2010 Report Card: Wilson Chandler

Here’s what I wrote in Chandler’s report card last year:

One question that remains is how Chandler will develop. On the optimistic side, he did make strides in multiple areas in 2009. Chandler improved his free throw shooting (63.0% to 79.5%), three point shooting (30.0% to 32.8%), scoring (13.4 to 15.6pts/36), assists (1.7 to 2.2 ast/36) and fouls (4.4 to 3.3 pf/36). But these numbers are pedestrian. The young swingman doesn’t do anything great, and his rebounding, blocks, and steals are about what you’d expect from an average 6-8 small forward. His scoring volume is above average (15.6 pts/36) but his efficiency is below (48.0% eFG, 51.5 TS%). Perhaps that’s Chandler’s lot in the NBA: to be the generic player.

For Chandler to make strides and become a genuine NBA starter, he’ll need to make another step in his development. One area could be his three point shooting. Connecting once on every three attempts is too low especially for someone that’s likely to see a lot of attempts in D’Antoni’s system. But a more critical leap would be for Chandler to get to the line more often. Last year he was second to last on the team in FTM/FGA, a measure of a player’s ability to draw contact on the offensive end. Frequently when he gets the ball in the paint, he ends up with a turn around jumper, instead of making a strong move to the hoop. Chandler needs to summon “Ill-Will” when he’s within 6 of the basket.

The good news is that Chandler did increase his scoring efficiency, going from a true shooting percentage of 51.5% to a more respectable 53.4%. The bad news is how he did it. There are a few ways to increase your TS%. Two main ones that would coincide with a sign of Chandler’s development are increasing the number of times converting from the charity stripe and an uptick in three point percentage. However Wilson did neither of these as he scored fewer singles and connected less often from downtown in 2010. His fta/36 fell from 2.8 to 2.5 and his ftm/fga dropped as well (from .16 to .15). Meanwhile his three point percentage was a shameful 26.7%.

So how did Chandler increase his efficiency? Simple, he changed what type of shots he attempted.

Chandler-2010

According to Hoopdata, Chandler dramatically reduced the number of treys in favor for a trip to the rack. By taking more shots in the paint instead of behind the line Chandler’s TS% jumped almost 2 percentage points. Basically when Chandler would receive the ball for an open three he’d head fake then drive towards the hoop instead. On the one hand it’s good that this correction was made and Chandler is a better shooter, but on the other it’s not the kind of improvement you want from a 22 year old. In other words you could say that Wilson Chandler didn’t get better in 2010, but rather the coaching staff made him better.

Chandler’s supporters will point out that he was recovering from injury and didn’t have the offseason to expand on his game. While his detractors will note that Chandler’s recent injuries could be a concern as well. In addition to his surgery last summer, the swingman sat for the last month of the season. Hopefully his moniker “Ill-Will” won’t start to represent his fragile state.

A year later, the question still remains how Chandler will develop. I’ll give him credit for being able to make the change in his game to forsake the three ball. However if Wilson Chandler wants to remain an NBA starter, especially playing for downtown happy Mike D’Antoni, he’ll need to do much more than that.

Report Card (5 point scale):
Offense: 2
Defense: 3
Teamwork: 3
Rootability: 3
Performance/Expectations: 2

Final Grade: C

Similarity Scores:

z-Sum FLName Year Tm PER TS eFG PTS ORB TRB AST STL BLK TOV
.000 Wilson Chandler 2010 NYK 13.7 53.4 50.2 15.4 1.4 5.4 2.1 0.7 0.8 1.7
.042 Kirk Snyder 2006 NOK 14.6 53.7 50.3 14.9 1.5 4.4 2.8 0.8 0.6 1.9
.052 Tim Thomas 2000 MIL 14.7 54.9 50.3 16.3 1.7 5.7 1.9 1.0 0.5 2.2
.052 Chris Carr 1997 MIN 13.3 55.6 51.8 14.6 1.3 4.9 2.1 1.0 0.4 1.6
.057 Chucky Brown 1991 CLE 12.0 55.5 52.4 15.2 1.9 5.2 1.9 0.6 0.6 2.3
.061 Sean Elliott 1991 SAS 14.2 56.4 50.0 15.4 1.7 5.4 2.8 0.8 0.4 1.7
.062 Richard Jefferson 2003 NJN 16.6 56.3 50.4 15.5 1.9 6.4 2.5 1.0 0.6 2.0
.064 Jeff Green 2009 OKC 13.9 53.6 49.1 16.2 1.5 6.5 1.9 1.0 0.4 2.2
.076 Mike Miller 2003 TOT 14.7 53.7 49.8 16.6 0.8 5.6 2.8 0.7 0.3 2.1
.077 Kenny Walker 1987 NYK 13.3 53.6 49.1 14.9 2.5 7.1 1.6 1.0 1.0 1.6
.087 Nenad Krstic 2006 NJN 14.4 54.1 50.8 15.7 2.7 7.5 1.3 0.5 0.9 1.9

This list doesn’t bode well for Chandler’s development. The upside is Mike Miller, Richard Jefferson and Sean Elliot, but the downside is a lot of busts and replacement level players. If Chandler doesn’t show significant improvement, he might see himself playing for the Zhejiang Horses too.

