2008 Season Preview: The Backcourt & Swingmen

The Backcourt
Statistically Stephon Marbury still remains above average offensively, but he’s not nearly as productive as he used to be. The Knicks PG still is effective with his incursions to the basket, and at the latter stages of his career he’s become a better shooter. However to the eye Marbury doesn’t appear to be comfortable in Isiah’s offense. Gone are his pick & roll plays and his domination of the ball. Marbury has problems making entry passes to the low post, which is a problem considering that’s where the Knicks will look to score.

On the other hand Jamal Crawford’s familiarity with Curry allows him not only to get him the ball in the right spot, but to execute alley-oops. Statistically, Crawford hurts the Knicks with his poor shooting, and his turnover rate was just below Steve Francis’. On average Crawford missed 9 of the 15 shots he attempted per game, a staggering amount. Both Marbury and Crawford are subpar three point shooters, but neither is shy about taking one. Neither player is a spot up shooter, like in the Houston/Tucker mold. Both are more comfortable in creating their own shot than being the recipient. They don’t move well without the ball. And neither is a good rebounder.

The Knicks best scoring guard is 5’8, rebounds like he’s 6’8, and acts like he’s 4’8. Robinson won MVP of the Vegas Summer League, and played considerably well during the preseason. Compared to the starters, he shoots more efficiently, turns the ball over less, and actually rebounds. On the other hand, his immaturity and lack of height will limit his minutes. Robinson will be the Knicks third guard. Coming off the bench, he’ll bring a scoring punch either through his drives to the basket, his efficient shooting, or his new found joy of setting up his teammates. This preseason Robinson averaged almost an assist per 40 minutes above his career average.

Fighting for the remaining minutes of the Knick backcourt will be Mardy Collins and Fred Jones. While Collins is more of a one to Jones’ two, Mardy is a complete liability anytime he has to deliver the ball to the hoop. Collins’ shooting percentages are laughably bad (3p% .277, FT% .585, eFG .410, TS% .445). Meanwhile Jones is able to hit a jumpshot, but he’s not very efficient. Only his free throws average is above the league rate. Jones has had only one season where his 3p% was above the league average. To his credit he does get to the line fairly often, giving him a decent TS% (.526).

At the other end of the court Jones and Collins are the Knicks best defensive options. Last year Collins used his 6-6 frame and solid defensive footing to harass opposing guards. He’s big enough that he can guard small forwards as well. Collins is also blessed with something that most strong defenders possess: a mean streak. Remember his defensive play started the Denver brawl. Jones is an athletic player, a former slam dunk champion, who has stuck around in the league by his defense.

Nate Robinson is hindered by his size from being a great defender, but he’s a ball hawk who has good anticipation in the passing lanes. He’s also the Knicks best defender against Yao Ming. Unlike most sub-6′ guards, Nate is strong enough from being bullied in the post. Unfortunately he’s poor in fighting through screens, and I think the next time he goes over one will be his first. Meanwhile Marbury put more effort into his defense last year, but he lacks the lateral speed to keep up with quicker guards. Jamal Crawford bulked up this summer, but he’s still by far the Knicks worst defender on the perimeter.

The Swingmen
Isiah has 2 serious options at the small forward spot. When Quentin Richardson played, he was the most well rounded offensive weapon the Knicks had. Although Richardson had no holes in his game, he really didn’t excel at anything. His eFG was above the league average while his TS% was slightly below. Never a slasher, Richardson’s primary way to the free throw line was working in the post. However, he was kept off the blocks by Curry, and you would expect the same to happen this year especially with the addition of Randolph. Hence Richardson takes on the role of spot up shooter in the Knicks offense, and does an adequate job at it. Defensively he’s solid but unspectacular.

The other option Isiah has is Renaldo Balkman. Unlike Richardson, Balkman’s talents aren’t evenly distributed. In the half court he is unable to hit a jump shot, which allow defenses to leave him open on the perimeter. Nevertheless he still is able to generate offense. Balkman is excellent in transition whether it’s grabbing a rebound & starting the break or filling the wing and finishing it. In the half court set, Balkman moves well without the ball and uses his explosive leaping ability to around the basket to rebound and score. Furthermore, he’s the Knicks best defender, using his gangly frame and quickness to block shots and harass players. The only New Yorker that played 1000 minutes and averaged more than 1.0 blk/40 was Balkman.

The Knicks would be served well using the aforementioned players, but the same can’t be said of Jared Jeffries. Brought in for his defense, Jeffries scores at a lilliputian rate. He makes Balkman look like Kobe Bryant in the half court. In fact only 3 players in the league played more than 1000 minutes and scored less points per minute than Jeffries: Lorenzen Wright, DeSagana Diop, and Jason Collins. It’s not a good sign for a small forward to be compared to 3 defensive centers in terms of offensive productivity. Jeffries has one positive attribute: his offensive rebounding. But Balkman is a tiny bit better, and Renaldo scores at twice the rate.

