Earlimart Barron

“The universe opens up the door
and we go right in, it’s there, it’s new, it’s cool
it’s something we ain’t seen before”
–“Happy Alone”, by Earlimart

The Knicks signed Earl Barron on April 2nd which could have been misconstrued as a late April Fools Joke. At 28 years old Barron can hardly be considered a prospect. He went undrafted out of Memphis, played in Turkey, the NBDL and 3 anonymous seasons in Miami. However upon joining the Knicks Barron immediately found himself in D’Antoni’s rotation and due to The D’Antoni Rules™ #1 & #2, is seeing a lot of playing time.

I’m as shocked as anyone, especially how the Knicks coach has treated 7-footers in his New York tenure. Last year Cheikh Samb, Mouhamed Sene, Courtney Sims, and Jerome James totaled a mere 35 minutes on the season. So far in 3 games this year, Barron has played 91 minutes. That’s more than either Eddy Curry (62) or Darko Milicic (71). And to make things more bizarre, Barron is playing exceptionally well. The last is unfathomable, because his 3000 or so minutes in the NBDL and NBA indicated that he was unlikely to be a solid NBA player.

Granted I expect Barron’s numbers will eventually decline from their current sizzling level. I don’t expect that he all of a sudden turned into Moses Malone on the glass (13.1 reb/36) or gained a Nowitzki-esque jumper (54.3% eFG). Earl is shooting 70% from 16-23 feet, a rate that I think he’ll have trouble sustaining.

But in a season where there has been little to cheer about on the court, the Knicks look good with Barron on the floor. Perhaps it’s because he gives them their first legitimate center in years. Perhaps it’s a novelty, like when excitement was generated after they traded for McGrady, House, and Rodriguez. Perhaps he’s actually the right fit for D’Antoni’s scheme, one that could enhance his strengths and help mask his weaknesses. Maybe it’s because the Knicks are actually winning. For a team struggling to get to 30 wins, taking 2 of the last 3 will make that beer taste more refreshing. Whatever it is the team has gotten more pleasant to watch, and as a long time suffering Knick fan I’m going to enjoy the moment while it lasts.

What’s Wrong With the Knicks?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who Will Make the Knicks in 2010?

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

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

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

{democracy:34}

2009 Summer League: Game 2 Recap

The game 2 results seemed a lot like game 1 on an individual level. Jordan Hill shot an identical 6-14 and Toney Douglas set up the offense with 10 assists, but had trouble scoring. Inexplicably Tskitishvili looks like an NBA player, this time scoring 12 points on 9 shots, hitting 4 of 8 from downtown. Morris Almond had a subpar shooting nite, but chipped in with 4 steals.

From what I saw, Hill just doesn’t like to take the ball to the hoop and prefers to resort to fall away hooks and turn around jumpers. He did have an alley-oop, but that was on a fast break when he had a clear path to the rim. Douglas reminds me of the Knicks current point guard Chris Duhon. Good at breaking down the defense and dishing the rock, but just can’t find his own shot.

Skita was on fire from downtown, but didn’t bring any intensity in the paint on either end. It was a Wang Zhi Zhi kind of effort. Considering he has played nearly a game’s worth of minutes over Sene (44 to 20) he has the inside track on a big man roster spot, should one open. Blake Ahearn has been disappointing. Granted he’s scored 18 points on 16 shots, but he’s only hit one of ten from downtown. At times he seems to be miscast as a point guard, often having trouble bringing the ball up the court or starting the offense from 30+ feet away. One saving grace has been ability to draw fouls, and he’s been automatic from the charity stripe (11-11).

What worried me the most is that the team was flat defensively. They allowed Detroit to score 30 in the opening quarter, and 29 in the final 10 minutes. Douglas and Hill were supposed to give the Knicks a boost on that end of the floor, but neither were able to hold the tide against Detroit’s summer league squad. Hill looked especially bad, and received this poor review from True Hoop’s Kevin Arnovitz:

Hill also seemed a little passive as a post defender, even against the likes of Trent Plaisted. Hill stayed in close proximity on defense to his assigned man, but rarely tried to knock his guy off his spot. In general, the closer Hill was to the basket, the less comfortable he was.

I know it’s silly to suggest summer league coaching suggestions, but where was Mouhamed Sene? New York needed some help in the paint, and Sene out rebounded Tskitishvili in less than half the minutes. Team results don’t matter much, but perhaps it would be better to team Hill, Almond, and Douglas with other players to see how they perform with different skillsets on the floor.

Knicks 2009 Summer League Roster

Looking over the Knicks’ roster there are 9 spots that are taken (Chandler, Curry, Duhon, Gallinari, Harrington, Hughes, Jeffries, Milicic, and Mobley). Two more are likely to be filled by Lee and Robinson. That leaves 4 spots possible for the summer league candidates, barring any offseason player movement.

Definites
It’s safe to assume that both draft picks Jordan Hill and Toney Douglas will be on the team’s roster come October. However it doesn’t mean the pair can relax in Vegas, as a poor showing could send them to D’Antoni’s doghouse before training camp even opens. Knick fans will expect both to make the rotation, Hill because of his status as lottery pick, and Douglas because of the lack of depth at guard. New York hopes both can help improve the team defensively, but they’ll need to prove that they’re capable on the offensive side as well. Both will need to play well now and in the preseason to make sure they aren’t sent to the D-League or practice squad. Considering their draft status and the competition, they should be able to give above average performances.

