New York Knicks 96 – Phoenix Suns 107 – Game Recap

Midway through the fourth quarter of this game, I started feeling really sad. Was it because of the score? Nah. Losing to the Suns, in the grand scheme of things, is great. Watching the game less so, but whatever. I watched worse things (like, I don’t know, pineapple pizza). Was it because I had to set the alarm at 6:30 am to watch the game (March is by far the worst month in my job. I’ll probably pick up something like 320 hours of work at the end of this month)? Nah. I suffer from insomnia, it’s not that hard. Was it because I’m on a prolonged diet and have started developing some serious cravings at weird times? Yeah, a bit, but that’s a story for another day.

No, you see, I started feeling sad because I realized that what we’re hoping for about this particular iteration of the Knicks might not come into fruition and we only have 17 games more. They’ll be terrible, but they’ll feature (less than they should, damn you Fiz) Mitch Rob. They’ll feature augmented Iso Zo. They might even feature that lovable abomination of an NBA team employee, Frank Ntilikina. Come July, they might not be on the team anymore if we shoot for the moon (or our own feet). As soon as Mitch was called back to the bench with 5:30 left in the game, never to return the game, I felt like I should start to count the days. It’s a strange feeling. It’s the same you have when your highschool sweetheart tells you she/he’s going to leave town to go to a far away college. You love her/him. You will live every precious minutes you have together still unfazed in your love. But you count the minutes. The seconds. The sheer breaths. You know it’s not going to end well, and nothing lasts forever, even great November starting lineups (damn you Fiz).

So, even if the games are awful, and the coaching decisions are dumbfounding (I mean, why bother signing Jenkins and Ellenson just to trot out Lance Thomas as your backup PF and a strange lineup with DSJ, Mudiay and Trier all on the court together?), let’s keep on watching, guys. Let’s cherish the moments. We don’t know when the hope for our next superstar will be snuffed out like the last candle when everybody has left the New Year’s Eve party and you’re home alone, thinking back at when you were young and free. We know we have Mitch now, let’s make it count while we can.

Just a few quick notes about the game:

– DeAndre was back. He started. He posted a double double. He was useless.

– Mitch didn’t start and was blocked twice because he brings the ball too low. He also had 8 points, 8 boards, 4 blocks and 3 steals in 22 minutes. WHY IN THE HELL ARE WE NOT GIVING THIS GUY 30 MINUTES NO MATTER WHAT

– Mudiay had a terrible, terrible game. Apart from the numbers (2/1/1, 5 turnovers in 17 minutes) I can’t understand how ne never learned to pass the ball to a guy in the paint after a penetration or in the pick and roll. Mudiay is where sound basketball goes to die to get reborn as Fizdale magic. No more Mudiay! I beg of everything Knicks related, bring back Kadeem.

– DSJ numbers look much better than Mud’s, but he just padded his stats long after the game was effectively over. Very dull performance, nothing was working for any ballhandling Knick last night.

– Good numbers from Dot (15/9/5), but he disappeared from the game when he was needed too. His defense on Booker was badly unfocused.

– Good offensive game from Vonleh (15 points on 10 shots, caused Mikal Bridges foul troubles all night, was no match for Bender), but only 2 rebounds? WTF?

– Iso Zo got 12 points on 9 shots, still good efficiency but bad game for him too.

– 21 turnovers are really a lot. Especially compared to 17 assists, of which at least a quarter came in the last 4 minutes, when the game was completely over. Damn you Fiz.

– Pass on Knox. I won’t shoot at the Red Cross.

– Devin Booker had a monster offensive game (41 points on 23 shots), but I can’t bring myself to liking him. I think he’s no superstar and benefits from some strange media crush.

– There was a time, at the beginning of the third quarter, when Clyde seemed to have fallen asleep. Breen had to ask him three times the same question and, getting no answer, shouted WELL, CLYDE on air. Clyde got back on track quickly. I think this season is wearing on him a lot.

And that’s all. One of the most deflated game I’ve ever seen brings us closer to the Dolan’s Razor preferred ending: a surefire fifth pick. I’ll start saving money to buy a Cam Reddish shirt!

 

Phoenix Suns 128 – New York Knicks 110 – Game Recap

Or, how I learned to stop worrying and love the tank.

Guys, this was such an amazing display of tanking prowess that I’m so proud of our guys. I mean, it was a bit too much on the nose at first. Lance Thomas as your first substitute? After he didn’t play for like a bazillion games? And after he’s Lance Thomas? But it didn’t look like it was enough. After all, these Suns had the worst record in the league prior to this game. We had to do better than that to tank effectively. And we did. We did. We come away from this game with a loss, and it was such a concerted non-effort that it’s becoming evident that this team is gelling. You can’t pull this loss without a collective focus.

