I Want To Draft Like It’s 1999

An NBA draft where the #1 overall consensus is a power forward, and a ton of guards are to be had including an intriguing foreign guard? No I’m not talking about this Thursday’s NBA draft where Blake Griffin is likely to go #1, there is a lot of depth at guard, and everyone is wondering where Rickey Rubio will land. I’m talking about the 1999 draft where Elton Brand went first, guards were taken in 7 of the next 10 picks, and Manu Ginobili quietly landed to the Spurs in the second round.

Of the top 10 picks, 9 of them had solid to spectacular careers, but only one of those stayed long enough to be seen as a success for the team that drafted him: Shawn Marion. A lot of these players were traded to other teams before they could really help the team that drafted them like Brand, Francis (a draft day holdout), Odom, Hamilton, Andre Miller, and Jason Terry. Number 5 pick Jonathan Bender never lived up to his potential due to injury. Wally Szczerbiak stayed with Minnesota, but was taken too high at #6. Baron Davis stayed with the Hornets for 5 and a half seasons, but was traded midyear to Golden State where he engineered one of the biggest first round upsets in history.

Although there was plenty of value at the top 10, the next 10 was filled with busts. Only Ron Artest (#16), Corey Maggette (#13) and James Posey (#18) were worth noting. As for the rest of the draft, there were two European superstars taken late in Kirilenko (#24) and Manu Ginobili (#57), and a few fillers (Jeff Foster #21, Kenny Thomas #22, Devean George #23, and Gordon Giricek #40).

Knick fans remember this draft for grabbing Frederic Weis one pick before Ron Artest, but that may not have been the biggest bust of the draft. As I previously mentioned the top 10 all netted solid players except for Bender. If you want to excuse him for injury, then nearly every pick 11-14 (except for Maggette) could be seen as failures as well. Trajan Langdon at #11 is a candidate, although he’s had a good career overseas. Aleksandar Radojevic (from the powerhouse Barton County Community College) was taken 3 picks prior to Weis. And the Timberwolves struck out the pick before New York’s with Duke’s William Avery.

So how might this draft have turned out? Here’s my re-draft, not necessarily in order of how they should have been taken. But rather in how one alternate earth might have been for the first 16 picks.

#1 Chicago – Elton Brand
The Bulls made the right pick. Actually in our reality they made 2 right picks with Artest at #15. The problem was that they gave up on that team too early. Chicago could have been a mid-west powerhouse with Brand, Artest, and Brad Miller with a supporting cast of Jamal Crawford, Fred Hoiberg and Jake Voskuhl. The problem was the team was still young & surrounded with little else. Marcus Fizer? Khalid El-Amin? Corey Benjamin? Bryce Drew? Michael Ruffin? Dragan Tarlac? Dalibor Bagaric? No wonder they won 15 games in 2001.

#2 Vancouver – Lamar Odom
Vancouver didn’t deserve Steve Francis, but they didn’t really need him either. They had grabbed Mike Bibby in the draft before, and as New Yorkers learned Francis didn’t play well with other point guards. Instead they should have grabbed Odom. The Grizzlies had an awful team, but Bibby, Odom, and Shareef Abdur-Rahem would have been a respectable threesome. Looking at their history, they were doomed to failure by their poor drafts Reeves #6, Abdur Rahim #3, and Antonio Daniels #4 is hardly the core you want to build a franchise on.

#3 Charlotte – Baron Davis
Davis was the right pick here.

#4 Los Angeles Clippers – Steve Francis
Now these two deserved each other.

#5 Toronto – Ron Artest (traded to Indiana)
The Raptors originally drafted Bender and traded him for Antonio Davis. Why would Toronto do such a thing? They have Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady, and Doug Christie. So there goes the shooting guards and small forwards. They could use a point guard, but that isn’t a priority with Carter & McGrady taking up a big share of the offense. They need a big man, but there really aren’t any in this draft (Jeff Foster?). I see why they traded this pick, they had two dynamic scorers and needed some front court depth (past Charles Oakley). So I have the Raptors trading this pick still, and Indiana selecting Ron Artest instead. The Pacers would end up with Ron after a few seasons later anyway. The Pacers would have Artest to defend Allan Houston in the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals (which Indana won) but they could also use him to shut down Kobe Bryant in the Finals (which they lost in 6).

