Last Year’s 2010 Over/Under

A quick look back at last year’s over/under.

The Youngsters

Gallo 3 point shooting percentage: 40%
My Pick: Under
Actual: 38.1% – Under

Gallo shot a sizzling 44.4% in 2009, and appeared near automatic that year from downtown. My reasoning was that 412 wasn’t enough minutes to warrant a true measure of his skill. Interestingly enough he shot greater than 40% in only one month (I’m not counting the 3 games in October) and really dogged it in February.

Month Games 3P%
October 3 50.0%
November 14 40.5%
December 14 36.2%
January 15 38.7%
February 11 31.1%
March 16 35.9%
April 8 38.6%

Jordan Hill minutes played: 1100.5
My Pick: Under
Actual: 624 – Under
Hill only played 252 minutes for the Knicks and 372 for the Rockets.

Toney Douglas True Shooting Percentage: 50%
My Pick: Under
Actual: 57.1% – Over

Yeah I was way wrong on this one. Douglas had an awful summer league in terms of shooting, and ironically he had another bad summer shooting (49.7% TS%) this year too. But during the season he was incredibly efficient.

Lottery Pick Centers

Darko Milicic total points on the season: Eddy Curry total points on the season
My Pick: Over
Actual: 215 to 26 – Over

This looked good for Curry, especially when Milicic was essentially sent home from the team. Eddy outscored Darko as a Knick (26 to 16), but Milicic racked up another 199 points in Minnesota to win this cripple fight.

UFOs (or I’ll Believe It When I See it)

Jared Jeffries 3 pointers attempted per 36 minutes: 1.5
My Pick: Over
Actual: 1.4 – Under

Jeffries was averaging 1.53 3pa/36 before he was traded to Houston. The Rockets put a crimp on his Sam Perkins imitation and Jeffries’ rate went under. This was actually much closer than I expected.

(Smells Like) Team Spirit

Number of Knicks traded during the 2010 season: 0.5
My Pick: Under
Actual: 6 – Over

New York made 3 deals, and sent Nate Robinson, Marcus Landry, Jared Jeffries, Jordan Hill, Larry Hughes, and Darko Milicic packing.

Number of Wins From March 1 – April 14th: 9.5
My Pick: Under
Actual: 9 – Under

New York underachieved, although who would have guessed that winning 9 games from March 1st onward would actually be an improvement on the season? The Knicks were 20-38 at the end of February (.344) and 9-15 down the stretch (.375).

Defensive efficiency: 110.8
My Pick: Under
Actual: 111.6 – Over

The Knicks were just awful on defense, much worse than they were the year before. D’Antoni refused to play any of the defensive minded centers given to him (Darko, Hill), conceding the paint to the opposition.

Playoff Spots Earned: 0.5
My Pick: Under
Actual: 0 – Under

I tend to eat healthier than the average person, so drinking Kool-Aid isn’t in my diet.

The Free Agents

Number of additional games Nate Robinson plays as a Knick in his career: 82.5
My Pick: Over
Actual: 30 – Under

Um, no comment.

David Lee’s Annual Salary in 2011: $7.5M
My Pick: Under
Actual: $10.8M – Over

A few years ago if you told me that someone would sign David Lee to a contract where the first year salary was $10.8, I would wonder how Dave Berri got a job as an NBA GM.

David: From Slingshot-Wielding Youth to King of the Garden

I wanted Chris Taft.

If you’re ever talking Knicks with me and I’m ragging on Isiah or Layden, talking about how unfathomable it was to draft Balkman with Rondo and Marcus Williams on the board and the Knicks without a point guard, killing the Steve Francis trade as simultaneously short-sighted and bad for the short term – basically talking like I could have done a better job running this team than the motley front office crew of the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, you can always remind me of that one.

Holding the Phoenix Suns’ first round pick in the 2005 NBA Draft – thirtieth and last, thanks in part to futurebockers Mike D’Antoni and Amar’e Stoudemire – the New York Knicks selected a board-banging forward out of Florida named David Lee.  I was 19, and I was furious.*

*Granted, Isiah probably could have flipped Tim Thomas and Jackie Butler for Wilt Chamberlain and I would have found a reason to hate the move at that point.  I think we’re all about 10 years away from looking back on the 2004-2007 stretch as an extended period of Isiah-induced temporary insanity.  I am almost certain that it will eventually occur to Bernie Madoff to file an appeal on these grounds.

