What’s Wrong With the Knicks?

The New York Knicks have limped out to a 1-6 start, their worst since 2003 when they began the year 1-8. That season, they eventually finished 37-45, which would actually be an improvement for this team. So although history shows us that all is not lost, there are some issues the team must overcome to get back on track.

Not to Three?
The team’s three point percentage of 30.3% is 57 points lower than last year’s average, but that number isn’t indicative of how bad New York’s shooting has been. That percentage is inflated by Danilo Gallinari’s sizzling 46.6%. The non-Gallo Knicks are shooting an appallingly bad 22.5%. And while the knee-jerk reaction is to blame non-shooter Jared Jeffries and rookie Toney Douglas, the pair are actually 2nd and 3rd on the team respectively in three point percentage. It’s the regulars of Hughes, Harrington, Duhon, Chandler, and Robinson that are sinking the team.

For some teams, going through a cold spell from behind the arc might be a nuisance, but D’Antoni’s offense requires the team to make their treys to open up the inside. I documented this here, showing how other teams are clogging the middle and daring the team to beat them from the outside. That said this is probably an early season funk, and more likely than not New York will end up in the middle of the pack with regards to three point shooting. Hopefully the drought will end sooner than later.

Ill Ill Will?
It seems that Knick fans are split on their opinion of Wilson Chandler. Some see a youngster with a lot of upside, while others see caution flags from his advanced stats. But neither side envisioned him playing this poorly. Chandler has been dreadful in 2010, starting off the year with a PER of 7.7, nearly half of his 2009 rate of 12.9. The decline is entirely due to his anemic shooting: 39.9% TS% and 20.0% 3P%.

Chandler did have surgery in the offseason, which prevented him from working on his game during the summer. The good news is that his non-shooting stats have been identical to last year, which means that there isn’t a lingering physical issue that is causing his decline. The bad news is Chandler was never a good shooter to begin with, and that he needed the extra time to work on his jumper. The best the team can hope for is to send Chandler slashing to the hoop more often, which is usually a good prescription for any athletic player struggling to find their range.

There’s No Movement, No Movement, No Movement…
What happened to the movement on offense? The hallmark of D’Antoni’s offense is having some kind of constant motion, either via ball or players. But this year, it seems that the half court offense has become stagnant. And of course there’s the limitation of the roster. Chris Duhon is still passing up easy buckets in the paint, Al Harrington is still refusing to pass the ball, and Jeffries is still getting court time. The one guy who has the multifaceted game to jumpstart the offense, Nate Robinson, is sidelined with an injury.

Again it seems the lack of an outside threat has hurt the team, but perhaps D’Antoni should be finding another way to generate points. Given his reputation as an offensive coach, he should be able to coax some more production out of this group.

Pennies On the Dollar (Or Thousands of Dollars on the Millions of Dollars)
While one could argue that their precious cap space and a lack of assets prevented them from making a major move, the truth is the team failed to improve at all. The team didn’t deviate from their 2009 roster much, adding only Darko Milicic, Jordan Hill, Toney Douglas, and Marcus Landry. None of these players are averaging 10 minutes per game.

The problem boils down to New York failing to find any low cost help. It’s easy to say the NBA is a superstar’s league, but the truth is that teams need to fill their entire roster. This means front offices need to not only be successful in acquiring superstars, but digging the bargain bin for productive players. The Celtics might not have won a a title without their big trio, but perhaps their troika of youngsters Rondo, Perkins, and Powe was equally important to that championship run. The same could be said for the Spurs for turning the undrafted 30 year old Bruce Bowen and 57th overall pick Manu Ginobili into a part of their core. And the Pistons would not have won their last championship without Ben Wallace and Chauncey Billups – two players that were relative nobodies before their arrival in Detroit.

Every year there seems to be a few unheralded players who find success on the major league level, in addition to homeless veterans willing to play for a bargain. In the Donnie Walsh era, the Knicks have flirted with lots of inexpensive players like Von Wafer, Demetris Nichols, Anthony Roberson, Cheikh Samb, Mouhamed Sene, Courtney Simms, Nikoloz Tskitishvili, Joe Crawford, Chris Hunter and Morris Almond but failed to unearth any rough gems.