#6 Minnesota – Manu Ginobili
I’m going to go out on a limb here. Before Garnett went to Boston and won a title, people argued how the league would have been if he had swapped teams with Tim Duncan. That the two were equally good, and Duncan won those championships because of his supporting cast. So let’s see how Garnett would have done with the Argentine at his side. Also in this Bizzaro universe Kevin McHale would be a genius.

#7 Washington – Rip Hamilton
Washington really sucked. It doesn’t matter who they draft here. The guy is going to be gone by the time Jordan arrives. Might as well be Rip so that the Pistons improbable championship still occurs.

#8 Cleveland – Shawn Marion
Cleveland took who they thought was the best guy on the board, Andre Miller. And normally I agree with such a signing, except the Cavs had two young (but undersized) guards on their roster already: Brevin Knight and Earl Boykins. Miller’s arrival meant that both would be gone within a year. Cleveland let Boykins go, but traded Brevin Knight for Jimmy Jackson, Anthony Johnson and Larry Robinson. All three would be off Cleveland’s roster by the next season. I hate it when a team overloads at one position and fails to net anything substantial from trades. If we’re not taking Andre Miller here, then you can have an up-tempo team with Knight/Boykins. So I think Shawn Marion is the right fit here.

#9 Phoenix – Corey Maggette
The Suns are probably crushed that they didn’t get Marion. They have Jason Kidd, and are about to offer Anfernee Hardaway to a huge contract. Maggette’s scoring and rebounding would be adequate in lieu of Marion’s energy game.

#10 Atlanta – Trajan Langdon
The Hawks have Mutombo and Rider and are in dire need of a point guard. So with Andre Miller on the board, they’re going to draft Trajan Langdon. This way by 2005 they’ll have learned their lesson and take Deron Williams or Chris Paul with the #2 pick instead of Marvin Williams.

#11 Cleveland – Jason Terry
With the Cavs comitting to an up-tempo offense with their #8 pick, they should take Terry here. Knight, Terry, Marion, and Donyell Marshall are undersized, but should make for a laser fast offense. With Zydrunas healthy in 2011, that’s not such a bad team.

#12 Toronto – Aleksandar Radojevic
As I said earlier, the Raptors really need front court depth, so this is why they reached for the 7-3 Euro. And this is why you don’t draft for need.

#13 Seattle – Wally Szczerbiak (traded to Orlando)
The Magic who acquire this pick in a trade have Darrell Armstrong, Bo Outlaw, and Ben Wallace. They need someone who can score, and don’t care about defense. Wally fits the bill here.

#14 Minnesota – James Posey
In this world, McHale is a genius, and the best player on the board is Andrei Kirilenko. But taking Kirilenko after reaching for an unknown in Ginobili would get him fired. Also having Kirilenko and Garnett on the court at the same time would be too weird. That’s like 60 combined feet of skinny arms & legs. Terrell Brandon, Manu Ginobili, James Posey, Kevin Garnett, and Rasho Nesterovic – that’s a nice team for 2000.

#15 New York – Andrei Kirilenko
Ahhh to dream. The Knicks dared to take a European, but clearly the wrong one. In 2000, Kirilenko would have fit in well with that Knicks team giving them so much depth. The starters would have been Ward, Houston, Sprewell, LJ and Ewing with Camby, Kurt Thomas, Childs and Kirilenko off the bench. That’s one scary team defensively. Additionally AK-47’s arrival might have prevented the team from trading Ewing for Glenn Rice, keeping the franchise from self destruction via salary cap. Perhaps the 2001 Knicks with Camby starting, Ewing coming off the bench, the addition of Mark Jackson, and Kirlenko instead of Rice could have given the team another title run.

#16 Chicago – Andre Miller
Here are your early aughts Bulls: Andre Miller, Jamal Crawford, Toni Kukoc, Elton Brand, and Brad Miller. Not a bad rebuild post-Jordan. Try not to break that team up this time.

Cleveland Down 3 to 1

With the Cavaliers down 3 to 1 to the Orlando Magic, now seems like a good time to look at the numbers to see what’s going on.