2010 Report Card: Danilo Gallinari

Perhaps Gallinari’s biggest accomplishment in 2010 was just as simple as staying on the court. The Knicks forward only managed 412 minutes in his rookie year due to a preseason back injury. The biggest question surrounding Gallo going into this season was not how well could play, but how much he could play. Being second on the team in minutes played (2747) was the best way he could answer.

As for his actual development, Gallinari showed that his rookie season wasn’t a fluke. The guy can flat out shoot. Granted he failed to live up to the spectacular shooting percentages of his rookie season, but a 57.9 TS% for a 21 year old is impressive. Best known for his three point shot, Gallo hit 38.2% of his treys at almost exactly the same rate of attempts as his rookie year. (2009: 6.3 3pa/36, 2010: 6.4 3pa/36). But Gallinari added a second aspect to his game, getting to the line. His free throw attempts nearly doubled (2.4 to 4.0 fta/36), due to some acting worthy of “Serie A.” Non-Italian speaking NBA fans might think he earned the name “Rooster” by the way he flails his body at the slightest amount of contact. When driving towards the hoop he’s smart enough to continue with the play post-whistle, even while his body is convulsing earning a fair amount of “and-ones”.

Another aspect of Gallinari’s game is his strong defense. Although he’ll never be confused for a defensive stopper, he’s quick, active and interested enough to keep his opponent in front of him. His steal and blocked shots are average at best, but he does provide good coverage on his man. Given his thespian prowess on offense, you’d hope he’d be able to add the ability to feign contact and draw charges.

There are a few weaknesses in his game he needs to round out. The first is his non existent first step. For a player that shows quickness on defense, Gallo lacks the deftness to get past his defender from the outside. This forces him to give up the ball often when on the perimeter, and appears as if he’s being passive on offense. Gallinari is more apt to put the ball on the floor from the mid/low post, so it isn’t necessarily his handle that is causing the issue. To become a more complete player, he’ll need to be able to create from the perimeter consistently.

Additionally Gallinari’s rebounding is nearly non-existent. Granted he does spend time defending the perimeter, but he is not aggressive on either side of the glass. Looking at his list of similar players, it’s clear that Gallo is lacking in this area in comparison to players of the same ilk. For a 6-10 forward, to be compared unfavorably to Tim Thomas and Quentin Richardson indicates a clear red flag in this area.

Despite his full blown hyalophobia and bouts of Griffin Syndrome Gallinari’s sophomore season was a success. Luckily he’s still young enough to address these issues. Should Gallo fix both of these deficiencies, some All Star games lie in his future.

Report Card (5 point scale):
Offense: 4
Defense: 3
Teamwork: 4
Rootability: 5
Performance/Expectations: 4

Final Grade: A-

Similarity Scores:

z-Sum FLName Year Tm PER TS eFG PTS ORB TRB AST STL BLK TOV
.000 Danilo Gallinari 2010 NYK 14.8 57.5 52.3 16.0 0.9 5.2 1.8 1.0 0.8 1.4
.058 Chase Budinger 2010 HOU 14.1 54.5 52.2 15.9 0.9 5.3 2.1 0.8 0.3 1.2
.058 Dirk Nowitzki 2000 DAL 17.5 56.4 51.3 17.6 1.2 6.5 2.5 0.8 0.8 1.7
.069 Luol Deng 2007 CHI 18.7 56.0 51.8 18.1 1.7 6.8 2.4 1.1 0.6 1.8
.070 Rashard Lewis 2001 SEA 17.3 58.7 55.0 15.2 1.9 7.2 1.7 1.2 0.6 1.7
.076 Martell Webster 2008 POR 12.0 54.8 51.6 13.5 0.9 5.0 1.5 0.7 0.5 1.4
.101 Austin Daye 2010 DET 12.8 54.6 51.4 13.7 1.3 6.8 1.3 1.0 1.0 1.9
.108 C.J. Miles 2009 UTA 11.8 54.6 51.5 14.6 1.0 3.7 2.4 1.0 0.3 1.4
.114 Omri Casspi 2010 SAC 13.0 52.9 50.2 14.8 1.4 6.5 1.8 1.0 0.3 1.8
.123 Tim Thomas 1999 TOT 16.0 54.5 51.1 15.9 2.2 5.6 2.0 1.2 0.5 2.0
.126 Quentin Richardson 2002 LAC 17.4 53.4 50.4 18.0 1.9 5.6 2.1 1.3 0.4 1.7

After a full season, we have a better idea of what Gallo is like. On the good side is that his efficiency is the second highest on this list, and his steals/blocks are near the top as well. On the bad side his rebounding is among the worst, and his PER is well below the top guys (Dirk, Lewis, and even Deng). What’s most odd is that there are three other youngsters on this list (Budinger, Daye and Cassipi). It’ll be interesting how the four separate themselves from each other as the seasons progress.

