Defensive About Brown

I don’t like to dwell too much on rumors, because if I jumped on every scenario that Peter Vecsey has envisioned, I wouldn’t have much time to write about things that actually happen. However with the Knicks tending an official offer to Larry Brown making it a real possibility that he’ll be the New York coach in 2006, now might be an appropriate time to look at what he could mean to this city.

So far the reviews have been mixed at best. Some people think that the unselfish ABA assist leader from ’68-’70 might clash with the Knicks’ star trying to convince Marbury to shoot less, or that the Knicks roster is too far from contention. Even Pro Basketball Prospectus author John Hollinger is against the move, noting that hiring Brown is antithetical to the Knicks’ rebuilding philosophy. No one pays a coach $10M to babysit the tykes while Jerome James does a 21st century revival of Marv Throneberry. In fact it’s Hollinger’s opinion that surprises me the most. Not only is one of the part time jobs of the voluminous author to cover the Knicks for the New York Sun, but John also coined the term “Larry Brown Effect” in the ’03 Prospectus. The LBE showed that Larry Brown (pre-Detroit) has improved his teams by an average of 11.2 wins in his first season.

While Hollinger looked at Brown’s overall effect on his clubs, I wanted to look deeper into those teams. So I split his accomplishments up between offensive & defensive rankings, and I looked at the teams in the first and second year of Brown.

Year    Team    Y1O     Y1D     Y2O     Y2D
2003    DET     -4      2       -3      1
1998    PHI     1       6       1       21
1994    IND     -6      13      -3      16
1993    LAC     2       5       5       -2
1989    SAS     -13     9       -5      19
1982    NJN     0       13      2       15
1975    DEN     7       3       7       2
1973    CAR     4       8       7       5
        SUM     -9.0    59.0    11.0    77.0
        AVG     -1.1    7.4     1.4     9.6
        MEAN    0.5     7.0     1.5     10.0

By the chart above, teams that Brown coached improved an average of 7.4 rankings on defense in their first year, and 9.6 in the second. On the offensive end, they showed little to no improvement. In other words Larry Brown is a defensive wizard. Which is why I would be thrilled to have him as coach of the Knicks.

When Herb Williams took over the head coaching responsibility in January, one of the things I said I would keep an eye on is how the Knicks fared on offense and defense for the rest of the season. At the time they ranked 17th and 24th respectively, and unfortunately they showed little to no improvement by the end of the year. On offense the Knicks finished 16th, but on defense they dropped three spots to 27th.

It was New York’s defense, or lack thereof that irked me. Even 5 games into last season, it was clear that the Knicks needed an upgrade. Isiah Thomas’ roster seemed to have players who lacked effort or ability on the defensive end, including his two prize guards: Marbury and Crawford. Stephon’s defensive liabilities were so bad that only a few weeks later it prompted guest-blogger David Crockett to write that Marbury should be traded because he created “easy scoring opportunities for opponents, putting his teammates in a terrible bind.” He added “at this point in Marbury?s career it seems unlikely that he is going to devote himself more fully to defense for more than a quarter here or there… How can the team construct a title contender with Marbury as its focal player?”

As for Crawford, in April I had an email-versation with John Hollinger that went like this.

KB: “I’m not sold on Crawford. Combine the awful defense with the chuck at all costs offense, and 2011 seems a far away. Both would have to change for Craw to be a useful starter, and I’m not high on those odds.”

JH: “Reasonable people can disagree on Crawford. I just think a stronger coach could whip him into shape and help smooth all those rough edges. We won’t know until or unless the Knicks hire one.”

Enter Larry Brown, stage left. Even though it was half of a hopeless season, Herb Williams’ inability to get the Knicks to play any defense left me doubtful that he would be the right guy to get the job done. Not only could Brown get Marbury and Crawford to shut down down the conga-line to the hoop, but he might be able to affect the rest of the roster as well. With the right training, Trevor Ariza could become a defensive stopped in the mold of Tayshaun Prince. Isiah’s new acquisition, the burly and foul prone Jerome James, might be able to stay in the game for more than 20 minutes a night with a little guidance. The Knicks have a rookie Channing Frye that, if his summer league 10 foul game is any indication, needs a little help in becoming their future center. And he can’t mishandle Mike Sweetney any worse than his predecessors.

