Changing Of The Guard

Going into the offseason, 2005 looks to be the year of the guard. Nearly every big free agent this year just happens to be a shooting guard. At the head of the free agent class was Ray Allen. The 30 year old scorer might have led the SuperSonics to the Finals last year, if not for the key injuries his Seattle teammates suffered before their matchup with the Spurs. However, before teams could pry him away, Ray chose to stay in Seattle for 5 more years.

Allen’s early signing opened the door for the other shooting guards looking to improve their bank accounts. With Ray unavailable, Michael Redd instantly became the best available free agent. However that was short lived as well, when the Bucks decided to keep their shooting guard for a tune of 6 years and $90M. New Yorkers silently snickered that the deal was awfully close to what Allan Houston received, a contract that has ominously loomed over the organization for the last 5 years. However there are two major differences between the two deals. First is that Redd is three years younger than Houston was, which means that Milwaukee will be paying him through his peak, not after. Second is that Redd is far more productive than H20 ever was. While both guards are listed at 6’6, Redd gets twice as many rebounds per minute, and turns the ball over at 1/3 the rate. Although last year was his worst full season, Redd’s 18.3 PER was still better than Houston’s best year (17.7). While it remains to be seen if Redd was overpaid, his deal is not as bad as Scott Layden’s.

The Cleveland Cavs, failing to sign either of the above players and a shooting guard rotation comical enough to make Drew Carey’s guffaw, turned to plan C. General Manager Danny Ferry with cap space burning a hole in his pocket grabbed the next best free agent who happened to be another shooting guard: Larry Hughes. The Cavaliers will be Hughes’ 4th team, who was drafted by the Sixers at the tender age of 19. The oft-injured shooting guard has only had 2 seasons where he has played in more than 70 games, so his health will be under constant scrutiny in Cleveland. Although he has a reputation for being a fine defender, earning first team all defensive last year, it’s not entirely validated statistically. While the Wizards’ defense was 3.3 points better per 100 possessions with him on the court, opposing guards enjoyed a healthy 18.6 PER. It doesn’t seem to be a one year fluke, as the year before those numbers were 2.9/20.9. Hughes appears to be a good gambler, grabbing nearly 3 steals a game last year, but he’s not a lockdown defender like a Prince or Bowen.

While he hasn’t suited up in 7 seasons, Nate McMillan will be patrolling the sidelines in Portland next year. The former Sonics guard and last year’s coach sited a desire “to develop, to teach” among the reasons he left. In Portland, the disciplinarian will have plenty of opportunities to expand Darius Miles’s vocabulary, teach Zach Randolph how to drive to Vancouver, and maybe develop a few young basketball players with his free time. Nate’s departure from Seattle caught a few people by surprise, as his nearly 20 years in Seattle earned him the nickname “Mr. Sonic”.

Just recently the Atlanta Hawks have gotten Joe Johnson to sign a $70M deal, albeit one that the Suns have the option to match. One of the rumored reasons that Phoenix gave up Richardson was to clear up some space to resign Johnson, the other being that Bryan Colangelo gets perverse pleasure out of sending his poor defenders to Isiah Thomas. So it’s likely that Johnson will stay put as well.

Although more of a swingman than shooting guard, the Milwaukee Bucks signed Bobby Simmons to $47M as well. Meanwhile teams might be able to sign Michael Finley or Allan Houston, as their respective teams look to save money with their one time luxury tax loophole. While Finley is still productive enough to provide help to a team needed some scoring, Houston’s career is still in serious doubt. Allan remains firm in his belief that he will return to the court, which means the number of people that think Allan Houston will contribute positively to an NBA team is still stuck at one.

Looking at the 2005 NBA Draft (Part II)

In part one I evaluated the Knick?s draft night based on their strategy, a blend of best player available and need. Now, let?s take a look at the other teams in the East. To review briefly, I will review each team?s draft based on its apparent strategy (best player available or need/fit) and categorize it as ?Accept,? ?Revise and Resubmit,? or ?Reject.? Players are listed by overall selection number, name, height (with shoes), wingspan (if available), weight (lbs.), position, and school.

