Why the New York Knicks Made a Mistake not Keeping Maurice Ndour

I’ve been quite vocal about the New York Knicks decision to not keep undrafted rookie Maurice Ndour in the fold.

According to Ian Begley of ESPN New York, Ndour received a three-year contract from the Dallas Mavericks, year one fully guaranteed, second year partial and third year not guaranteed. President of basketball operations Phil Jackson and general manager Steve Mills decided it was too rich for them.

I disagree with this sentiment as I see the 23-year-old out of Ohio University as someone with the attributes and baseline skills worth a potential low risk/high reward minimal investment.

Before the Knicks signed Ndour to their Las Vegas Summer League team I had never heard of him. When news of the signing broke I headed to his page at draftexpress.com, and learned at the Portsmouth predraft camp he measured at 6’8’ without shoes, plus had a 7’4’ wingspan and 9’1’ standing reach.

According to sport-reference.com, Ndour’s senior season with the Bobcats was only one of four since 1996-1997 to average over one steal, two blocks, shoot over 40% from three and 75% at the free throw line.

The other three?

Shane Battier twice and Danny Granger once.

This was the first video I watched of Ndour playing.

You never want to take much form a highlight video, but between the physical attributes, stats and a tiny bit of YouTube viewing Ndour became someone I wanted to watch a little closer when New York entered summer league action.

It’s important to note how I go about watching these type of exhibition games. The way I analyze summer league goes against my typical process of coming to conclusions regarding basketball. In this setting I ignore all statistics. I couldn’t tell you any team or individual stat from the New York’s time in Las Vegas. I simply look for skills I think can be transferable to successful NBA careers understanding the context of the competition.

Within seconds of Ndour stepping on the court for his first action in the Knicks opening game against the Spurs he created a positive impression.

A simple alley-oop dunk, filling the lane on a delayed fast break might not seem like anything to get excited about, but let me remind you the Knicks averaged the least amount of fast break points per game last season at 8.8 (per 100 possessions) and had the fifth least total dunks as a team (213).

Athleticism with the ability to get easy baskets is a trait New York’s roster desperately needs, yet more exciting was Ndour showing off a more polished offensive game than I expected in the half court.

He was able to knock down mid range jumpers off the catch.

Couple of important points here:

  • Note the arc and touch on the jumper.
  • Wingspan is often thought off when it comes to defense (getting to that later), but it’s also a factor on offense. This was a highly contested shot and it doesn’t matter because of Ndour’s release point and massively long arms.

Based on the college free throw and three-point shooting to see him shoot well from 12 to 18 feet wasn’t much of a surprise. What caught me off guard was the creating/shooting off the dribble, body control when attacking the rim and the passing.

Step-Back Jumper

This is another contested shot he is able to get off for the reasons listed above. As with most of the offensive production in the Philadelphia game some it has to be taken with a grain of salt because it’s getting accomplished versus slow-footed defenders Ndour wouldn’t deal with in a regular season NBA game. The fact he’s able to flash this type of ability in this setting is still a positive for his long-term prospects.

What A Dreamy Shake!

Being able to beat Furkan Aldemir off the dribble isn’t any sort of special accomplishment — Ndour attacking the rim with his left (off-hand) and having the patience, plus foot work to pull off that type of high-level move still does stand out.

Finishing As The Dive Man In Pick and Roll

As much as Ndour worked as the pick man and diving in PnR during these games he didn’t get much of a chance to showcase his finishing ability in these situations. Jerian Grant, Langston Galloway, Cleanthony Early and Ricky Ledo didn’t do a great job seeking out Ndour for many opportunities running PnR.

Once again you see a sense of patience he has in a crowded area that I wouldn’t expect from someone in Ndour’s position. He catches, gathers, uses a slight hesitation move to get Larry Nance Jr. off the ground and finishes around Julius Randle.

Ndour flashed the ability to score buckets in a variety of ways and then he also did a tremendous job setting up his teammates. I’d say this was the most shocking attribute considering his 1.6 to 2.9 AST/TO ratio during his senior season at Ohio.

What jumps out in this specific play and most of Ndour’s passing is the decisiveness. He isn’t holding onto the ball for long, it’s quick decision making leading to positive plays. For this example, it’s a solid read out of PnR, while up next you see him do a great job on a prototypical triangle action.

