Illadelph

Aiyyo I’m all the way way, Phil Phil-lay-lay
People wanna see the way the Illadel play
Yo, look in the mirror, watch what yourself say

— “Dynamite”
The Roots

In our continuing saga, Nazr Mohammed stays out of foul (4) trouble to play 40 minutes. For those without a calculator (or any semblance of math skills), his average last night of 4.8 PF/48min is much lower than his season average (5.8). It could have been even lower except he picked up a foul on a weak call on a loose ball. The Sixer defender (Dalembert?) was falling on the ground without control of the ball, and Nazr just took a swipe at it. If I recall correctly, that was his third foul, and he came out of the game. The last time Nazr played 40 minutes was on January 21, 2002, more than two years ago. It was his third 40+ minute game in a 4 game span. In those 4 games, he averaged 19 points and 17 rebounds.

Othella Harrington and Kurt both were in foul trouble. ‘Thella had 5 fouls in 14 minutes. That’s an average of 17PF in 48min! He scored a grand total of 0 points. His days as the backup PF are numbered. You can see that Wilkens is trying to get Sweetney more minutes, because he would love to have Sweetney as the primary backup. It’s just that the rookie out of Georgetown isn’t ready yet. Wilkens even tried to start Sweetney, but that was a disaster.

The case against Othella Harrington being around much longer keeps growing. Consider:

  • He makes stupid fouls, and the Knicks already have enough big guys to send them into the penalty every quarter.
  • Their most prized rookie (Sweetney) plays the same position.
  • Isaiah Thomas is trying to make the team younger, and Harrington is 30.
  • Vin Baker might sign with the Knicks.
  • Rasheed Wallace has said he would like to sign with the Knicks.
  • Next year will be the last year of his contract.

I doubt he’ll be wearing a Knick uniform next year. His $3.15 million dollar expiring contract will be attractive to a team looking for a little cap space.

One more thing: don’t miss tomorrow’s column, with a special post for the Friday game against Toronto.

Miss Cleo or KnickerBlogger?

you can’t tell the future in a cookie
but do you ever get the hint?
and you can place your hand on a crystal ball
do you ever think you’ll win?

— “Tales From Tomorrow”
Pulsars

Today Lenny Wilkens proclaimed (for the second time) that Nazr Mohammed will be the Knicks starting center. I’m glad I predicted in my last column that he would be the Knicks starter. Of the numerous articles I’ve read, none have mentioned the one problem that keeps Nazr from being the Knicks’ starter: his foul trouble. Here’s a quick recap of Nazr’s Knick history:

2/20 – His first game as a Knick, Mohammed backs up Mutombo. Nazr plays 17 minutes, but commits 4 fouls. He only scores 2 points, but has 6 rebounds and 2 blocks.

2/22 – Again the backup, Nazr only plays 12 minutes, and again he gets 6 rebounds.

2/24 – Wilkens decides to make Mohammed the starter (for the first time). He plays well for 33 minutes, scoring 15 points, and grabbing 8 rebounds. He stays out of foul trouble, with only 2 PFs.

2/25 – Nazr starts again. This is the game Tim Thomas hurts his elbow, and the Knicks are shorthanded. Mohammed’s time is limited to 17 minutes due to 4 fouls.

2/27 – Unhappy with Mohammed’s foul trouble, and fed up with Mutombo’s inability to cover his own man, Wilkens plays Kurt Thomas at center, and Harrington at PF. Nazr plays well of the bench for 23 minutes, with 12 rebounds and 5 points (and only 2 fouls). Harrington shows he’s not the answer as the starting PF.

2/29 – Wilkens continues with his Kurt Thomas at center (again) experiment, but this time Sweetney starts at PF. The rookie gets into foul trouble quickly in the first quarter, and the PF/C minutes are split between Harrington (8), Mutombo (14), and Nazr (17). Nazr is a non-factor with only 2 points and 2 rebounds.

3/03 – Mohammed to start at home against the Sixers.