Seriously: this is a bit depressing. Not the loss per se, which is (as we all – cough – know) good, but the watching experience is really marred by the multiple injuries to our youngsters. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that the only thing that’s worth watching this year is how the first- and second-year players behave, to see who’s a keeper and who’s not. Well, without Mitch, Zo and Dotson, we are a tad short in the excitement department. Knox is getting a biiit better, but it’s hard to bother getting warmed up for two guys who combine for 9 makes on 27 attempts in 67 minutes of play. You know well that I’m a Frank believer, but these should be the games you’re supposed to shine in. It’s hard to lose like this, apart from dreaming about ping-pong balls. I wished for a quality loss, I got the loss, I guess quality is for another time.

The good:

– I hope some GM is watching. Emmanuel Mudiay (32 pts, 6 rebs, 6 ast, -8 +/-) stuffed the stat sheet in many ways while scoring efficiently (32 pts on 21 shots). Perry should put this game* in an envelope and send it to everyone in the league, hoping someone bites. I know, I know. Emmanuel is improving – he really is. But does anyone really envision December Mud being the butterfly emerging out of the stinking cocoon that were his first three years in the League? 20/6/3.5 in 32 minutes on 48/37/84 (his December raw stats) are borderline all-star numbers in a vacuum. His defense is still non-existent, but everything is apparently in place to fool someone into thinking this is the starting point guard they need right now. I hope them fools aren’t us. That said, if you didn’t know any better it would be easy to root for this guy. He’s exuding confidence, getting to his spots, and passing the ball better, as in “making accurate passes”.

* without any mention about his three-point shooting form. This time one of his makes was described by Breen as “a deep floater… (two second pause to check the boxscore in silent bewilderment)… it was for three!”. I can assure it wasn’t pretty in any way.

The bad:

– We have a new aficionado of this portion of the recap. Trey Burke (4 pts, 2 rebs, 2 ast, -2 +/-) is playing like the version of Trey Burke that got kicked out of the League before last season. After his breakout (or swan’s song?) performance against Boston, he never shot better than 25% from the field in any of the subsequent six games he’s played. To be fair, he just got back from an injury. Also to be fair, four of those games were before the injury. His TS% has gone south of .500 and his WS/48 of 0.50 is mediocre (edit: his actual WS/48 is 0.050. I didn’t type a zero). Tonight was another display of ill-thought chucking from midrange. He’s also not being functional at all, in any lineup where he’s called to play. It’s interesting, however, that he’s a better defender than Mudiay, at least in terms of defensive positioning.

– Frank Ntilikina (9 pts, 3 reb, 1 ast, -17 +/-) started with a bang, hitting a goofy running hook shot and his first two three-points attempts. After that, his game was a mess. Booker got the best of him, because even if Frank was able to stay in front of him in most cases Devin just found the right angles to ignore the defensive coverage. Playing with another ball-dominant player shuts down his confidence right after the first missed attempt. You can almost guess his thoughts while he dribbles the ball: “Should I shoot here? Maybe I won’t see the ball for another two minutes… maybe I should drive right… I got it! I’ll call a screener! But no, wait, I’ll probe a little the defense and pull up from the stripe! Or I can try and shoot a three, I was good at math, and 3>2… ok, no, I don’t know what to do, if I miss coach will be angry. I’ll just pass the ball to my right. Next time I will shoot no matter what!”. And sometimes he shoots no matter what, and his body isn’t ready. There was a sequence in the third quarter, with the game tied at 77, where he shot a midrange jumper, missed long, Vonleh got the board, passed to ball again to a wide open Frank in the high post, Frank thought too much and shot short. His shooting form is not consistent and the release looks weak. The guy’s playing scared again, and I hate it.

– Noah Vonleh (3 pts, 7 rebs, 1 ast, -18 +/-) looks like he’s probably running on fumes, which scares me a bit. You know I’ve been pretty vocal about his usefulness to the team, but what if he can’t sustain his production because of simply lacking stamina. He’s been notably much less adaptable on the court in the last two games, and his head is not there on the offensive end. I’d tell myself not to worry about him, but if he plays again a bad game on Wednesday I’ll start thinking that maybe he can’t be good Vonleh for more than 30 games. Who knows? I’m just panicking a bit that the only bright spot outside of our cost controlled assets is slipping a lot. I don’t know how he tallied a game-low -18 in exactly 18 minutes while Kevin Knox, who was good in the first but then vanished only has -2. Noah, get back soon. …well, now, thinking about it, this was exactly the right game for his to stink the bed. Is this tanking Vonleh?

Fun-sized bits:

– No THJ tonight! I didn’t miss him one iota. He’s become our next Melo, in that we’re counting the days until his contract his over while someone swoons over his 20+ ppg on .520  TS%.

– Courtney Lee was passable (12 pts, 4 reb, 5-8 from the field). It’s trade season, we need more from him to try and trade him.