Eastern Conference

Atlanta Hawks

* Strategy: Best Player Available

* Review: Reject (Getting a talented player is not enough)

2. Marvin Williams (6-8-1/4, 7-3-1/2, 228.2#), F, N. Carolina

31. Salim Stoudamire (6-1-1/4, 6-4, 185.6#), G, Arizona

59. Cenk Aykol (6-4, NA, 195), PG, Turkey

The evaluation has little to do with Williams or Stoudamire, both talented players. It certainly has nothing to do with 18 year old Cenk Aykol. It has everything to do with the Hawks. The Hawks are like the NBA?s version of George Castanza. They can?t get a 2nd date yet somehow manage to have commitment issues. Perennially in the market for a new ?savior,? Atlanta has a fear of commitment worthy of a few couch sessions with Dr. Phil. They seem uniquely unable to forego their infatuation with the next ?great? player long enough to get on with the business of building around real live players. Last season Atlanta acquired talented veteran forward Al Harrington, who is just entering his prime. Atlanta also drafted the raw-but-freakishly athletic youngster Josh Smith along with jack-of-all-trades swingman Josh Childress (who sports the league?s best Afro since Dr. J). Weren?t these the building blocks of the future? I suppose, but in “The City too Busy to Hate” those guys were so five minutes ago. The Hawks appear to be starting all over with Williams as the new centerpiece; I?ve heard little from them about how these pieces are supposed to fit together. Is Williams worth it? Perhaps, but it seems just as likely that once the chinks in his armor are revealed during the course of yet another 50-60 loss season this summer?s ?it girl? will be supplanted by the next young stud forward next June.

Boston Celtics

* Strategy: Best Player Available/fit

* Review: Accept (with minor changes)

18. Gerald Green (6-7-1/4, 6-9-3/4, 192#), SG, Gulf Shores Academy HS (TX)

50. Ryan Gomes (6-7-3/4, 7-2, 248#), F, Providence

53. Orien Greene (6-4, NA, 208#), PG, LA-Lafayette

In one respect the Celts got lucky when Gerald Green fell to them. Still, credit Danny Ainge for exorcising the ghosts of the 2001 draft when the Celts chose Joe Forte, Johnson, and Kedrick Brown. I bet the Celtics wish they?d hung on to Joe Johnson now rather than trading him for Rodney Rogers and a sack of fool?s gold. Green may not end up being the next Tracy McGrady but I wouldn?t be surprised if his career travels a path similar to Johnson?s. Getting Ryan Gomes at #50 may have actually been a much better indicator of Ainge?s front office skill than acquiring Green, who fell into their laps. Gomes is a skilled ?tweener who couldn?t play on every team. But what team has done a better job than Boston of getting the most out of ?tweeners in recent years (think Antoine Walker, Eric Williams, and the aforementioned Rogers)? Gomes, who played his college ball down the road at Providence, is a nice fit on that team and should contribute as an undersized PF on the second unit. Orien Greene could use some seasoning in the NBDL or Europe but his defense could get him on an NBA roster eventually, even if it?s not in Boston.

Charlotte Bobcats

* Strategy: Need/fit

* Review: Revise and resubmit (with major changes)

5. Raymond Felton (6-0-1/4, 6-4-1/4, 199.2#), PG, N. Carolina

13. Sean May (6-8-1/2, 7-1-1/4, 258.8#), PF, N. Carolina

Though I am not one who thinks Raymond Felton is a reach at #5 based on talent I don?t think he could be equally impactful on every team. Felton excels at pushing the tempo. However, Charlotte?s roster doesn?t appear to be equipped to play that style. While Gerald Wallace and Okefor can fly up and down the floor, starters Kareem Rush (UFA) and Primoz Brezec are halfcourt players. It would have seemed to make more sense for Charlotte to select one of the SGs (most likely Wright or McCants) to pair with Felton rather than a power forward. With Brezec, Okefor, Malik Allen, and Melvin Ely all splitting minutes between the 4 and 5 May could have a difficult time finding minutes. On the other hand Wright or McCants could have easily ended up as the starter after training camp. I love the Felton selection if the team is committed to running but they?ll need to move another player or two for the May selection to make sense to me.