TEAM GAME PTS POSS OE eFG TO OREB FT
ORL 1.0 107.0 89.9 119.0 60.9 14.5 17.8 15.4
CLE 1.0 106.0 93.6 113.2 53.4 8.5 19.0 13.6
TEAM GAME PTS POSS OE eFG TO OREB FT
ORL 2.0 95.0 87.2 108.9 54.9 13.8 14.6 23.9
CLE 2.0 96.0 93.2 103.0 48.7 15.0 18.2 27.3
TEAM GAME PTS POSS OE eFG TO OREB FT
CLE 3.0 89.0 96.3 92.4 40.4 15.6 20.4 33.3
ORL 3.0 99.0 90.5 109.4 47.6 14.4 15.4 61.9
TEAM GAME PTS POSS OE eFG TO OREB FT
CLE 4.0 114.0 108.7 104.8 48.3 12.9 13.0 34.5
ORL 4.0 116.0 99.0 117.1 60.6 15.1 8.3 23.8
TEAM GAME PTS POSS OE eFG TO OREB FT
ORL TOT 417.0 366.4 113.8 56.5 14.5 14.0 29.8
CLE TOT 405.0 392.1 103.3 47.9 13.0 17.5 27.0

The overwhelming factor in this series is the discrepancy in shooting percentage. The Magic have won the eFG battle in every game, and for those familiar with four factor analysis know that shooting is by far the important element. And just like in the Nuggets/Lakers game you have to be really good to overcome such a deficit. Cleveland’s only victory (game 2) coincided with the smallest difference in shooting (-6.2% eFG), and they were superior in rebounding and free throws.

The Magic’s eFG during the season was 52.0%, and they’re averaging a more robust 56.5% against Cleveland. Meanwhile they are holding the Cavs to 47.9%. In fact Cleveland has only bested their regular season average of 51.9% once (Game 1). So Orlando is getting it done on both ends of the floor. If Cleveland is looking for a scapegoat, they can point the finger at their backcourt. Mo Williams is shooting a paltry 36.6% (23-71, 6 3PM), while Delonte West’s eFG is a mediocre 48.9% (20-46, 5 3PM). LeBron James (55% eFG, 56-110, 9 3PM) will need more help from the pair if he’s going to dig his team out of a 3-1 hole.

LeBron Championship Unlikely To Affect Free Agency Destination

With their 8th straight losing season on the books for the New York Knicks, many of their fans are looking towards 2010 when a host of free agents could break that streak. While it’s possible that the Knicks could reach 41 wins next year, the quickest route to become a serious playoff contender will be finding a top notch free agent next summer. Of course at the head of the class is LeBron James who on his own would make New York an instant playoff team. Although James has shown an affinity for the Big Apple, I wonder how a championship could affect his 2010 address. There usually seems to be two circumstances where a great player chooses to leave his team still near his prime. Either the superstar feels his current team won’t be able to deliver a championship within a few years, or he is tired of his current situation and is looking for a new city.

Examples of the former include Charles Barkley, Clyde Drexler, and Kevin Garnett. Nearing his prime, Barkley’s Sixers were 35-47 and far removed from the 58 win team from Sir Charles’ rookie season. Barkley forced a trade to Phoenix where he propelled the team all the way to the NBA Finals. Similarly Drexler’s Trailblazers were two and a half seasons removed from their best teams. Portland had reached the Finals in 2 out of 3 years from 1990 to 1992, but had suffered a couple of first round exits since. Drexler was traded during the 1995 season to the Rockets and teamed with Olajuwon for a title. Kevin Garnett was stuck with perennial loser Minnesota until McHale decided to help out his alma mater Boston, and the Big Ticket won a championship in his first year in Green.

On the other hand, there are examples of superstars leaving winning teams. Shaq’s first time was with a 60 win Orlando team that had lost to the Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals, and Houston in the Finals the year prior. O’Neal left for an average Laker squad who wouldn’t get back to the Finals for 4 seasons. Eight years later, Shaq would leave his 56 win Lakers for a 42 win Miami team. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s tenure in Milwaukee was mostly successful. In his 6 seasons, the Bucks averaged 57 wins and Abdul-Jabbar won a championship in 1971 with the team. His final season in Milwaukee was a losing one (where Kareem only appeared in 65 games), but that wasn’t why Kareem was moved. He requested to be traded to New York or Los Angeles to fit his cultural needs.

Unfortunately for Knick fans, LeBron’s chances of leaving are lessened due to Cleveland’s strong play. If the Cavs had a wretched crew around James, he might seek to leave for greener pastures like Barkley, Drexler, or Garnett. While Cleveland does have an aging front court in Ilgauskas (33 yrs), Ben Wallace (34), and Joe Smith (33), most of their roster is under 30. Of their top minute getters Williams, Varejao, Gibson, and West are all under 27 years of age. Barring an unforeseen disaster, Cleveland will stay in title contention until 2010.

