More Knick Defense

Although the pundits, and even some of the players, have focused on the brawl’s aftermath as the catalyst for the team’s recent surge I want to focus on the team’s defensive improvements over the past few games. I suppose, if anything, the brawl may have marked the team’s symbolic “rock bottom,” that moment many recovering substance abusers point to as the catharsis that precedes real change.

In a recent post KB points out that the Knicks have been an atrocious defensive team. Without question this is true. The Knicks routinely hang their heads and jettison any pretense of defensive intensity when struggling offensively or once an opponent knocks down a couple of contested shots. Still, the Knicks show flashes of being at least a decent defensive team. They are 8-2 this season, including their three most recent wins (over Utah, Charlotte, and Chicago) and their two most impressive wins (back to back wins over Miami and Washington in November), when holding their opponent to under 46% eFG shooting. In the other 18 games they are a ghastly 4-15, yielding an embarrassing 53.7 eFG from the floor.

The difference between the “good” Knicks, who defend, and the “bad” Knicks, who don’t is almost exclusively effort. The Knicks don’t have a real shot-blocker that can erase poor perimeter defense. In order for the Knicks to turn in a solid defensive performance everyone must defend. The dramatic endings involved in two of the past three games have obscured the three best defensive efforts of the season, and possibly of the the past two seasons when considering the diminished bench. (Something else that has been obscured has been the seamless return of the “old” Channing Frye. I’ll leave that for another post but welcome back Channing.) The Knicks held Utah to 40.6% eFG shooting, Charlotte to 45.3%, including two overtime periods, and a surging Chicago team to 42.7%. Those three teams shoot, respectively, 50.9%, 45.6%, and 49.8% eFG on the season. The Chicago effort was especially impressive considering that the Knicks played the Bulls in back-to-back games roughly one month ago, giving up 48.2% eFG shooting in both games. In the interim New York has (hopefully) hit rock bottom while the Bulls have managed to right their ship. So to hold Chicago in the low 40’s is a good all around effort considering how well they have played in December.

Last season, the Knicks went on a winning streak to start the 2006 calendar year, injecting a little hope into the Knick faithful; hope that was quickly dashed. Antonio Davis warned at the time that the wins were “fool’s gold,” based almost exclusively on a run of hot-shooting. If anything is heartening about the past three wins it is that the Knicks are doing it on D, all while missing some of their better defensive players in Jared Jeffries, Quentin Richardson, and Nate Robinson.

Oh, and one last thing. Happy Holidays

Hollinger’s Knicks

[In today’s article, we take you back in the KnickerBlogger.Net Time Machine? to February 8th 2006. In this much darker time in Knick history, the hometown blue had been in the middle of a 10 game losing streak. It’s a stark contrast to the 1 game win streak the team is currently riding.

In this date in history, Michael Zannettis sent me this intelligent discourse on the Knicks of his era. Unfortunately I was out of town on business (that thing that allows me to collect money to pay for this thing), and the KnickerBlogger publishing group was on a team building exercise in the mountains of Nepal.

Mr. Zannettis is head of the KnickerBlogger.Net Biology department, ensuring that all employees of KB.N Industries do actually bleed orange & blue. So without further ado…]


mort (nyc): Okay, smart guy. Imagine this: Larry Brown gets fired and John Hollinger is named head coach of the Knicks. Oh, and Stephon Marbury just broke his leg. Who are your starting 5?

John Hollinger: (3:12 PM ET) Wouldn’t be MY dream job, that’s for sure. The obvious move in the frontcourt would be start Frye and Curry, bring Lee off the pine and forget the others. I’d have to play Crawford at point and if Q’s back felt OK would probably play he and Ariza at the wings, with heavy sprinklings of Jalen off the pine. Nate Robinson and Qyntel Woods could sop up whatever minutes are left over and take over for Q when the back acts up.