For a team that relies on outside shooting so much (New York was 1st in three pointers attempted last year), the team has a glaring hole at shooting guard. The 2-guard position is filled by a small forward (Wilson Chandler), an undersized point guard (Nate Robinson) and an aging slasher with a questionable shot (Larry Hughes). To compound the situation the team does have a free roster spot and there are some options available (Almond, Crawford and Szczerbiak). It would cost the team a fraction of their total salary to acquire a shooter, but for some reason they’re content in staying pat. Having a three point specialist would probably be helpful a few nights over the course of the season. But developing one from the NBA scrap heap into the rotation would be the mark of a good front office.

2008 Season Preview: Conclusion

With a tip of the hat to Stephen Colbert (and Tom Ziller), I present my thoughts of the 2008 season divided between the optimist and pessimist in me.

Optimist: Ready for a new season to begin?

Pessimist: Ready for a new season to end?

Optimist: Awww c’mon. You can’t tell me you’re not excited about 2008?

Pessimist: What’s to be excited about?

Optimist: Oh where to start? Another year of improvement for Lee, Balkman, and Nate. Yet another Isiah Thomas rookie find in Wilson Chandler. And ummm… Zach Randolph!

Pessimist: You’re kidding right?

Optimist: This is easily a playoff team. All we need to do it make the playoffs. Remember 1999? We almost stole a trophy!

Pessimist: I remember 2004. We got kicked in the ass by the Nets of all teams.

Optimist: Ok look, Zach Randolph replaces Frye. You have to admit that’s a plus, right?

Pessimist: Yeah but Randolph sends Lee back to the bench and eats up some of his minutes. That’s got to be a minus. We need Zach Randolph like Iran needs a nuclear weapon. Oh no – now I’m worried about nuclear war!

Optimist: Calm down. Listen David Lee will get his 30 minutes a game, I promise. It’ll be Malik Rose that loses his time this year.

Pessimist: Then why did Malik Rose get so much playing time in the preseason?

Optimist: You can’t take too much stock in preseason. Besides Curry and Randolph make a formidable frontcourt. I saw it on that commercial.

Pessimist: Do you believe everything you see on tv?

Optimist: Don’t you? Remember when you wanted to get that Medic Alert bracelet?

Pessimist: But what if I fall and can’t get up? Anyway, who is going to play defense?

Optimist: Curry can get back to blocking 1.2 shots per 40 like he did in 2006. Randolph’s rebounding will help the defense as well.

Pessimist: You expect me to believe that?

Optimist: Actually yes I do. But the defense will be better this year. Renaldo Balkman will get more minutes and that’ll certainly help the defense. We have a pair of guys that can defend in the backcourt in Jones and Collins. For years you cried about not having a single defender on the perimeter. Now we have 5 if you include Richardson and Jeffries.

Pessimist: The problem is that other than Richardson, none of these guys are going to see a lot of court time. Jared Jeffries will take the minutes Balkman deserves, and Jeffries is a mediocre defender. Besides how many minutes are Collins and Jones going to see? Marbury and Crawford both averaged more than 35 minutes a game last year. Robinson will get at least 20. By my calculations that only leaves 6 minutes a game for Collins and Jones. So 3 minutes of good guard defense, and 20 minutes of Balkman is going to make this a better defensive team?

Optimist: Balkman will play about 25 min/g this year. And you know he’s a stud defensively. Isiah will cut back on Crawford and Marbury’s time – he was quoted as saying he’s committed to everyone playing defense, and he singled out the guards. If Crawford and Marbury don’t play good defense, there’ll be more court time for the better defensive players.

Pessimist: I’ll believe it when I see it. And even then I’ll be a bit skeptical.

Optimist: Look you have to admit that we have a lot of talent on the roster.

Pessimist: I do see the talent, but you have to see that the roster is horribly mismatched. It’s like trying to make Thanksgiving Dinner with only a fridge full of condiments. Randolph would be a good fit in Chicago. The Spurs would love David Lee. Robinson would excel in Golden State. Washington would probably take Jared Jeffries back (maybe for free). But those are 4 different systems. Those players don’t fit in well to the Knicks’ team concept – whatever that is.

