Philadelphia 76ers 126 – New York Knicks 111 – Game Recap

I have a few things to say about the game, but first of all: is this the game we’ll go back in, say, five years, and retrodub it “The start of Mitch Lob dominance”? I feel like it might be, so hold this very pugnacious 15-point loss close to your heart.

That said: it was a very fun game, with a cool first quarter and the usual mini comeback in the second half sparked by bench players all around. Rotations and lineups were at the same time funky and at times effective, especially when Fiz decided at last to roll with Mitch at the 5 and Kornet at the 4 for a long stretch. It’s nice to see that a lot of KnickerBlogger’s alumni were right when calling for that combo to play together. They weren’t always pleasant to watch (Kornet moves like one of those 80s-90s action figures who had, like, only five joints and you could just push or pull their arms and legs, but never rotate them any way) but were a forest of skinny trees on defense and highly complementary on offense. I mean, I don’t think you need to be a genius to play together Mitch and a cheap rip-off of KP because their skill sets don’t overlap at all, but we needed 57 games to try them. I hope that, at least, from now on they’ll see at least 12 minutes together every game. There’s really no downside to that unless we bring in a lot of G-League hopefuls and try to give them a chance to convince management they belong in this league (Anthony Bennett, anyone?). I feel like there’s no need anymore to play Hezonja, Lance Thomas, and even my man Noah Vonleh, who looks deflated and much more useless now than a few weeks ago. Just sign a bunch of hopeful 3/4 tweeners on 10-day contracts and let them run amok. Oh, and of course I wish they didn’t ever play Mudiay again, but I can’t really be that optimist, can I?

There was no way we could have won this game (the Sixers have too much talent) but we brought the fight with different people in different moments: in the first quarter there were the extremely hot shooting from Damyean Dotson, the early scoring spree from DeAndre Jordan and the rejuvenated Iso Zo, with respectively 11, 8 and 7 points in the fraction; in the second we bumbled and fumbled a lot, scoring only 22 points to the 33 scored in the first period; and after the intermission we were buoyed for a bit (coming as close as six points down with less than 7 minutes to go) by the steady Kadeem Allen, the continued resurgence of Trier, and the majesty of Mitch. In the end we lost by fifteen, but the game was much closer than that.

The good:

– Mitchell Robinson (14 pts, 13 rebs, 1 ast, +9 +/-) was strangely quiet in the first half, with just two boards, a steal and an assist. It’s obvious that, for as good as he is, there can be nights where he don’t deal a lot of damage, because he can’t create anything by himself and the zone isn’t exactly the best system for a marauding shotblocker. Watching the first half, I thought this would be one of those nights when your future starter at the 5 spot just pays the price of being young and playing on a team with no above-average assistman (I think this is the right time to drop the notion that our best assistman for the night was DeAndre Jordan, with 7 assists, followed by DSJ with 5). But then, something happened in the second half. Offensive rebounds came his way, or better yet, he was closer to the basket than before and jumped higher than anyone in a Philly jersey; a few guys found him on lobs and passes into the deep paint (at last we got to see a thundering alley-oop on an assist from DSJ to Mitch), he was great on the boards even on defense and he acquainted himself with some opponent shots. The most astounding one was the first of his two blocks on Embiid. Mind you, the game was kinda close at the time, Knicks down seven with 3:10 to play. The gargantuan Cameroon-born drove to his right to deploy a running hook from 6 feet, a shot that is very difficult to block because it has a high release and a lot of body separation at the same time. Mitch blocked it almost effortlessly, to the befuddlement of Embiid and the other Philadelphia players, while Mike Breen roared “BLOCKED BY ROBINSON” with a level of awe he reserves to groundbreaking plays. I really feel this was one of them. It probably is the time when the League at large, and most importantly Mitch himself, acknowledged that his defensive potential is nothing short of All-NBA level. A few notes: on defense, he’s rebounding much, much better. His positioning has improved a lot, and he jumps high and with purpose to secure those boards. He’s also more vocal and emotional, and fouls a lot less. I guess some of DeAndre’s ways are rubbing on him in the right way. Your #MitchWatch: with last night, he reached a BPM of 6.0 and a WP/48 of .198 (in NBA’s history there have been only 181 such individual seasons, all by All-Stars. Only MJ and The Admiral reached those thresholds in their rookie season). In six games in February he’s posting averages of 11.8 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.5 blocks, shooting .750 from the field and an excellent (for him) .684 from the line in just under 21 minutes per game. His ORtg is a mindshattering 155 for the month and an NBA-best 138 for the season. His BLK% is 9.9, meaning that for every 10 shots opponents hoisted during his playing time, he sent one back. I’m running out of words to describe what sort of season Mitch is having. Is there still anyone convinced that Mitch is not already better than KP?