– Kevin Knox is finding his footing. I liked the aggressiveness he used to corral an offensive rebound to put the ball back into the basket in the first quarter. I need to see him display that kind of motor day in and day out to feel like we didn’t completely struck out with his selection. Until then, I’ll try hard not to puke browsing his B-R page.

– Mario with the most useless 14 points ever. Anyway, we didn’t have much at stake by that point, so it’s okay if he plays a bit.

– Enes Kanter with another double-double without effort. Not “an effortless double-double”. A double double where he didn’t put effort into the game. The man breathes, eats and drinks double-doubles, but in the end it never works. His defense and mono-dimensional offense negate whatever contribution he makes to this team. I don’t doubt he has the ability to impact a few specific playoff games. As a player on a bad team, as a starter on a bad team, he’s completely pointless. On a (not) funny sidenote, he had the only block for the night among Knicks. Mitch, where art thou?

– Luke Kornet was out of sorts tonight. He never shot inside the arc and wasn’t a big defensive improvement on Enes, which says a lot.

– Lance Thomas with his usual useless night: just five boards and nothing else in 21 minutes. I’ve never seen such a black hole for stats before, not counting Jason Collins. His negative WS/48 is still better than Knox’s or Frank’s.

And now to Wednesday, where we’ll get crushed by the Sixers in atrocious fashion. Ping-pong balls are our new gods.

 

 

David: From Slingshot-Wielding Youth to King of the Garden

I wanted Chris Taft.

If you’re ever talking Knicks with me and I’m ragging on Isiah or Layden, talking about how unfathomable it was to draft Balkman with Rondo and Marcus Williams on the board and the Knicks without a point guard, killing the Steve Francis trade as simultaneously short-sighted and bad for the short term – basically talking like I could have done a better job running this team than the motley front office crew of the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, you can always remind me of that one.

Holding the Phoenix Suns’ first round pick in the 2005 NBA Draft – thirtieth and last, thanks in part to futurebockers Mike D’Antoni and Amar’e Stoudemire – the New York Knicks selected a board-banging forward out of Florida named David Lee.  I was 19, and I was furious.*

*Granted, Isiah probably could have flipped Tim Thomas and Jackie Butler for Wilt Chamberlain and I would have found a reason to hate the move at that point.  I think we’re all about 10 years away from looking back on the 2004-2007 stretch as an extended period of Isiah-induced temporary insanity.  I am almost certain that it will eventually occur to Bernie Madoff to file an appeal on these grounds.

The Knicks were coming off a 33-49 season, their two best players were Stephon Marbury and Jamal Crawford, and they were years away from possessing even a glimmer of cap room.  If ever there was a time to swing for the fences with a draft pick, that was it.  And Chris Taft – an athletic, 6’10” prototype of a power forward, slated to go top-5 after his freshman year at Pitt before struggling through an ill-advised sophomore season and plummeting down draft boards under the weight of a reputation for being raw and immature – was there for the taking.  Here was a classic back-to-the basket four who could score in the post, rebound, block shots, and step out to the perimeter.  A flight risk to be sure but, on a team going nowhere, a risk worth taking.

But the final name David Stern announced before ceding the night’s emcee duties to Russ Granik was not Taft, it was Lee: a four-year senior who had averaged a workmanlike 11 and 7 in his time with the Gators and who projected to offer similarly steady but unspectacular production in a bench role for the Knicks.  For a team with absolutely nothing to get excited about, this seemed like a classic example of Isiah buying a nice new set of snow tires when he couldn’t afford a car (to say nothing of the fact that, in Kurt Thomas, the Knicks already possessed a set of the same model of snow tires, and a more broken-in set at that).  The pick was illogical, miscalculated, and hubristic.  And it was just about the only thing Isiah got right in his time at the helm.*

*I’ll spare you the effort of looking it up: Taft eventually went 42nd overall, somewhat coincidentally to the same Golden State Warriors that now employ Lee.  He played in 17 games, averaged 3 points and 2 rebounds, underwent back surgery and hasn’t played basketball professionally since 2006.  Again, remind me I wanted this guy the next time I criticize a personnel decision.

Lee was an absolute lock to be popular with a fan base whose conception of “The Good Old Days” was built on hustle, rebounding, efficient offense, and hard-nosed defense (let’s diplomatically say he went three for four on those criteria and move along).  He averaged 5 and 5 in 17 minutes as a rookie, usually sharing shifts with his pinballing classmate Nate Robinson.  The two formed a reckless bundle of hope and energy on a team that stumbled to a franchise-worst 59 losses under a wave of Marburian apathy and Jamal Crawford Fallaway Threes with Nineteen Seconds Left on the Shot Clock.™

Of the Knicks’ two most popular lineups that season, the one that had Marbury and Eddy Curry running with the young bucks was already vastly superior to the one including Steve Francis and two withering Roses (Jalen and Malik).  Moreover, the lineup that completely let the kids borrow the car keys was stunningly effective in limited minutes (especially stunning considering that it included such future Hall of Famers as Qyntel Woods and Jackie Butler).

