Knicks Off-Season Preview (1 of 2)

Hey Knicks fans. While the Knickerblogger is away on vacation he has asked some of us who bleed orange and blue to pinch hit. The Knickerblogger swings a mighty fine bat but I’ll do my best to measure up.

Two Lessons I’ve Learned from Joe Dumars

In some ways the weeks following the NBA Finals leading into the summer off-season is my favorite time, especially this season since I get to see the Lakers be dismantled. As a Knicks fan I am now at my most hopeful. So what should the Knicks do this off-season? I?ll take a few moments to speculate, hopefully restraining myself from proposing a list of shamelessly lopsided moves in which the Knicks bag Kobe, C-Webb, and ?Sheed for Shandon Anderson, Dikembe Mutombo, and future considerations. In fact I?ll keep my suggestions for specific roster moves at a minimum precisely because what I have learned from Joe is that it’s about identity first then players.

Having listened to numerous interviews with Joe Dumars over the past several weeks what has impressed me most is the clarity of his vision. Dumars?s plan for building a championship NBA franchise in an NBA shantytown is centered on developing identity first and talent a close but clear second. (What I label ?identity? others may call ?direction? or ?philosophy? but you get the point.) Dumars acquires talent (and that includes Larry Brown) to fit an identity not the other way around. That Joe Dumars is one smart cookie. Detroit’s no dynasty in the making – I don’t think – but they’re no one hit wonder either. I believe that Isiah Thomas could learn a couple lessons from his Bad Boys backcourt mate that could help transform the Knicks from playoff also ran into real contenders.

Lesson 1: Establish a basketball identity. At the end of the year one in the E.Z. (Era of Zeke) I really have no sense of what the Knicks are (or are becoming). This is not altogether surprising given that the Knicks followed a bona fide palace coup with a blockbuster trade, a coaching change, and another huge trade. But, presumably the point of blowing up the roster was to move the Knicks in a new direction. I am just uncertain about what direction that is. Put another way, can any of you sum up what ?playing the game the right way,? a mantra we heard repeatedly from Detroit players, means to these Knicks? For Detroit we know that playing the right way means nonstop hustle, suffocating help defense, and sharing the ball. For the Knicks I am uncertain what it means, unless clearing the floor for a terrible shot by Marbury constitutes playing the right way.

To be fair, these identityless Knicks did manage to make the playoffs. Unfortunately they spent this year?s first round pick dragging themselves across the threshold. Consequently, if the Knicks are to get younger and more athletic, to use Thomas?s oft-repeated phrase, then more roster turnover must be on the horizon. Frankly, turnover is not necessarily a bad thing on a team with so much flotsam and jetsam. Nonetheless ?younger and more athletic? is more of a description than an identity. An identity helps answer the question, what purpose would a proposed roster move serve? That’s why you establish it before you make a move. So, here we are at the end of year one E.Z. I think it?s fair to pose the question who are these Knicks? Maybe you all have an answer but I sure don’t.

Lesson 2: Develop young players. Among the many reasons that Joe Dumars decided that Rick Carlyle was not the right fit for what he was building was that Rick could never see what Joe saw in Tayshaun Prince. I think we all see it now.

If the playoff sweep at the hands of the Nets does nothing else for the Knicks hopefully it put to rest once and for all an era of near pathological disdain for young players. Clearly, the series revealed that the kids should have been better developed during the season, particularly when you consider how broken down and tired Marbury, Hardaway, and Kurt Thomas were by the end. The failure to develop Williams and Sweetney during a mediocre season borders on criminally shortsighted, or more accurately pathological. I am not suggesting that Williams and Sweetney are all-NBA talents but each provides more than adequate depth and is the top defender at his position. Besides, this is bigger than Williams and Sweetney anyway. The lesson here is that mediocre teams who overpay for washed-up role players and fail to develop solid, inexpensive young role players end up in salary cap hell and stay there.

Alright, that’s enough for now.

Next time: What the Knicks Should Do Now.

dave

p.s. Dedicated to Ralph Wiley. RIP Ralph. I’ll miss you… and the Road Dog.

KnickerBlogger 2004 NBA Playoff Brackets Contest

Well folks, way back in April I searched the world for some of the greatest basketball minds & asked them to predict what would happen in the NBA playoffs. I included myself among this group of super-geniuses, to see how the average man would fare against the smartest of the smart. In an attempt to make it seem that I’m giving you the reader extra content, I will republish the original bracket here. To take a page from Microsoft, I’ll make it look slightly different, so it seems new, despite having the same content. I’ve taken the liberty of bolding all the incorrect picks.