In the wake of the Davis-Rose trade a lot has been spoken of the luxury tax consequences of assuming Rose?s salary, but I share the sentiment of many Knicks fans in saying I could care less how much money James Dolan loses. Moreover, since their salary cap was already a hopeless situation going into next year, adding Rose does nothing to hurt the remote possibility that they might be under the cap in the summer of 2007. At that time the cages should be cleaned of such albatrosses as Allan Houston, Shandon Anderson, Jerome Williams, and Maurice Taylor. Three players who do not actually play on the team, and the fourth who shouldn?t.

Since the Knicks gave away their draft pick and they are nearly mathematically eliminated from the playoff picture, their record this year has no significance. However, that being said, it would still be nice to see the Knicks win some games. After all, we do like rooting for them.

So the question remains, what is the best rotation for the Knicks in terms of winning games this season (and next)? The conventional wisdom seems to state, at least according to Larry Brown?s resume, that playing rookies is an untenable option, since they are undeveloped and unproductive. Therefore Brown has been riding the more ostensibly reliable veterans?.um?wait. Only the problem is this logic does not apply to the 2006 Knicks. The rookies Brown has on the team are not named Darko or Delfino and are now already superior players to the ones in his rotation. Since Larry Brown did not follow Hollinger?s plan, his latest starting five was: 1, Jamal Crawford; 2, Quentin Richardson; 3, Jalen Rose; 4, Maurice Taylor; 5, Eddy Curry.

FRONTCOURT
This latest game was a microcosm of the entire season. When Curry ran into early foul trouble, he was replaced with resident worst free-agent signing of the year champion, Jerome James. If Brown wanted to bring in more front-line support he called on Malik Rose?s number 13, which is actually higher than his PER 8.9. The ineffectual trio of Taylor, Rose, and James played 51 minutes, while David Lee played less than 1, Frye played only 19 and Curry 23.

Let?s first examine the difference in production between David Lee & Channing Frye versus Maurice Taylor & Malik Rose, assuming that any rational observer can agree that James should not be beating out Herb Williams for the back-up center spot, much less the promising Jackie Butler.

Taylor scores more than Lee, but does so at a less efficient rate with more turnovers and less rebounds. Moreover, Lee has an Assist Ratio twice as high. In fact, if Lee keeps up his 14.0 rate, it would qualify as top-ten among NBA power forwards. All that being said, Taylor is still a superior player to Malik Rose, who has the same rebounding problems, but with an altogether new level of offensive incompetence. He shoots a woeful TS % 42.5, which is almost as bad as Darko last year, who couldn?t get off the end of Brown?s bench despite his implicit connections to Eastern European mobsters. And while Rose is a far worse player than Taylor, Frye is a far superior player to Lee. In fact, Frye?s rookie PER of 19.9 ranks 30th in the league. With such strong production, he is qualified to be a starter on every team in this league with the possible exception of Brown?s old team the Pistons.

Last year, Michael Sweetney?s lack of playing time caused temper fits from Knick fans fluent in statistical evaluation of performance. This year Lee and Frye are d?j? vu all over again. Once again, the Knicks simply do not seem to understand what they have on their hands. The fact that Frye and Lee are rookies is simply irrelevant on a team that currently has the league?s worst record. They are already better than aging veterans who have no roles in the Knicks? future.

Using Curry and Frye as starters with Lee off the bench, the Knicks can employ a rotation in structure congruent with Brown?s last team, the Detroit Pistons, who start Rasheed and Ben Wallace, then bring in Antonio McDyess off the bench to play power forward, moving the remaining player to center. Since both Frye and Curry can play center, Lee can be used in this way at power forward, a more natural position for him than the awkward small forward, where his inaccurate jump shot was a liability. Lee shoots an astronomically high percentage from the floor, albeit in his limited minutes, and one would think putting him into the post will deter too much regression to the mean, as he can employ more of his around the basket moves and less 15-foot line drives off the side of the backboard.

Finally, if this rotation leaves any stray minutes, they should go to Butler. In a rebuilding team filled with talented and promising rookies, there is no place for Taylor and Rose.

BACKCOURT
Marbury?s absence gives this author a modicum of pleasure to see how important he was to the ?competitiveness? of the Knicks. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. His continued inactiveness presents considerable problems for the Knicks? rotation.