Hawks 114 – Knicks 101

Y’all may not realize it, but the turning point in yet another Knicks’ loss came with about 1:30 to go in the 2nd quarter. You see, I went over to my Pop’s house to watch the tilt v. Atlanta. Like your humble correspondent, he’s a long-suffering fan (he used to rock me to sleep when I was a wee ‘bairn while listening to the ’72-’73 team march to the championship). For reason’s that are a mystery to us both, some grand karmic disorder is set in motion when we watch the game on the teevee together. We’re just plain old bad mojo. So, when he descended from his studio right before the half (shameless plug: www.burtonsilverman.com), the planets aligned in the worst possible way. In my notes I scribbled, “Close out the half well. Break their spirits! March to Xanadu on a road of their bones!” But alas, ‘twas not to be.

A big turning point came via our beleaguered PG’s utterly boneheaded play w/10 seconds left, Knicks up 9. Whether he was seized by the furies or what, he launched an ill-advised trey w/6 seconds still on the clock, leading to a long rebound and fast break finish for the Hawks.

So, instead of being up 11 (or 12, but at a minimum 9) at the half, suddenly the lead is a manageable 7 and the fine denizens of Atlanta walk into the lockerroom clearly pondering some variation of, “Gosh golly. We’ve missed a ton of easy shots. There’s no ball movement on offense. We’re getting torched by Toney Douglas of all people and the Knicks are easier to psychologically topple than a 2 year old’s blocks. Sweet!” I’d assume Mike Woodson impressed them how fortunate they were to find themselves in such a situation, but I’m not entirely convinced that Mike Woodson is a sentient being. Seriously, did he move the entire game? Now, it’d be easy to blame C-Du (Or MD’A for continuing to start him) for this dire turn of events. But personally, I think it’s me and my Dad’s fault. If we were true fans, we would have switched to watching the ‘Top Chef’ marathon. Being selfish, we stayed glued to the set until the inevitable conclusion.

My glib thoughts on my family’s psychic powers over basketball games notwithstanding, here are some thoughts on our hardwood heroes:

AL HARRINGTON – It’s amazing to me how he can look like an all-star (or at least a more motivated Tim Thomas) for one half and then seemingly forget all the things that led to his success in the other. He’s great off the dribble v. traditional PF’s/C’s and can post smaller players. When he overdribbles, the rest of the team stands around and watches, mainly because they know the ball has a better chance of escaping the gravitational pull of the sun than Al’s clutches and/or he launches contested jumpers. And how did you miss that dunk? Did the ghost of Tree Rollins emerge from the ether and swat it away?

CHRIS DUHON – Boy is he a mess. He’s got zero confidence in his shot right now. As a result, teams are sagging on the pick and roll and severely reducing Lee’s effectiveness. He’s turning the ball over at an alarming rate and making some godawful decisions (see above). I can only assume he hasn’t been benched b/c MD’A is worried that another setback will send his self-esteem below Emily Dickinson’s. But honestly, he’s a liability on the court right now.

DAVID LEE – was playing an inactive/listless game for him even before sitting early in the 3rd after his old college chum Al Horford decimated him in the low post and repeatedly beat him down the court. I was probably as stunned as the rest of you to see him Charles Smith a series of put-backs in the fourth. I think I even summoned my inner Bill Walton and bellowed, “Throw it down, big man!”

LARRY HUGHES – I refuse to live in a world where Larry Hughes is one of our best players. For the most part, he makes good decisions w/the ball, hits the open jumper, plays the best perimeter d on the team and gets a real bang out of sending a closing defender hurtling towards midcourt w/a headfake on foul-line extended 3’s. He did chuck up a couple of heylarryhughespleasestoptakingsomanybadshots.com specials in the 2nd half, but for the most part, played well. And he certainly didn’t warrant a benching.

TONEY DOUGLAS – Hit some clutch shots. Penetrated at will. Played good defense. Got a little shot-happy in the 4th when the game had gotten out of hand, but anyone who’s watched the last 3 games (and if you have, I’m sorry that you’ll never get those 7.5 or so hours of your life back), has to realize that he’s playing well enough to warrant starting at PG. Granted, he did start tonight, but having him guard Johnson was a recipe for disaster that was only averted when JJ took half the game to get warmed up/decide to play.

JARED JEFFRIES – First of all, you can’t wear a headband, Jared. Really, you just can’t. It looks awful. Second, for every nice play you make that doesn’t show up in the box score (drawing charges, moving w/o the ball on offense), it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll make one play that turns Knick fans’ collective brains into a substance resembling guacamole. To wit: 4th quarter, 3 on 1 fast break, Nix trying to cut the lead to 6, you’re undefended and you fumble away a perfect bounce pass like the ball was covered with Crisco. “He went to Jared!” isn’t just an annoying marketing slogan for a diamond company, but a cry that emerges from Knick fans between the hours of 7:30 and 10pm.

