Lots of Stuff From the Beat

Lots of good info from the Knicks’ beat writers. Whoda thunk a 1-9 team with no draft pick and no game for a few days would merit so much good ink?

First, Newsday’s Alan Hahn nails it with “Knicks had to get it right, and didn’t”.

Meanwhile, Donnie Walsh and his staff had to get this draft pick right. Not only because of how valuable a lottery pick can be to a rebuilding franchise, but because the team doesn’t have a first round pick in2010. Every criteria had to be exhausted when considering all of the draft candidates at No. 8 and that includes character.

A kid that shows up at his first NBA Summer League admittedly not in great shape, to me, shows major character flaws. How much does he want it? How much does he care?

There are two kinds of players in the NBA: those who love basketball and those who love the life. One goes to the gym at night and puts up shots. The other goes to the club and puts down shots and sweats.

You feel me?

With the No. 8 pick in the draft, you try your best to get the first kind. Or at least one who has the tendencies to be the first kind.

So the fair criticism right now is to analyze the decision the Knicks made to take the not-yet-ready Hill and leave Jennings and Ty Lawson, two dynamic guards, on the board.

And where are the other scouts who should have been aware of Jennings even before he left for Europe? Was there enough of a debate in the War Room that night as the Knicks were on the clock and had gotten over losing Stephen Curry to the Warriors?

Curry topped the list and, despite his mercurial start with Dysfunction State, would have been the best fit. Tyreke Evans was also high on the list, I’m told, and yet it’s interesting that Jennings had his pre-draft workout for the Knicks against the much bigger Evans and, from what I’ve heard, he really took it to Evans. I remember Jennings walking out of the gym feeling very confident in himself that day.


Lawson, the Carolina product who we touted here at the Fix as early as the 2008 draft, was also up at the MSG Training Center in June for a pre-draft workout. Walsh really liked Lawson but, again, size (5-11, 195) was a major issue. And the other question was whether Lawson was a top 10 pick. Almost everyone had him projected in the teens and that’s exactly where he went. Denver traded an unprotected 2014 first-rounder to land him from Minnesota, which took him at No. 18.

Lots of good points here. The significance of the 2009 draft, and a little bit of why the Knicks passed on Lawson & Jennings. Additionally Hahn takes the Knicks to task for not knowing Hill’s motor (or apparent lack thereof).

Berman gets a good quote from Walsh:

Knicks team president Donnie Walsh told The Post yesterday the club’s franchise-worst 1-9 start is his fault and no one else’s, taking the heat off coach Mike D’Antoni.
The Knicks, who had the day off from practice yesterday, don’t play again until Wednesday in Indiana and have to marinate in the shame of being the first Knicks team to start a season 1-9. The franchise dawned in 1946.
“I’m not blaming the players, not blaming the coaches, I’m not blaming anyone but myself,” Walsh told The Post. “I feel this is my responsibility more than Mike’s or the players. Maybe the team doesn’t have all the elements.”

Hmmm blaming the front office for this start – where have I heard that before?

The Daily News, courtesy of Mitch Lawrence, give some insight into D’Antoni’s practice.

The New York Zombies, er, Knicks, returned to the practice floor Sunday in Greenburgh, with Eddy Curry taking a step toward returning to action this week and Wilson Chandler accepting a potential demotion to a bench role.

Curry could see his first action of the season Wednesday in Indiana. Mike D’Antoni, who called his players “zombies” after it went through the motions Friday in a loss to Golden State, isn’t sure how many minutes Curry will get against the Pacers.

His plan is to give Curry some minutes in the first half, then see if he merits more action. “Given that (D’Antoni’s) system is based on running, it’s definitely hard,” Curry said. “But I think I’m catching on and he is being very patient with me.”

But it appears that D’Antoni has run out of patience with Chandler, who has started the first 10 games, first at guard and more recently at forward. A demotion would mark a setback for both Chandler and the Knicks. D’Antoni has said a number of times that one of his primary objectives this season is to develop his top young players, starting with Danilo Gallinari and Chandler.