While Crawford is a no-brainer at the point, Hollinger prefers Trevor Ariza over Qyntel Woods even though the latter is experiencing a resurgence in his second chance opportunity. Woods 15.3 PER is very respectable and superior to Ariza?s 10.7 PER. Nonetheless, Ariza was a burgeoning perimeter stopper before he was lost in Brown?s doghouse. That Trevor does not get along better with the coach is unfortunate for the young player?s development.

Conversely, Brown is certainly giving QRich ample opportunity to prove himself now that he is back in the Knicks? rotation. Nonetheless with QRich collecting bricks like he’s starting a construction company, it would seem he would be a more prudent benching. Perhaps much of his struggles should be attributed to rust and injury, but no matter the reason he?s still stinking up the joint. It?s admirable that he?s playing with heart, but a healthy Ariza should be getting his minutes. Using Woods and J. Rose, who both have average PERs and alternating Ariza for defensive assignments seems a more prudent course than currently relying on QRich.

In only two games with the Knicks, it is clear that J. Rose should be the primary ball-handler whenever he is on the court. This should alleviate Crawford?s bad shot tendency and Robinson?s turnover rampage, both which are wrecking havoc to the Knicks? offense. Therefore if Marbury ever returns, there is optimism that Knicks will no longer have to employ either Robinson or Crawford at the point. Considering that Robinson is not yet a competent rotation player, using him in a more limited role will improve the Knicks? competitiveness. In Hollinger?s scenario he would only receive sparse minutes when Crawford is sent to the bench, for a more reasonable ten minutes of energy off the bench.

All three swing spots, sans Marbury, are average at best, or rather, at worst. There is not one among them that even posts a 16 PER, but neither are they below 14 PER. Having no open sores in your starting line-up is more than can be said for many other teams around the league. Once Marbury returns, the Knicks can go eight players deep ? Marbury, J. Rose, Woods, Crawford, Lee, Curry, Frye, and Butler ? who post average PER or better. Conceivably, by eliminating Robinson and Richardson from the rotation, if the Knicks employed this line-up for a full-season without starting the season 19 games under .500, it would be more than reasonable to expect competition for a playoff berth. But just as importantly it would allow their rookies to receive the playing time they need to develop.

Knicks Trade For Rose

LINK: http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/news/story?id=2317958

The New York Knicks have acquired Toronto Raptors guard/forward Jalen Rose and a first-round pick in exchange for power forward Antonio Davis, ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith reports.

Davis was a likely target to be traded because of his expiring contract.

The Knicks have lost nine of their last 10 games.

No word on whether or not that first is protected (but since Isiah is no longer the Raps GM, I’m guessing not.) What’s with the Raptors getting mid-30s Knick power forwards?

Thanks to RaptorHQ.com for the link.
http://raptors.fan.ca/index.php/archives/2006/02/03/rose-traded-to-knicks/

One Year And One Week

A year and a week ago, the Knicks had hit their worst stride since the Patrick Ewing era. New York was expected to compete for the playoffs, and actually spent a good portion of 2004 in first place in the East. Unfortunately 2005 wasn’t as kind. The Knicks lost 9 of their first 10 games, going from a healthy 16-13 to a wavering 17-22. With the team in shambles and desperate for a change, New York needed someone to take blame for failing to meet expectations. On January 22nd, Lenny Wilkens fell on the axe, and resigned as the New York Knicks coach.

Fast forward a year and a week, and the situation is eerily similar. Patrolling the Knicks sideline is a win-now coach in Larry Brown. The Knicks revamped their team in the offseason with a mix of veterans (Antonio Davis, Quentin Richardson) and youngins (Curry, Frye, Lee, Robinson) to make them competitive this year. The Knicks weren’t expected to unseat the Pistons or Heat, but they were so sure that they’d be out of the lottery that they gave away two first round picks without any restrictions. Just like a year ago, New York has failed to meet expectations. Again the Knicks have lost 9 of their last 10 games. And again it’s time to find a fall guy.

