GOTME (Part VI): Centers

The Greatest Center Of the Modern Era: Shaquille O’Neal

Player Best PER Avg 5 Best PER Career PER #1 PER # of top 10 PER
Shaq 30.6 30.1 26.6 5 11
Olajuwon 27.3 25.9 23.6 0 13
Robinson 30.7 29.4 26.2 3 11
Malone 26.8 25.1 22.3 2 7 (9)

I’ve noticed a cycle in the way that we, as a fan culture, appreciate our superstars. We have an uncomplicated love for the emergent star (think Kevin Durant) and a reverence (often dotted with disdain) for the star in his prime (think Kobe). As a star begins his decline, we grow weary of him and rewrite history in a manner that undersells his peak abilities (think Iverson or T-Mac). This stage often lasts beyond a player’s retirement until finally, around the time he becomes Hall-of-Fame eligible, we come to some general consensus about the way we’re going to remember him for the rest of eternity (barring some life altering event).

I mention this because Shaquille O’Neal is the greatest center of the modern era, and because he is firmly entrenched in that unforgiving third stage, and likely will be for the rest of his career. It’s not that anyone thinks Shaq wasn’t great or that anyone wouldn’t kill to have a 26-year-old version of him land on their favorite team. But I do feel like recent discussions of O’Neal’s prime focus more on his sporadic commitment to physical fitness and his in-fighting with Kobe than they do on his utter dominance.

And 15 years from now, when we’re having this same conversation, that dominance is the ONLY thing that will matter to anyone. At his peak, Shaquille O’Neal was most unstoppable force of the last 30 years. He was everything that Dwight Howard is now plus a mean streak, an extra 50 pounds of muscle, and a much more refined offensive game than many people remember. As the statistical revolution has taken shape over the past decade, it has christened Shaq as the only potential challenger (pre-LeBron) to Jordan’s peak numerical supremacy, which is fitting because his ’00-’02 Lakers teams were the only non-Jordan teams of the last two decades that felt unbeatable when you watched them. And, a developing Kobe Bryant aside, it’s not like the supporting casts on those teams were particularly overwhelming.

There’s a good argument to be had in ranking the best centers of the modern era, but that argument has nothing to do with which guy was #1. It’s Shaq, and everyone else can fight for second.

Reserves: Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Moses Malone
Hakeem Olajuwon gets my vote for 2nd place here, but its wayyyyyyyyyy closer than people think. Advanced stats actually like David Robinson a bit better, but Hakeem peaked longer and that gives him the edge for me. Everyone thinks of the ’95 conference finals as a referendum on the comparison between he and Robinson, which I suppose isn’t a crazy position to take, but the real difference was in their basic skill sets: Hakeem’s passing and quickness were unparalleled for a big man.

Chuck Klosterman’s latest book included a great essay on Ralph Samson, which argued that Samson was doomed by the perception that he was a guard in a center’s body; the observation, which was meant as a compliment to his awesome versatility, ultimately distracted Samson from the more obvious conclusion that he was 7-freaking-4 and could have had a much easier time relying primarily on his size, while using his other skills to push him from “great” to “transcendent.” What’s amazing is that the Rockets actually had two players who fit the “guard-built-like-a-center” prototype at the same time. Unlike his teammate, The Dream learned to dominate traditionally — developing the best post moves and footwork of his generation — while tapping into his point guard skill set in a way that made him one of the most unique players in NBA history. Hakeem wasn’t the second best player of his generation, but was the best player in the right system in the two best years to be the best player in the right system, and as a result claimed the only two championships left for the masses during the Age of Jordan.