The Knicks were coming off a 33-49 season, their two best players were Stephon Marbury and Jamal Crawford, and they were years away from possessing even a glimmer of cap room.  If ever there was a time to swing for the fences with a draft pick, that was it.  And Chris Taft – an athletic, 6’10” prototype of a power forward, slated to go top-5 after his freshman year at Pitt before struggling through an ill-advised sophomore season and plummeting down draft boards under the weight of a reputation for being raw and immature – was there for the taking.  Here was a classic back-to-the basket four who could score in the post, rebound, block shots, and step out to the perimeter.  A flight risk to be sure but, on a team going nowhere, a risk worth taking.

But the final name David Stern announced before ceding the night’s emcee duties to Russ Granik was not Taft, it was Lee: a four-year senior who had averaged a workmanlike 11 and 7 in his time with the Gators and who projected to offer similarly steady but unspectacular production in a bench role for the Knicks.  For a team with absolutely nothing to get excited about, this seemed like a classic example of Isiah buying a nice new set of snow tires when he couldn’t afford a car (to say nothing of the fact that, in Kurt Thomas, the Knicks already possessed a set of the same model of snow tires, and a more broken-in set at that).  The pick was illogical, miscalculated, and hubristic.  And it was just about the only thing Isiah got right in his time at the helm.*

*I’ll spare you the effort of looking it up: Taft eventually went 42nd overall, somewhat coincidentally to the same Golden State Warriors that now employ Lee.  He played in 17 games, averaged 3 points and 2 rebounds, underwent back surgery and hasn’t played basketball professionally since 2006.  Again, remind me I wanted this guy the next time I criticize a personnel decision.

Lee was an absolute lock to be popular with a fan base whose conception of “The Good Old Days” was built on hustle, rebounding, efficient offense, and hard-nosed defense (let’s diplomatically say he went three for four on those criteria and move along).  He averaged 5 and 5 in 17 minutes as a rookie, usually sharing shifts with his pinballing classmate Nate Robinson.  The two formed a reckless bundle of hope and energy on a team that stumbled to a franchise-worst 59 losses under a wave of Marburian apathy and Jamal Crawford Fallaway Threes with Nineteen Seconds Left on the Shot Clock.™

Of the Knicks’ two most popular lineups that season, the one that had Marbury and Eddy Curry running with the young bucks was already vastly superior to the one including Steve Francis and two withering Roses (Jalen and Malik).  Moreover, the lineup that completely let the kids borrow the car keys was stunningly effective in limited minutes (especially stunning considering that it included such future Hall of Famers as Qyntel Woods and Jackie Butler).

Lee Chart 1

Unfortunately, nobody told Larry Brown about the youth movement and the Knicks most dynamic lineup got less than a full game’s worth of minutes together over the course of the entire 2005-2006 season.

Lee was far from a finished product that first year – his points all seemed to come via putbacks and dunks on the break, he looked positively terrified when he received the ball in the flow of the offense, and Brown’s trademark minute-jockeying prevented him from ever getting a feel for the NBA half court game on either end.  But man, could the dude rebound.  With every textbook box-out, weak-side swoop, and faceplant into Row AA, Lee ‘bounded and astounded his way deeper into our hearts.  After a decade of Knicks’ drafts in which Mike Sweetney and Trevor Ariza stood out as relative successes, this one-dimensional kid from St. Louis – with glue on his hands and springs in his shoes – was already everything we wanted him to be.

And then David Lee did something that, as Knicks fans, we’d forgotten we were entitled to expect.  He got better.  A LOT better.  At almost everything.

The first step for Lee was to build on his pre-existing strengths.  His 58% rookie free throw shooting clip was a major caveat for a player whose offensive hallmark was supposed to be efficient scoring.  Lee pulled this number all the way up to 82% in his sophomore campaign and it has remained in that neighborhood ever since.  His rebounding – merely a “very good” 9.7 per 36 minutes his rookie season – skyrocketed to 12.5 per 36 in 2006-2007, good for fifth in the league and best by a Knick since Willis Reed’s 12.6 in the 1970-1971 season (which is to say better than Ewing, better than Oakley, better than Camby or Mason or Bill Cartwright).  In fact, on a per-possession basis, Lee’s second year was the most efficient scoring and rebounding season in Knicks’ franchise history.*

Lee Chart 2

*Just to underline the point, the 23-year-old Lee’s 20.7% rebound rate means that he did the work of two average rebounders and his .652 true shooting percentage has been bettered by only three under-25 players in the last quarter century: Amar’e Stoudemire, Andrew Bynum, and Charles Barkley (who, incredibly, had already hit that mark 3 times by his the end of his age-25 year).  While Lee has yet to replicate either mark – and is unlikely to given his expanded repertoire – his rebound rate has never dipped below 17.5% and his true shooting percentage has remained above 58% in each subsequent season.