However this year, unless Larry Brown has changed his opinion on his dream job, he isn’t handing in a letter of resignation. Unlike Wilkens, Brown isn’t a relic of yesteryear, trying to hold on to his last chance at an NBA coaching job. Long Island Larry is coming off back to back Finals appearances. He isn’t in New York accepting a charity position. Brown is the real thing.

The Knicks can’t blame the players for their woes. This season’s 14-30 record isn’t the fault of Stephon Marbury. You just have to look at the three games the Knicks played without him for proof of that. It’s not Jamal Crawford or Nate Robinson’s fault for being unable to play the point in Marbury’s stead, because they’re not made for that role. It’s not Eddy Curry’s fault for not being able to play defense, rebound, or cut down his turnovers, because that’s what he was before he got here. It’s not Jerome James’ fault for having a few good playoff games. Even if you disagree and would like to blame the roster, they’re not going to be the fall guy, because you can’t trade any of them. No one is going to take Jerome James for 5 years. No one is going to want Eddy Curry, who can’t manage to play more than 27 minutes a game, despite his backups being Davis, James, and Butler. Nobody is going to want Quentin Richardson, who’s so detached from his former self I swear he’s suffering from basketball amnesia. Somebody might want Marbury, but that loser tag that’s been slapped on him since New Jersey makes his value lower with each loss.

So you can’t use the coach as the scapegoat. You can’t use the players. And the owner isn’t going to fire himself. Knick fans that are looking for a sacrifice to offer to the basketball gods have one person left to roast: Isiah Thomas. There is no one else to blame this mess on. While he didn’t walk into an ideal situation, it’s undeniable that he’s made his share of mistakes. Every single person on this roster was picked by Isiah. The coach was picked by Isiah. Every single draft pick owed is because of Isiah. There’s no one else to blame. If New York was 30-14 instead, I’d be here praising the Knicks’ president for his work. But you’re only as good as your record, and the Knicks have the third worst record in the league. Someone has to be responsible for this mess, and like an election in Cuba, there is only one legitimate candidate.

In Defense of Marbury: Usage Rate and the Ball-Hog

This article was written by KnickerBlogger reader Michael Zannettis, who originally sent this to me in a different form. I’ve taken the liberty to edit the work to make it more befitting this space. Any grammatical or spelling mistakes are therefore mine. Additionally I sat on this article for well over a week, so I’ve attempted to update the stats where applicable. At the time the Knicks were doing much worse on offense and much better on defense, so it may suffer from it’s late publication. While it may not be best presented after Marbury’s 35 point outburst against Detroit, I feel that the piece should be heard, and believe that it still stands on its own.

Again any issues that arise from these changes are the fault of the editor, so save Michael from the voodoo doll pins that many of you are currently using to punish yours truly.


It is with great concern for the current competitiveness and future viability of our beloved Knickerbocker franchise that I have become distressed with the treatment of the Knicks? best player, Stephon Marbury. I was certainly a supporter of one of the great coaches of all-time, Larry Brown, being hired to lead this franchise back to the NBA playoffs, but his initial returns on player development are frustrating.

Most obviously, Mr. Brown?s poor treatment of his only star performer, Stephon Marbury, has collapsed a once-decent New York offense. I will not forget that the defense has made a turn around from 27th to 16th without the addition of even one frontline defensive player. Due credit will be meted out in time, but even Mr. Brown?s championship Detroit Pistons had an average offense to complement their superior defense.

Let the numbers decide the offense?s stature. Last year’s team was an average offense, ranking 17th (105.9pts/100 poss). This year, the team’s production has plummeted to 24th (100.7pts/100 poss), a decrease of 5.2pts/100 poss. Last year, the entire scoring load of the Knicks’ offense fell to its guards, Stephon Marbury and Jamal Crawford, both of whom were the only Knicks to average 15 points or more per game.

