The MD’A and the Thibs: A Parable

You have probably heard the  cliché “defense wins championships” more times in your sports-watching and -enjoying life than you can recall. Even though there have been a number of teams that have relied more on their offense than their defense, it’s a phrase that will bring conversations about the games we love to a shuddering halt.

But the fact that we’re calling it a cliché speaks to the fact that both causal and utterly devoted fans are starting to realize that there’s a lot more to winning than simply blurting out those three three words like slamming a concrete block on the table in the midst of a dinner party, folding one’s arms, glaring at the shocked and/or pearl-clutching fellow guests and assuming that  evening is over.

Which brings us to former Los Angeles Lakers head coach Mike D’Antoni and current Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. For both these gents, the general assumption is that they’re fairly one-dimensional, wringing as much juice out of their innovations on one side of the floor while totally disregarding the other, while getting the most out of role players and playing guys way too many minutes. The thing is (again, we’re talking about the casual fan’s view here), Thibs is a genius and D’Antoni is a tired hack whose philosophy has been more or less incorporated by many of the teams in the league and probably should be sent out to the coach’s version of an old folks’ retirement community.

Prior to Phil Jackson’s arrival in New York, Thibodeau was the guy that many Knicks fans wanted. The ‘Bockers have been down this road before, though,  with the offensive genius that is/was D’Antoni. We know how that turned out, but there are a lot of parallels between the two situations. D’Antoni was as hot of a commodity around the league as Thibodeau is now, and left Phoenix for what he thought would be greener pastures. Thibodeau may be feeling the same sense of wanderlust, what with Derrick Rose’s injury history and his reported rift with the front office. It wouldn’t shock me if Thibodeau stayed in Chicago, but it wouldn’t shock me if he left for what he thinks might be a nicer coaching neighborhood either.

D’Antoni had a great thing going in Phoenix, but ultimately decided to cash in on his demand. That’s a decision he reportedly still regrets to this day. Thibodeau hasn’t achieved the playoff success he probably would have liked by this point in his tenure, but he still boasts former league MVP on the roster and the current Defensive Player of the Year. Thibodeau would probably be wise to ride it out in Chicago like D’Antoni should have chosen to do in Phoenix.

If you have a below-average roster, but your guys play hard and are statistically above-average on defense the team becomes a great story. Sure, they may be basically reenacting Sharknado on the offensive end of the floor, but if they’re gritty and trying hard defensively they’ll typically still be viewed as a lovable underdog. The 2013-14 Chicago Bulls fit this description for the most part, and Thibodeau is praised for it. Does Thibodeau deserve a lot of credit for getting the most out of his players he possibly can? Of course, but the team was still 28th in the league in offensive efficiency. On the flipside, the Bulls were second in the league in defensive efficiency.

Would having Derrick Rose in the lineup change things significantly for the Bulls offensive efficiency? Of course, the 2010-11 Bulls team was top-5 in both categories. So, Thibodeau has shown he can craft an effective stratagem on both sides of the floor when Rose is around to run it.

Like Thibodeau, D’Antoni has had the misfortune of not having an elite point guard for a long time dating all the way back to his Phoenix Suns days with Steve Nash. He didn’t win a championship, but he came pretty close in a much more competitive conference. With Nash, the Suns had seasons where they were the most efficient team in the league offensively, and still fell in the top half of the league in defensive efficiency. Just because he didn’t win a title doesn’t mean D’Antoni’s time in Phoenix wasn’t a huge success. It was.

At the time, fans and analysts loved the Suns, and more importantly D’Antoni’s style, but time went on and he was never able to win a title. He never got the Suns to the NBA Finals, but neither has Thibodeau. The former has seen his reputation become increasingly diminished because of how his tenure in New York and Los Angeles turned out. The latter has seen his reputation continue to rise and could possibly replace the former in Los Angeles. Why? Because defense and grit is an easier sell to the fans.

Thibodeau is praised for winning almost 50 games with D.J. Augustine at point guard, while D’Antoni got just the same production out of lottery bust Kendall Marshall, if not more. But narratives you see. The reason being the Lakers were a dumpster fire this season with all of their injuries, while the Bulls played an Eastern Conference schedule and weren’t decimated to the extent of the Lakers. It’s just the nature of the beast.

D’Antoni isn’t an elite NBA head coach, but he’s a really good one who can win a lot of games when he has an above-average point guard and a roster that fits his style. Same can said for Thibodeau, and that’s perfectly fine.

Thibodeau hasn’t been a head coach in the league as long as D’Antoni, and his teams are easy to cheer for, much like D’Antoni’s Suns teams. That’s not something he can control, obviously, but if things go sour in Chicago and Rose never returns to his MVP form the Bulls fan base will get more seasons highlighted by one-dimensional play. The big question will be how long they’ll put up with it.  If Thibodeau goes to Los Angeles or anywhere else and gets saddled with the roster and injury concerns D’Antoni’s last two coaching jobs have had he too may suffer the same unfair scrutiny D’Antoni has undergone in recent years. Again, that just seems to be the nature of the beast.