The Knicks felt the impact of Lee’s ultra-efficient production whenever he was on the court, as evidenced by on/off-court splits that compared favorably with more-highly touted and talented members of the 2010 free agent class of which Lee would eventually become a part:

Lee Chart 3

Lee’s efficiency took a dip in 2007-2008, but this was largely the result of an increased willingness to pull the trigger on open mid-range jumpers.  Lee – who was 1 for 12 from 10-15 feet for the entire 2006-07 season – forced opponents to at least consider guarding him away from the rim, attempting nearly a shot a game from that range and converting on 50% of those attempts.

The immediate impact was minimal, but it was a sign of the far more complete offensive player that Lee was primed to become.  The rest of the rock-bottom 2007-2008 Knicks’ season* was unremarkable for Lee – the team lost 59 games and was bad in essentially every possible lineup iteration.  Still, lineups with Lee continued to significantly outperform those without him.

Lee Chart 4

*Among a myriad of less notable disgraces, this was the season that featured the resolution of the ongoing Anucha Browne Sanders sexual harassment case, Stephon Marbury unilaterally deciding to have season-ending ankle surgery, and a $1.2 million per minute salary for Jerome James.  Really hard to imagine a young player not thriving in such a positive, growth-oriented environment.

The drastic lows of 2007-2008 had the considerable fringe benefit of removing Isiah Thomas from his palace atop mount Knickerbocker.  Few were more positively affected by this change than Lee.*  The organizational overhaul saw the installation of a general manager with his eyes set on the future (meaning that no more quick-fix, past-their-prime perimeter players would be brought in to impede the development of younger Knicks**) and a head coach with a system built around creating fast breaks, finishing on said fast breaks, and creating open jumpers early in the shot clock (three tenets which were, respectively, tailor-made for Lee’s superior defensive rebounding ability, his natural knack for finishing at the rim, and his developing perimeter game).

*My father remains one of the few who benefitted more than Lee from Isiah’s removal, insofar as he is not dead from a brain aneurysm, which was about one Zach Randolph shot-clock violation from happening.

** Or so we thought.  Yes, I’m looking at you Tracy McGrady.

Lee responded with a two-year stretch in which he developed from one of the league’s premier energy guys into the player that just commanded an $80 million contract on the open market.  The metamorphosis can be explained in two words: minutes and usage.*

*If I had to pick a third word it would be “follicles,” as Lee’s transformation included the emergence of a curly mop-topchin-hair combo that led my girlfriend and me to refer to him as “goat boy” for his last two years as a Knick.

First, minutes.  Considering that he had drafted Lee – and received more praise for the pick than any other move during his tenure – Isiah was bafflingly and stubbornly resistant to the idea of actually, you know, giving him playing time.  Lee had started only 55 games in three years under Brown and Isiah and had yet to eclipse 30 minutes per game at the time of Mike D’Antoni’s hiring.  In the two years since, Lee has started 155 games and logged nearly 6000 minutes.  This has had a huge effect on his raw numbers, turning his 11 and 9 in 2008 into a 20 and 12 in 2010 without material changes in offensive efficiency or rebound rate.

Of course, stagnant offensive efficiency isn’t the same as stagnant offensive production, and that’s where usage comes in.  The first three years of Lee’s career resembled a series of spirited 48-minute games of hot potato.  As excited as Lee seemed to get his hands on the ball each time it went up for grabs, he seemed nearly as anxious to get rid of it once it was in his control.  On the offensive end, Lee was strictly a finisher, with virtually identical assist and turnover totals through the first three years of his career and nearly three quarters of his field goal attempts taken at the rim.

Lee chart 5

On the other end, Lee’s world-class knack for owning the defensive glass was partially off-set by his unwillingness – or inability – to put the ball on the floor or make a dangerous outlet pass.  If he received the ball in a position that wasn’t conducive to an easy basket, he would look for the nearest ball-handler and make the safest, most immediate pass.

