Marbury is the Problem

[Today’s column comes to us from KnickerBlogger Point Guard Specialist David Crockett, Ph.D. David is an Assistant Professor of Marketing at the University of South Carolina, and can be reached at dcrockett17@yahoo.com. This article was originally written earlier this week, but was bumped by the Editor In Chief in an effort to improve international relations. It has been published in it’s original form.]

The past two games against the Chicago Bulls should not be cause to overreaction here in Knick Nation. No one really has any good reason to expect this team to be a vast improvement over last year’s edition, even when healthy. It may be a tad more exciting than last season’s edition, but it will not jell into a good basketball team. This is life in the NBA’s salary cap purgatory, a place the Knicks seem to have taken up permanent residence in the penthouse apartment. On the bright side, at least some cap relief is on the way. This summer the contracts of Vin Baker, Penny Hardaway, and Tim Thomas enter their final seasons. If I am not mistaken so does Moochie Norris’s contract, either through option or buyout. My hope is that Isiah Thomas thinks very seriously about preserving roster spots for young developing players, not merely dealing those contracts for someone else’s mistake.

Having said that, let me also offer Isiah Thomas another piece of sage advice. This offseason trade Stephon Marbury while you still can. In every sense Thomas has tied his own fate, and that of the franchise to Marbury’s considerable offensive talent. In many respects Marbury has lived up to what could have been reasonably expected based on past performance. Offensively, if one considers shooting prowess, ability to create scoring opportunities for others, and propensity for turnovers Marbury may well indeed be the league’s best point guard. He is certainly among the best. He is 4th in overall PER 2nd in eFG%, 2nd in assist ratio, and tied for best turnover ratio among players at his position according to the Knickerblogger’s stat page.

Player.............	PER	eFG%	Ast-r	TO-r
Dwyane Wade (Mia).. 24.10 49.6 23.4 12.5
Steve Nash (Pho)... 22.49 57.0 41.1 11.8
Allen Iverson (Phi) 22.47 44.6 19.1 10.3
Stephon Marbury(NY) 21.98 50.7 29.6 10.3

These are indeed impressive accomplishments that are far too often dismissed by sports pundits who appear contractually obligated to promote Jason Kidd as the archetypal point guard at the expense of all others. Then, as the syllogism goes, sense Marbury is a different kind of point guard than Kidd he must be inferior to Kidd.

My own suspicions about Marbury at the time of the trade were that he was a selfish, shoot-first guard, who could not run the screen-roll. Whether Marbury is selfish is one of those debates that will continue to rage between his supporters and detractors around the league. What I think we can conclude however, is that on offense Marbury creates scoring opportunties for other players through his penetration. He takes 36% of his own shots in close. This was second only to the hyper-athletic Wade who takes 38% of his shots in close, even more if one counts dunks and tip-ins. (Iverson takes 30% and Nash 20%.) He also runs the screen-roll well, particularly with Kurt Thomas. This is a more subjective assessment but I certainly have no problem with the way Marbury runs the screen-roll. Another subjective assessment: his offensive game has matured. He’s much less prone to the “heat check” hoisted jump shots that are basically as good as turnovers. Earlier in his career he had the shot selection of Jamal Crawford but appears to have grown out of settling for the long jumper. Virtually, no matter how one slices it Marbury is an elite offensive player – not just for his position but in the league. But, does he make others around him better? I suppose the answer to the question is in the eye of the beholder to some extent. What we can say with a reasonable degree of certainty though is that he creates scoring opportunities for his teammates. He penetrates off the dribble more than any other player in the league (other than Wade). As it concerns creating opportunities he more than fulfills expectations in that part of the job description.

So why move him? In a word: defense. 82games.com lists counterpart’s production as its primary defensive metric. Opponent’s production is a seriously flawed metric for evaluating power forwards and centers, whose responsibility for defensive rotation seemingly overstates their defensive liabilities relative to the backcourt. However it appears to be a reasonable measure of the backcourt’s defensive contributions. In Marbury’s case specifically, since he plays nearly 40 mpg virtually all of the opposing point guard’s production comes against him. Look at opposing PG’s production against the same group of players.