Granted, there is fact-based underpinning with regards to the defense/offense schism. As Chris Herring of the Wall Street Journal wrote today:

Since the NBA’s first season in 1946-47, only 10 teams that led the league in scoring went on to win the title. Just two of those have been since the 1970s, none since 1998. And statistically speaking, there has been a slightly negative correlation between a fast-paced team’s number of possessions a game in the regular season and winning in the postseason, according to Stats LLC.

Or maybe the narrative will always be different for coaches like Thibodeau. Perhaps no matter how similar D’Antoni and Thibodeau are as head coaches, being known as the defensive-minded coach will always trump the offensive-minded coach in the national spotlight.

Mike D’Antoni and the Shadow of Showtime

Introduction: Two Guys Walk into a G-Chat Window

me: zach lowe wrote a better version of everything i wanted to write about d’antoni. like literally every point i was going to make: d’antoni is 1) a great offensive coach who 2) got short-shrifted because of people choosing to look at things without nuance and 3) has had a decent (if not great) defense any time he has had above average defensive personnel and 4) now has dwight frigging howard.

Jim Cavan: I think the whole “Buss wanted Showtime 2” angle would be interesting, vis-a-vis how much theoretical wiggle room it gives D’Antoni

me: hmm

Part the First: What iz a Showtimez?

With apologies to Moses Malone and his twelve-thirteenths-accurate prediction on the outcome of the 1983 postseason, there is not a team in NBA history more identified with its unofficial moniker than the Showtime Lakers that rode to glory in the 1980’s under Pat Riley (who, like Moses, stopped counting at fo’). Because of the inability to separate the team from the nickname and the nickname from the team, it is easy to take just this one word as an adequate and all-encompassing description of a monolithic team that runned* and gunned at lightning speed, outscoring an endless progression of huffing and puffing opponents for a full decade.

*Screw grammar, this phrase should rhyme no matter the tense.

Some facts:

  • Pat Riley took over as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers 11 games into the 1981-82 season. He remained head coach through the end of the 1989-1990 season. The Lakers finished in first place in both of those seasons and every one in between. Their lowest win total over this stretch was 54 games. Their average win total was exactly 60.00.
  • NBA teams completed 213 full seasons in that 9 year span (i.e., the sum of the number of teams in the NBA for each year in the sample). If you sort these 213 seasons by Pace, Showtime’s entries rank 44, 45, 56, 57, 64, 89, 124, 152, and 199. As you might expect, they got slower as they got older. The mean of those 9 numbers is 92.2 compared to a sample mean of 106.5. On average, the Showtime Lakers played faster than the average 1980’s team, but not by much. Even their fastest season does not fall in the top 2 deciles of the sample (Unsurprisingly, the top 5 teams in the sample are all Nuggets teams, including every single Denver entry from 1981-82 through 1984-85). Speaking only in terms of pace, Showtime was unremarkable.
  • Sort those same 213 seasons by offensive rating, however, and reality begins to conform a bit more with perception. The 1986-87 Lakers scored more efficiently than any other team in the sample (an astonishing 115.6 points per 100) and five other Showtime squads turn up in the top 11. The worst Showtime offense was the first; the 1981-82 Lakers scored 110.2 points per 100, which still claims a spot in the top 25% of the sample and would have finished second in the league last season. Showtime’s ability to produce points was every bit as good as the mythology suggests.
  • How did Showtime produce points? Why, that’s simple: they made ALL OF THEIR SHOTS. Of the 213 seasons completed by NBA teams between 1981-82 and 1989-90, the Showtime Lakers registered the 4 best team field goal percentages, including a 1984-85 campaign when they converted on an absolutely unreal 54.5% (!!!!!!!!!) of their shots from the floor. Of the nine Lakers who played at least 1,000 minutes that season, eight of them shot at least 52%. This is completely and utterly unprecedented and, given the league’s ever-increasing emphasis on the three-pointer, will absolutely never ever ever be replicated. Ever.*
  • It bears mentioning that the Lakers’ FG% and eFG% dominance was the most important, but not only, component of their offensive brilliance — all nine entries for each of the other three four factors (TOV%, FT Rate, OREB%) also land in the top half of the sample. As a result, they finished first in ORtg 6 times, second twice, and fifth once (in 1983-84, when Magic played only 67 games). Altogether it adds up to the greatest stretch of offensive dominance in the modern history of the NBA. And other than the aesthetic beauty of the Magic/Worthy fastbreak, pace had very little to do with it.
  • Stylistic offensive indicators fluctuated wildly over the course of the Showtime Era, revealing a team that was able to adapt to an evolving league. For example, the Lakers’ pace changed as mentioned above, their annual 3-point attempt totals ranged from 94 to 841, and their FT/FGA ratio ranged from .20 to .28.
  • Oh! Defense! Never better than 7th, only once worse than 10th. Remarkably consistent in being good but not great.