Another perfect, fundamental read without having the ball in his hands for even a full second. These plays are getting made with limited practice time to get comfortable working with teammates he’s never stepped foot on a court with before.

All of this offensive skill is a nice bonus, but where Ndour can derive his real value in the NBA is on the defensive end. He is not only fluid navigating the court offensively, he moves well laterally and is cognizant of team defensive concepts.

Ndour’s foot speed and length brings the potential for the rare combination of being able to defend wings, bigs and provide rim protection.

During the Spurs game, Kyle Anderson gave Ndour the business a little bit and he had some trouble with James McAdoo and Kevon Looney in the Warriors matchup, but there are many tools to work with here.

That’s not some summer league scrub Ndour ate up and spit out, mind you. That was a former lottery pick in Kentucky’s Julius Randle. Ndour was able to push him towards the baseline and when Randle tried to overpower him to get a better angle at the rim he failed miserably. You know what’s good about having 9’1’ standing reach? Sometimes jumping isn’t necessary and you can still tell your opponent to get the hell out of here.

Randle wasn’t the only lottery pick to find himself in a bad position against Ndour.

Yup, that was Jahlil Okafor, the number-three overall pick in the 2015 draft. Ndour almost swatted him with his wrist.

And yes, you’d be well within your rights to scoff and mutter something to the effect of, “Randle and Okafor aren’t that athletic from a vertical jumping stand point so I’m not all that impressed.” Fair enough, but…

1)

2)

3)

There aren’t many 6’8’ players with the ability to protect the rim from the weak side and then shut down entire possessions using different skills like this:

It starts with Ndour cutting off the possibility of dribble penetration out of the PnR by Jordan Clarkson and a quick recovery to Nance Jr. Even with a foot on the foul line, he’s able to use his length to deflect the ball out of Nance’s hands despite him having both of his feet outside the top of the key. Once Nance finally gets the ball back he tries to create a shot for himself and isn’t able to get a clean look due to Ndour beating him to his spots with lateral quickness. He also closes out the possession getting the rebound.

Ndour’s work on the boards is solid at both ends. He’s not afraid to mix it up boxing out and does a good job trying to grab the ball at its peak. I’d like to see him improve corralling boards on the offensive glass where he seemed to get his hands on a lot chances, but wasn’t able to finish off the play.

His length also allows him room for error when he makes mistakes.

On this possession Ndour gets overaggressive and a little jumpy. This is a pattern and a flaw that needs some work. Because of Ndour’s wingspan he’s able to get away with it as he uses his length to deflect the ball away from Nance trying to dribble into the paint.

Another place where Ndour’s foot speed and length comes in handy is defending the pick and roll, especially with how the Knicks like to “ice” them.

His size and speed allows him to cover and cut off space many don’t have the ability too. Ndour makes this look extremely easy, but it really isn’t. Part of the issue is poor spacing by the Golden State, but Ndour’s positioning put a stop to any possibility of a dribble attack. Even against more in-sync offense he’s going to be able to limit passing angles as he leverages his arms in smart ways. Ndour immediately locks back in on his man after Grant recovers almost causing a turnover with his anticipation before a foul was called.

Ndour’s play on both ends made him the best player on the Knicks summer league team. He showed more upside and well-rounded skills than Cleanthony Early, Travis Wear and Thanasis Antetokounmpo. Ndour expanded and took his game to a point outside the bubble he’s going to be asked to operate on an actual NBA roster. Situations arise in a game based around a 24-second shot clock where you’re forced into pushing past what your role is specified to be. Ndour constructing the ability to handle more than shooting open jump shots on offense gives hope three or four years down the line he might have a little bit more in him.

On the defensive end he needs to keep fine tuning and learning how to use his physical gifts. Ndour can get caught ball watching and can try to do too much. This is more preferable to a player who is oblivious to what’s going on around him — Ndour has the right intent and in time can grasp a better understanding of the balance necessary to perform within a defensive scheme.

Finding high-level talent in the second-round or undrafted can fundamentally change the way you’re able to build a team. We saw it happen with the Houston Rockets and Chandler Parsons, and this is why the Philadelphia 76ers operate like they do now with second round picks.

For years the Knicks have spent stupidly and irresponsibly. It’s without question a positive that Jackson and Mills are showing more restraint. They’ve also shown a weird penchant for being cheap in an unnecessary way around the margins. Dealing a future second-round pick instead of buying out Travis Outlaw was a strange move. Yes, you can buy another second round pick with ease, but there’s no limit to how many of them you can have — the more the better.