Player.............	PER	eFG%	Close% Ast48	TO48 
Dwyane Wade (Mia)*. 13.9 42.4 26 7.3 2.7
Steve Nash (Pho)... 14.4 47.9 23 8.3 3.6
Allen Iverson (Phi) 12.0 44.1 22 9.6 3.8
Stephon Marbury(NY) 15.9 46.1 27 8.5 3.8

* In Wade’s case, since he has played some SG and SF I used only opposing PG figures on 82games.com

Marbury allows by far the highest opponent’s PER, almost a full point above league average (set at 15). He is second worst to Nash in opponent’s shooting. He is worst in giving up penetration (as measured by % shots in close – a conservative measure), and unlike Dwyane Wade’s Heat the Knicks have no shotblockers protecting his back, or the rim for that matter. It is tempting in one respect to simply offset Marbury’s defensive liabilities against his phenomenal offensive production and live with the difference. But that would miss the point. Marbury’s incredible capacity to penetrate creates scoring opportunities for both he and his teammates. The opposite is true of his defense. Marbury’s defensive indifference, propensity to be beaten off the dribble, unwillingness to fight through screens, and freelancing create easy scoring opportunities for opponents, putting his teammates in a terrible bind. Unlike him, they cannot necessarily shoot their way out of a poor defensive showing. I would suggest that even if the team were blessed with much better interior defenders its defensive efficiency might not improve much, if at all. The guards allow so much penetration that many opponents’ shots are taken in high percentage areas.

At this point in Marbury’s career it seems unlikely that he is going to devote himself more fully to defense for more than a quarter here or there. Thus, even if the Knicks are fortunate enough to escape salary cap hell in the next 2 seasons, how can the team construct a title contender with Marbury as its focal player? I argue that it cannot. The team cannot surround him with enough offensive talent to offset his defensive liabilities with more scoring, a la Dallas of two seasons ago. Nor can the Knicks construct themselves like the San Antonio Spurs of three seasons ago, surrounding Marbury with 2 shot blockers and another perimeter defensive stopper. In order to do either Isiah Thomas would have to be perfect in all of his moves for the next 4-5 seasons. The far more sensible approach would be to attempt to build around another player where the gap between his offensive contributions and defensive liabilities is not nearly so wide.

Knicks Holiday Preview

[Today’s article comes from KnickerBlogger NBA Roster Head Analyst David Crockett, Ph.D., who in his part time is an Assistant Professor of Marketing at the University of South Carolina. He can be reached at dcrockett17@yahoo.com]

This summer I wrote an off-season preview for the Knicks in which I urged Isiah Thomas to continue rebuilding on the fly by eschewing (for a while at least) any more roster-gutting moves, concentrating instead on building from the back of the bench. In Part Two of that preview, titled ?What the Knicks Should Do Now,? I suggested the following.

I strongly urge the front office to pursue only players that bring better defense, versatility, or ball handling/passing to the team. On defense the team needs substantially better individual defense, especially in the frontcourt. On offense the team?s turnover problems stem from a serious absence of ball skills among the starters other than Marbury.

It was hardly surprising that Isiah had a reasonably similar assessment of the Knicks? major weaknesses. The Knicks were horrible in the aforementioned areas. This season the Knicks have shown some improvement in each of the areas, even if ever so slight. The Knicks are scoring 104 points per 100 possessions (pPts) and allowing 105pPts for a -1 differential according to 82games.com. Last season?s differential was -2. Part of this slight improvement is that the Knicks have become a tad better at hanging onto the ball and prying it away from their opponents. The team currently has a 16% turnover rate, turning opponents over at the same rate. Both numbers represent 1% improvements over last season. More substantially, the Knicks are also taking 24.5 trips to the free throw line (up over 3 attempts per game from last season) while giving up 26, slightly down from last season. These improvements, with less than a third of the season completed, are far from awe-inspiring. They are undeniably, however, improvements.

The Knicks, with limited salary cap flexibility into the foreseeable future, will find themselves best able to acquire these skills by leveraging its few valuable assets for draft picks and young, reasonably priced veterans who can help lay the foundation for a winning organization… The Knicks must address turnovers, defense, and free throws in order to improve. They cannot simply trade these problems off against each other. As I look at any transactions Isiah makes this off-season that is how I will assess them, including the second round pick in the upcoming draft.