Brown is exactly what the organization needs. The Knicks need someone that can get this young team to play defense. What better for this franchise to remind New Yorkers of its’ past than to become a defensive minded squad? Fans can be reminded of the Camby-LJ-Sprewell era, the Ewing-Oakley-Starks era, or the Reed-Jackson-DeBusschere era depending on their age. Notice that behind each one of those teams was a strong coach: Van Gundy, Riley, or Holzman.

Even if Brown stays for two or three years and the team only is good enough to go a round or two in the playoffs, the franchise should be better off because most of the players are in a position in their career where they can improve. It’s possible that the lessons the players learn under Brown can stay with them for the rest of their career. As for the aftermath, the proof is in Brown’s last few stops (we’ll throw out the Clippers, since we’re only concerned with legitimate NBA franchises). No one is predicting that Detroit will cease to be an Eastern powerhouse because Brown is no longer patrolling the sidelines. Indiana arguably was better after Brown left in 1997. Last I checked the Spurs have done pretty well for themselves since 1992. Only Philadelphia is the worse for wear, but in Larry’s last year their top guys included Keith Van Horn, Eric Snow, and Derrick Coleman. It was inevitible that they were going to crash sooner or later. As for the Knicks, the odds look good to me with Brown at the helm. Even if it’s only to temporarily right the ship.

[Edited after a full night’s sleep.]

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Mike Kurylo

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

15 thoughts to “Defensive About Brown”

  1. KB-

    I hopped onto curious about the “LB” effect on pace and efficiency. Those factors seem the most directly related to coaching per se and least dependent on talent. Obviously efficiency and pace numbers should-and do-tell the same basic story you do. Still, there are some quasi-interesting tidbits worth sharing.

    The team that compares most favorably to the one Brown is getting seems to be the 98 Sixers. I compared the two in their pre-Brown season using pace and efficiency relative to league avg. (below lg. average #s in parentheses):

    Pace (+/- league avg): 05 NYK-0.5; 97 PHI-5.4
    Off. Efficiency (+/-): 05 NYK-(0.1); 97 PHI-(2.3)
    Def. Efficiency (+/-): 05 NYK-3.4; 97 PHI-4.7

    The Iverson-led Sixers Brown inherited played a much swifter pace under Johnny Davis than the Wilkins/Williams Knicks. However, the 05 Knicks were more efficient-even if only somewhat-on both ends than the 97 Sixers. In 98 Brown put the brakes on the running and gunning, taking the Sixers all the way down to league average pace. Unfortunately, Philly actually got worse offensively relative to the league (4.3 below avg.). However, their defense improved dramatically; from almost 5 points above league average efficiency to almost a full point (0.7) below.

    In 99 Brown slowed the pace even a touch more, but got better offensively (at least back to 97 levels) while adding another 4+ point improvement defensively.

    Since no two teams are alike comparisons are always risky. The 05 Knicks have no Theo Ratliff calibur shot-blocker. Still, Brown has produced reasonably similar results in the first two seasons on defensive efficiency across a number of different teams with very different rosters. Only with the Clippers did he fail to produce a def. efficiency improvement relative to league avg. of 4 points or more, and that was in a partial 92 season.

  2. I have to say, I was surprised by Hollinger’s analysis too. While I agree that Brown might only be here for 2 years, I think those years could be critical in determining if this is a team that can win a Championship in 3-4 years or we’re stuck in neutral.

    I had high hopes for Herb Williams when he became coach, mostly because I felt that Wilkins wasn’t really making the team better — as you mentioned defense was his biggest failing, but his rotation and lack of willingness to play Sweetney seemed perplexing on a team that wasn’t going anywhere. Herb just seemed more of the same, he was a coach with no added value.

    Whatever you think of Brown, he has always made his teams better. These Knicks will be better next year with Brown, maybe not at the start of the season, but by the end I’m almost certain.

    The trick now is if they get content with just making the playoffs. That’s a start, but not the goal.

    Of the candidates left Brown is by far the best. The real question which Hollinger raises in his piece is should Issiah have widened the search.

  3. What I’m wondering is, with their huge contracts, if Phil Jackson and Larry Brown go to lunch to discuss being great coaches of teams with questionable talent, who picks up the check?

  4. The Knicks can’t win a ring in the next 3-4 years unless Duncan, KG, McGrady, Yao and Kobe retire, or they get Lebron.