With roster spots open and roster spots filled by players clearly less talented than Ndour, to lose him over what probably amounts to under 1% of what the 2016-2017 salary cap is a ridiculous decision.

At best you found an under the radar steal with the defensive ability that fits perfectly next to your star in Carmelo Anthony.

At worst you buy him out for pennies and could add a player on a veteran minimum salary for more than you’re paying to waive Ndour.

This was a chance worth taking for the New York Knicks and they blew it.

J.R. Smith: Once a Knick, Always a Goddamn Knick

As a fan, I’m definitely a member of the Jerry Seinfeld Laundry School. That is, I do tend to root for the team more than getting attached to any individual player. The goal of winning a championship (ha!) remains paramount, even if that can seem somewhat cold when a player to which I formerly wed my widdle heart is sent packing. And yes, sometimes a cold, pragmatic analysis gets bumfuzzled by feels. Sometimes, you just like certain dudes no matter how much your head tells you that that is not. A. Good. Idea.

Which brings us to J.R. Smith. Call me crazy, but he was my favorite Knick since Allan Houston and Chris Childs. Why? Well, a part of it has to do with the fact that like myself, he spent much of his late teenage years and 20s being a serious fuck up. Empathy requires understanding, y’all. I’m also a big fan of people, who let their guard down. In this wholly mediated and branded sporting world we live in, that’s a rare thing. And whether you agreed or disagreed with what Smith said he was always himself. I truly dig that.

J.R.’s time with the Knicks had a slew of good, more-than-we’d-like moats of bad and, most importantly, a shit ton of fun. Over the past 15 years there hasn’t been much of that.

So come with me for a brief stroll down memory lane. This is your J.R. Smith memorial post, Knicker-backers.

2011-2012 

February 9th
J.R. Smith’s Debut in Knicks-Mavericks on ABC. New York won 104-97

Smith scored 15 points in 30 minutes and even helped out defensively getting time defending Dirk Nowitzki.

March 14th
This was Mike Woodson’s first game as head coach after Mike D’Antoni was fired. The Knicks crushed Blazers 121-79 .

The start of arguably the best Knicks tradition during the J.R. Smith era — the Steve Novak-J.R. three-point barrage in blowouts. They combined for 13, seven from Smith and six from Novak, and I believe all seven from J.R. were in the second half.

April 17th
The Knicks beat the Celtics 118-108 in a nationally televised game on TNT. Round two of the Smith and Novak show.

This time they combined for 15.  Novak led the way with eight including a dagger late in the fourth quarter and Smith followed closely with seven.

May 3rd
Game Three of the Knicks-Heat first round playoff series. The outcome of this series from some reason escapes my mind. LALALALALA NOPE NOT ACKNOWLEDGING IT.

What I will choose to recall from my selective memory is this fantastic J.R. Smith dunk. BOOM.

2012-2013

December 5th
The Knicks knocked off the Bobcats 100-98 with Melo having to leave game with some sort of finger injury I believe.

Jason Kidd tries to lick J.R. Smith’s ear. A great moment in Knicks history.

December 26th
The Knicks pulled past the Suns 99-97 in Phoenix with no Carmelo Anthony, Ray Felton or Iman Shumpert.

Everyone remembers the J.R. Smith buzzer beater, but I’m putting in video with full game highlights because the shot he hit to tie the game at 97 might have been even more absurd. I was supposed to go to this game and no one I worked with would switch shifts with me. I hate all of you forever.

January 3rd
The Knicks romped the Spurs 100-83. New York swept San Antonio this season. The Knicks were good enough to win not one, but two games against the Spurs. This was less than three years ago. I’m not mad or anything. I loved this god damn team so much fuck I’m getting sad.

J.R. SMITH AND PABLO PRIGIONI MAKING BEAUTIFUL THINGS HAPPEN

February 1st through February 4th — J.R. Smith takes all of the three pointers

96-86 win against Bucks — 13 of Smith’s 14 shot attempts were threes. He made five of them.

120-81 win against Kings — 14 of Smith’s 16 shot attempts were threes. He made seven of them.

99-85 win against the Pistons — 13 of Smith’s 15 shot attempts were threes. He made five of them.

In a three-game stretch J.R. took 45 shots and 89% of them were three pointers. J.R. Smith is the motherfucking GOAT.

