Isiah Currys No Favor With Fans

Isiah Thomas reminds me of Felix Unger. The Odd Couple character’s downfall was that he couldn’t leave well enough alone. Nearly every episode had Unger ruining his life because his compulsive nature forced him to go too far. Last night, Isiah traded for the Bulls’ disgruntled center Eddy Curry. Chicago had been looking to move Curry since he pulled his Redd Foxx act during last year’s playoffs. Thomas traded away the Knicks young power forward Mike Sweetney along with Tim Thomas and garbage time specialist Jermaine Jackson along with two picks, which have yet to be disclosed.

The only way to like this deal is if physique is your only criteria on building a basketball team. Of the two, Sweetney is the one more likely to be confused as a Sumo wrestler. But for those who’ve watched their fair share of Knick games last year, Sweetney used his body in the paint to his advantage, tossing opponents like, well, a sumo wrestler. An excellent rebounder, he used his size, reach, and footwork to pull down rebound after rebound, often tipping them to himself when fighting against taller opponents. On the offensive end, when he received the ball under the hoop, there often seemed to be only two options: an easy field goal or a trip to the foul line.

However going into next year with the third year player as the starting forward wasn’t good enough for Isiah. Thomas insists on building the team in his “younger and more athletic” mold. Curry certainly fits that bill, just like outgoing Tim Thomas did. However it’s arguable whether or not Eddy is the better player on the court.

Name		FG%	PSA	USG	RBR	R/40	TO	PF	PER
Sweetney	52.2	1.16	17.6	16.8	11.5	2.7	5.6	16.6
E. Curry	52.9	1.13	21.2	11.8	8.5	3.3	5.1	15.8

They score at about the same rate, although Curry’s usage rate is higher. That could be because the offensively challenged Bulls leaned on Eddy, while the Knicks never featured Sweetney in the half court set. The turnover numbers and foul numbers are close enough to even out. However despite giving up 3 inches and 10 pounds, Sweetney’s rebounding numbers puts Curry to shame. Using John Hollinger’s rebounding rate, Sweetney ranked 20th last year in the league ahead of such luminaries as Yao Ming, Zach Randolph, Shawn Marion, and Elton Brand. In fact within the last year Isiah Thomas has traded two of the top 20, with Nazr Mohammed showing up at #11 on that list.

If Knick fans are looking for a silver lining on this deal, it won’t be Curry’s defense. While Chicago was one of the top defensive teams last season, the Knicks didn’t get the defensive stalwart of the Bulls frontcourt. According to 82games.com, the Bulls were 3.3 points worse with Curry on the floor, although he did keep opposing centers in check with a 13.3 oPER. Last year those numbers were 2.7 and 13.8. Dan Rosenbaum rated Curry as the 5th worst defensive center in the league while Matt from Bulls Blog, now over at BlogABull.com, said Curry won’t help the “Knicks’ awful help defense.

In fact in that column, which was written almost a year ago, Matt hit the nail on the head:

Another observation was laughing at the Knicks’ awful help defense. Curry won’t help there, but sometimes Isiah sees something shiny around the league and must have it. After my initial look at Sweetney (and I would really like to hear a Knicks’ fan’s perspective), I’m starting to hope that Isiah gets his man.

Isiah’s obsession with other team’s players has led him to acquire guys like Jamal Crawford, Jerome James, Tim Thomas, and now Curry. Jerome James came from a playoff team, but since he barely played, his contribution to their success was dubious. The 2004 Bulls won 23 games, and Isiah has 3 of their starters (including Antontio Davis)on his roster. Do these sound like the players you would be targeting if you were a GM?

The only positive is Curry’s arrival means the Knicks no longer have to worry about being undersized at the 5, but it comes at a heavy price. While I have no illusions that Sweetney would be enshrined in Springfield, he’ll be an above average starting power forward in this league. Additionally, the supposedly still rebuilding Knicks have given up some future considerations in the form of draft picks. Meanwhile, the Knicks will pay Curry $60M over 6 years. I usually don’t like to deal in hypotheticals, but it’s logical to assume the Knicks could have gotten Sweetney to sign for half that. Sweetney would have given the Knicks about the same amount of production (albeit at a different position) for half the price & New York wouldn’t have to worry if his heart will hold up under the Gotham media.

Isiah’s fault seems to be his inability to stay the course. One minute the Knicks are rebuilding, the next they’re spending $90M dollars for two centers with dubious histories. At the last trade deadline the Knicks were stock piling draft picks like a Central Park squirrel in fall, but now Isiah may have given away two for Curry.

Marbury is still an offensive force, while second rounder Trevor Ariza has flashed great potential. Nate Robinson dominated the summer league, and could be Isiah’s second steal in a row. Additionally, the Knicks have two more youngsters in Frye & Lee. Coach Larry Brown is one of the best in the business. If Isiah stopped there, New York would be in great shape to start the season. Instead, he’s bogged down the team with bad contracts. Eddy Curry, Quentin Richardson, Jamal Crawford, and Jerome James will reportedly cost the Knicks over $180M for the next 5-7 years. That will undoubtedly make the Knicks observers in free agency over that time. The worst part about it is that none of those players are worth it. None are locks to even make a single All Star Appearance. With the salary cap, it’s better to underpay for marginal talent than overpay for an average return. New York’s downfall will be Isiah’s inability to sign cheap talent and leave well enough alone.

