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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Eddy Curry Study

“There is real hope that Eddy will develop into a league-leading center,” (Knicks owner James) Dolan said. “If you watched the second quarter of the San Antonio game he was pretty good. That’s Larry’s job … to get him from one quarter to four quarters.”
New York Daily News
March 02, 2006

Whether it’s due to the variety of cultures or the sheer number of inhabitants, New Yorkers rarely agree on anything. However, thanks to James Dolan & the Knicks front office, 2006 has given New Yorkers a topic all can agree upon: The New York Knicks suck. While Big Apple residents often have the propensity to overstate their cases, it’s hard to be a contrarian on this issue. At 17 wins and 44 losses, New York is dead last in the NBA standings. Additionally the Knicks have the NBA’s worst salary cap situation. Not only do they currently have the league’s highest salary, but they continue to trade for and sign players to exorbitant long term contracts.

Since their 2000 season ended, the boys in blue & orange have been in a slow & steady decline. It’s no coincidence that the Knicks demise is accompanied by two major events that left them absent of a quality big man. Patrick Ewing was traded to Seattle in the summer of 2000, and Marcus Camby was sent packing over a year later. While I’m not obtuse enough to think that you need a dominant center to win in the NBA, New York’s most successful teams have been lead by the man in the middle. The 70s Knicks wouldn’t have been the same without Willis Reed. Patrick Ewing kept the team afloat in the 80s and 90s. And Marcus Camby almost catapulted them to an improbable Finals victory in 2000. Since then, the Knicks have attempted to fill this void with undersized power forwards like Kurt Thomas and Mike Sweetney. New York’s only playoff appearance in this period was when they had a serviceable (but past his prime) Dikembe Mutombo roaming the paint.

It’s probably these kinds of thoughts Isiah Thomas had in his head when he signed Eddy Curry for 6 years and $60M. Curry is only 23 years old, and at a listed 6’11 285lbs is no undersized power forward. There is no doubt that once Curry releases the ball, he is an able scorer. In David Crockett’s last KB.Net article, he said of Curry:

You can count nine centers with better offensive production (Shaq, Duncan, both Wallaces, Ilgauskas, Brad Miller, Zo, Okur, and Gadzuric), and all but Gadzuric are a good bit older than Curry.

And this is where the opinions of Curry begin to diverge. Although he doesn’t lack the ability to score, it’s the other aspects of the game that elude Eddy. He seems disinterested on the defensive end, is a timid defensive rebounder, and turns the ball over too often. When Isiah Thomas decided to pursue Eddy Curry, he must have thought that these attributes would change. In fact the quote above shows that the Knicks owner, James Dolan, feels the same way. But is this true? How likely is it that New York’s present center will become their center of the future?

To answer a question like this, we just need to look in the past. To find players similar to Mr. Curry, I limited myself to 23 year olds who were 6’10 or taller. I also limited myself to the last 25 years, or what I would term the modern era of the NBA (1980 or since). This is due to the changes in the game including the ABA/NBA merger, the three point line, gaps in statkeeping (blocks, steals, turnovers), etc. Using this information, we can gauge how likely it is for Curry to become a more productive player. If we look at 23 year old players whose defensive rebounding rates were close to Curry’s (5.0 & 6.2 DREB/40 min) we find that after 3 years those same players on average saw a meager increase of 0.5 defensive rebounds per 40 minutes. Optimists will find comfort in the knowledge that there were a few players who started out as timid as Eddy, and turned into excellent rebounders.

Marcus Camby was an awful rebounder for the Toronto Raptors, which is probably the reason they traded him to New York. In his first two years he averaged 5.5 and 5.3 defensive rebounds per 40 minutes. In New York, his rates steady increased until blossoming as a full time starter in 2001. That year Marcus averaged 9.9 defensive rebounds per 40 minutes, nearly double his average in Toronto. Another player who went from hyalophobe to hyalophile is Jayson Williams. Like Camby, in his first two seasons Williams showed a fear of glass for the Sixers. And just like Marcus, Jayson nearly doubled his defensive rebounding by age 26, snaring 10.0 DREB/40min.

Camby and Williams show that it’s not impossible for Curry to become a strong rebounder. However if you’re going to start to tout Curry as a future All Star, you might want to preface your statement with something to the effect of being a blind optimist who will be winning the lotto in the near future. By looking at defensive rebounding averages of all players from age 23 to 36 (see graph below), players will hit their peak around the age of 27 and begin to decline at around 32. From this data it might be reasonable to incur that Curry will be at best a league average rebounder for a man of his size, and at worst remain a poor rebounder.