So if LeBron leaves Cleveland, he’ll fit in the latter category of athlete looking to expand his horizons. In the cases of Shaq and Kareem, the superstar left because they preferred not to be in their current locale. Shaq’s first exodus was due to a desire to be in the bright lights of Los Angeles, while his second was to distance himself from a contentious teammate. For Abdul-Jabbar, he wanted a more heterogeneous environment than his midwestern municipality could offer. In these cases it didn’t matter if a player had won a title in that city, because their motivation was based on their personal life. New York’s best chance for a happy summer of 2010 rests on LeBron’s wanderlust. If James’ desire to become a man of the world compels him to leave for a bigger locale, then there’s little the Buckeye State could do to contain him. In this situation, a championship will have little bearing on his destination.

First Round Thoughts

Just opening this up for people to talk about the first round. I haven’t seen a lot of games, but I did catch a few good ones. I saw the Celtics lose in overtime, the Lakers crush the Jazz, and a bit of the Nuggets/Hornets. Of the few games I saw, it was interesting how many ex-Knicks (and potential ex-Knicks) were involved on winning teams: Trevor Ariza, Joakim Noah, Tyrus Thomas, Nene. It’s hard not to be a little bitter about it, at least for another year…

As for the upsets, the East looks like a one man race at this point. The Celtics clearly aren’t the same without Garnett. Orlando lost to the Sixers? OK so that’s more likely to be a fluke than not, but it does raise questions at this point about the Magic. And if you thought the Heat were a Wade explosion from potentially beating the Cavs…

Knicks’ Week in Advance 12/22/08

Thank goodness we can put the nastiness that was last week behind us. The Knicks went 0-4 last week, and with the exception of Milwaukee each of the teams the Knicks played are much better than the Knicks. While the Knicks did not play well in every game, I don’t think the team has quit as I have seen in years past. I am encouraged by the effort – if not the execution. At any rate, I think the Knicks have reached the low water mark on the season. The past ten games were arguably the toughest stretch of the season with four games against some of the top teams in the NBA (Cavs, Lakers, Celtics, Suns), and some strong teams (Hawks, Detroit, Portland). So on paper, the Knicks should have gone 3-7 over the last ten. New York has only 1 more 5 game road trip and it is much less brutal than the recent west coast swing. To sum things up, I haven’t given up hope on this season. There are a few encouraging signs and we will get to them in the article.

A light schedule this week with two games at home, Wolves and Nuggets.

Fri, Dec 26 Minnesota 7:30 pm
[First meeting of the teams this year]

TEAM POSS EFF eFG TO OREB% FT/FG
New York Knicks-Offense 98.4 105.6 50 15.8 23.3 20.1
Rank
1
19
12
17
28
28
Minnesota Timberwolves-Defense 91.5 110.4 51.7 14.4 24.9 25.7
Rank
16
25
28
25
6
23
New York Knicks-Defense 98.4 108.5 50.9 14.3 27.4 18.7
Rank
1
20
23
26
18
3
Minnesota Timberwolves-Offense 91.5 102 45.4 15.2 27.9 22
Rank
16
28
29
13
10
24

The Wolves come to MSG on Friday boasting one of the worst records in the league and the stats back it up. The Wolves are horrid on defense (110.4 efficiency, 25th) and they allow teams to put up very high numbers from the floor (51.7 eFG%, 28th). This bodes well for the Knicks as they are 11-4 against teams that give up more than 49% (eFg) from the floor. They are 6-0 against teams whose eFG% is at or above 50%. The Knicks seem to take advantage of inefficient defensive teams.

What to watch for: Al Jefferson. Jefferson is putting up very solid numbers for a team on which he is the focal point of the offense. He is fairly efficient around the basket (49.3 eFG%) but does not get to the line that often. His FT/FG ratio of 18 is among the lowest on the team, and surprisingly low for a player with a usage of 25.2. Jefferson’s low free throw numbers are mainly due to his offensive style. Al likes to shoot a short jump hook when he catches the ball, does not put the ball on the floor often, and is a poor passer (7.5 ast-r). Jefferson’s game is very much about positioning and put backs (3.2 offensive rebounds/36).