Q-Rich Poll

Ok folks, I’m always curious what my readers think, so another poll for y’all. As always I ask that if you have a minute, leave a comment to let us know why you voted the way you did. You can always leave it anonymously, if you wish. Today’s subject: Quentin Richardson.

According to his stat page on Basketball-Reference.com, Q-Rich’s PER his rookie season was an impressive 16.6. He topped that his second year, going up nearly a point to 17.4. Unfortunately, he’s never topped that mark. His third year, a time when many players show marked improvement, Richardson’s PER dropped anemically to 12.5. In his last year for the Clippers, he brought it to the league average (15.1), but even last year on a super-charged offensive team, Quentin only manged a 13.5.

In addition to his decline in production, Richardson also became less durable. Despite missing only 5 games total his first two seasons, Quentin missed 40 in the next two. One of the knocks against him is his reported chronic back pain, something Richardson claims is no longer an issue.

So here’s the poll, and remember, leave a reason in the comment section.

Looking at the 2005 NBA Draft (Part III)

[This entry is brought to you by Knickerblogger.net’s Director of College Scouting, Dave Crockett. As always, I can be reached at dcrockett17@yahoo.com]

In part two I evaluated the NBA draft for Eastern Conference teams based on their strategy, either best player available or need/fit. Now, let?s take a look at the Western Conference teams. To review briefly, I will review each team?s draft based on its apparent strategy and categorize it as ?Accept,? ?Revise and resubmit,? or ?Reject.? Players are listed by overall selection number, name, height (with shoes), wingspan (if available), weight (lbs.), position, and school.

Western Conference

Dallas Mavericks

* No selections in this draft

Denver Nuggets

* Strategy: Need/fit

* Review: Revise and Resubmit (minor changes)

20. Julius Hodge (6-7, 7-0-1/2, 202.2#), G, N. Carolina State

27. Linas Kleiza (6-8, NA, 235#), F, Missouri?

35. Ricky Sanchez (6-11, NA, 215#), SF, IMG Academy JC (FL) ?

55. Axel Herville (6-9, NA, 230#), PF, Spain

? Denver acquired the rights to F Linas Klieza (the 27th overall selection) and F Ricky Sanchez (the 35th overall selection) for the rights to G Jarrett Jack (the 22nd overall selection).

Denver?s top priority is a (big) scoring guard, preferably one with good range. However, a reasonably deep free agent class coupled with veterans facing their impending release via the new ?amnesty? provision (e.g., Allan Houston and Michael Finley) in the CBA and the Nuggets could wind up with a quality 2nd tier free agent SG for their MLE, or perhaps even just part of it. Given this I generally like what Denver did in the draft. Hodge was asked to carry a lot of dead weight this season at N.C. State. He was asked to create offense for others and to score. Having so much asked of him affected his offense in my opinion. He is a better shooter than his final season indicated. He is a superb ball handler, a leader, very adept at getting others involved, and capable of putting a team on his skinny little shoulders at times as we saw against UConn in the NCAA tournament. Linas Kleiza has nice versatility. He?s tough, a physical rebounder with some range on his shot. However, I rated Wayne Simien and David Lee higher. Of course, the fact that Kleiza can develop overseas without costing the Nuggets any money may have played a role in his selection.

Golden State Warriors

* Strategy: Need/Best Player Available

* Review: Revise and resubmit (minor changes)

9. Ike Diogu (6-8, 7-3-1/2, 255.4#), PF, Arizona State

40. Monta Ellis (6-3-1/4, 6-2-3/4, 176.6#), G, Lanier HS (MS)

42. Chris Taft (6-9-1/2, 7-1-3/4, 261.0#), PF, Pittsburgh

It appears that Golden State was poised to take the best power forward available, whether Channing Frye, Villanueva, or Diogu. During the leadup to the draft it became more and more difficult to find people who think Diogu won?t be able to translate his game to the NBA. For all the talk about Diogu being undersized he measured only one-half inch shorter in shoes than Sean May and has a broader wingspan by more than two inches. Diogu will be able to play power forward in the league. What?s hard to miss about Diogu is that he takes the punishment and lives at the free throw line, where he?s a good free throw shooter. The downside of picking Diogu is that he scores from some of the same areas on the floor as Troy Murphy. Neither player can reasonably be switched to small forward so it is unlikely they can play together. In the second round they picked one-time lottery projection Chris Taft. While the tales of his attitude problems have been well chronicled from a pure basketball standpoint it was the tape measure as much as anything that did him in. He measured at less than 6-10, and there is little about his game to suggest he can move out on the floor at all.