Though not solely by choice, Isiah approached this past off-season in a manner not altogether inconsistent with my suggestions. Not nearly enough games have been played to offer anything close to an assessment on the wisdom of this off-season?s moves; however we have seen enough of this year?s Knicks to chronicle those players? roles on the team and how they address the team?s key weaknesses. Obviously the big off-season move was the sign-and-trade that brought Jamal Crawford for $55 million over 7 years and Jerome Williams who has 4 years remaining on his $40.8 million contract (team and player option in the ?07 season). (Crawford warrants a few comments in his own entire paragraph elsewhere.) Williams, the Junk Yard Dog, is a very versatile if expensive role player who has the ability to defend power forwards as well as centers in some situations. Isiah also drafted the athletically-gifted and defense-oriented Trevor Ariza from UCLA in the second round, and signed free agents Vin Baker, Bruno Sundov, and Jamison Brewer.

Thomas also eventually bought out the contract of Shandon Anderson, who is now averaging a career low 15.3 mpg with the Miami Shaqs. Of those moves, Williams and Baker are the two players who either carry burdensome contracts or who may be standing in the way of young talent that needs minutes. Vin Baker is an expensive insurance policy at a fragile position. Should the vastly improved Nazr Mohammed succumb to injury I suspect the Knicks would go small, sliding Kurt Thomas to center and starting Sweetney at power forward. In that scenario Baker would become the primary backup at center. As for JYD, how can anyone not love what he brings to the Knicks? His hustle, athleticism, and ability to finish are all things that endear him to fans but that are also quite valuable on the second unit? at power forward.

Crawford, who was the key acquisition this off-season, is a brilliant if erratic offensive talent. The sign-and-trade that brought him to New York is the classic high risk/high reward gamble. It is precisely the kind of gamble on which GMs make or break reputations. In one respect, since Crawford is a player entering his peak production years with no major injury risks this is not on its face a poor gamble. Conversely, his reputation for being a poor defender, streaky shooter, and generally immature in his decision making appears to have been well-earned. Whether he is able to overcome these shortcomings will go a long way towards determining Isiah?s legacy as an executive in New York and in the league, even more than the established Marbury.

At the time of this writing the Knicks are two games above .500 and feeling generally optimistic about how the first half of the season. Isiah publicly stated that a .500 record after 20 games would meet or exceed his expectations for the team, a mark the team was able to reach. So now what? How might the Knicks realistically improve as they enter year 2 in the EZ (Era of Zeke)? If we look at the four factors the Knickerblogger highlights on his stats page (shooting, turnovers, rebounds, free throws) we might get some clues.

? Shooting ? (15th off, 24th def) from an overall offensive efficiency standpoint the Knicks are just below the median (and just at the median based on eFG%). Defensively the Knicks are quite poor, 1.6 and 2 points respectively below median defensive efficiency and eFG defense.
? Turnovers ? (16th off, 18th def) the Knicks are middle of the pack in turnover rate both offensively and defensively.
? Offensive Rebounding ? (20th off, 11th def) the Knicks are middling, 20th ranked though less than a full rebound below the median. Defensively, the Knicks are doing a reasonable job of protecting their defensive boards.
? Free Throws ? (21th off, 15th def) on this dimension the Knicks are quite poor, ranked 21st in FTM/FGA, a full 1.5 below the median. However they are right at the median defensively, a marked improvement over last year.

That the Knicks, a barely above .500 team, are pretty mediocre across those categories thought by many to be the most closely correlated with winning is hardly a shock. The key question facing the team as it goes forward is how can it improve? Assuming that the team makes no major roster moves the Knicks can do two things to help improve their FG defense and their ability to get to the free throw line. (I realize that we?re talking about Isiah but trade deadline moves is another post altogether)

1. Play Sweetney more minutes ? Perhaps the only reason the Knickerblogger allows me to post to his blog is that when it comes to Michael Sweetney he and I both agree that Sweets should play the lion?s share of the power forward minutes on this team. [KB’s Note: Not true, the weekly check Dave sends me is enough.] I suppose that when it comes to campaigning for Sweetney, we’re kind of like the guys from the Guinness ?Brilliant!? ad campaign. Sweetney does exactly what the Knicks need. He crashes the offensive glass (brilliant!), scores in the post (brilliant!), and lives at the free throw line (brilliant!). Sweetney doesn?t have to start over Kurt Thomas but both should play roughly 40% of the team?s power forward minutes. This needs to be a priority for Lenny Wilkins.