In his 6 games, Mohammed has had 2 good games, 2 games where he’s had foul trouble, and 2 non-factor games due to not enough minutes. If being in foul trouble in 2 out of 4 or 6 games seems to be a lot, it’s because it is. His average this year of 5.8PF/48min is below his career average of 6.1. In case you think this might be inflated due to his limited minutes (small sample size), when he started 73 games in ’01, he averaged 5.6. Keith Van Horn who was criticized for committing dumb fouls, only had 4.6FP/48min. Across the river, Jason Collins (5.2) and Kenyon Martin (4.8) foul less than Mohammed. The Knicks have a problem in this area, since Sweetney (6.0) and Harrington (7.3) are also foul prone. Only Deke stays out of trouble with 4.5PF/48min. I guess arguing with the refs on every play pays off for Mt. Mutombo.

At this moment, the only thing stopping Nazr Mohammed from being the Knicks starting center is himself. I think even if Nazr can’t stay on the court, he’ll still start, since the Knicks don’t have any options in this area. I’ll be shocked if Mutombo or Harrington starts again (unless players get injured). If Sweetney develops into a solid contributor, then Wilkens might be pushed into putting him into the starting role, and moving Kurt to center. However I don’t think that will happen this year.

Mohammed would be smart to make a name for himself now, before Vin Baker comes to town. If he?s plays well and becomes entrenched as the starter, it will be harder for Baker to take that spot away. That’s the only legitimate threat Mohammed has, other than the officials.

Choices

Three choices.
One bullet.
One trigger.
Guess who gets to pull it?

— Head? Chest? or Foot?
Propogandhi

Last night, Lenny Wilkens came out with a lineup I was thoroughly pleased with. The big changes were Kurt Thomas starting at center for the second straight game and rookie Michael Sweetney started at PF. It was Sweetney’s first start in the NBA.

I thought this was a good lineup because, arguably Kurt might be our best starting center. Mutombo, albeit a good help defender and rebounder, is too slow to guard other centers one on one. Deke might have the worst footwork of any big man I’ve seen on the offensive end. He can turn a 3 foot layup into an 8 foot hook shot. Nazr Mohammed looks promising at times. His post moves look good, although he’s missing a lot, and his rebounding is solid. However he keeps getting into foul trouble, averaging 5.8PF/48mins as a Knick.

This year Thomas’ scoring is down, but he might be the best scorer of the three. Not only that, but he might be the best man-to-man defender of the three (certainly he’s not worse than Mutombo). Of the other two, Nazr might be a better pure center, but we won’t know until he can stay in the game for more than 20 minutes on a consistent basis.

When he joined the Knicks, Isaiah Thomas was shocked that the #9 pick in the draft was wasting away on the I.R. One of the advantages to drafting Sweetney out of Georgetown was that he was supposed to be ready to play in the NBA. Against the Clippers, Wilkens started Thomas at center, and gave Kurt’s old starting spot at PF to Othella Harrington. Harrington was, to be kind, unspectacular in 25 minutes. So why not try the rookie out and see what he has?

Sweetney got into foul trouble quickly, and was yanked early in the first quarter. His line for the game was as empty as they come: 9mins, 0-1FG, 4PFs, and nothing else. It could have been worse, Harrington could have come in & done well. Instead Harrington was limited to 8 minutes, where he only had 2 points, 2 turnovers, and 1 foul.

Nazr and Deke split about 31 minutes at center, and Thomas split his 41 minutes between PF and C. Out of all the people mentioned in this entry, only Thomas had a good stat line: 9-19 with 18 points and 11 boards.

It’s no secret that the Knicks have a problem in the middle. Each option has a big weakness or two. It looks like Wilkens is tired of watching other centers have career nights against the Knicks. Which leaves either Nazr or Kurt to start at center. If Kurt starts, who will get the nod at PF, Sweetney or Harrington? Basically it’s a three man competition, since Kurt Thomas will start at either center or power forward. Who will get the nod between Mohammed, Harrington, or Sweetney? All three foul too often to tell. I’d love to say Sweetney will develop, but I think he just hasn’t had enough playing time. I’ll go with Mohammed, since he’s more ready to play now than Sweetney and has a higher ceiling than Othella.

