The Worst Article Of 2007

Folks it’s about that time of year again, to announce the worst article of 2007. While there were many fine candidates throughout the year there’s one article that was published just 2 days ago that has surpassed all others. I’m proud to say that this work is right up there with previous winners such as Charlie Rosen’s most overrated list, and Frank Hughes 2004 piece. The winner for KnickerBlogger’s worst article of 2007 is brought to us by Lou V. of paperbacknovel titled “Why the Knicks Don’t Suck.. Anymore, But the NY Post and NY Daily News Do (Suck).”

I don’t know what the internet comparable version of “don’t judge a book by it’s color”, but maybe it should be “judge an article by it’s title.” It certainly applies to this year’s worst article winner. Notice the improper use of the ellipsis (two dots instead of three), and how the author has to add the final “(Suck)” in parenthesis because he decided to throw in the word “Anymore”. If the author wanted a better title, he could have dropped both words for a simpler title: “Why the Knicks Don’t Suck, But the NY Post and NY Daily News Do.” But why go for clarity when you’re aiming for much lower?

While I have to admit I thought at first that this would be an Onion-esque satirical piece, I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t. The author, Lou V., starts off by bashing the local media for “getting their [readers’] attentions off real economic and political issues by parading sports and the lottery in front of them.” A reasonable start to an article, as I’ve certainly taken my shots at the mainstream news. Unfortunately he follows it with this monstrocity:

… the Knicks are fine. They remain as they were to start the season — a young, athletic team with guys who can score; they have great chemistry, believe in their coach, and are progressively playing better defense… They’re not a championship team yet, but they’re a good team; a playoff-caliber team.

I guess if you’re going to define “good” as being one of the worst teams in the league, then the 5-11 Knicks are good. By those standards, the 6-10 Clippers are great, the 7-8 Bucks are awesome and the 8-9 Nets are unbeatable. Just about the only thing true in these sentences is that the Knicks are a young athletic team with guys who can score. They do not have good chemistry, and they certainly don’t believe in their coach. Their defense hasn’t progressively improved, in fact it’s been about the same for the last 2 years. No the Knicks aren’t a championship team. No the Knicks aren’t a good team. No the Knicks aren’t a playoff-caliber team. Of course the author throws in this nugget in the same paragraph: “… James Dolan, owner, who has proven to be a stand-up, moral guy …” More on that later.

In his next section Lou V is a bit more sensible. Lou talks about how Isiah was “castigated” by the Renaldo Balkman selection, and states that Larry Brown was viewed favorably due to racism. There’s definitely a valid point to be made with Balkman. Many in the mainstream media criticized Thomas relentlessly for the selection, one that is looking better and better by the day. And yes claiming Larry Brown was liked not because he is one of the better coaches of his generation, flaws and all, because of the color of his skin is one of the more reasonable claims of this column. Read on.

The next section titled “Why Isiah Thomas Doesn’t Suck” is laughable. The author claims that “Isiah has turned the Knicks around in 3 years at the helm as GM.” and “Most GM’s in the NBA would exchange their best three big men for [Curry-Randolph-Lee]in a heartbeat.” I guess you could debate that Isiah has only been around for 3 years, since he is 19 days short of his fourth season. However what’s not debatable is that he’s turned the team around. The Knicks have only bested their ’03 record of 37 wins once in Isiah’s tenure, and are on track for only 25 wins this season.

But it’s the author’s second assertion that has me thinking. How many teams would trade their top 3 big men for the Knicks? Well I think I can safely omit Boston, Orlando, Toronto, San Antonio, Phoenix, Utah, Dallas, and Houston due to their star power at those positions. I might add Miami (Shaq), Chicago (Ben, Thomas, Noah + didn’t want Curry in the first place), Denver (Camby, Nene, K-Mart), Clippers (Brand), Portland (Oden), and Memphis (Gasol). Then there are teams where these three wouldn’t fit in like Golden State (Nellie-ball), and Detroit (‘Sheed/McDyess). Not counting teams that wouldn’t do it for reasons of fiscal irresponsibility, I count 16 teams that wouldn’t trade for our trio tower. Of course I guess a team like the Nets or Lakers might (Bynum?), so Knick fans might want to put in an order for that Kwame Brown or Nenad Krstic jersey they’ve been pining for.