Houston Rockets

* Strategy: Best player available/fit

* Review: Revise and resubmit (major changes)

24. Luther Head (6-3, 6-5-1/4, 178.8#), G, Illinois

This was a guy I?d hoped would fall to New York at #30. So I like Head. He played his ass off in Chicago. Though his ability to run the point has been called into question his defense and shooting are more than solid, which is really what matters to Houston since McGrady often dominates the ball. My problem with this pick is that the team has so little depth at small forward or power forward. McGrady is the only small forward currently under contract and Juwon Howard, who has been breaking down rapidly, is backed up by Clarence Weatherspoon and Vin Baker. Luther Head is somewhat similar to their other combo guards (Bob Sura and David Wesley). Houston may have rated Head higher on their draft board than Wayne Simien (probably because of Simien?s shoulder problems) but they may regret passing on him.

L.A. Clippers

* Strategy: Best player available

* Review: Reject

12. Yaroslav Korolev (6-9, NA, 215#), SF, Russia

32. Daniel Ewing (6-3, NA, 185#), PG, Duke

Back when the Dallas Mavs traded the draft rights to Robert ?Tractor? Traylor to Milwaukee for the rights to Dirk Nowitski I rated it as one of the most lopsided deals in NBA history. Of course at the time I thought Milwaukee was getting the better end of the deal. So I?ve learned not to overreact to such deals. This kid may turn out to be a player. But this pick was bogus; a classic case of bidding against yourself. Korolev stayed in the draft based solely on an early promise from the Clips. It?s safe to assume that the Clippers will once again be moribund next season, especially if Bobby Simmons walks. Korolev?s Russian team was not likely to play him much more next season, if at all. So in all likelihood he?d be on the board next season around the same spot, but after another piece to the puzzle had already been put in place for a year. I know the official story is that Mike Dunleavy fell in love with this kid but I smell Donald Sterling here. In round 2 the Clips were probably hoping that either Nate Robinson or Salim Stoudamire would fall to them. No such luck. Still, Ewing should be a solid role player/part time starter for them.

L.A. Lakers

* Strategy: Best player available

* Review: Revise and resubmit (major changes)

10. Andrew Bynum (7-0, NA, 300#), C, St. Joeseph?s HS (NJ)

37. Rony Turiaf (6-9-1/4, 7-1-1/2, 237.8#), PF, Gonzaga

39. Von Wafer (6-5, NA, 210#), SG, Florida State

I?m in the clear minority of people who felt like the Lakers, when forced to choose between Shaq and Kobe, had to keep Kobe and trade the Big Aristotle. However, I never liked the deal they made for Shaq. They created a glut of small forwards bigger than the one on Team USA this summer. Kobe, Lamar Odom (even if disguised as a PF), Caron Butler, Devean George, Jumain Jones, Luke Walton, and Tony Bobbitt all play small forward. The Shaq trade influenced what the Lakers did in this draft. Instead of drafting a player to help them in the top ten they drafted a player to help someone else. I think Bynum?s days with the Lakers will be relatively short; maybe this summer, maybe trade deadline, next summer tops. He is the pretty bow to tie around a package that includes one or more of the small forwards for a point guard or center who can help them in the next 2 years. Turiaf should take Brian Grant?s place in the rotation once he is released. Wafer is a scorer to bring off the bench.

Memphis Grizzlies

* Strategy: Best player available/fit

* Review: Accept (with minor changes)

19. Hakim Warrick (6-8-1/2, 7-2, 215#), PF, Syracuse

Given the impending roster fluctuation in Memphis it?s hard to argue with West taking the ?best player.? The one real downside to Warrick is that he?s a ?tweener, which means he cannot play for every team. But Memphis features a number of ?tweeners, including G/F Shane Battier, G/F James Posey, SF/PF Brian Cardinal and PF/C Pau Gasol. So clearly that?s not a problem for Jerry West. The open floor style they favor also emphasizes Warrick?s athleticism. Also, much like with the slender Gasol I don?t think the Grizzlies will shy away from posting Warrick in certain matchups. The other potential direction West might have gone would have been for a point guard, like Jarrett Jack, given that Jason Williams and/or Earl Watson won?t be back. I know they like Antonio Burks but he?s still more of a combo guard.

Minnesota Timberwolves

* Strategy: Need/fit

* Review: Revise and resubmit (major changes)

14. Rashad McCants (6-4, 6-10-3/4, 201), SG, N. Carolina

47. Bracey Wright (6-2-1/2, 6-10, 186.8), G, Indiana

ESPN?s Jay Bilas, who is usually not a taker of pot-shots said, ?If I had a nickel for every time Rashad McCants really got down and guarded somebody I?d have a nickel.? Now that is being called out, and the sad part is that even Tar Heel fans must admit that this is true. McCants is a talented scorer who has been taken out of games (e.g., @ Wake Forest and vs. Illinois), as all scorers are occasionally, but I have yet to see him make a significant contribution with any other part of his game. I have a difficult time with this pick for Minnesota because McHale & Co. took a player whose sole contribution is his scoring over Granger and Wright who score and defend. McCants doesn?t rebound. He doesn?t handle the ball. He doesn?t pass. And prolonged exposure to defense appears to produce in him something similar to anaphylactic shock. The Wolves, facing the likely departure of Sprewell and great uncertainty about Fred Hoiberg’s health (good luck to The Mayor of Ames, Iowa), certainly need a wing player but they also need someone apart from Garnett who plays both ends. Bracey Wright is a nice fit considering that he is something of a shoot-first point guard with passing skills, similar to Sam Cassell.