2. Move Crawford to the second unit (eventually) ? Though moving Jamal Crawford to the second unit may rankle the New York punditry, who desperately wants to write the Batman and Robin story about the Marbury/Crawford pairing, I suspect that he will eventually meet with his greatest NBA success as a sixth man. He has a phenomenal array of offensive tools and skills. Yet as well as he has shot the ball this season at SG (48% eFG) his defense is, in a word, atrocious. In fairness, I should note that he is averaging over 1.5 steals per game (good for 17th in the NBA at the time of writing); nonetheless, he gives back a lot of points at the defensive end. Apart from that, once Houston is healthy, Crawford is the better fit coming off the bench with the high energy second unit.

As it concerns the second unit more broadly the Knicks really need to acquire or develop a point guard for the second unit. That unit, which usually features some combination of Norris, Ariza, Hardaway, JYD, and Sweetney, consistently plays with high intensity and is by far the best defensive combination. But unless that unit can get out and run it has a difficult time orchestrating the offense and scoring in the half-court. Moochie Norris has played admirably as the unit?s point guard, which is to say, not very well. He has played just under 10% of the team?s minutes at point guard this season amassing a whopping PER of 2.21. Pacer cast-off Jamison Brewer hasn?t played any better between stints on the DL but it?s difficult to imagine he can play much worse than Norris has. In addition, he has displayed some of the vaunted athleticism Isiah so covets.

Dallas 123 New York 94

I had spent the day on my couch with what was either food poisoning or a stomach virus. Unable to eat anything solid for 36 hours, and working from home, the only thing I had to look forward to was watching the Knicks face off against the Mavericks in the Garden. And I thought my day couldn’t get any worse.

Dallas embarrassed New York, coasting off their 39 point halftime lead to a 123-94 laugher. I should have known the Knicks were in trouble when they brought in Vin Baker in the first quarter. With Nazr in mild foul trouble, the Knicks need to bring in a big man. They could have either brought in Mike Sweetney, who’s offensive rebounding and high percentage shooting are what the Knicks’ lacked early on. Or they could have brought in Jerome Williams who’s high energy and defense would have provided helpful when New York came out flatter than the hardwood they play on. The Knicks’ announcers said Lenny Wilkens had to bring in Baker due to a “match-up” problem. Kurt Thomas couldn’t switch to center because he was the only Knick that could defend Nowitzki. Huh?

First when Sweetney and Thomas play together, it’s usually Sweetney that covers the other team’s center. So New York could have brought in Sweetney, and still played Thomas at PF. Secondly whether or not you consider Kurt to be a good defender, he’s certainly at his worst against PFs that can play from outside the post. Multi-talented guys like Antoine Walker, Dirk Nowitzki, and PFs that can hit the side of a barn like Kyle Korver, Croshere, and Kenny Thomas cause problems for Kurt. Finally, if it was defense that Wilkens was concerned with, he could have brought in Jerome Williams, who hounded Nowtizki in the first matchup.

In either case Nowitzki had no problems scoring, as he had 23 point by halftime. All of those were while Kurt Thomas was on the court, but he wasn’t the only New Yorker playing matador defense. Finley lit up the boys in orange & blue for 17 first half scores, and Howard poured in another 14. That’s 54 points from the Mavs new-not-so-big-three, by halftime.

Needless to say I didn’t stick around to catch the second half. I looked for something less depressing, and switched over to the Diary of Anne Frank. It’s too bad, because Bruno Sundov got some quality time, and it would have been nice to get a scouting report on him. Unfortunately the Knicks’ first half performance was all my stomach could handle.