What puts this article at the top of my list is the sidebar containing “Isiah Thomas’s Knicks’ Resume.” Some of the gems:

“Zach Randolph and Fred Jones for Channing Frye? This may go down as one of the great Knick trades ever.”

“Acquired Tim Thomas from Milwaukee and center Nazr Mohammed from Atlanta in a three-team trade…. Mohammed played some good ball in NY, but then helped Isiah rebuild with the trade listed below this one. Tim Thomas played some ball in NY, but then helped Isiah get Eddy Curry from Chicago. This Feb 2004 trade was a fantastic setup trade for the Knicks.”

“Despite the criticisms, Marbury has played a lot of all-star basketball in NY. The final word is still out on this trade as there is still that conditional 1st-round pick hanging out there in 2009 or 2010 that Phoenix gets from NY, but so far, NY got Stephon Marbury for a bunch of crap — including Knick-franchise-of-the-future-according-to-Stu-Laden, Michel Lampe. Penny Hardaway was used by Knicks to help get Stevie Francis, who was used to help get Zach Randolph. Phoenix used this trade to get $7-million under the cap, enabling them to sign free agent Steve Nash, and catapulting them to an elite team. This trade looks good for both teams right now, for different reasons.”

The Knicks best trades of all time: Dave DeBusschere for Bellamy; Riordan and Stallworth for Monroe; Oakley for Camby; and Zach for Frye? Um yeah… The author also credits Isiah for drafting Trevor Ariza and Demitrius Nichols, ignoring the fact that the first was traded and the second’s expulsion from the club was a classic blunder.

Not to be outdone, the author concludes with “Why James Dolan Doesn’t Suck.” He states that “Dolan’s handling of the Anucka Browne Sanders case is prototypical of his high moral fiber.” I guess I couldn’t have said that better myself.

Now Is The Time

Isiah Thomas should be fired. Now. I know it’s only 9 games into the season. And I know that this road trip was brutal. I also know that the next few games are against tough opponents: Golden State, Detroit, Chicago, and Utah. All these teams were in the second round last year. And I know the East has gotten better.

I know that Isiah is a wonderful drafter. I might even dare say he’s possibly the best drafter of all time. Damon Stoudamire, Marcus Camby, Tracy McGrady, David Lee, Nate Robinson, Mardy Collins, Trevor Ariza, and Wilson Chandler. That’s a fantastic team – and off the top of my head I can’t think of any GM that has done better with less in terms of drafting.

I know that the Knick team he inherited was a mess. The NBA’s worst salary cap, with little talent, and no young prospects. Scott Layden’s tenure was awful in New York. He took a near-championship level team, and turned them into a void. And I know this team is better than the one Isiah inherited nearly 4 years ago. I know Isiah wanted a younger and more athletic team. I can’t argue that this team isn’t younger and more athletic. That’s without a doubt.

I know that Isiah has been hit with a string of bad luck. Even Hollinger thought Marbury was a near-All Star around the time the Knicks acquired him. And who thought that a pair of Hall of Fame caliber coaches in Lenny Wilkens and Larry Brown would end up the way they did. OK I might have thought Wilkens would have ended that way, but Larry Brown?

I know all these things. Yet the bottom line remains: this team isn’t a winner. Under Isiah’s tenure, the Knicks have finished with 39, 33, 23, and 33 wins. This year they’ve started off 2-7. And things don’t look to get better. Not with their upcoming schedule.

Dolan gave Isiah his extension early on an impulse. Just when the team was doing the opposite they are now – looking really good. At the time, their win streak put them into the playoffs and seemingly showed that the team had turned the corner. However things are as bleak as they can be. The season has barely begun, and it’s nearly over for New Yorkers. Coming off the heels of an embarrassing summer, and as nearly embarrassing controversy with their point guard. Coming off a road trip where they dropped 4 straight games, the last one by 32. Coming off of 6 straight losses.

Everything is in place for an Isiah exit. Grunwald can take over as GM. Herb Williams is still around to coach. The team is better off than they were 4 years ago. There are some good young players and assets to build on. The only thing left is finding the time to do it. And the time is now.

$11.6M Part III: Why this Means the Knicks Will Continue to Stink

If you haven’t check out Part I and Part II.