New Orleans Hornets

* Strategy: Best player available/Need

* Review: Accept

4. Chris Paul (6-1, 6-4-1/4, 178#), PG, Wake Forest

33. Brandon Bass (6-7-1/4, 7-2-1/2, 246#), PF, LSU

Chris Paul was perhaps the most efficient offensive player in the nation this past season. He shot a high percentage (52.3% efg, 1.54 points per shot), created for teammates (2.4 to 1 assist to turnover), and lived at the free throw line (5.8 attempts per game @ 83%). There is little to be disappointed with in his sophomore season, well, other than socking Julius Hodge below the belt and getting bumped early in the NCAAs. (Wake simply didn?t play enough defense to make a deep run in the tournament. They were the classic upset-prone high-seed.) Paul was absolutely the right move for New Orleans. I like the selection of Brandon Bass in the second round too. Bass is a multi-talented player who simply wasn?t getting coached at LSU. Though he measures only 6-7 he has shoulders right out of the Karl Malone catalog, long arms, and an expanding game. This kid will always be a rebounder but has the potential to be much more, particularly on a team with steady point guard play that likes to run.

Phoenix Suns

* Strategy: Clear cap space

* Review: Accept (with minor changes)

54. Dijon Thompson (6-8, 6-9-3/4, 195.8#), G/F, UCLA?

Cash??

? Phoenix acquired F Kurt Thomas and G/F Dijon Thompson (the 54th overall selection) from the New York Knicks for G/F Quentin Richardson and G Nate Robinson (the 21st overall selection).

?? Phoenix traded the rights to C Marcin Gortat (the 57th overall selection) to the Orlando Magic for cash.

Phoenix?s primary interest was in getting Kurt Thomas and clearing cap space to re-sign Joe Johnson and Steven Hunter. Dijon Thompson is a talented offensive player, especially in the mid-range area. He?s not such a threat from long range (which makes me wonder why everyone lists him as a guard when he played the SF almost exclusively at UCLA). Even if Phoenix does re-sign Joe Johnson the team would be remiss if it did not explore other options at the backup point guard.

Portland Trailblazers

* Strategy: Best player available/need

* Review: Revise and resubmit

6. Martell Webster (6-7-1/2, 6-11, 229.6#), SG, Seattle Prep HS (WA)

22. Jarrett Jack (6-3-1/2, 6-7-1/2, 197.6#), PG, Georgia Tech?

? Portland acquired the rights to G Jarrett Jack (the 22nd overall selection) from the Denver Nuggets for the rights to F Linas Klieza (the 27th overall selection) and F Ricky Sanchez (the 35th overall selection).

Webster and Gerald Green will always be linked as the last ?pre-age restriction? class. The two will always be compared to each other, even apart from the other high schoolers chosen in this draft; a bit like LeBron and Carmello but rarely LeBron and Dwyane Wade. Unlike Green Webster is a big (i.e., chunky) kid. I don?t know that he?s in NBA caliber condition but he is thick. I like the trade for Jack, who can play some shooting guard, and really helps shore up the defense.

Sacramento Kings

* Strategy: Need/fit

* Review: Accept

23. Francisco Garcia (6-7, 6-10-3/4, 189.6#), SG, Louisville

Garcia won?t help the Kings get key stops but he will add depth and another shooter. Make no mistake about it though the window has closed on that group. They?re 7th or 8th seed material for the foreseeable future. If they?re smart they?ll begin moving pieces (e.g., Brad Miller) that they can get value for now.

San Antonio Spurs

* Strategy: Clear cap space

* Review: Accept

28. Ian Mahinmi (6-10, NA, 230#), PF, France

You have to give the Spurs the benefit of the doubt when it comes to international talent. They scout overseas more extensively than any other team. The Spurs don?t really need anything out of this draft so it hardly surprises that they would pick a player who can be stashed overseas to develop. Most of their key players are in their primes and locked up long-term. So in one sense there?s no sense in paying first round scratch to a kid who is not going to contribute in the foreseeable future when they could use that money to keep Horry and/or Glen Robinson. Mahinmi is only 18 and it may be 2-3 seasons before he is ready to play in the NBA.