Optimist: It’ll take time for Isiah’s team to gel. That happens with teams that have a lot of turnover. This is how I see 2007. The Knicks are healthier – so that alone will make them better. Crawford and Robinson have drastically improved their games – you could see it in preseason…

Pessimist: I thought you said “you can’t take too much stock in preseason.”

Optimist: Don’t interrupt. Where was I? Oh yeah. Less injuries this year. Improvements by Crawford (less bad shots – more going to the hoop) and Robinson (good passing). Continued fine play by Lee. More PT for Balkman. A very deep team (sorry Nichols and Jordan – we’re too deep!) We have two X-factors in Morris and Chandler. Increased offense by adding Zach. Better commitment to the defense by Curry. The Knicks are a 43 win team – maybe do a little damage in the playoffs.

Pessimist: Wow that’s optimistic. This is what I see. Randolph and Curry just make each other less effective on offense, and are the world’s worst defensive tandem. Crawford still misses 9 shots a game. Robinson, Balkman, and Lee struggle to find playing time because Isiah has to play his vets. Jared Jeffries sees 24 min/g. Again. And Malik Rose is on the court in crunch time. Nobody plays any defense. Oh throw in some nuttiness. Let’s see last year we had a trial, a fight, and Jerome James starting a handful of games. This year we trade one of our promising younglings for Damon Stoudamire, Isiah plays around with running the offense through Jared Jeffries, and Demetris Nichols drops 30 on opening day.

Optimist: Can’t you be a little serious?

Pessimist: Ok scratch that last part. The biggest problem the Knicks face is the changing East. The Bulls will get better as their young players age. Cleveland, Detroit, and Miami are still at the top. Toronto is looking promising. New Jersey stomped us twice in preseason. Orlando should be better as well. Oh yeah and don’t forget what the Celtics did. That’s 8 teams better than the Knicks. Don’t forget that Washington still has Agent 0, while Charlotte and Atlanta have good young talent as well. Hell even Indiana and Philly had better records than us last year. So where does that leave us? I say another 33 win season.

Optimist: Can you be a little more pessimistic?

Pessimist: More pessimistic? Sure – how about 37 wins, and Isiah keeps his job another year?

Optimist: I guess I should be careful what I ask for.

Knicks Waive Jordan, Nichols, and Russell

The Jerome James fanclub has rejoiced!

NEW YORK, October 25, 2007 ? New York Knickerbockers President of Basketball Operations and Head Coach Isiah Thomas announced today that guards Jared Jordan, Demetris Nichols and Walker Russell, Jr. have been waived.

Jordan 6-2, 190-pounds, averaged 4.5 minutes in six preseason games, Nichols, 6-8, 215-pounds, averaged 7.8 minutes in five preseason games and Russell, 6-0, 170-pounds, averaged 5.0 minutes in three preseason games.

The preseason roster now stands at 15.

2007 Knicks Preseason Roster Crunch – Pt. 2

According to the Daily News, Fred Jones may have earned himself a roster spot.


It sounds impossible but Jones already may have pulled it off. Last week, Isiah Thomas provided an unsolicited status report on Jones when he said, “Don’t plan on him going anywhere anytime soon.”

Thomas made the comment Friday, the day Allan Houston reported to training camp. Houston and Demetris Nichols, the aforementioned draft pick from Syracuse, are both trying to make a roster that already includes the maximum 15 guaranteed contracts. For weeks, it was generally assumed that Jones, portrayed as a throw-in in the Zach Randolph trade, would be the odd man out.

But Jones’ relationship with Thomas goes back to their Indiana Pacer days and there is something to be said for being an “Isiah guy.” Just ask Knicks VP of basketball operations Glen Grunwald or assistant coaches Brendan Suhr and Mark Aguirre.

“He gave me my shot,” Jones said following yesterday’s practice in Greenburgh. “Leaving Portland was a little difficult for me because that’s my home city. But it eased the pain knowing I was coming to a familiar situation.”

