Knicks’ Week in Advance 12/01/08

Welcome to the third installment of “Knicks’ Week in Advance.” As always we will look at the Knicks’ Four Factors and compare them to those of their opponents. Based on each team’s stats I’ll offer suggestions for what the fans should watch for and what the Knicks should look to do that game.

Before we get into the match ups, I want to say a quick word on the importance of advanced stats. I think every fan would do well to understand how they work – especially in light of the style of play the Knicks adopted this year. For instance last week New York, the fastest pace team (98.7 possessions per game), faced the second fastest pace team in Golden State (97.2 possessions per game). Combine that with the fact that the teams are 26th and 27th in defensive efficiency (109.4 Knicks and 110.9 Warriors), and the Knicks’ rotation featured 7 players, you get the perfect storm for gaudy offensive numbers. That is how I predicted Lee could get 20 boards vs. the Warriors.

Of course that game Lee had 21 rebounds and Duhon 22 assists, prompting the casual fan to draw comparisons to Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. Without it’s proper context, the average Knick fan might expect numbers like that from the pair on a regular basis.

Four games this week. Home games against Portland and Detroit bookend a road trip through Cleveland and Atlanta.

December 2 Portland [First meeting of the teams this year.]

TEAM POSS EFF eFG TO OREB% FT/FG
New York Knicks-Offense 98.8 107 50.3 14.8 23.5 19.3
Rank
1
11
10
10
27
29
Portland Trail Blazers-Defense 86.2 107.3 49.7 16.2 25.2 23.5
Rank
30
18
21
13
8
13
New York Knicks-Defense 98.8 109.4 51.5 14.5 28.8 18.8
Rank
1
26
27
25.5
25
2
Portland Trail Blazers-Offense 86.2 113.5 51.4 15.1 32.8 22.1
Rank
30
2
3
12
1
21

Terrible Tuesdays continue for the Knicks (four Tuesday games, four playoff teams), this time Portland comes to town. In some ways, the Blazers are the Bizzaro Knicks. The Blazers are dead last in pace (86.6 possessions per game), while the Knicks are first in pace (98.7 possessions per game). The Blazers are a great rebounding team (detailed below), while the Knick are not. The Blazers waived a highly paid, petulant, offensive minded point guard before a power play between he and management became a distraction. The Knicks… well you know the story.

What to watch for 1: Rebounding. The Knicks are going to have trouble keeping the Blazers off the glass. The Blazers are 2nd in offensive rebound percentage (32.6%), and none too shabby on defensive glass securing all but 25.1% of defensive rebounds (6th). The Knicks give up 28.8% of all defensive rebounds (24th), while securing 23.5% of available offensive boards (27th). Long story short: make the first shot; there will not be many second chances.

What to watch for 2: The neutralization of David Lee. Lee at center is not going to have the easy match ups he had against the Warriors. Oden and Aldridge are solid interior defenders and strong shot blockers (2.7 and 1.3 blocks per 36 minutes respectively). What Lee can do to help the team is work the pick and roll with Duhon and then hit the 15 footer with consistency (why don’t they run that more with Lee and Harrington’s mid range game?). If Lee can lure Oden out of the paint, it could open things up for drives to the lane (if only there was a Knick that liked to do that).

What to watch for 3: The Blazers are exceedingly efficient on offense (113.1, 2nd in the NBA) and from the floor (51.1 eFG%, 5th). The Knicks will need a solid defensive effort against this team.

December 3 at Cleveland [Cavs won first meeting 119-101]

TEAM POSS EFF eFG TO OREB% FT/FG
New York Knicks-Offense 98.8 107 50.3 14.8 23.5 19.3
Rank
1
11
10
10
27
29
Cleveland Cavaliers-Defense 90.2 102.7 45.8 16.5 26.4 26.4
Rank
23
6
4
11
15
26
New York Knicks-Defense 98.8 109.4 51.5 14.5 28.8 18.8
Rank
1
26
27
25.5
25
2
Cleveland Cavaliers-Offense 90.2 114.8 52.4 14.4 30.4 25.9
Rank
23
1
2
6
5
7

The Knicks looked awful against the Cavs in the last meeting. It was the first game with new acquisitions Harrington and Thomas so maybe that had something to do with the Cavs one-sided victory. More likely, it was due to the Cavs being one of the best teams in the East.

