Knicks 2007 Report Card (A to Z): Jamal Crawford

KnickerBlogger: In November of 2004, I wrote this about Jamal Crawford:

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.

Three years later, and Crawford is still the same poor shot maker he was when he first arrived in New York. Last year Larry Brown seemed to recognize this and curtailed some of Crawford’s wildness. Under Brown, Crawford attempted the fewest shots per minute and had the highest TS% of his career. However under Isiah Thomas, Crawford reverted to his old self, making 2006 an aberration instead of a breakthrough. Last year among Knick guards, Crawford finished behind Marbury, Robinson, and Francis in both eFG% & TS%. He only edged out Mardy Collins, who has no jumpshot whatsoever. Despite his lack of efficiency on offense, Crawford led the Knicks with 16.1 FGA/40min.

On the positive side, Crawford’s familiarity with Curry allows him to feed the big guy in the post better than any of the other Knick guards. Crawford has the best handle and passing ability of the Knick guards. And he is fearless when it comes to taking shots.

On the negative side, Crawford hasn’t developed in the years you’d expect a player to realize his potential. Except for his age, everything I wrote about him three years ago still applies today. In just about every major category, except for free throws, Jamal Crawford has either stayed about the same or gotten worse since his last season in Chicago.

Per Minute eFG pts ast reb stl blk to fta
2004 0.449 19.7 5.8 4 1.6 0.4 2.7 3.4
2005 0.483 18.5 4.5 3 1.4 0.3 2.2 3.2
2006 0.474 17.7 4.7 3.9 1.4 0.2 2.7 5.6
2007 0.458 18.9 4.7 3.4 1 0.1 2.9 4.9

Crawford doesn’t earn a strong grade from my perspective because of the lack of game to game consistency from him. In consecutive games after his 52 point outburst, he only managed to make 9 of 24 shots and 5 of 15 shots. Prior to that 52 point game, he had a streak from January 5th through the 19th of 6 straight games where he connected on a pitiful 33% or less of his attempts.

The human mind is an interesting thing. We tend to remember strongly the very positive events (50 point games, game winning shots, flashy moves) or the very negative events (fights, Charles Smith). But we are poor at remembering the events that fall in between those two extremes. In other words humans are naturally bad at calculating probabilities (gambling, sports averages, lotto). Some may be shocked at my poor evaluation of Crawford, because he’s had his fair share of game winning shots, crossovers, and scoring outbursts. But the truth is he’s an inconsistent shooter who hurts his team more nights than he helps them.

KnickerBlogger’s Grade: C-

2008 Outlook: A scorpion wishes to cross a river, but is unable to swim. He sees a frog in the water and asks the frog for help. The frog is hesitant, since the scorpion’s sting would kill the frog. The scorpion pleads with the frog and tells the frog not to worry, that if he stung the frog, both of them would drown. With that logic in mind, the frog agrees and lets the scorpion climb onto his back. Half way across the river, the scorpion stings the frog. When the frog asks why he doomed both of them, the scorpion replies “I can’t help it, I’m a scorpion.”

Since the Knicks acquired Crawford, I’ve wondered when he would become a smarter shooter. At this point I’m ready to conclude that like the scorpion, Crawford is either unable or unwilling to change who he is. Since he’s so inefficient, the Knicks would be smart to reduce either the amount of shots he takes or his playing time. He’s probably best suited coming off the bench, like he began 2007. But more than likely he’ll enter the 2008 in the Knicks’ starting rotation.

Michael Zannettis: Not only does the human brain cling onto extreme experiences, but even in the face of a damning criticism it holds onto whatever slight glimmer of hope it can imagine. I agree with Crawford’s report card, especially the grim outlook for his remaining Knick career. That being said, to say that Crawford is the best post-feeding guard on the entire Knicks’ roster is true…because someone has to be. The fact that Crawford “can” pass is made completely insignificant for the simple matter that he “won’t” pass.

Dave Crockett: I can’t help but agree with KB’s evaluation. Although I enjoy watching Crawford, whose game has a certain elegance, an aesthetic quality that can be a real pleasure, he is one of the most frustrating players on the roster. The gap between his dizzying array of skills and spotty production is as wide as anyone’s on the team. What is frustrating is that the kid is not uncoachable. The only year he got good coaching, under Brown, he seemed to take to Brown’s vision of turning him into more of a Rip Hamilton-style guard: more curls, fewer isolations and 3pt shots. Indeed his aberrant good-shooting year under Brown was, as I recall, due almost entirely to taking fewer 3pt attempts.

Thomas’ failure to build on what Larry Brown began with Crawford is to my mind his biggest player development failure–and I tend to think player development is one of his strengths. But Thomas legitimately blew it with Crawford this year by explicitly repudiated Brown’s vision for him, encouraging him to return to his 18-crossover, freelancing ways. (This is ironic considering that Thomas eventually wised up and basically embraced Brown’s vision for a more disciplined Stephon Marbury.) So, although I agree with the grade I have to give part of it to Thomas.