Lee Chart 1

Unfortunately, nobody told Larry Brown about the youth movement and the Knicks most dynamic lineup got less than a full game’s worth of minutes together over the course of the entire 2005-2006 season.

Lee was far from a finished product that first year – his points all seemed to come via putbacks and dunks on the break, he looked positively terrified when he received the ball in the flow of the offense, and Brown’s trademark minute-jockeying prevented him from ever getting a feel for the NBA half court game on either end.  But man, could the dude rebound.  With every textbook box-out, weak-side swoop, and faceplant into Row AA, Lee ‘bounded and astounded his way deeper into our hearts.  After a decade of Knicks’ drafts in which Mike Sweetney and Trevor Ariza stood out as relative successes, this one-dimensional kid from St. Louis – with glue on his hands and springs in his shoes – was already everything we wanted him to be.

And then David Lee did something that, as Knicks fans, we’d forgotten we were entitled to expect.  He got better.  A LOT better.  At almost everything.

The first step for Lee was to build on his pre-existing strengths.  His 58% rookie free throw shooting clip was a major caveat for a player whose offensive hallmark was supposed to be efficient scoring.  Lee pulled this number all the way up to 82% in his sophomore campaign and it has remained in that neighborhood ever since.  His rebounding – merely a “very good” 9.7 per 36 minutes his rookie season – skyrocketed to 12.5 per 36 in 2006-2007, good for fifth in the league and best by a Knick since Willis Reed’s 12.6 in the 1970-1971 season (which is to say better than Ewing, better than Oakley, better than Camby or Mason or Bill Cartwright).  In fact, on a per-possession basis, Lee’s second year was the most efficient scoring and rebounding season in Knicks’ franchise history.*

Lee Chart 2

*Just to underline the point, the 23-year-old Lee’s 20.7% rebound rate means that he did the work of two average rebounders and his .652 true shooting percentage has been bettered by only three under-25 players in the last quarter century: Amar’e Stoudemire, Andrew Bynum, and Charles Barkley (who, incredibly, had already hit that mark 3 times by his the end of his age-25 year).  While Lee has yet to replicate either mark – and is unlikely to given his expanded repertoire – his rebound rate has never dipped below 17.5% and his true shooting percentage has remained above 58% in each subsequent season.

The Knicks felt the impact of Lee’s ultra-efficient production whenever he was on the court, as evidenced by on/off-court splits that compared favorably with more-highly touted and talented members of the 2010 free agent class of which Lee would eventually become a part:

Lee Chart 3

Lee’s efficiency took a dip in 2007-2008, but this was largely the result of an increased willingness to pull the trigger on open mid-range jumpers.  Lee – who was 1 for 12 from 10-15 feet for the entire 2006-07 season – forced opponents to at least consider guarding him away from the rim, attempting nearly a shot a game from that range and converting on 50% of those attempts.

The immediate impact was minimal, but it was a sign of the far more complete offensive player that Lee was primed to become.  The rest of the rock-bottom 2007-2008 Knicks’ season* was unremarkable for Lee – the team lost 59 games and was bad in essentially every possible lineup iteration.  Still, lineups with Lee continued to significantly outperform those without him.

Lee Chart 4

*Among a myriad of less notable disgraces, this was the season that featured the resolution of the ongoing Anucha Browne Sanders sexual harassment case, Stephon Marbury unilaterally deciding to have season-ending ankle surgery, and a $1.2 million per minute salary for Jerome James.  Really hard to imagine a young player not thriving in such a positive, growth-oriented environment.

The drastic lows of 2007-2008 had the considerable fringe benefit of removing Isiah Thomas from his palace atop mount Knickerbocker.  Few were more positively affected by this change than Lee.*  The organizational overhaul saw the installation of a general manager with his eyes set on the future (meaning that no more quick-fix, past-their-prime perimeter players would be brought in to impede the development of younger Knicks**) and a head coach with a system built around creating fast breaks, finishing on said fast breaks, and creating open jumpers early in the shot clock (three tenets which were, respectively, tailor-made for Lee’s superior defensive rebounding ability, his natural knack for finishing at the rim, and his developing perimeter game).

*My father remains one of the few who benefitted more than Lee from Isiah’s removal, insofar as he is not dead from a brain aneurysm, which was about one Zach Randolph shot-clock violation from happening.

