First Round Thoughts

Just opening this up for people to talk about the first round. I haven’t seen a lot of games, but I did catch a few good ones. I saw the Celtics lose in overtime, the Lakers crush the Jazz, and a bit of the Nuggets/Hornets. Of the few games I saw, it was interesting how many ex-Knicks (and potential ex-Knicks) were involved on winning teams: Trevor Ariza, Joakim Noah, Tyrus Thomas, Nene. It’s hard not to be a little bitter about it, at least for another year…

As for the upsets, the East looks like a one man race at this point. The Celtics clearly aren’t the same without Garnett. Orlando lost to the Sixers? OK so that’s more likely to be a fluke than not, but it does raise questions at this point about the Magic. And if you thought the Heat were a Wade explosion from potentially beating the Cavs…

Who Will Win the Western Conference?

According to at least one gambling site, the Lakers are by far the favorite to win the West. But how far ahead of the rest of the field are they? Los Angeles was 11 games better than any other Western team. But the Lakers are only 55 win percentage points better than the Trailblazers, .739 to .684, when using expected win percentage based on run differential. That’s a bit closer than the 134 point difference when looking at actual win percentage. Additionally the Lakers are most likely going to face the Jazz, Blazers, and Spurs/Nuggets. Certainly that’s tougher than the Pistons, Hawks/Heat, and Magic/Celtics that will meet Cleveland in the East.

So what do you think, can any Western team derail the Lakers?

{democracy:27}

Samb A Low Risk For New York

Yesterday the Knicks signed Cheik Samb to a 10 day contract. Samb has played for 3 other NBA teams (the Pistons, Nuggets, and Clippers) but has only amassed 106 minutes in that time. His per minute numbers show him to be a strong shot blocker with a very limited offensive game. In fact his shooting numbers are downright laughably bad (TS% 30.5, eFG 27.3%)

Although I’m a big of a supporter of per minute numbers, 106 minutes isn’t enough of a sample to make a good conclusion. This is especially true with regards to a players shooting percentages, which vary more from game to game than their other stats. Luckily Samb has logged 500+ minutes for the NBDL, and his 14.7 pts/36 on 52.8% TS% in the minor league is encouraging. If you combine his numbers from the two leagues, he projects well for a backup center.

Season   Tm  G  MP  FGA FTA  FT% ORB  TRB AST STL BLK TOV  PF   PTS  PER  TS% eFG%
2007-08 DET  4  31  4.6 2.3 .500 3.5  8.1 0.0 1.2 2.3 1.2 9.3  8.1 12.0 .717 .750
2008-09 TOT 16  75 13.9 2.4 .600 4.3 10.6 0.5 1.4 4.8 1.4 3.4  7.2  7.2 .240 .207
NBA Career  20 106 11.2 2.4 .571 4.1  9.8 0.3 1.4 4.1 1.4 5.1  7.5  8.6 .305 .273
NBDL Career 20 508 12.7 2.8 .744 2.6  9.6 0.9 0.9 5.3 2.1 4.6 14.7 17.9 .528 .497
NBA+NBDL    40 614 12.4 2.7 .714 2.9  9.6 0.8 1.0 5.1 2.0 4.7 13.5 16.3 .490 .458

Samb holds up well when compared to some other NBA centers at approximately the same age/number of years in the league. His rebounding isn’t as strong as Ben Wallace or Andris Biedrins, and Big Ben was chipping in with nearly 2 blocks per 36 minutes. Additionally Samb compares poorly to the lot from an offensive standpoint (if you value his NBA numbers over his NBDL). However his blocked shots are the best of the bunch. In fact there have only been 54 seasons in which a player averaged more than 4.0 blocks/36 in 1000 minutes or more.