  5. Hey, I can’t afford to go to Knicks games anyway,so if his astronomical contract makes prices go up, so be it: and having Brown as coach certainly makes the Knicks a hell of a lot more interesting story, even if he doesn’t make them better. (Which he almost certainly will). Knickerblogger makes a good point about his use of rookies — Milicic was verrry ungame-ready. I think hustlers like Ariza and Sweetney are like Darvin Ham but with more upside, and we know how much Brown liked Darvin!

    But I even think midlevel vets like Taylor could do well under Brown — he’s a coach anyone would listen to, and I think a guy like Taylor (or Crawford, or, maybe, gasp, Marbury) could really improve under him.

    That being said, Brown did suffer through that 20-62 season at the Spurs before Robinson arrived, so who knows what’ll happen with Frye and James fouling out at center and Crawford shooting 36%…

  6. Kurt Said:
    July 27th, 2005 at 2:29 pm e

    What I?m wondering is, with their huge contracts, if Phil Jackson and Larry Brown go to lunch to discuss being great coaches of teams with questionable talent, who picks up the check?

    I’ll go with Scott Layden, because it’s usually the busboy’s job to clean the table after lunch.

  7. Whats to complain about. I only see the Knicks getting better. If you can’t see that, you must have on blinders or some negative agenda.

  8. I think that today is a great day for N.Y.Knicks and fans around the world. Now we have someone here who can get this team into playoffs with some chances there to do something. I want to see this team play team-basketball and this coach can to that. Marbury should adjust his game, and same goes for Crawford. In my opinion he is not starter, he should be 6th player, smoething like B.Gordon for Bulls, to come off a bench and do damage, cause he is outta control, and if he is on fire than he can play more than 30mins, and if not go back to bench. When Larry was in Indiana, they had 2 lineups, every guy on the team knew his job, thats what I would like to see here. Marbury can average 9 asists per game, but he cant make faces everytime when he passes the ball and someone misses the shot, thats not good, and he should play more defence.
    And now when Larry is in town, maybe they could try to trade T.Thomas, I dont think Larry likes that guy, cause he is kickin so much ass around, and boxin, and being tough guy. Why I have never seen that?
    it is a great day

  9. Now that the Knicks have 3 new guys via the draft and 1 by trade who do they get rid of to make room for them? Sundov, Jackson, Butler, Penny, Taylor or Rose?

  10. Maybe they should get rid of them all. For Sundov I am sure, he is from same country as I am, I know he sucks, no doubt there. I have seen him few times, and I really dont know what is he doing here, he is just a tall guy, nothing else.
    What is taylor rebounding avarege? thats answer.

  11. As much heat as Isiah takes he has potentially addressed every need the Knicks had going into the offseason.
    1. Coach. Check
    The Knicks needed, as much as anything else, a coach who could command the respect neccesary to get them to play within a system on offense and try on the defensive end. There is a lot of talent on this roster, but they needed a coach who could get them to play like a team. Larry’s a great fit because, well, he’s a great coach and becasue he has a history of turning teams around, but he’s also a great fit because the Knicks have a number of players with skills in certain areas and huge weaknesses in other areas (don’t all teams) and Larry has a history of getting the most out of his role players and not being afraid of keeping his rotation short even if it means sitting some pretty good players.

    2. Defense. check/???
    Nate (he could maybe be a Lindsay Hunteresque disruptor off the bench), Frye (labeled as soft, but a hard worker), Lee, and JJ all have some defensive potential and Q is at least adequate defensively, but Larry Brown fills another need becasue he provides a bigger defensive upgrade than any player that the Knicks could have realistically hoped to acquire. Steph, JC, and TT are all strong athletes who should be able to defend if they actually try and if their teamates are trying. Strong team defense can mask individual weaknesses. For example, Brent Barry was never known as a good defender, but SA was still a very good defensive team when he was on the court. Nazr Mohammed also looked a lot better on defense as a Spur than he did as a Knick. The Knicks don’t have a Tim Duncan or a Bruce Bowen, but we should be significantly better than we were last year.

    3. Backcourt depth. Check
    The Knicks next big problem was that Stephon Marbury and Jamal Crawford played way too many minutes, especially given their shoot first mentalities and defensive short comings. Even if Q starts at the 3 he can slide over to the 2 occasionally and whether he’s at the 2 or the 3 he’s another scorer on the wing to whom Marbury can dish. Nate might not be able to run the point for sustained periods as a rookie, but he won’t need to and should be able to provide energy off the bench on both sides of the ball. Could Trevor Ariza also benifit from LB’s presence in his second NBA season in a similar manner to Tayshaun Prince, given the Knicks lack of a shut down perimeter defender? I guess it’s more likely if TT isn’t on the team some time this season or next season.