Yesterday, D’Antoni concentrated on defense, with Jared Jeffries, a reserve since the fourth game of the season, working with the first team and Chandler a second-teamer. As for Chandler’s move to the bench, D’Antoni wasn’t ready to announce it. “We’re still searching a little bit,” he said. “We don’t know yet, to be honest with you.”

With the Knicks offense reeling, seems like a great idea to get Jared Jeffries into the starting lineup. Maybe New York can grab Bruce Bowen to help light it up too? With a lineup of Duhon, Bowen, and Jeffries, you could have Barkley and Shaq as the 4/5, and still not break 100 points.

2010 Poll: Who Will Win the East?

Cleveland Cavaliers (Vegas odds to win title: 3:1)
Despite failing to reach the Finals last year, the Cavs remain the favorite to win the East. Over the summer, Cleveland swapped Ben Wallace for Shaq, and while the Big Diesel is merely a fraction of his former dominant self, he’s miles ahead in productivity over Wallace. But the Cavs didn’t stop there, they also augmented their defense with Jamario Moon and Leon Powe. Last year Cleveland was unable to stop Howard in the middle, or preventing both Lewis and Turkoglu from torching them from the perimeter. This year they should be better equipped against those types of matchups.

Orlando Magic (5:1)
After shocking many with their playoff victory last year over Cleveland, Orlando made one major change this off season. The Magic lost Hedo Turkoglu in free agency, but managed to replace him with Vince Carter. This certainly is an upgrade by talent, but it remains to be seen how Carter fits in with Howard and co. Additionally Orlando managed to keep productive backup center Marcin Gortat and netted Brandon Bass in a double whammy free agency scuffle with the Mavericks. Howard was miffed last year at his lack of touches down the stretch late in games, and this year any late game heroics will likely begin with the ball in Carter’s hands. If Stan Van Gundy isn’t his team’s own worst enemy, Orlando will have enough firepower on both ends of the court to vie for a championship.

Boston Celtics (9:2)
Just two years ago the Boston Celtics dominated the league with 66 regular season victories and a title run. But last year injuries to Garnett and Powe thwarted any playoff hopes. Like the other two Eastern powerhouses, the Celtics didn’t stay put in the off season. Boston replaced Powe with Rasheed Wallace, and ‘Sheed will help the team cope defensively against Shaq and Howard while spacing the floor on offense. The line on the Celtics opened at 9:1, but enough money has come in to propel them above the Magic. Given the choice, I would put the Celtics third back given the team’s age and lack of depth. If the ancient core of Garnett, Allen, Pierce, and Wallace all aren’t upright for May & June, Boston won’t make it past the second round this year.

Everyone else (starting at 20:1)
The field consists of a few minor players that are hoping for Cinderella seasons. Atlanta has scratched at the cusp of the upper Eastern teams, but always seem to fall short and Jamal Crawford isn’t the person to put them over the edge. Miami is hoping that youngsters Beasley and Chalmers combined with oldster Jermaine O’Neal provide enough of a supporting cast for Dwyane Wade. Meanwhile the Wizards are hoping that a core of Arenas, Butler, Jamison, and Miller will put enough points on the boards to offset their team’s lack of defense. Last year Philly was the talk of the off season with their abduction of Elton Brand in free agency. Perhaps Eddie Jordan can find a way to make a most of their talent.

{democracy:35}

2009 NBA Draft Day

REMINDER: Don’t forget to enter the KnickerBlogger.Net 2009 Draft Contest before the draft starts!

With the draft less than 12 hours away some recent developments have changed how the night might proceed for the Knicks. Most pertinent is Minnesota trading for the #5 pick. There were rumors that New York was looking to acquire this asset from Washington, but with the pick traveling north that option has vanished. More importantly this move might affect who is available when the Knicks turn comes around. Originally it was assumed that Washington would take PF Jordan Hill with this selection. However it’s unlikely that the Timberwolves will take him because they already have two young frontcourt players in Jefferson and Love. They sent PG Foye and GF Miller in the deal, and with a guard heavy draft it’s likely that Minnesota will select two guards. Therefore it’s possible that both players Minnesota takes tonight are ones the Knicks were targeting.