Seattle Supersonics

* Strategy: Best player available

* Review: Revise and resubmit (with minor changes)

25. Johan Petro (7-1, NA, 250), C, France

38. Mikael Gelabale (6-7, NA, 210), SF, France

Seattle went big and young in last year?s draft, taking Robert Swift. They follow it up with the athletic Petro from France. He is said to be very athletic, a skilled shot-blocker, but raw. Seattle could lose both Jerome James (especially if Nate McMillan does not return) and Vitale Potapenko, robbing them of their size. It seems unlikely that either Swift or Petro is ready to contribute in the upcoming season should Seattle?s current centers walk. Nonetheless, given what was available (primarily power forwards) and persistent rumors that the team is unhappy with Swift?s progress Seattle likely made lemonade out of lemons. Much like Damien Wilkins last year, Gelabale is an athlete who?ll probably be invited to summer league. While it appears Seattle is poised to re-sign Ray Allen the odds of re-signing Antonio Daniels seem a bit lower. Seattle might have considered using that second round pick to take a flyer on a backup point guard (e.g., Alex Acker or John Gilchrist)

Utah Jazz

* Strategy: Need/fit

* Review: Revise and resubmit (with minor changes)

3. Deron Williams (6-2-3/4, 6-6-1/4, 202.4#), PG, Illinois

34. C.J. Miles (6-6, NA, 207), SG, Skyline HS (TX)

51. Robert Whaley (6-9, 7-2, 269.4#), C, Walsh

I love Deron Williams, particularly in Jerry Sloan?s system. He?s the right player for what they do. He also plays defense, which will allow him to stay on the floor for Sloan. (Defense is something Chris Paul doesn?t do; at least not yet.) However, I?m not in love with anything Utah did in the second round. Bad teams have to make second round picks pay dividends. C.J. Miles apparently never hired an agent and may honor his letter of intent to attend Texas; much like Vashon Lenard went through the draft but stayed in school years ago. If Utah was going to take a flyer on a high school kid why not take Andray Blatche, the 6-11 high school kid from CT at 34 then Dijon Thompson from UCLA at 51? Robert Whaley played his tail off in Chicago but seems more of a priority free agent.

Looking at the 2005 NBA Draft (Part I)

[This entry comes from Knickerblogger.net?s Director of College Scouting, Dave Crockett. As always I can be reached at dcrockett17@yahoo.com]

Rather than doing the typical ?winners? and ?losers? column I want to try something a bit different in the aftermath of last Tuesday?s NBA draft. As a bona fide NFL and NBA draftnik I?m fascinated by how differently teams in the two leagues approach the draft. In the NFL the ?best player available? approach is heavily favored over drafting based on ?need or fit.? However, all things being equal, the NBA seems to be almost the complete opposite. Although the two strategies overlap, each theoretically has an advantage over the other. In the NBA the disadvantage of drafting the best player available regardless of position is that talent duplication is quite costly. A logjam at a given position can be quite difficult to clear because of the salary cap and the dynamics of the labor market in a given year. On the other hand, drafting to fill specific needs is rarely the best way to accumulate talent and improve a roster. If done wisely drafting the best player available can put a team in a position to meet its other needs via trades or free agent signings by providing greater roster flexibility. It allows the team to make deals where getting back equivalent talent is not the only objective; it may be opening up playing time for a young player already on the roster.

In the days following the NBA draft I?ve noticed that many writers seem to implicitly favor either a ?best player available? strategy or a ?need? strategy, and this certainly colors their perspective on who won and who lost on draft night.

So in this three part entry I?ll try to offer some post-hoc thoughts on Isiah Thomas?s draft night (Part I), as well as the other teams? (Parts II and III). I?ll list each team, the players they acquired, their Chicago pre-draft camp measurements (height in shoes, wingspan, and weight) if available, position, and school along with a few comments based on the teams’ apparent strategy.

Knicks

8. Channing Frye (6-10-1/2, 7-2-1/2, 243.6#), C/PF, Arizona
21. Nate Robinson (5-9, NA, 180#), PG, Washington (f/ Phoenix)?
30. David Lee (6-9, 7.0, 229.5#), F, Florida

?New York acquired guards Quentin Richardson and Nate Robinson (the 21st overall selection) from the Phoenix Suns for F Kurt Thomas and G/F Dijon Thompson (the 54th overall selection)

Overall, Thomas managed to blend best player available with need in this draft consistent with his ?younger and more athletic? mantra. Frye and Robinson are athletic talents at positions of need. In one respect I share the Knickerblogger?s recent pessimism about these picks (and the trade). Alone they do not adequately address defense and rebounding, the team?s biggest weaknesses. However, at least in theory these players help create enough flexibility to address those needs in free agency or via sign-and-trade deals. David Lee, for instance, seems to be precisely the kind of player that could put a pretty bow on an ugly contract (e.g., Malik Rose, Penny, Mo Taylor, or Tim Thomas) in a sign-and-trade deal.

As for the particular players drafted, I thought the Knicks did a pretty decent job. The only other players I could see the Knicks regretting passing on at #8 are Danny Granger and Antoine Wright. I have been intrigued by Granger?s scoring ability, defense, and passing, and said so back in March. Granger apparently excelled in his workouts. Since I was traveling in New Mexico last week I got to read a lot about him personally and he?s definitely a quality kid whose career I?ll be watching. Between those three players I just don?t think the Knicks could have gone terribly wrong at #8. None appear to me to be superstars on the horizon yet each appears too skilled and too smart to be a bust (barring injury). Although prep star Gerald Green was also a possibility my bias about high schoolers, particularly wing players, is that I want an NBA ready body if you?re asking me to gamble on game experience and basketball IQ. Green may yet become a great player but it most assuredly will not happen until he fills out physically. He?s quite likely to be a Dorrell Wright type player where you?ll have to wait until he matures physically to see what you have. By then he?ll be on his second contract.