        Player   To   G   MP   FGA  FG% FTA  FT% ORB  TRB AST STL BLK TOV  PF  PTS
     Cheik Samb 2009  20  106 11.2 .273 2.4 .571 4.1  9.8 0.3 1.4 4.1 1.4 5.1  7.5
Samb NBA+NBDL   2009  40  614 12.4 .458 2.7 .714 2.9  9.6 0.8 1.0 5.1 2.0 4.7 13.5
  Jackie Butler 2007  69  848 10.8 .539 3.8 .775 3.1  8.7 1.3 0.8 1.3 3.1 6.1 14.6
   Jerome James 2002  72  991 10.8 .481 2.6 .500 3.5  9.0 0.9 1.0 3.3 3.0 6.7 11.7
  Steven Hunter 2004 145 1752  8.3 .506 4.3 .464 2.7  7.4 0.5 0.4 3.1 1.2 4.9 10.4
   Dan Gadzuric 2004 124 2020  8.8 .512 3.1 .500 3.4  9.7 0.7 1.3 2.8 1.3 5.5 10.6
Andris Biedrins 2009 309 7469  9.1 .602 3.2 .535 4.3 12.2 1.5 1.1 1.9 1.7 5.0 12.6
    Ben Wallace 1998 101 1321  5.7 .481 3.2 .347 3.7 10.4 0.5 1.9 2.3 1.3 3.9  6.6

The big question is will Samb ever see that many minutes? It’s hard to tell with D’Antoni. He seemingly coveted Chris Wilcox when in Phoenix, but now that the team has acquired him, the center has yet to see any real minutes. Wilcox has played in only 5 games, and has yet to play more than 12 in any game for New York. My gut feeling is that D’Antoni might throw Samb a few minutes early to see if he’s useful, but that you won’t see him again until the Knicks are officially out of the place race. It’s very likely that Samb won’t see any minutes this year at all. New York may just hold him on their roster for the summer league and re-evaluate him at that time.

To put things in perspective the last time the Knicks picked up a shot blocking center in Jerome James, the deal was 182 times longer than Samb’s. The shot blocker they picked up prior to James, helped them reach the playoffs (Dikembe Mutombo) in 2004. This is a good low risk-medium reward deal for the Knicks. It’s something that the team has been weak at considering the Roberson/Von Wafer mistake over the summer. If Samb can join the legion of NBDLers who have become solid NBA players he will give New York another cheap player to help the team win now. Additionally players like Samb could help New York field a competitive roster for 2011 without hurting them fiscally.

Knicks Slide Due to (Lack of) Interior Defense

The 2009 Knicks have been tough to watch. After a promising early start and a couple of trades, the team has been on a losing streak. New York has dropped their last 6 games and are a Jets-eque 3-10 in December. Although I’ve said many times that I don’t care how many games the Knicks win this year, it’s clear what’s causing New York’s woes: interior defense.

When you think of the Knicks in a historical context, you tend to think of good defense. Stalwart centers like Ewing and Reed first come to mind, followed by Clyde, Debusschere, Oakley, Harper, and Camby. But watching the modern day version, there are few good defensive players on the roster. It’s hard to pinpoint which is the Knicks best defensive player. Chandler? Jeffries? Duhon? Jerome James? The list of candidates is short and laughable.

It really doesn’t matter what lineup the Knicks put on the floor, because there aren’t many capable defenders on the team. New York only has one player in their rotation that averages at least one block every 36 minutes: Wilson Chandler (1.0 blk/36). Their second best rotation player is Tim Thomas (0.5 blk/36), and that speaks volumes of how bad the Knicks are in this department.

And it seems the Knicks opponents have noticed this as well. Looking over yesterday’s play-by-play, Denver was 24-32 on shots labeled “layup” or “dunk”. The Nuggets made 45 shots, which means nearly half were in the paint. That’s a staggering amount, and to make matters worse, D’Antoni decided to use a bigger starting lineup of Duhon, Chandler, Jeffries, Thomas, and Lee. Obviously that had no effect.

