Lee Injures Curry to Get More Playing Time

According to the NY Times, Eddy Curry suffered a shoulder injury in practice. Supposedly he has full range of motion, but there is pain. Curry will miss the first preseason game, but more interestingly the injury was caused by David Lee. It seems that Lee is actually fighting for more playing time. More from the article:

With Curry out, the Knicks are suddenly thin at center. Jerome James has had a sore left knee throughout training camp and will probably be in street clothes Monday. Coach Isiah Thomas could slide Randolph to center (and use Lee at power forward), or start the second-year pro Randolph Morris.

None of those pairings will generate as much intrigue, however, as the Curry-Randolph tandem, which the Knicks hope will be the most dominant in the league.

Wow I never thought I’d see the word “thin” with the name “Jerome James” in the same paragraph. And I’m sure there are a few readers here that think the Lee/Randolph or Morris/Randolph front court would be more intriguing. Am I the only one that thinks the Curry-Randolph pairing is going to be uneventful? They both might suffer a little scoring-wise, but other than that not much is going to change in their per minute stats.

Knicks 2007 Report Card (A to Z): Coach Isiah Thomas

KnickerBlogger: Isiah Thomas started off the 2007 with a lot of pressure on his shoulders. New York had just come of a disastrous 23 win season under Larry Brown. Thomas was widely criticized for taking Renaldo Balkman in the draft. The Knicks’ owner James Dolan gave Thomas an order to improve the team or pack his bags. Thomas was forced to take over as coach of the Knicks, something he promised he wouldn’t do. His reputation as a coach and a general manager were both on the line. In mid-March the Knicks were 29-34 and held the 8th and final playoff spot. Isiah Thomas was given a contract extension as was safe for another year.

However, the team floundered down the stretch. After re-signing Thomas, the Knicks would win only 4 of it’s last 15 games and ended up in 11th place in the East. All in all were 33 wins disappointing? It depends on your expectations. Of the 79 teams in NBA history that had a winning percentage equal to or worse than the 2006 Knicks 23 win team, only 19 of them won 33 or more games the next season. The average improvement of those 79 teams was 8.7 wins, something the 2007 Knicks exceeded. Given those expectations, it’s hard to say Isiah Thomas did a bad job as coach of the Knicks.

However it’s hard to argue that he did a superlative job. Isiah’s main flaws:

  • Allocation of minutes. I’m sure just about every fan quibbles with the substitutions of a coach. In fact I’d be shocked to hear that for each non-playoff team there exists one fan that agrees 100% with the minutes doled out. Nonetheless Isiah Thomas made a few poor decisions along the way. I’ll start by saying that perhaps David Lee’s playing time wasn’t the worst of them. Sure he was the best player on the team, but Thomas still found 30 minutes a night for him. Instead of quibbling over 5 minutes a night for a second year player that came from nowhere, I’d rather concentrate on more heinous crimes.

    Like giving 1307 minutes to Jared Jeffries. Isiah acquired Jeffries with the mid-level exception, and to say Thomas has made bad decisions with the mid-level is like saying Barry Bonds has hit a few home runs. Jeffries followed Vin Baker and Jerome James as free agent strike outs by Isiah. Despite Jeffries’ total ineptitude, Isiah called his number for 23.8 minutes a game. Sitting on the bench behind Jeffries was a superior player in Renaldo Balkman. And Isiah Thomas could have, for lack of a better term, bitch-slapped his draft day detractors by letting Balkman shine in extended minutes.

    But Jeffries wasn’t the only crime. Thomas gave 11 starts to last year’s mid-level exemption Jerome James in order to kickstart the Knicks defense. This was maybe the oddest decision of Isiah’s coaching tenure. Thomas allowed James to play a handful of minutes, only to banish him to the bench for the rest of the game, never to return. Although some of this was done with Lee injured, Thomas had better options to improve the New York defense (Cato, Balkman, Collins, etc.) Hopefully the fine summer league play of Balkman and Morris will mean the end of meaningful minutes to both Jeffries and James.