Channing Frye. He?s a player whose career I have followed very closely. At his best he?s a poor man?s Rasheed Wallace, a long-armed talent who can score in the post, on the break, or out on the floor. At his absolute worst he?s an athletic version of Michael Doleac, a 6-11 screen-roll jump shooter. What I love about Frye, setting aside for the moment that he runs the floor very well, is that he added something to his half-court game every year at Arizona. First he added a little jump hook, then a lefty hook, and finally the 15-18 foot jump shot off the screen-roll. His numbers improved every year despite having never played with an NBA caliber point guard. His harshest critics claim that he?s soft. Though he?s had troubles with strong widebodies (e.g., Eric Williams of Wake Forest ate him up early this past season) ?soft? is a major exaggeration. Channing Frye is no bruiser but neither is Marcus Camby, Samuel Dalembert, Chris Bosh, Rasheed Wallace, or even Tim Duncan for that matter. Lots of guys play center in the NBA who aren?t physically dominant in the mold of Shaquille O?Neal or Ben Wallace. At 6-10-1/2 with a 7-2-1/2 wingspan Frye is plenty tough to be an NBA center. In the 250# range without the frame to get a lot bigger, he?ll never push the bigger centers around. But then, only a fool would ask him to. Like most young post players he needs to learn to better use his athleticism and length to deny post position to stronger guys rather than play behind for the shot block. On the other end though, he?s going to beat the Nazr Mohammeds of the league down the floor by 3 full strides. He?s murder on the screen roll in the 15-18 foot area. He?s a very good passer from the high post. And, he?s going to get you 1-2 blocks (mostly from the weakside) if he plays 20 minutes per night. This season he put up 18 and 16 with 2 blocks and 2 steals against the presumably more physical Lawrence Roberts. He more than held his own against Andrew Bogut (19 and 9 with 3 blocks). He went for 15 and 10 in the Regional Semifinal against Oklahoma State?s physical front line and 24 and 12 with 6 blocks against Illinois in the Regional Final (in one of the 5 best NCAA tournament games ever).

Nate Robinson. This season Nate the Great scored 16.4 points with 3.9 boards and 4.5 assists (better than 2 to 1 assist-to-turnover ratio). He shot 53.9% efg this season and got more efficient offensively each year. (His three season points-per-shot totals were 1.15, 1.32, and 1.41.) So Robinson is probably good enough offensively to stay on the floor as a backup guard despite his stature. But, what I really want to talk about is his defense. Robinson is disruptive. He averaged 1.7 steals, but that really doesn?t quite do justice to his defensive impact. He?s the kind of player that can take the opposing point guard out of the game by not allowing him to bring the ball up the floor or set the offense. Unlike other diminutive guards Robinson is Tim Hardaway strong; strong enough to make it difficult for taller guards to back him down. He?s absolutely?not just pound for pound?stronger than most point guards he saw in college. He?s an energizer. When Robinson signed his contract he became the team?s best perimeter defender since Latrell Sprewell departed. The Knicks have not seen an athlete of his caliber since Anthony Bonner in the early-to-mid 1990s.

David Lee. I missed the end of the first round on television so I didn?t get to hear David Lee get booed by the Garden faithful. Huh? I don?t get it. Who was left on the board that was a significantly better choice with a lower ?bust? probability at that spot than Lee? Lee is a 6-9 lefty who can score with either hand in the post. He has a shot out to the 15-18 foot area coupled with very good run jump athleticism and decent handle for a 6-9 kid. Just wait until the summer league Knicks fans. I bet there?ll be a lot of folks saying ?who knew?? when they see the box scores. Currently, Lee?s part of a logjam at power forward. So it wouldn?t surprise me if his stay in New York is brief but I certainly hope Isiah doesn?t just give this kid away. He’s got some talent and some skill, and that’s all you’re looking for at #30.

Draft Reviews. In the ?publish or perish? world of academics when an up-and-coming young scholar, such as yours truly, submits a manuscript to a journal for publication the editor and some number of anonymous reviewers typically decide its fate in one of three ways. In the best case scenario they may accept the author?s brilliant exegesis for publication, perhaps with only a few cosmetic changes (Accept). That, for all practical purposes, never happens. Rumors and legends persist but they are merely this and nothing more. More likely, if the publication gods are smiling, after the editor and reviewers have sufficiently ridiculed a manuscript they will ask the author to revise it based on their oh-so-helpful comments and to then resubmit it for additional battering (Revise and resubmit, or R&R). Or, in the worst case scenario, they may reject it outright (Reject).

In this draft Isiah Thomas gets a revise and resubmit (with major revisions needed). Certainly Zeke upgraded the talent on the roster. One could quibble about the selection of Channing Frye but no one available at #8 was, as far as I could see, a clearly superior choice. The addition of Robinson was to my mind the real plumb. At #21 the expectations for him should be realistic; come in, make the rotation, and contribute. Robinson should be able to do that on his defense alone. But his athleticism, energy, and charisma could very pleasantly surprise. Given the current roster makeup it?s hard to envision David Lee getting to see the light of day in New York, but he?s a nice pick at the end of round 1. And hey, nothing about the current roster should be taken as given.