What to watch for: Defense. When the Knicks last played the Cavs, I suggested that the Knicks pressure the ball and force the Cavs into poor shots and sloppy play. What did the Knicks do? They allowed the Cavs to post a 58.4 eFG% while only forcing 8 turnovers. The boys in blue have to do better. Hopefully, Mobley will be available to help the back court defense. I know the team should always play good defense, but it is crucial when playing a team as efficient as the Cavs.

December 5 at Atlanta [ First meeting of the teams this year. ]

TEAM POSS EFF eFG TO OREB% FT/FG
New York Knicks-Offense 98.8 107 50.3 14.8 23.5 19.3
Rank
1
11
10
10
27
29
Atlanta Hawks-Defense 90.1 107.8 48.4 14.9 28.2 22.7
Rank
24
21
10
22
21
11
New York Knicks-Defense 98.8 109.4 51.5 14.5 28.8 18.8
Rank
1
26
27
25.5
25
2
Atlanta Hawks-Offense 90.1 109.1 50.8 15.3 27.6 22.8
Rank
24
7
7
14
9
18

After a very hot start, the Hawks have cooled a bit but they are still a dangerous match up for the Knicks because their offensive efficiency (109.1, 6th) and eFG% (50.8%, 7th) exploits the Knick defense.

What to watch for 1: Pace. For a team with so many athletic players the Hawks don’t really push the pace (90.1 possessions per game, 25th). It will be interesting to see what the Hawks do if the Knicks push the pace.

What to watch for 2: Inside the paint. The Hawks, like the Knicks, lack a true center. Solomon Jones is solid interior defender (2.7 blocks per 36 minutes) but he is quite foul prone (5.5 fouls per 36 minutes). Josh Smith blocks the same number of shots per 36, but is more of a weak side defender than face up. If Duhon and Robinson can get inside they can open up a few easy baskets for Lee and Harrington when Smith comes to help.

December 7 Detroit [Pistons won first meeting 110-96]

TEAM POSS EFF eFG TO OREB% FT/FG
New York Knicks-Offense 98.8 107 50.3 14.8 23.5 19.3
Rank
1
11
10
10
27
29
Detroit Pistons-Defense 89.8 107.6 49.5 15.2 26.4 25.6
Rank
25
20
18
20
14
24
New York Knicks-Defense 98.8 109.4 51.5 14.5 28.8 18.8
Rank
1
26
27
25.5
25
2
Detroit Pistons-Offense 89.8 107.7 48.4 14.6 27.2 25.6
Rank
25
9
18
8
11
10

Last week I wrote that the Knicks needed to exploit the high usage/low efficiency of the Pistons’ offensive leaders. The Knicks did not do that in allowing the Pistons to post a 54.4 eFG%, which is 6 points higher than their season average (48.6%, 17th). Let’s try it again.

What to watch for: 12 p.m. opening tip. The Pistons will be on the road and maybe they partied a bit Saturday night in New York. Maybe they will be sluggish for this game.

I admit I’m reaching here, but I’ve been chasing two kids around all weekend. (Did you know that baking soda and rubbing alcohol can undo the work of a two year old artist who works in the medium of Sharpie on fine oak furniture?)

Read last week’s article, the same stuff applies.

Knicks’ Week in Advance 11/24/2008

Hello all. Thomas B. here with the second installment of Knicks’ Week in Advance. This article appears exclusively on Knickerblogger.net (everyone else-including Stern Must Go-turned me down). I will compare the Knicks’ Four Factors to those of their opponents this week.

I’m glad the Knicks beat the Wizards Saturday. The win spared me from drafting an open that parodies those Time Life Books commercials from the 1980s:

November 2008. The administrator of a popular blog contacts a man of limited basketball knowledge and invites him to join the staff. Shortly thereafter, the Knicks begin a losing streak that has yet to end. Coincidence? Read the book.

Thankfully, the Knicks won so that open won’t be needed. Besides, about 2% of the population would have got the reference anyway. Such is my sense of humor.

This week the Knicks have home games against Cleveland and Golden State with a road trip to Detroit in between.