  • Player development. The only Knick to improve in 2006 under Larry Brown was Jamal Crawford. Brown contained Crawford’s untamed offensive game, and got him to play smarter basketball. With Brown’s tutelage, Crawford attempted fewer wild shots from the perimeter, and drove to the hoop more often. Unfortunately it seems that Isiah Thomas undid most if not all of Brown’s good work. Last year Crawford reverted to his old self: unnecessarily heaving up off low percentage shots. Jamal’s shooting percentage plummeted (47.4 to 45.8 eFG%, 54.4 to 51.7 TS%) as Thomas gave him carte blanche to shoot at will.

    Crawford wasn’t the only player to regress under Thomas. Channing Frye had a sparkling rookie campaign, but floundered miserably as a sophomore. It’s hard to believe that Thomas couldn’t find any way to increase the forward’s confidence. Frye was psychologically shaky, often passing up on outside shots that found the bottom of the net just a year ago. It’s hard to say what caused Frye’s slump, but it’s the coach’s job to motivate his players. And in this case Isiah failed.

  • The defense. We’ve spent a lot of time on this blog dissecting the Knicks offense. However the Knicks’ offense was ranked 10th on March 12th (when Thomas’ contract was extended) before a rash of injuries helped to sink the team. On the other hand, the New York defense was ranked a pitiful 27th at that time and they finished 24th by the season’s end. While part of the problem is due to the construction of the team (which is the fault of Isiah Thomas the president), a share of the blame goes to the coach.

    Thomas failed to make the defense better on any level. He failed to make his players defend better. Take for instance Eddy Curry. Instead of teaching him proper defensive fundamentals, Thomas instructed Curry to avoid fouls. Curry’s foul rate was the lowest of his career, and consequently his block rate was halved. On the other end of the roster, the perimeter was still porous. Knick guards had problems keeping opponents from penetrating, exacerbating Curry’s problems.

    Even if Thomas isn’t to blame for the player’s inability to defend, you could fault him for not using better defenders or schemes. Balkman, who shined as a defender his rookie year, saw only 15.6 minutes per game. Cato, who was certainly no worse defensively than any of the other Knicks centers, played less than a hundred minutes on the season. Additionally Isiah fell in love with a small lineup. Just look at Nate Robinson’s top floor units. The second most frequent unit is a three guard alignment, and two others have Jamal Crawford as the small forward. Crawford played 8% of the team’s total minutes at SF, Mardy Collins played 6%. Meanwhile David Lee only spent 5% at SF. Putting out an undersized unit isn’t done to bolster the defense.

Despite these flaws, Thomas did a commendable job last year. With how much of a crapshoot getting a coach is, it’s hard to think that a random coach could have done better. In the NBA the great coaches are few & far in between, and at the bottom there is a rotating door of assistants and college coaches who fail miserably. That the Knicks improved more than the average team in their situation, shows that Thomas did a fair job.

KnickerBlogger?s Grade: C+

2008 Outlook: The Knicks added some bigger players to the roster, so it’s possible that we’ve seen the end of the small lineup. Instead, we could see lots of big lineups. David Lee could see serious playing time at small forward. Renaldo Balkman (6-8), Demetris Nichols (6-8), and Quentin Richardson (6-6) could see time at shooting guard. Isiah could improve the team by playing the Knicks’ better defenders more often. Balkman should see an extra 10 minutes this year. Collins could see some situational duty. With a poor defensive front court in Curry and Randolph, the Knicks might zone it up more next year. On offense, Isiah Thomas will have to work Zach Randolph into the playbook.

Although last year Thomas received an ultimatum to improve, he’s probably under the same sword of Damocles this year. Certainly the bar is raised again, because 33 wins isn’t going to cut it in 2008. Thomas has a lot of questions to answer this upcoming season. How will Zach Randolph fit in with this team? How many minutes will he find for David Lee? Who will play small forward? Will top summer league performers Renaldo Balkman and Nate Robinson get more playing time? How will the rookies fit in to this team? But no matter what the answers to these questions are, Thomas will be forced to improve. It’d be hard to see the Knicks not make the playoffs and Isiah keep his job.

Knicks 2007 Report Card (A to Z): Malik Rose

KnickerBlogger: Malik Rose brings one unique thing to the Knicks. On a relatively young team with little playoff experience, Rose is the wily veteran. His signature move is bodying up against a stronger post player, only to pull the chair (and the player’s jersey) out from underneath causing a turnover. On offense Rose has a nice trick play where he lobs the ball from the perimeter to Eddy Curry for an alley-oop.