David Robinson gets criticized for not winning a ring until Duncan came along, but those Spurs teams he kept carrying to 55 win seasons were otherwise pretty shallow and still kept putting up big win totals in a conference full of memorable, if flawed, teams (Malone/Stockton Jazz, Hakeem’s Rockets, Barkley/KJ Suns, GP/Kemp Sonics). At his peak, Robinson was the best pre-Shaq center of the era, but Hakeem got it done when it mattered most with an equally mediocre supporting cast. All talk of Duncan-induced tanking aside, the progression from the 59-win ’95-96 spurs (with Robinson healthy) to the 20-win ’96-’97 spurs (with Robinson hurt) was one of the most remarkable injury-inflicted meltdowns in NBA history. In the end, the best thing Robinson ever did for the spurs was get injured (thus allowing them to draft Duncan), which is ironic considering that he topped 80 games in 6 of his first 7 years in the league. Regardless of your opinion on the importance of the stat, his win shares per game may be the single most surprising number (for any player) in the above chart. He’s remembered as a great person, an endlessly interesting figure, and, in my opinion, the third best center of the modern era.

I’ll admit that Moses Malone is hurt in this analysis by the fact that I was a fetus during the last season in which he finished higher than 10th in the MVP voting (blame my dad for not sitting a radio on my mom’s stomach). He lands fourth among post-1980 centers in PER and I don’t have a ton of conclusive visual evidence to overrule the call on the field, but he did win 2 MVP’s and a ring post-1980 and remained a viable starting center until he was roughly 68 years old. I’m open to arguments that he should be nudged ahead of the Admiral, although the disparity between the quality of his teammates and the quality of Robinson’s (pre-Duncan) is enormous.

Honorable Mentions
The fact that Kareem even warrants mention is astonishing considering that his post-1980 career was vastly inferior to what he had done previously. He still probably comes in 5th for the 10 years he put in between 1980 and 1989. Again, astounding.

Robert Parish was the ideal center for his team but even the most die-hard Celtics fan wouldn’t argue that he could have carried a franchise the way Hakeem and Robinson did. Alonzo Mourning was really good but I still blame him for escalating that brawl in the playoffs, he should be grateful I’m even willing to mention his name after that. And, while there’s a place on this site to write about the under appreciated greatness of Patrick Ewing, that place is not here, where I would surely spill so much ink on him that it would distract from the guys who I’ve deservedly placed ahead of him.

Young possibility: Dwight Howard
I’m still deciding whether Dwight Howard is the most overrated or underrated guy in the league. Watching him dominate in spurts without calling more for the ball is endlessly frustrating and advanced stats call even his visually impressive Defense into question. That said, how the hell did that team make the finals last year (and put themselves in position to win as many as 3 of those games)? They had no Jameer, every analytical tool I’ve seen labels Hedo overrated, Skip Alston had never done anything before, and, though I love Rashard Lewis, he was absurdly one-dimensional for the majority of that run. If you eliminate the impossible and only the improbable remains, the improbable must be true: Dwight Howard must be an elite NBA player despite having absolutely zero offensive skill set. It’s good to be 7-1 and run and jump like you’re 6-1, no?

Similarity Scores, Part 1

Kobe Bryant is the next Jordan. Dwight Howard is the next Alonzo Mourning. Mardy Collins is the next Jason Kidd. Comparing two players allow us to communicate lots of information with a few words. If someone says that LeBron James is like Oscar Robertson, you would imagine LeBron being strong, versatile, agile, great, etc. Or perhaps that’s how you might picture the Big O, depending on how old you are.

Comparing two players is also useful when you’re evaluating players. Find a historical player similar to a youngster, and you have a good idea of how he might develop. However identifying similar players can be difficult and subjective. Is LeBron the next Jordan, Magic, or Robertson? In order to take some of the guesswork out of the equation, I’ve created a similarity score using statistics. Since per-game and accumulated stats are dependent on playing time and don’t adequately reflect a player’s skill level, I’ve decided to go with standardized (z-scores) per minute stats. Originally I used just about every stat the NBA officially keeps track of, but the results didn’t pass the smell test. It didn’t make sense for personal fouls to be worth the same as points. Therefore I decided to use weighted stats, and broke them into three categories.