Teams can routinely double Jefferson because there really isn’t anyone else on the team the defense needs to stop. The Wolves have been unable to take advantage of the doubles Jefferson draws as they are very poor shooters (45.4 eFG%, 29th). The only Wolf to shoot over 40 percent from 3 is Corey Brewer who was lost for the season just a few weeks ago. The Knicks should probably commit to doubling Jefferson while keeping an eye out for…

What to watch for 2: Mike Miller. Miller is the only guard on the team that can score efficiently as his 55.8 eFG% leads the team. However, his efficiency has not translated into many points (11.9 per/36 minutes). I would attribute this to the “me first” play from the three guys moonlighting as point guards….

What to watch for 3: Randy Foye – yeah more like Randy “Faux” as in faux point guard (5.5 ast/36 min), Rashad McCants – “cant pass or shoot” (39.2 eFG%, 1.8 ast/36 ), and Sebastian Telfair – “tell him to stop shooting” (36.1 eFG%) round out the Wolves’ back court. The Knicks don’t do a great job defending the three, stopping entry passes, or stopping dribble penetration. Fortunately, these three Wolves do not excel at any of those things.

What to Watch for 4: Rebounding. Love and Jefferson (10.1 tot/36) are strong rebounders on each side of the court. The Knicks need to concentrate on getting good shots and boxing out to prevent Love (5.4 offensive rebounds/36, 12.1 tot) from securing second chances.

Sun, Dec 28 Denver 1:00 pm
[First meeting of the teams this year]

TEAM POSS EFF eFG TO OREB% FT/FG
New York Knicks-Offense 98.4 105.6 50 15.8 23.3 20.1
Rank
1
19
12
17
28
28
Denver Nuggets-Defense 94.7 103.9 47.1 16.6 28.5 23.8
Rank
6
7
5
11
24
14
New York Knicks-Defense 98.4 108.5 50.9 14.3 27.4 18.7
Rank
1
20
23
26
18
3
Denver Nuggets-Offense 94.7 108 50.8 16.8 25.5 28.4
Rank
6
10
8
23
22
2

Denver is playing very well since trading for a true point in Billups. The Nugget offense (108 efficiency, 10th) is strong and efficient from the floor (50.8 eFG%). The only real blemish on the offensive numbers is the high turnover ratio (16.8, 23rd). Denver is a strong defensive team as well. The Nuggets’ defensive efficiency (103.9) and eFG% (47.1) are each in the top ten of the NBA. They struggle on the defensive glass as they fail to secure 28.5 percent of defensive boards (24th).

What to watch for: Rebounding. The Knicks have to take advantage of Denver’s poor rebounding. The Nuggets are in the bottom third of the NBA in defensive and offensive (22nd) rebounding. Of course, the Knicks struggle securing defensive boards as well (28th). Winning the boards will help the Knicks greatly as it will reduce second chances for a Denver team that is very efficient on offense.

What to watch for 2: The Knicks’ defense. The bulk of the Denver offense comes from the 1, 2, and 3 positions. The Knicks need to play strong defense – especially on Billups – to keep the Nuggets from getting into their offensive sets. Force the ball out of Billups’ hands and force Anthony to run the offense. Anthony is far less talented a passer than Billups is (12.8 ast-r vs. 28.8). The Nuggets have efficient 3 point shooters but none of them take more than 2.5 three pointers per 36 minutes. The Knicks should have clean rotations and prevent the Nuggets from getting open looks – the Nuggets can hit shots when given to them.

What to watch for 3: Fan favorite (after draft night) Renaldo Balkman returns to town. Balkman always thought of himself as an undervalued player in college. I wonder how he will respond in his first game back in NYC.

What to watch for 4: Jet lag anyone? This is the first game on Denver’s east coast swing. Saturday night in New York, you know Anthony is going out. J.R. Smith is from the area (and a proud alumnus of my alma mater – ever dear St. Benedict’s). Maybe the Nuggets will come out sluggish and we can take advantage of it. We will need every edge we can get, so let’s hope the Knicks come out firing.

To all the posters, writers, and of course my fans, (Ethan, Owynn, and Jen) Merry Christmas, “Baruch Atah Adonai” and happy Hanukkah to you, “A salama lakim” and a peaceful Ramadan to you. No matter what you celebrate, or whether you celebrate, have a safe and happy holiday, and most important of all-Go New York, Go New York, Go!

[Editors note: Happy “Holliday” to my Pastafarian readers.]