigger upside.

It sounds rough to be critical of a rookie before the season even starts. I can understand Hill not making the rotation, especially with the veterans ahead of him. But I would have liked to hear the coaching staff speak more positively of him. Maybe something along the lines of “he’s good, but he’s going to have to wait his turn.” Perhaps a better showing in either summer league or the preseason would allow me to look past his current state. I’m sure Hill will get some minutes at some point this year, and I can only hope that he can get some positive reviews for his on the court play.

Other News:

  • You can throw away any chance of Eddy Curry getting into the rotation early in the season to increase his trade value. Curry talked about his offseason conditioning publicly on Twitter, then hurt his foot in the first practice. Although it was initially thought that the injury wasn’t serious and he’d be back quickly, Eddy didn’t play in a single preseason game. The team has told Curry to not come back until he reaches a certain weight, implying that his summer regimen wasn’t as advertised. Curry threw away his 2009 season, and so far he’s on pace to do the same in 2010.
  • Not only are Eddy Curry and Jordan Hill out of the rotation, but it seems that Larry Hughes didn’t make the cut either. Hughes probably didn’t expect this to occur (he started 57 of 68 games in 2008, and 20 of 55 last year), and it’ll be interesting to see how he responds. Although the Knicks could afford to let someone like Stephon Marbury hang in the wind (especially considering Marbury’s actions after the team let him go), the front office and coaching staff could lose serious face if this situation gets that ugly.

    From a simple perspective it seems that Hughes was beaten out by Toney Douglas (and perhaps Danilo Gallinari) who are likely to eat the bulk of his minutes along with Nate Robinson. But it’s more likely that this is just coach D’Antoni going with his youngsters.

  • Looks like the Knicks have a new end of bench guy, for now. Marcus Landry replaces Joe Crawford (and Chris Hunter) as the Knicks rotate in a new 12th man yet again. Sorry if I’m indifferent on this signing, but New York seems to grab these guys and tend to never use them in a meaningful way. The best analogy I can come up with it my 2 year old who’ll snatch a toy the minute another child becomes interested in it, not really play with it, and then casually discard it when the next shiny thing comes along.
  • Who Will Make the Knicks in 2010?

    With not much else Knick related going on, my mind has wandered to the end of the bench. It goes without saying that last year’s team wasn’t very deep. However this year Eddy Curry could see a role in D’Antoni’s rotation, as well as summer acquisition Darko Milicic. Danilo Gallinari will likely see more than the 400 injury filled minutes of last year. Add rookies Jordan Hill and Toney Douglas to the mix, and the Knicks have a much deeper roster this year.

    But still there are a few spots up for grabs at the end of the bench. Currently Joe Crawford and Chris Hunter are officially on the roster, but it’s possible that they won’t still be on the team by opening day. If they are replaced, they could be removed in favor of one of New York’s summer league participants. Morris Almond and Nikoloz Tskitishvili played well in the summer, but the Knicks also had their eye on Blake Ahearn and Mouhamed Sene.

    So who do you think will contribute the most to the Knicks in 2010?

    {democracy:34}

    2009 Summer League: Game 1 Recap

    New York’s first summer league game didn’t go as planned for their two first round draft picks. Jordan Hill hit only 6 of 14 and failed to block a shot. He showed tenacity on the glass (8 rebounds in 28 minutes), but like I noted after New York drafted him most of his created shots were turn around jumpers or fadeaways that were away from the hoop. Hill seems to shy away from contact on the offensive end, and only drew 2 free throws. In post game reports, he admitted to being out of shape, not exactly what you want to hear from the #8 pick. Hill’s draftmate, Toney Douglas, had an even worse shooting night. Playing point guard he shot a miserable 2 of 13 (8 points) although he racked up 11 assists without turning the ball over.

    As for the rest, Morris Almond is making a pitch for shooting guard with his 17 points on 12 shots. He had a Houston-esque boxscore doing little else, grabbing only 1 rebound and notching just a single assist. One thing Almond didn’t do is take a single free throw, surprising considering his propensity to draw contact in the NBDL & NBA. Considering his outside shooting, I’m curious how he gets to the line. Is it Miller-esque jump into your opponent after the fake, does he post up, or can he take it to the paint?

    Tskitishvili started much to my surprise, and just as surprising played well. He connected on 3 of 5 from downtown and blocked 3 shots. I’m still skeptical of the 26 year old all of a suddenly learning how to shoot. Joe Crawford had 10 points on 9 shots and beemed confidence on the court. On one play he drive right at Thabeet, and on another he badly missed a three point shot.

    On the other hand Sene only played 11 minutes, and blocked 3 shots as well, but failed to score a single point and coughed up the ball twice. Sharp shooter Blake Ahearn struggled with his shot, hitting 1 of 8 (including 0-4 from three), although he was an automatic 6-6 from the free throw line. Korolev and Noel never made it on to the court.

    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.

    Knicks Offseason Decisions Begin

    With free agency commencing, the Knicks will have to make a major decision regarding their two restricted free agents, David Lee and Nate Robinson. New York has 8 players on their roster that could play the PF or C position: Curry, Milicic, Hill, Wilcox, Hunter, Sene, Gallinari, Jeffries, and Harrington. So on one hand the Knicks have the depth to let David Lee go. However at a second glance, it’s clear that the team would be hard pressed to replace Lee’s production. Although Hill and Gallinari might develop into NBA starters, none of the above are starting material on a good playoff team. Additionally the Knicks rebounding would suffer significantly, since that group is collectively bad on the glass (save perhaps Hill).

    In the backcourt they face a different dilemma. If Robinson departs without a replacement, Toney Douglas would be the only backup for Duhon at the point. At shooting guard, the team would primarily rely on Chandler and Hughes, with Douglas and Joe Crawford as reserves. If last year was any indication, the Knicks can’t afford to be this thin at guard.

    At this time the popular opinion is that the Knicks would prefer to keep Lee and might let Robinson leave. Considering the current roster construction, it’s hard to envision that scenario because they have more depth behind Lee than Nate. With this being just the start of free agency, the personnel may differ greatly between now and opening day. Not only do other teams covet Robinson and Lee, giving the team the option to shake up their roster with a sign & trade, but there have been rumors about a few Knicks being desired around the league. The Wizards may wish to reunite with Hughes and Jeffries, Wilson Chandler has been coveted by other teams, and with Yao Ming out for the season the Rockets are in hot pursuit of Eddy Curry. OK that last one I made up, but nonetheless there will be many opportunities that could provide New York with the ability to shuffle their roster.

    Not only does the team have to consider this upcoming season, but the one after. The Knicks are poised for making a big splash in free agency next summer, so long term salaries are an issue. New York also needs to think about what talent will be remaining in 2010. Currently they only have 4 players on contract for that season in Curry, Jeffries, Gallinari, and Chandler, with their 2 draft picks this year (Hill and Douglas) likely to join them. While getting rid of both Robinson and Lee would free up their purses, it may leave the cupboard bare for an incoming acquisition. The Knicks will need to balance between making the team attractive for a mega-star and having enough money to bring one in.