Thomas sees the 6-4 Jones as a defensive stopper who can play either shooting guard or small forward. Of course, the Knicks envisioned Jared Jeffries as a defensive specialist last season but that never panned out. In order for the 6-2 Jones to crack the rotation he would cost somebody – Jeffries, Quentin Richardson, Nate Robinson – minutes. But on a team that struggled to defend on the perimeter, Jones could find a spot.

“He’s a tough defender,” Thomas said. “In this league you have to be able to stop people.”

“When I came into this league I probably wasn’t the greatest defender,” said Jones, who spent last season with the Raptors and Trail Blazers. “I knew that was my calling card to get on the floor. I take pride in that now. That’s something I’m looking forward to bringing to this team.”

Additionally the Knicks cut Roderick Wilmont. So the roster is so far:

Very likely (10)

No Player Pos Ht Wt Born College Yrs
32 Renaldo Balkman F 6-8 208 Jul. 14, 1984 South Carolina 1
11 Jamal Crawford G 6-5 200 Mar. 20, 1980 Michigan 7
34 Eddy Curry C 6-11 285 Dec. 5, 1982 Thornwood HS (IL) 6
42 David Lee F 6-9 240 Apr. 29, 1983 Florida 2
3 Stephon Marbury G 6-2 205 Feb. 20, 1977 Georgia Tech 11
50 Zach Randolph F 6-9 260 Jul. 16, 1981 Michigan State 6
23 Quentin Richardson G/F 6-6 235 Apr. 13, 1980 DePaul 7
20 Jared Jeffries F 6-11 240 Nov. 25, 1981 Indiana 5
4 Nate Robinson G 5-9 180 31-May-84 Washington 2
25 Mardy Collins G 6-6 220 Aug. 4, 1984 Temple 1

Of course, if anyone isn’t going to make the team from this group, it will be the last 2. This leaves 5 spots open, 2 more roster spot and 3 inactive spots from the following players.

No Player Pos Ht Wt Born College Yrs
2 Fred Jones G 6-2 225 Mar. 11, 1979 Oregon 5
5 Randolph Morris C/F 6-11 260 Jan. 2, 1986 Kentucky 1
31 Malik Rose F 6-7 255 Nov. 23, 1974 Drexel 11
21 Wilson Chandler F 6-8 220 10-May-87 DePaul R
1 Jared Jordan G 6-2 190 Oct. 14, 1984 Marist 1
35 Demetris Nichols G/F 6-8 215 Sep. 4, 1984 Syracuse R
13 Jerome James C 7-1 285 Nov. 17, 1975 Florida A&M 8
? Allan Houston G 6-6 205 4/2/1971 Tennesse 13
6 Walker Russell, Jr. G 6-1 170 Oct. 6, 1982 Jacksonville State R

Let’s assume Jones is in. Also let’s assume that Isiah won’t cut Chandler or Morris. Walker Russell’s father works for the Knicks, so he’s probably there due to nepotism and little else. So there remains only 2 spots left for Rose, James, Nichols, Jordan, and Houston. Isiah has to make a tough(?) decision on whether or not to buy out his veterans (Rose/James) or cut his rookies (Nichols/Jordan). He could possibly hold onto Jordan by sending him overseas, but he still has to decide between Nichols or one of his vets. And even after all that, Isiah has to decide who will stay on the active roster, and who (if anyone) he might send to the

2007 Knicks Preseason Roster Crunch

jon abbey Said:

Mike, can you do a piece on the roster situation? I read that Houston takes them to 20 guys, do we have a list of them somewhere? when do they have to cut that to 15, by opening night?

Sure thing Jon. And I do believe we have to cut the roster to 15 by opening day (or thereabouts), with only 12 suiting up each night. Up to 3 players can be inactive, with the option to send players to the NBDL. If a veteran player is on the inactive list, they usually make up a fake injury by throwing darts on an injury labeled dartboard.