Chicago Bulls

* No selections in this draft

Cleveland Cavaliers

* Acquired the rights to F/C Martynus Andriuskevicius (the 44th overall selection).

Detroit Pistons

* Strategy: Need/Fit

* Review: Revise and resubmit (with major changes)

26. Jason Maxiell (6-6-1/4, 7-3-1/4, 257.6#), PF, Cincinnati

56. Amir Johnson (6-10, NA, 220#), PF/C, Westchester HS (CA)

60. Alex Acker (6-3-3/4, 7-0, 183), G, Pepperdine

If this were anyone but Joe Dumars this draft haul would warrant a flat-out ?reject.? Maxiell is a classic case of choosing a player who fits a particular role on a team. Joe Dumars certainly could have gotten better talent at the same position by choosing Wayne Simien, an accomplished defender and rebounder but much more polished scorer, who was drafted by Miami three picks later. Maxiell is an athletic but undersized forward who is something of a Reggie Evans clone, though a tad shorter. The big risk with Maxiell is that he?s undersized and one-dimensional on a team that already has a lot of what he does. Also, since the team can hardly find spare minutes for Darko Milicic it?s unclear where Maxiell?s minutes come from unless someone gets hurt or dealt. Detroit?s 2nd round picks appear destined for the D-League, though Acker may be able to contribute.

On a whole other level, the conspiracy theorist in me suspects that the Maxiell pick is a loyalty test from Joe Dumars. If Larry Brown returns to coach and subsequently plays Maxiell more minutes than Milicic Dumars will simply have him killed. Never go against the family Larry.

Indiana Pacers

* Strategy: Best Player Available

* Review: Accept

17. Danny Granger (6-8-1/2, 7-1-1/2, 225.4#), SF, New Mexico

46. Ezram Lorbeck (6-10, NA, 240#), PF, Slovenia

Granger is a true small forward without any glaring holes in his game. His ceiling may be lower than some other players in this draft but he is virtually bust-proof (barring injury) because of his defense, passing, and overall basketball IQ. Jonathan Bender may have played his last game in an Indiana Pacer uniform; or perhaps I should stay spent his last stint on the Pacer injured list. I doubt the addition of Granger would compel the Pacers to move Ron Artest but they could certainly entertain offers. Lorbeck is a nice choice late in round 2. He may never come back to the states but he?s a nice chip to have.

Miami Heat

* Strategy: Best Player Available/Need

* Review: Accept

29. Wayne Simien (6-9, 7-0, 255.8), PF, Kansas

Upgrading from Damon Jones, a solid 3rd guard, is in my estimation Miami?s first order of business. However, short of trading way up, Miami was not going to do that in this draft. Choosing Wayne Simien that late in the first round leaves little room for criticism. Simien most likely won?t need to start since Miami is not likely to lose Udonis Haslem (since he’s not going to get more than the MLE) but Simien will probably be counted on to provide 10-20 minutes per night. Simien steadily improved at Kansas, going from a strictly back-to-the-basket scorer and putback artist to a steady mid-range jump shooter. He boards, runs the floor, is tough as nails, and solid from the FT line. He also measured 6?9? in shoes; where his height had been a concern. The troubling issue with Simien has been his inability to stay healthy. Guys rarely come to the pros and get healthier than they were in college.

Milwaukee Bucks

* Strategy: Need/fit

* Review: Revise and resubmit (See comments on Atlanta Hawks)
1. Andrew Bogut (7-0-1/4, 7-3, 250.6#), C, Utah

36. Ersan Ilysova (6-9, 7-1-1/4, 208.8#)

My issue with the Bucks is somewhat similar to my issue with the Hawks, though not to quite the same degree. I don?t have a quarrel with selecting Bogut. A big man who passes well can always help a team even on nights when he?s not scoring. In fact, Bogut’s passing and ability to play in the high post may well add 2-3 ppg to Desmond Mason?s average. But what is the Buck?s vision? I don?t understand the firing of Terry Porter?or at least its timing. (Was he a Marvin Williams man?) I want to see what the Bucks are committed to putting around Bogut to maximize his talents before I buy into them. I was not all that taken with Milwaukee?s 2nd round selection, Ilysova, when they could have taken Croatian playmaker Roko Leni-Ukic to backup Mo Williams.