In Part II I made a case for how the Anucha Brown Sauders verdict (as well as the handling of Don Chaney’s dismissal) illustrates a fatal flaw–contempt–in Thomas’ decision making style. My point is simply that contempt (a callous disregard for others) is not simply unethical behavior; rather, it is also strongly associated with specific types of poor decisions that continue to haunt this team.

Contempt diminishes the ability to recognize mistakes and learn from them. In moments of complete and total privacy I often wonder if Isiah Thomas recognizes his role in the various messes he’s made. I am not convinced he does, though I suppose only he knows for sure. When Don Chaney said he felt disrespected by the way his situation was handled, Isiah responded that he didn’t think it was appropriate to give Chaney “a 24-hour status update on what was going on.” Of Anucha Brown Saunders, he says, “She made the whole thing up. The jury didn’t listen to the evidence.” Of upper management/ownership in his prior NBA stops in Indiana and Toronto, and in his brief stint with the CBA, Thomas claims they were all just out to get him. Apparently, the international conspiracy dedicated to his downfall continues on unabated to this very day.

The great thing about being contemptuous is always being able to believe that your failures are someone else’s doing–leaving you free to repeat the mistakes you made. So, in Thomas’ mind’s eye the problem is that the players haven’t gelled or that they have underperformed. It’s never that his strategy of stockpiling redundant talent is a limited strategy. Winning the East is a simple matter of landing the right star player. Enter Marbury. Tim Thomas. Crawford. Curry. Steve Francis. Now, Zach Randolph. Without knocking Zebo, who I like, his deal was just more of what Thomas has always done. There’s been no real introspection about the overall approach. He simply doesn’t see a downside.

Contempt breeds an exaggerated need for secrecy and loyalty. If you believed your failures were never of your own making imagine the twisted logic you would need to sustain that kind of fantasy. Real world common sense and people who just won’t play along would constantly threaten this fantasy world with collapsing under its own weight. The Thomases and Dolans of the world, who are contemptuous of others, don’t leave their fantasy world vulnerable to common sense or to people who don’t play along. Instead they prefer to surround themselves with loyalists who enable their fantasies, closing themselves off to “outsiders” as much as possible. Not surprisingly, this behavior suggests intolerance for self-examination, competing approaches, fresh ideas, or honest criticism.

Nowhere has this intolerance been more perfectly exemplified than through the organization’s relationship with Stephon Marbury. If the Brown Saunders verdict has done nothing else it has established beyond any reasonable doubt Thomas’ coddling and enabling of Marbury. Thomas has demanded nothing of Marbury since his arrival, despite making him the face of the franchise. Further, Isiah has sought to punish anyone in the organization or move any player or coach who would dare challenge Marbury to lead. Larry Brown’s no saint. He has his own dysfunctions, which not coincidentally include an exaggerated need for loyalty. But that whole drama is far uglier now in retrospect than it was even at the time.

Where to from here? One reader in the comments on Part II wrote:

How about the fact that the NBA will discipline you for punching someone, but not for sexual harassment?

That’s sticky, because the NBA is a collection of businesses that agree to cooperate on certain aspects of business but leave others to each individual franchise. Since sexual harassment is a civil legal matter I could certainly see the league not wishing to wade in such murky water. If Stern punishes the Knicks it means the league is claiming jurisdiction in that area. That potentially makes the NBA liable to be named a party in the next lawsuit alongside any team. Further, it’s not clear to me that any league punishment (a fine in all likelihood) would be any more of a deterrent than a civil trial. However, the question remains, what will the Knicks do in the aftermath of this case? Given that Dolan and Thomas didn’t have sense enough to keep this case out of court in the first place, and apparently have enough money to throw at appeals, it’s safe to speculate that they probably haven’t learned much.

I imagine that the best the Knicks fans–and I continue to count myself among them–can hope for in the immediate future is a rift between Dolan and Thomas that leads to his dismissal. The problem of course is that Dolan has all the same problems Thomas has. There is little reason to believe he wouldn’t hire another Thomas.

Knicks 2007 Report Card (A to Z): Coach Isiah Thomas

KnickerBlogger: Isiah Thomas started off the 2007 with a lot of pressure on his shoulders. New York had just come of a disastrous 23 win season under Larry Brown. Thomas was widely criticized for taking Renaldo Balkman in the draft. The Knicks’ owner James Dolan gave Thomas an order to improve the team or pack his bags. Thomas was forced to take over as coach of the Knicks, something he promised he wouldn’t do. His reputation as a coach and a general manager were both on the line. In mid-March the Knicks were 29-34 and held the 8th and final playoff spot. Isiah Thomas was given a contract extension as was safe for another year.

