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!

The Fix Is (Still) In

So I was watching Outside the Lines on ESPN and they were showing clips of the Tim Donaghy interview. At the conclusion, they made mention of a poll running on ESPN.com, where the question was posed, “How will Tim Donaghy’s claims influence how you watch NBA games.”

And the possible responses were: A) Will never view games the same way or B) No, influence, he isn’t credible.

My immediate reaction was, where’s C) It confirms something I knew innately to be true and won’t change a gosh-darned thing about how I watch NBA games. Why isn’t that a possible poll choice, ESPN.com?

Does anyone on this forum really think games are officiated fairly? Does anyone doubt that since the dawn of time, superstars (whether it’s Kobe, or Magic or Michael, or Larry or Dr. J or Hakeem or Shaq or LeBron or any of the pantheon of individuals who can be readily identified by their first name only) have gotten and will continue to get the calls. Now, the majority of my NBA-gazing is occupied by Nix games, but over the last 25 (gulp) years, I can say that our boys have always gotten hosed by the refs (the Hue Hollins call in game 5 in the ’94 semis v. the Bulls being the exception that proves the rule. But then again, his royal Nike-peddlingness was swatting the horsehide that summer, so maybe it isn’t an exception after all.)

In my early years of fandom, I keenly recall staring dumbly at Channel 9 (we didn’t have cable) and being utterly unable to fathom why Kevin McHale was allowed to use those ultra-sharp elbows of his to whack away at Pat Cummings, Ken “The Animal” Bannister, Louie Orr and others of their ilk with impunity whilst any mere mortal (see above) who dared fart in Bird’s general direction was immediately showered with whistles and a series of arcane/disco-like gestures from the refs. Even at that early age, I could tell that some players/teams were favored for reasons at that time, seemed beyond me. After all, I loved Mike Newlin. Why did the refs seem to hate him so much?

So this afternoon on the teevee, when Donaghy said that he was able to predict/bet on games with 75-80% accuracy simply because he knew who favored/loathed which players, my first thought was, “Duh! Of course you can. If you’re in the locker room, chewing the fat with the other refs, of course you’re going to hear who hates Rasheed Wallace or who loves Mike Fratello’s teams. (What that’s about I’ll never know. Possibly there’s a rogue ref who just loves the movie, “Hoosiers,” or something and pines for a return to those days of yore.) When you combine that with the unstated (or secretly stated) mandate to build up/market individual talents that Stern instituted to promote the league during the financially problematic years pre-Bird/Magic/Jordan, it’s clear how one could make a crapload of cash betting on the NBA.”

It’s one of the things that actually, in my own perverse kink, leads me to prefer watching b-ball to the Jets or the Mets (Yes, I know. I’ve really picked some winners there). I know that it’s not a level playing field and that seems to me to be a far more apt parallel to the world at large than the pristine, pastoral, Jeffersonian/democratic ideal (pre-‘Roids) presented by MLB or the power/precision, crypto-fascist, ground acquisition/military conquest paradigm put forth by the NFL. In both cases, while there are certainly times that I’ll fling inanimate objects and howl in horror at a botched call, for the most part, the refs/umps do a good job and I never get the impression that the game is in the bag for a particular team and/or player.

But, if I was the kind of individual who believed that the world was for the most part a fair and just place, I’m sure I’d be out there painting my face and clutching a Bud more often. But I don’t.

I’m a New Yorker. This is New York. We know that the fix is in. Solving that wholly unsolvable problem is far less important than making sure we’ve got the inside dope/skinny and can profit accordingly.

It’s why it’s so essential that Walsh is able to snag a LeBron or Dwyane. Not only because they are supreme talents, but because having a superstar who gets the benefit of the doubt is the best way to win a title over the last 30 years in the NBA. [Ed’s note: Also LeBron or Wade provide a little more production than say Jared Jeffries or Wilson Chandler.]

