I started my blog shortly after Isiah Thomas became the Knicks President, and in those early days there was no more polarizing player than Eddy Curry. A large number of fans were Curry supporters and arguing the other side was often a losing proposition. The Anti-Eddy League (NSFW language) had their own champion in the unheralded David Lee.
The two were opposites in many ways. Curry was the 4th overall pick a few years ago, who had a low post game that was difficult to defend one-on-one. He was expected to be the focal point of the offense and his dominance in the paint was to open the offense up for the rest of the team. He was to become the next franchise center.
Despite playing for the Florida Gators, Lee was a relative unknown. He was a rebounder who needed some assistance to score. His early nickname from television talking meat puppet Greg Anthony was “Shallow Waters”, because he was only good from a few feet out.
Statistically it was obvious that Lee was the superior player, but convincing the Pro-Curry crowd was difficult. Their logic was that Lee was unable to score without the aid of pick & roll, while Curry could get a quality shot in a number of ways on his own. The logic went that Curry’s multitude of low post moves would open up the court for the rest of the players, something that was difficult to counter using only anecdotes. Surely the player with the greater skill-set would end up with a better career, and it was silly to think otherwise.
Yet as time went on, Curry was unable to live up to his potential. Although he was difficult to stop by a single player, opposing teams often sent multiple defenders his way. Team sports are a yin & yang affair. Often by using particular strategy, a team can adjust to dampen one area, at the cost of leaving another vulnerable. Stacking eight in the box will prevent the run, while allowing the other team to exploit them via the pass. Play-action passes can freeze defenders, but can be prone to quarterback pressure.
The downside to double or triple teaming a player in basketball means that one or more players are left open on the perimeter. Hence Curry should have been able to pick apart the double and triple teams that were sent his way by finding and passing to an open teammate. However Easy-Eddy never gained the court vision to do so. He failed Darwin’s test of sports, the ability to adapt to new surroundings.
Lee, on the other hand, thrived in his role. One aspect was the ability to add a jump shot to his repertoire. But more importantly, Lee had the ability to scan the court for weaknesses and pass the ball to the open man. Coach Mike D’Antoni recognized this, and at times centered the offense through Lee’s hands.
Lee’s current assist to turnover ratio is 1.24, whereas Eddy Curry’s stands at an abysmal 0.24. And in the end the statistical outlook prevailed over the standard NBA rhetoric. The guy that seemingly could only do one thing rounded his game out enough to have a successful career. While the guy with a bevvy of moves proved to be one-dimensional and flamed out.
And so this leads us to the modern day Knicks. I’ve noticed that Andrea Bargnani reminds me of Eddy Curry. Not only is there similarty in their games, both offensive minded centers who don’t rebound or defend well, but in the fans’ logic in defending them. Although most understood Bargnani’s limitation on the defensive end and on the glass, some felt his outside shooting would spread the floor opening things up in the center for the rest of the team. Certainly Bargnani’s ability to put the ball on the floor would make him more valuable to the Knicks than Steve Novak.
Unfortunately the addition of Bargnani hasn’t helped the team as expected by the rhetoricians. Prior to yesterday’s game, Andrea ranked 5th in minutes and the Knicks ranked 20th on offense. The Roman Candle’s failure to ignite might be linked to another shared trait with Eddy Curry: the lack of court vision. As noted here and here, Bargnani fails to find open teammates with the ball. It’s something I’ve noticed from watching, and found a good example from Sunday’s game against the Spurs (see image below).
Carmelo Anthony and Andrea Bargnani run the pick & pop from the top of the key. Both Spurs defenders follow ‘Melo who gets the ball back to his center. Manu Ginobili leaves his man J.R. Smith on the elbow extended and slides over to cover the 7 footer. Bargnani should have swung the ball to his open teammate who likely would have an opportunity to score or at worst might have had another open man in the corner in Metta World Peace. Instead Andrea hesitates, and then launches a three point shot.
Clyde Frazier often says basketball is an easy game, and in some ways he’s correct. Even at the highest levels, there is usually an opportunity for one man to have a clear shot. The challenge is in creating the environment in which he exists and then getting the ball in his hands at the right time. With a 24 second clock and with the speed in which NBA players move, those windows of opportunity are small. Teams that don’t take advantage of those moments tend to settle for poor shots. On Bargnani’s play, Metta World Peace swoops up the missed shot and lays it in. Although it ended in success, it’s a low percentage play. No team wants to rely on an offensive rebound as part of their offensive strategy, just like no blackjack player wants to rely on hitting on a 19 and getting a deuce.
As most Knick fans have noticed, Bargnani’s strength is on the offensive end, and the rest of his game is mostly a detriment to his own team. If he isn’t helping the Knicks because he’s missing easy chances for his teammates, then he’s causing damage on the offensive side as well. Right now, Andrea Bargnani’s assist to turnover ratio is 0.75, which is nearly exactly in-between Curry’s and Lee’s. Bargnani needs to improve his passing, if he wants to avoid Curry’s fate.