New Jersey Nets

* Strategy: Best Player Available

* Review: Accept (minor changes)

15. Antoine Wright (6-6-1/4, 6-8-3/4, 202.6#), G, Texas A&M

43. Mile Ilic (7-1, NA, 240#), C, Yugoslavia

I like the selection. New Jersey’s bench is woeful. Wright gives them depth as well as a player who can create his own shot, something that only Vince Carter does currently. The only other player the Nets might have considered here is Hakim Warrick, a power forward who could also bring a lot of energy off the bench. Warrick, a classic ?tweener, is less of a risk in New Jersey because anyone who can run and catch the way Warrick can will look good on the floor with Jason Kidd. Ilic is another big kid they can develop overseas at no cost.

Orlando Magic

* Strategy: Best Player Available

* Review: Reject

11. Fran Vasquez (6-11, NA, 230), PF, Spain

38. Travis Diener (6-1, 5-11-3/4, 165.2), PG, Marquette

While Toronto?s Rob Babcock took the lion?s share of the draft night grief I thought Orlando had a much worse draft. At least no one is questioning the talent of Babcock?s selections this year. Orlando?s situation seemed to be one tailor made for trading down or out of this draft. It?s not clear to me what Vasquez brings to Orlando that they aren?t already getting from Tony Battie. What they really needed from this draft (a big point guard) they weren’t going to get at #11 without trading up or reaching. Furthermore, Vasquez?s buyout from his Spanish team may be more complicated than originally thought. Travis Deiner, the team?s second round pick is an even smaller version of last year’s first, Jameer Nelson, and the second coming of Scott Brooks. I have a difficult time seeing how these two players help Orlando, either as talent for the future or by filling specific roles. If you?re a Magic fan you are hoping hard that the front office is working on some other moves.

Philadelphia 76ers

* Strategy: Best Player Available

* Review: Revise and resubmit (major changes)

45. Louis Williams (6-1, NA, NA), PG, S. Gwinnett HS (GA)

Armed with only a second round pick the Sixers took a flyer on a high schooler; but the wrong one in my opinion. Even if they re-sign Samuel Dalembert why not take a chance on one of the high school big men, Andrey Blatche or Amir Johnson, rather than the 6-1 SG Williams? Guards are a lot easier to find.

Toronto Raptors

* Strategy: Best Player Available

* Review: Accept

7. Charlie Villanueva (6-9-1/2, 7-0-1/4, 236.6#), PF, Connecticut

16. Joey Graham (6-6-1/2, 6-8, 216.6#), G/F, Oklahoma State

For all the ?hootin? and hollarin?? that went on surrounding the 7th pick I didn?t necessarily see the big problem with it. Clearly, Villanueva and Bosh have overlapping skills. However, it appears that Toronto has come to the conclusion that Bosh?s future is at center, not power forward. Villanueva, a big kid with a lot of skills who virtually no one projects as a center, will be asked to play Bosh?s old power forward spot. It?s hard to see how Channing Frye or any other choice made between 8 and 16 would have been a significantly better choice in terms of talent and fit. Toronto also benefited big time from the fact that the wing players slid down as a group, helping them to acquire Joey Graham at 16. I have questions about how much offense Graham will provide. He has limited range as a shooter and doesn?t handle the ball particularly well. However he?s a very good defender, rebounder, and he runs the floor well. Overall, Toronto got two pretty talented players who should be able to contribute right away.

Washington Wizards

* Strategy: Best Player Available

* Review: Accept

49. Andray Blatche (6-11, NA, NA), PF/C, S. Kent Prep HS (CT)

It?s hard to fuss with getting a big kid with some talent at #49. He could turn into a player with a couple seasons in the D-League and a substantially lower set of expectations than those that dogged Kwame Brown. It?s hard to see a downside.