Unfortunately the Knicks don’t have a lot of options. The team might turn to Eddy Curry, who might be ready to play in January. Even though Curry is a weak shot blocker for a center (1.1 blk/36 career), he’d be an improvement over David Lee (0.3 blk/36 this year). They could play Jerome James, but his weaknesses in the other areas of the floor would offset any gain from the shots he would turn back. (Although for Knick fans hoping for a better draft pick this might be a win-win situation). New York could look to sign a player to a 10 day contract, which they could do starting January 5th. A player like Courtney Sims (6’11, 2.2 blk/36), Richard Hendrix (6’9, 1.7 blk/36), or Chris Hunter (6’11, 1.9 blk/36), might be able to provide some immediate help with possible upside.

Other than inserting Curry into the rotation, it’s not likely that the Knicks will improve much in this department. I don’t see D’Antoni using James on a consistent basis. Isiah tried using James as a starter next to Curry, and that experiment didn’t last long. And it’s unlikely that New York will turn to a developmental league player to solve one of their problems. So Knick fans are going to have to live with a few more months of other teams exploiting this glaring weakness.

Knicks’ Week in Advance 12/22/08

Thank goodness we can put the nastiness that was last week behind us. The Knicks went 0-4 last week, and with the exception of Milwaukee each of the teams the Knicks played are much better than the Knicks. While the Knicks did not play well in every game, I don’t think the team has quit as I have seen in years past. I am encouraged by the effort – if not the execution. At any rate, I think the Knicks have reached the low water mark on the season. The past ten games were arguably the toughest stretch of the season with four games against some of the top teams in the NBA (Cavs, Lakers, Celtics, Suns), and some strong teams (Hawks, Detroit, Portland). So on paper, the Knicks should have gone 3-7 over the last ten. New York has only 1 more 5 game road trip and it is much less brutal than the recent west coast swing. To sum things up, I haven’t given up hope on this season. There are a few encouraging signs and we will get to them in the article.

A light schedule this week with two games at home, Wolves and Nuggets.

Fri, Dec 26 Minnesota 7:30 pm
[First meeting of the teams this year]

TEAM POSS EFF eFG TO OREB% FT/FG
New York Knicks-Offense 98.4 105.6 50 15.8 23.3 20.1
Rank
1
19
12
17
28
28
Minnesota Timberwolves-Defense 91.5 110.4 51.7 14.4 24.9 25.7
Rank
16
25
28
25
6
23
New York Knicks-Defense 98.4 108.5 50.9 14.3 27.4 18.7
Rank
1
20
23
26
18
3
Minnesota Timberwolves-Offense 91.5 102 45.4 15.2 27.9 22
Rank
16
28
29
13
10
24

The Wolves come to MSG on Friday boasting one of the worst records in the league and the stats back it up. The Wolves are horrid on defense (110.4 efficiency, 25th) and they allow teams to put up very high numbers from the floor (51.7 eFG%, 28th). This bodes well for the Knicks as they are 11-4 against teams that give up more than 49% (eFg) from the floor. They are 6-0 against teams whose eFG% is at or above 50%. The Knicks seem to take advantage of inefficient defensive teams.

What to watch for: Al Jefferson. Jefferson is putting up very solid numbers for a team on which he is the focal point of the offense. He is fairly efficient around the basket (49.3 eFG%) but does not get to the line that often. His FT/FG ratio of 18 is among the lowest on the team, and surprisingly low for a player with a usage of 25.2. Jefferson’s low free throw numbers are mainly due to his offensive style. Al likes to shoot a short jump hook when he catches the ball, does not put the ball on the floor often, and is a poor passer (7.5 ast-r). Jefferson’s game is very much about positioning and put backs (3.2 offensive rebounds/36).

Teams can routinely double Jefferson because there really isn’t anyone else on the team the defense needs to stop. The Wolves have been unable to take advantage of the doubles Jefferson draws as they are very poor shooters (45.4 eFG%, 29th). The only Wolf to shoot over 40 percent from 3 is Corey Brewer who was lost for the season just a few weeks ago. The Knicks should probably commit to doubling Jefferson while keeping an eye out for…

What to watch for 2: Mike Miller. Miller is the only guard on the team that can score efficiently as his 55.8 eFG% leads the team. However, his efficiency has not translated into many points (11.9 per/36 minutes). I would attribute this to the “me first” play from the three guys moonlighting as point guards….

