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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Wanted: Basketball IQ. Please Inquire Within.

Perhaps it is unwise to post right after yet another home loss because I may end up typing words I may regret one day; like when KB, Brian, and I put in our takeover bid for the Knicks. (You know it’s just a matter of time.) But this was the kind of loss that tastes bad going down and leaves you feeling queasy because the Knicks more or less refused to even put themselves in a position to win.

Just into the second quarter, when I picked up the game, Arenas and Jamison were staging a full-on assault against the Knick–cough–defense. Those familiar with the Wizards recognize that Arenas and Jamison can have nights like they had tonight. (And what a night!) They shot a combined 25 of 42. 12 of their makes were 3 pointers, which comes to an absolutely silly 88% eFG!! Normally, those two have less regard for efficiency than the DMV but tonight was one of those nights where every off-balance jumper scarcely even disturbed the net. Of course, that the Knicks routinely left them both wide open because they were late and/or confused in their rotations is sadly a given. Still, Arenas and Jamison are legitimate defensive mismatches against whomever the Knicks send out on them. When they are on a roll like tonight all you can try to do is deny them touches, a point to which I shall return. Fortunately, the remaining Wizards only shot a paltry 79.5% eFG.

The Knicks are not a good defensive team. I recognize this. I also recognize that Francis, Marbury, and Richardson are all undersized at their positions. But, it is precisely because of these limitations that I have two major issues with how the Knicks played this game. First, the Knicks did not appear to utilize traps, double teams, or otherwise attempt to deny touches to Arenas and Jamison. The Knicks did pick up defensively three-quarter court when it made a brief run at the end of the 3rd quarter but otherwise didn’t begin to defend the two hot players until after they touched the ball. (Sometimes not until after they’d shot it.) The 3rd quarter began, Washington pushed open its lead a bit and Thomas called a timeout. I just knew that the Knicks would do something to deny Arenas touches after the timeout. It never happened. That appears to the naked eye to be piss poor in-game management by Isiah.

My second issue is that the Knicks went away from Curry, who had another solid night. (What has been most impressive about his spate of recent play is that it isn’t just the scoring–as Hollinger points out in Wednesday’s Sun–it’s the other stuff: the rebounding, the blocks and challenges, and he’s hustling back on defense.) The Wizards, it seems, have seen some tape of Curry’s recent games. They put Etan Thomas on him; a bit like putting a poor man’s Oakley on a poor man’s Shaq. More importantly, the Wizards were cognizant of rotating down to help. Curry’s 2nd quarter and early 3rd quarter shots all came in a crowd. He had at least a couple blocked or altered and struggled during that stretch.

Washington was basically saying, “somebody other than Curry tonight.” From my vantage point, not only were shots available in the mid-range on the pull up, but so were lob passes to Curry–something the Knicks have used–over the smaller Thomas. Yet, what did I see Marbury and Francis do repeatedly, especially in the third quarter when the Knicks were still in the game? Each put his head down and went on, as Clyde would say, “a wild foray into thee lane.” Francis was at his double-digit crossover finest. And Marbury, who was able to get to the front of the rim in the first half, failed to recognize how the defense adjusted–and subsequently where to find shots (and passes).

What annoys me here is what seems a recurrent theme from both our point guards: limited basketball IQ, particularly an understanding of what the defense is trying to do and an ability to adjust to it. I will concede here that I may be overreacting to a loss but I don’t think so; not completely. The Knicks, who had an excellent offensive first half, degenerated into an overpaid version of the And1 Mix Tape Tour in the second half. Francis and Marbury set the tone. Once they started pounding the ball, going one on one, so did Crawford and Richardson. Each driving fearlessly, and stupidly, into the teeth of the defense.

At this point in their careers both Marbury and Francis have lost enough athletically that they can no longer overpower or outquick poor decisions. It’d sure be nice to see them utilize the wealth of basketball knowledge they have presumably accumulated in their careers.