February 21st J.R. Smith and Pipe

You trying to get the pipe?

March 7th
The Knicks fall to the Thunder 95-94 in a valiant effort without Carmelo Anthony

Thabo, how’d it feel to get shook bad by J.R. Smith. You might have won the game, but you lost — you lost so very very badly.

March 9th
J.R. just showing off

That’s an ass. 

JR’s March and April to close the regular season

During the final two months J.R. Smith became a rim attacking maniac. He played some of the best basketball of his entire career. The numbers: 22 points on 45% shooting with 6.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.3 steals. This stretch clinched the the Sixth Man of the Year Award and was Smith’s peak as a Knicks player.

April 23rd
The Knicks dumped Celtics 87-71 in Game Two of their first round playoff series.

GUITAR DANCE CELEBRATION GUITAR DANCE CELEBRATION GUITAR DANCE CELEBRATION

April 31st
I want to ride my bike. I want to ride my bicycle. I want to ride it where I like.

How do you not love this man?

Not exactly sure which Pistons game this was at, but it was awesome. 

J.R. Smith played with kids at halftime. It was adorable.

2013-2014

November 14th
J.R. Smith defends Chris Smith

Watch your damn mouth Brandon Jennings

March 26th
The Knicks knocked off the Kings 107-99 behind a franchise-record tying nine three pointers from J.R. Smith

April 6th
The Knicks lost to the Heat 102-91, but J.R. Smith broke an NBA record attempting 22 threes and the franchise record he co-owned with 10 three pointers.

For context in this you have to go back to the previous two games. Coming in Smith had made 14-28 threes — so in a three-game stretch he made 24-50 threes. 24 of 50 threes in THREE GAMES. Bow down to J.R. Smith tha god.

The horror of untying sneakers

God forbid you have fun while playing basketball. J.R. Smith got destroyed for untying players’ sneakers. I laughed a lot.

Thanks for the memories J.R. You will be missed.

The Knicks Should Take a Risk

 

The New York Knicks are in a difficult situation going forward. Yes, they have cap space coming available this summer, but they also need to reshape a large chunk of their rotation.

Working under the presumption Carmelo Anthony isn’t going to be traded, he’s literally the only player you can consider a lock to be on the team past the 2014-2015 season.

Tim Hardaway Jr. and Jose Calderon are expected to be. Timmy because he is still on his rookie contract through 2016-2017 and Calderon is locked in through that same season at over $7 million per year. Amar’e Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani, Samuel Dalembert, Jason Smith, Shane Larkin and Cole Aldrich are all on expiring contracts and presumably gone. Iman Shumpert, Quincy Acy and Travis Wear are restricted free agents. J.R. Smith has a player option and Pablo Prigioni has an unguaranteed contract year. The other two players most likely to be around are second-round picks Cleanthony Early and Thanasis Antetokounmpo.

When you add in their 2015 first round pick, president of basketball operations Phil Jackson will realistically need to fill four to nine roster spots next season. It probably will end up falling somewhere in the middle of the two.

Given this information, it’s logical that the Knicks should try to find more players they would want to keep in the long term. New York’s path to contention is more than a one-offseason rehabilitation project and no matter who is back an influx of talent is necessary. Both sides of the ball must improve, the defense is horrendous, but the offense is entirely reliant on Anthony.

With Melo on the floor they average 104.3 points per 100 possessions. With him off that drops to 94.9. The problem has been trending in the wrong direction for two years. In 12-13 the ORtg dropped by five points, but that was from 110.5 to 105.3. The 105.3 mark with Anthony sitting would have ranked as the ninth most efficient offense that season. In 13-14 it also dropped five points – the difference was a 101.3 mark with Melo off the floor ranked in the bottom third of the league.

The pattern shows how the Knicks supporting cast has been getting worse and worse. This is the reason I endorse the Knicks looking into the trade market and taking a risk on Cavaliers guard Dion Waiters or Hornets guard Lance Stephenson.

As a side note there are other players I’d target before these two, but these are realistic options based on their standing with their organizations. Taking a run at Terrence Jones would be fantastic now that the Rockets have signed Josh Smith — I don’t think the Knicks have the assets to make something like that happen.

I don’t even know if New York has enough to pull off getting Stephenson or Waiters, but anyone not named Melo you could put on the table and come out on the right side of a deal.

Despite a very popular anti Waiters and Stephenson culture that exists here is a list explaining why it makes sense for the Knicks to take a risk on either player.