*The 3 seasons that didn’t land in the top 10 ranked 16th, 25th, and 54th. The outlier was 1989-90, the year after Kareem retired. In that season, the Lakers decided on the fly to slow things down and become an all-out 3-point shooting team. They made 37% from deep, meaning that despite the (relatively) pedestrian FG%, that squad’s eFG% is still 21st best in the sample. They also reduced their turnover rate to 12.8%, making their 1989-90 ORtg the sixth best in the sample despite a marked drop-off in what had previously been their offensive bread-and-butter. They won 63 games and made the Finals. Ugh…Riley is a genius. Let’s move on.

So, from a strictly statistical perspective, “Showtime” is stylistically elusive but unfailingly efficient. In the unfeeling eyes of data, “Showtime” simply meant playing at an above-average (but unspectacular) pace and making shots at a clip that nobody else could match. I have now taken the most beautiful offense in the history of basketball and reduced it to a few numbers and some descriptors that could also apply to a German widget factory. You’re welcome.

Part the Second: Once You Pop…

[Sets stopwatch to seven seconds. PressessssssssssSTART.]

Mike D’Antoni is an NBA coach (SHOT)

He first coached in Denver but gained prominence in Phoenix in the early part of the last decade (SHOT)

He built an offense around the wizard-like point guard skills of the previously underappreciated Steve Nash (SHOT)

Together, he, Nash, Amar’e Stoudemire, and a bevy of shooters as nameless as (but far more accurate than) henchmen in a Bond film built the best offense since the Showtime Lakers called it a decade (SHOT)

He left Phoenix (likely under some degree of organizational duress) to coach the New York Knicks who hoped to use the cache of his famously player-friendly system to woo LeBron James to Madison Square Garden (SHOT)

The Knicks struck out in the LeBron sweepstakes and signed D’Antoni’s old finisher Stoudemire as something of a consolation prize (SHOT)

With Stoudemire, journeyman point guard Ray Felton, and a cast of has-beens, never-weres, and theretofore-unknowns, D’Antoni constructed a free-flowing, pick-and-roll heavy offense that made an MVP candidate of Amar’e and turned his no-name supporting cast into the most adored Knicks squad in over a decade (SHOT)

Said supporting cast was traded, practically in its entirety, for Carmelo Anthony, perhaps the NBA player whose offensive philosophy was least compatible with D’Antoni’s (SHOT)

You know that thing that usually happens when there is a stylistic or philosophical clash between an NBA coach and a dynamic, marketable star player with 4 years left on his contract and the hopes of a city on his shoulders? Well, it happened. (WHISTLE)

Many assumed that this would mark the end of D’Antoni’s head coaching career, saddled as he was with a reputation for running an amusing sideshow that would never seem attractive to a team with title hopes. Like, say, the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers…

Part the Third: …You Can’t Stop!

A G-Chat Conversation with a Friend: 31 October, 2012

Julian: they prob should fire brown. i say probably b/c idk who they would hire.

me: d’antoni! lakers should basically say to d’antoni you can be the coach but our condition is we are hiring a defensive coordinator who will be given a lot of autonomy. non-negotiable.

Julian: hah. i think it would fail for the same reasons that it failed in ny

me: knicks defense was good under d’antoni once they got chandler, dwight should have the same effect

Julian: kobe will complain just like melo did about being asked to camp at the 3pt line and watch them run high pnr

me: kobe can break the scoring record at that pace and with those open looks AND save his legs

Julian: yeah well, he won’t see it that way

me: what available coach is better than dantoni?

Julian: idk that there is one, i just don’t see any way kobe accepts dantoni’s scheme

A G-Chat Conversation with a Friend: 9 November, 2012

me: mike brown

Julian: fired? hah.

me: yeah. didn’t buss vote-of-confidence him like yesterday? like i know a vote of confidence is typically a bad sign but not THAT fast.

Julian: yeah that’s incredible. oh, dantoni. the same thing is just going to happen that happened with melo though unless dantoni isn’t going to try it. but why hire him then?

me: you don’t think nash helps get buy-in?

Julian: nah i don’t, kobe is too alpha and has already won in a way that suits him

me: would be so awesome if they hired d’antoni, kobe complained, and they traded kobe. obv 0% chance but it would be like my favorite thing any team did ever.

Julian: do you think jackson comes back? big risk to his legacy

me: i think its pretty no-win for him

Julian: yeah. now at least i can see how correct i was about it being impossible that brown was the major problem.

Part the Fourth: Whither Showtime?

