Seven Seconds or Mess: Webisode 16

In Episode 16 the Atlanta Hawks do their part in the making of the Chris Duhon highlight reel. You can watch the video in high quality here or hover over the triangle on the lower right of the player and click on HQ.



Some, if not all, of you may not agree about the Knicks playing the best basketball they can play at the moment. I think they are because I can’t see any better production from this roster. Four of the nine players in the rotation – Harrington, Chandler, Richardson and Thomas – are all wildcards on any given night but overall they’re performing at the level I expect offensively. And with the Knicks already jumping up seven spots in defensive efficiency from last season, it’s doubtful that they make any more significant improvements before season’s end. Basically, I think this roster is maxed which is a compliment to Mike D’Antoni. He’s taken this roster to twenty wins and is one spot shy of the eighth seed in the East this early. Before the season, I didn’t think that was possible.

Let me know what you think in this article because we’re at the midway point and it’s a good time to discuss these things.

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.]

Game Thread: Knicks vs. Hawks

Let me just crib from Thomas B. here….

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.

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 will be good on D–dammit!” Oh, and glad to be back

The fishwrap is reporting that D’Antoni went on an “unsolicited diatribe” about defense prior to last night’s 110-104 win over Philly. The new coach is, perhaps understandably, a bit bristly over his Marbury-like reputation for defensive indifference. His Suns teams were more average than bad defensively, and at least some of the criticism levied at those teams came because more than a few commentators–ex-players among them–don’t know enough to adjust for pace.

Still, I’d be a bit surprised to see the Knicks end the season above the median in defensive efficiency. Duhon’s addition will certainly help but really, unless Mardy Collins buys a jump shot from somewhere, no single defender on this roster is the equal of Marion, Raja Bell, (a motivated) Amare, and perhaps not even an ancient Grant Hill from D’Antoni’s Phoenix teams. One of the things I’m most ambivalent about with D’Antoni is his almost Isiah-like penchant for delusion. I like that he sticks up for his guys, but I worry a bit about how much of his own BS he buys sometimes. I also worry a bit about his sensitivity to criticism in a season that isn’t likely to go all that well.

At any rate, this pre-season ought to be fairly interesting for the Knicks. I haven’t seen the team play yet, but my impression is that D’Antoni is trying to figure out his rotations in real time and get guys used to playing in the system together. So he’s intent on playing his core group deep into games. And although pre-season games aren’t super important all things equal, they are (imho) more important for teams that haven’t won much and for teams with new players or a new system. The Knicks are all of the above.

Ahhh… it’s good to be back paying attention to basketball again. Now that Reyes, Wright, Beltran and Delgado couldn’t haul that heap of bloated corpses comprising the rest of the Mets into the playoffs, and my beloved Seahawks are pissing away Mike Holmgren’s final season in spectacular fashion, it just feels right to shift my focus back to my other collection of lovable losers (present company excluded of course). I will be keeping an eye on Missouri and a surprisingly decent Arizona football team, but as far as I am concerned it’s GO NEW YORK GO NEW YORK GO!!

Aw c’mon!
Don’t give it to Curry there! You know he’s gonna turn it ov–
Well, get back on D! Don’t–
Well dammit if you’re gonna foul him don’t let him lay it up too! Jeez!

Good times. Good times…

Afro-Samurai Goes to Greece

Sekou Smith, the excellent Hawks beat writer at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, is reporting that the man with the maddest ‘fro this side of the Afro-Samurai will sign with Olympiakos, and for more than the above-the-mid-level contract Atlanta was offering (rumored at $33 million). Atlanta retains his NBA rights for two years, and the contract contains opt outs at the end of each season.

Considering Childress’ deal alongside Brandon Jennings’ recent deal with Pallacanestro Virtus Roma raises the question of whether this is a trickle in what could become a steady stream of players leaving the NBA for other pro leagues under the FIBA umbrella. It is difficult to know, but any seasoned NBA fan can tell you that the path from the NBA to overseas leagues is already well-worn; but mostly by foreign-born and US-born fringe NBA players (e.g., Carlos Delfino and Anthony Parker respectively). Jennings and Childress represent a somewhat different (though perhaps not categorically different) kind of US-born Euroleague signee. They are highly-regarded talents who walked away from two entrenched institutional practices that have quasi-legal status: the NCAA’s virtual monopoly on entry to the NBA for US-born players and the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement (specifically restricted free agency). Although a direct comparison between Jennings and Childress to baseball’s Curt Flood would put too fine a point on it, their their willingness to move outside–way outside–the NCAA/NBA nexus could ultimately take on similar significance. (Rather than challenging a clear violation of the law as Flood did Jennings and Childress have exposed a clear point of vulnerability for both the NCAA and NBA: competition.)