However, the team floundered down the stretch. After re-signing Thomas, the Knicks would win only 4 of it’s last 15 games and ended up in 11th place in the East. All in all were 33 wins disappointing? It depends on your expectations. Of the 79 teams in NBA history that had a winning percentage equal to or worse than the 2006 Knicks 23 win team, only 19 of them won 33 or more games the next season. The average improvement of those 79 teams was 8.7 wins, something the 2007 Knicks exceeded. Given those expectations, it’s hard to say Isiah Thomas did a bad job as coach of the Knicks.

However it’s hard to argue that he did a superlative job. Isiah’s main flaws:

  • Allocation of minutes. I’m sure just about every fan quibbles with the substitutions of a coach. In fact I’d be shocked to hear that for each non-playoff team there exists one fan that agrees 100% with the minutes doled out. Nonetheless Isiah Thomas made a few poor decisions along the way. I’ll start by saying that perhaps David Lee’s playing time wasn’t the worst of them. Sure he was the best player on the team, but Thomas still found 30 minutes a night for him. Instead of quibbling over 5 minutes a night for a second year player that came from nowhere, I’d rather concentrate on more heinous crimes.

    Like giving 1307 minutes to Jared Jeffries. Isiah acquired Jeffries with the mid-level exception, and to say Thomas has made bad decisions with the mid-level is like saying Barry Bonds has hit a few home runs. Jeffries followed Vin Baker and Jerome James as free agent strike outs by Isiah. Despite Jeffries’ total ineptitude, Isiah called his number for 23.8 minutes a game. Sitting on the bench behind Jeffries was a superior player in Renaldo Balkman. And Isiah Thomas could have, for lack of a better term, bitch-slapped his draft day detractors by letting Balkman shine in extended minutes.

    But Jeffries wasn’t the only crime. Thomas gave 11 starts to last year’s mid-level exemption Jerome James in order to kickstart the Knicks defense. This was maybe the oddest decision of Isiah’s coaching tenure. Thomas allowed James to play a handful of minutes, only to banish him to the bench for the rest of the game, never to return. Although some of this was done with Lee injured, Thomas had better options to improve the New York defense (Cato, Balkman, Collins, etc.) Hopefully the fine summer league play of Balkman and Morris will mean the end of meaningful minutes to both Jeffries and James.

  • Player development. The only Knick to improve in 2006 under Larry Brown was Jamal Crawford. Brown contained Crawford’s untamed offensive game, and got him to play smarter basketball. With Brown’s tutelage, Crawford attempted fewer wild shots from the perimeter, and drove to the hoop more often. Unfortunately it seems that Isiah Thomas undid most if not all of Brown’s good work. Last year Crawford reverted to his old self: unnecessarily heaving up off low percentage shots. Jamal’s shooting percentage plummeted (47.4 to 45.8 eFG%, 54.4 to 51.7 TS%) as Thomas gave him carte blanche to shoot at will.

    Crawford wasn’t the only player to regress under Thomas. Channing Frye had a sparkling rookie campaign, but floundered miserably as a sophomore. It’s hard to believe that Thomas couldn’t find any way to increase the forward’s confidence. Frye was psychologically shaky, often passing up on outside shots that found the bottom of the net just a year ago. It’s hard to say what caused Frye’s slump, but it’s the coach’s job to motivate his players. And in this case Isiah failed.

  • The defense. We’ve spent a lot of time on this blog dissecting the Knicks offense. However the Knicks’ offense was ranked 10th on March 12th (when Thomas’ contract was extended) before a rash of injuries helped to sink the team. On the other hand, the New York defense was ranked a pitiful 27th at that time and they finished 24th by the season’s end. While part of the problem is due to the construction of the team (which is the fault of Isiah Thomas the president), a share of the blame goes to the coach.

    Thomas failed to make the defense better on any level. He failed to make his players defend better. Take for instance Eddy Curry. Instead of teaching him proper defensive fundamentals, Thomas instructed Curry to avoid fouls. Curry’s foul rate was the lowest of his career, and consequently his block rate was halved. On the other end of the roster, the perimeter was still porous. Knick guards had problems keeping opponents from penetrating, exacerbating Curry’s problems.