  1. Stephenson is 24 and Waiters is 23. If the Knicks traded for one of them they would immediately become the second most skilled player on the roster. A sad but true statement.
  1. According to NBA.com New York averages the least amount drives in the league at 13.3 per game and the least amount of points generated by drives per 48 minutes at 7.1. In 32 minutes a game Lance averages 5.0 drives per game this season.  In only 22.8 minutes per game Dion Waiters averages 4.2 drives per game. Last season when Waiters was on a less talented team he averaged 7.4 drives per game in 29.9 minutes. This is an offensive skill New York desperately needs from its two-guard position with Calderon being more of a spot-up shooting complement.
  1. You’re buying low. People always want to trade for players playing well, but acquiring someone at their low-point can be beneficial because they cost less. Stephenson and Waiters are both better than what they’ve been this year and have the chance to grow into more. Reflect back to reason #1 — 24 and 23 years old. These are the type of players you want to give a shot despite their flaws.
  1. As was already established the Knicks aren’t competing for a championship next year, but obviously you would like them to go from dismal to in the mix for a playoff spot as a part of the lowly Eastern Conference. This still gives you some room for experimentation. Neither Stephenson nor Waiters are inhibiting other improvements to your roster short or long term. Both would essentially be a one-year tryout. Waiters is signed for slightly over $5-million next season before hitting restricted free agency, while Stephenson gets paid $9-million in 15-16 and it’s a team-option in 16-17.
  1. It’s time to stop trying to build the roster around signing max players. For once be realistic about what your options are. There’s no reason to save money for Marc Gasol this summer or Kevin Durant next because the Knicks aren’t going to get either player. Don’t do the Stoudemire thing all over again and learn from your mistakes. If the idea here is to build around Melo strive to accentuate what he does well and cover up the holes in his game. A roster is obviously always fluid, but attempt to acquire targets with the idea they will be with the franchise for a long time. Create an atmosphere that puts players in a position to succeed and not fail. This is an area the Knicks have failed in miserably through the years and it continues to this day.

It was by accident, but the 12-13 Knicks ended up being good because they were a team of parts that made sense with each other. It’s getting harder and harder to just throw together talent and have it be successful as we’re seeing with the Cavaliers, Suns, Pelicans and Nuggets. When you have the Warriors, Grizzlies, Spurs, Thunder, Clippers, Rockets, Trail Blazers, Bulls, Raptors and Hawks – that not only have talent, but are conceptually fluid throughout the organization and on the court – it takes a lot of facets in sync to compete.

Think what the Wizards were able to do when they traded for Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor that was widely criticized at the time. That move helped them establish a culture moving the organization in the right direction. This is the point where the Knicks are at. They are not a one-player signing, quick fix away. While the Wizards needed to create stability and a positive environment for John Wall, New York flat-out needs players who can potentially be really good at basketball. That sounds ridiculous and simplistic yet it’s factually accurate.

Stephenson and Waiters clearly have issues they need to overcome. The Knicks are in a position where they need to be searching out for talent wherever they can get it. These are two potential options that could pay off huge in the long run and if they don’t work out avoid decimating the franchise like other prior risks.

This isn’t crushing your future trading for Eddy Curry or signing your franchise over to the bad knees of Amar’e Stoudemire. What I’m talking about here is trying to create a low-risk, high-reward situation – there’s the potential to find a long-term, young, building block they will have a difficult time seeking out from other avenues.

The Too Soon Re-Evaluation of the Tyson Chandler Trade

With the New York Knicks failing miserably and Tyson Chandler shining back with the Dallas Mavericks, Phil Jackson’s decision to move on has started to draw heavy criticism.

Understanding when the best time to part with a core member of a once successful team is a hard decision to make. Many factors need to be weighed and there isn’t a sure outcome no matter how much of a slam dunk or a miss the move seems to look like at the time.

The 32-year-old Chandler (31 at time of the deal) was entering the final year of his contract. For various reasons it was hard to see the anchor of New York’s defense being with the team past this season. Jackson had a time frame consisting of the offseason going all the way to the trade deadline to try to get the highest value he could for his center, or risk losing him for nothing, barring a sign and trade.

The sign and trade aspect gets complicated with the unknown of the CBA — there are shorter contracts and more teams having money available to use during free agency. A team is typically only going to make an S&T deal if they’re financially restricted. There’s no reason to give up any sort of an asset for a player they can acquire for just money.