LA Clippers 96, New York 94

I had it, and I lost it,
Now you’ve got to
help me get it back again

— “Lost It”
The Hippos

Yesterday I had the good fortune of watching the Knicks play again. But what if you actually had a life & were doing something else last night other than watching the game? How would you learn about the game?

I imagine most people would pickup a paper, or if you?re reading this probably go online to read a recap of the game. ESPN?s recap spends a lot of time on what happened in the last few minutes to win or loose a game, but they usually don?t mention what happened in the rest of the game. Sure they?ll tell you how many points a certain player scored, and any spectacular plays that happened early on. But most likely it?s the last few minutes that they?ll concentrate on. I like to look at the box score to get a fuller picture of how the team played.

The Knicks outscored the Clippers in 3 of the 4 quarters, but it was Los Angeles? big first quarter that was the deciding factor. The Knicks had a slight edge in FG%, FT%, and turnovers. The rebounding edge went to the Clippers who had 3 more offensive boards, but maybe the biggest statistical advantage was the three point shots. L.A. hit 6 of 17, while the Knicks were only 2-11, a paltry percentage. I can recall from watching the game that at least twice the Clippers had an uncontested three point shot due to a poor defensive rotation.

Both teams attempted lots of free throws. Looking at the NBA team stats, teams average between 19 and 28 FTA per game, and shoot an average of 66%-80%. This night, the teams would both exceed the maximums in each. The Knicks hit 30 of 33 free throws (91%), and the Clips were 24 of 29 (83%). You can verify that both teams are generous with sending their opponents to the charity stripe (without accounting for pace).

Looking over the individual efforts, Marbury scored 28 points in 45 minutes. That means he sat out for only 3 minutes. I looked to see how much the Knick backup PGs played, and ?lo & behold at the bottom there are two DNP-CD?s next to Norris and Frank Williams? names. Most likely, Penny played the point while Stephon was resting. Not a good sign for Frank Williams? fans.

Tim Thomas was next in scoring with 22 points in 39 minutes. Other than hitting all of his free throws, the rest of his stat sheet was unspectacular with 4 boards, 2 assists, only 1 turnover (good for the amount of minutes he played) and 5 fouls (not so good).

Kurt Thomas had 4 fouls in only 16 minutes, Tim Thomas had 5, Othella had 4, and Sweetney had 3 minutes. In the ?why didn?t they get more minutes? department, I would nominate the Knicks? starting centers of the two games before. Nazr Mohammed seemed to have a good night. After his poor outing yesterday, he had 12 rebounds with 5 on the offensive end, in only 23 minutes. Mutombo had 3 offensive boards in 13 minutes. Statistically, the Knicks might have been better giving Harrington?s minutes to Nazr or Deke (by having Kurt Thomas at the 4 instead of the 5). Harrington had a horrible statistical night, 6 points, 4 fouls, and only 3 boards in 25 minutes.

On the other end of the box score, Richardson, Brand, and Maggette combined for more than half of their teams? points (58), rebounds (22), free throws (15/18), and blocks (3). Richardson and Jaric hit all of the Clips 6 treys. Simmons and Wilcox provided some spark off the bench with 21 points and 12 rebounds.

From the box score I would think that the teams were pretty evenly matched. The only differences that stick out are the 4 more three pointers, and the 3 more offensive rebounds. It was a game that could have gone either way, and since I witnessed it, I know this was certainly true.