One matter I will quibble with a bit is Michael’s assertion that Crawford won’t pass. His career assist rate is 20.5. This past season’s 18.2 was a career low for him. He’s not a gifted passer but he’s certainly no Ben Gordon. His passing isn’t a liability. The bigger issues are that his usage rate is too high and he’s turnover prone. I think we can all agree though that with Crawford less would be more in 07-08.

Brian Cronin – I differ from KB in the sense that I think Crawford HAS changed from three years ago, if only because of his one season with Brown. Had that season never existed, then sure, I’d definitely agree that Crawford will never learn – but since we saw that he actually CAN play the “right” way, I think that is a nice sign for his future progress. He will most likely never capitalize upon it, but the option is there, and I do not know if I ever thought it WAS there before Brown came to the Knicks.

I also am looking forward to Crawford in 2007-08 because I am foolish enough to think that having seen the Knicks play for a season, Thomas will realize how to best use Crawford.

Anyhow, I think Crawford was basically a little better than the median NBA player last season (even though his PER dipped below “league average” for the first time since his rookie season), so I’d give him a slightly higher grade – I’d view him as a C+.

Knicks 2007 Report Card (A to Z): Mardy Collins

KnickerBlogger: Mardy Collins’ first season was almost a disaster. As late as mid-February it seemed as if Collins would be remembered as a seldom used rookie that triggered the fight with the Nuggets. However injuries down the stretch ravaged the Knicks backcourt, and Collins was thrown into the fire. He was the starting point guard for the Knicks last 9 games, averaging 44 minutes per game in that stint. The 6-6 guard earns his keep on defense, where his size allows him to defend both point guards and shooting guards. Collins was second on the team with 1.6 steals per 40 minutes, and was the best rebounding guard, grabbing 5.4 rebounds per 40 minutes. According to 82games, the Knicks were 2.5 points per 100 possessions better on defense with Collins on the floor.

Unfortunately that’s where the positives end. Mardy Collins is a poor shooter. His shooting percentages (41% eFG, 44.5% TS%, 27.7% 3P%, and 58% FT%) were dreadful for a guard. Collins is able to run the offense, but the problem is when the ball comes back to a wide open Mardy who is unable to connect from outside. Additionally he was a bit careless with the ball, as Collins turned the ball over 2.9 times per 40 minutes, which is too high for a player that scores only 12.1 points per 40 minutes. Turnover rates are usually higher for rookie point guards trying to adjust to NBA offenses, so it’s something that’s likely to improve as he matures.

KnickerBlogger’s Grade: C

2008 Outlook: Like Collins’ draftmate Renaldo Balkman, Collins is a strong defender who struggles in the half court set. His three point percentage is almost passable, but he wasn’t a strong bombardier in college (29%), so it’s unclear if he can actually develop that shot in the NBA. Collins’ poor free throw shooting doesn’t bode well for his potential to develop a midrange shot. Like Balkman, if Collins can’t find a way to contribute on offense he’ll be nothing more than a bench player for the remainder of his career. Being the Knicks’ best defensive guard, he does have value in that capacity. Unless Isiah makes a big shake-up at either guard position, Collins will likely find time as a part time defender and injury substitute.

Michael Zannettis: The hope of developing a jump shot seems to me to be the holy grail of basketball player development. Off the top of my head I’m hard pressed to think of one productive professional athlete who entered the league incompetent at shooting, then developed a reliable game. As such, I’m fairly down on Collins. It’s not like his athleticism shoots through the roof. That being said, can anyone think of a poor shooter when they entered the NBA that then developed their shooting skills?

Brian Cronin: If you want to know why we won’t love him so – it’s there in his misses!

(Is it in his D?)
Oh no! You need to see!
(Is it in his size?)
Oh no! You make believe!
If you wanna know
Why we won’t love him so
Its in his misses
(That’s where it is!)

Seriously, Collins’ problem is just extremely straightforward. The guy doesn’t have an outside shot. Imagine if he DID, though? How awesome would he be? Good defender, nice size for a guard, if he could shoot, he’d have the total package.

As it is, Collins had a month of counting stats convince a lot of sportswriters that he was actually a good player. At the moment, he is not. And since, as Michael mentions, it is unlikely that he will suddenly become a good shooter, Collins is probably never going to be more than a good defensive back-up guard. That, to me, is worth a C, so I agree with KB’s grade.

Knicks 2007 Report Card (A to Z): Kelvin Cato

KnickerBlogger: Cato played only 95 minutes this year, the fewest in his 10 year career. It’s a shame because his skill set is complementary to that of Curry’s, and Cato could have helped the Knicks in spot duty. Cato is a very good defender, and the Knicks desperately needed help in that area. New York finished 24th in defensive efficiency.

