Golden State Warriors 122 – New York Knicks 95 – Game Recap

“Why do you put lipstick on a pig?” asked James, while going out of the barn to bring some more water to the cows. His hands were dirty and sweaty, but not in a natural way. If was as if he deliberately sprayed sweat and dirt on him, like a make up artist versed in hillbilly flicks, thinking that dirt and sweat were the poster boys of a well done job in a farm in North Carolina.

Michael raised his eyes, while wiping out the sweat from his brow. The heat was starting to become insufferable, but he was used to it, having endured many a summer of hard work. He knew that it didn’t matter how much you worked in the fields, it was always more likely than not that the results wouldn’t be up to the amount of effort put in. A few summers ago he worked like crazy and anyway the harvest was one of the poorest in his more than decennal tenure at Stenton farm.

“Well”, Michael said. His voice was raspy from the bourbon, the only real vice he indulged in. “Have you ever cared for anything in your life, James?”

“Of course”, James answered back.

“Are you really sure?”

James wasn’t that sure. He was at least 20, maybe 25 years younger than Michael. Did he ever care about anything? He grew in a world where pretty much everyone was jaded. The climate change was a sad reality since he was a kid. Things always looked bleak, even for a spoiled child like he was. Growing up, he could never shed that cynical attitude. He just learned to fake something else. He faked the enthusiasm at being great at solving math problems. He faked the love for his first girlfriend. He faked his satisfaction in owning his first car. Actually, when the fact that his life was a big fake started to set in, that was when he took a sabbatical and decided to go work for the Stentons. He thought working close to nature would bring up some spirit in him, maybe a little spark of joy for life. He ended up faking the sweat and the dirt, go figure.

“I… I don’t know, Michael.”

“Well, I did. I mean, I still do. But you have to know that when I was young sports used to be a big deal.”

“Sports? As in, Nascar racing?”

“No, you dumbheaded kiddo. Have you ever heard of the Knicks? The New York basketball team?”

“Yeah. The name rings a bell”

Actually, James was faking even this. He never cared about sports, but whatever. What’s a white lie in the thick of July, if not a fresh breeze on your rugged conscience.

“You know, James, I used to root for them.”

James listened a little more carefully. It was one of the first times Michael actually started to open up with him. Michael wasn’t really secluded, but, well, he didn’t give the impression of a guy who likes to talk a lot about himself.

“Sometimes, in life, destiny chooses you, James. Like a toxic relationship with the crazy redhead you knew in La Jolla when you were 18, even fandom can sometimes be doomed. And destiny, as in “being a Knicks fan”, chose me.”

James was a little set aback by the gravity of those words. Michael never used such a solemn tone, not even the time when they had to tell the Stentons two cows were dead because of a wicked intestinal parasite.

“You know, I got lucky though. Destiny handed me a terrible hand at sports, but gave me company. I wasn’t alone in rooting for them. There were a lot of guys like me”

James kept listening, but couldn’t bring himself to stop looking at the pig with the literal lipstick on it.

“And we had a community. A sports blog. You know what that is, James?”

“Yeah. My dad used to have a music blog. My granddad once talked about something called MySpace. I think I know what it is. But what does that have to do with you smearing red paste on a swine?”

“You see, James”, said Michael (was that his real name? who knew) with his Italian accent that never went away, “I used to write for that blog. In the 2018/2019 season. And many times I felt like trying to squeeze something good from the game was like putting lipstick on a pig. But I cherished that duty. So, when I feel particularly sentimental, I put lipstick on a pig, and daydream of when I was younger and life was beautiful, and my Knicks were being beaten on a regular basis. I put lipstick on a pig because that’s what I got used to do, and I somehow liked doing it.”


A few notes from the game:

– Every single Knick has become (or has stayed) an horror show to watch. I keep some faith in Vonleh, but I feel like he’s slipping a bit. Every other guy is a dagger through the cornea of any knowledgeable fan. I found zero reasons to be even slightly happy during the last 48 minutes of play.

– The game was close until the last moments of the second quarter. Then the Warriors stopped fooling around and we kept on sucking. Numbers alone can’t tell you how much we sucked, and I wish I could embed here a gif of Timmy almost losing the ball by himself near the offensive baseline, just to recover it and then trying to pass it only for the ball to hit the side of the backboard. The kids who competed during a timeout to go the All-Star game to represent the Warriors were, like, 8 years old and showed a lot more comfort in handling the ball.

– Mario with a vengeance! He scored 19 points on 12 shots, grabbed 6 boards, and still I feel like I contributed more to the game by watching it on my sofa.