Suns 113, Knicks 95

It is time
It is time for
It is time for stormy weather

–“Stormy Weather”
The Pixies

Even though you can analyze basketball fairly well with statistics, there is much to basketball that doesn’t show up in the stat sheet. On the same note those that watch the game without a good understanding of the stats will not be getting the whole picture either. If you watched a game, you wouldn’t know if someone shot 42% (10/24) or 50% (12/24), unless you kept track. The difference is only 2 shots out of 24, but someone who shoots 50% consistently would be one of the league leaders, whereas a 42% shooter would be at the other end of the spectrum.

Unfortunately last night’s game coincided with the funniest show on tv, so I did miss a good 20 minutes or so. The game wasn’t a close match, so I really didn’t feel like I missed much. I wanted to concentrate on the Knicks that I haven’t seen much of, namely Nazr Mohammed, Tim Thomas, and rookie Michael Sweetney, who has moved up the depth charts recently. I know what they do statistically, but I wanted to learn how they compiled their numbers.

Tim Thomas hurt his arm on the first play of the game. He would stay in the game for a few minutes, and have the most exciting play of the night for the Knicks. It started when Marbury stole the ball & headed up court with the closest Sun right behind in hot pursuit. Knowing he couldn’t have made the basket with a defender in tow, near the basket Marbury made a nice behind the back backwards pass to the trailing Thomas. Thomas followed with an athletic dunk. In my head I imagined Van Horn on that play. Keith would have missed the lay-up, but get the offensive board and get fouled on the ensuing shot. It was a prime example of the “athleticism” everyone had been talking about. Thomas would leave the game shortly after due to the elbow injury, and not return.

My focus drifted to Nazr Mohammed. I want to see what kind of offensive skills he has. A PF can average 10 PPG, but you can’t tell from the stat sheet whether he scores primarily by jump shots, posting up, or from offensive rebounds. Nazr did appear to like to work from the post. His first attempt was a post up fadeaway, but he started so far from the paint, it fell way short of the hoop. The next time he was posting up closer to the hoop, and spun into the paint. He missed again, but the move looked pretty good. His only points of the night were the results of a great pass by Marbury under the hoop for an easy dunk. He also had a nice pass out of a double team in the post to a wide open Kurt Thomas.

Nazr Mohammad only scored 2 points because he was in foul trouble all night. If you didn’t watch the game, you would know this by looking at the box score. When someone who would probably play 25-30 minutes, plays only 14 and has 4 fouls in that span, you can conclude that they had foul trouble. However if you just looked at the stat sheet, you wouldn’t know that Nazr committed a stupid foul on McDyess. With less than 5 seconds left in the half Mohammed committed a reach in foul under the hoop, which sent the former Knick McDyess to the foul line. It was no surprise to me that Mohammed was in foul trouble. Looking at his per 48 minutes, Mohammed averages 5.8 personal fouls. That?s almost as high as team leader Othella Harrington (7.3), and the same as Kurt Thomas. The next current Knicks on the list are Sweetney (4.6) and Mutombo (4.5).

Seeing Michael Sweetney next to Jahidi was the only other highlight for me. They are both large men. At one point White was driving to the hoop, put up a shot and on the way down crashed into a stationary Sweetney. Instead of following the shot, my eyes followed White?s trajectory. I was surprised that Sweetney was not only able to hold his ground, but he repelled the massive White. The Knicks rookie PF looks skilled, but lost at times especially on defense. I expect that if the Knicks are patient enough to give him playing time, this befuddled play will disappear as it did with another New Yorker, who was wide eyed early in his career.

Moochie Norris, although not on my list to watch, made a name for himself on my notepad. He embarrassed himself last twice last night. In the first half while bringing the ball up, Kurt Thomas was wide open on the far side waiving his arms frantically asking for the ball. By the time Moochie woke up from his daydream and passed Thomas the ball, the defense collapsed on Kurt, forcing him to take a bad shot. The second bungle was without the ball. Norris freed himself on a screen, but as the ball was passed to him, he tripped on his own feet, and fell flat onto the court. Why Norris gets any time ahead of Frank Williams is a column for another day.