Definites: 7

No Player Pos Ht Wt Born College Yrs
32 Renaldo Balkman F 6-8 208 Jul. 14, 1984 South Carolina 1
11 Jamal Crawford G 6-5 200 Mar. 20, 1980 Michigan 7
34 Eddy Curry C 6-11 285 Dec. 5, 1982 Thornwood HS (IL) 6
42 David Lee F 6-9 240 Apr. 29, 1983 Florida 2
3 Stephon Marbury G 6-2 205 Feb. 20, 1977 Georgia Tech 11
50 Zach Randolph F 6-9 260 Jul. 16, 1981 Michigan State 6
23 Quentin Richardson G/F 6-6 235 Apr. 13, 1980 DePaul 7

Barring a trade these guys will be on the roster in November.

Probables: 3 (10)

No Player Pos Ht Wt Born College Yrs
4 Nate Robinson G 5-9 180 31-May-84 Washington 2
5 Randolph Morris C/F 6-11 260 Jan. 2, 1986 Kentucky 1
25 Mardy Collins G 6-6 220 Aug. 4, 1984 Temple 1

I’d be hard to imagine one of these guys not making the team, but if I had to choose one of the three I could see Collins being the odd man out. Yes Isiah gave him the keys to the team at the end of the year, mostly because of a decimated lineup. The guy is a fine defender, but he can’t hit a jumpshot anywhere on the court. And while you can live with that at a few positions, point guard isn’t one of them. Personally I like Collins, and this team definitely needs a perimeter defender of his caliber. For how much we think NBA front offices are clueless about per minute stats and shooting percentages, I could see them evaluating Collins poorly.

Possibles: 3 (13)

No Player Pos Ht Wt Born College Yrs
20 Jared Jeffries F 6-11 240 Nov. 25, 1981 Indiana 5
31 Malik Rose F 6-7 255 Nov. 23, 1974 Drexel 11
21 Wilson Chandler F 6-8 220 10-May-87 DePaul R

It’s not so much that I don’t think Chandler will be cut, but it’s possible that he ends up in the NBDL instead of the NBA. Remember when the Knicks drafted Sweetney and had too many PFs? Sweetney started the year in the developmental league, and Chandler may just find himself in a similar situation. Looking above, there are already 5 guys that can play SF/PF. Randolph and Lee should eat up all the minutes at power forward. At small forward you have Richardson, Balkman, Jeffries, and possibly Lee & Rose. Oh don’t forget that Isiah likes to play 3 guards every now and then. If Chandler does make the roster, he’ll likely see more time at the end of the bench.

Of course the other options are cutting Collins above or buying out either Jeffries or Rose. None of these are particularly easy pills for Isiah to swallow. Jeffries is too young and has 4 years left on his deal. On the other hand Rose is the only defensively minded power forward on the team, and he has 2 years on his contract as well. Of the three Rose is more likely to go, but I wouldn’t bet the farm on it. It seems that Isiah tends to buy out Knicks that he’s burned his bridges with, as opposed to ones that have outlived their usefulness.

On the Outside Looking In: 3 (16)

No Player Pos Ht Wt Born College Yrs
2 Fred Jones G 6-2 225 Mar. 11, 1979 Oregon 5
1 Jared Jordan G 6-2 190 Oct. 14, 1984 Marist 1
35 Demetris Nichols G/F 6-8 215 Sep. 4, 1984 Syracuse R

The two rookies are intriguing. Considering that Isiah keeps them, both should play in the NBDL this year. Although if I had to choose one to make the team it would be Nichols. Having an outside shooter on the bench will be useful when teams zone it up on Curry/Randolph.

Isiah coached Mr. Jones from his days in Indiana. The problem is Indiana Jones couldn’t crack 20 min/g for a losing Portland team last year. Yes he’s athletic and can (supposedly) play defense. But I’d rather roll my dice with a younger more useful Mardy Collins.

Oh God Please No! 2 (18)

No Player Pos Ht Wt Born College Yrs
13 Jerome James C 7-1 285 Nov. 17, 1975 Florida A&M 8
? Allan Houston G 6-6 205 4/2/1971 Tennesse 13

It’s time to cut Jerome James. Isiah inserted him into the starting lineup for a stretch last year & he still couldn’t manage to stay on the court for long. James only managed 272 minutes on the season. As for Allan Houston, he was most useful for the Knicks when the team had lots of talent at the other spots. If he’s serious about a comeback he should find a team that fits that description.