– Some of your Knicks in January and their PPG/RPG/APG splits (I dare you to say that this isn’t the worst team in the league):

Emmanuel Mudiay: 13.5/3.5/6.5 on 34.4 FG%. third worst in plus/minus for the month. Add 2 turnover per game to the package. Sounds like a guy we should want to extend for at least 8 million dollars per year.

Tim Hardaway Jr: 14/3.3/1 on 40.8 FG% (not a typo. I don’t know how it’s possible that Chuck junior is shooting better than 40%). Second worst in plus/minus for the month. Just what the doctor ordered for 17 million dollars.

Kevin Knox: 13/3.5/0.8 on 35.6 FG%. This guys plays 32 minutes per game and can’t squeeze a single assist per night. Amazing.

Noah Vonleh: 8.3/10.5/2.3 on 34.5 FG%. Worst in plus/minus. Tied for second in assists with Kanter. This is your season MVP. Do what you want with those facts.

Luke Kornet: 9.3/3.8/0.5 on 46.2 FG%. With one block per game he’s by far the team leader in blocks for the month.

Enes Kanter: 15.8/14.3/2.3 on 54.3 FG%. I was happy for us at the thought of Enes getting bought out or plain waived. Now I’m happy for him. Best in the team at pretty much everything, plus/minus included.

Mario Hezonja: 14.3/5/0.7 on 57.7 FG%. Things are so bad that now I’m actually rooting for him when he’s on the court out of self-pity. I want to feel bad. I want to feel sick. Second in plus/minus.

– I don’t know how it’s possible, but we play worse without THJ. THJ sucks. What does that say about the other guys?

– Damyean Dotson is shooting 26.1% from the field in January. What happened to him? Long live Fiz, the great player developer.

– Allonzo Trier is borderline unplayable. Get him some rest and try to get his head straight. I can’t shake the feeling that Trier relaxed with his contract signed. I know we’re marred by injuries but you can find a lot of combo guards in the G-League for 10-day contracts. It’s time.

I don’t know what to say about this game other than this few things. There was nothing to salvage here apart from the usual empty-calorie rebounding tally by Kanter and a few useless Mario dunks. The Warriors are good, but we’re really, really bad.

God, let’s really hope we don’t end up with Cam Reddish as the result of this season.




Golden State Warriors 128 – New York Knicks 100 – Game Recap

I guess this is what it feels like to be a happy loser. We lost by 28 to the Warriors (entering the final quarter with a three-point lead) and I couldn’t care less about the end result. While I was watching the third quarter, I found myself thinking “I hope we lose tonight; after all, we already exceeded our goal for this match, and we have to rack up losses”. And that was what happened: we lost, badly, and I was extremely happy for us.

The good vibes started when the starting lineup was announced. Frank at PG, Dot at SF and Mitch at C? I was tingling with curiosity and expectations. Let’s just say I wasn’t let down a tiny bit. We kept the game competitive until 5:32 remaining in the last quarter (and then we just rolled over and died, but who cares), while playing our rookies and second year players at least 16 minutes each.

The good:

– Noah Vonleh (7 pts, 5 rebs, 4 ast, -6 +/-) was a big reason why the ball didn’t stick too much in one place on offense. He was all over the court, acting often as a release valve for the ball handler – if only to give the ball back to him after a millisecond – and threw a couple slick passes that found Mitch free under the basket. His defense wasn’t bad and his energy level was instrumental in giving fits to the Warriors offense. I’m not sure it was a lot of sense to play him alongside another big man who can’t stretch the floor, but if that is what’s needed to open up playing time for Mitch, I’m all in.

– Mitchell Robinson (7 pts, 6 rebs, 2 stl, -12 +/-) didn’t have exactly a good game in itself, but let’s put it this way: dude is 20, this was his first start in the NBA (and fifth NBA game overall) and didn’t play organized basketball at all last season. It’s like being given the keys to a Ferrari shortly after getting back to the USA from a long stay in Tokyo, where the cars are right-hand drive only, and having only driven a Prius for the last few days. The main goal is not to crash the damn thing on a lamppost on your first 90 degree left turn. Mitch clearly didn’t crash it, as he looked a little lost in the first half, but gained a lot of confidence in the second. In the third quarter he was a pogo stick who disrupted countless Warriors plays just by jumping around and moving his freakish arms. He also dissipated my fear that he couldn’t handle more than 15 minutes in a game, be it because of foul trouble of poor conditioning: he played 29 minutes, was called for two fouls and didn’t look exhausted at the end. He can be a monster offensive rebounder in short spurts, and to be honest I didn’t expect him to have such an impact on the game. Now, if he learns how to set screens and to box out under the defensive glass, in two seasons he’s gonna be a real beast. Move away Capela, here comes the next rim running center of the future. I can’t wait to see him play the PnR with Frank – or any other competent PG to be honest – in 2020-21 with KP spotting up on the weakside, or being the man called to clean up the mess after someone threw him a Kobe assist.