33 comments on “Wanted: Basketball IQ. Please Inquire Within.

  1. John

    “I also recognize that Francis, Marbury, and Richardson are all undersized at their positions. attempt to deny touches to Arenas and Jamison.”

    Its tought to talk about the Knick defense last night because virtually EVERYTHING was falling for the Wizards. I definitely agree that the Knicks didn’t make adjustments, offensive or defensive, yet I think that falls on Isiah Thomas more than Marbury or Francis. Both of Francis and Marbury are who they are–scorers who can drive in the lane and (presumably) finish well. They aren’t offensive facilitators nor are they known for their D and Thomas knew that when he acquired them.

    Nevertheless, when Marbury was getting absolutely torched by Arenas, Thomas didn’t pull him from the game, or even switch him onto another player until it was too late in the third quarter. I would have liked to see, as Kenny Smith mentioned in yesterday’s broadcast, a player on the floor whose sole purpose is to shut down Arenas (and/or Jamison). Presumably, a healthy Jefferies will normally do this. Last night, neither Balkman, Lee, nor Richardson could (or would) guard Jamison, and Marbury and Francis couldn’t stop Arenas (though no one really can when his outside shot is falling). The Marbury/Francis duo is a defensive liability because of their size as much as anything, yet they are left in by Thomas in those situations, because politically, he has to make the combo work. My defensive matchup last night after the first quarter would have been:

    Richardson (as sg) on Arenas
    Crawford (as pg) on Stevenson
    Balkman (as sf) on Butler
    Rose/Lee (as PF) on Jamison
    with Curry at center.

  2. gb

    But even though Lee is their grittiest player, best rebounder and best complement to the emerging Eddy Curry, Thomas wants to sit him. It’s a curious decision.

    Lee notched 20 points and 11 boards in Monday’s win over Memphis.

    “David will go back to the bench,” Thomas said. “That’s for certain. Because I know my team. I know how I want him to play. “

  3. Adam L

    LEE IS NOT THE BEST COMPLIMENT TO CURRY!

    Enough of this. Its not true. Once the lineup has Jeffries and Q in it (with Francis on the bench), there are two solid defenders. With Jeffries we already sacrifice scoring for defense. Frye is a much better compliment to Curry. His weakside defense is great and he will develop into a better shot blocker. More importantly, on offense having that mid-range jumper means that his man cannot help out on Curry, which means a smaller person doubling or no double at all. If the smaller man doubles that leaves the lane open for the guards. Frye’s jumpshot is a much better compliment offensively thatn Lee’s grittiness.

    We had this same argument in the comments section of Mike Doughery’s column “Pick a Lineup any Lineup”. Could be an interesting read for you guys.

  4. mase

    …I agree that Frye’s jumper, when its falling should prevent teams from doubling Curry but it hasn’t worked out that way. The opposite happend, Frye couldnt hit the side of a barn and our frontcourt became a defensive liability.
    Frye may be better suited to play center backing up Curry. One thing is for sure, Lee is becoming the emotional leader of the team with the best court awareness/IQ and deserves a coach who will go to bat for him.

  5. John

    The best compliment for Curry would be a defensively sound, shot-blocking PF with a decent 15-foot jumper (maybe someone like Udonis Haslem). The Knicks do not have someone like this on their roster. Defensively, neither Lee nor Frye are that great, but like mase said, unless Frye snaps out of his shooting funk, I would rather have Lee’s rebounding and hustle to compliment Curry down low, with Frye coming in off the bench.

  6. dave crockett

    As an Arizona alum I’m obligated to back Frye. But at a St. Louis native (more or less) I’m also beholden to Lee. What to do? What to do?

    Actually, the debate over Lee and Frye is one I’m not sure Knick fans really need to waste much energy having. Marc Berman of the NY Post (who hates Frye) has kind of stirred up a tempest in a teapot over this in a column yesterday (iirc). Irrespective of who starts Thomas will use both to create matchups. They are the only two legit PFs on the roster. In addition, they can and have played well together, with Frye at center, when the Knicks go small. Finally, the increased workload has started to catch up to Lee. In my view Lee looked flat last night for the first time I can recall. Even if Lee goes back to the 2nd unit he’s going to play big minutes.