Unfortunately, Malik Rose uses these gimmicks because he’s declined so much physically. An undersized power forward to begin with, Rose’s leaping ability has ceased to be. From 2002 his total rebounds per 40 minutes has steadily decreased from a robust 11.4 to a subpar 8.6. Meanwhile his blocked shot rate went from passable (1.0 BLK/40) to feeble (0.4 BLK/40), his scoring went from healthy (17.9 PTS/40) to sickly (9.5 PTS/40), and his shooting percentage went from bad (46.4% eFG) to hideous (40.3% eFG). Simply put, Rose is really bad at a lot of things.

Rose does have some other positives. He’s still fairly mobile with good lateral speed, and can rebound decently on the offensive side. However he should be banned from attempting any shot after grabbing a rebound. According to 82games.com, Malik Rose gets 25% of his shots blocked in “close” range. Clearly everyone knows Rose like to pump fake twice before putting the shot back up. His strength is in his man to man defense, something Rose is good at despite his lack of height and leaping ability. Unfortunately, he has too many holes in his game at this point in his career to be a productive player.

KnickerBlogger’s Grade: F

2008 Outlook: With a strong rotation of Randolph, Lee, Curry, and Morris; Rose is likely to be the odd man out this year. He should sit on the end of the bench in a glass case that reads “Break only in case of emergency”. There are a handful of scenarios that Malik Rose should be used for.

  • One possession defensive replacement.
  • When a PF is torching the Knicks, and they need someone to douse the flames.
  • When the difference in score is 20 points or more (in either direction).

Although mostly useless, there are two reasons why Rose shouldn’t be a salary cap casualty. The first is that he becomes a free agent in the summer of 2009, and therefore he could be used to provide salary relief in case there is another superstar exodus next year. The second reason is that Rose has a pretty high basketball IQ. I’ve heard Rose speak during one of the Knick summer games, and he had a good eye for the game. In fact there is a certain young Knick with a similar build that could learn a few tricks from Rose. Should some of Rose’s knowledge rub off on David Lee, the Knicks would be reaping the rewards for years to come.

Brian Cronin – Yeah, as a basketball player, Rose has passed his usefulness (and really, what’s the shame in that? The guy had a lot of great years and has two rings to show for it and a whole pile of money), but man, I love to at least have one of these overpaid guys on the bench who don’t play actually be a GOOD role model, and NOT the proverbial “team cancer,” and that is what Rose is.

I would not be surprised at ALL to see him land somewhere as an Assistant Coach when his career is finally over (by the by, does anyone think Rose has enough in him to get even a one-year deal after his contract expires?).

So good for you, Malik! You’re a fun guy to have on the bench. No shame in that. And the trade for you got the Knicks David Lee, so that is also quite cool!

Who Would You Trade for Ron Artest?

With all the rumors circulating around Ron Artest possibly being traded to the Knicks, the gang here at KnickerBlogger decided to try to figure out who we would trade for Artest if we were, in fact, forced to do so.

Pick out which offer you think is the best (on the grounds of being good for the Knicks and still being acceptable for the Kings)! Or share your own suggestion (Here is ESPN’s handy dandy Trade Machine, for you to see if your trade fits in with the NBA’s various salary cap rules)!!

{democracy:14}

Brian Cronin – I would be willing to part with two different options:

1. Quentin Richardson – If Artest came to the Knicks, Richardson would be screwed anyways, as Artest plays the exact same position as Richardson (Small Forward who can play Shooting Guard), and since I think Artest is a better player than Richardson, I would be willing to swap the two players.

As for the Kings, Richardson is not an awful return on Artest. I mean, at this exact point in their careers, is Richardson much worse than Peja? And that’s all Sacramento gave up for Artest.

2. Jamal Crawford – This is a bit of a trickier trade, because, as I said above, Artest and Richardson play the same position (2/3), so having them both on the same team, with Nate and Balkman and Jeffries and Chandler (heck, even with a little Lee mixed in at the 3) – it would get crowded quickly.

However, if there is a good, marketable player on the Knicks who they could afford to lose without really hurting the team that much – it’s Jamal Crawford. So I’d be willing to risk it.