For this season there’s no doubt the Chandler deal looks like a disaster, but that’s not the reason the trade was completed. A more hurtful outcome for the franchise would have been losing Tyson for nothing like the Lakers did with Pau Gasol or Miami did with LeBron James.

Jose Calderon is a NBA level rotation player, on a reasonable $7-plus million contract that runs through 2016-2017. If Jackson feels Calderon ends up being a hindrance to what he’s trying to do he can always be traded at some point.

Samuel Dalembert was a filler and has no long-term harm.

Shane Larkin was a shot at a young guard and will have no impact going forward if they decide to part ways this summer. If the two sides decide to come together on a deal hopefully that means he’s proven to be a quality, two-way guard off the bench. He’s shown flashes of this, but there’s still a long way to come to this determination.

You also have two complete unknowns in Cleanthony Early and Thanasis Antetokounmpo. If one of them ends up as an NBA rotation player you take it and run.

The difference between this deal and many of the past was not killing off future flexibility despite the addition of Calderon’s guaranteed salary. New York still has plenty of cap space to maximize this summer in a potential variety of ways.

There’s always the argument of opportunity cost. The question has been raised should have Jackson waited to try and raise Chandler’s value since he was coming off a down season?

This option is far from a no-brainer and would have come with significant risk.

In 2013-2014 Chandler only played in 55 games. In 2012-2013 Chandler participated in 66 games. During 13-14 he hurt himself in the fourth game of the season. In 12-13 his body became so broken down by the end of the year he was a shell of himself when New York needed him most in the playoffs.

If New York decided to hold onto Tyson and he gets hurt before the trade deadline they end up losing him for nothing. Some will argue this was a risk worth taking, but Jackson’s decision to play it safe was a logical move.

The other positive from this deal is turning out to be an unintended consequence. Despite what looked like a middling roster, because of being in the Eastern Conference, it was at least thought the Knicks could be somewhat respectable topping out in the low 40s to high 30s or at worst winning in the low 30s.

This is not what’s happened and New York is in prime position to get a top three pick in a draft littered with talented big men.

Intentional or unintentional the Knicks are headed down a path to get a building block they desperately need. If they kept Chandler and he played at a reasonably decent level there’s not a chance New York is in this position.

The Milwaukee Bucks and Cleveland Cavaliers didn’t choose to be bad last year, but it ended up being a positive for them. Milwaukee was able to land Jabari Parker with the second pick and Cleveland turned the top selection into Kevin Love.

Maybe for once the Knicks have gotten some luck and they did something brilliant completely by accident.

Knicks Choose Unknown Over Known

Since the turn of the century the Knicks have won 50 games once. They have made it past the first round of the playoffs once. It doesn’t take much brain power to grasp that whatever methods the New York Knicks have used to operate in recent years has failed miserably. In an attempt to try to break their string of failures, Phil Jackson was hired to oversee the basketball operations department this year.

Jackson’s method is singular, in that he has a certain culture and style of basketball that he has implemented wherever he has gone. Phil has had nothing but success with his beliefs, and he’s currently trying to institute the same policy with these New York Knicks.

The Knicks have had precisely one successful season in the 21st century. During that glorious 2013 season (as Knick fans, we have an extremely lower tolerance for what constitutes glorious) New York found an identity. New York thrived using some pretty basic alignments, playing Carmelo Anthony at the four with a defensive minded center whose main role on offense was to set ball screens and dive to the rim. To fill out the rest of the lineup New York used point guards and wings who supplied ball movement, penetration, and spot up shooting.

There are situations in basketball when a team fits together well, each individual player’s skill set complements the others and as a unit can be better than expected. Those Knicks fell under this umbrella, and the philosophy was effective.

Unfortunately, ever since 2013 the Knicks have done whatever they possibly could to avoid the type of basketball which gave them that success. A simple plan for the Knicks after the 2013 season would have been to sink all of their available resources into re-creating that same dynamic. However this isn’t what happened, which brings us to where we are today.

When Jackson decided to pay Melo over the summer, he put his Knicks legacy (the second one) in Anthony’s hands. Now Jackson (and Fisher) have a choice on how to build the identity of the current roster. They can continue with what they know best, or deviate from it in an attempt to best optimize the player they chose to build their team around.