First of all, Mike D’Antoni does not run an offense that bears any special resemblance to Showtime . He has never coached a player with the back-to-the-basket acumen of Kareem (few have) and would have to fundamentally change his system to accommodate one.* His preferred wings, who are instructed first and foremost to get open beyond the arc and shoot quickly off of the catch, could not be more diametrically opposed to James Worthy in offensive style.** And while one could argue that Magic and Nash are the two greatest playmakers and visionaries in the history of their position, their similarities mostly end there (where Magic had size and versatility, Nash moves with the ball like Lionel Messi and has an all-time great jumper). The reason that D’Antoni’s offense is compared to Showtime is, really, quite simple:

1) D’Antoni teams play fast.

2) 80’s offenses played fast.

3) Showtime was the best and most memorable 80’s offense, even if it was not especially fast in the context of its time.

*Gasol, while obviously not Kareem, is a great post scorer, but happens to be an even better pick-and-roll big and passer. Look for him to play a more versatile but less explosive version of the Amar’e role in D’Antoni’s system. That is, when Howard isn’t playing a MORE explosive but LESS versatile version of the Amar’e role. God, this offense could crush the world.

**Worthy was a 24% career three point shooter who attempted roughly 3/4 of his career threes in the four years after Riley left and Worthy’s knees began to rob him of his all-world talent as a finisher. To the extent that Showtime had a three-point-shooting element, it was provided by Byron Scott and Michael Cooper and was mostly marginalized until Riley’s last couple of years.

Sometimes free association lends impressions that differ from analytically-derived conclusions. But sometimes, and maybe this is the big point here, it’s the impression that matters more. What if 7 Seconds or Less takes off in LA? What if Kobe buys in and Gasol and Nash make music and Howard gives Coach Mike that One Thing he never had in Phoenix and Ron Artest and Antawn Jamison go all Quentin Richardson and Boris Diaw on us? What if the Lakers ride a breathtaking floor general and a Hall of Fame wing and the league’s most skilled big and the league’s most physically dominant force and a bunch of Guys You Forgot About to a historically great offense and an NBA title? What if they look beautiful while they do it? And what if, in so doing, they bring about the redemption of a coach who seems to have taken a wrong turn between Innovator and Mastermind that has landed him at Novelty?

Will it be Showtime? Not really. But should we care?

Knicks 114, Bucks 108

I take it you’re here to read about Toney Douglas?

Tonight, Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups made their Knicks debuts. Both shot poorly from the field (10/25 and 4/12 respectively), but each made key contributions in the fourth quarter as the Knicks held on for a 114-108 win over a Bucks team that is just 8-22 on the road. On most nights this wouldn’t have been good enough, but the Bucks missed enough open looks and made enough telegraphed passes for the Knicks to keep their noses out in front. And Toney Douglas, who…wait this sentence needs it’s own paragraph:

Ahem. And Toney Douglas, who, all of 20 months since the day he was drafted, is now THE LONGEST TENURED NEW YORK KNICK, took care of the rest.

Douglas made all 7 of his two point attempts and 3 of his 5 three point attempts en route to 23 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals in his 29 minutes. Bigger perhaps than any of Douglas’ makes, though, was a full-speed, sprinting, leaping offensive rebound in the final minute that allowed the Knicks to burn an initial 24 seconds off the clock and, ultimately, allowed Carmelo Anthony to knock down an 8-foot jumper and play the role of hero on his first night as a Knick.

But we’re not here to talk much more about Douglas. As soon as news broke that he would be making his debut tonight, the game became about Carmelo Anthony and, to a lesser extent, fellow newbie Chauncey Billups. To the extent that we focused on the incumbent Knicks, we did so with an eye towards how they looked alongside their newer teammates.

‘Melo put up numbers — 27 and 11 in the end — and did well to limit his turnovers (he had two), but his shot was off all night and it was well into the second half before he knocked down a jumper. Once he did he looked far more comfortable, putting up 11 fourth quarter points — the two most important of which came on the tail end of the play detailed above. Melo’s first step and dribble penetration were there — even spectacular on a couple of occasions — and he was able to create plenty of space for himself. But whether it was jetlag, unfamiliar surroundings, or nerves, he just didn’t have his aim. He’ll never be a hugely efficient scorer, but he’s not gonna shoot 40% every night either. He’ll be fine on offense.

Defensively…ouch. It was as bad as advertised. ‘Melo was completely indifferent in switching on even the most straightforward Bucks ball movement, and he consistently floated off of his man to rim-hang and look for rebounds. Let’s hope he was tired and conserving his energy, but it was not an encouraging performance (despite a couple of steals).

Billups was more impressive, though he suffered from the same shooting maladies (4/12) that afflicted his fellow debutante. Chauncey made up for it with a well-rounded game — 21 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds, and only 2 turnovers — and a barrage of late game free throws (12/12) that helped secure the victory. Defensively, he frustrated Brandon Jennings with physicality and got a couple of steals — nothing spectacular but he more or less held his own. He was beaten a couple times by the much quicker Jennings, who would have had a better-looking stat line if not for a few bad misses at the rim.