Who? 2 (20)

No Player Pos Ht Wt Born College Yrs
6 Walker Russell, Jr. G 6-1 170 Oct. 6, 1982 Jacksonville State R
26 Roderick Wilmont G 6-4 205 Jul. 28, 1983 Indiana R

Usually I’m pretty thorough with my research, however there is such a small chance that anyone other than the above makes the team that I won’t even bother with anyone this low on the depth chart.

Who makes the team?
How the roster shapes out depends on two things. The first is how badly Isiah thinks he needs a third center on the roster. Cato had that role and only saw 95 minutes total last season. With a roster this tight, that seems to be a luxury. The second factor is how Isiah feels about the NBDL. If he’d rather the rookies see action there instead of having front row seats to NBA games, then he might be more likely to play it conservative and stick with Rose & Jeffries.

Personally I would cut Jones, Rose, and James, keep Chandler on the roster, and put Nichols and Jordan in the development league until a few spots open up due to injury. I have a feeling that Isiah may do the same, but I wouldn’t be surprised if James is around as center insurance/team clown and Chandler is in the NBDL (in favor of Rose) until Quentin’s back acts up.

Knicks 2007 Report Card (A to Z): Coach Isiah Thomas

KnickerBlogger: Isiah Thomas started off the 2007 with a lot of pressure on his shoulders. New York had just come of a disastrous 23 win season under Larry Brown. Thomas was widely criticized for taking Renaldo Balkman in the draft. The Knicks’ owner James Dolan gave Thomas an order to improve the team or pack his bags. Thomas was forced to take over as coach of the Knicks, something he promised he wouldn’t do. His reputation as a coach and a general manager were both on the line. In mid-March the Knicks were 29-34 and held the 8th and final playoff spot. Isiah Thomas was given a contract extension as was safe for another year.

However, the team floundered down the stretch. After re-signing Thomas, the Knicks would win only 4 of it’s last 15 games and ended up in 11th place in the East. All in all were 33 wins disappointing? It depends on your expectations. Of the 79 teams in NBA history that had a winning percentage equal to or worse than the 2006 Knicks 23 win team, only 19 of them won 33 or more games the next season. The average improvement of those 79 teams was 8.7 wins, something the 2007 Knicks exceeded. Given those expectations, it’s hard to say Isiah Thomas did a bad job as coach of the Knicks.

However it’s hard to argue that he did a superlative job. Isiah’s main flaws:

  • Allocation of minutes. I’m sure just about every fan quibbles with the substitutions of a coach. In fact I’d be shocked to hear that for each non-playoff team there exists one fan that agrees 100% with the minutes doled out. Nonetheless Isiah Thomas made a few poor decisions along the way. I’ll start by saying that perhaps David Lee’s playing time wasn’t the worst of them. Sure he was the best player on the team, but Thomas still found 30 minutes a night for him. Instead of quibbling over 5 minutes a night for a second year player that came from nowhere, I’d rather concentrate on more heinous crimes.

    Like giving 1307 minutes to Jared Jeffries. Isiah acquired Jeffries with the mid-level exception, and to say Thomas has made bad decisions with the mid-level is like saying Barry Bonds has hit a few home runs. Jeffries followed Vin Baker and Jerome James as free agent strike outs by Isiah. Despite Jeffries’ total ineptitude, Isiah called his number for 23.8 minutes a game. Sitting on the bench behind Jeffries was a superior player in Renaldo Balkman. And Isiah Thomas could have, for lack of a better term, bitch-slapped his draft day detractors by letting Balkman shine in extended minutes.

    But Jeffries wasn’t the only crime. Thomas gave 11 starts to last year’s mid-level exemption Jerome James in order to kickstart the Knicks defense. This was maybe the oddest decision of Isiah’s coaching tenure. Thomas allowed James to play a handful of minutes, only to banish him to the bench for the rest of the game, never to return. Although some of this was done with Lee injured, Thomas had better options to improve the New York defense (Cato, Balkman, Collins, etc.) Hopefully the fine summer league play of Balkman and Morris will mean the end of meaningful minutes to both Jeffries and James.