The first and most important category is scoring. No other historically recorded statistic is more integral to a player’s worth. Some players are expected to run the offense and have a high number of assists, while others are on the floor primarily to rebound, but few do both. However just about everyone on the court is expected to score at some point or another. Even players that score infrequently or inefficiently should be more similar to those of the same ilk. Hence I made scoring worth approximately half a player’s comparison score.

Originally I had added many aspects of scoring, but I found that they tended to take away from the main focus: efficiency and volume. Oddly I also saw better results when I limited scoring to just three stats: TS%, eFG%, and PTS/36. Since the first two are compilations of different aspects of scoring, I feel justified leaving things out like free throw percentage or three pointers attempted. And the results seemed to get better when I gave more priority to the percentages, and less to points. This is due to a wider variety in efficiency than volume. Lots of players can average 20pts/36, but few can do it at 60% TS%. Currently TS% and eFG% are both worth twice as much as PTS/36.

I split the rest of the stats into two sections which I call (for lack of better terms) “Small Man” and “Big Man”. “Small Man” is worth about a third and consists of three parts: AST/36, STL/36, TO/36. I found that assists tend to separate contrasting players better, and ranked it equal to the other two combined. “Big Man” is worth about a fifth and is OREB/36, DREB/36, BLK/36 and PF/36. Rebounding combined (but not individually) is more valuable than blocks, and fouls are minuscule, but present.

In the end, I’ve come up with a system that although has subjective elements, should provide objectivity across the board. The similarity scores use the same equation for every player, so there isn’t any bias in that respect. In other words I could try to make Jamal Crawford more similar to Michael Jordan, but that would likely make other players that are more close to him get even closer. In future I may tweak the weights, but essentially the process is the same.

Since I plan on adding these to the report cards, let’s start with the guy I missed, Chris Duhon’s 2009 season compared to others at the age of 26.

z-Sum FLName POS Year Tm G PER TS% eFG% PTS TRB AST STL TOV
0.000 Chris Duhon G 2009 NYK 79 12.2 .570 .515 10.9 3.0 7.0 0.9 2.7
0.044 Vinny Del Negro G 1993 SAS 73 13.9 .563 .514 12.8 3.8 6.9 1.0 2.2
0.052 Brad Davis G 1982 DAL 82 14.5 .569 .524 13.7 3.1 7.0 1.0 2.2
0.096 Steve Henson G 1995 POR 37 12.1 .613 .564 11.3 2.5 8.1 0.9 2.8
0.101 Vern Fleming G 1989 IND 76 15.8 .572 .517 15.3 4.4 7.0 1.1 2.7
0.105 Rex Walters G 1997 PHI 59 13.0 .571 .543 13.9 3.7 3.9 1.0 2.1
0.107 Jacque Vaughn G 2002 ATL 82 13.1 .547 .498 10.5 3.3 6.8 1.3 2.2
0.116 John Crotty G 1996 CLE 58 13.0 .590 .482 10.0 3.2 6.0 1.3 3.0
0.117 Luke Walton F 2007 LAL 60 14.7 .551 .517 12.4 5.5 4.7 1.1 2.1
0.120 Sherman Douglas G 1993 BOS 79 13.5 .518 .504 11.5 3.0 9.5 0.9 3.0
0.121 Phil Ford G 1983 TOT 77 10.4 .525 .480 11.7 2.3 6.5 1.2 3.0

The first thing to notice is the z-sum table, which is the similarity score. The lower the number this is, the more similar the players are. Duhon is most similar to Del Negro and Davis, with a drop off to Henson & the others. So what does something like this tell us about Duhon? Looking over the list we see lots of mediocre players and no All Stars. So the chance that Duhon will develop into something superior to his current form is rare. As for the comparables, in two of the next three years, Del Negro would have his most productive seasons. And much like Duhon, Davis languished as a reserve before catching on in his 26th year. He would become the starter for the Mavericks, and ride out a few bad seasons until the team turned things around in the mid-80s.