Amare Stoudemire had a night to forget, seemingly as a result of his determination to make it a night to remember. He looked overenthusiastic all game, consistently shooting too strong, committing needless fouls to the point of disqualification, and ultimately registering his 15th technical of the season. He was, at least, 7 for 7 from the line — the sole highlight in an otherwise uninspiring stat line. He and Chauncey played reasonably well together; hopefully they’ll click much faster than did STAT and Felton, who needed a couple of weeks to get in rhythm back in November. He drew a foul off of one really great entry pass from Anthony as well — the ability of these two to coexist and enhance each other is obviously the rock upon which the Knicks have built their Church and we saw flashes of it tonight, although it will need to get much more consistent.

I don’t want to draw a bunch of conclusions from one game. Instead, I’d like to focus on what I expect from the new-look Knicks and comment on where tonight’s game matched those expectations.

OFFENSE:

1) Overall: Concerns over the efficacy of the Knicks’ “new” offense are premature and, at least in my opinion, pretty unconvincing. Essentially, the trade combined key pieces of the league’s 1st-rated (Denver) and 7th-rated (Knicks) offenses, while eschewing several of the more defensively competent members of each team (Nene, Afflalo, Anderson, Felton, Chandler). Does every single piece fit perfectly? No. Do I expect this group to make beautiful music from the get-go? Not really. But this will pretty immediately be a well-above-average offense with elite potential depending on how the personnel clicks and whether any additions are made. There’s just too much talent for that not to happen.

Tonight, the Knicks scored 114 points on — by my count — 99 possessions. That’s 115 per 100 possessions. Pre-trade, the Knicks averaged 109.8 per 100. Milwaukee, a strong defensive team, allows just 102.6 points per 100 possessions (5th best in the league). This all happened despite bad nights from the field by the Knicks 3 best players. The offense will be fine.

2) Field Goal Shooting efficiency: The knock against ‘Melo, as even a cursory review of our comment boards will reveal, is that he’s a volume scorer who doesn’t score efficiently. And his eFG% (.474) is not good — it’s actually slightly worse than Raymond Felton’s. Luckily for the Knicks, they’ve added Chauncey Billups, whose .536 eFG% is 34th in the league and 4th among point guards. And they still have the super-efficient Landry Fields, whose .590 mark has him 7th in the NBA and should only increase with better looks. Stoudemire is no slouch, with a .511 eFG% that is comfortably above league average. The trade also means more minutes (and, hopefully, more open looks) for Shawne Williams and Toney Douglas, each of whom has the potential to score with very high efficiency as a spot up shooter. Basically, the Knicks were 9th in the league in this category pre-trade and I would be surprised if they didn’t take a small step forward, although this relies somewhat on the Knicks bench players taking on bigger roles as floor-spacers.

Tonight, the Knicks put up a .550 eFG%, unsustainably high for a full team but certainly a nice first data point.

3) Free Throws: And this is where it could be awesome. There are 71 players in the NBA who play 30+ minutes per game and have usage rates above 20%. Of these 71, only 20 have free throw rates above 35 (i.e., they have 35 FTM for every 100 FGA). Of those 20, three are now Knicks. Billups, ‘Melo, and Amare will all spend tons of time with the ball in their hands, will use many of those possessions to get to the free throw line, and will convert the vast majority of these free throw attempts. As great as Gallo was at getting to the line, his usage rate was low enough that it didn’t have as big of an impact on the Knicks overall offense as it might have. That won’t be a problem here, and the Knicks may trail only the Thunder in terms of creating points at the line the rest of the year. It may seem unsexy, but this is likely to be the biggest immediate positive impact of this week’s trade.

Tonight was a promising start in this regard – the Knicks were 26 for 28 from the stripe, including a 12 for 12 showing from Billups, who didn’t even appear to have his legs under him yet.

DEFENSE:

It’s the flip-side of the point I made regarding offense — we’ve taken two already bad defenses (Knicks 21st in the league, Nuggets 23rd), largely shed the best defensive players from each side, and put them in the charge of the most offensively minded coach of his generation. The results will not be good, to be sure. But I’ve been kind of amazed at how heavily everyone has harped on this point. The Knicks defense was already pretty bad and it’s not like the guys we just gave away were dynamos. Billups is slower than Felton and ‘Melo has a rep for being a bit lazy on that end. But I also think the level to which Melo and Amare are invested in this monster of their own making will give them at least some extra motivation to work on that end. I see regression on defense, but not a ton. They couldn’t defend in the post before and they still can’t, they committed too many fouls before and they still will, they gave up too many second chances before and that will continue also. I think their switching will get a little bit worse, and their on-ball perimeter D will also take a step back unless Corey Brewer can carve out a spot on the rotation. But this isn’t life-altering stuff — It’s a C- turning into a D+.