– Allonzo Trier (19 pts, 4 rebs, 4 ast, +9 +/-) had a vintage Iso Zo performance, if such a thing exists. I say it does, since time in a tanking season runs at 0.25x, so a game in November is effectively like a season and a half ago. Nineteen points on nine shots, he went to the line with gusto and hit three trifectas. When Trier plays like he should, which is a Lou Williams/James Harden hybrid (in terms of style, not actual talent), he can’t be ineffective. If only someone cared to design a few sets that exploited the natural talents of our players… but whatever. I kinda like the Kadeem Allen – Allonzo Trier backcourt, because they can play to their strenghts without stomping on each other’s feet. Also, Allen can “take care” of the most dangerous opposing backcourt player, exposing Zo and his defensive shortcomings a little less. I think we can be happy with our undrafted rookie shooting .558 TS% while scoring 10 points per game in 22 MPG. His BPM is woeful (-4.1), which suggests he will at best peak as a third guard on a playoff team, but given our tracking record in the lottery we can’t be too choosy with the other spare parts.

The bad:

– Apropos of lottery tracking record, Kevin Knox (9 pts, 1 reb, 40% FG, -29 +/-) keeps on disappointing on many levels. It’s not that he’s not scoring enough. Frankly, that’s the less important thing in a thorough evaluation of a young prospect. It’s that he’s not doing anything else on the court. Tonight he got the start at SG (which is a bit reminiscent of the PJ Carlesimo-era Durant, just like me walking over a subway grating in a fluffy white dress is reminiscent of Marylin Monroe), played only 20 minutes thanks to foul trouble and wasn’t able to fill the boxscore but for a single board. Yeah, he had a monster highlight dunk in the second, but our own Mario has had a few of them during the course of the season and he’s unanimously bad, so highlight reel worthy plays don’t carry any weight here. For the month of February, he’s pulling down 4 boards per game and dishing just 1.3 assists per game  in 34 MPG. His ORtg for the month is 83. Scroll up a few lines and watch again Mitch’s numbers. The NBA Draft is just a fucked up endeavor.

Fun-sized bits:

– Kadeem Allen is now without a doubt our second best PG of this season (I’d still put DSJ ahead of him. It means four other current of former Knick players (three of which were lottery picks, and the fourth is the ever scrappy Ron Baker) are worse than a 26 year old NBA sophomore second round pick who played a grand total of 107 minutes in his first season. May I repeat “three of which were lottery picks”? If Mudiay comes back and eats at Allen’s minutes, I’ll be livid. If Frank does the same it’s kinda ok, we have him on the payroll for two more seasons. Mudiay is entirely pointless now. Kadeem’s per-36 as a Knicks: 15.6/4.8/6.4. Really not bad (if not for the fact that he’s playing for the worst team in the League).

– DSJ has some THJ vibe on him, but I’m not that angry at him. He’s not good, but he has a few things going for him. He should just pick his spots in the offense, instead of doing a terrible Westbrook impression.

– Speaking of Westbrook: what happened to Clyde? It looks like he’s tanking too. Last night he said of Westbrook “He was a reckless player who got better improving his shot selection”. If Westbrook improvements came from shot selection, I’m a zebra.

– I like feisty DeAndre. He played a good first half than made way for our savior Mitch, and seemed to find a lot of delight in hitting cutters with pinpoint passes. I’d probably be ok with keeping him (if we can get only one max free agent, hoping it’s one of the real max guys).

– Lance Thomas played 15 minutes. In a meaningless game in mid-February. I don’t understand it. Give Jenkins some burn if you need a wing, play Hicks if you need a four. Lance shouldn’t play a single minute for a 10-47 team in February. He somehow posted a team-high +11 +/-.