Under D’Antoni, Lee simply morphed into a different player.  The change was gradual and it’s hard to say how much of it had to do with D’Antoni’s system, his encouragement, or simply Lee’s work ethic.  It’s likely that all three factors played a role.  What is certain is that the one-time rebounder, dunker, and eschewer of any and all playmaking responsibility became the focal point of a passable NBA offense and did it without compromising his efficiency or benefitting from the presence of a top-level point guard.*

*This is where you say “But wait, Chris Duhon was GREAT with David Lee!  Their pick and rolls were awesome!  This was the one good thing Duhon had going for him!”  The results were there and you’re entitled to that opinion, but it seems a lot more plausible to me that Lee gained all the tools of a great pick-and-roll four at the exact moment that Chris Duhon happened to show up, and their supposed synergy had a lot more to do with Lee than Duhon.  I think the Lee/Stephen Curry pick and roll situation in Golden State is going to be something truly special, as Lee will finally benefit from playing with a point guard whose outside shooting ability will prevent defenders from cutting under his screens and result in more open rolls to the rim and matchups with the other teams point guard.  That is providing, of course, that Don Nelson doesn’t bench both of them for the entire season.

Three causes stand out in the 50% increase in Lee’s usage rate from 2008 to 2010.  First, the replacement of Marbury with Duhon meant more ball for everybody, as the incidents of Duhon taking the rock all the way to the rim himself were (mercifully) few.  Second, Lee’s more diverse offensive game meant shots from everywhere inside the arc, and his ability to convert those shots at a rate commensurate with the league’s best shooting big men meant that he could do it without giving away much in terms of efficiency.

Lee Chart 6

The most important change in Lee these past two years, however, is both the easiest and most difficult to quantify.  Assist numbers are powerful in that they – along with their derivative statistics, like pure point rating – are the only widely available tools used to represent a player’s passing ability and role in creating offense.  With so little available to contradict what assist totals tell us about these qualities, we tend to listen to what they say as if it offers the entire story.  And in Lee’s case, assist totals don’t exactly mislead – his dimes have more than doubled in the past two years on a per-game, per-minute, and per-possession basis.

But that doesn’t really cover it, and anybody who has been watching Lee’s development would be right to object to such an oversimplification.  Something bigger happened, and something too holistic to be explained away by any one number.  In the 2009-2010 season, David Lee became The Man.

Now, let’s be perfectly clear.  Lee was The Man on a 29-win team.  He was The Man despite being completely overmatched on defense more often than not.  He was The Man on a roster whose next best candidates for such a title were a 5’7” combo guard, a Pacers/Hawks cast-off, and a 21-year-old Italian who hears the phrase “pick and roll” and thinks about two of the many products he might use to make his hair look different for tonight’s game.

Put simply, David Lee should not be The Man.  But by some confluence of encouragement, development, and a dearth of better options, the hyperactive kid who didn’t want to hold the ball started calling for it in the post.  Started patiently waiting for cutters and hitting them with inch-perfect bounce passes.  Started rolling up top when plays broke down, waiting to receive the ball and reset the offense from the top of the key.  He actually put his head down and went after a few of his multitude of defensive rebounds, and he made enterprising passes that led to baskets after a good many more of them.  He led a team that nobody else wanted to lead – that nobody else had even wanted to be a part of just two years before, and he did it while maintaining the same exuberance and hustle that had always defined him.  He managed to simultaneously be both the big-man-on-campus and the walk-on fighting for minutes.

We will have a hard time evaluating Lee’s Knick career as the years pass.  With any luck, we will look at his six years as the team’s worst stretch ever – Lee missed their last playoff appearance by two years and logged minutes on two Knicks teams that are currently tied for the most losses in franchise history.  He was a bad defensive power forward and an even worse defensive center – though it is criminally under-mentioned that preventing second chance opportunities is an important component of team defense and that Lee is among the best of his generation in that particular regard.  We will remember his spirit and hustle fondly, and his 20 and 12 in 2009-2010 will always jump off the page, but he may ultimately prove to be doomed by association; like Don Mattingly and Rodney Hampton before him, remembered in the New York sports zeitgeist as the defining player of a disappointing era – cursed by his own memorability.

