The Knicks are 6-6, good enough to sit atop of the Atlantic division, a half a game ahead of the Sixers. Although it’s tough to be unhappy about being in first place, things aren’t all as good as it seems. New York ranks 25th in defensive efficiency, and next to last in defensive shooting percentage (51% eFG). With all of 12 games under it’s belt, we’ve seen enough of the Knicks to start evaluating the players individually. To give a complete view, I’m going to mix my observations (I’ve watched all but one of their games) with some statistical methods.
To validate what my eyes have seen, I’ll use three stats to get a general overall value of a player, PER, oPER, and Roland Rating. If you have any doubts that PER is a good measure of offensive ability, the last two years the top 5 PER belonged to Garnett, Duncan, Shaq, Kobe and McGrady, which passes my litmus test. oPER (opposition PER) is less accurate because of how defense is played in the NBA (switched defensive assignments, help defense, zone defense, double teams, etc.), but can still be valuable up to a point. According to 82games.com, Roland Rating “represents a player’s value to a particular team and are not intended to be an accurate gauge of the ability and talent of the player away from the specific team.” Since it takes the player in context of his team, and we’re only looking at the players on one team, it’s perfect for our needs. So you can train your eyes on what to look for, I’m going to use it with these colors: (offensive PER, defensive PER, +/-Roland Rating).
Let’s start with the Knicks’ best player Stephon Marbury (24.3PER, 15.7oPER, +13.7RR). There’s nothing here that is different from every scouting report on the Knicks PG: great offense, mediocre defense. I’ve lost hope of Marbury ever turning up his intensity on defense, but for someone who has the untapped ability to be a good defender, he shouldn’t be criticizing his teammates for their lackluster play under their hoop. It’s easier to ignore Starbury’s aversion to defense when his offense is that good, and when the alternative could be Moochie Norris (0, 12.1, -12.4). Yes folks, thats a zero offensive PER. Norris is currently on the IR, and if I were the Knicks I wouldn’t be in a big hurry to bring him back. According to the Pro Basketball Forecast his PER has declined each of the last 4 years. Deteriorating production, being on the wrong side of 30, a long contract, and not being that good to begin with is a bad combination (right Shanderson?). Giving Norris’ few minutes to a younger and bigger Jamison Brewer can’t hurt.
Thankfully, the primary backup for Marbury is the Knicks’ new acquisition Jamal Crawford (16.1, 21.6, +2.4). He has been good offensively, but his defense is porous. Crawford’s thin frame is ill-suited to fight through picks, and too fragile to slow down a drive once the other team gets a step on him. Jamal has an excellent handle, but there is nothing more frustrating than having Crawford settling for a jumper (which comprise 82% of his shots), after he’s faked his defender with a series of fancy dribbles. Crawford should force the issue towards the basket with his great passing and dribbling skills. In addition, he’d do well getting fouled driving to the hoop, since the guy makes a free throw shot look like a layup (86% FT).
Crawford’s only 24, so I hope the Knicks coaching staff can get Jamal to produce a little more before he becomes set in his ways. For someone that will likely be in New York for the next 7 years, I’d like for him to be able to give us a little more production, either on offense and defense. He has excellent skills to build on: quickness, dribbling, a good shot, and that three point buzzer beater shows his confidence. He just needs to be smarter with his shot, and work on his defensive fundamentals. The Knicks announcers always make me chuckle with the line “he gets his hands on a lot of balls”, and Crawford’s one positive aspect on defense is creating turnovers (2.1 STL per 40 minutes).
It’s no secret that the Knicks’ defense has been pitiful, but what surprised me is what position has been their worst. I would have thought opposing shooting guards would be circling the New York dates on their schedule, but it’s actually been the power forward position that’s given the Knicks the most trouble. Amazed as I was, 82games.com reports that PFs have a 20.8 PER against the Knicks. Checking their individual stats, it’s Kurt Thomas (15.3, 22.5, -9.2) who seems to be the culprit. Just to make sure this year’s results aren’t a victim of small sample size, I checked last year’s stats, where Kurt shows up as a below average defender (17.5 oPER) as well.
Watching the games I would have never believed this, so I decided to double check this manually. Since Thomas plays more minutes at PF than anyone else on the team, it’s logical to judge his worth by the opposing starting PF. For every Knicks game, I added the stats for every PF that played more than 20 minutes. The compiled offensive line is very nice from an offensive standpoint: 15.3 Points in 33 minutes on 56% eFG. Of the 15 opponents in my list, only 5 had an adjusted shooting percentage under 50% against the Knicks.
The Knicks have played some great PFs in Duncan, Garnett, Nowitzki, and Brand, but even guys like Gooden (11-16, 25PTS 75% eFG), Austin Croshere (3-4 12PTS 100%), and Matt Bonner (12-16, 24PTS 75% in 2 games) are having great shooting nights. I know that Kurt has a great reputation as a man-man defender, but the numbers say otherwise. Guys like Garnett and Duncan will score against any defender, however if Kurt is as good as his reputation, he should be able to handle the Crosheres and Bonners of the NBA. Thomas’ defense isn’t the only issue. His ability to get to the charity stripe has been fading since 2001.
The news isn’t all bad for Thomas, as his shooting as held steady over his career (currently at a nice even 50%), and his rebounding has spiked up this year. Additionally, he doesn’t turn the ball over too often.
If you disliked reading the last two paragraphs as much as I hated writing them, you’re going to really hate this one. At this moment, Thomas is the Knicks’ most attractive tradable asset. Why? First, for GMs that still use traditional stats, he’s a double-double (maybe the most misleading stat in the NBA) that’s shooting 50% and probably still has that good reputation as a tough defender. His contract is reasonable (more reasonable this year at $6M, than in 4 years at $8M). Although he’s past his prime at age 32, that Thomas has a been a healthy and solid contributor over the last 6 years makes him a nice fit for a team looking for a veteran presence to help them for a playoff run. Additionally the Knicks can easily make up for Thomas’ production with two underused players in Sweetney and Williams. Finally, although other teams covet the Knicks’ little used young players like Sweetney and Ariza, the Knicks would be unlikely to get fair value in return.
That’s the end of Part I. Tune in for Part II, where I continue with my ranting & raving.