The unknown factor at small forward is Wilson Chandler. Like Balkman, Chandler was a relative unknown but physically talented small forward. Unlike Balkman, Chandler has a jumpshot which even extends to the arc. In DePaul, Chandler shot well (eFG: 49.5%, TS: 52%), and he was even more impressive in summer league (eFG: 58.5%, TS: 56.2%). But predicting rookie performance in the NBA is a crapshoot, and a handful of preseason games aren’t enough to make any valid predictions. How much he’ll be able to contribute is unknown, but he seems to face a steep battle to earn minutes. In any case, it’s likely that Chandler will perform like most rookies, occasionally lost and a little turnover prone. Given Isiah’s clairvoyance with respect to the draft, it’s likely that Chandler be more productive than the average 23rd round pick.

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Mike Kurylo

Mike Kurylo is the founder and editor of KnickerBlogger.net. His book on the 2012 Knicks, "We’ll Always Have Linsanity," is on sale now. Follow him on twitter (@KnickerBlogger).

18 thoughts to “2008 Season Preview: The Backcourt & Swingmen”

  1. Balkman seems to be universally loved on this board, and I am a fan too. Our perimeter guys may be our best all-around group (which is true for alot of NBA clubs however — is Balkman THAT different from Ariza??).

    The big question about our back court is leadership/winning attitude. Marbury, for all his apparent talent, just doesn’t lead and has rarely won…Crawford has never been to the play-offs.

    The best thing for the Knicks would be that Collins has developed a steady 15 foot jumper. The rest of his game is exactly what the Knicks need (almost a junior version of Kidd’s strengths in fact…perimeter D, leadership, boards, etc).

  2. Balkman and Ariza both finished last season with a 16 PER and their Ortg and Drtg were similar too. But Balkman is easily the superior rebounder, shot blocker, and ball handler of the two, which is a unique skill set for a SF. Seems like Ariza’s PER is comparable because of his slightly better TS%. Balk was a year older but Ariza was in his 3rd year of NBA ball.

    It’ll be interesting to see where they go from here. Balkman’s rookie stats were actually eerily similar to David Lee’s rookie stats. Even if he doesn’t make a Lee-esque sophomore jump he’ll still be one of the most valuable players on the team.

  3. I wrote too much yesterday about our back court guys, but I’m more convinced after reading Mike today that guards make the big men, and our guards just don’t make others better.
    There should be a very short leash on both Crawford and Marbury, who sadly will be starters. If they start slowly, as they played in pre-season, Isiah should move to a Robinson-Q-Jones combination, with Marbury and Crawford backing up and there to right things if the young guys get flustered…but not there long enough for their weaknesses to drag on the team.

  4. The one thing that separated the two for me was Balkman’s man defense. He’s just so much better than Ariza was. But then again Ariza was only 19 when the Knicks had him. So it’s possible that he could learn to do that, but I’d rather have a player that can already do it instead of one that might.

  5. Stats are just that STATS .

    Preseason is just that PRESEASON.

    the one thing missing from the analysis is the taking into account of team situations and players responsibilities .When that is done Marbury and Crawford are way ahead of any other knicks perimeter players.

  6. I agree the Guards have huge roles; Steph of 5 years ago would have been great for this team; I think Crawford is a great kid but this is a year
    that he has got to stop taking Four three point shots a game and start getting to the foul line.
    He is almost automatic on the curl play coming off the screen at the foul line and still is hard to guard off the dribble. His ability to create his own shot or shots for others at the end of a game is still a great asset for a team to have.
    He will make the same kind of adjustment that Steph made early last year now that Zach is here:
    more emphasis on defense, feeding the post and scoring more in transition. His most telling stat will be free throw attempts vs. 3 point attempts.
    I think Nate will have a huge impact this year off the bench. Jones, Collins and Chandler are nice assets for spot minutes. They still need a scoring small forward; they will probably try to address that need by the trade deadline or next summer. I still think Stephon has the hardest job in running the offense and keeping everyone involved. Playing together last year under Zeke will help them tremendously. Remember, we are only talking about getting to .500 here, so the most importiant thing for them is their health.

  7. If I may disagree slightly with a totally minor point… Marbury actually *can* move without the ball quite well. He just doesn’t care to do it and hasn’t been asked to very often. For the brief period when the Knicks moved Frank Williams into the PG spot Marbury played more often off the ball he moved without it quite well. I remember him having a knack for getting himself open that really surprised me.

    I mention only it because it’s of my two major sore points of mine with Isiah the coach. He hasn’t taken Marbury and Crawford out of their comfort zones to make them better. I think Wilkins and Brown actually had it right by putting both on the move. In their halfcourt sets they ran more staggered screens and were less dependent on isos.

  8. I think we are closing in on consensus here, and its sort of killing the debate.

    INHO Balkman is definitely better than Ariza, despite what PER says. The difference in rebounds between them per 48 is bigger than the difference in ts%. And Balkman had the second best +/- in the league last year after Bowen.

    Brown got the most out of Crawford. I don’t think Isaiah is capable of that. After Crawford shot what he shot in preseason, his response was that Crawford should shoot more. ;-)

    How about some action on whether Isaiah survives the season, Caleb et al? I say no. Was very interested to see the Stern’s comments in the times today. Very harsh. Maybe we could do an over under on how many games he coaches this season. 60?