    Even if Thomas isn’t to blame for the player’s inability to defend, you could fault him for not using better defenders or schemes. Balkman, who shined as a defender his rookie year, saw only 15.6 minutes per game. Cato, who was certainly no worse defensively than any of the other Knicks centers, played less than a hundred minutes on the season. Additionally Isiah fell in love with a small lineup. Just look at Nate Robinson’s top floor units. The second most frequent unit is a three guard alignment, and two others have Jamal Crawford as the small forward. Crawford played 8% of the team’s total minutes at SF, Mardy Collins played 6%. Meanwhile David Lee only spent 5% at SF. Putting out an undersized unit isn’t done to bolster the defense.

Despite these flaws, Thomas did a commendable job last year. With how much of a crapshoot getting a coach is, it’s hard to think that a random coach could have done better. In the NBA the great coaches are few & far in between, and at the bottom there is a rotating door of assistants and college coaches who fail miserably. That the Knicks improved more than the average team in their situation, shows that Thomas did a fair job.

KnickerBlogger?s Grade: C+

2008 Outlook: The Knicks added some bigger players to the roster, so it’s possible that we’ve seen the end of the small lineup. Instead, we could see lots of big lineups. David Lee could see serious playing time at small forward. Renaldo Balkman (6-8), Demetris Nichols (6-8), and Quentin Richardson (6-6) could see time at shooting guard. Isiah could improve the team by playing the Knicks’ better defenders more often. Balkman should see an extra 10 minutes this year. Collins could see some situational duty. With a poor defensive front court in Curry and Randolph, the Knicks might zone it up more next year. On offense, Isiah Thomas will have to work Zach Randolph into the playbook.

Although last year Thomas received an ultimatum to improve, he’s probably under the same sword of Damocles this year. Certainly the bar is raised again, because 33 wins isn’t going to cut it in 2008. Thomas has a lot of questions to answer this upcoming season. How will Zach Randolph fit in with this team? How many minutes will he find for David Lee? Who will play small forward? Will top summer league performers Renaldo Balkman and Nate Robinson get more playing time? How will the rookies fit in to this team? But no matter what the answers to these questions are, Thomas will be forced to improve. It’d be hard to see the Knicks not make the playoffs and Isiah keep his job.

Knicks 2007 Report Card (A to Z): Nate Robinson

KnickerBlogger: New Yorkers absolutely loved Nate Robinson when he first came to the Knicks. Coming out of the University of Washington, Robinson was a lilliputian guard with colossal physical abilities. Last year Robinson did what you’d expect from an undersized shooting guard. He led all Knick guards in eFG% (51.3%) and 3P% (39.0%) and showed despite his short stature he could get to the line (TS% 55.2%, second among Knick guards). Due to his efficient scoring ability, Robinson was second on the team in points per 40 minutes (19.0 pts/40) only behind Eddy Curry. Not just a one dimensional scorer, among Knick guards Robinson was the best in respect to offensive rebounds (1.6 OREB/40) and turnovers (2.1 TO/40), and second best in respect to steals (1.5 STL/40). Yet despite all that, Robinson is no longer a fan favorite. So what happened?

Simply put, Nate Robinson is his own worst enemy. Along with his diminutive stature and his youthful enthusiasm, Robinson comes with a childlike temperament. There’s a fine line between having a zest for the game and acting like a grade schooler. Robinson not only crosses that line, he lives on it. Less than one month into the season, Nate attempted an in game alley-oop dunk on a fast break, only to be called for traveling on the play. Throwing away points on a losing team for the sake of showboating is among the game’s cardinal sins.

Robinson exacerbated his image problem by perpetually arguing with officials. It’s annoying when a marquee player like Tim Duncan disputes every call, but it’s downright unbearable when a bench guy like Robinson does it. Unfortunately, Nate gave himself plenty of opportunities to argue with officials as his foul rate (4.7 PF/40) was equal to Marbury (2.7 PF/40) and Crawford’s (2.1 PF/40) combined.

Robinson’s immaturity causes his actions to be viewed by the public through tinted glasses. Take for instance Nate’s role in the Denver melee. In the past plenty of Knicks have improved their public image through fisticuffs. Fighting improved Starks, Childs, and L.J.’s popularity among Knick fans. Although Nate was an instigator in the event, it’s hard to believe that a player with a calmer outward demeanor like Eddy Curry would have been seen in the same light. Had Curry been involved, the local airwaves would be talking about his moxie and willingness to defend his teammate. But Robinson was vilified for his role. It’s ironic considering a few years ago, Knicknation was up in arms when no one came to the rescue of Tim Thomas after Jason Collins slammed him to the floor.