Stay tuned for Part 2…

Some Plays Count: Stephon Marbury & David Lee 11/11/07 (Part I)

For better analysis nothing beats cranking up the old projector and going through game film. In the spirit of the “Every Play Counts” series made popular by FootballOutsiders.com, I’ve decided to analyze parts of the Knicks loss to the Heat from Sunday’s game. Instead of following one player during the game, I chose two players at two different times of the game.

The person I’ve chosen to review is Stephon Marbury in the final seconds of the fourth quarter. Fast forward to 47 seconds left in the game. The Knicks, who led for most of the game, has seen their lead dwindle to a single point in the final minute. New York needs to score in order to keep the game in their hands, and they use a timeout in order to draw their play. After the inbound pass, Marbury receives the ball on the top of the key. Curry sets a pick for Stephon who goes to his left and drives towards the hoop. The Heat counter with a double team him by Alonzo Mourning. Marbury leaves his feet and panics in mid-air throwing the ball cross court. The pass was intended for Crawford in the right corner, but Crawford left that spot and the pass sails out of bounds. Rewinding the tape reveals an unguarded Eddy Curry heading towards the lane, because the Heat left Curry alone to double Marbury. It was a standard high pick & roll play, and the Knicks’ point guard missed the most obvious recipient – the man that set the pick.

Now Miami has the ball with 37 seconds left, trailing by only 1 point. Jason Williams tries to get free from Marbury, and runs through two picks in order to shed his defender. To Stephon’s credit, he stays on Williams. The Miami guard drives towards the blocks, near Mourning, but gives it up to Ricky Davis on the outside. At this point in time, there are three Miami players on the left side of the court. Rickey Davis is behind the arc with the ball. Alonzo Mourning is trying to setup in the low post, with Jason Williams next to him due to the aborted drive. Curry has good position on Mourning, and doesn’t allow him to get his feet set. Marbury is next to Williams, in the vicinity of Mourning. As the play continues, Williams drifts out to the corner. Instead of following his man, Marbury inexplicably decides to stay with an off-balance Mourning to form a double team and prevent the ball from going inside. Davis passes the ball to a wide open Williams who hits the jumper to give Miami the lead for the last time.

The Knicks would have two more opportunities to tie or win. On one possession they would cough up the ball, and on the last New York failed to get anyone open for a game tying three pointer. While most games aren’t lost on a handful of possessions, the two plays above were at the most critical moments of the game. New York had the lead and failed to either extend it or protect it. The last time I ran a query like this, Eddy Curry was the goat of the game. This time Stephon Marbury made two mental mistakes which cost New York the game.

Stay tuned for part II, where I look at David Lee’s play against the Heat.

Miami’s Offense Dwindling

Coming into today’s game the Miami Heat were ranked 29th in offense in the NBA. Early in the season, you expect to see anomalies in the numbers, even when it concerns the defending champs. Judging from tonight’s results, this may not be an anomaly.

The Miami Heat managed to score only 76 points against the New York Knicks who came into the game ranked 21st on defense. New York had an 11 point lead early in the third, when Dwayne Wade was forced out of the game after picking up his 4th foul. Employee #3 came back into the game 4 minutes later, and the Knicks were up by 18 at that point. However even with their primary scorer back in the game, Miami’s offense went cold. The Heat shot 6 of 17, turned the ball over 4 times, and were outscored 23-12 in the 9 minutes before Wade exited with his 5th foul.

With O’Neal out, the main load of the offense falls on Wade. But an NBA offense needs more than one scorer, and Miami is having a hard time finding a second fiddle. Until tonight Antoine Walker was filling that role, but he’s been inconsistent his entire career. For example against the Knicks, ‘Toine shot 1 for 9 and only contributed 3 points to Miami’s total. After Walker, Miami’s offense has relied on Udonis Haslem, Gary Payton, and Alonzo Mourning. Haslem isn’t a natural scorer (read: can’t hit a jumper), while Payton and Mourning’s best decades are behind them. The Heat will hope to get some lift from Jason Williams, but White Chocolate appeared to have lost a step tonight. It could be that he’s hasn’t fully recovered from his injury, that he hasn’t been able to get into game shape, or that point guards lose their effectiveness after the age of 30 (Williams turns 32 tonight). I vote for all of the above.