MIKE D’ANTONI – Um Mike. When the other team’s getting on a run. You can like, call a time out and stuff. Like in the 3rd quarter and you were up 5 (thanks to Toney Douglas doing what Toney Douglas do). When suddenly, your team misses 11 of 12 shots from the field and the other team goes on a 12-0 run. You can like, call a time out then or put in different players and stuff. I’m worried about you, Mike. You are starting to take on a Zeke Thomas-like expression in the 4th quarter these days. It’s a combination of utter despair combined with the vague hope that you might come down with a mild case of the Ebola Virus on the way home, thus freeing you from your contractual obligations to coach this ‘team,’ as it were.

Ok, I’m done being snarky. The boys played well enough to win for stretches, and then just well enough to lose for the rest of the game. Poop.  I (and the rest of us stalwarts) will be back on Fri. night when we get to pine for one Curry that never was (Stephen), and wait for another Curry that might possible be (Fast Eddy).

2010 Season Preview: Optimist vs Pessimist

Optimist: Ready for another year of exciting basketball?

Pessimist: Ready to get another beating this year?

Optimist: What do you mean?

Pessimist: Well every year you make these wild predictions about the Knicks, and every year I kick your butt in.

Optimist: The last time we did this 2 years ago I predicted 43 wins, and the Knicks won 23, but that’s ancient history. I’ve learned from my mistakes, and feel confident about this year. Don’t you?

Pessimist: Um, never.

Optimist: Look at it from the bright side. Last year’s team won 32 games, and this team has a lot more going for it. The roster alone is deeper. Milicic, Hill, and Douglas are new additions, then add in a healthy Gallinari and a trimmed down Eddy Curry and you have to admit the team is a lot deeper, no?

Pessimist: Darko Milicic? He’s 24 and has been on 4 different teams already. Can anyone tell me what Jordan Hill does well? From what I saw this summer, he’s a power forward that’s shies from contact and likes to shoot hooks & jumpers. Douglas is a combo guard that shot 28.8% eFG in the summer league (including an arctic 9.1% from downtown). Gallo already has back problems, and a “trimmed down” Eddy Curry? Isn’t that like a suped up Ford Tempo?

Optimist: Easy there Pessy. Listen Darko will protect the paint. Hill will give some rebounding and outside shooting. Douglas can defend too and run the offense. Gallo is going to be the next Nowitzki. And Curry is going to score a ton in the paint. And anyway those 5 guys aren’t the core of the team, just some extra help. Lots of bench players in the league have faults.

Pessimist: Faults? The Knicks’ bench is like San Andreas. Which reminds me I have update my earthquake insurance.

Optimist: Earthquake insurance in New York City? With those kinds of prediction abilities, how do I lose to you every year? Anyway, the Knicks had lots of guys shuffling in & out last year. Crawford, Randolph, Collins, Roberson, Rose, Tim Thomas, and Jerome James, not to mention all the NBDL guys (Crawford, Sims, Nichols, Samb, and Sene). Certainly this year’s roster will be more stable.

Pessimist: Perhaps. But who is to say that Donnie won’t pull the trigger to shed some more contracts. Curry and Jeffries will be gone if Walsh receives a half decent deal (at least you’d hope so). And the Knicks don’t have a draft pick to sweeten the pot, so they’ll have to throw someone in like Chandler, Gallo, or Hill.

Optimist: Wait a second, you’re saying getting rid of Curry or Jeffries would be a bad thing? Let’s just see how things pan out before dumping on Walsh. Donnie has been pretty shrewd with deals so far.

Pessimist: Like Balkman & Von Wafer?

Optimist: No like getting rid of Randolph & Crawford. You have to admit he’s been good with regards to shedding contracts & having a long term plan.

Pessimist: How about not getting the #5 pick for Jeffries & Chandler? And not sending Jeffries and Nate to Sacramento?

Optimist: Those are just rumors. Nobody really believes those.

Pessimist: *aheam*

Optimist: OK almost nobody.

Pessimist: I think the knock on Walsh is whether he’s a good evaluator of talent. Say what you will about Balkman, but there’s no doubt that Von Wafer could have helped this team last year. The Knicks were starving for a shooting guard last year, had Wafer on their summer league team, and the next thing you know Wafer was starting for the Rockets. This year the team still needs a shooting guard, they had Morris Almond on their summer league team, and … need I say more?

Optimist: C’mon, you’re killing Walsh for Balkman, Wafer, and Almond? I’m not too concerned with the end of bench guys. D’Antoni isn’t likely to play them anyway.

Pessimist: What about Jordan Hill? He didn’t look all that great in summer, and I don’t see him breaking the rotation this year.

Optimist: That just shows how deep the team is. See you’re making my point for me. Anyway, Let’s move on to the offense. You have to admit that the Knicks will be better on offense this season. It’s the second year of D’Antoni’s offense so the players will be more acclimated to the system…

Pessimist: … Got any proof that players do better in the same offense?