BLOG:	John	Kevin	Ron	Michael	 Scott	Tim	Matt	Me
:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-: EAST FIRST ROUND :-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:
E1v8 IND IND IND IND IND IND IND IND
E2v7 NJ NY NJ NJ NJ NJ NJ NJ
E3v6 DET DET DET DET DET DET DET DET
E4v5 MIA MIA NO MIA MIA NO NO MIA
:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-: WEST FIRST ROUND :-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:
W1v8 MIN MIN MIN MIN MIN MIN MIN MIN
W2v7 LAL LAL LAL LAL LAL LAL LAL LAL
W3v6 SAS SAS SAS SAS MEM MEM SAS SAS
W4v5 DAL DAL SAC DAL DAL SAC SAC SAC
:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-: SECOND ROUND :-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:
E2-1 IND IND IND IND IND IND IND IND
E2-2 DET DET DET DET DET DET DET DET
W2-1 MIN MIN MIN MIN MIN MIN SAC MIN
W2-2 SAS LAL LAL LAL LAL LAL SAS SAS
:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-: FINALS :-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:
EAST DET DET IND IND DET DET DET IND
WEST SAS LAL LAL LAL LAL LAL SAS MIN
CHAMP SAS LAL LAL LAL LAL LAL SAS IND
:-:-:-:-: TIEBREAKER SCORE OF THE LAST GAME :-:-:-:-:
Score 82-78 89-80 87-81 110-95 93-86 90-75 90-82 91-84

Not a single person picked the correct team to win it all. I was the only one to pick an East team, but unfortunately for my fortune telling business I choose the wrong one. So how did everyone do?

In last place is Matt, from Bulls Blog, with 10 points. Believe me when I say that he is a better blogger than prognosticator. Tied for 6th place with 11 points is John Hollinger and myself. I’m proud that I scored the same as the guy that’s written for CNN/SI, and has written a couple of books. John is so well respected that I spelt his name wrong in the original bracket. Sorry John, don’t take it out on my Knicks in your next Basketball Prospectus (did I mention I already pre-ordered it :-).

For first place there is a 5 way tie. In the “I should have won column”, Kevin Pelton claims his blood sugar was low when he picked the Knicks over the Nets, and Ron Hitley would have been blacklisted by his fans for not picking his home town Hornets to go at least one round. That should be a lesson when gambling. Eat your breakfast, and don’t bet on your favorite team.

Thank goodness I came up with the tiebreaker, or these guys would have to fight it out to the death to decide the winner. The person who was closest to the score of the last game of the Finals, will win.

PARTICIPANT:	Kevin	Ron	Michael	 Scott	Tim	
WINNER (100): 89 87 110 93 90
LOSER (87): 80 81 95 86 75
# FROM WINNER 11 13 10 7 10
# FROM LOSER 7 6 8 1 12
TOTALPOINTS 18 19 18 8 22
That would make the winner, Scott Carefoot. Although I never met him, it seems as Scott has it all: great writing ability, a forum on his web page, his picture next to every post… all he needs is a huge Johnson.

1. Scott		12 points + tiebreaker
2t Kevin 12
2t Michael 12
2t Ron 12
2t Tim 12
6. John 11
6t Me 11
8. Matt 10

Congrats Scott & better luck next year for everyone else!

2003 – 2004 Champs: The Detroit Pistons

Congratulations to the Detroit Pistons. It seemed that the whole country was a Pistons fan for just a little bit. Especially after game 3, where it seemed apparent to just about everyone that they were the better team and going to win the series.
Maybe some people liked them because they were the underdogs. Others liked them because they were the new face on the block. It could be their lack of a scoring superstar, that made them so intriguing. I’m sure their blue-collar team style of play won some hearts, a perfect antithesis to the Lakirs. (Oops! did I put an “I” in Lakers?) Somewhere out there, someone thinks Ben’s ‘fro is cooler than Jack’s mummified remains. For whatever reason, people seemed to jump on the bandwagon, especially the further the series was in the Pistons’ favor. Everybody loves a winner. Savor it while it lasts.

Next year, Piston fans, it won’t be the same. It’ll start when the Pistons play our team. You won’t be the lovable underdogs, but the favorites. We won’t turn a blind eye to all the physical contact that goes uncalled against our team. What was seen as confidence will now be perceived as cockiness. By the time you reach the playoffs, everyone will be aiming for you. Everyone will want to be the team to knock you off. Succeed and repeat as champions, and the intensity will grow for the next year. Fail, and you’ll be written off as a one year wonder, a fluke.