– Starting Mario Hezonja is useless Mario. I mean, Mario is always useless, but when he starts it looks a lot worse. He’s at his best when the game has already lost any semblance of meaning.

– Dotson is puzzling. He has completely given up on rebounding, which was one of his strengths in college and last year, and has transformed himself into some sort of streaky shooter. Tonight he began hitting 6 of his first 7 shots and then missed the next nine, and just grabbed 2 boards. For the life of me, I can’t remember a guy rebounding 33% worse than his rookie season. I guess someone did that, but I feel like it’s unprecedented. Somebody help me?

– Vonleh is downright depressing right now. It’s like not being traded somewhere he could be useful has had a bad impact on his play, although his monthly splits suggest the decline was in full swing since at least January, so he might just be gassed. Either way, what is he doing here?

I find a bit poetic that Mitch chose the first game I ever watched in my life without any glasses or contact lenses to announce his dominance. Let’s see if he follows on that tomorrow against the strangely fun Hawks!

 

Philadelphia 76ers 108 – New York Knicks 105 – Game Recap

Ah, finally, half a gem of a game.

Pretty much all of the first half was as dispirited as they come, with large portions of the first two quarters spent being very bad on the court for a lot of the players. Fizdale changed the starting lineup again, leaving Vonleh as the starting center and inserting Lance Thomas as the starting four. Spoiler alert: they recorded the worst- and second worst-plus/minus of all the players who stepped on the court. I’m not sure why Lance Thomas was called upon to man the four from the start, but alas, I guess – Fizdale magic!

Anyway, after a depressing first half, our Bockers definitely ramped it up in the second half. Threes were falling, the ball was moving and, more importantly, some of our young guns showed fire and desire. It has to be said that Philadelphia is at same time a good team and a very discombobulated one (probably a mix of the asshole/Jimmy Butler effect and a very shallow depth from the bench – seriously, Philly’s bench as of now is McConnell-Shamet-Korkmaz-Bolden-Muscala, which I still prefer though on our starting lineup, no Mudiay or THJ in sight). That being said, the fact that our guys were able to stay in this one and to play some spurts of good defense was a very heart-melting occurrence. The fact that we could have tied the game but we lost instead after such a valiant effort is pure gravy, given that we’re still trying to nab the biggest prize on lottery night.

Before delving into the first good/bad section that I’ll actually have fun writing in, like, more than a month – because games like this should be the gold standard for tanking teams, but it’s obvious that a tanking team like ours is much more likely a horrible sight to behold on a regular basis – let’s take a quick detour about how Embiid has definitely verged into “unsufferable prick” territory from quite a few time, only for the media to keep on gushing on his quirks. While I don’t embrace Clyde’s theory that the headbutt on Kornet at the end of the third quarter was intentional, every other passive-aggressive to full violent thing surely was. I know Kornet is a total nobody for the League, while Embiid if without a doubt a top-5 MVP candidate for the season, but unless some measures are taken the huge Cameroon-born player is gonna transform in a headache for the whole League, and not in the basketball sense (he already is) nor the literal sense (save for the poor seven footer we employ as human trebuchet), but in the disciplinary sense. If Silver and his cohorts don’t monitor with real attention the situation, he’ll find himself with a media darling doing bad things on the court, and the NBA doesn’t need that publicity. So I’d suggest someone try to restrain Embiid’s antics, and I keep on hoping for Kornet to drop 30 on him next time (23 is not bad, though, not at all).

The good:

– Ahem. It’s very early to make public amends, but let’s say that I’m not so sure anymore Kevin Knox (31 pts, 7 rebs, 2 stl, +11 +/-) wasn’t the right pick at #9. Don’t let the numbers sway you – actually, let them, but save the thought for later – what I’m talking about is the fact that it’s very apparent that the kid has learned a lot of things since the start of the season. If I had to guess his ceiling, it’s third/fourth piece on a contender, some sort of secondary/tertiary scorer with good range and a big body but a lack of defensive talent who tops at 15/6/2 on 44% from the field. Well, guess what, those players don’t grow on trees. We have every right to be mad that the team didn’t tank properly last year, but we’re losing that right about Knox’s selection, even if the reason given was as lunatic as it gets (the infamous 3-on-3 situation). I like how, game after game, he’s attacking the rim in a very deliberate way. My guess is that he’ll never be super comfortable at scoring at point blank range against tall defenders, but his body control on semi-transition drives has gotten worlds better than when he started the year. I’m very worried about his playing time (come on, 44 minutes are Thibs-level insanity, even if he was pretty good in a lot of aspects this time, even a bit on defense), but maybe, again, Fizdale magic! Get his numbers high through extra-inflated playing time. Anyway, he’s now the 7th youngest player to ever drop 30+ points (the others, in order: LeBron, Durant, Jaren Jackson Jr., Booker, Kobe) and the youngest Knick ever to do so. He’s sixth in PPG for rookies this year (while playing the fifth most MPG, I would have guessed higher). I mean, let’s not get carried away, but the kid has a shot to first-team All-Rookie. It doesn’t mean anything, but at least we probably didn’t squander this year’s lottery pick.

– What would happen if we had a real point guard, or a fungible player – see: anyone who can make passes to the open guy – to feed guys who can shoot the ball like Luke Kornet (23 pts, 5 rebs, 5 ast, +25 +/-)? We caught a glimpse of it last night, especially with Frank, that if open Kornet can really drain it. Rocket Giraffe is a career .387 3-point shooter on 155 attempts, which are a small sample size but not small enough to think it’s a fluke, even without considering his G-League percentages (.448 on 268 attempts). Kornet is the slowest player on the court for the vast majority of his minutes, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t know where to stand and, from time to time, how to get to his preferred spots. His athleticism is sub-par for the NBA but not for the type of player he is. I also absolutely loved the fact that when Embiid tried to eradicate his right arm at the end of the third quarter, earning a well-deserved flagrant 1 in the process, he didn’t flinch and went at the line to calmly sink the two freebies. It may be my bias to root for every center who isn’t Kanter on this team, but the man exudes the kind of self-assurance that usually you don’t see in goofy, almost uncoordinated seven footers. He also has nearly limitless range (if anything his misses are long, never Frank-like short) and offers a modicum of rim protection. It’s weird that the three best contributing bigs on the roster are on minimum (or near-minimum) while the most useless one is earning 5 times their three combined salaries. KP is on another stratosphere in terms of overall basketball skills, but there’s no reason not to keep around Kornet to play him to spell Porzingis a bit without any need to recalibrate the game system. Oh, sorry, I forgot. Fizdale magic doesn’t need a game system.

The bad:

– Joel Embiid is a very bad customer, but Noah Vonleh (3 pts, 2 rebs, 1 ast, -32 +/-) just wasn’t himself tonight. It happens, I won’t chastise him for that. What I will do, instead, is say that if there is a player against whom Vonleh shouldn’t start at center is Embiid, who is a crafty brute. Noah can handle crafty, long guys (see: Antetokounmpo or Durant) and big, burly guys without a lot of moves (see: pretty much every center he laid his eyes on), but he positively can’t do anything against Embiid, save for fouling hopelessly trying to contain him. Kornet’s stategy, while probably dictated by his non-existent athleticism, was much more useful: stand in place with arms outstretched wishing that a malevolent genie make Embiid miss from 10 feet in. I like Vonleh and you already know that, but he really, really needs to understand that in order to be productive you need to stay on the damn court, even if it means to give up two more uncontested hooks per game to the opposing teams. This team needs him on the court (apart from tonight where he reached -32 plus/minus in 18 minutes; he was a walking disaster).

– Sorry, but it might be time to burn the record file for the entire season of Allonzo Trier (0 pts, 2 rebs, 1 blk, -10 +/-). He was horrible last night, 13 minutes of utter suckitude we weren’t even able to fathom from him at the beginning of the season. He lost more than a step on this herky-jerky dribble moves, and doesn’t hit anything for anywhere anymore. It wouldn’t surprise me if dude was let go of in the offseason only to toil in obscurity for a couple years in Brooklyn. It can’t be the injury. It has to be the fact that he’s not hungry anymore. I’m so sad to see this thing go this way. Also, he never defends unless there’s a chance for a chase-down block. He has become the much worse version of THJ since signing that damn contract (which I was pining for).