Optimist: No, but it sounds right. Add in a full season from Gallinari. The guy hit 44% from three and 96% from the line. Give him more than 400 minutes and scoring will increase.

Pessimist: That’s the teenager with the bad back, right?

Optimist: Actually he’s 21 now.

Pessimist: You know Crawford played almost the same amount of minutes last year as a Knick, and hit 46% of his threes? Anyone can put up eye-catching numbers in limited minutes.

Optimist: He’s still young, and it’s realistic to think he’ll improve as he matures. The offense will improve this year?

Pessimist: And the defense?

Optimist: Darko Milicic, Jordan Hill, Toney Douglas are all defensive players …

Pessimist: First off none of those players are likely to see a lot of minutes. Curry, if he ever gets in shape, could push Darko for time so the Knicks can showcase him. And both of them will keep Jordan Hill on the bench. Toney Douglas will likely see time, but not if he’s shooting 20%. You have to admit the defense will be just as bad as last year.

Optimist: It won’t be worse and is likely to be better. Will you admit the offense will be better than last year?

Pessimist: Of course not.

Optimist: Time to put your money where your mouth is – how many wins are the Knicks getting in 2010?

Pessimist: I’m skeptical of the improvements. Hill shot pretty bad in the summer, Douglas shot worse, and Milicic has shot pretty bad his whole career. Eddy Curry is a turnover machine who doesn’t rebound on the defensive end. There’s still no true shooting guard. Number 8 overall pick Jordan Hill can compete against Wilson Chandler to see who shoots less free throws. I’ll go with 32 wins again.

Optimist: The team has definitely improved. They’ll top last year’s total and then some. The additions to the roster will help D’Antoni mix & match and won’t leave the team helpless when the inevitable injuries occur. Better seasons from Gallinari & Curry will only help the team. Continuity with the coaching staff is a plus as well. I’ll go with 38 wins.

Pessimist: Next you’re going to tell me they’re going to make the playoffs.

Optimist: 8th seed, which will be good enough to attract that kid from Ohio!

Knicks 2010 Season Preview Part 2

[In case you missed it, Part I is here.]

Larry Hughes SG

What the Numbers Say
Through the first 4 preseason games, Larry is 1 fer 20. Yipes.

What the Team Says
“Larry Hughes is a guy that can score points and create his own shot. And I think that’s also very good in Mike’s system.” – Donnie Walsh (after the trade deadline deal that netted Hughes for Tim Thomas.)

What the Player Says
“I’m a proven scorer in this league, so it’s not a problem for me,” Hughes said after the Knicks held an open practice for fans at Fordham University yesterday. “It’s the preseason. I’m not too concerned.”

What My Gut Says
HeyLarryHughesPleaseStopTakingSoManyBadShots.com really just about sums it up. Alas, I fear good old Larry has the potential to be this year’s Marbury. No, I don’t mean he’s going to eat Vaseline, it’s just that he has a history of pitching a fit when presented with less playing time than he believes he merits. Nor does he seem to have a firm grasp on what his own abilities are. Proven scorer, my fanny.

Wilson Chandler – SG (in name only)/SF

What the Numbers Say
I can’t parse the stats for the life of me, but Wilson Chandler pops up all over the place in Dave Berri’s “Overrated players of 08-09” list.

What the Team Says
“He’s a great kid that works hard and I really think he has a chance,” D’Antoni said. “That will depend on him and the work that he puts in in the summertime, and he thinks he’s going to do it. I hope he does.”

What the Player Says
“Shake ’em up, shake ’em up, shake ’em up, shake ’em. Roll ’em in a circle of fellas and watch me break ’em” (a tweet in response to Nate Rob’s tweet) Apparently they like tweeting Ice Cube lyrics to one another. Good times.

What My Gut Says
For some reason, in spite of his rim-rattling dunks and blocks that send the rock into the (very expensive) seats, Ill Will fails to make much of an impression on me. Perhaps it’s because he has fewer facial expressions, succeed or fail, than Paris Hilton. He’s a nice two-way SF who if he develops a more consistent jumper and solid handle could be Shawn Marion-lite. A quality guy to have and could certainly be a part of the rotation on a contender, I’d still have dealt him for the 5th pick/Ricky Rubio in a NY minute (assuming that it was even remotely possible).