Zeke can change this R&R to an acceptance for publication if he can manage to find something that looks like a direction. Some of the parts, though certainly not all, appear to be falling in place but this roster still needs a lot of work.

Up next: Eastern Conference Reviews

Oh, and Happy 4th everyone!

A Question For The Readers

I’ve noticed that I get a good amount of intelligent comments to my blog, so I’m going to open up the floor. This isn’t aimed at anyone, but one common thread I’ve heard in regards to the Kurt Thomas-Quentin Richardson trade (both here and on various message boards) is that the Knicks got good value considering what they gave up. My question is: is this a fair argument considering that Isiah Thomas is the one that signed Kurt to that deal in the first place? If you agree that signing a 32 year old PF to a 5 year deal when you have a legitimate young replacement waiting in the wings is a bad deal, then does that paint this trade in a different light?

Richardson Deal More of the Same

Looking at Isiah Thomas’ trades one-by-one, it’s hard to find many that I’d throw in the ‘losing’ pile. It’s hard to argue with getting a talent like Stephon Marbury, especially considering what New York gave up. Trading Keith Van Horn was an unpopular move, but Nazr Mohammed’s development made the deal a steal for New York. While trading him a year later looked bad in the short term, the Knicks received two draft picks to potentially rebuild upon. I’m sure there wasn’t a wet eye in the house when Clarence Weatherspoon was sent to Houston, Shandon Anderson was bought out, or Slavko Vranes was cut.

On the other hand, there are few deals Isiah Thomas has done that I would disagree with. I wasn’t crazy about the Crawford deal (although I was more upset of Frank Williams being included in the trade) and I called the Maurice Taylor trade “a head-scratcher“. If you’re scoring at home, Isiah’s seems to come out with the long end of the stick more often than not. So why haven’t the Knicks shown improvement over that time?

The answer is simple; while Isiah Thomas has done well deal-to-deal he hasn’t had a overall plan with New York. The most comprehensive scheme I’ve heard from the Knicks president is that he wants to get “younger and more athletic”. Undoubtedly the Knicks are younger & more athletic than they were when he arrived, but last year they finished 4 games worse than 2003, Scott Layden’s last full year.

It’s because “younger and athletic” doesn’t mean better. If you look back at the 1994 team, how many of these players would you call young & athletic out of Ewing, Oakley, Starks, Anthony, Davis, Mason, and Harper? Chris Anderson may more nimble than Tim Duncan, but “the Bird Man” has trouble scoring even when he’s got the court to himself for 60 seconds. Physical ability is important in sports, but in the NBA, you also need skill and talent as well.

As far as I can tell, the Knicks have two major problems: defense and money. The Knicks were 26th on defense last year, and they had the highest team salary in the league. The Kurt Thomas for Quentin Richardson trade may be a good deal on it’s own, but it really doesn’t address either of New York’s major issues. In fact it typifies Isiah’s reign as New York GM. Get an athletic guy in his mid 20s who’s available because we’re willing to take on a lengthy contract.

Just observe Isiah’s 4 biggest acquisitions. None of Marbury, Thomas, Crawford, or (if the rumors are true) Richardson are even passable defenders. While Stephon is a legitimate offensive force who makes up for his deficiencies on the other end of the court, the same can’t be said of the other three. In regards to the ledgers, Tim Thomas’ contract mercifully ends after next season, but the others will be around for at least 4 more seasons. Pundits will call this trade a good deal for New York, because Richardson is younger, his contract is only a year longer, and they need a small forward more than a power forward. To me, this deal is more of the same. The Knicks won’t improve until they fix their defense and get smarter with the books.

Steve Nash for MVP? (Part II)

[This is Part II of a two-part column by KnickerBlogger Head West Coast Analyst Kevin Pelton analyzing Steve Nash’s season and MVP chances. Please read Part I if you haven’t already by scrolling down or clicking here. Kevin serves as the Sonics and Storm beat writer for SUPERSONICS.COM and storm.wnba.com. He formerly wrote the APBRmetric “Page 23” column for Hoopsworld.com.]

I left off Monday by drawing the conclusion that Steve Nash’s 2004-05 season is statistically very similar to John Stockton’s prime years. Based on that, it may be illuminating to look at Stockton’s MVP performance.

The short-shorted one peaked in MVP voting in 1988-89, when he finished seventh. Remarkably, during his entire Hall of Fame career, Stockton received just one first-place MVP vote. In 1989-90, after setting the all-time record for assists per game, Stockton finished ninth in MVP voting, behind Tom Chambers.

Stockton’s notable lack of MVP credit brings us back to one of the initial questions: Just what does a point guard have to do to win MVP? Oddly, at the same time Stockton was getting no MVP respect, Magic Johnson was winning the award in 1987, 1989 and 1990. Since Johnson retired, however, only four point guards – Anfernee Hardaway in 1995-96, Tim Hardaway in 1996-97, Gary Payton in 1997-98 and the aforementioned Kidd in 2001-02 – have even finished top five in MVP voting. And three of those four were high scorers.