Until then I’ll be happy that the trophy is in your hands, and not in Hollywood. Enjoy your summer as champs. See you in preseason.

King Of The Wild Frontier

I love getting email!

—–Original Message—–
From: David Crockett
Sent: Saturday, May 29, 2004 11:35 AM
To: KnickerBlogger@kurylo.com
Subject: frank williams and other knicks thoughts

hey,

i just came across your blog for the first time this past week. i wanted to comment on something you wrote at the end of the nets series regarding frank. i’ve been a big fan since his college days.

you mentioned the likelihood that he’d be moved this off-season. here’s two reasons that would be laydenesque*:

1. basketball reasons – i think we have every reason to suspect that williams will develop into a solid-to-very-good third guard, an aaron mckie type player. right now frank is by far the team’s best perimeter defender (sadly, followed by penny hardaway). if the team moves frank it *must* get a big, defensive guard in return.

2. financial reasons – who is new york going to get that brings frank’s particular skill set at his salary? the knicks probably wouldn’t need to break the bank to re-sign him either. i hope isiah doesn’t continue the recent history of taking on big contracts (e.g., eisley, anderson, witherspoon, norris, et al) to fill roles that should be filled by younger less expensive players.

[*note: to my readers that aren’t Knick fans or are from Utah, Laydenesque is not a compliment.]

I agree with you that Williams is the Knicks best perimeter defender, and should turn into a solid player. The problem is the Knicks have a PG that was 7th in minutes per game. Marbury is Isaiah’s prime acquisition as the Knicks GM, so I doubt that he’d move him so quickly (unless McGrady or Kobe were involved). According to 82games.com, Williams spent more time at shooting guard, than at the point. Next year, if Allan Houston is healthy, those minutes are pretty much gone.

So the Knicks have two options. They can keep Williams as their backup PG & third SG (or fourth if the entity known as Shanderson is still around), and he’d get somewhere in the vicinty of 10-15 minutes per game. He makes a small salary, but the Knicks are nowhere near being under the cap. In this scenario, Williams has little value to New York.

On the other hand, he might be exactly what another team desires, especially one that is actually trying to stay under the cap. Williams can be a good starting PG. He doesn’t shoot well, but he’s got great vision and a nice passing touch. On the other side of the ball he is a tough defender (remember the playoffs against NJ?). All that has to be appealing to some GM out there, especially for only about $6M over the next 3 years. If his value to another team is greater than his value to the Knicks, then a trade is in order. If the Knicks can use him as a “throw-in” to upgrade at another position I’m all for the move. We can do a 2-1 and package Frank with Nazr, Kurt or Tim to improve in that area. Another idea would be to trade him for a good defensive big man (less than 59 years of age). A good defensive big man would get more playing time for the Knicks than Williams.

I don’t want to see Williams traded. In fact he’s one of my favorite players to watch, despite his low eFG% (my pet stat). It might have been questionable to trade for Marbury when Williams was starting to develop as the Knicks starting PG. However that deal is already done, and unless the Knicks lose Marbury, Houston, or Hardaway, I don’t see much that Frank can do in blue & orange. Nothing would make me happier to see him develop into a solid pro, but with the current roster he just won’t get many minutes in New York, which makes him prime trade bait.

Quick Recap Of My Finals Thoughts

Early in the series, I wrote what the Lakers and the Pistons each needed to do to win. I think since we’re half way through the series I should revisit what I wrote:

For Detroit to win, they should:
1. They can’t fall too far behind, which breaks up into:
1a. Score. They need efficient scoring from Hamilton, Billups, and Rasheed. If they can get an outburst from someone else (Prince), then all the better.
1b. Shut down the non-Shaq Lakers.
2. Stay close in turnovers.

For all you chart fans, here’s one breaking down exactly what I wrote.

Name	G1	G2	G3	G4
1a. -- Efficient Scoring --
Hamltn	N	Y	Y	Y
'Sheed	Y	N*	N	Y
Billps	Y	Y	Y	Y
Others	Y	N**	Y	N
1b. -- Shut Down non-Shaq Lakers --
Kobe	N	N	Y	Y
Others	Y	Y	Y	Y
2. -- Stay Close In Turnovers --
TO	Y	Y	Y	Y
*Game 2 Sheed 11PTS 5-14 - scoring but inefficient.
** Ben Wallace was 2nd best with 12 points in an OT game.