  7. Dan Panorama

    Am I crazy are were Lee’s numbers at least roughly comparable as a reserve to his numbers as a starter since Frye’s injury? And we’ve been losing still, right? Why is everyone so convinced that Lee absolutely must have a starting job?

  8. Larry

    I agree they (Lee and Frye) will both play big minutes. As for who starts, I think Lee has earned the spot. I think his play since Frye went down is what has helped Curry play so well. In theory Frye should be a good compliment to Curry because he can hit the jump shot but in practice it hasn’t worked out that way. Frye is often very stationary when he is on the court and is not very quick. By just standing around this allows teams to collapse on Curry because they know they can get back to cover Frye easily. Lee is always moving and gets off quick shots around the basket so the defense has to pay attention to where he is. Teams are learning that even without much inherent “talent”, Lee can do some major damage by doing all the little things and by always being in the right place at the right time. Lee’s play then opens things up for Curry one on one and the results have been a string of 20+ points with 10+ rebound games for Curry. I don’t blame Lee for being supprised that he will be replaced in the starting lineup with the way he has been playing. I am supprised as well.

  9. TDM

    Its hard to argue that Lee does not compliment Curry well, when Curry has put up 6 of the last 8 20 point games alongside of Lee. However, I saw an article written by Steve Adamek at http://www.northjersey.com where he analyzes Lee’s effectiveness as a starter vs off the bench.

    Starter: 30+ min, 12.8 pts, 8 rebounds;
    Off the Bench: 25 min, 9.9 pts, 9.2 rebounds.

    Given these stats, it seems Lee may be better suited coming off the bench. I just hope that if he does get relegated to the bench for Frye, that Frye regains some of his confidence (and his jumper) from last year.

  10. Marc R

    One reason that Frye should come off the bench though is his ability to play the 5 when Curry gets into early foul trouble.

  11. KnickerBlogger

    “One reason that Frye should come off the bench though is his ability to play the 5 when Curry gets into early foul trouble.”

    You can still bring in Lee & move Frye to the 5.

    But I think David hit the nail on the head. The Knicks don’t really have someone to stick on Arenas. Washington had a play that Arenas scored coast to coast in 4 seconds after a Knick basket! He just went up on the left wing & blew past the entire team. You can’t put a SF like Richardson, Jeffries, or Balkman on a quick guy like Arenas.

    And, as Dr. C. noted, Isiah doesn’t seem to be willing to put in the right guys for defensive matchups. For Arenas, Isiah could have used the quicker Nate Robinson, but Nate only played 6 minutes. And what about Mardy Collins? Even if for a couple of minutes to slow Arenas down.

    The Knicks haven’t had a good perimeter defender since Frank Williams, and if Nate Robinson doesn’t get on the court I don’t see Collins getting a lot of burn. And New York’s guards don’t have good help defenders behind them either. That doesn’t bode well for the Knicks’ defense this year.

  12. Hudson River

    The best deal Isiah ever did, no question, was trading Othella Harrington, Frank Williams, Dikembe Mutombo and Cezary Trybanski for Jamal Crawford and Jerome “Junk Yard Dog” Williams.

    -Othella played well for one season, but Malik Allen can put up similar numbers in Chicago’s system which shows his season was only good because of his situation.
    -Deke is a quality 10-15 minute back-up,
    -I haven’t heard of Cezary Trybanski since the trade.
    -Frank Williams lost his dedication, getting cut by both the Bulls and the Clippers for poor conditioning and/or lack of hustle. Now he plays in the D-League for Sioux Falls wherever that is.
    -The Jerome Williams was a great player while he played, and why Isiah cut him over various other out-of-shape-winers is beyond me.
    -Jamal has made more game winning shots since the beginning of last season than anybody outside of Carmelo Anthony, and has shown the ability to put up solid numbers off the bench and starting.