Running the triangle with Kobe/Shaq or Jordan/Pippen worked wonders for the Zen Master, but we don’t know how that will play out with Anthony. Carmelo’s skill set and strengths differ from all of these players. In 2013, Anthony was able to raise his level of play on the offensive end with the Knicks by shooting a higher volume of three pointers and doing it at a better percentage than he did earlier in his career. He attempted 6.0 three point shots per 36 minutes, almost double his current career average of 3.1.

Melo at the four allows him more outside shots against slower footed players less suited to defending beyond the arc. It can also create switching and confusion as teams try to adjust their lineup to match-up defensively. Melo fits extremely well in a spread pick and roll system with a lead guard that can break down a defense off the dribble.

Playing power forward also helps hide Anthony’s flaws defensively. Instead of chasing guys around on the perimeter through screens and closing out on a three point shooters, he can defend posts up and do his wavy-reachy-arm-stuff that has become weirdly effective.

To this point Fisher has decided to use mainly traditional lineups with Anthony at the small forward position (65% of the time according to basketball-reference.com) and has cut way back on the amount of PnR the Knicks run.

New York has started the season 3-8 and the reasons are more widespread than Carmelo not playing the four often enough. I do think they would be better in those alignments, but with the lack of a strong defender at the five, those lineups have more room to get exposed.

It’s only been 11 games, and I’m not saying what Fisher and Jackson are trying to accomplish will fail. The Knicks will have five years to find out if trying a different method to win with Carmelo Anthony will be successful. As more talent gets infused to the roster it very well could end up working. On the other hand the 2013 season provides a template for success with Anthony as the fulcrum. So in an contradictory way, by playing it safe and doing what he has historically done, Phil Jackson is taking a risk. What Jackson wants to do is known to him, but it’s an unknown for the Knicks with Carmelo Anthony as their best player.

The Knickerblogger Podcast, Episode X: A Season Preview with Chris Herring

BAAAAAAAAAAAAASSSSSKKKKKKKKKKKKETTTTTBALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL!!!!!!

(Hold on, I’m out of breath here. Whew! I did not show up in shape for training camp. Not even close to being in the best shape of my career.)

Anyhoo, the NBA schedule makers didn’t do the New York Knicks any favors as the seasons opens with games versus what we all assume will be the two top teams in the Eastern Conference. Later today (WOOOOOOO!!!!! Sorry, let’s continue), the Chicago Bulls will invade Madison Square Garden. Really, they’ve got scimitars and battering rams and everything. On Thursday, the Knicks will flee their burning, razed ex-castle keep for a quick jaunt to Quicken Loans Arena. Alas, not much shelter to be found there, just a band of murderous Visigoths like Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving and their returning King, LeBron James. Since it’s the first game for the new Big Three in front of the home crowd, you can be sure that the atmosphere will be somewhat akin to the Beatles playing the Ed Sullivan Show or possibly Thunderdome.

Fear not, True Believers! The Wall Street Journal’s Chris Herring stopped by to chat about the 2014-2015 Knicks, how head coach Derek Fisher will do in year one and a position-by-position look at the roster. Knowledge is the best defense against tyranny! (Though it still can’t guard a pick and roll to save its life.) Enjoy!

How The Knicks Can Effectively Use Amar’e Stoudemire

It’s impossible to avoid the positivity regarding the potential resurgence of Amar’e Stoudemire these days as the New York Knicks get set for the 2014-2015 season.Before their fifth preseason game against the Milwaukee Bucks Monday night — one in which Stoudemire got his first start of the preseason at center — studio analyst Wally Szczerbiak, filling in for Walt Frazier as MSG’s color commentator, opened up the broadcast discussing what STAT can bring to the team this year.

On October 7th, Amar’e talked about getting back to his “dominant self.” A few weeks, later, on October 20th, he upped the ante, saying, “I feel like I’m 19 again.” He’s talked about playing better defense and how much he can help the roster, and the bulk of the sporting press has gobbled up these tasty, sound bite-ready quotes, typically buttressing them with his at times still-impressive offensive box score numbers.

But it’s not just columnists needing to fill space; the idea that Amar’e is heading for a resurgent year is also coming from the organization itself. Head coach Derek Fisher has indicated (and this is a reminder that it’s not always wise to take pre- and post-game coach-speak as the gospel truth) that STAT will have a big role on the team, and president of basketball operations Phil Jackson had this to stay in a player-by-player scouting report for ESPN.com:

“One of the keys to the season will be the play of Amar’e Stoudemire. Although his tender knee will require his playing time and practice time to be carefully monitored, we hope he’ll be able to play four rotations of eight minutes per game.”