Memphis 82 New York 90

Thanks to a good friend, I was able to watch tonight’s game from section 133. Some notes from the game:

  • When you enter the garden there is a huge (30 – 50 feet?) poster of about 6 or 7 Knicks. There’s the recognizable Knicks, Marbury, Thomas, etc. But one of them is Vin Baker. Do you think the one in Memphis has Tsakalidis in it?
  • Sweetney blocked a Gasol shot, and was the recipient of his hard work on the break for 2 easy points. Very impressive for him to block a taller player’s shot & hustle down the court to finish the play.
  • Right by Gate 60 there is a bar that sells good drinks. They’re inflated, but for an extra full or half buck you can get a real beer.
  • I saw Marbury hit 4 straight three pointers in the second quarter to singlehandedly bring the Knicks back into the game with a 2 point lead. What a big difference he can be when the other team isn’t double teaming him & he is free to shoot.
  • I’m pretty sure Marbury likes it from the top of the key, either just off to the left or right.
  • On his fifth consecutive attempt from beyond the arc, Marbury missed, but Sweetney was there to get the rebound & tip it back in.
  • Sweetney played most of the night at center. As long as it’s not someone of Shaq or Zydrunas’ skill, he should be able to earn more minutes that way.
  • If you show up during the second quarter, and you didn’t see if Tim Thomas played, you can always ask the guys in front of you. New Yorkers are very helpful if you ask one a direct question.
  • The same guys will give you hi-fives when their favorite player does something spectacular.
  • When JYD does something, most of the crowd will bark. Curiously everyone barks differently.
  • The halftime highlight show on the monitors showed a montage of the Knick bench. Baker appears two or three times early on, but none were from him actually playing in the game. Just like close-up head shots.
  • Trevor Ariza is fast.
  • Trevor Ariza fouls a lot.
  • When Kurt Thomas came in to replace Mike Sweetney in the fourth quarter, the crowd let up a big cheer. Now I definitely know I’m not the only that thinks he deserves more playing time.
  • Pau Gasol really didn’t like fouling out & took a little cajoling to get off the court.
  • Magazines commonly sold at Penn Station have a ratio of 7:1 of women to men on the cover. Of the women magazines 77% of them are showing off either their breasts/cleavage or have their back turned to show off their other main asset. Of the men on the covers, only 19% of the men magazine even have them showing as much as a bare shoulder.
  • 73% of inane stats come when you have to wait 15 minutes or more for a subway train, and have a pen & paper handy.

Way Too Early Season Review Part II

If you haven’t read Part I already, then you might want to do so now.


The main reason the Knicks can afford losing Kurt Thomas is because Mike Sweetney (18.1, 17.1, -6.2) is ready to play PF full time. I’m not the only one who feels this way. Back in June, supersonics.com writer Kevin Pelton said the best age-21 comparisons for Sweetney are Zach Randolph and Carlos Boozer. While Basketball Forecast author John Hollinger thinks the former Hoya is ready to break out and become a 14-12 guy. Sweetney has two major strengths: he can score efficiently, and he can rebound. He’s hitting 55% of his shots, and he leads the Knicks in points per shot attempt:

Player's Name	 PSA 
M. Sweetney.... 1.26
J. Williams.... 1.25
Stephon Marbury 1.20
N. Mohammed.... 1.14
J. Crawford.... 1.03
Kurt Thomas.... 1.00
A. Hardaway.... 0.96
Trevor Ariza... 0.88
Tim Thomas.... 0.83
Vin Baker...... 0.46
Moochie Norris. 0.44
Jamison Brewer. 0.41

(Jerome Williams’ PSA is that high because he only shoots when he’s 3 feet from the hoop with a clear path.)

In addition to being a good scorer, Sweetney had the highest rebound rate on the team last year. Isiah may not clear the way for him to start this year for numerous reasons. With the Knicks on a quest to win the Atlantic, they might not want to trust the PF position to a second year player, Zeke might not be able to peddle Kurt for something the Knicks need, or they’re keeping Thomas as insurance for the center position, because the backup is gulp Vin Baker (12, 20, -1.2 last year).

The most surprising Knick up to this point is Nazr Mohammed (21.5, 17.0, +14.2). Upon seeing his numbers I thought the improvement was because he cut down on his personal fouls, but his rate hasn’t changed over the last few years. The major improvements I’ve found are in his shooting percentage (52.7%) and offensive rebounding (6.1/40min). FG% is the stat that fluctuates the most from year to year, but this year’s improvement shouldn’t be a fluke considering he shot 56% after being traded to New York last year. What might drop Nazr back to earth is his offensive rebounding. His highest rate in a full season is 4.5OREB/40mins back in 2001, and he’s a point and a half ahead of that.