Fun-sized bits:

– Frank returned, and wasn’t half bad! He shot terribly and was able to got a layup blocked by the mighty Mike Muscala even if he had a five feet head start, but the man was engaged and nifty in directing the traffic and defending the PnR. I liked what I saw, even if Frank has to shoot better and quicker. 8 points, 6 assist, 2 steals, 1 block and a nice +10 +/- for the night. More Frank, please.

– The real magic Fizdale worked on Mudiay is to make his raw numbers look better while continuing to be utter trash. Everytime Mudiay plays the half-court offense makes no sense anymore (not that Frank is a directing maestro, but at the very least you know he understands the nuances of a double screen for the shooter on the weak side: Mudiay just barrels into the paint and maybe thinks about it a half-second before tossing a ill-advised turn around jumper from 15 feet). 17 points, a huge three in the waning seconds, the missed potential game-tying three and a lot of suckiness. I really, really, really hope we’re not extending him. At the number 1 in my priority list there’s a capable PG for this team (see the Kornet section): Mudiay is certainly not that and OH GOD I’M SO AFRAID THEY’RE GONNA EXTEND HIM

– Who wants to talk about Lance Thomas? Yeah, I thought so.

– I’m loving Mario and his undeserved new-found absurd confidence, that translates either into a magnificent thread-the-needle pass to Knox in the fourth for an and-one dunk or into a stuporous dunk attempts on the entire Philly defense that ended in the equivalent of a botched Pollock painting.

– Did I really type “I’m loving Mario”?

– Dotson was solid if unspectacular. Second game in a row with 4+ assists. If he can give the ball to the open man there should be no more doubt about him belonging to an NBA average team’s rotation.

– The Knicks pulled within one at the end of the third quarter only to go scoreless for the first 5:57 minutes of the fourth quarter. I sorta liked Frank, but he needs to do better in the half-court sets (are there any? asking for a friend) or I fear he’ll get benched again for a long time.

– Completely unrelated: I was watching also the Denver-Portland game and at a certain point there was an infographic about some charity enterprise in place for the Nuggets. It advised, among other things, to bring a diaper to the next Bulls game (sic). Does this mean that we’re at the point where the Bulls suck so much they cause gastroenteritis?

– Again, unrelated. I don’t know if LeBron is your GOAT or not (he certainly isn’t mine, although it’s maybe anti-recency bias – also called “nostalgia, holy cow I’m feeling old”), but the levels of ugly the Lakers have reached without him makes you really marvel at the impact he can have on any single roster. For sustainable team-building purposes, maybe LeBron is bad, but for actual winning on the court, the King is a cheat code.

See you for the London game! (As I said, I considered going there, but I can’t. It will be another time, maybe… I have to catch a Knicks game live yet)

System Guys And All Star Games

Over the past few years the change in David Lee’s game has been unmistakable. Since his rookie year he’s nearly doubled his volume scoring, going from 11.0 to 18.9 pts/36. In that course of time Lee’s reputation among the mainstream has changed as well. He’s gone from a garbage man who could only score by put-backs, to a system guy that succeeds only due to the style of play. With Lee up for consideration as an All Star this year, the knock on him is that D’Antoni’s offense is inflating his stats.

And I agree.

You have to take context into view when making these kinds of decisions. Hence why the fans, using their own keen sense of observation, almost voted in Tracy McGrady. T-Mac certainly hasn’t benefited from his coach this year, and in fact the team has gone out of their way to prevent McGrady from being an All Star. When you account for that, McGrady is a shoe to represent the West. Similarly in the East, Iverson had to leave his first team (Memphis) and hook on with Philly to get a starting role to make the All Star team. Anyone good enough for start for the 15-28 Sixers is surely not getting help from their team’s style of play.

But I feel as if there’s still some unfinished work with regards to ridding “system guys” from the All Star team. The league’s premiere system guy, Kobe Bryant, will be making his 12th mid-season appearance. The Lakers’ method of getting some of the league’s best talent makes Bryant look much better than he actually is. They even hired the NBA’s greatest “system coach”, Phil Jackson, who inflates his coaching record by using the league’s best players to win multiple championships.