– Frank Ntilikina (17 pts, 1 reb, 2 ast, -12 +/-) was much more aggressive than usual, and clearly benefits from playing at PG even if he isn’t your prototypical playmaker. Aside from a couple of boneheaded fouls and turnovers, and a lack of assists due to his preferred style of horizontal passing, this was the Frank we hoped he could be. In control, assertive, confident. In the first five games of the season, played primarily at SF, he never scored in double digits. Tonight he got there in the first half. We’re still waiting for him to have a complete game, but tonight was a great night for us Frank fans. He struggled a bit on defense, but well, who doesn’t on Curry-Thompson-KD? I just don’t understand why Fiz took him out in the third with 6 minutes to go while he was cooking, effectively stopping his momentum, only to put him back into the game with the score already compromised. I think a 20 points game would have done wonders for his development in terms of mindset, and this one was as good as any to get there. Well, nevermind, let’s hope this Frank shows up to the next game. First time this season his usage was 20+ (22.7).

– Damyean Dotson (12 pts, 7 rebs, 1 stl, -9 +/-) scored in double digits for the fourth time in a row and had his standard great game on the boards. I’m worried a bit about his futile passing game, but as a 3-and-D rotation cog you really could do much worse than this. He also was passable on defense, and his basketball demeanor looks like he’s got the right to stick in the league for a few years. Here’s hoping he won’t be the one to lose playing time when Knox gets back.

The bad:

– Uh, no one? I know, it’s weird to say that when you lose by 28, but this is what a competently executed rebuild looks like.

– Nah, I was joking. Lance Thomas (2 pts, 1 reb, 1 ast, -12 +/-) has totally regressed to the Lance of yore, a sorry excuse for an apparently hustling basketball player who does nothing on the court. I don’t know where preseason Lance went, but we have no use for this Lance, and he shouldn’t set foot on the court unless every other wing player is hurt. Giving him 20 minutes tonight, while giving only 25 to Frank, is the only glaring mistake by Fizdale. I propose to give to Lance the 2018-19 Jason Collins award for “most unproductive rotation player in the NBA”.

Fun-sized bits:

– Trey Burke (15 pts, 2 rebs, 2 ast, -16 +/-), Enes Kanter (8 pts, 13 rebs, 2 ast, -17 +/-) and Tim Hardaway Jr. (24 pts, 2 rebs, 3 ast, -15 +/-) were all pretty good at scoring when nothing else was working, but nobody had a particularly efficient game. I can’t complain about that, anyway, since they were coming off the bench to stir things up when the action was stalling… Oh wait, THJ is still in the starting lineup and played a team-high 36 minutes. Now, I know that this critique on Timmy is starting to feel a bit stale, but my Eurobasket roots are irked everytime he takes the ball with the clear intent of shooting it without conscience. I like his quick release on spot up threes, even if some of those are pretty much ill-advised (he tried one in the first quarter from at least 32 feet with no reason for it), but I don’t like one iota the dribble-dribble-dribble-shoot facet of his game.

– Let’s talk about Mitch. I didn’t feel this excited for a Knicks prospect since KP. I’m not saying they’re equals – in fact, here’s my bet that Mitch will end up being more productive than KP at the end of their respective careers – I’m saying that he is, between first and second year Knicks players, without a doubt the one with the most potential to become a nightmare for other teams when in full blossom. Kid is just a fenomenal specimen, and runs like a fast guard.

– Allonzo Trier’s shine is wearing off a bit, but he never seems a fish out of water. That’s always something for an undrafted rookie.

– Durant and Curry are insane. In other news, the sun is hot.

– No but really. Durant won the game by himself and there was nothing anybody could do to stop him. I don’t know if I want him to come here next year (opportunity costs, yadda yadda yadda) but he’s the most effortless scorer I have ever seen, and I saw prime Jordan. He’s a cold-blooded assassin, and his role in today’s NBA might be severely underrated.

– In the third quarter, the Warriors seemed to turn over the ball every other possession. I fully expected their box score to report 20+ turnovers by the end of the night, but it said only 14. I’m still dumbfounded by that.

Nothing else to report, but let’s get carried away by irrational hope after this peculiar youngsters-led outing! I can’t wait to watch the next game, it’s gonna be wild if these pups keep on playing like this.

See ya on Monday!