Our one chance at a super-duper star, Patrick Ewing was never qualified to join the first-name only club. I’m not sure why. Maybe it is because some unseen force wanted him to be Bill Russell 2.0 and he wasn’t. Maybe because all the grunts and the profuse sweating made him lack the grace and/or effortlessness that true stars seem to possess. It never seemed easy for our Patrick. I mean, he worked like a mofo for every basket/rebound/block he ever got but he never made the unbelievable play that simultaneously seemed routine. And while he was allowed to take an extra step or two when he rolled to the middle to unleash that trusty jump hook of his, because his archetype was that of the working-class hero, he was never anointed by the refs to the degree that would have/could have pushed those Riley/Van Gundy era teams over the top. To whit: If Jordan had strayed a few steps off the bench in ’97 do you think there’s any way he’d have been suspended for game 6? No way. Ain’t gonna happen.

So while Stern frets about the perception/bottom line of his beloved league as Timmy D the canary keeps singing his song, were he to seek my council, I’d say, relax Dave! We real fans get it. Nudge nudge, wink wink. Say no more.

2010 Poll: Who Will Win the East?

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

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

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

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

{democracy:35}

2009 NBA Draft Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Are Now Coach of the Magic…

With game 2 less than 24 hours away and with Orlando coming off a game 1 beating, I’m asking my faithful KnickerBlogger readers: “What steps would you take if you were in Stan Van Gundy’s shoes?”

It’s something I’ve been thinking about, I haven’t been able to come up with a definitive answer. Should the Magic go with Nelson, who is coming off an injury but tore up Los Angeles during the season? Should the team make a better effort to crash the defensive boards? Send out JJ Redick with boxing gloves, have him cover Susha Vujacic, and let the hilarity ensue for entertainment’s sake? Or was game 1 just a fluke and the Orlando is just likely to regress back to the mean?

What would you do as the coach of the Orlando Magic?

The Worst Article of 2008

Long time fans know my least favorite articles are the ones where an author obviously has come to a conclusion and tries to put together facts to support it. In 2004 I railed against Frank Hughes, the next year Charlie Rosen caught my ire, and in 2007 I took a writer from paperbacknovel to task. This year’s KnickerBlogger worst article of 2008 belongs to Bill Simmons piece on D’Antoni/Nash, which was published just before the new year. Simmons begins by bashing D’Antoni:

D’Antoni’s Phoenix teams were wildly entertaining, consistently successful—and always heading home before the Finals. D’Antoni didn’t care that just about every NBA champ since the 1988-89 Pistons had won with defense; once teams slowed the Suns’ tempo and systematically broke them down, their lack of commitment to D always surfaced. Always. They had a fatal flaw. It took us four years to realize it.

Simmons logic is straight out of the internet trolls’ handbook in the chapter titled “Count the Ringz!!1!!” Since 1984, only 8 different coaches have won a title, and like many of his peers Mike D’Antoni isn’t in that select group. Jerry Sloan’s teams were consistently successful for nearly 25 years and he never won a championship. Neither have other respected coaches like George Karl, Don Nelson, Rick Adelman, and both Van Gundys. Winning a championship is a rare event, and failing to do so shouldn’t discredit a coach or style of play.

Additionally Simmons claims “just about every NBA champ since the 1988-89 Pistons had won with defense.” After the Bad Boys won back to back titles, the Bulls won three championship teams by finishing 1st, 1st, and 2nd on offense. Then the Rockets won their first championship due to defense, but the 1995 team with Drexler was 6th on offense and 12th on defensive. Phil Jackson’s threepeat Lakers finished 4th, 2nd, and 2nd on offense. Although some championship teams were stronger on defense, most championship teams are good on both ends of the court and the exceptions generally even out. The 2005 Pistons won with their defense (18th on offense, 2nd on defense), while the 2001 Lakers were an offensive minded team (2nd on offense, 21st on defense). The claim that defense wins championships has been debunked before (namely here and here), and there has not been a defensive trend since 1989.