In fact I think Nazr’s improvment in shooting percentage is directly related to his offensive rebounding. Last year in Atlanta, Nazr had a lower rebounding percentage, only 49% of his shots were inside, and 63% of them were assisted. Whereas in New York, his numbers are 60% and 54% respectively. Simply put, since coming to the Knicks about 10% of his shots are now unassisted and in the paint. It sounds like he’s earning those by cleaning up on the glass.

Another thing I like about Nazr is his combination of good hands and ability to finish. Mohammed usually converts on a Marbury drive & pass in the paint. Mohammed’s downfall is his weak defense, especially at the critical center position. He doesn’t bail out the other Knick defenders with blocked shots, something the Knicks could use thanks to their all around poor defense.

I think the whole city of New York has watched every step of Tim Thomas on the court (4.0, 14.9, -8.3), and it’s safe to say that I don’t need to do a full review on him. If his problem was mental & he’s back to normal, I think we can give him a Mulligan on the first month of the season. If he doesn’t regain his form, he’ll be replaced in the lineup before long. His defense looks like it’s improved slightly, down from the 16.4 oPER from last year.

The Knicks best defensive position is SF (13.8 oPER). While Thomas has improved, it’s the other three guys that can take a lion’s share of the credit. Jerome Williams (18.7, 15.8, +11.9), Trevor Ariza (13.2, 13.4, -1.3), and occasionally Penny Hardaway (10.5, 11.7, +3) are all fine defenders in their own right. Unfortunately the revival of Tim Thomas spells less time for the two most energetic Knicks, Williams and Ariza. Early on in the season Ariza was getting good court time, but these days it’s likely that he’ll play less than 10 minutes. The recipient of Ariza’s decline in minutes is Jerome Williams who has worked his way out of the dog house (pun intended). The SF situation is the same as it was last Monday when I said:

New York has a real logjam. There doesn’t seem to be a clear solution in sight. Thomas and Hardaway are nearly untradeable due to their large contracts, while trading Ariza would be insane due to his potential. I’d hate to see Jerome Williams go, because his game is uniquely different from anyone else’s on the team. So maybe everyone stays until the summer, when Hardaway and Thomas become more attractive as $30M in expiring contracts.

If it seems that the Knicks have too many forwards, they might have a similar problem with the guards once Allan Houston becomes healthy. How Lenny Wilkens handles this should be interesting. Houston will initially come off the bench, but if he’s back to his true form, who plays the two guard spots in the fourth quarter between Starbury, Crawford and Houston? The guard quandary is more difficult to solve than the PF or SF one. Guys like Ariza, Sweetney and “JYD” can handle being benched due to their circumstances, but how do you tell the 3 Knicks accustom to taking last second shots that one has to sit?

Wilkens giving Ariza few minutes isn’t much to get upset about. Trevor is young and inexperienced, and there is a lot of depth at SF. But Lenny needs find more time for Sweetney. Although he’s averaging 17 minutes a game, his time has dwindled so much that against Toronto he played a total of 17 minutes in 2 games. There are times that Jerome Williams’ infectious style and hustle are what the Knicks will require, but for a majority of the time Sweetney should be the first big man off the bench.

Generally Wilkens gets a good grade in my book. Other than Sweetney’s playing time, I have a hard time finding anything else largely disagreeable. This year the Knicks have a fair amount of depth, and Wilkens has to walk a tight line between winning now, developing their young talent, and keeping everyone happy.

As I write this, the Knicks just slipped back over .500 with an OT win over the Hawks. Writing this took a life on it’s own, because the Knicks have so many interesting topics to hit on. This year we have developing youngsters, players battling for time, Allan Houston’s return, a division race, and the speculation that Isiah Thomas can rearrange the team at a moment’s notice. Watching tonight’s game made me realize that only a short time ago, the Knicks were more like the Hawks, a team just looking forward to the next draft.

David Weighs In On The Knicks SFs

It takes hours to read all the emails from my million or so adoring fans. This one comes from Dr. David Crockett Assistant Professor of Marketing, part-time KnickerBlogger and avid hoops fan.