Another guy that’s getting a free pass is LeBron James. James is leading the league in points per game, but that’s because the Cavs run a system where they let him shoot whenever he wants. James averages 20.1 shots per game, and only one other Cavalier takes more than 8.1. First in the league in field goal attempts per game, is of course the aforementioned Kobe Bryant with 22.9. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that LeBron and Kobe are going to have their stats amplified with that kind of offense.

So I’m with the mainstream on this one. No “system guys” on the All Star team. Sorry Kobe, LeBron, David, you don’t get my vote. Let’s go T-Mac & AI!

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.

First Round Thoughts

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

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

2009 Game Thread: Sixers at Knicks

Stats:

TEAM POSS EFF eFG TO OREB% FT/FG
New York Knicks-Offense 97.1 105.9 49.4 15.6 24.2 20.5
Rank 2 20 14 16 27 27
Philadelphia 76ers-Defense 90.9 105 49.4 17 27.6 22.2
Rank 16 6 14 6 19 8
New York Knicks-Defense 97.1 109.4 51.7 15.1 27.4 20.2
Rank 2 22.5 27 18 17 4
Philadelphia 76ers-Offense 90.9 105.5 48.3 17 31 22.9
Rank 16 21 21 26 2 20

Looks like the Knicks are going to have an uphill battle scoring tonight. The Sixers rank 6th on defense. Watch for turnovers (Philly 6th overall, Knicks 16th) and getting to the line (Philly 8th, Knicks 27th) as keys when the Knicks have the ball. When the Sixers are on offense, New York needs to protect the glass (Philly 2nd, Knicks 17th).

Prediction Time

My guess is that the Knicks won’t win more than 28 games. It’s not that I think the team hasn’t improved. I think Duhon pushing Marbury to the bench gives them depth at guard. With Duhon & Collins the Knicks have two able perimeter defenders – something they haven’t had since perhaps Sprewell & Ward. Maybe even Ward & Harper, since Latrell spent most of his time at small forward.

I think replacing Curry in the starting lineup with David Lee is a considerable improvement. Lee is not only a better player, but a Lee/Randolph front court compliments D’Antoni’s coaching style. Since both are able rebounders, there should be more fast break opportunities. And Lee can play off the ball more with Randolph than Curry would. Also I think Chandler will eventually supplant Richardson at small forward eventually, and that will help the team as well.

I think Mike D’Antoni is a good coach. In fact I think he’s the best coach this team has had since Van Gundy. Many thought D’Antoni preferred veterans over newbies, and the Knick prospects would suffer. Yet it seems many of the youngsters are favored by D’Antoni (Robinson, Chandler, Lee, and even Gallinari). He has a coherent structure for the offense. For the first time in years I feel that the Knicks are actually drawing up plays during timeouts instead of taking everyone’s dinner orders.

So why all the negativity? (If you can call a 5 game improvement negativity.) First is that the East has improved drastically. Jermaine O’Neal makes the Raptors better. Elton Brand makes the Sixers better. Beasley and a full season from Wade & Marion make the Heat better. Mo Williams might make the Cavs better.

My second cause for concern is the roster makeup. It’s thought that Zach Randolph will be moved at the deadline. Let’s just assume that the Knicks move him for a lesser player. Who takes his place in the lineup? The guy they traded for? Well by definition that player should be worse. (Who would take on contract & give up a better player?) If not then maybe Eddy Curry? Or Jared Jeffries? Or Gallinari? None of these will translate into more wins this season.

And who is to say that the Knicks don’t move Lee, Chandler, or Robinson? The team is rebuilding, and it’s hard to say what the roster will look like in March. Even without any changes, the team is paper thin at small forward. The depth chart is two deep: Chandler and Richardson. If one or both get hurt the Knicks will struggle.

So with all that in mind, I’ll stick with 28 wins for the Knicks in 2009. However it doesn’t matter to me how many wins the team gets. This year the team will be more fun to watch. Already it seems that the younger players like Lee, Robinson, and Chandler are going to get more minutes.


Some other predictions from around the league.

Hollinger: 28 wins

Ball Don’t Lie: 23 wins

Yahoo/Accuscore: 25 wins

Straight Bangin: 30 wins

Posting & Toasting: 36 wins

UPDATED: Basketball Prospectus: 24