Simmons proceeds to belittle Steve Nash’s career . He says Nash was a “borderline All-Star” without D’Antoni and says Nash was only “slightly better than Mark Price.” The first is preposterous. Nash started off his career with 4 mediocre seasons, however he became a more productive player by improving his scoring. Nash’s pts/36 went from 11.3 to 16.5 to 18.6. He posted a healthy PER of 19.6 in 2001 at the age of 26. The next year he had a similar season (20.7 PER), became an All Star, and was voted to an All NBA team. This was when he was still in Dallas, before he played for D’Antoni. Nash was a late bloomer, but in Dallas he became a legitimate All Star.

As for the comparison to Price, I’m not sure what to make of it. During his career, Price was voted to 4 All NBA teams and received some consideration for the MVP award. So during his peak he was a pretty good player. However Price’s career ended early. He began to decline at the age of 30 and played his last season at the age of 33. On the other hand Nash has aged well. He won his first MVP at the age of 30, and last year at 33 Nash made the All NBA second team. Considering that Nash is still playing at a high level at the age of 34 (a point that Simmons makes by showing Nash’s numbers this season to be identical to his All Star year in Dallas), it’s clear that Nash’s career has already and will continue to eclipse Price’s. From my perspective Mark Price is to Steve Nash as Shawn Kemp is to Karl Malone.

It’s unfortunate because I understand Simmons’ point. Steve Nash’s assists ballooned under D’Antoni due to the style of play. Nash had the ball in his hand frequently due to the fast paced point guard emphasized offense. So Nash was able to rack up more assists than someone playing for one of the Van Gundys. This is common in just about every sport, but Simmons claims the opposite:

Which brings me to my point, and I swear I have one: Of the four major sports, only in basketball is the historical fate of everyone from borderline All-Star to borderline superstar determined entirely by his situation.

In football, we sometimes see great players trapped on abominable teams (Barry Sanders, Archie Manning) and good players hitting the team lottery (Jim Kelly, Franco Harris), but we can usually tell either way.

You have to wonder what Simmons was on when he wrote that. In the NFL, players are consistently a product of their situation. Kurt Warner is a prime example. When he played for the Rams, Warner was highly effective, twice throwing for more than 4300 yards and 36 TDs. But when placed on a Giants team with a different system, Warner’s play was so bad he lost the starting job. This year in Arizona, Warner was mentioned as a possible MVP candidate. So unlike Simmons’ claim, an NFL player can go from backup to superstar depending on their situation.

But a more appropriate example for Nash might be Tom Brady. In 2007 Brady threw for 50 TDs, nearly twice his career average. Did Brady all of a sudden become more talented? No. Rather the Patriots changed their offense which emphasized his strengths. And you can say the same thing for Nash. D’Antoni’s system increased his stats to the point where a PG in a traditional system might not be able to reach. However Nash still had to perform at a high level to attain those stats. Saying the system turned a regular starter into an MVP is a stretch whether you’re applying that to Steve Nash or Tom Brady.

Arguing D’Antoni’s system was ideal for Nash to win games and put up eye popping numbers seems reasonable. Arguing that Nash’s numbers were inflated by the offense that the team ran is also logical, and that he might not have been the best player in those two seasons is rational. Simmons could have written an article that showed that Nash and D’Antoni were fortunate enough to cross paths having a synergistic effect on each other.

Instead he uses old cliches and false analogies in attempt to assert his opinion. Simmons blames statistics for the problem, and says “stat geeks” as the ones responsible for falling in love with Nash’s inflated numbers. But as this APBRmetrics poll from 2005 showed most numerical analysts didn’t have Nash as a top 3 MVP candidate that year. Ironically if Simmons had a rudimentary understanding of statistics, he would have understood the concept of pace, and could have better articulated his position on Nash. Oh well, maybe next year.

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