But maybe this is a case where time will not lend perspective, where it will instead rob us of gut reactions that may be more accurate.  And my gut reaction is this: David Lee is a good player, not a great player.  An excellent third option, a poor centerpiece.  With any luck he will become an important part of a great team, but he is not and never will be a great player.  But he is – was – a great Knick.  He gave us bright spots during dark times and made us say “Thank God SOMEONE on this horrible team cares as much as I do.”  It’s a legacy he shares with Nate, but his constant ability to add new dimensions to his game even in the face of a seemingly hopeless situation makes him the headliner of that legacy.

There is one other way to think about David Lee, another way to consider his value and his lasting impact on the franchise.  This is to evaluate him based on the haul that he brought back from the Warriors.  In Kelenna Azubuike, Ronny Turiaf, and – primarily – Anthony Randolph, we as Knicks fans have the fruits of David Lee’s labor.  His commitment on the glass, his development into a serious threat on the pick-and-roll, his unerring improvement in his shooting and passing game made him into a player whose sign-and-trade commanded one of the brightest – and rawest – young talents in the NBA.  What Randolph becomes as a Knick will be inexorably linked to our memories of David Lee and our appreciation for all the work he put in, whether that’s fair or not.

Randolph is super-athletic, well-built, versatile.  He is emphatic and raw.  He is exciting and immature.  In other words, he is Chris Taft, circa 2005.

Five years after the Knicks took David Lee over a raw, potential All-Star power forward, they accepted a raw, potential All-Star power forward in exchange for him.  Things didn’t work out for the one they passed on.  Hopefully they’ll work out better for the one they acquired this week.  And hopefully he, Randolph, will see happier days with the Knicks than the guy they traded for him – the one who was never supposed to be a star, and turned into one before our eyes.

2010 Report Card: Mike D’Antoni

In 2010, the Knicks were expected to better their 33 wins from the season prior. The returning players should have reaped the benefits of familiarity with D’Antoni’s offense. The team had multiple young players which should have improved. And the addition of two first round picks should have assisted with filling out the roster. However D’Antoni’s team floundered in his second season, finishing 4 games worse than the year prior.

The 2010 New York offense was nearly identical to 2009. Both teams finished 17th in offensive efficiency (107.6 in 2010, 108.1 in 2009) with good shooting (10th in 2010, 12th in 2009) and turnovers (11th in 2010 and 2009), while eschewing rebounding (27th in 2010 and 2009) and free throw shooting (28th in 2010 and 2009). However the defense was considerably worse dropping from 110.8 points per 100 possessions in 2009 (23rd) to 111.6 pts/100poss (tied 27th). The team was considerably worse with regards to rebounding going from tied for 20th place to 27th.

Granted the D’Antoni era Knicks with their broken roster wasn’t supposed to be about winning games, at least thus far. But even casting that aside, it’s hard to like everything that has happened to the team under his leadership. Take for instance his handling of certain players. You can write off his dealing with Marbury, considering how the latter has acted publicly (and if the public only sees a small portion of Marbury’s life, then I can only imaging what he was truly like). But it’s hard to dismiss Nate Robinson as easily. Nate was an integral part of the team last year amassing 2209 minutes, but by December he was persona non grata. Benching one of the team’s best players for a month due to immaturity seems harsh.

Just as important was his inability to handle his team publicly. Surprisingly Nate dealt with the benching in a mature fashion when it came to the press, however Larry Hughes and Darko Milicic were much less accommodating. D’Antoni failed to quell the media storm that came with these issues, and instead seemed to fuel them by teetering between aloofness and annoyance whenever asked about playing time.

Of course there may be elements that we as outsiders are not privy to, especially with regards to what occurs behind the scenes. But it’s impossible to defend D’Antoni’s choices in the rotation during the 2010 season. Tossing out the corpse of Chris Duhon’s night after night was inexplicable, and perhaps the worst coaching decision he has made. It was like the NBA’s version of the Emperor’s New Clothes; everyone could see that Duhon was awful except for the one person who could have removed him from the rotation. It’s not like D’Antoni didn’t have other options. Nate Robinson, Sergio Rodriguez, and Toney Douglas were obvious choices to replace Duhon. And the rookie proved to be a good player once he finally got playing time.