Tuesday, November 25 – Cleveland

TEAM POSS EFF eFG TO OREB% FT/FG
New York Knicks-Offense 98.4 106 50.1 14.5 21.8 19.3
Rank
1
14
11
6
29
28
Cleveland Cavaliers-Defense 88.8 104.8 46.8 16.6 28.1 26.4
Rank
26
12
8
11
20
24
New York Knicks-Defense 98.4 107.4 50.9 15.2 28.6 19.1
Rank
1
21
27
21
24
3
Cleveland Cavaliers-Offense 88.8 114 51.8 15 29.4 28.4
Rank
26
1
2
11
7
3

[First meeting of the teams this year.]

This will be the third straight Tuesday on which the Knicks meet one of last year’s playoff teams (Spurs and Boston previously). The Cavs went 9-1 over the last 10 games and look to be clicking. Conversely, the Knicks are going to work three new players into the rotation.

What to watch for: LBJ. Since the Knicks have the cap room to dream about Lebron, I think LBJ might start showing the garden crowd exactly what they could get on about July 24th 2010. That is if the price is right.

What to watch for 2: Of all the players brought in, I think Cutino Mobley can have the best immediate impact due to his defense. He and Duhon give the Knicks their strongest defensive backcourt since perhaps Derek Harper and John Starks. That’s a good thing, since the Cavs are 2nd in shooting (eFG%: 51.8%), and 1st on offense (OE: 114 pts/100poss). Much of this is due to strong backcourt play. Mo Williams and Delonte West are both shooting above 40% from behind the arc, with West’s 66.2 eFG% leading the team. The Knicks need to eliminate open shots by pressuring the ball and cutting off passing lanes. If Duhon and Mobley can pressure the backcourt, they could push Williams’ and West’s so-so assist ratios down, while bringing their slightly below average turnover ratios up.

Wednesday, November 26 – Detroit

TEAM POSS EFF eFG TO OREB% FT/FG
New York Knicks-Offense 98.4 106 50.1 14.5 21.8 19.3
Rank
1
14
11
6
29
28
Detroit Pistons-Defense 89.7 106.8 49.3 15.2 25.5 26.6
Rank
24
19
20
20
10
25
New York Knicks-Defense 98.4 107.4 50.9 15.2 28.6 19.1
Rank
1
21
27
21
24
3
Detroit Pistons-Offense 89.7 108.2 48.4 15 28.4 26.3
Rank
24
10
17
12
10
8

[First meeting of the teams this year.]

While still a very talented team, these are not the same defensive minded Pistons of recent years. The Pistons are in the bottom third of the league on defensive (DE: 106.8, 19th), eFG% (49.3%, 20th), and turnovers (15.2 TO/100poss, 20th). Unfortunately, the Knicks’ are ranked lower than the Pistons’ in each of those defensive categories. The Knicks have an edge on offense in terms of shooting (eFG%: 50.1%, 11th), so they should look to exploit that.

What to watch for: The Knicks’ backcourt defense. Iverson, Hamilton, and Stuckey are the Pistons’ highest usage players and the least efficient shooters. The Pistons also lack a true point after trading for Iverson, so the Knicks have to keep the pressure on him to disrupt the offense. This is true when dealing with Iverson in general.

Once Iverson has decided he is going to shoot, nothing short of a stoppage of play will change his mind. The trick is to invite him to take a bad shot. I say invite because you don’t have to force him into it. Much like Crawford, he does it willingly. Once Iverson is pressing on offense, he forgets to pass and the rest of team is taken out of the game. Easier said than done, but there you go.

What to watch for 2: Rasheed Wallace vs. the three headed forward. Now that Harrington and Thomas will join Chandler at the power forward spot, D’Antoni can throw three versions of pretty much the same player at Wallace. Once Gallanari gets healthy, we will have four 6’9-ish forwards who like to work outside of the paint. Not since Robert Palmer have I seen such symmetry.

The good news is that between Thomas, Harrington, and Chandler, we may have enough bodies to wear Wallace out, foul him out, or just plain psych him out. Wallace is the best interior defender on Detroit, so the Knicks would do well to get him into foul trouble. Generally, you do that by posting or driving, and that’s not what “simply irresistible” does very well.

Saturday, November 29 – Golden State

TEAM POSS EFF eFG TO OREB% FT/FG
New York Knicks-Offense 98.4 106 50.1 14.5 21.8 19.3
Rank
1
14
11
6
29
28
Golden State Warriors-Defense 96.6 107.9 49.5 16.3 30.4 23.4
Rank
2
25
22
12
29
12
New York Knicks-Defense 98.4 107.4 50.9 15.2 28.6 19.1
Rank
1
21
27
21
24
3
Golden State Warriors-Offense 96.6 107.2 47.1 15.2 31 26.5
Rank
2
11.5
19
15
4
6

[First meeting of the teams this year.]