There have been a few other rumors that New York was trying to add a late first round pick, but as of this writing nothing has been made official. With a draft that is more deep than top heavy, the pick could net a rough gem like Austin Daye, Marcus Thornton, or Nick Calathes.

Chad Ford reported that the Knicks are likely to send Quentin Richardson to Memphis in exchange for Darko Milicic in the next few days. This is a smart short term move for the Knicks. For the first time in years, the Knicks will have a shotblocking center, something they sorely lacked in the Isiah Thomas era. Milicic has averaged 2.6 blk/36, but his other numbers have disappointing. Last year Darko’s TS% was a respectable 53.3, but that was about 50 points above his career average so it’s possible that his good shooting was just a career fluke. He’s never averaged more than 24 minutes per game over the course of a season, so it’s unlikely that Milicic will earn a starting spot. However he’ll provide some much needed interior defense to a team that is starving for it. Milicic has only one year left on his deal, so it will not affect the team’s 2010 plans.

In other NBA news, the Hawks have netted ex-Knick Jamal Crawford, while the Cavs are on the verge of grabbing Shaquille O’Neal. The latter deal is quite interesting from a number of perspectives. Cleveland is hoping that adding Shaq will help fuel a Cavalier championship and keep LeBron from leaving via free agency. From Shaq’s perspective he gets to match up against rival Dwight Howard and Magic Coach Stan Van Gundy, who he has feuded with in the press. And should the Cavs beat the Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals this year, Shaq will go up against the Lakers and another rival Kobe Bryant.

Finally yours truly appeared on a Hardwood Paroxysm’s podcast last night for about 10 minutes, answering questions about the draft & the upcoming season.

*** BREAKING NEWS (1:30pm): Yahoo reports the Knicks acquired the Lakers’ first round pick (#29). According to the article the Knicks are looking to target a big man with this pick.

LeBron Championship Unlikely To Affect Free Agency Destination

With their 8th straight losing season on the books for the New York Knicks, many of their fans are looking towards 2010 when a host of free agents could break that streak. While it’s possible that the Knicks could reach 41 wins next year, the quickest route to become a serious playoff contender will be finding a top notch free agent next summer. Of course at the head of the class is LeBron James who on his own would make New York an instant playoff team. Although James has shown an affinity for the Big Apple, I wonder how a championship could affect his 2010 address. There usually seems to be two circumstances where a great player chooses to leave his team still near his prime. Either the superstar feels his current team won’t be able to deliver a championship within a few years, or he is tired of his current situation and is looking for a new city.

Examples of the former include Charles Barkley, Clyde Drexler, and Kevin Garnett. Nearing his prime, Barkley’s Sixers were 35-47 and far removed from the 58 win team from Sir Charles’ rookie season. Barkley forced a trade to Phoenix where he propelled the team all the way to the NBA Finals. Similarly Drexler’s Trailblazers were two and a half seasons removed from their best teams. Portland had reached the Finals in 2 out of 3 years from 1990 to 1992, but had suffered a couple of first round exits since. Drexler was traded during the 1995 season to the Rockets and teamed with Olajuwon for a title. Kevin Garnett was stuck with perennial loser Minnesota until McHale decided to help out his alma mater Boston, and the Big Ticket won a championship in his first year in Green.

On the other hand, there are examples of superstars leaving winning teams. Shaq’s first time was with a 60 win Orlando team that had lost to the Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals, and Houston in the Finals the year prior. O’Neal left for an average Laker squad who wouldn’t get back to the Finals for 4 seasons. Eight years later, Shaq would leave his 56 win Lakers for a 42 win Miami team. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s tenure in Milwaukee was mostly successful. In his 6 seasons, the Bucks averaged 57 wins and Abdul-Jabbar won a championship in 1971 with the team. His final season in Milwaukee was a losing one (where Kareem only appeared in 65 games), but that wasn’t why Kareem was moved. He requested to be traded to New York or Los Angeles to fit his cultural needs.