As I said before, had the Knicks bought Anderson out this summer they’d probably have gotten a better bargain by giving him more flexibility in signing elsewhere. Nevertheless, it’s always a good sign when your leader recognizes a bad situation and gets out of it before things get worse.

You hit the nail on the head – the willingness for this Knicks regime to make changes. Before Isiah, the Knicks would have stayed pat with guys like Shanderson. For two years it was the same 30-something win team with little change. Even when Layden had created some excitement in the draft with Sweetney, Lampe and Vranes, he couldn’t get rid of dead weight like Othella Harrington & Weatherspoon to give them any playing time.

As I understand it, Shanderson comes off our cap now, right? If so, the cap space going forward is the most valuable commodity that’s been gained.

Sorry the KnickerBlogger staff capologist is vacationing in Greenland right now, so I’m not 100% sure about this. As far as I can tell, Shanderson’s salary still counts against the cap. If another team signs him, the Knicks get a reduction, which should be something like (his contract – the minimum contract)/2. In other words, unless someone is dumb enough to sign him for a LOT of money, the Knicks will see little cap improvement. The good news is that with New York’s cap situation, the cap space means nothing. Or is that bad news?

As it concerns signing Eddie Robinson, it’s a 1 year deal for the remainder of the $1.3. That’s the minimum he could sign for, right? It’s hard to fuss with that for a guy who is notoriously on again-off again. To me this is a wise (read: inexpensive, short-term) gamble.

Eddie just failed his physical. Although it doesn’t mean the Knicks won’t sign him when he’s healthy.

Speaking more broadly however, the open courtship of E-Rob even dating back to last season, says to me that TT’s leash may be quite short with Isiah. Thus he has picked the absolute worst possible time to play such horrible basketball. He may not be fully recovered from his back injury. He may be having a garden-variety slow start. Or he may be staring over the edge of the same cliff Roberto Alomar dove off upon coming to NY. I cannot say for sure which. What I can say is that the Knicks can probably get good production from the SF in a platoon that features Hardaway, Robinson, and an emerging Ariza.

I suspect that TT’s biggest issues in NY have less to do with his back and more to do with a chronic case of diarrhea of the mouth, which last season cannot have endeared him to many people. After all the ire he eventually directed at his teammates for not indulging his foolishness last season against the Nets, he may well be talking his way out of yet another situation that was tailor-made for him to do well.

I don’t think Tim Thomas is driving off Robby Alomar cliff at the tender age of 27, and he doesn’t look hurt. So I’m sticking with the “slow start” theory. Shooting-wise, he started off the game great tonight, but cooled off, and was quiet for the rest of the game. The problem with Tim is the lack of much else beyond scoring. In the first two minutes alone, Stephen Marbury got two easy rebounds that Thomas could have had. It just smacks of a lack of effort on his part. To make matter worse, Trevor Ariza looked impressive again, although he needs a little more finishing before he can be reliable day in & day out.

When I first heard that Isiah wanted to sign Eddie Robinson, two thoughts came to my head. Isiah likes projects: Nazr Mohammed, Vin Baker, DerMarr Johnson, and even Tim Thomas on some level. Zeke is a beach goer with a metal detector and a shovel, frantically digging for something he can trade in.

Next, I wondered why Isiah would want a SG/SF? We need a backup center, not a 4th SF. That led me to believe that one of the Knicks SF might be on the way out. Tim Thomas’ enormous contract makes him tough to deal, but Isiah has moved bad contracts before, usually by acquiring even more contracts. The other option I could think of is JYD. Williams seems to be the odd man out of the rotation early on in the year. He’s overpaid for what he brings, but I’m sure there is one GM out there that might want him for his “energy” on & off the court. Don’t get me wrong Williams isn’t valuable enough to bring in anything worth while, and would have to be packaged with someone – most likely Kurt Thomas. The last option is to keep Robinson as a DerMarr Johnson type. Maybe play 20-30 games, all garbage time & injury emergency.

Even without signing Robinson, the Knicks do have a little depth at SF. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of them were shipped before the trading deadline.

Sixers 88 Knicks 96

For most of the first quarter there was nothing new to the Knicks attack. They mostly played a perimeter game consisting of one of three things:

  • Marbury asking for the pick & roll.
  • Marbury faking the pick & roll & driving to the hoop
  • Crawford using his dribble to get an open jumper.