As for the Lakers:

1. Score, and not just Shaq. Kobe, Malone, and one random Laker per game. It’d be nice if Gary Payton would actually do something to earn that ring. If not anyone will do: George, Fisher, Rush, or anyone. By scoring they’ll put the pressure on the Pistons to score as well. The Pistons weren’t a great offensive team, so shutting them down shouldn’t be all that hard.
2. Turn the heat on with turnovers. The Lakers were 7th in the league in net turnovers (per 100 possessions), so they should be able to get some extra points from the Pistons.
3. Get to the foul line, and not just Shaq. Shaq will make Detroit foul more often. Normally Detroit is very good at not putting opponents at the line. The Lakers need to use Shaq to gain an advantage here. The rest of the gang have to drive to the hoop & try to make things happen.

Name	G1	G2	G3	G4
1. -- LA Scoring --
Shaq	Y	Y	N	Y
Kobe	Y	Y	N	N**
Malone	N	N	N	N
Others	N	N	N	N
2. -- Create Turnovers --
TO	N	N	N	N
3. -- Get To the Foul Line --
FTA	N	N*	N	N

*L.A. had 25 FTA, but Detroit had 31
** Kobe had 20PTS but shot 8-25 (2 3PTM)

Look at all the Y’s in the Pistons’ table and the N’s in the Lakers table. It seems clear that Detroit is doing almost everything they can to win. It seemed that the Pistons’ biggest weakness would be scoring, since they don’t have the great scorers that the Lakers have in Shaq and Kobe. However, they’ve been able to get production from 4 guys: Hamilton, Billups, Rasheed, and Prince. They’ve won every game where they’ve gotten offensive production from at least 3 of these players.

On the other hand, the Lakers haven’t done anything they’ve needed to win. Their offense has been horrible. The Pistons have “let” Shaq score, but have tried to shut down everyone else. Kobe has been ineffective since game 2. I can’t blame Karl Malone, because he’s been hurt, but where are the rest of the Lakers?

During the regular season, Detroit turned the ball over often enough (20th in TO/Poss), and the Lakers were 7th in net turnovers. I expected the Lakers to have an advantage in Turnovers, but it has been a non-factor. The other place where I thought L.A. could make a difference would be to use Shaq to get the Pistons in foul trouble. My prediction was way off base here, since everyone knows by now that the Pistons are getting to the line while the Lakers are begging for calls.

This series hasn’t been close. What’s really amazing is if it weren’t for Kobe’s three point shot at the end of regulation in game 2, the Pistons would have swept the Lakers. In fact since that game, the non-Kobe & non-Shaq Lakers are 25-79 (7 3PTM – eFG% 36%). Detroit’s defense is just that good.

Does Phil Have A Legitimate Gripe?

In my recap of game 1, I wrote:

The Pistons only sent three Lakers to the foul line: Shaq, Kobe, and Medvedenko. That was expected by the stat-heads, but I’m sure that Phil Jackson will point this out to the media sometime in this series try to get some calls go his way. I wonder how effective this is, since he seems to do it every year.

Everyone can set their watches to “NBA Finals”, since Phil is at it again. Yes he’s appeared on just about every sports news channel noting the disparity of fouls called in the series. In another one of my posts, I noted how good Detroit was in not fouling their opponents:

Factor 4. Free Throws (FTM/FGA)
OFFENSE
LA	.244	107%	7th
DET	.247	108%	4th
DEFENSE
LA	.222	103%	16th
DET	.202	113%	3rd

The numbers clearly show Detroit as one of the best teams in the league in this respect. They are 8% better than the league in getting to the line, and 13% better in sending their opponents to the foul line. So it comes at no shock to me that Detroit is getting to the line more often in the Finals.

The question becomes does Jackson have a leg to stand on, or is he crying wolf as always? We should be able to figure out how many fouls to expect in this series, but it isn’t as simple as you would think. I hate to switch sports, but baseball makes this analogy easier. Let’s say Ken Harvey, currently hitting .360, is facing Mark Redman, who batters have hit an even .300 against. What would you think Harvey’s odds are of getting a hit.

A. .360 (Ken Harvey’s BA)
B. .300 (Redman’s oppBA)
C. .330 (the average between A & B)
D. .398 (hmmmmm)

If you said D, you are correct. If it doesn’t make sense, think of it this way. Ken Harvey is a good hitter facing a bad pitcher. He should hit higher than he normally does. Here is the equation I used to come up with .398, basically you are comparing both averages to the league average.