It goes without saying that the Shaq-less Heat will have trouble scoring for the next 4-6 weeks. However it may be the case that even with Shaq, Miami might not be able to light up the scoreboard. Consider that Shaq was in the lineup for 4 Heat games, and the Heat only managed a offensive efficiency (points/100possessions) above the league average once. The Heat had Shaq in the lineup for their mortifying loss on opening day, where they only managed 66 points against the Bulls. O’Neal was also there when the Heat eked out 72 points against the Rockets.

While it’s a given that Miami’s offense will improve with O’Neal back on the court, at what level they’ll be is another story. The Heat have decided to “stand Pat” this offseason, and O’Neal’s injury has exposed a chink in Miami’s armor. If the over-30 crew of Walker, Williams, Posey, Payton, and Mourning start to show signs of their age, even O’Neal’s return might not be enough to resurrect the Heat’s offense.

Efficiency of Miami’s games (100*pts/possessions).

2006/10/31
CHI: 117.1
MIA:  73.4

2006/11/03
NJN: 92.5
MIA: 99.7

2006/11/05
MIA: 112.9
PHI: 120.6

2006/11/07
SEA: 96.3
MIA: 98.6

2006/11/10
MIA: 116.6
NJN: 106.8

2006/11/12
HOU: 109.2
MIA:  86.0

2006/11/14
DEN: 113.5
MIA: 111.2

2006/11/17
NYK: 115.1
MIA:  84.5

I Don’t Mind Losing

The West is over. The Phoenix Suns, or their fans, are out of excuses. Apparently, the Suns didn’t have enough rest between their Friday night OT win to end round 2 against the Mavericks and game 1 the following Sunday against the Spurs. In the second game, Phoenix was still smarting from the loss of Joe Johnson when they lost by 3 against Emperor Popovich and Darth Defense. Yesterday the Spurs won by 10, and I’m sure Joe Johnson was still rusty. Or it was playing on the road. Or just a couple of shots here or there.

One of the quotes from game 3 from Steve Nash is “we haven’t found a way to stop them yet.” My question would be have they really been looking? I know the Suns aren’t the best defensive team in the league, but they’ve really stuck with “Plan A.” Their bench outside of their 6 man rotation (McCarty, Outlaw, Voskuhl, Shirley, and Barbosa) has seen 16 minutes the entire series. That includes 13 minutes from Barbosa in game 1. It’s hard to find new ways to stop the same team that’s beat you three straight without changing the personnel. In other words Phoenix hasn’t really tried anything else.

But I digress on that topic, and would rather talk about the battle in the East. The title of this entry refers to my Blog Bracket’s Eastern pick. I chose the Heat to win in 5, but I wouldn’t mind being wrong. In fact I wouldn’t mind if the Pistons won the series, and I have 3 reasons.

1. Defensive Shift
If the Pistons could find a way to win this series, it might usher in a new era of NBA defense. And before I’m deafened from the rolling eyeballs of my readers I’d like to say this defensive era will be different from the last. The Chuck Daly Pistons created a style of play that would be distilled into it’s pure form with the Knicks and the Heat. However this new defensive era would not be of might, but rather of skill and athleticism.

There is no one from those 90s teams that is represented on today’s Pistons or Spurs. There’s no Laimbeer or Aguirre. No Ewing or Oakley. No Alonzo or P.J. The new century has brought about a new way of preventing scoring. The Pistons trio of Ben, ‘Sheed, and Tayshaun is more likely to hit your shot than your torso. Bruce Bowen couldn’t even make it with the Heat in 1997. If a Pistons-Spurs finals were to emerge, the league would have to stand up & take notice. You might see more Tayshaun Princes and less Tim Thomases.