Kevin Pelton, Killing It

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lots of Stuff From the Beat

Lots of good info from the Knicks’ beat writers. Whoda thunk a 1-9 team with no draft pick and no game for a few days would merit so much good ink?

First, Newsday’s Alan Hahn nails it with “Knicks had to get it right, and didn’t”.

Meanwhile, Donnie Walsh and his staff had to get this draft pick right. Not only because of how valuable a lottery pick can be to a rebuilding franchise, but because the team doesn’t have a first round pick in2010. Every criteria had to be exhausted when considering all of the draft candidates at No. 8 and that includes character.

A kid that shows up at his first NBA Summer League admittedly not in great shape, to me, shows major character flaws. How much does he want it? How much does he care?

There are two kinds of players in the NBA: those who love basketball and those who love the life. One goes to the gym at night and puts up shots. The other goes to the club and puts down shots and sweats.

You feel me?

With the No. 8 pick in the draft, you try your best to get the first kind. Or at least one who has the tendencies to be the first kind.

So the fair criticism right now is to analyze the decision the Knicks made to take the not-yet-ready Hill and leave Jennings and Ty Lawson, two dynamic guards, on the board.

And where are the other scouts who should have been aware of Jennings even before he left for Europe? Was there enough of a debate in the War Room that night as the Knicks were on the clock and had gotten over losing Stephen Curry to the Warriors?

Curry topped the list and, despite his mercurial start with Dysfunction State, would have been the best fit. Tyreke Evans was also high on the list, I’m told, and yet it’s interesting that Jennings had his pre-draft workout for the Knicks against the much bigger Evans and, from what I’ve heard, he really took it to Evans. I remember Jennings walking out of the gym feeling very confident in himself that day.

Lawson, the Carolina product who we touted here at the Fix as early as the 2008 draft, was also up at the MSG Training Center in June for a pre-draft workout. Walsh really liked Lawson but, again, size (5-11, 195) was a major issue. And the other question was whether Lawson was a top 10 pick. Almost everyone had him projected in the teens and that’s exactly where he went. Denver traded an unprotected 2014 first-rounder to land him from Minnesota, which took him at No. 18.

Lots of good points here. The significance of the 2009 draft, and a little bit of why the Knicks passed on Lawson & Jennings. Additionally Hahn takes the Knicks to task for not knowing Hill’s motor (or apparent lack thereof).

Berman gets a good quote from Walsh:

Knicks team president Donnie Walsh told The Post yesterday the club’s franchise-worst 1-9 start is his fault and no one else’s, taking the heat off coach Mike D’Antoni.
The Knicks, who had the day off from practice yesterday, don’t play again until Wednesday in Indiana and have to marinate in the shame of being the first Knicks team to start a season 1-9. The franchise dawned in 1946.
“I’m not blaming the players, not blaming the coaches, I’m not blaming anyone but myself,” Walsh told The Post. “I feel this is my responsibility more than Mike’s or the players. Maybe the team doesn’t have all the elements.”

Hmmm blaming the front office for this start – where have I heard that before?

The Daily News, courtesy of Mitch Lawrence, give some insight into D’Antoni’s practice.

The New York Zombies, er, Knicks, returned to the practice floor Sunday in Greenburgh, with Eddy Curry taking a step toward returning to action this week and Wilson Chandler accepting a potential demotion to a bench role.

Curry could see his first action of the season Wednesday in Indiana. Mike D’Antoni, who called his players “zombies” after it went through the motions Friday in a loss to Golden State, isn’t sure how many minutes Curry will get against the Pacers.

His plan is to give Curry some minutes in the first half, then see if he merits more action. “Given that (D’Antoni’s) system is based on running, it’s definitely hard,” Curry said. “But I think I’m catching on and he is being very patient with me.”

But it appears that D’Antoni has run out of patience with Chandler, who has started the first 10 games, first at guard and more recently at forward. A demotion would mark a setback for both Chandler and the Knicks. D’Antoni has said a number of times that one of his primary objectives this season is to develop his top young players, starting with Danilo Gallinari and Chandler.

Yesterday, D’Antoni concentrated on defense, with Jared Jeffries, a reserve since the fourth game of the season, working with the first team and Chandler a second-teamer. As for Chandler’s move to the bench, D’Antoni wasn’t ready to announce it. “We’re still searching a little bit,” he said. “We don’t know yet, to be honest with you.”

With the Knicks offense reeling, seems like a great idea to get Jared Jeffries into the starting lineup. Maybe New York can grab Bruce Bowen to help light it up too? With a lineup of Duhon, Bowen, and Jeffries, you could have Barkley and Shaq as the 4/5, and still not break 100 points.