In the more advanced metrics, Marbury fared well while Crawford looked worse. The former led the team with a .690 player win percentage and a 21.9 PER, while the latter was an inefficient, if volumous, scorer with poor defense, whose win share was a replacement-level .344 with an average 15.4 PER. It was Crawford’s low shooting percentage, often forcing ill-advised shots, which killed his contributions to the offense. He didn’t help his cause by being a spectator on the defensive end either.

Marbury was criticized for his high Usage Rate (24.7%) but considering the teammates he was expected to pass to, it’s a wonder that he didn’t shoot the ball even more often. The only other Knick regular with Offensive Efficiency ratings at the league average or better were Jerome Williams and Mike Sweetney. Williams was a rebounding specialist whose 13.2% Usage Rate belied the fact that the only time he scored was off a tip-in or offensive rebound. Meanwhile the underrated and underutilized Mike Sweetney was a low-post scorer with a prodigious free throw rate, who neither was a pick & roll partner nor a particularly explosive finisher around the basket that would complement Mr. Marbury?s talents.

No other teammate, besides the underused Sweetney, approached offensive competence.

If the criticism of Marbury was that Sweetney should have received more touches in the low block, then I would certainly be in agreement. This was not the case. Rather, it was the Knicks’ coaching staff themselves who limited Big Mike’s production by playing him only 19.6 minutes per game, and all that behind inferior talent.

Sweetney even played less when Malik Rose joined the team through a mid-season trade with San Antonio. Rose was clearly finished as an offensive player, and shared Sweetney’s biggest weakness: being short. If Mike Sweetney was losing playing time for being an undersized 6?8? power forward with limited open court athleticism, then what exactly was Malik Rose, an undersized 6?7? power forward who could no longer hit a jump shot doing playing over 20 minutes a game?

Who then was Marbury expected to share the ball with? Because of his incompetent teammates, on any given possession the best option for the Knicks was Stephon taking the shot.

Examining the Usage Rate comparables of the 2004-05 season makes the ball-hog criticism even more inane. Marbury ranked 30th in the league in Usage Rate. For those of us keeping score at home, there are only 32 teams in the league, and since Usage Rate cannot exceed 100% by a team, the more one player’s ratio increases the more another’s must decrease (although if they are playing as substitutes one might not affect another’s directly). An obvious example would be Chris Webber?s high usage rate falling precipitously when he was traded to the Philadelphia 76er?s midseason. Allen Iverson led the league in Usage Rate, and promptly cut Webber?s dramatically, before it stabilized to a 17% decrease from his Sacramento rate.

As Dean Oliver explains in Basketball on Paper, a high usage scorer could be an asset to a team even if he is below average efficiency, because it permits his teammates to take fewer but higher quality shots. This improves the team?s overall efficiency. Ideally, of course, a team would like several high usage/high efficiency scorers. The Chicago Bull dynasty had this with the ultimate example of Michael Jordan and his Top-50 Player of all Time teammate Scottie Pippen. By the time they were done using the ball, the remainder of their teammates had only to use a small high quality percentage, which improved the team?s overall efficiency even more.

Compared to Stephon Marbury?s much maligned 24.7% Usage Rate, Scottie Pippen’s usage during the Bulls? championship seasons is comparable: 1990-91, 23.2%; ?92, 25.8%; ?93, 25.4%; ?96, 24.4%; ?97, 24.1%; ?98, 21.4%. And what about the one year Pippen had to lead the Bulls completely without Jordan? His Usage Rate in ?94 was 27.4%. Obviously, he should have passed the ball more. What a hog!

This additive function of Usage Rates would make it extremely difficult for any two teammates to be near the league leaders in Usage Rate, unless it was a classic pairing like Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles during their championship run, or the aforementioned Jordan-Pippen combination. For the 2004 season, there were only four teams that had a pair of teammates who played with each other all season and both had a higher usage rate than Marbury’s 24.57%, 30th: Indiana Pacers (Jermaine O’Neal 32.32%, 3rd; Jamaal Tinsley 26.12%, 17th; Stephen Jackson, 25.03%, 29th); Miami Heat (Dwyane Wade, 29.03%, 5th; Shaquille O’Neal, 27.45%, 10th); Washington Wizards (Gilbert Arenas, 25.95%, 18th; Larry Hughes, 25.30%, 24th); Minnesota Timberwolves (Kevin Garnett, 25.88%, 19th; Sam Cassell, 25.86%, 20th). In other words, as the best player on the Knicks’ team Marbury only used the ball as much as the 24th most heavily used first-rate player. Including the 76ers and Warriors by projecting full season stats and therefore including Iverson/Webber and Davis/Richardson, only moves Stephon up to 22nd, still a below average rate for a team?s best player.