2. Alonzo Mourning.
Ok so you’re thinking that since I’m a Knick fan, I don’t like Alonzo Mourning due to the rivalry. And you’d be damn right. But in case you root for another team and that dislike means nothing to you, I’ll give you something else to think about.

First is the New Jersey Nets. Imagine how exciting the East would have been with Kidd, Jefferson, Carter and Mourning roaming East Rutherford. Alonzo’s defense would have made the Nets a contender. New Jersey went into the playoffs winning 10 of their last 10, and that’s with Jason Collins’ sorry ass in the starting lineup (sorry the Knicks fan is coming out again). I’m well aware that Mourning was involved in the deal, but that brings me to my next point.

The second reason is the Toronto Raptors. I know every player out there wants to win a championship, but I hate players that do it only by riding on the coattails of others. That Gary Payton didn’t find it palatable to go to L.A. until Karl Malone convinced him that he’d get a ring with Shaq & Kobe makes me think it was less of a charitable act and more an ego-centric one (Kevin Pelton’s reply in the comment section in 5,4,3…)

Which brings me back to Mourning. If he wanted to do an unselfish act, he could have suited up & been a mentor to budding big men Bosh & Araujo. Alonzo could have helped be a difference in Toronto’s season, and maybe help them make the playoffs. Instead he never played a game in purple, and pouted until Toronto released him so he could fly south back to Miami where ‘Zo could earn his first ring by playing 20 minutes a night.

3. An Intriguing East in 2006.
Let me ask you a question, which storyline would be better for next year? The Heat make themselves the kings of the East by beating the defending champions Detroit Pistons. So Detroit becomes a fluke champion, having won the title against a flawed and injured Lakers team. Every other team in the East becomes an afterthought.

OR

The Pistons move on to the Finals for the second straight year, and Shaq goes home for the second straight summer wondering how the biggest man in sports lost to a team effort. So the Big Guy comes back next year with three chips on his shoulder to settle. The first with Kobe & the Laker management for rejecting him. The second against the Pistons for stopping him twice in a row. The last against the rest of the league for choosing the diminutive Nash as MVP instead.

If the Heat win this year, it’d make them as instant favorites next year. However if Detroit pulls off the improbable, who would you pick as the 2006 East favorites? Detroit? Miami? Indiana? New Jersey? New York? (Sorry had to throw that last one in there.)

I have nothing against Shaq. Or Dwayne Wade, who seems to be on the verge of becoming one of the league’s elite. It’d just be a more interesting league if Detroit went on to the Finals.

KnickerBlogger 2005 First Round Playoff Trivia

A little statistical trivia, based on the first round. Feel free to submit your guesses in the comment section.

1. Which player had the highest PER in the first round?
A. Ray Allen
B. Tracy McGrady
C. Yao Ming
D. Paul Pierce

2. Of the four, which Miami player had the highest PER?
A. Keyon Dooling
B. Alonzo Mourning
C. Shaquille O’Neal
D. Dwyane Wade

3. Of the four, which Miami player had the lowest PER?
A. Keyon Dooling
B. Alonzo Mourning
C. Shaquille O’Neal
D. Dwyane Wade

4. Which team had the best offensive efficiency?
A. Dallas Mavericks
B. Miami Heat
C. Phoenix Suns
D. Seattle SuperSonics

5. Of the two, which team had the better defense?
A. Boston Celtics
B. Indiana Pacers

6. The best defensive rebounding team was?
A. Detroit Pistons
B. Indiana Pacers
C. New Jersey Nets
D. San Antonio Spurs

7. Which series had the fastest pace?
A. CHI/WAS
B. MIA/NJ
C. SAS/DEN
D. SEA/SAC

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Do you remember those kid books where they show a picture and ask you to find all the mistakes? Watching basketball this Sunday, I could do the same; find all the things that were wrong with the Knicks

* Watching the Spurs play defense
No wonder this is the best defensive team of all time. Duncan and Rasho man the middle, while the rest of the team swarms like an angry beehive. Few teams play defense with the intensity and energy of San Antonio. Although it was joyful to see a display of pride in stopping the opposition, my thoughts drifted to question why the Knicks don’t defend as well?