Probables
At the end of last year the team rotated in some NBDL players, and it looks like two stuck. Joe Crawford and Mouhamed Sene will be playing in the summer league, but they may need to prove their worth. Both of them combined for only 29 minutes last year, so the team isn’t committed to either. While Sene has more NBA experience, he’ll have tougher competition for playing time. New York has bolstered their front court by drafting Hill, trading for Darko, and hiding Eddy Curry’s Ring Dings. On the other hand Crawford will have less competition from the NBA roster, but might get pushed for playing time by Douglas and some of the other summer league guards New York. I wouldn’t bet on either player making the team, but they do have the inside track.

Possibles
One player that could push for a roster spot is Morris Almond. The Jazz selected him with the 25th pick in the 2007 draft, but Almond barely saw any NBA action in two seasons. However he was a prolific scorer in the NBDL, averaging 25.4 pts/36 over two seasons. Although this was due to his high usage (30.9%), to Almond’s credit his TS% was a robust 57.6%. One stat that did stand out in the NBDL is his free throw to field goal ratio. He hit .35 free throws for every shot attempted, and averaged 6.5 ftm/36. Clearly he’s skilled at drawing contact, and his 36.7% from downtown shows that he’s able to score from outside as well.

However Morris peripheral stats are weak. His rebounding numbers could be better for someone who stands 6-6, and his passing, steals, and blocks are weak for a shooting guard. Still he could provide some needed scoring off the bench and could be a poor man’s Allan Houston.

Another candidate is Blake Ahearn, a castaway from the Heat & Spurs. Like Almond, Ahearn dominated the NBDL, scoring 21.9 pts/36 on a sizzling 64.6% TS%. He connected on 43.4% of his three pointers, and was about as perfect as you get (95.5%) from the charity stripe. Unlike Almond, Ahearn has one peripheral stats that is above average, his 4.6 ast/36. At 6-2, Ahearn is more suited for point guard at the NBA level.

Doubtfuls
Yaroslav Korolev was drafted as an 18 year old by the Clippers in 2005 and spent two years in L.A. Yet even though he last suited up for an NBA game 3 years ago, he’s the second youngest player on the summer league team. Korolev is a 6-10 forward who’s father was a basketball coach and is rumored to have a sound all around game. At only 22 years old, he’s definitely young enough to be a “second draft” type of player.

Probably the last guy with a realistic shot at a roster spot is David Noel. He was a second round pick of the Bucks and didn’t play well in his one season. However he did well in the NBDL, scoring 17.1 pts/36 on 60.7 ts% and averaging 5.3 reb/36, 4.4 ast/36, and 1.7 stl/36. His free throw shooting was suspect (68.6%), but he was deadly from downtown (44.6%).

Please God No
Nokoloz Tskitishvili and Alex Acker are both 26 years old. Tskitishvili is looking for yet another chance at the NBA, while Acker is a combo guard who had 2 stints in the NBA (Pistons & Clippers). Nokoloz’s NBA numbers are laughably bad, while Acker’s D-League numbers aren’t very impressive (53.1% TS%).

Hey I Got Free First Row Tickets to the Summer League!
The summer league might be happy days for Valparaiso’s Ron Howard. Rashaad Singleton is a 7 footer, but barely played at Georgia. According to Wikipedia, Warren Carter plays in Spain and thinks Allen Iverson is the NBA’s best player. Wink Adams shot 26.9% from trey his last year at UNLV.

Who Am I Rooting For?
I think there’s the possibility that the Knicks could find a decent player here. I don’t think there are any NBA starters here, but certainly a few guys could contribute as reserves. After reviewing their numbers, Blake Ahearn is at the top of my list. I have a soft spot in my heart for snipers, and the Knicks really need more depth at point guard. I like Almond, but he scares me at the same time. His number suggest a typical me-first-shooter that’s indifferent to the other aspects of the game.

As for the rest, I hope Sene sticks around, even if it’s in the NBDL until New York moves Curry or Jeffries. Korolev has the most intriguing story, but his numbers are so bad as a teenager it’s hard to see him being good at this level. I don’t want Acker or Tskitishvili, and I sure hope the Knicks don’t fall in love with someone who is hot for a few games (*cough* Roberson *cough*). So that leaves Crawford or Noel. Perhaps Noel would be the better choice, considering D’Antoni had Crawford last year & barely used him.

2009 Game Thread: Nets vs Knicks

[Back to the old blog style for the last game of the season. In case anyone is curious I’ll leave the forums up for now, because a few threads are still active.]

These two teams have nothing to play for, or more specifically nothing to win for. A Knick win combined with a Raptor loss would have the two teams tied at 32 wins, meaning a coin flip would determine which team picks 8th in the draft. As for the Nets, a win could move them from a potential 10th overall pick to 14th, depending on if Charlotte and Indiana both lose (and of course another coin flip).

If sticking it to their cross-tunnel rivals with a loss wouldn’t be enough, New York has 4 young players that they should be giving maximum playing time to: Chris Sims, Mouhamed Sene, Joe Crawford, and newly signed Chris Hunter. If the 4 don’t get a combined 80 minutes and the Knicks win, Mike D’Antoni will lose a half a letter grade in his KnickerBlogger year end evaluation.