Take a good look in the mirror Knickerbockers, the image staring back at you is that of the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors are slighty more efficient on offense while the Knicks are slightly better shooters. Golden State shares the Knicks’ defensive woes with both teams in the bottom third of the league in the defensive stats.

What to watch for: The return of Jamal Crawford means more offense for Golden State, but far less defense. I’d love to see the Knicks exploit this by having Q play some minutes at the two and work Crawford in the post. The Knicks could play that lineup if Lee, Harrington, and Chandler play the front court.

What to watch for 2: Rebounding. Neither team is especially strong on the glass, as they each play small. Given the pace and that each team favors jump shot offenses, the team that controls the glass should come out the winner. Look for David Lee to get his first 20 rebound game of the season.

What to watch for 3: What is up with the “Golden State?” Every other team in the league is named after either the city or the state, but the Warriors use the nickname of the state? So even if you know the state nicknames, you still don’t know the city. No wonder they can’t sell out the arena, no one can find the stadium. Yet, somehow the name works. I mean, the Bee Hive State Jazz sure doesn’t work.

Any win this week means the Knicks finish November without a losing record. Wouldn’t that be nice? See you next week.

Joe Cool?

I love Joe Dumars.

Since the 2001-2002 season the Detroit Pistons have been a model franchise. Short of winning multiple championships, an inevitable if somewhat foolish measure of worth, Detroit has in fact been THE model for building a perennial 50-game winner and legitimate title threat in the post-Showtime, post-Jordan era.

Reports indicate that Dumars is ready to break up the core of the Pistons as we know them, moving perhaps even two of the “original four” (i.e., Billups, Hamilton, Prince, and Wallace) this offseason. Dumars has taken a first step towards retooling on the fly by dismissing head coach Flip Saunders and reportedly naming assistant Michael Curry as the new head coach. Although I am not a huge Detroit fan, especially since their title season, I nonetheless adore Dumars as an executive. If this is indeed the end of DE-TROIT BAS-KIT-BALL!!! as we know it, we as NBA fans (especially those of us who follow Eastern Conference teams) owe Dumars and that group a debt of gratitude.

One of the things baseball, my first love, has over football and basketball is how it valorizes championship-caliber greatness alongside consistent, high-quality play. They need not detract from one another; they can in fact enhance one another. The Braves’ 13 division crowns under Bobby Cox underscore how truly special the Yankees’ four World Series titles were under Joe Torre. Both architects and their achievements are universally respected, though obviously not afforded the same reverence. In the NFL however, it’s still basically “you’re a bum until you win a Super Bowl.” Media and fans typically only validate consistent high-quality performance in retrospect, after a Super Bowl title. NBA fans and media are a tad less fixated on a title, but they are still far more likely to damn a team with faint praise than celebrate something less than a title. I expect to hear (probably from the players themselves) a lot of quotes right out of the Post-Season Remorseful Quotes Handbook, particularly if/when one of the original four is traded. But I won’t pay much attention to them. Getting to two straight NBA finals and then three straight conference finals is impressive as hell. To those who will inevitably devalue even that accomplishment because it came against Eastern Conference dreck, I would note that since realignment Detroit’s record against the Western Conference divisions is 28-12 (Northwest), 35-13 (Midwest), and 28-12 (Pacific). This has been an elite team–period.

Even though I love you Joe, nobody is above criticism and some goes to you.