    Isiah’s one good move…EVER…

    Go Isiah! You are more of a Knick than Greg Anthony ever was or every will be! (I am being extremely sarcastic just in case you didn’t catch that)

  13. Dan Panorama

    Francis is out indefinitely with tendinitis, so it looks like all the guard arguments are at least temporarily irrelevant. If the Knicks start a win streak without him though, they’ll only start up double when he gets back.

  14. cwod

    “Isiah?s one good move?EVER?”

    What about swinging Nazr for Malik Rose and draft picks, resulting in David Lee? That deal wasn’t bad, in retrospect.

  15. John

    “You can?t put a SF like Richardson, Jeffries, or Balkman on a quick guy like Arenas.”

    I disagree. Having a longer perimeter defender like Richardson on Arenas would have been better than Marbury, Francis, or Nate–Arenas can shoot right over them. The problem was not Arenas’ penetration, it was his outside shooting (He made 6-9 three pointers!). While no one can really stop a guy like Gilbert when his shot is falling, Richardson would have at least got a hand in his face and forced him to drive, and Gilbert is not as great a finisher around the basket as many think (see last years’ playoffs vs. Cavs).

  16. mase

    KB,
    don’t you think Crawford is our best option for guarding Arenas, he has a height advantage and has shown signs defensive prowess on the perimeter?
    I liked him in a few match up I saw, Crawford is not going to shut him down but he has the length and quickness on offense to tire him out.

  17. T-Mart

    You know it’s time for a new coach when you’re thanking God that Steve Francis got hurt so that Isiah doesn’t do something stupid like bench Q to keep Marbury and Francis on the court when Jefferies comes back. For the love of God please start 1) Marbury 2) Q 3) Jefferies 4) Lee 5) Curry. You don’t need more firepower then this. There is no need to start Channing Frye, please leave it like this. It gives you the most possible defense, rebounding, you got 2 3-point shooters, the inside monster, and most importantly, especially after the Washington debacle, MAXIMUM perimeter defense.

  18. Marc R

    How about these deals:

    Keith Van Horn for Tim Thomas and N. Muhammad (which turned into Malik Rose, David Lee, and Mardy Collins)

    Antonio Davis for Jalen Rose and Renaldo Balkman (Jalen didn’t do anything to our already capped out situation and Isiah was able to get Toronto to throw in Renaldo’s pick)

  19. Dan Panorama

    The Van Horn one simply wasn’t good. Van Horn actually played well with Marbury (even though Marbury hated him) and the team got much worse after he was traded. David Lee eventually figures into it, but contracts like Malik Rose’s are the reason we are in salary cap hell until 2084.

  20. Marc R

    The team actually played better after Van Horn was traded and Tim Thomas played well until he was mugged by Jason Collins in the playoffs. He then basically gave up on basketball until he made it to Phoenix.

    Considering the Tim Thomas and Antonio Davis salaries matched, you could actually say that trading Keith Van Horn got the Knicks: Malik Rose, David Lee, Renaldo Balkman, and Mardy Collins.

    I’ll admit that Malik’s salary is an albatross, but the team would be way way way over the cap even without him this year and over the cap without him next year (his final year, finally).

    Plus, his contract isn’t too bad as a trading chip next year. That doesn’t work for an $18MM player like Jalen Rose because all you can get back is one or two high-priced players, but it should work for a trade to a team that’s looking to dump a solid, albeit overpaid, player making roughly $8MM.

  21. Dan Panorama

    The trouble is that EVERY bad salary can be justified as “well we were in salary cap hell already.” Taken together however, we are in greater depths than we were three years ago and FAR worse than we could have been at this point had a responsible GM committed to rebuilding taken over. Malik Rose is just one symbol of this. Francis and Marbury are obviously the bigger ones, but nonetheless, we have some serious problems with our long term contract addiction.