Up next: The Western Conference (Part III)


Flash back to the trade deadline. The 76ers finally get a second talented offensive player to team up with Allen Iverson. That day Chris Webber was the “huge trade” and everything else was just a byline. The deal was supposed to propel Philly to the top of the Atlantic division. However since February 24th, the Sixers have only gone 6-7, and find themselves sputtering in second place.

Just before the trade deadline the division rival Celtics sent point guard Gary Payton, a first round pick, and some belly lint for Antoine Walker. That Boston wanted the 7 year Celtic back after a year and a half exile could have been the trade day laugher had Isiah Thomas not given sports talk hosts something to pounce on. Since then Boston has gone 11-1, and are 5.5 games ahead of Philadelphia. So the Celtics unexpected streak begs the question “Is this for real?”

Granted in this 12 game span, Boston has beaten up on a few of the league’s worst teams. They’ve steamrolled over the Hawks, Jazz, Hornets, and the expansion Bobcats twice. But before we dismiss the Celtics success to the schedulemaker’s whimsy, Boston has been an impressive 4-1 against teams that are .500 or better. The Beantown 12 have defeated Washington and Detroit at home, and Phoenix & Houston on the road. So maybe the Celtics’ turnaround is due to the man they (re-)acquired?

Someday in the far away future, when advanced statisticians look at 20th/21st century NBA, someone is going to write his thesis on the statistical anomaly known as Antoine Walker. The shimmying forward defies being put into any simple category. While ‘Toine is comfortable hoisting three pointer after three pointer, his free throw accuracy is inexplicably free falling towards Shaqsville. The tweener forward is a respectable rebounder (2.3 OREB/40min), but a permeable defender. He’s skillful enough handling the ball that you can run your offense through him (as Atlanta did when they played New York this year), although he’s as likely to have an assist (3.6 AST/40min) as he is a turnover (3.4 TO/40min). His most similars by age according to show Walker’s diverse and polarized game: Drexler to Glenn Robinson to Bird to Chuck Person to Nick Anderson to Scottie Pippen.

Antoine Walker’s 16.1 PER (career 16.9 PER) isn’t exactly league shattering. However his insertion in the starting lineup gives the Celtics a unique look on offense. They can hit the long ball from the three big spots (Pierce, Walker, LaFrentz), and the two forwards have been averaging more assists combined (7.3 AST per game) than the starting point guard (Payton 6.0 AST/game). The Walker deal also gives Boston an addition by subtraction. Since #8 dusted off his old uniform, Raef LaFrentz & Mark “Phillies” Blount have seen more bench time. In the 12 games before the trade, the two played 30 minutes or more 21 times, a feat they’ve only matched 6 times since. Walker gives the Celtics a better front court rotation.

There is one caveat with the Celtics recent success. Walker is playing a bit above his head. This year for Boston he’s been better than his career average or even best year in three main shooting categories.

Stat    eFG     3P%     PSA
Celtics 52.4% 38.9% 1.08
Career 45.7% 32.6% 0.97
Highest 47.8% 36.9% 1.01

Although I think he was a good addition to the Celtics, I suspect that they’ll cool off a bit as ‘Toine floats back down to earth. While I don’t see Boston as good as their 92% win percentage since the trade, I don’t think their improvement is a total fluke. They’re certainly not as good as the Spurs or even the APBRSonics, and it’s possible that they’ll get swept in the first round by a young & hungry team like the Bulls or the Cavs. On the other hand, I wouldn’t be shocked if they knocked off the Pistons & crept into the Eastern Conference Finals.

Introducing The New Stats Page

I’ve been working on this for a bit, and I think it’s time to release it out into the general public: the new stat page. A little Merry Christmas from me to my readers. It actually started as an automated tool for myself, so I could have a few key stats handy when I’m writing, but it just snowballed into what you see today. Since I don’t have much of an index, let me give you a quick rundown, interspersed with comments from today’s Knick win over the hapless Bobcats.