So let’s get down to the numbers:

Free Throws Made / 100 possessions
TEAM	G1	G2	G3	AVG	expFTM
LAL	17.0	17.9	9.1	14.7	21.7
DET	25.6	23.8	25.0	24.8	24.0

For those of you that are chart-ally challenged, it says the Lakers should hit about 21.7 free throws (per 100 possessions), but in the series so far they’ve only hit 14.7. Detroit looks right on target with what they’re averaging to what is expected. Let’s double check and check out free throw attempts:

Free Throws Attempted / 100 possessions
TEAM	G1	G2	G3	AVG	expFTA
LAL	21.9	26.3	14.7	21.0	27.6
DET	36.6	35.1	35.7	35.8	27.5

Ouch! The Lakers are nowhere near where they should be, while the Pistons are exceeding their average by a large amount.

There are many reasons why this is occurring. One could be Phil Jackson’s theory that the officials are calling a one sided game. Another is Larry Brown’s theory that the Lakers are taking more three pointers than normal. Is this even true?

Three Pointers Attempted / 100 possessions
TEAM	G1	G2	G3	Fnls	Reg Season
LAL	15.8	17.9	30.6	21.4	14.5

Coach Brown could have a point here. They’re taking a lot more threes than normal. Right now I’ll take the diplomatic approach and say they’re both right. The Lakers should get more calls, and maybe Phil should send some of his players towards the hoop to achieve this.

“Finals Experience”

I haven’t been able to write much recently, and I missed game 3 due to an important family matter. This brings the number of bloggers I know that are going through family tragedies to 2. Luckily there has been some good writing out there recently, especially if you’re a stathead like me. Page23’s Kevin Pelton put out a column about how the Pistons are winning instead of the Lakers losing the series (though we’re still waiting for the second installment of the Future of NBA Statistics). Newcomers to my links section, under the bleachers, are putting out some great stuff about both basketball & baseball. A few days ago they wrote:

Another sports debate that gets me worked up is the one over experience, as in “will the Pistons’ lack of Finals experience hurt them?” It seems like the sort of thing that you can only cite after a team wins or loses — “well, the Pistons lost because they didn’t have enough Finals seasoning.”

These guys hit the nail right on the head with this one. How can something exist if it isn’t a good characteristic of future performance? I can say that adding Shaq to a team gives it a good chance to win a championship because he was clearly the best player on a championship team. Horace Grant played in 6 different Finals. They should both have “Finals experience,” but I would say adding Shaq to a team gives them a better chance of winning it all than Grant.

Two years ago, I’m sure somebody out there attributed the Lakers victory over the Nets to the Lakers’ “Finals experience”, and the Nets lack thereof. However the Lakers simply had the better team. Last year the Nets were the ones with the “Finals experience” advantage, since the Spurs hadn’t been to the Finals in 4 years. Of the Spurs top 3 scorers, only Duncan had been to the Finals before, whereas New Jersey’s top 5 scorers all had “Finals experience.” In this series the Spurs won in 6 games. The most recent lopsided “Finals experience” mismatch is the 1991 Finals. The Bulls hadn’t been in any of the previous Finals, while their opponents, the Lakers, had been in 7 of the last 9 Finals. In this case, having experience meant nothing, as the Bulls won in 5 games.

I can understand this kind of thought process. You perceive that a team that recently has been to the Finals has some kind of advantage over a team that hasn’t been to the Finals, because these teams win more often than not. However is the “Finals experience” the cause for this?

You can look at “playoff experience” the same way. If you look at the history of the playoffs, and took all the matchups where one team made the playoffs the year before, while the other didn’t, I’m sure the team with the previous playoff experience has a high winning percentage. Again is this because of the “playoff experience” factor? No. Most likely teams don’t miss the playoffs one year, then are good enough to win their first round matchup the next year. Turnaround isn’t that quick in the NBA, unless you can get a top notch guy. Even that isn’t a guarantee, as proved by Michael Jordan’s first year. In fact it took Jordan’s Bulls 4 years to get out of the first round. The important factor was not “playoff experience,” but rather being a good team.

The same can be said about “Finals experience.” When you have a team that has the ability to win it all, they should be able to compete at a high level for a few years, and might win a few championships. The “Finals experience” doesn’t make a team win, but rather it’s the other way around. A team wins multiple Finals because the team is great at winning to begin with.