Unfortunately for Knick fans, LeBron’s chances of leaving are lessened due to Cleveland’s strong play. If the Cavs had a wretched crew around James, he might seek to leave for greener pastures like Barkley, Drexler, or Garnett. While Cleveland does have an aging front court in Ilgauskas (33 yrs), Ben Wallace (34), and Joe Smith (33), most of their roster is under 30. Of their top minute getters Williams, Varejao, Gibson, and West are all under 27 years of age. Barring an unforeseen disaster, Cleveland will stay in title contention until 2010.

So if LeBron leaves Cleveland, he’ll fit in the latter category of athlete looking to expand his horizons. In the cases of Shaq and Kareem, the superstar left because they preferred not to be in their current locale. Shaq’s first exodus was due to a desire to be in the bright lights of Los Angeles, while his second was to distance himself from a contentious teammate. For Abdul-Jabbar, he wanted a more heterogeneous environment than his midwestern municipality could offer. In these cases it didn’t matter if a player had won a title in that city, because their motivation was based on their personal life. New York’s best chance for a happy summer of 2010 rests on LeBron’s wanderlust. If James’ desire to become a man of the world compels him to leave for a bigger locale, then there’s little the Buckeye State could do to contain him. In this situation, a championship will have little bearing on his destination.

East Missed Out On Lee

Henry Abbott and Kevin Pelton made an interesting note about yesterday’s All Star game.

Had a chance to trade emails with Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus during the live blog of the All-Star Game. Kevin rightfully pointed out that naming Mo Williams to replace Chris Bosh was the primary reason the East got mauled inside.

The choice of Williams meant the East entered the game with only two legitimate bigs — Dwight Howard and Kevin Garnett, both of whom were starters. As a result, Rashard Lewis was forced to assume the center spot for long stretches of the game. Lewis has always been a bit challenged defending the post at the PF position, and he certainly doesn’t have the strength or the ability to absorb a beating against opposing 5s. But that’s exactly what he was charged with doing as the backup center on the Eastern squad, and the results were disastrous for the East.

Points in the Paint? West 96, East 58.

Glass? West 51, East 38.

Shaquille O’Neal: 17 points, 8-9 FGs in 11 minutes.

Watching the game I felt the same. It seemed as if the West had free reign in the paint and on the boards. While the East had an edge in aggregate offensive rebounds 13 to 12, the number is skewed by the fact that the East had more opportunities. The East had 59 chances for an offensive rebound, and the West only had 49.

A few weeks ago I advocated for David Lee on the All Star team, but outside of this site I was a minority. When Chris Bosh was injured, he was replaced by Maurice Williams. This substitution was justified from a political standpoint, as Williams is a top performer on one of the league’s best teams.

However from a tactical standpoint, this was a mistake. The East was left with only two players who were capable of playing center: Howard and Garnett. In All Star Games coaches tend to go deep into their benches, meaning that teams need to have plentiful reserves to field a normal five. Without a third center, the West dominated the inside and laughed their way to an easy victory. The knock against Lee is that he was a product of D’Antoni’s system, and excels only because of the style the Knicks play: a fast paced, no defense, guard emphasized game. Of course this is same environment as the All Star Game, so it makes sense that Lee would have excelled there as well. One only has to look back at the 2007 Rookies-Sophomore game for proof.

In the end it doesn’t really matter if the East won or lost. And no one will look back and call Williams’ selection over Lee as the NBA’s worst All Star crime this year (Iverson voted in as a starter was). Ultimately the important thing to learn from this is that players shouldn’t be judged in a vacuum. Different players will have different value depending on the environment. Perhaps in a general sense, Maurice Williams or Rashard Lewis are more deserving of an All Star berth than David Lee. But in last night’s context Lee would have been a better fit.

Wednesday Night’s Player of the Game: Robinson or Lee?

Here’s an interesting article from TrueHoop’s on yesterday’s Knick game. Henry attended yesterday’s game, and watched it without the aid of a live box score.