Tonight they gave up 108 points on 99 possessions, which is right at their season average. Unfortunately, they did this at home against the worst offense in the league (Milwaukee typically scores 101 per 100). It was a bad night defensively, but both Billups and Melo looked exhausted and the group had no time to jell. Furthermore, the Knicks were opportunistic, creating 20 points off of 15 turnovers, including two steals each by the new arrivals. The one thing the Knicks have done well on defense all season is force turnovers — they did it again tonight, and they’ll continue to do it all season.

Overall, the method will change (more iso, less threes, shorter bench) but this team’s output shouldn’t change a ton on a per possession basis. They’ll be better once ‘Melo is in the flow of things, but even when their stars are clicking, the Knicks will still need big nights from role players to measure up to the league’s elite. When the stars are off, those same role players will have to save them. Tonight, Toney Douglas obliged.

Heat 113, Knicks 91

December 17th, 2010, is a date that has been circled on my calendar since the league announced this season’s schedule. Tonight was the city’s chance to shout out our new opinion of LeBron to his face for the first time. Long wooed by the city, with Knicks fans applauding his accomplishments on our home court, his “Decision” changed everything. The fans who once longed for James in orange and blue now despise him.

And boy, did MSG do its part tonight. From before tipoff throughout the first half the crowd was electric, with thunderous chants of “DE-FENSE” every time the Heat touched the ball, and loud Boos ringing out each time it was passed to LeBron. The crowd even reserved a special chant for when Chris Bosh would shoot free throws: “OVER-RATED“, no doubt a result of the Heat’s implied belief this summer that Bosh was the best free-agent power forward, a belief any Knicks fan would now contest. Moreover, the team was giving us a reason to cheer, overcoming a 13 point second quarter deficit to lead the game with 3:24 left in the first half on a Landry Fields tip-in. Though the Knicks and Heat entered the half tied at 59, the game was soon to turn, with the Heat outscoring the Knicks by 16 in the 3rd quarter, with LeBron shooting 6-9 in the quarter for 14 points. The fourth quarter left nothing to doubt, as the Knicks were unable to find any offensive rhythm. Despite the horrific 2nd half, I don’t believe that tonight’s loss should be a cause for major alarm. My thoughts on the matter and analysis of the box score below.

  • First and foremost, this was not Amar’e’s night. During the recent win streak, Amar’e had appeared perfectly in control, a combination of power and grace that could not be stopped. Tonight was the polar opposite- everything Amar’e did seemed rushed and slightly out-of-control. 24 points on 28 shots is not the efficiency we’ve come to expect, and four turnovers certainly didn’t help. However, I doubt this problem will continue. For one thing, it appeared that Amar’e was hit on the arms every time he drove towards the hoop, with nary a call. It’s questionable tonight whether it would have helped- Amar’e shot an incredibly poor 2-7 from the free throw line- but other refs may well have been blown the whistle. Every superstar has a bad night now and then, and tonight easily could have been the result of the incredible minutes per game D’Antoni has been playing Amar’e. Perhaps the best thing tonight’s result could do is force the Knicks to lean a bit more on someone like Anthony Randolph (who looked hungry for playing time during the few minutes of garbage time he received) to spell Amar’e. Amar’e finished with a +/- of -22, which was poor but hardly the worst on the team.
  • That honor would belong to Raymond Felton, who posted an incredible +/- of -33. I wonder if the heavy minutes are again a suspect for the poor play, specifically because some of the things Raymond is best at (driving the hoop for a lay-up, for example), were absolutely beyond him tonight. Raymond hit the underside of the rim at least two times on drives- ugly.  He shot 3-12, was 0-3 from 3, and while the box score shows he dished 10 assists, he had no impact on the game. Not a result you would like against a team which is widely considered not to have a point guard. I’m not sure who we can look to to give him rest though, so this one is questionable.
  • Interestingly enough, the only positive +/- on the night belonged to Shawne Williams. This is attributable largely to his presence on an interesting second quarter line-up featuring four players shooting over 36% from three- Gallo, Chandler, Williams, and Fields- and a 5th, Toney Douglas, who is not shy to shoot. This was quite the interesting lineup. Wilson Chandler was the player presumably playing at center, if one had to be designated as such.  This group erased much of the deficit, and gave the Heat plenty of trouble defensively, mainly because the Knicks knocked down a few shots, but, alas, this particular lineup was not to return in the second half.
  • Thank goodness Gallo was dialed in to start the game, or it might not have remained close for even a half. Gallo’s 21 points before halftime were inspired. One could sense that he was playing with a great deal of confidence. Unfortunately his shot, along with the rest of the team’s, went away in the second half. Regardless, his 25 points were a game-high.