The Knicks big guys were either to join in the perimeter attack (Kurt Thomas on the pick & roll) or do what Nazr Mohammed did. The Knicks’ starting center scored the first of his two first quarter field goals by waiting for a guard to dish the ball after being doubled team on a penetration drive. The second one Nazr earned with an offensive rebound and put back.

However things changed with about 3 minutes left. The Knicks dumped the ball in the low post to Michael Sweetney. It seemed natural to see New York work out of the post. Sweetney didn’t spin continuously in the paint & muscle his way to a jump hook like Larry Johnson used to. He didn’t hold the ball for 10 seconds and drive toward the middle to take a strong running shot in the lane like Patrick Ewing did in his day. Instead the second year player deftly spun to the paint and gently dropped a finger roll into the net.

In fact Sweetney asked for the ball two more times at the start of the second quarter, and the Knicks feed it to him for post-up scores. The announcers declared it was the first time they’ve ever seen him asking for the ball. That’s a long way from the “wide-eyed rookie” I described him as less than a year ago. That description could have fit Trevor Ariza.

Actually Ariza’s skills make him a Jekyl & Hyde player. He’s calm & confident in transition, or when the focus is not on him in the half court. One play in the first quarter exemplifies Ariza’s strengths. He stole the ball near midcourt, and beat out everyone to the ball and laid it in leaving everyone else trailing behind him on the play. It looked like Ariza was jogging while everyone else was running at full speed. Clearly, he was in his element.

On the other hand, Ariza looks lost in the half court game. His first jumper rebounded high over the backboard, causing him to loose faith in his shot. By my count, he passed up 3 open jump shots in the first half. The other end of the court didn’t offer any solace for Ariza, where his one-on-one defense was lacking. Before watching him tonight, I thought the Knicks should trap & press with him in the game. Writing his strengths & weaknesses down on (electronic) paper just reinforces this idea.

Ariza played plenty of minutes thanks to Tim Thomas having his third bad game in a as many attempts. By halftime, Thomas had played 15 minutes and had 0 rebounds with 3 points on 6 attempts. I wonder how many more bad games Thomas can afford before the Knicks hand over the SF starting job to Ariza. The Knicks can’t afford to have Thomas as an overpaid SF sitting on the bench, especially when Shanderson is doing so well in that role. Tim’s huge contract would make him even more impossible to trade if he can’t beat out a 19 year old that every team passed up at least once. I’m sure Wilkens will give him a $12.9M dollar long leash.

Unfortunately Michael Sweetney doesn’t have the luxury Ariza does. Kurt Thomas did what coaches love, all the small things. He blocked two of Iverson’s shots in the first half, and was aggressive on the offensive glass. Thomas ended up with only 8 points, but had 4 offensive rebounds and 4 blocked shots. Even though Sweetney was 4-4 in the first half, he only had 10 minutes in the first half, and didn’t get back into the game until 3:30 in the 3rd quarter. He didn’t take another shot after the first half. Kevin Pelton asked me the other day if this is Sweetney’s team yet. He’d be the starting PF if the other Thomas was ahead of him on the depth chart.

The Knicks best front court was when Michael Sweetney played next to Kurt Thomas. Philly doesn’t have a center that would make New York pay for such a transgression, so the Knicks were able to get away with a small lineup. When bigger centers come to town, Sweetney may loose some of those minutes when the Knicks are forced to play a center bigger than 6’9. Sweetney played only 17 minutes, and that’s with Jerome Williams and Vin Baker getting a combined 3 minutes. Although part of his low minute total can be attributed to 5 personal fouls.

Nazr Mohammed put up great numbers, good enough for the New York press to not be able to use the words “Keith Van Horn” until at least Friday. Unlike Sweetney, Mohammed stayed out of foul trouble which enabled him to play 32 minutes and score 18 points. More impressively he had 3 steals and 3 offensive rebounds.

Simply, the Knicks beat up on a bad team. I can’t blame them for it, because you can only beat who the schedule makers pit you against. New York plays the Clippers at home next, before facing a brutal road trip against 4 top notch opponents. For the time being, I’ll enjoy tonight’s victory & everything that comes with it.