From the Kings’ perspective, Crawford is an exciting player, and would allow them to trade off Bibby for nothing and go forth with a Crawford/Martin back court for the next few years. While Crawford isn’t that great, he’s definitely a marketable player (see Crawford’s 52 against Miami), so I think that, while this would not be as good of a trade TALENT-wise for the Kings, it might actually be a better one from a PR standpoint.

KnickerBlogger: I chose the null option partially because Cronin took one of the few deals that I would take. I would do Crawford for Artest primarily because I’m not a big fan of Crawford’s out of control low percentage shooting. In any case I’ll play devil’s advocate on not trading for Artest, not that it’s far from what I actually think. It’s not so much that I wouldn’t want Ron Artest the player. For once Isiah would be getting a player that wouldn’t be a liability on the defensive end. And the Knicks could sure use help on the defensive end.

The problem is Ron Artest the person. I don’t think I need to rehash Artest’s history, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say he’s a risk to himself and his team. It’s not inconceivable that Artest does something crazy enough to create a media circus and make 2008 a repulsive season for the fans. Knick fans have suffered through a brutal decade so far, and Artest could figuratively (or literally) give New Yorkers a black eye.

Not only could Artest’s actions ruin the season, but he could hurt the development of New York’s youngsters. David Lee and Renaldo Balkman have yet to hit their prime while showing flashes of brilliance. Meanwhile Nate Robinson, Mardy Collins, and Randolph Morris are becoming useful role players. Bringing a player like Artest aboard could cut into the playing time and progress of these promising players.

If the Knicks did trade for Artest, I would sure hope they don’t pay much (Crawford, Jeffries, Rose, etc.). Although he’s a talented defender, I would hate for the Knicks to trade useful prospects away only to have Artest self destruct.

Knicks 2007 Report Card (A to Z): Randolph Morris

KnickerBlogger: Signed by the Knicks in a draft loophole, Randolph Morris became the first person to play in the NCAA tournament and the NBA season in the same week. Morris played for the Knicks in 5 games totaling 44 minutes. That’s 4 less minutes than a single NBA game.

KnickerBlogger’s Grade: Incomplete

2008 Outlook: From what I saw in Las Vegas, Randolph Morris seems to be a solid, but unspectacular player. It’s harder to judge centers in summer league, because as Dave Berri puts it, there’s a short supply of tall players. On offense Morris showed that he was able to face up and hit a short jumper, and can finish around the hoop. His hands are adequate when it comes to receiving passes close to the basket. On defense he averaged a little over a block per game. His rebounding was good, but not great. There’s nothing that Randolph does that screams “I’m great at this!”, and that is what most scouting reports say. Ed Weiland said “I doubt he?ll ever be anything more than just usable as a player” and Berri said “Randolph Morris had a PAWSmin of 0.128 [ranked 9th in PF/C], which looks pretty good.”

Normally you wouldn’t expect a young player like Morris to get a lot of play. In essence he’s a rookie, and the Knicks have a logjam at C/PF with Curry, Randolph, Lee, Rose, and James. But one thing that might drive Isiah Thomas to play Morris more next year is his expiring contract. Since Morris wasn’t drafted by the Knicks, they couldn’t give him one of those 4-5 year rookie option deals. Unless New York extends Morris’ contract this offseason, Isiah will have to make a decision next year on whether or not to keep him. The Knicks would be in another Jackie Butler situation, but this time they won’t have the option to match if another team signs Morris to a contract.

Finding a usable center in the NBA is no easy task, so Isiah should try to give the kid a chance to prove himself this year. Using Randolph for at least 10-15 minutes a night over about 60 games should let the Knicks better evaluate his talents without allowing other teams to bid heavily on him next year. As an added bonus, being forced to play Morris would mean that Malik Rose should see even less minutes this year and Jerome James can dust off his old Globetrotter jersey.

Brian Cronin – Yeah, from what I have seen of Morris, he doesn’t look like anything more than a solid backup, but solid backup centers are USEFUL in the NBA, ESPECIALLY if they can keep you from signing, say, Jerome James to do the role.

So I think the signing of Morris was a steal by Isaiah.