** Or so we thought.  Yes, I’m looking at you Tracy McGrady.

Lee responded with a two-year stretch in which he developed from one of the league’s premier energy guys into the player that just commanded an $80 million contract on the open market.  The metamorphosis can be explained in two words: minutes and usage.*

*If I had to pick a third word it would be “follicles,” as Lee’s transformation included the emergence of a curly mop-topchin-hair combo that led my girlfriend and me to refer to him as “goat boy” for his last two years as a Knick.

First, minutes.  Considering that he had drafted Lee – and received more praise for the pick than any other move during his tenure – Isiah was bafflingly and stubbornly resistant to the idea of actually, you know, giving him playing time.  Lee had started only 55 games in three years under Brown and Isiah and had yet to eclipse 30 minutes per game at the time of Mike D’Antoni’s hiring.  In the two years since, Lee has started 155 games and logged nearly 6000 minutes.  This has had a huge effect on his raw numbers, turning his 11 and 9 in 2008 into a 20 and 12 in 2010 without material changes in offensive efficiency or rebound rate.

Of course, stagnant offensive efficiency isn’t the same as stagnant offensive production, and that’s where usage comes in.  The first three years of Lee’s career resembled a series of spirited 48-minute games of hot potato.  As excited as Lee seemed to get his hands on the ball each time it went up for grabs, he seemed nearly as anxious to get rid of it once it was in his control.  On the offensive end, Lee was strictly a finisher, with virtually identical assist and turnover totals through the first three years of his career and nearly three quarters of his field goal attempts taken at the rim.

Lee chart 5

On the other end, Lee’s world-class knack for owning the defensive glass was partially off-set by his unwillingness – or inability – to put the ball on the floor or make a dangerous outlet pass.  If he received the ball in a position that wasn’t conducive to an easy basket, he would look for the nearest ball-handler and make the safest, most immediate pass.

Under D’Antoni, Lee simply morphed into a different player.  The change was gradual and it’s hard to say how much of it had to do with D’Antoni’s system, his encouragement, or simply Lee’s work ethic.  It’s likely that all three factors played a role.  What is certain is that the one-time rebounder, dunker, and eschewer of any and all playmaking responsibility became the focal point of a passable NBA offense and did it without compromising his efficiency or benefitting from the presence of a top-level point guard.*

*This is where you say “But wait, Chris Duhon was GREAT with David Lee!  Their pick and rolls were awesome!  This was the one good thing Duhon had going for him!”  The results were there and you’re entitled to that opinion, but it seems a lot more plausible to me that Lee gained all the tools of a great pick-and-roll four at the exact moment that Chris Duhon happened to show up, and their supposed synergy had a lot more to do with Lee than Duhon.  I think the Lee/Stephen Curry pick and roll situation in Golden State is going to be something truly special, as Lee will finally benefit from playing with a point guard whose outside shooting ability will prevent defenders from cutting under his screens and result in more open rolls to the rim and matchups with the other teams point guard.  That is providing, of course, that Don Nelson doesn’t bench both of them for the entire season.

Three causes stand out in the 50% increase in Lee’s usage rate from 2008 to 2010.  First, the replacement of Marbury with Duhon meant more ball for everybody, as the incidents of Duhon taking the rock all the way to the rim himself were (mercifully) few.  Second, Lee’s more diverse offensive game meant shots from everywhere inside the arc, and his ability to convert those shots at a rate commensurate with the league’s best shooting big men meant that he could do it without giving away much in terms of efficiency.

Lee Chart 6

The most important change in Lee these past two years, however, is both the easiest and most difficult to quantify.  Assist numbers are powerful in that they – along with their derivative statistics, like pure point rating – are the only widely available tools used to represent a player’s passing ability and role in creating offense.  With so little available to contradict what assist totals tell us about these qualities, we tend to listen to what they say as if it offers the entire story.  And in Lee’s case, assist totals don’t exactly mislead – his dimes have more than doubled in the past two years on a per-game, per-minute, and per-possession basis.

But that doesn’t really cover it, and anybody who has been watching Lee’s development would be right to object to such an oversimplification.  Something bigger happened, and something too holistic to be explained away by any one number.  In the 2009-2010 season, David Lee became The Man.

Now, let’s be perfectly clear.  Lee was The Man on a 29-win team.  He was The Man despite being completely overmatched on defense more often than not.  He was The Man on a roster whose next best candidates for such a title were a 5’7” combo guard, a Pacers/Hawks cast-off, and a 21-year-old Italian who hears the phrase “pick and roll” and thinks about two of the many products he might use to make his hair look different for tonight’s game.