What to watch for 3: Randy Foye – yeah more like Randy “Faux” as in faux point guard (5.5 ast/36 min), Rashad McCants – “cant pass or shoot” (39.2 eFG%, 1.8 ast/36 ), and Sebastian Telfair – “tell him to stop shooting” (36.1 eFG%) round out the Wolves’ back court. The Knicks don’t do a great job defending the three, stopping entry passes, or stopping dribble penetration. Fortunately, these three Wolves do not excel at any of those things.

What to Watch for 4: Rebounding. Love and Jefferson (10.1 tot/36) are strong rebounders on each side of the court. The Knicks need to concentrate on getting good shots and boxing out to prevent Love (5.4 offensive rebounds/36, 12.1 tot) from securing second chances.

Sun, Dec 28 Denver 1:00 pm
[First meeting of the teams this year]

TEAM POSS EFF eFG TO OREB% FT/FG
New York Knicks-Offense 98.4 105.6 50 15.8 23.3 20.1
Rank
1
19
12
17
28
28
Denver Nuggets-Defense 94.7 103.9 47.1 16.6 28.5 23.8
Rank
6
7
5
11
24
14
New York Knicks-Defense 98.4 108.5 50.9 14.3 27.4 18.7
Rank
1
20
23
26
18
3
Denver Nuggets-Offense 94.7 108 50.8 16.8 25.5 28.4
Rank
6
10
8
23
22
2

Denver is playing very well since trading for a true point in Billups. The Nugget offense (108 efficiency, 10th) is strong and efficient from the floor (50.8 eFG%). The only real blemish on the offensive numbers is the high turnover ratio (16.8, 23rd). Denver is a strong defensive team as well. The Nuggets’ defensive efficiency (103.9) and eFG% (47.1) are each in the top ten of the NBA. They struggle on the defensive glass as they fail to secure 28.5 percent of defensive boards (24th).

What to watch for: Rebounding. The Knicks have to take advantage of Denver’s poor rebounding. The Nuggets are in the bottom third of the NBA in defensive and offensive (22nd) rebounding. Of course, the Knicks struggle securing defensive boards as well (28th). Winning the boards will help the Knicks greatly as it will reduce second chances for a Denver team that is very efficient on offense.

What to watch for 2: The Knicks’ defense. The bulk of the Denver offense comes from the 1, 2, and 3 positions. The Knicks need to play strong defense – especially on Billups – to keep the Nuggets from getting into their offensive sets. Force the ball out of Billups’ hands and force Anthony to run the offense. Anthony is far less talented a passer than Billups is (12.8 ast-r vs. 28.8). The Nuggets have efficient 3 point shooters but none of them take more than 2.5 three pointers per 36 minutes. The Knicks should have clean rotations and prevent the Nuggets from getting open looks – the Nuggets can hit shots when given to them.

What to watch for 3: Fan favorite (after draft night) Renaldo Balkman returns to town. Balkman always thought of himself as an undervalued player in college. I wonder how he will respond in his first game back in NYC.

What to watch for 4: Jet lag anyone? This is the first game on Denver’s east coast swing. Saturday night in New York, you know Anthony is going out. J.R. Smith is from the area (and a proud alumnus of my alma mater – ever dear St. Benedict’s). Maybe the Nuggets will come out sluggish and we can take advantage of it. We will need every edge we can get, so let’s hope the Knicks come out firing.

To all the posters, writers, and of course my fans, (Ethan, Owynn, and Jen) Merry Christmas, “Baruch Atah Adonai” and happy Hanukkah to you, “A salama lakim” and a peaceful Ramadan to you. No matter what you celebrate, or whether you celebrate, have a safe and happy holiday, and most important of all-Go New York, Go New York, Go!

[Editors note: Happy “Holliday” to my Pastafarian readers.]