To be fair, Nate’s negatives aren’t all in his head. His defense is suspect, and his assist rate is minuscule for a guard. While 82games.com says the Knicks are 2.4 points per 100 possessions better defensively with Robinson on the floor, opposing PGs are better than average (16.3 oPER) when Nate guards them. To the eye Robinson struggles mightily against the pick & roll, and other than the steals he doesn’t do anything particularly well on defense. I would rate him a mediocre to average defender.

Most people expect Robinson to be a point guard due to his height, but he’s really more of a shooting guard. Even accounting for that, his assist rate is subpar. As I said earlier, the Knick offense allows all the guards to play the point interchangeably. But it seems that Robinson isn’t sharing enough with his teammates. To put things in perspective, his 2.7 AST/40 is about the same as David Lee’s 2.4 AST/40 who rarely touches the ball. Nate does have the ability to make the spectacular play, and can pass the ball on his drives. It just that he desires to take the shot instead of making the pass. Normally you wouldn’t mind that from a guard that shoots as efficiently as Robinson. But then again Robinson suffers from his poor image, one that being a greedy guard certainly fits in with. In a way, for Nate Robinson hell is other people.

KnickerBlogger’s Grade: C, due to bad behavior.

2008 Outlook: With Nate Robinson entering his third season, it’s time to evaluate whether his poor decision making in the past was just youthful exuberance, or if it will continue to be a Rasheed Wallace like permanent petulance. I don’t expect Nate Robinson to turn into John Stockton, because he’s such an excitable person. What I would like to see is for Nate to take his job a little more seriously.

Robinson played 21.4 min/g under Larry Brown, and 21.2 min/g under Isiah Thomas. It seems that two coaches, who had very different views & philosophies, saw Robinson in the same light. If Nate wants to shed his role as spark off the bench, he’ll need to shed his image as a circus act crammed into a basketball uniform. It’ll be interesting to see how Nate plays in the preseason. I can envision Isiah giving Robinson more minutes due to his strong summer showing. If Nate can continue his productive ways, it could mean more playing time when the season starts. That would be a good thing, since the Knicks are paper thin at shooting guard, and they could use Robinson’s production.

Dave Crockett

In many ways KB’s take on Robinson has been by far the most “fair and balanced” (pardon the regrettable and unintended pun) I’ve read. I agree with his take on Robinson in total, but I also wish to offer a complementary perspective that’s less about Robinson’s performance than Robinson as a character in the theater that is professional sports. It’s easy to forget that sports is more than the simple pursuit of competitive dominance since that is precisely what the regular visitors to this blog come to read about and discuss. But, pro sports is also improv theater and all good theater (or “good copy,” to use the parlance of journalists) needs “heroes,” “bad boys,” and “villains.” As the great fat sage, Charles Barkley, is purported to have once said, “They can love you or they can hate you. Both sell tickets.”

Robinson, through a combination of his own immaturity as well as the fickle nature of media and fans, has gone from being a precocious but impish bad boy to something of a villain in just two full seasons. Though Robinson has clearly been the catalyst for his own fall from the good graces of many Knicks fans I also think he’s suffered from a demand for a steady of supply of villains that is becoming insatiable. Most of the time in professional sports players move seamlessly between the basic “villain,” “bad boy,” and “hero” roles for any number of reasons through a process that is reasonably organic and not always totally predictable. (I suspect many readers aren’t old enough to remember when Muhammad Ali was a villain to much of the American sporting public. He was hated in no uncertain terms. He had perhaps the most amazing role transformation ever.) But increasingly, the theater of pro sports has come to resemble the theater of pro ‘rasslin’ in its predictability, its cardboard cutouts of who gets assigned to which roles and for how long.