Danilo Gallinari SF

What the Numbers Say
Danilo Gallinari (2009, Age 20) .448 FG, .444 3FG, .963 FT, 4.8 reb/36, 14.9 pts/36
Dirk Nowitzki (1999, Age 20 ) .405 FG, .205 3FG, .773 FT, 6.1 reb/36, 14.9 pts/36
(Full player comparison at Basketball-Reference.com)

What the Team Says
“He’s the best shooter I’ve ever seen” — Mike D’Antoni

What the Player Says
“Wake up at 9.02 (because I do not like alarms perfect!) … Breakfast with milk and Nesquick … accompanied with biscuits or cornflakes in the morning … I need a lot of carbohydrates! Then long session in the bathroom to get ready, get dressed, I put the lenses, a bit of hair gel and so ready to go to training.” — Il Gallo

What My Gut Says
I amo Il Gallo! So, ciò sembra un po’gaio, ma è il suo soprannome. Che sono intendendo fare? One of the things that’s actually disappointed me in Danilo’s development is that his English has really improved. As a result, he sounds a lot less like Roberto Benigni/Chico Marx. It’s too bad. I was really looking forward with the post-game interview with Jill “Gimme A Minute” Martin where he screeched, “I want to make love to the firmament!” That said, I think he puts up Nowitzki-like #’s in year two (15 ppg, 6 rpg)

And even though he hasn’t officially made the team yet, I have to say that I‘m seriously pulling for Marcus Landry. Maybe it’s because he’s making the transition from undersized college center to SG/SF and the last player I can think of who pulled this off successfully was Earl Monroe, who played the pivot/with his back to the basket at Winston-Salem in the 60’s.

2010 Poll: Who Will Win the West?

Los Angeles Lakers (Vegas odds to win title: 5:2)
Unlike the East, the West has one clear favorite. Since trading for Pau Gasol, the Lakers have appeared in two straight Finals winning it all last year. Not content to let it ride, Los Angeles upgraded from Trevor Ariza to Ron Artest. This would be a gamble for most teams considering the Queensbridge native’s history, but Phil Jackson has always been able to keep individual personalities from ruining a team.

San Antonio Spurs (6:1)
In an attempt to keep up with the Lakers, the Spurs bolstered their roster in the off season. San Antonio added Richard Jefferson and Antonio McDyess which should give them a stronger rotation. But ultimately the Spurs will only go as far as their top 3. Last year the team suffered injuries to Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, and if they lose either of them (or Tony Parker) they’ll fall short of any title hopes.

Denver Nuggets (8:1)
The conventional wisdom is that teams that finish strong are likely to have a momentum that continues to the next season. This seems logical since many great teams go through phases of success before winning a title. However there’s little evidence to support that claim, and many teams just get lucky in a playoff series. The 2009 Denver Nuggets will probably avoid the fate of the 2007 Warriors or the 2008 Hornets, as they are likely to see the second round in 2010. However I think Vegas is way too kind to their odds, and I would bet against them to make the Western Conference Finals, nevertheless win a championship.

Last year per-minute stud Chris Andersen had a monstrous playoffs, however over the last 3 years each of the Denver bigs (Andersen, Nene, and Martin) has missed nearly the whole year due to injury. And while the other teams in the conference improved this summer Denver merely tread water, losing Kleiza and adding Ty Lawson. Unless they get another playoff boost from a great per-minute shot blocking/rebounder buried on the bench, they’re not likely going to be able to compete against the Lakers for Western supremacy.

The Field (starting at 10:1)
According to Vegas, the Trailblazers rank 6th in the West, however Portland deserves a higher ranking. They had the West’s second highest expected winning percentage last year (68.4%), which correlates well with winning percentage the year after. Portland also had the NBA’s best offense powered by their fantastic rebounding. The Blazers return with their rotation in tact plus Andre Miller. Although not the ideal fit for the team, Miller provides an upgrade over Bayless & Blake. They’re much better than their 12:1 odds would indicate.

Ahead of Portland are Dallas and Utah at 10:1. The Mavericks added Shawn Marion, Drew Gooden, and Tim Thomas. Marion’s production slipped in Miami and Toronto, and Dallas is hoping that their offensive scheme will better fit his talents. Meanwhile the Jazz matched the offer sheet for Paul Millsap, and are hoping that they can collectively stay healthy. Finally the New Orleans Hornets swapped Chandler for Emeka Okafor, which could make them relevant in the West again.

{democracy:36}

2009 Report Card: Donnie Walsh

It was with fanfare befitting a peaceful transfer of power from despotism to enlightenment that Donnie Walsh inherited Isiah Thomas’ job as New York Knicks president of basketball operations in the spring of 2008.  But as with so many European monarchs, African generals, and Spinal Tap drummers before him, the excitement surrounding Walsh’s arrival soon gave way, at least in part, to the grim realization that the pitfalls of previous years had not all departed with his predecessor.  An impossible cap situation, a meddling owner, and a frequently unmotivated core of players were all holdovers from the Isiah era which Walsh has been forced to address, with varying degrees of success.

Walsh’s first Knicks team finished with a record of 32-50, worse than three of the five Knicks squads that Isiah oversaw.  But Walsh’s job was never about 2009 and, unlike Isiah, he immediately proved willing to accept that short term failure was a necessary and acceptable side effect of true progress.  To this end, it is undeniable that the poker-faced Bronx native has moved a dysfunctional franchise in the right direction, but his advances have not come without missteps.  That these mistakes have come with little popular backlash is cause for gratitude to Isiah – critics of Walsh would be far more vocal had his hiring not come on the heels of such unmitigated failure.