Dumars says the Pistons lacked competitive fire. That may be, but they also lacked fuel for their fire (read: depth). Detroit’s ability to stretch leads and put teams away in the last four minutes, was almost patented the year they won the title. In more recent years though, some of their performances in “big games” have been curiously uneven. I’m quite certain they didn’t forget how to play, and I doubt they’re less interested in winning. Dumars’ role in the team’s malaise is so obvious that it’s sometimes hidden in plain sight. The rotation is paying the opportunity costs of choosing Darko Milicic over a literal handful of other quality NBA players in 2003. It is difficult to overstate how awful the 2003 draft was for Detroit and for Dumars. When you miss badly in a draft you tend to feel it 3-5 years later, not so much right away. Detroit has been able to defray the “opportunity costs of Darko” but they’ve grown with time and they’ve come due. It’s not simply that Darko didn’t live up to the hype but rather that the 2003 draft was unusually deep and that so many of the players Dumars passed over for him ended up on Eastern Conference teams. Of the top eight players selected (LeBron, Darko, Carmelo, Chris Bosh, Wade, Kaman, Hinrich, and TJ Ford), Darko is the worst by a landslide. My point is not to play 20-20 hindsight, but rather to point out how dire the consequences of that pick were. Really only now, five years out, can we say with reasonable certainly what it cost them: almost assuredly one more NBA Finals appearance. What was lost with that pick is certainly as important as any Rasheed Wallace technical foul, Chauncey Billups’ hamstring, or any sense of self-satisfaction. It is a testament to Dumars skill, and eye for veteran talent that the Pistons kept themselves in contention for as long as they did, but I have to say I was a bit surprised and a little saddened to see him publicly question his players’ dedication the way he did.

They Said It

The internet offers a place for many people to express their opinion. Gone are the days where only the opinion of people who get paid for writing are seen by the masses. Today anyone can state what they think on a subject publicly, for everyone to see. Below are some quotes taken directly from various web pages, so I can’t take credit for any of them. I’ve only added a lighthearted header (in bold) to enhance your reading pleasure.

Trade 5: Reality for Xbox 360?
Link

4 trades that make the knicks champions next year…

Trade 1: Marbury and Rose to Cleveland for hughes, gooden, and damon jones

Trade 2: Knicks trade Frye, Lee, jeffries and 2008 2nd round pick to sacramento for Artest, Garcia, and 2007 #10 pick.

Trade 3: Knicks trade curry, nate and #10 pick to charlotte for okafor, brevin knight and #22 pick.

Trade 4: Knicks trade francis, crawford, #22 and #23. and 2009 1st round unprotected to indiana for o’neal and tinsley


I’m pretty sure he’s a Scorpio, but I’m really not into Astrology.
Link

This is just a rumor, but according to Jonathan Givony from Draft Express, there’s talk that the Knicks may trade Jamal Crawford straight up for Ron Artest, or a package of Channing Frye and Malik Rose for Artest.

Listen to his podcast. This rumor comes up around the 11 minute mark.

Personally I wouldn’t do it. For all his talent, I think he’s a cancer.

http://draftexpress.com/podcast.php


But the old rookies come in well fed.
Link

The young rookies come into the NBA hungry. They play with a lot of energy and enthusiasm.

If Isiah can draft a tough-minded kid who can score and defend, that would be priceless.


Does shooting 4 for 12 create a rift in the space-time continum creating a new dimension?
Link

I think Jcraw has been one of our best players since the halfway mark of 2005/2006.
Jcraw is a notorious slow starter to sasons. I dont know why that is but I think Jcraws teammates and other teams players know what a dynamic dimension Jcraw brings to this team. I called our collaspe the day we learned about Jcraw being out because I realize how important his passing, ability to break down the defense and his clutch shooting late in games meant to us.

And from the same post:
It’s easy for us to overcome an injury, but it’s probably a bit harder for the person that’s injured.

The injuries to Dlee hurt as well but I felt we could over come Dlees injury not Jcraws.


Also my father’s brother’s nephew’s cousin’s former roommate is a dating a writer of Lost, and he says that everyone is dead and the island is really purgatory.
http://www.ultimateknicks.com/forum/topic.asp?t=21904

Just letting yall know, lil inside info..

I know a girl from Seattle who dates Danny Fortson and they know Rashards brother – they went to his house recently (Rashard) and it was being prepared to be sold – she said its 100% hes leaving and so is Fortson if anyone cares LOL.


The right nut is reserved for a Frye/Oden package.
Link

I would give Lee and my left NUT for Kobe.


So you would have passed on David Lee?
Link

You never draft tall and white, never. Unless the kid can flush anything around the basket which he [Aaron Gray] can’t. He is dunk bait, travis knight was a better prospect and thats scary


I’m a pacifist, so I’ll go with ‘trade.’
Link

This is just opinion. Save the negative noninformational bullshit for an Isiah thread.