The point guard spot wasn’t the only position where D’Antoni blundered. For a team that was one of the worst in the league on defense and rebounding, D’Antoni refused to give serious consideration to any of the team’s natural centers. Granted the issues with Eddy Curry are well documented, but the team should have experimented with either Jordan Hill or Darko Milicic to see if either could have addressed these issues. Both players received more minutes from their new teams upon being traded, so it’s hard to believe there was anything other than D’Antoni’s own blinders which prevented them from contributing to the team. The treatment of Douglas, Hill, and Robinson might not be on par with ignoring Barnes, trading away Ariza, and burying David Lee on the depth chart. However there’s no doubt that the team squandered the talent on an already resource poor team.

Not everything was bad for D’Antoni in 2010. He did help along some of the younger players. Danilo Gallinari didn’t turn into a superstar, but played well for a 21 year old. Meanwhile 23 year old Toney Douglas and 22 year old Bill Walker were surprisingly productive, albeit in limited minutes. And the ability to recognize David Lee’s passing ability and run the offense through him was pretty inventive. Depending on who the Knicks sign this summer, many of the issues with D’Antoni are likely to vanish. However human weaknesses often appear under the worst stress and strain, and perhaps 2010 was a magnifying glass on what D’Antoni doesn’t do well.

Report Card (5 point scale):

In order to grade D’Antoni I’m going to use a different set of metrics. In a recent interview, Henry Abbott of TrueHoop was asked about Nate McMillan and said this about NBA coaches:

The way to judge a coach is not to obsess over this or that little thing, but to look around the franchise and ask: Are the basketball players well-led? Do they give great effort at all times? Are the offense and defense generally efficient? Are the players on the roster well-deployed? Do the players believe in the coach as their leader? Is the staff on the same page?

So I’ll attempt to answer these questions, although I have to do so as an outsider, speculating where necessary.

Are the basketball players well-led? 3
Do they give great effort at all times? 3
Sometimes it’s hard to separate ability with effort, and perhaps with D’Antoni’s short rotation watching the same players with the same flaws become ingrained in my memory. I didn’t get the feeling that the team was ill-prepared or lethargic, but I didn’t feel that they were superbly organized or energetic.

Are the offense and defense generally efficient? 1
The offense has been what you’d expect, but the defense was just dreadful last season. If pushed I could go with a 2, but when you consider that D’Antoni wasted so many minutes on Jared Jeffries, you’d expect better than the 3rd worst defense in the NBA. Additionally he could have moved David Lee back to PF in order to better protect the paint.

Are the players on the roster well-deployed? -5
By far D’Antoni’s worst ability, as mentioned above.

Do the players believe in the coach as their leader? NA
Impossible to answer this question from my perspective.

Is the staff on the same page? 5
I’ve never heard any dissent from the other coaches or even the front office. Considering that one of the assistant coaches is kin, and that Donnie Walsh has gone out on a limb to protect his coach, this is D’Antoni’s strength so far.

Final Grade: F

The Grass Really Isn’t Greener

Back in February, a lot of Knick fans were hoping for some kind of change to jump start their lifeless 2010 season. New York was 19-34 (.358) and seemingly stuck in a mire. By the 20th they had dumped Nate Robinson, Jordan Hill, Jared Jeffries and a bunch of draft picks for a winter rental of Tracy McGrady, Eddie House, Bill Walker, and Sergio Rodriguez. Some fans saw McGrady, a former All Star, as a potential great player. For instance a friend of mine on facebook wrote “T-Mac, now a Knick, hopefully he stays healthy and has a couple more good seasons left in him.”

Since that trade New York’s record hasn’t gotten better as the team has won only 5 of the last 15 games. Neither McGrady nor his new teammates have been able to turn the tide. In fact the Knicks won the only game that McGrady missed (against the Hawks), so he hasn’t been as effective as my friend expected. Personally, I wanted the Knicks to change because the team had been monotonous, and after the trade the new players were intriguing to watch. But ultimately, to paraphrase Bill Parcels, you’re as interesting as your record. And the results from the new group of players has been just as bad as the old group.

There are a few positives to take from this trade. The first is Bill Walker, who is playing reasonably well and could be a cheap and productive roster filler for 2010 and beyond. The second is New York’s first hand look at McGrady, House, and Rodriguez might prevent them from spending too much on any of these players. They haven’t looked particularly good, and although each may have something to bring to the Knicks past this year, none are playing well enough for the team giddily overpay them. The last positive is the extra minutes for Toney Douglas. Although it would have been possible for the team to play him without this trade, with D’Antoni’s mindset that may have not occurred. But the removal of Nate Robinson helped pave the way for his minutes, along with the equally poor play from Duhon/Rodriguez. With the team counting every summer 2010 penny, having two guys that make relatively little but that can crack the rotation will be key for the future.