I’m no math wiz(ard), but eight times four is (checks abacus) 32, which is just way too many minutes for this year’s model of Amar’e Stoudemire, sad to say. This is his fifth and most likely final year with the team, but let’s take a gander at his on/off court numbers through the first four:

Snip20141022_12

Soooooo…yeah. That’s what we call “Slightly not good to awful.”

This next chart might be the most damaging to the idea/fantasy that Stoudemire can be an integral cog to this year’s geometric machine. He was barely even a positive during the 54 game, pre-Melo portion of the 10-11 season that has become arguably the most romanticized 28-26 stretch in Knick history.

Snip20141022_13

Yep, you read that correctly. During those 54 games the Knicks were only .1 points better with STAT playing when chants of “MVP, MVP!” were echoing through the upper levels of Madison Square Garden. (As a side note, can we please come up with a better chant? It’s tired and old, even if the receiver of said exhortation is a legit candidate. We can? Thanks.)

Anyway, the reason for this icky data isn’t because Stoudemire isn’t a talented individual offensive player; he is. it’s because he’s extremely hard to construct a quality five-man groups around his particular skill-set.

Take a look at these two man groups from last year:

Snip20141024_15

The way the Knicks are constructed they don’t have enough good defensive players to hide Amar’e especially when Anthony will be on the court for 34 to 36 minutes and the starting point guard is Jose Calderon. That’s two negative defenders you have to cover up for. Adding Stoudemire to the mix is too much bad defense to make it all work.

This is why Stoudemire can’t start and he needs to be limited to 18 to 20 minutes a night at most and truthfully that’s probably even too much. It’s a tough quandary, but here is how I would handle it. He can’t be on the court when Bargs or Hardaway Jr. are playing — that’s completely, 100% off limits if the goal is to win basketball games. Playing Stoudemire at center is a no go. We saw the destruction when he played center with Quincy Acy at power forward during the preseason game against the Bucks, and again last night against the Raptors. The evidence goes back longer than a preseason game or two. Via 82games.com:

Snip20141024_16

Since 2010-2011, lineups involving Stoudemire have been better with him at center versus power forward. In the last three years the Knicks had more success when he was playing PF. This leaves you with three choices of who to play Stoudemire with – Aldrich, Samuel Dalembert and Jason Smith. I don’t see Dalembert working. He gets flashy blocks, but he’s an inconsistent, poor positional defender. He’s not going to be able to cover up for STAT’s flaws. You have to play him with either Aldrich or Smith and I learn towards more with Cole because of his rebounding.

No matter whom you play at PG between Calderon, Prigioni or Shane Larkin, you’re not getting strong defense from that position. Since we’re talking about the second unit it will most likely be Prigs and Larkin getting the run with STAT. Shumpert has to be on the court and it makes the most sense to play him with J.R. Smith. In 213 minutes Stoudemire, Shump and J.R. played together last season the Knicks were a +18.4 net rating.

A lot of the numbers here are small sample sizes, yet despite the extremes, there’s a basic logic at play that makes sense. Giving Amar’e a strong wing defender to help cut off dribble penetration and a basket protector to cover up his poor team defense is what’s needed to help minimize the damage.

So, Stoudemire’s time on the court should always Aldrich/Smith at center, STAT at PF, J.R. and Shump at the wings and Larkin or Prigs at point guard. Now, that’s a very limited scope, probably not more than 15-20 mpg. But honestly, that’s fine. There’s enough evidence to suggest that the team didn’t need a “second scorer” i.e., someone that’s not Melo in order to succeed. What they needed was a balanced lineup, and when they had one, the points somehow, someway managed to arrive. Shocker, right?

It’s all fine and good for Fisher to talk about putting an emphasis on defense, but if his rotations and lineup choices don’t reflect those words… well, then it’s just talk. Amar’e is going to be the biggest early test of Fisher’s stated credo. Because if he is playing center surrounded by equally poor defenders for long stretches, then Fish’s blather doesn’t really have much value than when Woodson said it, or every other coach in the NBA says it. Not to throw STAT under the bus/kick him to the curb, but if he is going to be a big part of what we do/a piece of the puzzle, at the end of the day, less is more.