Put simply, David Lee should not be The Man.  But by some confluence of encouragement, development, and a dearth of better options, the hyperactive kid who didn’t want to hold the ball started calling for it in the post.  Started patiently waiting for cutters and hitting them with inch-perfect bounce passes.  Started rolling up top when plays broke down, waiting to receive the ball and reset the offense from the top of the key.  He actually put his head down and went after a few of his multitude of defensive rebounds, and he made enterprising passes that led to baskets after a good many more of them.  He led a team that nobody else wanted to lead – that nobody else had even wanted to be a part of just two years before, and he did it while maintaining the same exuberance and hustle that had always defined him.  He managed to simultaneously be both the big-man-on-campus and the walk-on fighting for minutes.

We will have a hard time evaluating Lee’s Knick career as the years pass.  With any luck, we will look at his six years as the team’s worst stretch ever – Lee missed their last playoff appearance by two years and logged minutes on two Knicks teams that are currently tied for the most losses in franchise history.  He was a bad defensive power forward and an even worse defensive center – though it is criminally under-mentioned that preventing second chance opportunities is an important component of team defense and that Lee is among the best of his generation in that particular regard.  We will remember his spirit and hustle fondly, and his 20 and 12 in 2009-2010 will always jump off the page, but he may ultimately prove to be doomed by association; like Don Mattingly and Rodney Hampton before him, remembered in the New York sports zeitgeist as the defining player of a disappointing era – cursed by his own memorability.

But maybe this is a case where time will not lend perspective, where it will instead rob us of gut reactions that may be more accurate.  And my gut reaction is this: David Lee is a good player, not a great player.  An excellent third option, a poor centerpiece.  With any luck he will become an important part of a great team, but he is not and never will be a great player.  But he is – was – a great Knick.  He gave us bright spots during dark times and made us say “Thank God SOMEONE on this horrible team cares as much as I do.”  It’s a legacy he shares with Nate, but his constant ability to add new dimensions to his game even in the face of a seemingly hopeless situation makes him the headliner of that legacy.

There is one other way to think about David Lee, another way to consider his value and his lasting impact on the franchise.  This is to evaluate him based on the haul that he brought back from the Warriors.  In Kelenna Azubuike, Ronny Turiaf, and – primarily – Anthony Randolph, we as Knicks fans have the fruits of David Lee’s labor.  His commitment on the glass, his development into a serious threat on the pick-and-roll, his unerring improvement in his shooting and passing game made him into a player whose sign-and-trade commanded one of the brightest – and rawest – young talents in the NBA.  What Randolph becomes as a Knick will be inexorably linked to our memories of David Lee and our appreciation for all the work he put in, whether that’s fair or not.

Randolph is super-athletic, well-built, versatile.  He is emphatic and raw.  He is exciting and immature.  In other words, he is Chris Taft, circa 2005.

Five years after the Knicks took David Lee over a raw, potential All-Star power forward, they accepted a raw, potential All-Star power forward in exchange for him.  Things didn’t work out for the one they passed on.  Hopefully they’ll work out better for the one they acquired this week.  And hopefully he, Randolph, will see happier days with the Knicks than the guy they traded for him – the one who was never supposed to be a star, and turned into one before our eyes.

Kevin Pelton, Killing It

There’s no doubt that I’ve been a fan of Kevin Pelton’s work over the years. But recently he’s written a bunch of articles that would be of interest to this site. The first is Knick related, as Pelton looked at New York’s recent success.

The most surprising change is in terms of the Knicks’ pace. The coach once known for his “:07 Seconds or Less” philosophy is now practicing something more akin to “:15 Seconds or Less.” Through the end of November, New York was playing at the league’s third-fastest pace. Since then, the Knicks have been more deliberate than the average team, playing old-fashioned track meets only against running teams like Indiana and Phoenix. D’Antoni slowed things down when the Suns traded for Shaquille O’Neal, but even that adjustment was nowhere near this extreme.

Almost as much as the fast pace, poor rebounding–especially on the offensive glass–had been a D’Antoni trademark, and New York was no exception early this season. Only the Golden State Warriors have rebounded fewer of their own misses than the Knicks in November (21.4 percent). Since the end of that month, New York is up to a 25.3 percent offensive rebound rate, which is within shouting distance of league average. The Knicks are rebounding better on the defensive end too, making use of a big starting lineup (6’8″ Wilson Chandler, once groomed for the Shawn Marion role in D’Antoni’s lineup, is now nominally the two-guard) that assists anchor David Lee on the glass by committee.

The changes reflect a level of flexibility from D’Antoni that is probably surprising even to his admirers (count me in that category). In his inside account of the 2005-06 Suns that gave D’Antoni’s style its name, :07 Seconds or Less, author Jack McCallum shows the coach regularly reacting to trouble by going ever smaller and searching for more offense. While that mentality was appropriate for D’Antoni’s Phoenix team, it wasn’t working for the Knicks, so he has instead gone the other way by moving non-shooter Jared Jeffries into the starting lineup in the name of improved defense and more length.

