KnickerBlogger: I’m sure anyone that only goes by per game stats thinks that Eddy Curry had the best season of his career. Early in the year, the mainstream media was quick to catch on to Curry’s 11 straight game of 20+ points. In 2007, Curry had career per game highs in points, rebounds, free throws, and possibly hugs of Jamal Crawford. (Am I the only one that notices that Curry does this?)
However closer analysis of Curry’s season shows little improvement. Comparing his last 3 seasons by per-minute numbers, Curry’s 2007 isn’t much different from his career averages. Surprisingly Curry showed no big improvement in his per minute scoring, and his per minute rebounding was the second lowest of his career. Statistically, Curry’s big improvement was in his personal fouls. Obviously fouls are important for a budding big man, since foul trouble can limit the amount of time a player can stay on the floor. Curry was able to play in 10 more minutes per game this year, partly due to his ability to stay out of foul trouble. (The other factor was his improved conditioning). Eddy Curry showed minor improvement in one other category, his assists. Although his passing is still below average, Curry seemed to improve as the season wore on.
Per Minute Stats from www.basketball-reference.com
Looking at Curry’s 2006 numbers it seems that Larry Brown had 2 positive effects on him. Under the stern Knick coach Curry’s rebounding peaked and he doubled his free throw attempts per minute in 2006. While Curry’s rebounding returned to his pre-Brown numbers last year, he seemed to retain the ability to draw fouls at a higher rate.
Curry’s per-minute stats for 2007 show two disturbing trends. As I mentioned before, he reduced the rate in which he fouls opponents, but that may have come at the expense of his shot blocking. Already a poor defensive presence in the paint, Curry’s shot block rate was nearly half his career rate. Of all centers that played more than 12 min/g, Eddy Curry was the third worst at blocked shots per minute, only ahead of Andrew Bogut and Marc Jackson. Additionally Curry’s turnover rate spiked to the highest of his career as he became the focal point of the Knick offense. Usually players commit fewer turnovers as they age, but it seems Curry has become more turnover prone over the years.
KnickerBlogger’s Grade: C+
2008 Outlook: Unfortunately for Knick fans, Curry is a one trick pony at a premium position. All he provides is scoring, albeit he is a very efficient scorer from the floor. Curry is poor at holding onto the ball, bad at passing, worse at rebounding, and non-existent with his help defense. New York’s management has declared that Curry is their center of the future. If this is true, the Knicks are going to need more than just his scoring to become a successful team during his tenure. At only 24 years old (25 in December) Curry still has time to develop into a more complete player. But what is Curry likely to improve on in 2008?
Seeing at how lackadaisical he is on defense combined with the drop in his rebound and block rate, it seems that Curry’s isn’t likely to get better on the defensive end. However he did show an increase in his assist numbers, and he looked to be a better passer late in the season. So Curry’s best hope to become a better player in 2008 is to work on his passing. Improved passing ability will allow Curry to make opponents pay for double teaming him, which will in turn force opponents to stop doubling him. That in turn should mean Curry’s scoring would increase. Improving his passing should drop his turnover rate as well, as some of those turnovers came from poor passing out of double teams. A change that would effect those areas would make Eddy Curry one of the best offensive players in the league.
Dave Crockett: I have to disagree and say Curry earned a solid B. Scott Skiles criticized Curry for being the same player in New York as he was in Chicago on a per-minute basis. [Disclosure: I can’t stand Skiles and felt like he was just being an ass on principle.] For the record, I think that criticism misses something pretty fundamental apart from my dislike for Skiles. His reference was clearly to Curry’s offense. Well, the only way for Curry to be a monumentally better offensive player is through higher efficiency or greater usage. Big efficiency gains seem pretty unlikely in a players already as efficient as Curry. Even still, Curry has in fact improved his efficiency in NY. He’s been a 60.4% true shooter in NY, up from 56.7% in Chicago. He might improve his efficiency by shooting in the 70s from the FT line, a point to which I will return, but from the floor he’s pretty darn efficient. The only other way to see a big-time jump in per minute scoring would be through increased usage. As offensive centerpieces go Curry’s 23.1 usage rate isn’t modest but it’s also not Ben Gordon’s ridiculous 27.3. By my count only eight players shot 60%+ TS and were used less than Curry in 07. So while you’re not likely to see big per minute scoring jumps from a player with Curry’s profile that doesn’t mean he hasn’t improved.
Curry has faced two primary challenges since coming into the league: 1) Can he improve his conditioning and cut down his fouls so he can play more minutes to take advantage of his already efficient offense? 2) Can he develop facets of his game other than scoring?
He has managed to address the first challenge, which is no small feat. How many of us Knicks fans thought back in 05 that Mike Sweetney would be better than Curry no matter what Kevin Pelton said? If it were a trivial matter to get in good enough shape to add 10 minutes of playing time when you were already averaging over 20 then Sweetney and Ollie Miller, both far superior rebounders to Curry, might be perennial all-stars.