  22. Marc R

    I agree with you about Francis and, to a lesser extent, about Marbury, but taking on Malik Rose’s salary and two number one picks allowed the team to rebuild better than just letting Keith Van Horn’s deal expire.

  23. Hudson River

    All those “good” deals were merely good deals because of the draft picks they resulted in. Isiah is a great drafter, one of the best. The Knicks could be demoted to NBDL if it wasnt for Isiah’s drafting ability. Each deal doesnt sound so bad individually, but collectively they were terrible. Why would he trade high picks which he works so well with for anybody regardless of their “potential” if he can get a player with potential who isnt out of shape and has heart problems? At least the sixers are gonna hold last place in the worst conference in pro sports ever. Victory.

  24. Nixluva

    I think Isiah will in the end be proved to have been a much better GM and Coach than people think. Right now we STILL haven’t seen his plan in full effect, but we will soon. The bench will be back to it’s potent best and the SL will be what he intended but haven’t seen due to injury. It remains that his worst move was adding Francis, since it’s just mucking up the rotations, but no one is perfect and we all know Isiah is as far from that as you can get :) Still his moves haven’t been as bad as the record might indicate. This team has some good pieces and it will be even clearer what we need as this season move along.

  25. Dan Panorama

    By the way, I’ve never seen an article about one more elephant in the room regarding the Knicks’ salary cap situation. How are we going to hold onto our best and most promising players – who right now are in ultra-cheap rookie deals – if we still have a 120 million dollar payroll when they get out of them? If David Lee is putting up a double double next year he could easily command Nene money or better. Frye will get something huge on potential alone, even if he hasn’t proven himself as much as Lee. Speedy guards are more replaceable so Nate may be a little cheaper unless he absolutely blows up in the next year, but still these guys are going to cost a bunch.

  26. Mel

    we hold onto talent with money obviously , this is the knicks not the jazz or hornets they have the money to keep every1 and also the cap # for the knicks goes down over 60 mil. after the season with houston’s shandon anderson’s jerome williams’ jalen rose’s and mo taylor’s salaries come off the books… and malik rose’s comes off after next year ..there is no excuse not to keep the young guys.

  27. Marc R

    Exactly. By the time that the young players are out of their relatively cheap initial contracts, both Marbury and Francis will be off the books and the only current contracts will be QRich, Crawford, Curry and James, with QRich and James in their final years of their deals.

    Pretty small elephant, if you ask me.

  28. Dan Panorama

    I stand corrected, I just checked out the info on HoopsHype and it is a pretty dramatic drop in salary once our legion of retirees and waivers comes off the books next year.

  29. Caleb

    re: salary cap mess – all the crap Isaiah gets is somewhat unfair, but not totally.

    The unfair part is that many critics ignore that once you’re a fair way over the cap – say, high enough that dumping two mid-size salaries won’t help – it doesn’t matter if you go sky-high. Isaiah should get credit, not blame, for using this competitive advantage. For example, in the Jalen Rose trade, he essentially paid $32 million for an extra draft pick. Most teams couldn’t afford it, but he can, so I’m glad he did. In MOST cases – as in Malik Rose – he added to payroll but did NOT extend the years in which the Knicks are over the cap.

    On the other hand, the Eddy Curry deal is problematic.The same holds true – to a lesser extent – for Jerome James and – and to a lesser extent, Jerome James and Jamal Crawford (who may be an actual player but is obviously overpaid). Without those contracts, the Knicks would be totally flexible in two years. With them – not so easy.

    Isaiah basically bet the house on Curry, same as he did when he traded for Marbury, betting that he could be the cornerstone of a contender. If that trade hadn’t happened (and of course the others which followed, once Marbury had put them way over the cap), the full rebuilding could start right now. Oops.

    of course, hindsight is 20-20… most people at the time liked the odds on Marbury becoming a superstar, though there were dissenters.

    Let’s hope the next big gamble works out better..

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