In Robinson’s case, since the Denver fight I see him being typecast as a particularly crappy villain archetype, and I really hope he’s allowed to work his way out of it. I call it the “Jeff George” villain archetype. Sometimes a player opens himself up to fan/media disdain by doing something over-the-top or exposing himself as a jerk and for whatever reason isn’t allowed much of a shot at redemption. Soon, the guy just can’t do anything right. The media fits him with a black top hat and a curly-Q mustache and it becomes obvious to the audience that he’s the guy to hate. (Note: I’m talking about sports-related stuff here NOT criminal or near-criminal behavior.) If you remember former NFL QB Jeff George, he was by most accounts a pompous jerk; universally reviled by fans, media, opposing players, even teammates and coaches. You would think by the way people couldn’t wait to denounce him that the NFL was not littered with similarly unbearable jerks. But of course it was, and is. As much as I truly loath Kansas City Star (and former ESPN.com) columnist Jason Whitlock, I must agree with his sentiment that no one can point to anything George ever said or did that was uniquely awful.

Robinson, though not having “achieved” anything approaching the pariah status of George, seems to be quickly approaching the “can’t do anything right” status that is the hallmark of the Jeff George villain archetype. Hell, watch any Knick’s telecast with Mike Breen (even before the fight) and you’ll see what I mean. Regardless of what Robinson actually did on the court Breen would raise questions about his immaturity and decision-making, typically citing his ball-handling, shot selection, and his role in the Denver fight as prima facie evidence. So a poor shooting night or any turnover became proof of Robinson’s immaturity and poor decision-making. Yet somehow a good shooting/low turnover night did not indicate maturity or improved decision-making. The “Nate Robinson cautionary tale” always spins such a night as proof of how much talent Robinson is potentially squandering by his immaturity and poor decision-making.

My outlook for Robinson in 2008 completely mirrors KB’s in most respects. I believe Robinson is quite important to the Knicks playoffs chances. Not only are the Knicks thin at the SG, my entirely intuitive suspicion is that Crawford’s injury last season may be the first in a string of small-but-ongoing leg-related ailments that may keep him shuttling in and out of the lineup. So I believe the Knicks need Robinson to improve; it’s not a luxury. To do so he will have to start with the man in the mirror. Whether he is the new Jeff George or the new Bozo the Clown he simply must learn to focus on things that help the team win and leave the nonsense alone–period. But, I also urge the fans not to give up on this kid. He’s already a useful player and has the chance to get even better.

Brian Cronin – Man, Dave just reminded me of how annoying Mike Breen can be sometimes. The man is a GREAT announcer, but I think he works better on national telecasts, where he is not close to the situation, because man, he certainly seems to have soured upon the Knicks.

Breen reminds me of the stereotypical middle age guy complaining about how the NBA is “all thugs” nowadays. Those guys annoy me so much.

Anyhow, as to Robinson, the guy definitely exhibits some weird behavior, but since the fight, I thought he was actually a lot calmer than before the fight, and he seemed like a real nice asset to the team as an outside shooter. I hated when he tried to control the offense at times (that is not his specialty), but as a guy there to hit the outside shot, I like him there more than most other Knicks, and I think he will be a useful player this season.

Has the United States Made the Adjustment?

Yesterday, the United States brought their record in the FIBA Americas Championships to 3-0 with a 50 point throttling of Canada, 113-63.

Through the first three games, the US is averaging a winning margin of 52 points per game.

While these early opponents aren’t all that impressive, the dominance of the victories IS, and it is a very good sign for the return of United States competitiveness in international play. And really, it seems to be a simple solution to their past problems – the US seems to have actually taken the situation SERIOUSLY for the first time in some years. Read More

Knicks 2007 Report Card (A to Z): Stephon Marbury

KnickerBlogger: When Marbury first arrived in New York, the Knicks’ offense centered around his pick & roll game. Stephon was never a top flight offensive talent, but was consistently good, a near All Star. However in 2006 Larry Brown insisted on stamping his brand of basketball on the offense and curtailed Marbury’s game. The Knick guard had career lows in assists and points (per 40 minutes), even lower than his rookie year as a 19 year old neophyte. Consequently Mabury’s PER dropped from a steady 20/21 to a pedestrian 16.5. Surely it seemed that Marbury’s decline in production was caused by Brown’s iron fist.

Going into the 2007 season Marbury should have reverted to his old form. Not only was he freed from Brown’s restrictive offense, but he would be playing for the former point guard that acquired him. Unfortunately for Coney Island’s brightest, Marbury’s numbers didn’t recover to his pre-Brown levels. Instead Stephon’s numbers declined for the second straight year, and again he set career lows in assists and points (per 40 minutes). Marbury’s drop in assists is alarming as his 5.9 AST/40 is sickly for a point guard. So what’s the deal? After 2 consecutive declining season is the Knick guard washed up?