Since KB has already written about Jennings I’ll limit my remaining comments to the Childress signing. First, globalization doesn’t just work for the US. Legitimate competition for US-born athletic talent is to my mind a good thing. In fact, sports may be one of the very few arenas where it’s possible for those who labor to gain enough leverage to negotiate salary and working conditions on a vaguely equal footing with management. When one of these guys wins at that game I can’t help but root for him. Second, at the risk of engaging in some Schadenfreude, this couldn’t have happened to a more deserving ownership group. The Atlanta ownership situation continues to be an embarrassment. Their players, to their everlasting credit and Mike Woodson’s, have developed in spite of the considerable obstacles created by ownership. As a Knicks fan I have complete empathy for Atlanta’s fans who think, “What did we ever do to deserve this?” Or, my personal favorite, “What else can go wrong?” Third, I hardly anticipate a mass exodus of US-born players to the various European leagues beyond what we currently see. The culture shock is considerable, and at the risk of stereotyping, many athletes are if nothing else creatures of familiarity and habit. If anything, I expect to see even fewer European stars jump across the pond to the NBA. The dollar is just too weak. If the structural weaknesses in the US economy aren’t the sort of thing you pay attention to, consider the Childress signing as yet another indication that the economy will probably get a lot worse before it gets better.

I eagerly anticipate the owners’ response to this and then Billy Hunter’s. This isn’t just about losing Childress, who may not be worth what he’s getting. (I’ll leave that to another post.) The bigger issue is that Childress and Olympiakos exploited the NBA’s failure to really consider that talent pipelines can travel in both directions. Olympiakos works without salary cap restriction and Atlanta has no “right” to match Childress’ offer (the essence of restricted free agency); a point of vulnerability that had up to this point only impacted foreign-born draftees and fringe players. Now you can bank it that the owners will use this issue to push for any number of unrelated concessions in the CBA under threat of lockout; it’s what they do. More to the point however, I expect that some teams will now look to place buyout clauses in player contracts where possible.

Daring to Dream

It’s a big day on the NBA calendar: the official salary cap for the 2008-2009 season was announced ($58,680,000) and it’s the first day free agents can officially sign contracts. The biggest news is Elton Brand spurning the Clippers and his friend Baron Davis, apparently agreeing to a 5-year, $82 million contract with Philadelphia. The Warriors are reportedly signing Corey Maggette to a 5-year, $50 million deal. Most important — at least to Knicks fans — Brand’s move may create an opening to move Zach Randolph.

Randolph won’t be anyone’s first choice. But if you want to take a glass half-full attitude, the Clippers and Warriors have significant cap room, fantasies of competing for the playoffs, a hole at power forward and — very possibly — no one to take their money in free agency. Assuming the Davis and Maggette reports are accurate, the Clippers have $14 million in cap space left, while the Warriors have about $17 million. As far as unrestricted free agents — forget it. The best one left is James Posey, then it’s guys like Ricky Davis and Brent Barry. The plum prizes are restricted, meaning their teams can match any offer. Still, when big offers start flying, it’s no surprise when someone flinches. Here are five guys who could wreck our Randolph plans — in order of likelihood that they’ll sign with Clippers or Warriors.

Emeka Okafor — There’s been almost no news from Charlotte, but Okafor was uninterested in an offer starting at $12-13 million a year, and 10 days ago Michael Jordan was grumbling to the papers. Given Okafor’s injury history and the signs of bad blood, I won’t be surprised to see him walk if the Warriors (or Clippers) make an offer starting around $13 million. Still, as of now, the Warriors reported top choice is…

Josh Smith — Smith is a thrill to watch, Atlanta’s star gate attraction and still just 22 years old. He’s also clashed with his coaches and has plenty of holes in his game. The Hawks keep saying they’ll match any offer, but the owners are notoriously cheap. It would be a public relations disaster not to match… but if the Warriors make a huge offer, the Hawks might throw in the towel. Channeling my inner Sam Smith, the Hawks could also look at trade options. Utah or Miami might take Smith for Carlos Boozer or Shawn Marion; that would give the Hawks a short-term upgrade and massive cap room next summer. The Hawks also need money to pay…

Josh Childress — No star power, but stat-heads know him as an extremely efficient offensive player, a good rebounder for a guard and a solid defender. I doubt the Hawks will let Smith AND Childress walk, but if they pony up for Smith, I don’t think they’ll pay more than the mid-level ($5.58 million) for their 6th man. On the other hand, I don’t know if the Clips or Warriors will make him an offer.

Andre Iguodala — Iggy is far less likely to move than these others. With Brand in town, the 76ers think they can make a title run with their current lineup, and they may be right. Still, if offers for Iguodala hit the $14 million range, the Sixers might look at trade options, for a more traditional shooter/scorer. Michael Redd and Tracy McGrady spring to mind. More likely to happen in February, if at all.

Luol Deng — Since the Bulls wouldn’t trade him for Kobe, they’ll be matching offers. That’s going to dog this guy for the rest of his career.

Also worry about…

Ben Gordon — Now here’s a restricted free agent with a good chance of moving. Yeah, he’s a two-guard, but it matters to our Randolph hopes because the Bulls might decide to move Hinrich instead, in a reported trade for Al Harrington. With Harrington out of the picture, the Warriors would have to take on Zach’s full salary — making it an even longer shot.

Andris Biedrins — It’s assumed the Warriors will sign him to an extension, but if you hear they’re having second thoughts, it means they’re trying to save money for a run at one of the other guys.