Keep

Marbury
Richardson
Lee
Robinson
Balkman
Collins
Morris

Trade or kill
Francis
Crawford
Curry
Frye
James
Rose
Cato
Jefferies


Mike Rowe’s not afraid either.
Link

Colorado State?s Jason Smith, a finesse 7-footer moving up and into the first round on many draft boards of late, also does not lack in confidence. ?I bet I could come in and be a starter for the Knicks,? he said. ?Look, I?ve got the fight in me to get better. I work hard every day. I can face the basket or play down low. I?m not afraid to do the dirty jobs. I?ll do anything to help my team.?

?The Knicks are a rising organization and I think — no, I know — that I could help them win.?


I said this last summer, but then again the only person I beat in the TrueHoop smackdown was Henry’s mom.
Link

Last year the Chicago Bulls finished 6th in the NBA on defense so Wallace doesn?t address a big need for them. However it doesn?t mean that the signing won?t make them better. One way Big Ben can help the Bulls is to make them the best defensive team in the league.

and from the same article:

On the other hand, the biggest winners in the Ben Wallace sweepstakes could be the Cleveland Cavaliers. During the regular season the Cavs finished second in their division behind the Pistons, and Cleveland?s postseason was ended in the second round of the playoffs by Detroit. LeBron James is already playing MVP caliber ball, and if Ilgauskas and Hughes stay healthy for the year (and maybe with a little off-season tweaking) dismantling the Pistons could be just the thing they need to reach the Conference Finals.

I’m Not So Sure the NBA Playoffs Need Fixing

In his June 14th column in the NY Sun, the excellent Martin Johnson penned this proposal (paid subscription req’d) to fix the NBA playoffs; increasing from two conferences to three for the regular season then seeding the teams 1-16, irrespective of conference, for the playoffs. Johnson’s proposal is a minor twist on an idea introduced by Golden State Warriors broadcaster Bob Fitzgerald.

I like the three conference idea for improving the quality of regular season play by making travel less onerous. However, I don’t think there’s anything about the NBA playoffs that needs fixing; not even after San Antonio’s rather inglorious sweep of the we-had-no-business-being-here Cleveland Cavaliers. The NBA playoffs don’t need administrative restructuring because at root this current spate of Western Conference dominance is a competitive issue–not an administrative one. As such only competitive dynamics can resolve the “problem” (if you choose to see it as such). Administrative tinkering with the playoffs is just as likely to unleash an unholy backlash of unintended consequences as it is to resolve any perceived imbalance.

In my humble opinion, the big advantage Western Conference clubs currently enjoy resides primarily in their front offices. Of course, an executive talent advantage is the best kind to have, since executive talent begets roster talent. But, it is also the toughest advantage to maintain over the long term. Competitive market pressures tend to ensure that executive talent diffuses to other teams. Nevertheless, at the risk of over-generalizing to the point of stereotype, I think the Eastern Conference still has more than its fair share of stodgy old franchises resistant to this unfamiliar talent. If this is the case, the market will simply continue to hammer them for it. Cleveland and Toronto have raided San Antonio’s and Phoenix’s front office personnel and assistant coaches in attempts to do something different and get better. In the process they’ve bolted past a number of the Eastern Conferences franchises that are happy stuck in their ruts.

Even though it is obvious that the Western Conference is better, it should be equally obvious that such things are not built to last. In fact, the west’s “dominance” is disproportionately reliant on a couple of great (poor) drafts by a handful of teams. Had just a handful of Eastern Conference executives shown better backbone, foresight, and most importantly talent evaluation skills in the past six-to-eight drafts the conference power imbalance would be minimal or perhaps non-existent. The east’s perennial playoff teams over that time period have missed on clear-cut opportunities to make themselves stronger over the near- and long-term through the draft and have paid a dear price. I highlight the draft because it is the clearest indicator of talent evaluation independent of other skills. It’s easy to show with a couple of illustrations how perfectly plausible alternative draft choices by two very good Eastern Conference teams might have made them far stronger, in Detroit’s case probably champions. My point isn’t to beat their GMs soundly about the head and shoulders with 20-20 hindsight, rather it is to illustrate how naturally tenuous so-called dominance really is in a league where the gap between the very best and very worst player isn’t very big compared to international ball or college ball.