  • Player development. The only Knick to improve in 2006 under Larry Brown was Jamal Crawford. Brown contained Crawford’s untamed offensive game, and got him to play smarter basketball. With Brown’s tutelage, Crawford attempted fewer wild shots from the perimeter, and drove to the hoop more often. Unfortunately it seems that Isiah Thomas undid most if not all of Brown’s good work. Last year Crawford reverted to his old self: unnecessarily heaving up off low percentage shots. Jamal’s shooting percentage plummeted (47.4 to 45.8 eFG%, 54.4 to 51.7 TS%) as Thomas gave him carte blanche to shoot at will.

    Crawford wasn’t the only player to regress under Thomas. Channing Frye had a sparkling rookie campaign, but floundered miserably as a sophomore. It’s hard to believe that Thomas couldn’t find any way to increase the forward’s confidence. Frye was psychologically shaky, often passing up on outside shots that found the bottom of the net just a year ago. It’s hard to say what caused Frye’s slump, but it’s the coach’s job to motivate his players. And in this case Isiah failed.

  • The defense. We’ve spent a lot of time on this blog dissecting the Knicks offense. However the Knicks’ offense was ranked 10th on March 12th (when Thomas’ contract was extended) before a rash of injuries helped to sink the team. On the other hand, the New York defense was ranked a pitiful 27th at that time and they finished 24th by the season’s end. While part of the problem is due to the construction of the team (which is the fault of Isiah Thomas the president), a share of the blame goes to the coach.

    Thomas failed to make the defense better on any level. He failed to make his players defend better. Take for instance Eddy Curry. Instead of teaching him proper defensive fundamentals, Thomas instructed Curry to avoid fouls. Curry’s foul rate was the lowest of his career, and consequently his block rate was halved. On the other end of the roster, the perimeter was still porous. Knick guards had problems keeping opponents from penetrating, exacerbating Curry’s problems.

    Even if Thomas isn’t to blame for the player’s inability to defend, you could fault him for not using better defenders or schemes. Balkman, who shined as a defender his rookie year, saw only 15.6 minutes per game. Cato, who was certainly no worse defensively than any of the other Knicks centers, played less than a hundred minutes on the season. Additionally Isiah fell in love with a small lineup. Just look at Nate Robinson’s top floor units. The second most frequent unit is a three guard alignment, and two others have Jamal Crawford as the small forward. Crawford played 8% of the team’s total minutes at SF, Mardy Collins played 6%. Meanwhile David Lee only spent 5% at SF. Putting out an undersized unit isn’t done to bolster the defense.

Despite these flaws, Thomas did a commendable job last year. With how much of a crapshoot getting a coach is, it’s hard to think that a random coach could have done better. In the NBA the great coaches are few & far in between, and at the bottom there is a rotating door of assistants and college coaches who fail miserably. That the Knicks improved more than the average team in their situation, shows that Thomas did a fair job.

KnickerBlogger?s Grade: C+

2008 Outlook: The Knicks added some bigger players to the roster, so it’s possible that we’ve seen the end of the small lineup. Instead, we could see lots of big lineups. David Lee could see serious playing time at small forward. Renaldo Balkman (6-8), Demetris Nichols (6-8), and Quentin Richardson (6-6) could see time at shooting guard. Isiah could improve the team by playing the Knicks’ better defenders more often. Balkman should see an extra 10 minutes this year. Collins could see some situational duty. With a poor defensive front court in Curry and Randolph, the Knicks might zone it up more next year. On offense, Isiah Thomas will have to work Zach Randolph into the playbook.

Although last year Thomas received an ultimatum to improve, he’s probably under the same sword of Damocles this year. Certainly the bar is raised again, because 33 wins isn’t going to cut it in 2008. Thomas has a lot of questions to answer this upcoming season. How will Zach Randolph fit in with this team? How many minutes will he find for David Lee? Who will play small forward? Will top summer league performers Renaldo Balkman and Nate Robinson get more playing time? How will the rookies fit in to this team? But no matter what the answers to these questions are, Thomas will be forced to improve. It’d be hard to see the Knicks not make the playoffs and Isiah keep his job.