By using this same technique, we can also analyze his turnover and blocked shot rate. The next two charts reveal that both turnovers and blocked shots decrease steadily as a player ages. That turnovers decrease is a good sign for the Knicks, since it’s a major weakness in Curry’s game. As poster NGLI pointed out, the Knicks young center is prone to being stripped due to keeping the ball too low and is called for offensive charging by bowling over his defenders. If Eddy can improve on his career 3.3 TO/40 minutes, it’d make him a legitimate offensive option, one the Knicks can feed into the post without effectively giving the other team the ball in the process. As for blocked shots, it looks as if it’s a skill a player either has or does not have. I did eyeball a few of the league’s best shot swatters, and their rates do increase. Nonetheless for everyone else it’s just a skill that erodes as a player gets older.


Armed with this data it’s clear that Eddy Curry will remain a “Baby Shaq” and never become the real deal. The safe money is that he should be able to reduce his turnovers enough to become an offensively productive center. Unfortunately he’ll never be strong on the defensive end, either in rebounding or blocking shots. Now is this the definition of a “league-leading center” that the Knicks front office had in mind when they gave away a couple of first round picks and signed Curry to $60M? That’s something New Yorkers can debate about for the next few years.

17 comments on “The Eddy Curry Study

  1. Ted Nelson

    It?s a pretty long shot that Eddy ever becomes an All-NBA type all around player, but on the right roster he could be a major offensive contributor for a contender. To become this kind of a team the Knicks need to find an intelligent PG/combo guard who can pass it to the right guy at the right time in the right place and preferably be able to guard the one or the two on D, and either a 4 and a 5 who can defend and pass or maybe a 4/5 who can do both. A stopper on the wing wouldn?t hurt either.
    I mean a rotation only requires 8 or 9 guys and in Marbury, Francis, Frye, and Curry (or even 3 of the 4) you have enough offensive firepower to compensate for some guys who can?t ?create their own shot? but are intelligent, efficient with their shots, move the ball well, and play D.

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  3. tomverve

    “Armed with this data it?s clear that Eddy Curry will remain a ?Baby Shaq? and never become the real deal. The safe money is that he should be able to reduce his turnovers enough to become an offensively productive center. Unfortunately he?ll never be strong on the defensive end, either in rebounding or blocking shots.”

    I think you state that a bit strongly. The evidence indicates that it’s not likely that Curry will become a strong rebounder or shot blocker, but it doesn’t categorically rule it out. (Personally, I think there is hope for Curry to bump his rebound rate up to around 16 or so instead of the current 14, but I doubt he’ll ever be much of a shotblocker.)

    As for the approach used in this article, it’s interesting, but I wonder if there are better ways to approach it than just lumping together every player over 6’10″ at age 23. For instance, on the face of it it seems like the trends might be different for pogostick players like Camby or Gadzuric as opposed to bulldozers like Curry. Likewise, stratifying players by PER might show different trends for different PER levels.

  4. dave crockett

    Who is this David Crawford guy, and what’s he doing taking credit for my blog entry? ;-)

  5. Kevin

    My word is fetus – well hopefully that means there is development left.

    Two issues on the study.

    1. Jayson Williams was a rookie who played 500 minutes. Maybe not the best sample to determine what kind of player he would become (Camby as a rookie played 1897 minutes at 22 vs Curry at 1808). Camby’s rates were 10% higher than Curry (whose numbers have dropped since he joined the league). Camby is an unusual player and may have had a harder time finder correct usage and therefore his early numbers reflect usage/positional issues not ability.

    2. concerned about selection bias. Did the rate improve because some stiff at 23 wasn’t playing at 27. If you start with 27 year olds, and see how they did at 23.

    I don’t think Curry will work hard enough to get significantly better, especially after getting a six year $10 MM per contract. With that said, his rebounding is up a little this year.

  6. Young T

    Curry’s problem, is firstly that he doesn’t love basketball and so he has no great passion for the game. There have been successful players like this, such as Latrell Sprewell, but generally its a bad omen.

    Second, as Malcolm Gladwell pointed out in his exchange with Bill Simmons, he’s probably scared of really putting in the effort in case he doesn’t succeed. As Gladwell says, if you don’t try, and fail, you have an excuse. If you try hard, and then fail, that’s very hard to deal with.

    So basically what you’re dealing with is a player who, despite all his talent and intimidating prescence, simply does not have the determination or work ethic to become an elite player, nor the passion to become a champion. With a guaranteed contract to boot, its hard to see where Curry is going to get the motivation to become a league-leading player. None of this is to say he can’t improve, but someone or something is going to have to fire a rocket up his ass!