KnickerBlogger’s Grade: Incomplete

2008 Outlook: The Knicks would be lucky to resign Cato, and give him whatever minutes they gave to Jerome James. For his career he doesn’t block shots as often as James (2.6 to 3.2 blk/40), but he commits less fouls (5.1 to 8.3 pf/40), turnovers (1.7 to 3.4 pf/40), and is a better rebounder (10.8 to 9.2 reb/40). Unfortunately Isiah has James signed until 2010, so James will eat up the deep bench center minutes. Most likely next season Cato will find a team that will actually play him.

Brian Cronin: Looking back, I guess the market out there for Kelvin Cato just wasn’t as big as one would think, because why else would he sign with the Knicks? Talent-wise, it’s a great fit, as Cato is the type of strong defender that the Knicks really could use (and he can still move quick enough that he could hang with the Lees and Balkmans of the world…well, maybe not, but still better than Curry! In other words, this isn’t a big stiff we’re talking about here), but manpower-wise, he had to know he wasn’t going to get to play, so I guess no other team had a need for him, which is too bad, as I think he could help out a number of teams. I really liked what little we saw of him this year. But yeah, any grade other than “Incomplete” would be silly here.

Knicks 2007 Report Card (A to Z): Renaldo Balkman

With the Knicks 2007 season in the books, we will evaluate one player every Monday.

KnickerBlogger: Renaldo Balkman’s arrival in New York wasn’t without it’s controversy. Press and fans alike roasted Isiah Thomas over the pick, who added fuel to the fire with comparisons to Dennis Rodman. But slowly, the Staten Island native began to win Knick fans over. Balkman’s first breakout game was Nov 15th against the Wizards, in which he had 18 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 blocks. After that game, a KB commenter said “Balkman probably won?t score this well very often, but his defense and rebounding are pretty dependable. If he does learn to be even an average scorer, he?ll be a special player for years to come.” Although Balkman’s minutes fluctuated throughout the season, he brought his high energy game on the floor each time.

Renaldo Balkman is an athletic player that can fill up every area of a boxscore. Per 40 minutes he averages approximately 2 blocks, steals, turnovers, and assists. He’s a strong rebounder on both ends of the floor, his 11.1 reb/40 was second on the Knicks only to the marvelous David Lee (13.9 reb/40). When grabbing a rebound, Balkman is able to bring it up the floor quickly giving the Knicks an opportunity to score in transition. Defensively Balkman looks well not only by traditional methods (steals and blocks), but by modern methods and to the naked eye. The Knicks were an astounding 9.2 points per 100 possessions better on defense with Balkman on the floor. Like Tayshaun Prince, Balkman’s freakishly long reach and leaping ability allows him to make up for mistakes, both his own and his teammates. However Balkman doesn’t have Prince’s one-on-one shut down ability.

Unfortunately Balkman does have his weaknesses, and they are all on the offensive end. The Knicks’ forward has no ability to score in the half court set with the ball. Balkman can’t hit a jump shot from any range, nor does he seem to be able to beat his man off the dribble, nor does he have any post game, nor can he hit a free throw. Even Jared Jeffries has his “Jeffrightened” post move. Balkman’s offense relies on other players. He moves exceptionally well without the ball, is always looking to get an offensive rebound, and can finish strongly around the hoop.

Balkman finished third on the team in PER and second in WP/48 combined with his strong +/- showed that he had a successful year. Considering it was a rookie campaign from a late round pick, it’s hard to be too harsh on Balkman.

KnickerBlogger’s Grade: A-

2008 Outlook: Balkman needs to work on his half court game. If he doesn’t develop a jump shot, some kind of driving ability, or a post up game, he’ll be stuck as a 7th/8th man. If I were Balkman, I would either ask Quentin Richardson for some low post tips, or head to Bruce Bowen’s corner for a few hours every day.

Dave Crockett: Ditto Mike’s comments with one addition. Balkman’s natural inclination is to grab a defensive board and push the ball. New York should do much more of that. What I’d like to see from him this summer is work on a mid-range jump shot. I think a three point shot may be a bit down the road for him. Bruce Bowen was in the league a lot of years before he developed that shot.

Brian Cronin: I have to differ with Mike slightly on the grading, if only because I am a bit less willing to give Balkman a “mulligan” for being picked so late in the first round.

I will gladly give Isiah Thomas an A- for the pick, as it has turned out to be a great pick (and might I please point out that I backed up Zeke right from the start, saying that I had faith in his pick), but while Balkman’s rate stats are quite good, the room for improvement in his shot and his free throws are just so glaring, I don’t see myself looking at the guy as a “nearly complete” player, which I think an A- would indicate. So I am going with a B.