If Walsh’s patience and indecipherability are his greatest qualities in negotiation, they may also be his best assets in avoiding the kind of criticism that is typicaly heaped upon New York pro sports executives by media and fans.  His stern demeanor and unshakable calm suggest to observers, even at moments of seeming misjudgment, that he knows more about the situation than they do and so deserves their trust.  A move-by-move analysis of Walsh’s Knicks tenure reveals a well-reasoned overall plan that has been tarnished by some truly baffling decisions.  With the belief that the moves a general manager doesn’t make are as important as the moves he does make, I offer this chronological assessment of Walsh’s first season-plus on the job:

May 10, 2008: In his first, and thus far best, major move as Knicks president, Walsh signed Phoenix Suns coach Mike D’Antoni to a 4-year, $24 million contract.  D’Antoni’s hiring has resonated with fans (seen in the sense of pride that came with a prized coaching commodity choosing the Knicks over a handful of other suitors, as well as the entertaining brand of basketball to which they are treated each night), Knicks players (seen in the career years put up by David Lee, Al Harrington, Nate Robinson, Wilson Chandler, and, for the first 50 games, Chris Duhon), and players around the league (D’Antoni’s relationship with soon-to-be-max-contract-signers LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and Kobe Bryant may prove to be his most important asset as the Knicks’ coach).

Grade: A, and if LeBron’s affection for D’Antoni leads him to New York, it becomes an A-plus.

Draft Night, 2008: With the sixth pick, Walsh chose Danilo Gallinari, whose struggles with back trouble and flashes of promise have both been well-chronicled on this and other sites.  While the jury remains out on Gallo, we have a better idea about some of the guys Walsh could have taken.  Of the lottery picks remaining on the board at #6, Eric Gordon (chosen 7th, 14.98 rookie PER), Brook Lopez (chosen 10th, 17.94 rookie PER), and Anthony Randolph (chosen 14th, 16.94 rookie PER and an absolute monster of a summer league) have looked the most promising thus far.

However, simply lining Gallo up against these three doesn’t quite create a proper lens for evaluating Walsh’s choice.  Looking back through Chad Ford’s archives reminds us that Gordon and Joe Alexander (chosen  8th, 10.19 rookie PER) were the two most likely Knicks picks had they passed on Gallinari, and the early returns suggest that Walsh may have dodged a bullet by passing on Alexander’s unique, but extremely raw, skill set.

Grade: C-plus.  We all love Gallo and it’s tempting to give Walsh an incomplete here.  It’s also probably unfair to criticize Walsh for passing on Lopez and Randolph, as the former was universally regarded as low on upside and the latter as a potential bust.  Still, it’s impossible to ignore how well Gordon, Randolph, and Lopez would all fit into D’Antoni’s system, and one would be hard pressed to find a non-Knicks fan who would put an unproven 21-year-old who already has back problems on the same level as any of these three.  I think there are decent odds Gallinari will prove this grade wrong but at the moment this looks like an OK, but not great, pick.

July 4, 2008: Walsh signed former Bulls PG Chris Duhon to a 2 year contract at the full mid-level ($12 million).  The price tag here looks high now, given the lower salaries being handed out this offseason and the incredibly frustrating second half to Duhon’s 2008-09 season.  Still, the Knicks have never minded paying out  luxury tax dollars and Walsh brought in a point guard who generally stays out of his own way and makes his teammates better on the offensive end.  If Duhon’s ability to create easy baskets can turn Curry into a tradable commodity this season (it’s a long shot, but hey, a guy can hope), it becomes a great signing.  Until then, Duhon is a player who doesn’t set his team back on the court, creates reps for a young core in need of development, and doesn’t set the franchise back in its hunt for prime talent in 2010.  Pretty good move for the mid-level in a lackluster free agent summer.

Grade: B.

November 21, 2008: Walsh put on his Kevin Pritchard hat for a day and swung two trades that cleared up $27 million in 2010 cap room.  In sending Zach Randolph to the Clippers and Jamal Crawford to the Warriors in exchange for a useful forward in Al Harrington, a useless forward in Tim Thomas, and a soon-to-retire combo guard in Cuttino Mobley, Walsh dismantled the slim playoff hopes of what was then an above-.500 team.  More importantly, however, he overhauled the team’s long term cap position, picked up a trade chip in Mobley’s tax-free contract, and rid the team of two shoot-first players who were almost certainly stunting the development of their younger, more promising counterparts.   A complete no-brainer.

Grade: A-minus.  It’s a move any good GM would have made if it was available but, what can I say, it’s a good career move to succeed Isiah.

February 19, 2009: An unstoppable force (the Bulls’ desire to trade Larry Hughes) met an immovable object (Jerome James’ contract) and the unstoppable force won as the Knicks flipped James and Tim Thomas for Hughes.  Largely seen as a garbage for garbage deal, the move was supposed to make the Knicks slightly better in the short run without helping or hurting their long-term cap situation and, mainly, sparing their fans the nightly sight of James smiling and joking around on the end of the bench during 20-point losses.  A mostly useless move in the long run and maybe a net negative, as Hughes took some minute that would likely have gone to Nate and Chandler otherwise.  Hughes also brought back some of the poor shot selection and general grumpiness that had mostly departed with Crawford and Stephon Marbury, respectively.  In the end, the trade’s impact, positive or negative, was minimal and we stopped having to listen to Jerome James jokes.