Looking To Last Year For Answers

At the start of the season, it was expected that the Knicks would improve on their 32-50 record from the prior year. However the team is under performing and is on pace to win 28 games. With the team failing to meet even their own low standards, it’d be nice to pinpoint exactly what’s going wrong. A good starting place would be to compare this team to last year’s using four factor statistics.

Year       EFF  eFG%  TO% REB% FTFG
2009 Off 108.1  50.3 14.7 24.4 21.0
2010 Off 106.4  50.5 14.9 23.2 19.3

Year       EFF  eFG%  TO% REB% FTFG
2009 Def 110.8  52.0 14.9 27.3 21.5 
2010 Def 109.8  51.7 15.6 27.7 21.2

Oddly New York is a little better defensively than they were last year. The change is due to an uptick in turnovers, and perhaps a minor improvement in shooting percentage allowed. On the other hand the offense has clearly regressed, with more than a point and a half decline per 100 possessions. While the shooting percentage and turnovers are just about the same, rebounding and free throws have fallen considerably.

Grabbing rebounds and drawing fouls are two specialties of David Lee. Compared to last year, Lee’s oreb/36 has slid from 3.3 to a mediocre 2.6 and his fta/36 has gone from 4.2 to 3.8. Perhaps his role in this year’s offense is one of the reasons for the decline, because D’Antoni tends to start the half court offense with Lee on the perimeter orchestrating. This has increased David’s assist numbers (from 2.2 to 3.4 ast/36) but it seems to come at the expense of his other strengths. The typical counterargument for this is that having the Knicks keep the opposing center on the perimeter opens up the middle for the rest of the team. However the team stats contradict such an assertion, with the shooting percentage staying level and the number of fouls in the paint decreasing.

Lee isn’t the only offender in recovering his team’s misses. Gallinari has been inserted into the starting lineup, and he’s only pulling 0.8 oreb/36 which is feeble for a 6-10 player. And one of last year’s New York’s best glass cleaners, Nate Robinson (1.6 oreb/36) was benched earlier in the season and now has been traded away. Even Jeffries’ 3.5 oreb/36 was marginalized to 2.4 oreb/36, a sign that it was a fundamental change in the team’s philosophy that contributed to this decline.

But it’s New York’s free throws that might be hurting them the most. One culprit is Chris Duhon whose production has dipped from 2.6 fta/36 to a pitiful 1.7 fta/36. Duhon has been benched in favor of Rodriguez, however this problem might not have been addressed as Sergio is no threat in the paint either (2.2 fta/36). And again Nate Robinson was a big help here, but his numbers saw a huge decline in 2010 (4.8 to 2.7 fta/36).

If I had to build a narrative based on this data, I’d say that the fault lies in a combination of the roster and plan put together by the coaching staff. Perhaps David Lee has become more of a complete player this year, but looking at the results from a team level you have to question the cost. His game has been slowly been pulled away from the basket (his offensive rebounding per minute numbers have dropped every year since 2007) and perhaps in the course of rounding his game out the pendulum has swung too far in that direction. Similarly Nate Robinson was marginalized in an attempt to transform him from a shooting guard into a point guard.

One perspective on the team was that Lee’s unidimensional game and Nate’s out of control play as attributes holding the team back. Well those problems were addressed, and the team has only gotten worse. In D’Antoni’s defense the Knick roster isn’t exactly brimming with talent, but a good coach find his player’s strengths and his strategy adheres to those attributes. New York’s coach appears to be too unbending in his philosophy, and looking at the history of the team’s guards in his tenure shows a mismanagement of talent. Marbury, Richardson, Hughes, and Robinson have all been run out of town. Meanwhile Duhon has stuck around much longer than he should have, and Toney Douglas is still on the fringe of the rotation. D’Antoni is known as being a great offensive point guard in his career, but he’s failed to turn that into anything tangible so far.

Milwaukee 83 – New York 67, The Good And The Bad

You didn’t have to look too deep last night to see examples of the opposing extremes. In a night where the franchise honored the 1970 championship team, their modern day heirs put up a 67 point stinker. Another polar event was the benching of Chris Duhon, who despite being third on the team in minutes played racked up a DNP in favor of newcomer Sergio Rodriguez. The Knicks scored 118 (albeit in overtime) against the #3 defense just two nights prior, but struggled to put up half that against the Bucks. Newly anointed savior Tracy McGrady followed up a 26 pts on 17 shots masterpiece with a 15 pts on 14 shots clunker.