    My word was “jeers”, which is all I have right now for the Knicks!

  7. PTC

    My view on Curry.

    First I want to state up front that my view here is elastic and evolving. I’m going to get into some ideas that I haven’t fully wrapped my head around and so this is more of a stream of ideas than a formal post.

    I started thinking about this awhile ago, but why is it that a player expect to be great get’s more grief than a player expected to suck…that actually does suck.

    If we rated all players on a scale of 1-10. It seems to me that if a player is scouted as a 10 and turns out to be a 6 we all call him a bum and talk about why his results aren’t helping the team. But we never knock the guy who was scouted as a 2, becomes a 2, and does almost nothing to positively impact us.

    In other words, we don’t blame Rick Brunson for “just being” Rick Brunson, but we destroy Curry for being Curry. What if the problem isn’t with Curry, but with the scouting and projection process that built him up to something he isn’t and will never be? Who’s fault is that?

    I guess the counter to that thinking is that if we carried my logic through we would never knock any player because whatever a player is is what he should be. Under that idea no player would ever have incentive to get better and so on. It would also make projecting either impossible or irrelevant.

    But I think that what it would do would be to build a proper amount of risk into future investments. It would make a team less likely to overspend on what amounts to a throw of the dice. The team might miss out on Gerald Wallaces’ but it prevent the team from spending 10 mil on Eddy Curry.

    My view is that our frustration toward X player should only be as much as we see a regression not a FAILURE to progress to where we think he should. Now maybe that lets players off the hook for coasting and maybe it doesn’t, but it seems to be a less frustrating and more fair way to evaluate these matters.

    Why be mad at Eddy Curry. Nobody puts a gun to his head to get better. He didn’t force the knicks to give him a stupid contract. If anything Curry has been “himself” every since his rookie year. His contract was based on OUR belief that he would STOP being himself and become another player during the life of the contract. So let’s look at what he actually is.

    The guy can score. Contrary to popular belief it is really tough to find a center in this league with that skill. Since you don’t win games 1-0 SCORING is the primary ability in basketball. In fact the only reason to not fill your team with scorers is because you can’t keep them all happy and it costs too much. So in my view his best asset is the most important in basketball.

    Next, he sucks at rebounding. This is a huge problem. How much worse is he than the average rebounder? I don’t know but I’ll let Knickerblogger delve into that one. My HUNCH is that he isn’t much worse than your average starting center. He’s much worse than Shaq, but probably better than Jaron Collins….although who knows if even that’s accurate.

    Defense? Tough to evaluate. However based on 100 opposition possessions the team gives up 114 points when hes in and 110 when he isn’t. So lets call him mediocre to bad.

    My point here is that he’s an imperfect player who shouldn’t have gotten the money he did. But he isn’t Rick Brunson either and Id rather spend my time talking about Curry vs the average center than Curry vs Shaq. Because at the end of the day Curry was only SUPPOSED to be Shaq because a few idiots from the bulls thought he would be and we paid him like he would be and that isn’t his fault.

    I would rather evaluate him for what he is and let the chips fall where they may than talk about why he isn’t Shaq and why he can’t rebound. We know why. He doesn’t have the desire. If that lack of desire was caught when the Bulls were going to draft him nobody would care that he lacked desire. But because THEY didn’t suddenly Curry is the poster boy for sucking.

    Maybe Curry is only average and maybe that’s ok. Next time we need to be smarter and not give a huge deal to a guy that has only proven to be mediocre. Then we won’t complain about the mediocrity. We’ll accept it for what it is, just like we accept Rick Brunson for being what HE is.

    Where we CAN nail Curry is if he ever regresses. Then the kid gloves come off and the bashing can begin in full. That’s the price you pay for being what you are….you can’t regress or else you will get nailed for it.

    Anyhow, I don’t know if I even believe all this, like I put at the top this is just something I started thinking about and I don’t have my ideas fully formed on this yet. But it seems a different way of looking at things and I’m always trying to do that when I can.

  8. Kiya

    The above article by KnickerBlogger “The Eddy Curry Study” is the most Sorriest debatable article in the history of sports.

    How one can comment and also justify such an article at the time is very ONE-SIDED.

    I’m glad I new nothing of this website during the time this article was put foward in March 2006.

    I could imagine how players like Billups and Ben Wallace would’ve been pictured in an article when they were 24 years old in the league.
    Or is it the jealousy of $60 million for 6 years that made this article manufactured. Or is Curry just a block in the Hatred of Isiah Thomas making people gather block after block after block to build a Hate PyriMAD…

  9. The Guru

    Eddy Curry will make the allstar game this year. He should have made it last year. How’s that for overrated?

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