Obviously, Curry has not been able to address the second challenge anywhere near as well as the first. Yet even though this is undoubtedly true it is not a statement that should be made without caveat. It is not clear that Curry’s increased minutes really did come at the expense of his (admittedly) sub-par defense. As KB has detailed, Curry never provide much shot-blocking but provided virtually none this past season. However, this must be balanced against the fact that his +/- (+5.3) and defensive rating (110 vs. 106 league avg.) remained unchanged from the previous season while his fouls have steadily declined (to a career low 3.7 per 40 in 07). So it’s not clear that he’s hemorrhaging layups despite not blocking shots and fouling less. My observations suggests to me that Curry’s improved conditioning has led to better positioning and footwork (a la Jason Collins) allowing him to stay away from some of his notorious cheap reach-in fouls. I’m not suggesting Curry is a better defender but he’s not necessarily a worse one. Further, it may not be such a bad idea to have Curry forgo blocking shots when he so clearly cannot block them.
If, as KB suggests, Curry is likely to remain a one-trick pony (and 35 minutes of efficient scoring ain’t such a bad trick) then in addition to improving his passing he must become a better free throw shooter. That is one area where Curry could make a noticeable jump in efficiency. He got to the line frequently–40 times for every 100 shots–but shot a career-low 61.5% last season (career 64%). Curry does not have a broken down stroke in need of rehabilitation, like Shaq, Ben Wallace, or Chris Dudley. In fact, Curry has a good looking stroke with no obvious hitches. If Larry Johnson could shoot free throws in the high 70s-low 80s with his hideous mechanics there is no earthly reason Curry shouldn’t shoot consistently in high-70s. He just needs decide to become a decent free throw shooter and park his butt in the gym until he becomes one. That’s one thing I’ll be looking for right away in 08.
Brian Maniscalco: Let’s take a closer look at Curry’s increased floor time and usage.
|| poss / 40min
|| poss / game
|| fouls / 40min
|| off fouls / 40min
|| def fouls / 40min
Curry?s 06/07 mark of 23.1 possessions used per 40 minutes was only a small uptick from the previous season. Nonetheless, that mark was a career high and the first time he led his team in usage rate (tied with Jamal Crawford). In total, Curry?s possessions used per game increased by almost 50% over the previous season because of all the extra minutes he played. Of course, a critical contributing factor to Curry?s increased court presence was his ability to cut down on personal fouls. However, somewhat contrary to popular perception, Curry?s drop in fouls per minute came entirely came from a decrease in defensive foul rate. (Although an improvement in offensive foul rate is also evident on a per-possession basis.)
Does the dip in defensive foul rate indicate an impoverished defensive effort from an already poor defender? In 07, Curry experienced an anomalous, precipitous drop in both overall fouls (3.7) and blocked shots (0.6) per 40 minutes compared to his prior career averages (5.1 and 1.5, respectively). So the data is suggestive that Curry’s decreased aggression in attempting to block shots is directly tied to his decreased defensive foul rate, sacrificing shot blocking attempts for more court time. As Dave points out, though, existing defensive stats (coarse and imperfect as they may be) portray Curry as an equally bad defender in both his seasons as a Knick, despite blocking half as many shots last season. A moment’s reflection shows that this is not too surprising, given that fouling fewer times on defense means fewer free throws for the opposition. According to 82games.com, the Knicks allowed 21 opponent free throw attempts per 48 minutes with Curry on the court, down from 26 the previous season. Likewise, Curry’s net +/- for opponent free throw attempts per 48 minutes improved from -6 to -14.
Just about every per minute and per possession measure of offensive efficiency will tell you that Curry was about as effective on offense in 07 as in 06. However, this is impressive given that Curry played 1000 more total minutes in 07, used more possessions and attempted more shots per minute, and drew more double and triple teams from defenses primarily geared towards slowing him down. With all those factors working to suppress his efficiency, the mere fact that he was able to maintain prior levels suggests some degree of improvement in an already strong offensive attack.
Unfortunately, there is one straightforward way to substantially slow down Curry?s Goliath act in the paint: double team him, triple team him, and do whatever you can to get the ball out of his hands. Not only does this tactic prevent Curry from getting up a shot, but it also often leads to a turnover.
Passing, ball handling, and turnovers (all stats per 100 possessions used)
|| off. fouls
|| bad passes
|| ballhanding TOs
|| misc TOs
|| assists / bad passes
Curry is a poor passer and a turnover machine. Much of what he giveth in terms of post offense, he taketh away (or rather, giveth away) with his turnovers. His per-possession turnover rate ranked among the 10 worst in the league last season, which is especially damaging considering the number of possessions Curry uses. Among the 10 worst ball handlers, only Dwight Howard offered a comparably poisonous mixture of high usage (20.8 possessions / 40 minutes) and high turnover rate (19.3 turnovers per 100 possessions). It is no coincidence that the Knicks? Achilles? heel on offense during the Curry era has been turnovers (worst in 05/06, second worst in 06/07).