Every once in a while I’ll attend a game as a regular person. Sitting in the stands, buying overpriced ice cream and the like. It was fun. But I wan’t online, and wasn’t watching any kind of fancy statistics. But everyone in the building knew that the Knicks, with Nate Robinson on the floor, were a wholly different team than when he was on the bench.

So, if you’re the coach of a team in that situation — where the starters are going nowhere, and some bench players are killing it — who gets to play in crunch time?

With 3:12 left in the game Knick coach Mike D’Antoni sat Robinson and brought in Quentin Richardson. (Gallinari, at that point, had already left the floor, and even the bench area.) The Knicks were up eight, but the chess match was still on. I pointed out to my friend Randy that the Knicks’ best player of this game was on the bench, and he said that clearly Robinson must be injured.

But alas, this morning there are no such report. And I thought maybe it was a case of bringing in a free throw shooter to help protect the lead, but if you check you’ll see Robinson is notably better than Richardson at the charity stripe.) It was simply a case of a coach bringing in a starter for whatever reason.

And it worked, I guess. The Knicks held through all the free throws to win by five.

But I can’t help but wonder: Was that the right move? When the game is on the line, don’t you have to go with your best players? And last night, was any Knick better than the smallest one?

I’m quoting Henry here, because I watched the game as well. But unlike Henry I was in the comfort of my home with the tv on, checking out the boxscore on my computer, and eating regularly priced ice cream. And I have a slightly different perspective on the game. I agree that Robinson and Gallinari were great last night. The pair scored a combined 30 points on 20 shots in just under 45 minutes. But I’m not thinking that either one was the best player on the floor. In my eyes it was David Lee.

Say what you want about the David Lee love here at KB, but last night he was just awesome on the offensive end. There’s still a thought among many Knick fans that Lee is just a workman who converts on easy buckets. A few days ago someone on the forum used the word “garbage” to describe one aspect of his scoring. Had a basketball scout watched David Lee for the first time, I doubt the word “garbage” would have been in the scouting report.

Lee scored well from the inside & out. He hit two jumpers within the first 3 minutes and sank 5 of 11 from outside. Even more impressive is when you consider that he played against larger players for most of the night, and still managed to convert 7 of 10 from inside. As for the “garbage bucket” argument, only one shot was off an offensive rebound. Lee reclaimed 3 Knick misses, one ended a quarter, the second he put back, and the last led to a Gallinari three pointer.

While many of these baskets were assisted, Lee was able to knock down the outside shot and create when needed. Lee made a behind the back pass under the hoop to Jeffries, and near the end of the third quarter he hit a turnaround bank hook shot while double teamed. He finished the night with team highs in points (25) and rebounds (16). Although Robinson arguably had just as good a game (20 points on 13 shots, 4 boards, 4 dimes, and 4 steals), the difference for me was the intangibles. Normally when we use that word around here it’s in jest to discuss stats other than points (rebounds, blocks, steals, etc.) However I thought Nate was on the bench due to his defensive shortcomings.

On one possession Grant Hill backed Robinson down for an easy two, on another he was forced on a switch to guard Shaq. In a way it’s the New York defensive scheme that hurts Robinson’s value. Since the Knicks don’t have many good defenders and they have a lot of forwards, it makes sense for them to switch often. The downside for switching is less for this specific group than hedging or going over/under. But switching is a problem for the undersized Robinson.

Hence, from my perspective, it made sense to take Robinson out late in the game, despite his hot shooting. And perhaps Nate’s brainless technical foul, coming off the bench to taunt Amare on his hard foul to Lee, had something to do with it as well. But more importantly I think this reason made Robinson less valuable to the Knicks than Lee was last night.

Often times we talk about value in absolute terms, but value is tied into environment. As I said with my Kurt Warner analogy, Kurt was great for the Rams/Cardinals, but awful for the Giants. Robinson might be worthy to have on the court later in the games if the Knicks had better defenders and perhaps a few shot blockers. This way the team won’t be as fearful on switches, while gaining from Robinson’s ability to play the passing lines and his offensive contributions.

So for those that saw last night’s game, who was more valuable: Robinson or Lee?