If Marbury’s reputation labels him a ball-hog, the statistical evidence does not support the hypothesis. Instead, he resembles a talented offensive player who creates his own shots and creates high quality efficiency. Teams need more of this, not less. Considering the Knicks general incompetence at the offensive end, it was a wonder that Stephon Marbury is not asked to increase his Usage Rate.

Robinson’s Shot Overshaddows Frye’s Start

Although it was Nate Robinson who earned most of the plaudits for his single game heroics on Saturday, it was another Knick rookie that took a step forward in his burgeoning career. This weekend Channing Frye was inserted into the starting lineup for the first time in his career. Frye adjusted well to the transition, scoring 21 points on 57% shooting, and turned the ball over only once. Since Knicks coach Larry Brown changes his lineups as often as he changes his underwear, it’s uncertain whether Frye’s performance will earn him a permanent spot in the starting 5.

Many Knick fans were uncertain what to expect from the number 8 pick in the draft. Despite raising some eyebrows with the strength portion of the NBA Pre-Draft work outs, the power forward out of Arizona never shed the soft label from early on in his college career. Frye didn’t earn a spot in the Knicks’ rotation with a weak summer league, including one game where he amassed 10 fouls. Coming into the season I wrote this about him:

“I?m still not sure what to expect out of Frye. His frame resembles that of Marcus Camby, but he lacks Camby?s high flying theatrics. On the other hand Frye has a nice touch from the outside and should make a fine partner for Marbury on the pick & roll. With the depth at power forward and Brown?s predisposition towards rookies it?s hard to tell exactly who will see playing time.”

Looking at his last 5 games, my comments are laughable for die hard Knick fans whose faith in Frye never swayed. In that span, Channing has roughly averaged 19 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 block. However, I don’t feel so bad about my concern over the rookie power forward considering that the New York coach didn’t have much faith in him either.

Frye was a DNP for the Knicks’ opening season loss to Boston, and was played sparingly afterwards. After his 19 point outburst in as many minutes on November 13th, Brown kept the rookie on the court for only 11 minutes the day after. In that game, the Knicks struggled to beat a shorthanded Jazz squad. New York managed only 73 points, and they could have benefited from Frye’s scoring touch. Instead they used Antonio Davis (22min, 0pts), Malik Rose (19min, 7pts), and David Lee (12min, 2pts). Maybe that performance prompted Brown to give Frye more minutes over the last 5 games.

On the offensive end of the court, Channing Frye’s outside touch is reminiscent of Kurt Thomas. His slender build doesn’t make him as good of a pick and roll partner as the former Knick, although he’s accurate with the jumper facing the hoop from at least 19 feet. Instead Frye takes advantage of opposing big men fearing the unfamiliar confines outside the paint. Channing is not devoid of an interior game and he can hit a jump hook from inside the paint. The statistics back up Frye’s offensive performance, as he is leading the Knicks in scoring per minute (23pts/40) and shooting percentage (51.2% eFG).

Aside from his scoring prowess, Frye’s rebounding has been a pleasant surprise. Coming into the season, the Knicks had lost their three best rebounders in Sweetney, Thomas, and Jerome Williams. Additionally Isiah’s two main acquisitions, Jerome James and Eddy Curry, were notoriously bad in that regard. However Frye has the second best rebound rate (14.7) among the Knick regulars. In fact Channing is showing a well rounded game, averaging 1.2 steals and 1.5 blocks per 40 minutes.