Is there hope for a better ball handling tomorrow? The outlook is hazy.
Curry actually managed to commit 1.1 fewer offensive fouls per 100 possessions used in 07 than in 06. That’s a crucial improvement, given that offensive fouls produce the double whammy of a turnover and, potentially, foul trouble. The dip in offensive fouls is also another piece of evidence that Curry did in fact refine his post offense during last season. Indeed, subjectively it seemed as if he committed far fewer of the egrigiously bulldozing, bull in the china shop kinds of offensive fouls that plagued him in his first season as a Knick.
Unfortunately, Curry?s improvement in terms of offensive fouls and miscellaneous turnovers was almost exactly balanced out by an increase in passing and ball handling turnovers. This is especially troubling because these are exactly the sorts of turnovers you would expect to be generated by an aggressive, double teaming defense looking to get the ball out of Curry?s hands. This is the kind of defensive pressure Curry is going to experience for as long as he remains the main focal point of the offense. It will take significant effort on Curry’s part to improve his court vision, passing, and overall savvy to the point where he cannot be taken out of a game by swarming defenses.
There is at least a bit of a silver lining here. Curry?s assist rate also increased last season. The increase of both assists and bad passes per 100 possessions suggests that Curry may simply have been passing more overall due to double teams forcing his hand. And in fact, we do see that Curry?s assist to bad pass ratio improved as well. So on the whole it seems like Curry?s passing game did improve, in spite of what his increased rate of bad passes might lead one to think. Of course, he still has a long way to go before his passing is passable.
Silver lining part two: Curry?s turnover rate has been substantially worse in his two seasons as a Knick than it was during his time with Chicago (averaging 14.5 TOs per 100 possessions, with the highest mark being 15.3). So Curry is not doomed to be an 18 TO / 100 possession guy for the rest of his career. It?s unclear exactly why his turnover rate spiked after coming to New York. It?s unlikely that the rise in turnovers has followed from a more prominent role in the offense, since Curry?s usage rate has been remarkably constant across his career. The most likely explanation is that there is something about playing in the context of New York?s offense that makes Curry more turnover prone than he was when playing with the offenses of his Bulls teams. So it is possible that the right kinds of changes in team personnel, and/or the right kind of changes in New York’s offensive system, could be a significant help in easing Curry?s turnover woes.
But ultimately, make no mistake: Curry?s ability to successfully handle the pressure of aggressive double teams without turning the ball over is the next big hurdle in his development as an offensive weapon. It is the looming roadblock on the horizon and how he responds to it will in large part determine the course of his career. If he does not substantially improve his ball handling in the face of defensive pressure, his defining strength will always be mitigated by a great weakness, and his net effectiveness as an offensive force will therefore always be limited.
For dropping his foul rate enough to play significant minutes for the first time in his career, and for maintaining outstanding offensive efficiency in spite of becoming the true focal point of his team’s offense for the first time in his career, I give Curry a B. Curry managed to make some non-trivial first steps towards becoming a legitimate first option on offense. Now let’s see if he can improve the defense and rebounding (not holding my breath) or cut down on the turnover rates (seems plausible, if not particularly likely).
Brian Cronin – Quick question, what exactly is a Win Score? I get that Wages of Wins and all that stuff is generally best done as a rate stat (and as a rate stat, Eddy Curry finishes very low in the league, like 150th or something like that, comparable to players like Mark Blount and Stephen Jackson). Fair enough, but then what is the point of having a “Win Score,” which I presume is a counting stat?
Because, interestingly enough, Eddy Curry had the 75th highest “Win Score” last year.
John Hollinger’s PER had him with the 70th highest PER (17.07).
The similarities amused me, but I presume that “Win Score” is basically meaningless if you’re a Wages of Wins fan, right?
Anyhow, as the other fellows have pointed out so nicely, your evaluation of Eddy Curry’s performance is generally based upon how much of an importance you place upon effective scoring. Curry is one of the more effective scorers in the NBA, and as we see, such effective scoring leads to double teams, which are usually useful, but not so useful when Curry
A. Can’t kick the ball out, because he is a terrible passer who instead will usually turn the ball over if attempting to pass
B. Manages to kick the ball out to a player who can’t/won’t take the open outside shot the double team on Curry has provided.
You really would think that the Knicks would have given Curry some outside shooters, no? And apparently, according to the most recent rumors, they’re not even going for an outside shooter in the draft!! Ah well…there’s always trades, I suppose…
So Eddy Curry – tremendous scorer who can’t do anything else – while Wages of Wins thinks that is effectively useless, I think I lean toward Hollinger’s take on Curry, which is that Curry is currently around one of the top 15 centers in the NBA, and I think he deserves the C+ that KB gave him.
Let’s hope he improves this year!!