Surely, MVP voters often come to different conclusions than the NBA’s statistical analysts. But Stockton also never finished better than sixth in the league in John Hollinger’s PER Rating. Point guards have performed even more dismally by PER, the most popular all-inclusive rating system, than in MVP voting; no point guard has finished in the top five since Johnson.

Do we, as a community of analysts, undervalue point guards and, by extension, assists? It’s a fair question to ask. Of the statistics that are actually available, there is a solid logical base for valuing everything but assists. (The logic behind the weights different analysts use can vary for things like offensive rebounds, but there is logic.) With assists? Even people like Hollinger and Dean Oliver have been forced to resort to thinking along the lines of, “How many actions in an assisted shot are performed by the shooter and how many by the passer?”

Uncertainty and undervalued aren’t the same thing, and Dan Rosenbaum has done some persuasive research that tends to indicate that assists might actually be less valuable than they’re generally credited as, at least for point guards, but I’ve yet to be completely convinced by it. I’d say I operate from the principle that all positions are equally important, and try to rate players according to that ideal. If that means more weight to assists, so be it.

(I should point out that the lack of a point guard rated as a top-flight superstar in the last 13 years doesn’t necessarily mean the position is undervalued overall, but it’s not a good sign either.)

Whatever your take, it follows logically from this discussion that responding to the Nash for MVP advocates by saying, “But his PER is only ninth in the league!” is a wholly inadequate response. PER, like all other ratings based on traditional statistics, is an abstraction of value. It’s a guess, at the end of the day. A good guess, yes, and a very useful one, but hardly proof that Nash isn’t the MVP.

While I’d say I generally favor individual statistics to plus-minus data when there is a discrepancy between the two, in this discussion plus-minus is valuable because of its inherent bias-free nature. It doesn’t care about the value of an assist or whether point guards get the credit they deserve. All plus-minus sees is whether a team is outscoring its opponents or not. The Suns quite clearly are, and they’re doing it more with Nash, who, as of Feb. 15, ranked third in the league in Roland Rating, trailing only Dirk Nowitzki and Andrei Kirilenko (whose knee injury ended any faint MVP dreams). Looking at raw +/- per 48 minutes, unadjusted for team quality, Nash again ranks third, this time trailing Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan.

(The counterpoint here has been that Nash’s backup, Leandro Barbosa, has struggled this season. Apparently tired of the bashing, Barbosa responded with 22 points on 9-for-15 shooting (although just two assists) against the L.A. Clippers last Wednesday in a game Nash missed with a strained hamstring. Either way, Barbosa can’t possibly be as bad as he’s been made out to be; at his best, he should rank in the middle of the pack amongst backup point guards.)

Stockton was always subject to something of a “chicken or egg?” debate with fellow legend Karl Malone. Most people answered Malone, which is why he won two MVPs and always dramatically outpaced Stockton in the voting. Nash has something similar with Amar? Stoudemire; how much of Stoudemire’s remarkable improvement this season is to be expected from a 22-year-old, and how much of it is due to his teammates?

Considering no young player has ever really made a comparable improvement to Stoudemire’s leap from a 47.5% field-goal percentage to 57.2% this season, clearly teammates have been a part of it. That’s not just Nash, however; Rosenbaum has pointed out how surrounding Stoudemire with shooters has made it impossible for opposing defenses to double-team him.

The best explanation I’ve heard, this one borrowed from Eric Neel, is that the Suns are like a finely-tuned engine. All of the parts have to be in place and running smoothly for the engine to work. So as much as Nash’s January injury and the Suns’ subsequent losing streak helped his MVP candidacy, the same thing might have happened had any of the Phoenix starters gone down. That’s a pretty strong argument that while the Suns are great as a team, it’s because they have lots of valuable parts, not one most valuable player.

(None of the other starters has missed a game this season, though the Suns would probably be okay without Joe Johnson or Quentin Richardson now that Jim Jackson is behind them. Turns out they might be okay without Nash too, winning two straight without him, including at Dallas, between my writing this column and its posting.)

Two days and nearly 2,000 words later, let us return to the opening question: Is Steve Nash the NBA’s MVP for the 2004-05 season? My answer, as befits a poor columnist, is “I don’t know.” That’s partially because, of course, there are still 26 games and slightly less than a third left in the Suns’ season. More importantly, however, I think persuasive arguments can be made both for and against Nash.

If today was the end of the season and, more improbably, I was an NBA MVP voter (and not indebted by virtue of my paycheck to pick Ray Allen), I’d probably vote Duncan first and Nash second, but I guarantee you this: I’d take a good hard look at Nash’s candidacy. If I leave you with nothing else, I hope I can convince you of this: Nash’s candidacy is not a simple matter, and treating it as a foregone conclusion, whether pro or con, isn’t fair to anyone involved.


I owe a massive debt of gratitude to Basketball-Reference.com, without which this column would have been impossible to research.