    Lol, that could blow up in my face.

    I want the Knicks to win, of course, but my penchant for schandfreude is running strong. I have to say I am pretty upset by everything that has transpired. The part of me that wants Isaiah gone, it’s been having a field day. I hate to admit this, I expect flames, but 30% of me wants the Knicks to struggle enough this year that Isaiah gets fired.

    :-) That’s what you could call an open request for vituperative debate…

  9. “The Knicks best scoring guard is 5?8, rebounds like he?s 6?8, and acts like he?s 4?8.”

    One of my favorite lines I’ve read on KB.

    Though I also like this one too:

    “He?s also the Knicks best defender against Yao Ming.”

    Man, Yao made Curry look like a cockroach defending him last year. I’ve never seen any one struggle so hard on the defensive end. The effort was there, he just couldn’t find a way to stop him. Then Nate jumps up and blocks him, adding a punch to the face in the process…

  10. Dave:
    That’s a great point about comfort zones. Neither one of these guys seems to be challenged by the coaching staff.
    I mean, if Marbury is asked to pass first he sulks his way through a game and seems totally disconnected. And Crawford simply cannot play D.

    I could care less about offensive opportunities for these guards. They should focus on enabling the bigs. Both Marbury and Crawford shoot at about 40 percent. Randolph, Curry and Lee are shooting 47 percent, 57 percent, and 60 percent, respectively, which means they should get the majority of the touches.
    Crawford and Marbury should be shooting only to keep the defense honest,and when they do it should be slashing plays to either break the D or draw fouls.
    The problem is their defense is so bad it undermines the entire team.

    So, you go with the high-percentage scorers, Curry, Randolph and Lee (60 percent shooter), give Q his shots from the perimeter.
    If Marbury and Crawford aren’t shooting that much, and they shouldn’t at 40 percent, then you need Robinson, Q and Jones playing some D and distributing.

  11. “How about some action on whether Isaiah survives the season.”

    Season, maybe– but I don’t think he’ll be back next year…

    I think the Knicks will go 6-9 in November, and in December will crawl up towards .500. During that time the appeal will be heard. If he wins it, he’ll stick all year. If he loses, I think he’ll be dismissed.

    I think this years Knicks are going to be a lot like last years Knicks. Basically a .500 team once they mesh, but it will endure another sloppy start. The team was unable to go on any kind of a winning streak last year, losing to the like of the Bobcats when streaks could have been had.

    In the spirit of wagering, I’ll say Isiah is gone after 20 – 25 games, right around his 5 year anniversary…

  12. I think he last at least the year.
    And that will happen because he’s always been a survivor.
    That means when the team starts to go south, he will not be patient with the current starters and he’ll start increasing minutes for guys like Balkman, Lee, Robinson, Jones and Collins at the expense of Curry, Q, Crawford and Marbury.
    The new guard emerges this year…

    Of course, I would love to see him fired. I’ve been saying that since the Anucha case ended.
    But the guy has always been willing to do anything to win. And he doesn’t have the luxury this year of showing patience in Marbury and Crawford and Curry if they revert to form and play me-first, or stupid basketball.

  13. Since our team is trying to focus on an inside out offense building around two poor defenders in the middle we need to focus on defense when deciding our starters on the perimeter.

    I would love to see Richardson and Balkman, or Jones and Balkman or even Chandler and Balkman to give us a lot of defense at the 2 and 3.

    Crawford can be an above average offensive player (like his one year under Brown) and has the talent to be much better than that, but it does not matter because his defense is terrible. And not just sometimes but always. Bad defenders can be tolerated if their offensive game is excellent but at best Crawford’s offensive game was good (under Brown) and at his worst horrible. Crawford has no place on this team and we need to trade him and focus on defense and cosistancy from the 2 position even if it is less explosive.

    At the point guard spot we need to start Marbury, at least until Robinson shows he can run a team full time or Collins develops an adaquate midrange jumper.

    So I say a rotation of Marbury-Richardson-Balkman with Nate and Jones backing them up is the best group. That way we have at least two good defenders on the court at all times.

    Owen – I believe that Isiah will last the year and probably more because he seems to have Dolan in his pocket. The only way Isiah gets fired is if we really really struggle which I do not see happening.

    Plus even if we do struggle I am sure Isiah will be able to blame injuries again anyway. Sadly I think we better get used to many more years of Isiah.

  14. I think Isiah makes it through the year. Then again, if he does THAT, I guess he’d have to make it to next year.

    Wow – am I actually saying I think he’ll make it to his THIRD year as a head coach?

    I guess so.


  15. Id be pretty surprised if Isiah doesn’t last the year – UNLESS Charles Dolan takes over the team, which seems unlikely.

    Beyond that, I think he’s decent coach. They won as much as you’d expect, with the talent on board (and whose fault is that?), slowed a bit by injuries. I think he’ll play the best players, for the most part. The test will be what he does with Crawford…

    As for Marbury – who do you expect to play the point? Nate is a shooting guard… Collins not only can’t shoot, he can’t run a team… so, forget about Marbury. He is what he is. Next year he’ll be trade bait, and for now, he’s the best we have.

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