Certainly part of it is not having two 7 footers to intimidate their opponents. However even the smaller Knicks fail to hustle like the Spurs’ Ginobili or Bowen or Parker. Watch a Knick game, and look at the disparity of the energy level between the offensive and defensive end. Marbury is tireless with the ball in his hand, whether dashing to the hoop or operating the pick & roll. Crawford skillfully manipulates the ball until his opponent is off balanced. Tim Thomas can alternate between his jumper, posting it up, or driving to the hoop.

When he’s on the defensive end of the pick, Marbury doesn’t have the same desire to fight through to stay with his man. Crawford would rather watch his opponent’s crossover than actually defend it. While on offense Thomas can play from the outside or inside, on defense he’s unskilled in both areas. Seeing the Spurs play a few hours before the Knicks underscores that a large part of the problem is a lack of intensity by all of the Knicks. While getting a center who can guard the paint is a big Knick need, the team will not be successful in stopping their opponents until the smaller guys shed their apathetic ways.

* Watching Miami win
It was no secret that Miami is among the top teams in the NBA Least. Like post Cold War Europe, the balance of power in the NBA rests in the west. The Heat’s Sunday victory over the West’s best team, San Antonio, cements their status as serious players in the Larry O’Brien trophy race. Knick nemesis Alonzo Mourning was at the game, harking back to a time when the Heat was a fierce enemy of the Knicks. New Yorkers old enough to buy a beer can’t see ‘Zo without recalling the time he used Jeff Van Gundy as a swiffer. If the halftime show was P.J. Brown in a midget tossing contest, we could have had a complete time warp to the late 90s rivalry.

It’s frustrating seeing a former rival prosper when your own team is heading towards a fourth straight losing season. In Miami, Knick fans can see everything that is wrong with their team’s front office. While players accustom to warm weather or fear a megapolis lifestyle might actually prefer Florida over the North East, it’s hard to understand why New York hasn’t been successful in attracting the NBA’s elite. Forget about the cultural advantage the Big Apple has, for a basketball icon Madison Avenue is a lot greener than Gator Alley. In twenty years the Knicks haven’t used this advantage of a second salary to lure one of the NBA’s greats. Allan Houston, Latrell Sprewell, and Larry Johnson were fine players, but I’m speaking about guys that can dominate. The motto of the New York Lottery is “you gotta be in it to win it.” With the Knicks mismanagement of their salary cap and talent, it’s obvious they’re not even in it.

* Knicks 102 Bobcats 99
Sadly, even watching the Knicks win can cause me pain as well. A month ago, a close victory would have been met with open arms. With New York 11 games under .500 and talking about rebuilding, it’s hard to get too excited over a victory. As a Jet fan I’m well aware that you play to win the game, but when winning is meaningless the method in which a team wins can be frustrating.

While I’m opposed to ludicrous thoughts like sitting Marbury in an effort to get a few more ping pong balls, I don’t think the Knicks best player should have more minutes (39) than their two best prospects combined (36). It’s understandable that Tim Thomas could take away minutes from Air Riza and his erratic jumper. What’s perplexing is Sweetney only playing 19 minutes, despite outscoring the starter in 14 less minutes. The “Round Mound of Sit Down” hit all 8 of his free throws, and led the Knicks in offensive rebounds (3). In the last month he’s averaged 9.0 points and 5.6 rebounds in only 20 minutes per game. Any more of this and I’ll have to show up to the Garden with a “FREE SWEETNEY” poster in tow.

If the Knicks decided to put in the effort to win games, and they finish just shy of the playoffs I’d take pride in the team not laying down for the second half of the season. But the Knicks are still the worst team in the NBA’s worst division, and not giving ample time for your young players seems counter productive at this point.