My answer is ‘no’, or better yet ‘not exactly’. The Knick offense moved away from the pick & roll, Marbury’s bread & butter, to a more open offense. As last season began, Isiah installed “The Quick?”, an amalgamation of offenses. As described by coach Thomas, “The Quick?” was modular where the non-post players took turns running the point. So it’s not so much that Marbury became a worse player, but instead it’s the Knick offense diminished his role.

Last year Marbury was unable to dominate the ball as he was accustomed. To exacerbate the problem Marbury had to share the backcourt with another ball-happy guard in Steve Francis. More often than not, Marbury was a spectator watching his teammates run the offense. Often he had trouble feeding Eddy Curry in the post, and without constant possession of the ball his scoring declined. A master at the pick & roll, Marbury was mortal outside of that role.

On the other hand, Marbury’s shooting percentages improved from the reduced usage. His eFG% and TS% (48.0% and 53.9%) were above their career averages, and his 3P% (35.7%) was the highest of his career. He also turned the ball over less than ever (2.6 TO/40). As an added bonus he seemed to put an extra effort into the defensive side of the ball. Whether or not this actually improved his defense is debatable, as his numbers at 82games are awful. The Knicks were 5.4 points worse on defense with Marbury on the court, and point guards averaged a healthy PER of 17.4 with Steph on the floor. Marbury’s main weakness is his poor lateral speed as last year he absolutely got killed by quicker point guards. Still the effort was a departure from previous seasons where Marbury seemed disinterested on his own end of the court. There were times he took the tougher assignment by taking on the opposing SG, and on some nights he did a fair job. But as we learned from Jamal Crawford, the NBA is such that you need consistent production every night, and overall on the season Marbury’s defense was still below average.

KnickerBlogger’s Grade: C+

2008 Outlook: With Marbury entering his 30s, the Knicks will eventually need a new starting point guard. Stephon entered the league at the tender age of 19, and has been an iron man for most of his career. Combine his long tenure with his high minute per game average, and that’s a lot of wear and tear on his 6-2 frame. He has missed more games in the last 2 years (30) than he did in the 8 seasons prior (25). Marbury was never a good defender to begin with, and although he’s putting in more effort on the defensive end, he still gets beaten by inferior players.

One indication that Marbury still has life in those $15 shoes is that his free throw attempt per field goal attempt rate hasn’t declined. Aging players that have lost a step become less able to get to the hoop and draw contact. Since Marbury seems to still have his athleticism and has trouble setting up his teammates in Isiah’s offense, Zeke should put some more pick & roll plays into the 2008 Knicks playbook. This is especially true considering the acquisition of a second post player with a range on his jumper, in Zach Randolph. Looking at some of the other options at guard, namely Crawford and Collins, increasing Marbury’s shot attempts in the offense wouldn’t be such a bad idea.

At this stage of his career, Marbury is no longer the focal point of his team’s offense. However even with his reduced role, he is still an efficient scorer. One thing Isiah might try in 2008 is to reduce Marbury’s minutes per game. The Knicks aren’t suffering from a lack of depth as Nate Robinson earned MVP honors in summer league, and Mardy Collins is useful with his stout defensive presence. Since Marbury’s reduced role in his offense seemed to increase his defensive desire, a decrease in his minutes might invigorate Stephon and produce better defensive results on the court.

Brian Cronin – My strongest memory of Marbury from this past season is the stretch after Crawford and Lee went down that Marbury seemed like he determined that he had to score like crazy for the Knicks to have a chance at winning – so he just went out and did that, scoring 23, 34, 38 and 40 in his next four games, lending credence to the argument that Marbury was allowing his numbers to go down for the betterment of the team, which is nice to see from a player (and another reason why basketball statistics are so difficult – as Marbury’s numbers were worse than normal for the “betterment of the team”).

I think a C+ is fair. I was considering a B-, but yeah, that’s probably a BIT high. I wish Marbury would be able to find Curry in the paint more often, but at least, as Mike mentions, Randolph seems to be a good pick and roll partner for Marbury.

Oh, and Marbury also gave us one of the comedic high points of the past NBA year, so that’s something, right?