In back to back articles Pelton inspects the D-League, first producing statistical translations, then applying his methods to find gems in the rough. He describes the 6-7 undersized power forward and aptly named Diamon Simpson as DeJuan Blair without the efficient scoring, while tabbing 6-11 Greg Stiemsma a late bloomer. Pelton also goes down the laundry list of team needs and lists players that would suite the bill. He also gives a shot out to the D-League blog on Draft Express, where I unearthed this article on Morris Almond. Draft Express calls Almond the D-League’s best prospect, but adds a side note to the talented scorer:

The biggest concern about Almond from an NBA perspective is what he will be able to contribute when he’s not scoring, as he ranks amongst the worst passers in the league, and watching him play, is clearly always looking for his own shot. Data from Synergy Sports Technology also suggests Almond isn’t nearly as good of a scorer coming off screens as he is spotting up, and this could limit his effectiveness in a role as a 3-point shooter in the NBA.

Knick Fans Should Be Thankful This Christmas

Hey Knick fans, what’s there to be unhappy about? (And for those needing a little extra Christmas cheer, I highly recommend Twas The Night Before Knicksmas.) Wait before you answer this question, I want to put things into perspective.

First, the Knicks will have cap space this offseason. And not just a few million through the mid level exception to grab a Jerome James or Jared Jeffries. But rather enough room to get the best player in the NBA. And perhaps with a little luck there will be space for a second star as well. Considering the overspending of the last decade, this alone should have New Yorkers dancing in the aisles.

Second, the roster has some good young talent. David Lee has blossomed from a late round pick to become one of the better power forwards in the league. Maybe he’s not an All Star talent, but he’s in the discussion. It’s easy to imagine Lee on a championship team as a key element. Additionally New York has Danilo Gallinari, an intriguing 21 year old. Gallo showed he’s deadly from three his first year, and in his second he is wowing fans with multidimensional play. Personally if I’m the Knicks GM, he might be my only untouchable player on the roster.

Rookies Toney Douglas and Jordan Hill are both still raw. From the minutes I’ve seen of Douglas, the guy can defend. He’s lightning quick on the defensive side of the ball, and if he can put together his game on the offensive side, he’ll be a solid pro. Jordan Hill is a #8 pick that has been buried on the bench, but his potential is unknown. Certainly there’s a GM out there that fansied him last summer and would be willing to part with something of value for his services. Finally, of course there is Nate Robinson, who is talented and may find himself out of D’Antoni’s doghouse yet. And if he doesn’t then he might fetch the Knicks another young player, a draft pick, or some cap space.

As for D’Antoni, he’s the best coach the Knicks have had in about a decade. Complain all you want about his short rotation, favoritism, or system, but isn’t that par for the course of a good coach? Think of the last 2 good Knick coaches. Jeff Van Gundy treated Marcus Camby like a red-headed step child for a year. It took Ewing’s injury and subsequently Camby leading the team to the Finals for Van Gundy to realize the talent he had. And Pat Riley forgot he had Rolando Blackman in the playoffs and instead played Greg Anthony (with a TS% of .487 that year) 17 minutes per game. Blackman had almost as many playoff minutes (34) as Corey Gaines (28) that year.

No matter what you think about D’Antoni, it’s clear that he’s a step up from Don Chaney, Herb Williams, Isiah Thomas or Lenny Wilkens. (I won’t even mention that other guy, considering the joyous season we’re in). D’Antoni turned Phoenix into one of the best teams in the league, and was one bloody nose (and a few suspensions) away from a title. There’s no chance any of those other guys would have been able to accomplish with the Suns. And if you think that D’Antoni gets too much credit for Phoenix’s success, think about Phil Jackson for a second. How many championships did Jackson win in the 2 years Jordan fielded fly balls? Even having Kobe and Gasol and Odom wasn’t enough talent 2 years ago. Given the players, Jackson is the type of coach that’s good enough to win a title. And the same is true of D’Antoni.

Finally Knick fans should thankful of the front office. Oh sure we can argue about every little move, and debate lots of the small stuff. But to put things in perspective, we owe a draft pick because of what Isiah Thomas did in 2004. In the preceding years, Knick fans would be cowering in fear of a news announcement involving their team because it likely meant that they traded away a draft pick or gave another team the cap space to sign the player of their dreams. Those days are gone. In fact if the team announced a trade, I think most fans would imagine it would involve acquiring a draft pick (like when we got Toney Dougals) or freeing up some extra cap space (like when we sent Jamal Crawford or Zach Randolph packing).

When I think about my childhood, opening Christmas presents wasn’t about what I didn’t get. I rarely got the exact toy I wanted, and some Christmases were leaner than others, but more often than not I got lots of good things that I enjoyed. And the same should be true of Knick fans. In the spirit of Christmas, for one day we should be thankful for the things we have and not fret the things we don’t. That, and let’s beat the tar out of the Miami Heat!