Knicks 2007 Report Card (A to Z): David Lee

KnickerBlogger Despite standing only 6’9″, David Lee’s main strength is his rebounding. He combines excellent positioning, exceptional timing, good leaping ability, and a desire to capture missed shots on both ends of the floor. Not only is Lee the best rebounder on his team, but he’s one of the best in the NBA. Among players that logged 1000 or more minutes in 2007, Lee finished 5th in per minute rebounding. Compared to the other hyalophiles, Lee committed the fewest fouls and scored the most points.

Per 40 Minutes Height Tm OREB DREB TREB PF PTS
Reggie Evans 6’8″ DEN 5.5 10.8 16.3 5.1 11.5
Dikembe Mutombo 7’2″ HOU 5.1 10.1 15.1 4.8 7.1
Tyson Chandler 7’1″ NOK 5.1 9.3 14.3 3.9 10.9
Jeff Foster 6’11” IND 5.8 8.2 14 4.6 7.4
David Lee 6’9″ NYK 4.5 9.4 13.9 3.6 14.4

Not just a one trick pony, Lee is also adept at running the floor and strong at finishing around the hoop. A natural lefty, David Lee is ambidextrous which allows him to score with either hand. Although he doesn’t possess the extra wide body that Curry or Sweetney has, Lee isn’t slender, and can shield the ball with his body. Lee shot a robust 60% eFG from the field, and is such a good free throw shooter (81.6%) that he ranked third on the team in free throw shooting percentage. As a bonus, Lee doesn’t dominate the ball on offense. The Knicks don’t need to run any plays for him, as he’s able to produce his own offense by his rebounding and his ability to move well without the ball.

Although Lee is slightly undersized at power forward, his defense is passable. He has good footwork and is strong enough to not get bowled over against other post players. Additionally Lee can play the small forward or center spots, albeit in short stints depending on the matchup. If Lee were 2 inches taller he probably would excel as a shot blocker, but he is only able to alter shots of smaller players. Among the Knick forwards/centers Lee committed the fewest per minute fouls, which allows him to stay on the court for long periods of time. According to 82games, the Knicks were 2.5 points per 100 possessions better on defense with Lee on the court. Even if that number comes from his outstanding rebounding, he clearly doesn’t hinder the team with his defense.

In 2007, the Knicks record was 26-32 (.449) with David Lee and 7-17 (.291) without him. In the three games after the suspensions from the Denver fight, Lee averaged 13 points and an incredible 17.7 rebounds. Last year he led the Knicks in 4 important categories (eFG%, TS%, OREB/40, and DREB/40) and had the highest PER on the team. Quietly he was New York’s most valuable player.

KnickerBlogger’s Grade: A

2008 Outlook: Despite Lee’s outstanding sophomore season, there are a few questions that 2008 will bring:

1. Was 2007 a fluke?
Too often have we seen young players have a fantastic year, only to fall down to earth never to reach that level of play again. Hopes may be high for Lee to continue to progress, and one only needs to look at Lee’s draftmate Channing Frye to see how far a young player can slide from a single season. On the positive side, Lee’s pertinent stats are nearly identical from his rookie year, with one exception: his defensive rebounding. Lee grabbed 2.6 DREB/40 more in 2007, which is more likely due to his switch to power forward (from small forward under Brown) and Curry’s increase in minutes (Curry is a poor rebounder).

2. How will the injury affect Lee?
Of all the questions, this one is the most concerning. Lee’s injury seems to have been misdiagnosed, his return date kept sliding, and he made a token appearance hobbling at the end of the season. Since Lee uses his jumping ability to secure a lot of his rebounds, suffering an ankle injury should cause some concern. It’s probable that he missed the summer league because he’s still not 100%, although there were reports that he was working out with the team. Watching him early in the pre-season should give fans a good indication if this injury is behind him or not.

3. How much will he play?
Prior to draft night it seemed that David Lee would have a bright future in New York. He only had Channing Frye, Malik Rose, Jerome James, and Randolph Morris to compete with for the starting spot in the Knick’s lineup. Considering that group of talent, Lee should have been a lock to start in 2008. That all changed when Isiah Thomas acquired Zach Randolph on draft day. Now Knick fans are wondering if David Lee will see enough court time this year. Consider that last year Curry and Randolph averaged a little over 35 minutes a game each. If the duo play the same amount of minutes, and David Lee backs up both players, it only means he’ll play about 25 minutes a game, less than the 30 he played last year.