    4. Frontcourt talent. check/???
    Last year’s frontcourt didn’t lack depth, but it did lack talent. There was no real low post scoring threat and no shot blocking threat to deter penetration. The guys Isiah brought in definitely have potential; we’ll have to wait and see if their talent translates into productivity. If nothing else, Frye can hit a jump shot, block a shot, and has shown that he has the work ethic to improve. Lee is a good athlete and seems, like Frye, to be a hard worker and team player. Jerome James is 7-1 and has some skills so even if it fails it wasn’t a terrible gamble (well maybe it was because of $, but if you ignore that, like the Knicks do, it’s nice to have some options as to which overpayed players you sit). Another positive in the frontcourt is that if Sweets takes over for KT you replace a midrange jump shooter with a low post scorer. While the Zach Randolph comparisons are not out of the question they are a little optimistic. Sweets should at least be able to replace Kurt Thomas.

    There seems to be a popular belief in the media that the Knicks don’t even have the talent to make the playoffs, even with LB coaching. I think it’s worth pointing out that these are the same people who, going into last year, thought that the Wolves were a title contender, the Nuggets would get home court, the Suns would sneak into the back end of the playoffs, and the Sonics would watch the playoffs at home on their couches. The same people that thought the Bulls would be winning the lottery, not home court. And the Bulls got the 4 seed with 4 rookies, Othella Harrington, and Antonio Davis in their rotation.

    So while the media chooses to highlight the Knicks shortcomings, they could be praising Isiah for improving this team as much on paper as any team. Some call the Bucks the most improved lottery team. Their only real additions are a rookie and a guy who was QII for the Clipps (of course if Ford comes make that’s their biggest addition, but he was already on their team). We got three rookies, the original Q, and one of the best coaches ever, so I think we’re right on par. The Cavs also should be better, especially because they have LeBron, but since when were Donyell Marshall and Larry Hughes sure things? The Nets have also added a lot of depth and should do well in the regular season, but they have major injury concerns and might be too soft in the playoffs. So the Knicks are not the only team with question marks on paper that they’re going to have to answer on the court. That’s why they play the games, right.

  12. …I like your positive outlook for the Knicks but Isiah’s attempts haven’t amounted to wins right?
    Knicks are three major moves away from being decent in my opinion…
    1. SF/Swingman is a major hole for the KNicks..Ariza will lose his backup spot to Penny and that ain’t saying much about either one; why didnt Isiah draft Granger? TT will battle Q-rich its the lessor of 2 evils.
    (theres a major glut in the backcourt that Isiah is responsible for, look for a major shakeup).

    2. frontcourt, still lacks a starting center…JJ? why him? he dominated Sacramenton with Miller hurt and Webber having been traded…This is not the guy for us..better off going for Tyson Chandler or eddy Curry…Frye could flourish under brown I give Isiah credit for that one if it pans out but I’m doubtful.

    3. PF is the other major hole in my opinion…Bye Bye Sweetney Hello JYD
    In all, I must hold off with the praises for Isiah cuz it seems like things are going to continue to get worse before they get better.

  13. They haven’t amounted to wins yet because the season has yet to start. I concentrated only on the needs heading into this offseason and the moves made this offseason. Mostly because every single thing was a need when he first took over. Here’s how I would respond to those points:

    1. At SF you have Q (the starter on a 60 win team last year), TT (the 6th man on some good teams in Milwakee, but never a great starter), Ariza (pretty impressive at 19 so I don’t know why he would lose his job to a guy that might not even be on the team), and Penny (if he makes it), JYD, or Lee can play there some, the second two in a similar manner to the way Larry used George Lynch.

    2. The frontcourt is an issue but Larry has to find something that passes for a rotation between Sweets, Frye, Lee, JJ, Rose, JYD, and Taylor and Butler and Sundov (did I miss anyone?). One of his biggest strengths is getting the most out of role players.

    3. With his skill in the post I think that Sweets will play for Larry unless he manages to show up for camp in worse shape than Mo Talyor. Remember that KVH and DC were defensive liabilities and they got plenty of minutes in Philly. Also, in Philly Larry jump started the carrers of third year guys Eric Snow and Theo Ratliff.

    My biggest question is what the roster is and what the rotation is at the beginning of the season and how much that changes during the season.

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