Grade: C (in a one-credit class with little effect on overall GPA).

Trade Deadline, 2009: The Knicks engaged in a well-chronicled negotiation with the Sacramento Kings, who asked for Nate Robinson and Jared Jeffries in exchange for Kenny Thomas’ soon-to-expire contract.  With the Knicks still loosely in playoff contention, Walsh turned down the offer and chose not to rid himself of the nearly $7 million committed to Jeffries in 2010.  A puzzling, disturbingly Isiah-esque move whose questionability has been compounded by the complete disinterest that Walsh has displayed in re-signing Nate this offseason.  If Robinson is truly so expendable, and it’s likely he is, then why endanger the future for only a few months of his services?  This inaction made little sense at the time and makes even less sense now.

Grade: D-minus.

2009 Draft, Lead-up: Another instance in which Walsh seemed to contradict his general mission statement of financial flexibility, as he reportedly rejected an offer of the #5 pick and some expiring contracts for Wilson Chandler, Jeffries, and Hughes.  This rumor always seemed a bit sketchy from the Wizards’ side, but if this offer was truly on the table, I can’t imagine Walsh’s resistance to it.  Trading Jeffries is a desirable goal, Hughes has no long-term value, and Chandler, while a promising young player, is more likely than not to become an effective wing who is generally indistinguishable from any number of other small forwards in the league.  The negligible , if even existent, talent drop off from Chandler to the #5 pick in the draft (which turned out to be Ricky Rubio, though no one would have guessed it at the time) seemed a small price to pay for the disposal of a considerable financial obstacle.

Grade: D.  It’s worth noting that a few different versions of this trade were bouncing around during draft week, some of which would have been less of a windfall for the Knicks.  None of them, however, seemed particularly logical to reject as the Wizards displayed genuine interest in both Jeffries and Hughes.

Draft Night, 2009: Walsh played the hand he was dealt at #8, picking Jordan Hill after watching Rubio and Stephen Curry disappear in rapid succession.  An uninspiring, but far from disastrous, summer league performance has left Hill as a general mystery to Knicks fans at this point, but he’s big and athletic and he got enough numbers in college (although his FG% leaves something to be desired, considering his layup-and-dunk-heavy shot selection) to suggest that he’ll be a useful role player at the worst.  Walsh’s bigger coup on draft night was the effective purchase of Toney Douglas’s draft rights from the Lakers, just the kind of low-risk, solid-upside maneuver that the Knicks never seem to make.  If Douglas develops into a serviceable back-up point guard with a jump shot and an above average defensive skill set, which seems likely, this pick is a success.

In a final draft night move, Walsh acquired Darko Milicic from the Grizzlies by sending Quentin Richardson off on the first leg of his summer-long tour of NBA mediocrity.  Another low-risk move that might suit D’Antoni’s system well.  Given what he had to work with, a sound if unspectacular draft night for Walsh.

Grade: B-plus for draft night in a vacuum.  However, if you consider that Walsh could have had Rubio or Curry at five had he made the Wizards trade, it’s a C-minus.

Free Agency, 2009: I don’t know.  Do you?  I think Walsh was right not to pay for Iverson.  I would have loved a year or two of Nash at the mid-level, but I get the feeling that was never as close to a reality as we all were hoping.

If Walsh wins his ongoing staring contest with Ramon Sessions (17.65 PER, 23 years old) and signs him for two years at a low 2010 cap number, it will be a way better long-term move than signing Jason Kidd (16.95 PER, 36 years old) would have been, as the Knicks will acquire a young, affordable point guard who can defer to his teammates and can wait until after the Knicks make their big free agent splash to receive his long-term payout.

Additionally, Walsh has done well not to give in to unrealistic demands by either Lee or Robinson in a depressed market, but until their situations are resolved (ideally with Nate walking or taking a cheap one-year deal and Lee staying on for something near the mid-level), it’s hard to get a read on Walsh’s current plan or his level of confidence in the LeBron/Wade/Bosh sweepstakes next offseason.

Grade: Incomplete.

All told, Walsh’s tenure got off to a promising start but has suffered from several moments of seeming hesitance to take the final plunge and commit to any one comprehensive strategy.  Walsh has clearly leaned toward building for the future at the expense of the present, which is a welcome change from the Isiah era, but his unwillingness to part with anyone of value as a pot-sweetener in the unloading of bad contracts has stunted the Knicks progress toward an ideal 2010 cap situation.  As it stands, the team has a top-flight coach and more young talent and long-term financial flexibility than anyone could have realistically expected 16 months ago.  But one worries that Walsh has hedged his bets a bit too much and will fall short of a free agent jackpot next summer.

Overall Grade: B