The best place to start is the Team Totals. On that page, you can see each team’s scoring per possession, the best measure of a team’s offense or defense. At the very top of the defensive page are teams like the Spurs, Pistons, and Rockets. At the bottom are teams like the Jazz, Hawks, Bucks, and unfortunately, my New York Knicks. New York was 23rd when I checked a month and a half ago, so that means they’ve gotten worse since then. Wilkens has to deal with this disturbing trend either by trying out different defenses, getting the team to play better fundamentals, or by giving more minutes to better defensive players. I’ve begged & pleaded in this space for the Knicks to press & trap, something which the Knicks almost never do. In fact as far as I can recall, they play man nearly exclusively. Certainly it’s not working.

My least favorite defensive breakdown is what I call ‘defensive indifference’. Today Tim Thomas had two great examples of this. In the first quarter, Thomas got caught on a switch, and Primoz Brezec had the ball with Thomas at least 10 feet away. Brezec went up for the jumper as Thomas raced toward him. He closed the distance quickly, but realized he wouldn’t get there in time to block the attempt, and just gave up right in front of Brezec, without putting up a hand. Those kinds of plays kill me as a viewer, because every kid on a team in America has a coach that has taught him if he can’t block a shot to get a hand in the shooter face to stop him from getting a good look at the basket.

In the next quarter, Charlotte had a possession where they got a few offensive rebounds. At one point Okafor pulled one down facing the basket and Tim Thomas came behind him. Now, I have Thomas listed as 6’10, Okafor at 6’10, and Okafor’s FT% at 62%. If Thomas tries hard enough, the worst he can do is give Okafor a 38% chance of scoring two points. At best, it would have been a blind side block, the kind that little guys like Boykins, and Brevin Knight salivate for. But Thomas just watched as Emeka scored an easy two. Defensive indifference.

Anyway back to the stat page, not only can you rank the teams by efficiency, but by pace, or any of the four factors. You may notice that each team name is underlined, and clicking on the name will bring you to the team page. Here I have a few stats I use, including John Hollinger’s PER. It came in handy today when one of the announcers (Al Trautwig?) claimed that Moochie Norris was doing a good job bringing energy off the bench & setting up the offense. He’s got to be kidding me. Norris (2.9 PER) runs the offense like the Ukrainians run an election.

John Hollinger did a great job coming up with ways of rating a player’s ability, but what does Norris’ 19.5 turnover ratio mean? Click on the leaders link at the top, and then on the X above TO-r. This brings you to the League Leaders page, sorted by Hollinger’s turnover ratio. Norris doesn’t have enough minutes to qualify for league leaders, but if he could, his 19.5 would be 6th worst. Right between Antonio Davis and Erick Dampier. That’s just what you want in a backup PG, someone that turns the ball over like two old centers.

A special thanks goes to Kevin Pelton of fame for eyeing over my work & helping me get over that final hump in PER. Kevin, a cold beer awaits you in New York if you can make the trip with the team in March.

Way Too Early Season Review Part II

If you haven’t read Part I already, then you might want to do so now.

The main reason the Knicks can afford losing Kurt Thomas is because Mike Sweetney (18.1, 17.1, -6.2) is ready to play PF full time. I’m not the only one who feels this way. Back in June, writer Kevin Pelton said the best age-21 comparisons for Sweetney are Zach Randolph and Carlos Boozer. While Basketball Forecast author John Hollinger thinks the former Hoya is ready to break out and become a 14-12 guy. Sweetney has two major strengths: he can score efficiently, and he can rebound. He’s hitting 55% of his shots, and he leads the Knicks in points per shot attempt:

Player's Name	 PSA 
M. Sweetney.... 1.26
J. Williams.... 1.25
Stephon Marbury 1.20
N. Mohammed.... 1.14
J. Crawford.... 1.03
Kurt Thomas.... 1.00
A. Hardaway.... 0.96
Trevor Ariza... 0.88
Tim Thomas.... 0.83
Vin Baker...... 0.46
Moochie Norris. 0.44
Jamison Brewer. 0.41

(Jerome Williams’ PSA is that high because he only shoots when he’s 3 feet from the hoop with a clear path.)