So why am I not particularly worried? First, I think Felton and Stoudemire are better than they showed tonight. Given proper rest, I would doubt they perform as poorly the next time they play the Heat. Second, their free throw shooting was just atrocious tonight (56.5%.) Making the ten free throws we missed wouldn’t have won the game for us, but considering the quality our players normally demonstrate at the charity stripe, shooting such a low percentage is an anomaly. Third, LeBron and the Heat were just incredible tonight, but in a way that could be hard to repeat. If you disregard a late miss by James Jones in garbage time, the Heat shot just under 59% from 3 tonight. Furthermore, LeBron knocked down a number of long two-pointers. While one is hard-pressed to call it great defense when his shot is dropping, the defenses of teams who have played the Cavs in the playoffs have designed their scheme to force him to take that exact type of a shot. On another night, his shooting percentage could quite easily be below the 60% he had tonight, including 50% from deep. This shooting contributed to the largest +/- on the night, at +31. However, this is why we wanted him on the Knicks. LeBron James is really good at the game of basketball. While the Knicks couldn’t ‘Beat the Heat’ tonight, despite the rowdy support of the MSG faithful, there are some losses to which one doesn’t need to overreact, and I count this among them.

Knicks Meet-Up Trivia

At the first ever KnickerBlogger Meet-Up, I had some posters to give away. Looking for a fair way to distribute them, I came up with the idea of a trivia quiz. Unfortunately my questions were a bit harder than I thought, especially without the help of the internet. So I ended up giving the winner of the quiz the poster (only 4 people got more than 1 answer correct), and the other by randomly picking names out of a hat. Thought I’d share them here for fun, see how many you can do without surfing the web.

#1. In the 1980s (1980-1989 seasons) 9 players played 246 or more games for the Knicks. Name as many as you can. (3 points for correct person)

#2. In the 1990s (1990-1999 seasons) Patrick Ewing had the highest Knick PER (min 246 games) with 22.4. Who was second? (10 points)

#3. In the 00’s (2000-2009 seasons) Latrell Sprewell had the most steals (411). Who was second? (10 points)

#4. Second round pick, Andy Rautins went to Syracuse. Who is the last Knick drafted that came from Syracuse? (10 points)

#5. Who is the only Knick in the 3-point era (1980+) to appear in an NBA game before his 20th birthday? (10 points)

#6. Which Knick had a PER of 90.3 when he was 20 years old, albeit in only 3 games played? (10 points)

#7. Only 5 Knicks have appeared in a game after the age of 37 in the 3-point era (1980+). Name as many as you can. (3 points for correct person)

#8. Mike D’Antoni’s best TS% (NBA/ABA) in a single season was: (10 points)
A. 46.9
B. 48.9
C. 50.2
D. 53.8

#9. In the 3-point era, the 5 tallest Knicks have all been 7-2. Name as many as you can. (3 points for correct person)

#10. Opening day 1990, with 38 points Ewing led the Knicks to a 134-130 win over Charlotte. Which of these players had the highest score for the Hornets? (10 points)

A. Kelly Tripucka
B. J.R. Reid
C. Johnny Newman
D. Armen Gilliam

#11 Opening Day 200, the Knicks lost 101-72 to the Sixers. Which player did not play for the Sixers that day? (10 points)

A. Pepe Sanchez
B. Nazr Mohammed
C. Dikembe Mutombo
D. Toni Kukoc

Knicks 2011 Season Preview – Centers

With the Knicks 2011 season almost upon us, it’s time to analyze the roster. Usually teams have some stability from one year to the next, but New York has only a third of the players returning. How New York is going to perform is more of a mystery than previous years. This year I’ll look at each position and attempt to address the critical question for those players.

Centers: Is there a quality NBA starting center here?

Prior to the preseason, it was thought that the Knicks would open the season with Ronny Turiaf as the starting center. Unfortunately Turiaf’s preseason play has been less than spectacular, averaging a pitiful 4.4 pts/36, 7.0 reb/36, and 2.3 to/36. Mozgov scores more (13.4 pts/36) but his rebounding (6.7 reb/36) and turnovers (3.0 to/36) are actually worse. The young Russian also features the propensity to commit foolish fouls (6.7 pf/36) at a rate that would make Jerome James proud. With the possibility of them averaging 30 to 40 minutes a night, you have to be concerned with the production the Knicks will get out of the five spot.

New York’s center dilemma brings up another area of concern: rebounding. Even if Amar’e stays at power forward, the Knicks are going to have a serious problem on the boards this year. Turiaf has been a poor rebounder his whole career, and Mozgov, for all his size, didn’t rebound well in preseason. The only player on the roster who has historically rebounded at a high level is Anthony Randolph. Unfortunately he isn’t likely to see enough minutes this year to make a dent in New York’s main deficiency. The Knicks haven’t been strong on the glass during D’Antoni’s tenure, and it seems that again this year they’ll be punting one of the four factors away, no matter who is playing center.


Which Knick center will be of NBA-starting caliber quality this season?