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.


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

2009 Report Card: Al Harrington

Historically New York has had good luck with getting malcontents from Golden State. Back in 1999, the Knicks traded for Latrell Sprewell who was suspended by the Warriors for choking Coach P.J. Carlesimo. Spre’s strong defense helped New York reach the Finals that year. Nearly 10 years later, Golden State shipped another unhappy player to Gotham. Although the 2009 Knicks weren’t nearly as successful as their 1999 squad, the team benefited from Harrington’s presence.

Like the player he was traded for, Jamal Crawford, Al Harrington’s most pronounced skill is shot creation. But unlike Crawford, Harrington actually is productive when scoring. Harrington’s true shooting percentage for the Knicks last year (55.5%) was 10 points better than Crawford’s best year in New York (54.5%) and 25 points higher than his career average with the team (52.9%). Last year he was just above his career average from three (2009: 36.2%, career: 35.9%), while attempting a career high nearly 7 per game (6.5 3pa/g, or 6.7 3pa/36). He can drive to the hoop and score from inside as well. Although not as skilled as Lee or Zach Randolph, Harrington is able to draw contact and score in traffic. Much like Eddy Curry, Harrington will continue with the ball towards the hoop no matter how many defenders follow. The difference between Harrington and Curry is that Al doesn’t bowl over defenders or lose the ball as often (2.3 to/36 to Curry’s 3.2).

Unfortunately Harrington doesn’t pass well. Many of Harrington’s passes seem to bounce off his recipient’s hands or are caught awkwardly losing momentum. I have two theories on his sharing woes. The first is that his passes are usually near the hoop with the other player close by, so that his passes are too fast for the short distance. The second is that Al passes so infrequently that his teammates don’t expect the ball to come to them. Perhaps it’s a bit of both, since the passes occur so close to the basket the receiving player is gearing up for a rebound. In any case it’s something to watch for in 2010.

As for the rest of his game, Harrington is a poor rebounder for his size and a below average defender. To put into perspective how bad Harrington’s rebounding is, David Lee nearly doubled his rebounds per minute (12.1 reb/36 to 6.4 reb/36) despite both players standing 6-9. Harrington’s blocked shot rate (0.3 blk/36) was also poor.

Overall he was and will be a good fit for Coach D’Antoni’s offense. Harrington’s multifaceted and efficient scoring was a refreshing fit, considering the person he was traded for (Jamal Crawford) and the person whose minutes he inherited (Zach Randolph). But ultimately the lacking elements of his game make him unworthy of a large contract or a starting role. He’d be a fine bench player for the mid level, but considering the Knicks’ monetary crunch for 2010 and Harrington’s current salary ($8.5M) I don’t see many scenarios that would keep Harrington in New York after this year.

Report Card (5 point scale):
Offense: 4
Defense: 2
Teamwork: 1
Rootability: 3
Performance/Expectations: 4

Grade: B

Similarity Scores:

.000 Al Harrington 2009 TOT 15.9 .547 .509 20.8 1.4 6.4 1.4 1.2 0.3 2.3
.040 Josh Howard 2009 DAL 17.0 .532 .488 20.3 1.3 5.7 1.8 1.2 0.6 1.9
.073 Nate Williams 1979 GSW 14.7 .542 .501 18.6 1.9 5.7 1.7 1.5 0.1 2.6
.075 Jamaal Wilkes 1982 LAL 16.5 .554 .525 21.5 1.9 4.9 1.8 1.1 0.3 2.0
.081 Keith Van Horn 2004 TOT 17.8 .564 .506 17.9 2.3 7.7 1.8 1.0 0.5 2.6
.086 Wayman Tisdale 1993 SAC 15.7 .540 .509 19.9 2.0 7.9 1.7 0.8 0.7 1.8
.092 Cedric Ceballos 1998 TOT 19.3 .560 .517 19.5 2.7 8.0 2.2 1.2 0.6 2.6
.096 Lamond Murray 2002 CLE 16.7 .534 .487 18.3 1.3 5.8 2.4 1.1 0.7 2.2
.111 Corliss Williamson 2002 DET 20.0 .567 .511 22.5 2.5 6.8 2.0 1.0 0.6 2.9
.113 Richard Jefferson 2009 MIL 15.4 .554 .487 19.7 0.7 4.6 2.4 0.8 0.2 2.0
.123 Chris Crawford 2004 ATL 15.8 .544 .495 17.0 1.7 5.2 1.3 1.1 0.6 1.6
.128 George McCloud 1996 DAL 15.9 .543 .514 18.9 1.5 4.8 2.7 1.4 0.5 2.1