The Knicks were lit up last night by the inside presence of the Suns. It seems that the last few games teams have figured out how weak the Knicks are up the middle, and have been exploiting this. Jahidi White, who is averaging 4.7 PPG this year, tore up the Knicks. He looked like Shaq on the offensive glass, pulling down 5 offensive boards in only 15 minutes. Amare Stoudemire posterized Deke with a dunk, then to add insult to injury, rejected him at the other end. It was that kind of night.

DON’T LET’S START

Don’t let’s start
This is the worst part
Could believe for all the world
That you’re my precious little girl
But don’t let’s start
I’ve got a weak heart

They Might Be Giants

What a day to start a Knicks blog. In case you decided to do something else last night other than watch the game yesterday (lucky choice), you might not understand why. I can attest to you first handed that the Knicks played a half-hearted effort for 3 quarters last night. I wish I could say anything about the fourth quarter, but I switched to another game half way through. They scored 11 after the first quarter, 28 at the half. It was that kind of night. Thank goodness I don’t believe in omens or anything of that sort, or this might turn out to be the worst blog ever.

This is the Knicks team that we’ll see for the rest of the year, since the trade deadline has passed. Only 5 of the 12 players that played last night were on the team at the start of the year. It’ll be 6 when Houston comes back from injury. For the most part, I really like what Isaiah Thomas has done with this team since his arrival. This is a team that won 37 games last year, and 30 the year before. Scott Layden had assembled a bunch of overpriced bench players, that seemingly had zero value and couldn’t be dealt. Over the summer Knick fans had hope again, when Layden drafted 3 young players with promise. It should have been a good sign when for once the Knick fans at the draft were cheering for the players that were drafted instead of their usual “Fi-re Lay-den!”

However things went sour quickly, as two of the rookies were burried on the I.R., and the third was so low on the depth chart that he played a whole 44 minutes (garbage minutes) before heading to the I.R. in December to join his draftmates. The team was in the worst sort of disarray, they were losing games and not developing their rookies. You can’t blame Dolan for firing Layden at that point.

Since then Isaiah, has taken over the reigns. If the NBA was a western movie, Isaiah would have been the cowboy who stops the gallooping horses from taking the carriage off the cliff. He cut rookie Slavko Vranes. The Knicks had about 7 guys that could play PF, but only 2 SG and 2 PGs. Weatherspoon went to the Rockets for Moochie Norris. Zeke made the huge trade for Stephon Marbury & Penny Hardaway. And a few days ago, he traded Keith Van Horn, Michael Doleac, and a second round pick for Tim Thomas and Nazr Mohammed.

In my opinion, he’s done a great job on each move, except for the last one. I still don’t understand that last deal. Keith Van Horn is Tim Thomas’ superior in most of the important statistical categories. He’s a better scorer. A better rebounder. A better offensive rebounder. A better thief. A better free throw shooter. Better at drawing fouls. Thomas has him beat in assists, turnovers, and age.

So I was shocked to see the media for the most part praising this move. I don’t know the statistics on this, but I’m sure nobody could give a reason without including the words “more athletic.” I can’t verify this either, but I’m sure the word “alley-oop” increased on Knick message boards by about 500%.

One question that just leaps into my mind: If Thomas is more athletic, then what words would you use to describe why he has put up less statistically? Unskilled comes to mind to me. Unmotivated seems to be a favorite choice of optomists. There have been plenty of players that have been great athletically, but aren’t good basketball players. There is more to basketball than being athletic, just like in baseball (right Michael?).

I guess in the scope of things, the loss to the Knicks in this deal isn’t that bad. Nazr Mohammed is by most scouting reports, an excellent rebounder and a decent shooter. He hasn’t played much in the last few years, so maybe he can develop into a decent big man, like another Knick did. If he can develop into a C that can play 24-30 minutes a game, maybe that can alleviate the loss of Van Horn. The Knicks are a better team today because of Isaiah Thomas than they were just two months ago. I just hope Houston comes back ASAP & is healthy, because right now the Knicks don’t have a good second scorer.