Unfortunately for Frye rookie card holders, his status in the near future is uncertain. Due to Eddy Curry and Matt Barnes’ injuries, Brown has been forced to move Antonio Davis to center and Malik Rose to small forward. When both players are healthy, Channing Frye is going to have more competition than just Maurice Taylor, David Lee, and Jackie Butler. My guess is that when that time comes, Frye is going to feel the crunch as Coach Brown continues to rotate his players in order to gain some knowledge of their skills and keeps them prepared to play. Curry will hold onto the center spot, even if for only 24 minutes a game and Antonio Davis will stay on in his role as captain of the defense. Frye will be the primary big man off the bench, and he’ll see extra minutes on nights that Curry or Davis are plagued with foul trouble. Barring injury and considering Brown’s fondness of Davis’ defensive ability, Frye’s ceiling his rookie year might be a spot alongside Davis for the Knick fourth quarters.

Knicks 2006 Preview Part I

Center: This is one area that the Knicks have certainly upgraded. While Nazr Mohammed filled the position reasonably well last year, his departure left a 6’10 foot void in the middle of Knicks’ lineup. Herb Williams did the best he could with a rotation of Mike Sweetney, Kurt Thomas, Malik Rose, Maurice Taylor, and any fan 6’7 or taller willing to don a uniform for a few minutes.

This year Knick fans should notice an instant transformation at the 5. When the Knicks acquired Curry, the press was quick to compare him to Patrick Ewing, but I was reminded of another young Knick center. Marcus Camby arrived in New York in a controversial summer deal. Both players were former high lottery picks, with health issues, whose previous teams had soured on them, and were brought over in controversial summer trades. If Gothamites are looking for a bright comparison, it would be fantastic if Curry’s could break out for New York like Camby did years ago.

There is one problem with comparing Curry to either Ewing or Camby. Both of the former Knick centers excelled at rebounding & defense. In the 2006 Basketball Forecast, John Hollinger said that Curry was among the 5 worst rebounding centers in the league, meanwhile Dan Rosenbaum had him ranked as the 5th worst defensive center in the league. Watching him during the preseason, Curry’s defense appears as poor as advertised. His ‘D’ suffers from poor footwork, being out of shape, and a general indifference. The Knicks young center is a beast when he has the ball, but shies away from contact at all other times. The blocked shots that I recall from preseason were from the weak side, and unfortunately Curry doesn’t have Camby’s athleticism to be a force in that manner.

Eddy is a fantastic scorer who does so at a very high rate. Big men that shoot well usually get a lot of easy buckets from tip-ins, but Curry was a pitiful 89th in offensive rebounds per minute last year. This just means that Curry’s skills as a scorer are even more impressive than his 54% might indicate. Luckily 82games.com tracks such things, and Curry only scored 2% of the time on “tips”. In comparison Nazr Mohammed rebounding tips comprised 7% of his scores, and Mike Sweetney tipped the ball in 4% of the time. Kurt Thomas matched Curry’s 2%, which is a bad sign since the pick and roll specialist Thomas only ventured into the paint when he was lost.

Eddy’s size presents problems for opponents trying to defend him. Defenders that that allow him to get too deep in the paint are likely to fall victim to one of his variety of post moves. Fronting Curry isn’t a better proposition, as his soft hands allow him to handle the lob and he can finish the alleyoop as well as any big man in the league. Eddy Curry’s addition means that the Knicks have a legitimate second scoring threat next to Marbury, which should improve New York’s offense tremendously.

Before acquiring Curry, the Knicks signed Jerome James to help bolster the middle. Like Curry, and unlike any of the Knicks centers last year, James’ size is more than adequate for the position. Jerome will be able to protect the rim, and will provide a bit of muscle as his 8.4 fouls per 40 minutes will attest to. Unfortunately, James also shares Curry’s lack of rebounding and offseason conditioning.