Knicks 2007 Summer Roster

Random Summer League Thoughts:

* 6 Europeans! Well not really. Most are American born that are playing overseas. The exceptions are 30 year old center Bougaieff who is French Canadian and guard Ali Berdiel from the Puerto Rican National team. Even the most mundane player has an impressive youtube mix, but is this the best they can come up with for Bougaieff? Meanwhile Berdiel seems to have lost his starting job at Valpariso to Jarryd Loyd 2 games before the season ended. Berdiel’s biggest weakness is his propensity to turn the ball over.

* Olu Famutimi is the only NBDL guy. He’s a shooting guard with no three point range. According to a few reports, Famutimi is a physcially gifted athlete, and the numbers seem to bear it out. He rebounds well, can pick a few pockets, and averages about a 1 block every 40 minutes. It’ll be interesting to see what he’s like on the court.

* Does anyone think Nate Robinson has something to do with the inclusion of former Husky teammate Tre Simmons?

* If the starting 5 is based on who is under contract/draft position then it should be Collins, Nate, Balkman, Chandler, and Morris with Nichols as the 6th man. However the roster is thin on big men. There are 7 guards on the team, and that doesn’t include Nichols and Greene who are listed as G-F. Which means that the lineup might be Collins, Nate, Nichols, Balkman, and Morris with Chandler coming off the bench. It’s not a bad idea, since the Knicks are more likely to need Nichols this year than Chandler given their need for outside shooting and their depth at the forward spot.

* The Knicks have 6 guys on their summer roster that will make their NBA team next year. Although they had 5 last year, Frye exited early with an injury. Additionally Collins, Nate, and Balkman all have had substantial NBA time under their collective belts. So we should expect to see some wins this summer.

* Things I’ll be looking for:
1. Chandler – how does he fit in? When he & Balkman are on the court at the same time, who will take the bigger player? (Both players are listed as 6-8.) How is his jumper?

2. Nichols – Is he athletic enough to play at the next level? Can he score on his own? Is he a liability on defense?

3. Morris – Has he bulked up? Is he a turnover machine? Can he still block shots and rebound at this level? What methods does he use to score?

4. Collins – Can he shoot? From 3?

5. Balkman – Can he shoot? Any post up moves?

6. Robinson – Can he act his age?

No Player Pos Ht Wt Born College 2006-07 Team Yrs
32 Renaldo Balkman F 6’8 208 Jul. 14, 1984 South Carolina New York (NBA) 1
38 Ali Berdiel G 6’6 200 Dec. 27, 1983 Valparaiso Hainaut (Belgium) R
45 Alex Bougaieff C 6’11 235 Apr. 15, 1977 Rice SPO Rouen (France) R
25 Mardy Collins G 6’6 220 Aug. 4, 1984 Temple New York (NBA) 1
21 Wilson Chandler F 6’8 230 10-May-87 DePaul DePaul (NCAA) R
9 Brian Greene G/F 6’7 225 Aug. 30, 1981 Colorado State Villeurbanne (France) R
30 Olu Famutimi G 6’4 207 Feb. 21, 1984 Arkansas Arkansas (NBADL) R
5 Randolph Morris C/F 6’11 260 Jan. 2, 1986 Kentucky New York (NBA) 1
35 Demetris Nichols G/F 6’8 216 Sep. 4, 1984 Syracuse DePaul (NCAA) R
44 Dylan Page F 6’9 240 Mar. 28, 1982 Wisconsin-Milwaukee Drac Inca (Spain) R
4 Nate Robinson G 5’9 180 31-May-84 Washington New York (NBA) 2
17 Tre Simmons G 6’5 200 Jul. 24, 1982 Washington Gran Canaria (ULEB) R
6 Kelvin Torbert G 6’4 210 5-May-83 Michigan State Euphony (Belgium) R
8 Roderick Wilmont G 6’4 203 Jul. 28, 1983 Indiana Indiana (NCAA) R