  • Timofev Mozgov (72%, 186 Votes)
  • Neither (22%, 58 Votes)
  • Both (3%, 8 Votes)
  • Ronny Turiaf (3%, 7 Votes)

Total Voters: 259

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Preseason Recap: Celtics 97 – Knicks 84

Can you see it?

Look real hard.

I know, right now, it’s only there in fits and spurts, like a Sasquatch that dashes into view only to be just as quickly herded back into its pen in Area 51, that one might be tempted to doubt that they had seen it at all.

But I’m telling you, there’s the making of a real durned good ball-team here.

But, not to wax too poetic for a Sunday afternoon when most of us (and your humble correspondent) are girdlaing our loins for the Manichean, proto-fascist, ground-acquisition war/blood orgy that is NFL Sunday in America (Let’s go Jets!), but watching the ‘Bockers late last night, I almost whispered to my teevee, “Inchworm! Climb Mount Fuji! But slowly, slowly…”

And yes, I oft quote Issa during ballgames. It’s a real hoot when I do it in bars.

Long story short, even without the Great God STAT, there were flashes of…something…in last night’s tilt v. the right proper Bostonians. Crisp passes as the ball flitted around the perimeter till the open man drained an uncontested J, the likes of which haven’t been seen since Earl n’ Clyde were doing their thang. Rotating on D? Defending the rim? Sweet fancy Moses, who are these guys?? Of course, somewhere in the 3rd quarter, this wondrous bounty of winning b-ball, seemed to crawl into a hole and die, but for stretches there…

Anyhoo. Here’s a bit of, “The good, the bad and the random/jejune.”

THE GOOD

Ray Felton – Ray-Ray finally had a game that implied why DW would lavish 15 million upon his rounded shoulders. He was confident in his shot, got to the rim quite a bit and generally hit the open man. I was semi-resigned to him being, “A faster Chris Duhon, “ so while 6-13, 16 points, 5 dimes, doesn’t exactly scream Nash 2.0, he held his own against the otherworldly Rondo. (And boy, isn’t “Balkman over Rondo” starting to look like one of the worst draft blunders ever?)

Danilo Gallinari – Someone must have told him that the 22’ ring on either end of the court isn’t an electrified fence or something because Il Gallo actually decided to take it to the bucket a few times. And lo! He had his best game so far. Go figure. There’s very few sights in this work-a-day world more enjoyable than Paul Pierce with a royally pissed-off look on his mug because he can’t fathom how he got whistled for hacking a guy (our Danilo) who runs like a drunk careening down 9th Avenue, crashing into mailboxes/streetlights, trying to avoid an imaginary cop.

Wilson Chandler – I’m convinced that someone fixed his shot this off-season. He’s holding the ball more out in front, using his legs and less launching the ball from behind his shoulders/fading away. It’s definitely working as Ill Will Chill’s looked like a legit SG for the first time, well…ever.

Landry Fields – He’s just got a knack. Granted, the bulk of his minutes came when the Knicks were going through one of their trademark, “Someone put cellophane over the hoop so there’s like, seriously no effing way we can score, ” stretches, but, He. Just. Makes. Plays. I think he’s gotta be in the rotation sooner rather than later.

THE BAD

Toney Douglas – Toney certainly didn’t do what Toney Douglas do in this one. His shot was off, he had gobs of sloppy turnovers, and the offense up and croaked when he was running it. Still, I have complete and utter faith that he’ll turn it around ASAP

Anthony Randolph – Oh, I so want him to be good. And you can tell by watching that he does too. Therein lies the problem. He so wants to do something that makes the crowd collectively go, “Ooo!”, that yanks the mob out of their seats and transforms them into a sea of suitors sooooo badly that he’s prone to some godawful blunders/seems like someone tought him how to play, like, yesterday. In addition, when he errs, like by say lofting a Jamal Crawford-esque off-balance 20 foot brick, he instinctively fires a glance towards the bench to see if he’ll get yanked. Screw Don Nelson, we as fans need to give AR unconditional love and maybe a nice card or some candy every chance we can get.

Mike D’Antoni – pick a rotation, Coach. Pretty please?

THE JEJUNE

Mozgov! – Evidently, when Timofey got t’d up, he was saying to himself (and yes, when I imagine him speaking, it’s in Ivan Drago-style pidgin English), “I say, I no good with fouls. Referee say I talking to him. But I am talking to me! Now, when I foul. I say nothing…” Good times, good times.

Roger Mason Jr. – Is it me or does he look eerily like Larry Hughes out there. I don’t like him. Maybe it’s because he resembles Wee-Bay from the Wire, but the sooner Azubuike/Fields takes his pt, the better.

C’est tout, mes amis. I’m yoinked to watch the irrepressible John Wall and the goofily appealing Javale McGee tonight. In lieu of a separate game thread, feel free to add your thoughts on tonight’s game too. Even though the games don’t count, get them W’s!