Detroit – Had Joe Dumars’ gotten anything at all out of his drafts other than Tayshaun Prince that alone might have changed the tenor of the current discourse about conference power imbalance, at least at the top. For everything there is to like about Dumars it’s only fair to say that he was brutal in the 2003 draft and it cost his team dearly in 2005 and 2006. I don’t hammer Dumars for passing on Carmello Anthony in 2003 as much as I do for passing on Chris Bosh (for Darko Milicic) and Josh Howard (for Carlos Delfino). It is difficult to fathom a talent evaluation process that spit out Milicic and Delfino as the superior players to Bosh and Howard respectively. That 2003 draft may well have cost the Pistons at least one ring and it’s not like Dumars has done much in the draft since then. Not coincidentally, his Pistons have clearly run out of gas the last two post-seasons.

New Jersey – Rod Thorn is generally solid with his picks but his misses in 2003 (Zoran Planinic over Howard or Leandro Barbosa, and trading Kyle Korver to Philly for cash) and 2005 (Antoine Wright over Danny Granger or backup guards Jarrett Jack or Luther Head) left NJ with virtually no bench to compensate when the rash of injuries hit. New Jersey isn’t championship caliber in my opinion but given their core and style of play had they drafted better prior to last season they’d be the kind of team that would be a 50-win team in either conference.

Neither of these “what if” scenarios suggests that San Antonio, Dallas, and Phoenix wouldn’t still be the class of the NBA. But they do suggest that people may be overstating the case to claim that a) the Clippers are better than the Magic, but the Magic gets a playoff berth only through the good fortune of having been born in the East; so therefore b) the playoffs need to be restructured to address the competitive imbalance between the conferences. Just because part a is true shouldn’t lead one ipso facto to accept that part b is true. The practical difference between the Magic and Clippers lies almost exclusively in the gap between the two men who built their respective rosters: Otis Smith and Elgin Baylor. The talent gap separating those men and their rosters is real but it is also dynamic. Players come and go, as do GMs, as do talent gaps between rosters.

If I could play David Stern for two weeks, rather than tinker with playoff formats I’d look to find ways to replenish the pool of talented executives entering the league. Fundamentally, the competitive imbalance the west enjoys over the east right now derives primarily from the two teams best able to produce their own executive talent (i.e., San Antonio and Phoenix). It’s hardly a coincidence that both have not been shy about looking internationally, outside the relatively closed world of NBA lifers, to develop executive/coaching talent first; not surprisingly success at finding international players has followed.

I Was a Witness… to a Palace Coup

I believe that it is extremely rare to be able to truthfully claim that a single player, for all practical purposes, won or lost a game. Thursday night was one of those rare occasions. Lebron was scintillating in game five by any measure, but when compared to his teammates his performance was truly unbelievable. Listen to these lines. No, really. Read them out loud and just let them marinate for a moment. Pavlovic 2-10 in 42 minutes, Gooden 3-10 in 28, Hughes 2-3 in 29:15, and Gibson 2-7 in 30:25. There were lengthy stretches of the 4th quarter and the overtimes where there were literally no other Cavs on the floor worth guarding, yet Lebron was still scoring. The Lebrons, with the exception of Ilgauskas and Varajao (whose FG defense on Wallace has been pretty doggone good, though he did foul Wallace late in the game), really ought to donate half their game checks–the offensive half–to charity, lest they face indictments for embezzlement.

I wonder two things about Detroit.

1. Why aren’t the Pistons running at every opportunity?

Detroit actually out-rebounded Cleveland in the game 45-39 but managed to take two fewer shots. They have chosen to play 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust against Cleveland. Why? I’m not suggesting that the Pistons should turn into Phoenix, but one of the “secrets” of Detroit’s success is their ability to vary pace; to play fast or slow based on the opponent or the circumstances of a given game. In game 5 Detroit never–it appeared to me–looked to get Cleveland in transition. They fell in love with the post-up game for reasons I have a difficult time understanding.

2. Will someone throw Flip Saunders under the proverbial bus again this year?

If someone does I have to say I see some justification. I don’t think you can run traps at a hot player every single time but I think at end-of-game situations you have to get the ball out of his hands early. Virtually every time Detroit did that in the 2nd half the ball eventually found its way to Pavlovic and he did something dreadful with it. Of course, having said that, it’s hard to believe that Flip designed a defense to allow Lebron to run to the front of the rim and dunk it or lay it in. (Though that pseudo-matchup zone thing Detroit ran where Lebron sliced through for two dunks and a layup comes pretty close.)