But the problem with that logic is that the Knicks can’t just use only three players for two spots all year. There’ll be times that they’ll need a defensive presence in the paint, so they may have to look to Rose, James, Morris, or Cato (considering any of these players are on the roster come November). While Lee can play small forward for short stretches, there’ll be nights that the matchup will make it impossible. Additionally small forward seems to be the Knicks’ deepest position, so Lee may have a hard time finding minutes there either. My ideal situation, while still being realistic, would be for Isiah to occasionally use Lee as a small forward in a big lineup to force other teams out of their comfort zone, slightly cut back on Curry and Randolph’s minutes, be open minded in the fourth quarter and use Lee down the stretch especially when Zach or Eddy are having an off night.

4. Can he generate more offense?
With Isiah’s offense centered on the low post play of Eddy Curry, and now Zach Randolph, it becomes important for all the Knicks on the floor to knock down an open jumper. Unfortunately Lee hits only 29% of his jump shots according to 82games.com. His shot looks awkward, and maybe part of it is due to being left handed. Nonetheless it appears as if he doesn’t square his shoulders to the hoop. Often relying on others to score, his usage is very low and his per minute scoring is only tied for 7th on the team. While Lee is plenty valuable without a jump shot, for him to go from being a very good complimentary player to an All Star will require a bit more scoring volume. A 15 footer would go a long way in Lee’s development.

Dave Crockett

Lee’s career has been one I have followed with some interest since seeing him in listed as a McDonald’s HS All-American in 2001. I suspect most Knickerblogger readers are not familiar with the St. Louis metro area, which is where I spent my high school years some 20+ years ago. Lee’s high school, Chaminade College Prep, suffice it to say is not to be mistaken for the prototypical high school sports powerhouse. (Back in my day Chaminade actually ran a single-wing offense in football.) So when this mop-topped, rosy-cheeked lad won the McDonald’s slam dunk contest I was, to say the least, intrigued. Unfortunately for Lee he virtually never had a play run for him at Florida until his senior season, overlapping as he did with trigger-happy guards Anthony Roberson and Matt Walsh. Fortunately for Knicks fans Lee learned how to be uber-productive without the ball in his hands. His long arms, timing, and knack for positioning virtually ensure that he will always be a quality rebounder.

The key for Lee going forward will be developing a 15-18 foot jump shot. If he never improves in that area he still promises to be an exceptionally useful complimentary player, along the lines of A.C. Green–the player to whom he compares most favorably at the same age. But if he can improve his ball-handling and his shot–a feat that may require reconstructing that ugly looking thing–I see Lee’s peak years comparing favorably to those of Larry Nance or Horace Grant (i.e., very good, though probably not Hall of Fame).

Putting a damper on some of the superlatives though, I do have my concerns about Lee’s injury. I am still not completely certain of the final diagnosis. Its description in the press even now remains somewhat murky. My initial thinking was that Lee suffered a “high ankle sprain,” an injury commonly suffered by football players. That’s generally a 6-8 week injury. But, it remains unclear if Lee is back to 100% even now.

As for Lee’s minutes this upcoming season, I suspect that after pulling Lee–clearly his most desired asset–off the market Thomas plans to play him. My best guess is that he will be part of a rotation that sees him log some minutes at SF while the lion’s share will come at backup PF when Zach Randolph slides down to C. My sincere hope is that we have seen the last meaningful minutes for Malik Rose and Jerome James, who combined to be on the floor for over a quarter of the team’s minutes in ’06-07.

Brian Cronin – Yeah, the injury problem is my only concern about Lee. It’s not like Lee just developed all these skills out of nowhere. He was basically the same player in his sophomore year as in his rookie year – only more so. ;)

But I’ve seen way too many NBA players get similar injuries to Lee and just have their distinctive abilities, if not ruined, at least diminished for quite awhile. So I am certainly hoping that Lee will recover nicely.

I am not too worried about minutes, really, because, as Dave mentions, if Zeke isn’t going to trade him, I gotta figure it is because he actually plans on using him. I, too, think he will see most of his minutes at the SF position.

As for the grade, come on, could it be any grade BUT an A? Dude was a legitimate contender for the All-Star team in his second season!!