LET’S GO KNICKS!

Looking At The Knicks Wins, By The Numbers

With the Knicks winning 3 of the last 4 games after an abysmal start, it’s a good idea to look at the numbers to understand why. So I’ve compiled the four factors of their last 3 victories.

TEAM POSS   OE   eFG  TO  OREB  FT
PHO  96.4 102.7 48.1 17.6 23.1 32.5
NYK  99.7 126.3 56.8 12.0 35.2 18.9
     
NYK  91.8 124.2 64.7 13.1 17.5 16.7
ATL  91.0 117.5 47.8 6.6 31.6 23.3
     
NJN  93.3 103.9 53.1 15.0 15.6 15.0
NYK  92.0 115.2 50.6 17.4 33.3 36.4

In 2 of the games New York bested their current defensive efficiency of 111.1. But the points allowed per possession in these games aren’t particularly good. Additionally against Atlanta, New York played far below their average.

On the other hand in every game the offense has as good or better than the league’s best rating (115.3). In the Phoenix and Atlanta games the team shot exceptionally well (56.8% & 64.7% eFG%). Turnovers were slightly better in those two games as well. However against the Nets, New York was beaten in shooting and turnovers. Instead they rebounded extremely well and camped out at the free throw line against the Nets.

So what has lifted the New York offense? Chris Duhon had one good shooting game (25 points on 16 shots) but compiled only 12 points on 20 shots in the other two games. Meanwhile Chandler has one good game (14 points on 11 shots against the Suns), one average game (18 points on 17 shots against Atlanta) and one sub par game (6 points on 7 shots against New Jersey). So it appears that neither of these players, who have been hurting the offense all year, have become more consistent performers.

Instead the Knicks offense seems to be fueled by 3 players. In these wins they’ve gotten good scoring from David Lee (66 pts on 40 shots), Al Harrington (75 pts on 49 shots) and Larry Hughes (52 points on 33 shots). To a lesser extent you can add Danilo Gallinari to the list. Gallo missed the middle game, but still punched in a healthy 38 points on just 25 shots in limited minutes.

So what does this ultimately mean? First it helps when the defense is contributing. The team has done a good job of limiting opposing shooting percentage, which was one of D’Antoni’s goals at the beginning of the season. But it’s important to recognize that this roster won’t ever produce good results on that end of the court. I guess the Knicks just need not to play horribly on defense to have a chance.

The next thing I might assume is that it also helps when the Knicks get production from Duhon and/or Chandler. Each of them had one good game, and seeing that they play the most minutes, New York needs to get something from them other than a goose egg.

Lastly Lee, Harrington and Hughes have stepped it up. Lee has increased his scoring volume, Harrington his efficiency, and Hughes is playing his best basketball in years. However it’s unclear whether this trio can keep this level of play up. Although I’d expect Lee to contribute with his efficiency, I’m not sure if he can give the team 22 points every night. And conversely for Harrington, it’s not likely that he’ll average 3 points for every 2 shots he takes. As for Hughes, he’s clearly playing some of his best basketball now, and odds are it won’t last.

With D’Antoni shortening the rotation to these players plus Jared Jeffries and the occasional Toney Douglas sighting it’s unlikely that the Knicks are going to get a lot of production outside of this sextet. For the team to proceed with their winning ways, they’ll need these players to continue with their higher level of play. Only time will tell if this effort is sustainable.

Knicks Win!

It was one of those games where everything seemed to go right for one team, and wrong for the other. Except this time, the Knicks were on the winning side. The Knicks beat the Suns tonight handily 126-99. How improbable was tonight’s win? Well Phoenix had an inverse record of 14-3 and hadn’t scored under 100 points in any game this year. Jared Jeffries scored 10 points without a turnover. He also had 4 assists and 4 blocked shots. Danilo Gallinari led the team in minutes played, shots attempted, points and rebounds. Larry Hughes had 12 assists. The Knicks shot 14-31 from downtown, while Phoenix was 4-17. New York got off to an 11 point first quarter lead and didn’t trail from that point forward.

If you have to nitpick from this kind of game Chris Duhon still played poorly and Nate Robinson hardly played at all. Duhon had 5 points on 8 shots, including not attempting a wide open three in the second half. Robinson failed to score in just over 10 minutes of action. And although Hughes dished the ball well, he only made 4 of 11 shots, and forced a few bad ones up.

But all in all the game was one that Knick fans have been waiting for, a blowout laugher. Gallinari looked great in many facets of the game. He had a few shots inside moving off the ball. He buried a loooong three with the shot clock expiring. He had a couple of nice blocks, and hit the boards. David Lee only missed 3 shots all night, and picked up 4 steals. And of course Jared Jeffries improved his trade stock. At the end Hill, Douglas and Landry all received some playing time as well, which is always a plus for these kinds of games.