The Knicks also have a pair of young players that should be able to fill in at center for a few minutes a game. The number 8 pick in this year’s draft, Channing Frye, and undrafted CBA prospect Jackie Butler have gotten good reviews from Larry Brown. Of the two, Butler is more likely to see time at the 5 for two reasons. The first is that Frye’s slender build will make him more suitable for power forward his first year. The second is despite his inexperience, Butler is the Knicks’ best rebounder. Unfortunately like most young players, Jackie finds himself committing mental mistakes. In one summer league game, Butler had 3 whistles on him in what seemed like a 5 minute stretch. If he wants to earn playing time, he’ll have to cut back on the gaffs.

Power Forward: In recent history, the Knicks have had a glut of power forwards. This year seems to be no exception. Less than a month ago I asked Knick fans “By January 1st, who is the Knicks’ starting PF?” The most popular choice was Malik Rose, which was my answer as well. I chose Rose due to the Knicks lack of defenders, but after watching a few preseason games, I’m going to switch to Antonio Davis.

Malik Rose is an intelligent player who understands the concept of team defense. Rose is rarely lost in a defensive rotation and has a sneaky array of moves to thwart opposing players. However he is staring down the wrong side of 30, and won’t be able to compensate for his lack of size with physical ability anymore. Davis’ height has allowed him to age more gracefully than Rose. Despite nearing the end of his career, Davis’ rebounding and defense is still at an acceptable level. Although Rose was never a big shot blocker, his per minute rate is half of what it was just a year ago, and less than a third of what it was at its peak. Malik’s rebounding dipped noticeably as well, grabbing only 7.4 boards per 40 minutes for the Knicks.

If rebounding and defense will keep Davis as the starter, then it’ll be the same thing that will keep Maurice Taylor off the court. Taylor will have the role of scoring big man off the bench, and he’ll be limited to 15 or 20 minutes a game, depending on how often the Knicks are behind. Joining Taylor on the bench will be the rookies, Channing Frye and David Lee. Although Frye was taken much earlier in the draft, Lee has been the more impressive of the two. A natural lefty, Lee has become ambidextrous and is a handful (punny!) for defenders when he’s in the post. He can score with either hand, and seems to have a wide array of moves in the paint. Lee was thought of as a good rebounder in college, and hopefully that skill will transfer over to the NBA.

I’m still not sure what to expect out of Frye. His frame resembles that of Marcus Camby, but he lacks Camby’s high flying theatrics. On the other hand Frye has a nice touch from the outside and should make a fine partner for Marbury on the pick & roll. With the depth at power forward and Brown’s predisposition towards rookies it’s hard to tell exactly who will see playing time.

Point Guard: I bet you thought I was going to talk about the Knicks’ small forwards, but the only other position I’m sure about is the point guard spot. Despite reports of a Brown enforced Iversonian-esque move to shooting guard, Stephon Marbury will run the point for the Knicks. The reason is simple, neither Crawford nor rookie Nate Robinson are able to run the point for an extended period of time. Crawford still suffers from poor shot selection, and while the NBA doesn’t keep it as an official stat, I would bet that he led the Knicks in airballs from off balanced jumpers this preseason. The Knicks will rely on Jamal to run the point for a few minutes a game, but leaving the ball in his hands for too long is like putting a gun in Charlton Heston’s hands at an NRA rally. The pressure to shoot becomes unbearable.

Meanwhile Robinson is still learning what he can do at this level. Ironically his rebounding has remained impressive as he tied for the Knicks lead in total rebounds. This should be taken with a grain of salt considering he was also second in total minutes and the Knicks don’t have a lot of good rebounders. Nate’s biggest weakness has been his passing, which shouldn’t be a surprise because he’s more of a shooting guard that needs the ball in his hands than a point guard. He throws too many lazy college passes which end up as NBA turnovers. The Knicks diminutive guard is best suited at going to the hoop with reckless abandon, and using his blazing speed to convert steals into easy buckets. It will be those attributes that keep him Brown’s rotation.


Tune in tomorrow for Part II. For optimists I will have a best case scenario for the 2006 Knicks. For pessimists, there will be a worst case in hell prediction. For small forwards & shooting guards I’ll break down those positions as well.