But it wasn’t limited to T-Mac, as the entire team looked bad shooting. Chandler and Gallo, two youngsters who were supposed to thrive with the addition of talented passers, were a combined 4-14. Eddie House put up a Crawford-esque 4-16, Al Harrington was a meager 3-9, and Sergio Rodriguez made his predecessor look like a viable option with his 2-8 night.

The 1970 Knicks were known for their teamwork and fundamentals, as many of the telecast’s guests pointed out, and last night’s team failed to play as a unit. Rodriguez had lots of energy, but nearly too much for his teammates. He racked up 8 steals, and often pushed the ball up the floor. The problem was he was met by superior opposing numbers as the rest of New York jogged their way up the floor.

Other than cohesiveness, the Knicks lacked one other crucial aspect. With Lee bringing his game out to 15 feet and adding a long range bomber in Eddie House, the Knicks lack scoring in the paint to open the exterior. One play that stuck out in my mind was when Tony Douglas received the ball right under the hoop, but was unable to even get a shot off. Al Harrington can drive to the hoop, but he rarely passes the ball in that scenario. We’ve seen Tracy McGrady get the ball in a mid-post iso, but I’m not sure if he has that first step to get past his defender. The team is lacking someone that can really slash to the hoop. Perhaps they’ll get a view of one tonight as they face Nate Robinson and the Celtics.

Can We Do Two? (Or, “Where’s My Cap At?”)

Drumroll please…

This is what the Knicks cap situation looks like for the long-awaited “Summer of LeBron,” going into the 2010-2011 season. Only four players are under contract.

Player 2010-2011
Curry 11,276,863
Gallinari 3,304,560
Chandler 2,130,481
Douglas 1,071,000
roster charge* 2,841,624

Committed salary: $20.62 million.

If the Knicks want truly max cap space, they could let every other player – from Bill Walker on up to David Lee – walk away for nothing. However, until those players are “renounced,” they continue to take up cap space. For most veterans, the “cap hold” is 150% of their most recent salary. For “non-Bird” free agents, i.e. those who just got traded, like Eddie House, it’s 120%.

McGrady 34,859,342
Harrington 15,040,313
Lee 10,500,000
Duhon 9,047,700
House 3,434,400
Bender 895,907

The Knicks also have two players with team options, JR Giddens and Bill Walker. Their contracts include a set price for picking up the option.

Giddens 1,100,640
Walker 854,389

Finally, Sergio Rodriguez is a restricted free agent.

Rodriguez 2,805,888

Like Nate Robinson and David Lee last summer, the Knicks can keep Rodriguez by making a qualifying offer — in Rodriguez’ case, $2.8 million. Or, as they did with Lee and Robinson, they could cut a deal for more. Ted Nelson suggests that Rodriguez has more bargaining power than most restricted free agents, since he could probably play in Spain, tax-free, for $5 million or more.  Of course, he may want to stay on the New York stage, even if it means accepting less money.

Where will the cap fall? It depends on who you ask, but bet on a number between $51 million and $56 million. A maximum starting salary is 30% of the cap, or in the $15-17 million range. In other words, the Knicks COULD probably sign two max free agents – if they’re willing to renounce David Lee, and fill out the roster with minimum salary guys. Or, they could sign LeBron James, give $9 million to Lee and have $6-8 million left for additional free agents, or to absorb salary in trades.

Another number to keep in mind: players are allowed annual raises of 10.5%.  The Knicks could start Lee at $8 million, and by including maximum raises, make it a 6-year deal for a total of $60.6 million.  Teams signing other teams’ free agents are only allowed to make a 5-year offer.

Let the arguments begin!

*For the roster charge, I used (6 x the rookie minimum of $473,604). By league rules, the Knicks must carry at least 12 players on the roster, so technically, with only 4 under contract, the roster charge going into the offseason is 8 x $473,604  (or $3.8 million).  However, for every free agent we sign, the roster charge goes down by one player. What we’re really trying to figure out is: can the Knicks sign LeBron James and Dwyane Wade? To do that math, we only need figure on 6 remaining roster slots.

— additional design and inspiration by Thomas B.