In addition to being a good scorer, Sweetney had the highest rebound rate on the team last year. Isiah may not clear the way for him to start this year for numerous reasons. With the Knicks on a quest to win the Atlantic, they might not want to trust the PF position to a second year player, Zeke might not be able to peddle Kurt for something the Knicks need, or they’re keeping Thomas as insurance for the center position, because the backup is gulp Vin Baker (12, 20, -1.2 last year).

The most surprising Knick up to this point is Nazr Mohammed (21.5, 17.0, +14.2). Upon seeing his numbers I thought the improvement was because he cut down on his personal fouls, but his rate hasn’t changed over the last few years. The major improvements I’ve found are in his shooting percentage (52.7%) and offensive rebounding (6.1/40min). FG% is the stat that fluctuates the most from year to year, but this year’s improvement shouldn’t be a fluke considering he shot 56% after being traded to New York last year. What might drop Nazr back to earth is his offensive rebounding. His highest rate in a full season is 4.5OREB/40mins back in 2001, and he’s a point and a half ahead of that.

In fact I think Nazr’s improvment in shooting percentage is directly related to his offensive rebounding. Last year in Atlanta, Nazr had a lower rebounding percentage, only 49% of his shots were inside, and 63% of them were assisted. Whereas in New York, his numbers are 60% and 54% respectively. Simply put, since coming to the Knicks about 10% of his shots are now unassisted and in the paint. It sounds like he’s earning those by cleaning up on the glass.

Another thing I like about Nazr is his combination of good hands and ability to finish. Mohammed usually converts on a Marbury drive & pass in the paint. Mohammed’s downfall is his weak defense, especially at the critical center position. He doesn’t bail out the other Knick defenders with blocked shots, something the Knicks could use thanks to their all around poor defense.

I think the whole city of New York has watched every step of Tim Thomas on the court (4.0, 14.9, -8.3), and it’s safe to say that I don’t need to do a full review on him. If his problem was mental & he’s back to normal, I think we can give him a Mulligan on the first month of the season. If he doesn’t regain his form, he’ll be replaced in the lineup before long. His defense looks like it’s improved slightly, down from the 16.4 oPER from last year.

The Knicks best defensive position is SF (13.8 oPER). While Thomas has improved, it’s the other three guys that can take a lion’s share of the credit. Jerome Williams (18.7, 15.8, +11.9), Trevor Ariza (13.2, 13.4, -1.3), and occasionally Penny Hardaway (10.5, 11.7, +3) are all fine defenders in their own right. Unfortunately the revival of Tim Thomas spells less time for the two most energetic Knicks, Williams and Ariza. Early on in the season Ariza was getting good court time, but these days it’s likely that he’ll play less than 10 minutes. The recipient of Ariza’s decline in minutes is Jerome Williams who has worked his way out of the dog house (pun intended). The SF situation is the same as it was last Monday when I said:

New York has a real logjam. There doesn’t seem to be a clear solution in sight. Thomas and Hardaway are nearly untradeable due to their large contracts, while trading Ariza would be insane due to his potential. I’d hate to see Jerome Williams go, because his game is uniquely different from anyone else’s on the team. So maybe everyone stays until the summer, when Hardaway and Thomas become more attractive as $30M in expiring contracts.

If it seems that the Knicks have too many forwards, they might have a similar problem with the guards once Allan Houston becomes healthy. How Lenny Wilkens handles this should be interesting. Houston will initially come off the bench, but if he’s back to his true form, who plays the two guard spots in the fourth quarter between Starbury, Crawford and Houston? The guard quandary is more difficult to solve than the PF or SF one. Guys like Ariza, Sweetney and “JYD” can handle being benched due to their circumstances, but how do you tell the 3 Knicks accustom to taking last second shots that one has to sit?

Wilkens giving Ariza few minutes isn’t much to get upset about. Trevor is young and inexperienced, and there is a lot of depth at SF. But Lenny needs find more time for Sweetney. Although he’s averaging 17 minutes a game, his time has dwindled so much that against Toronto he played a total of 17 minutes in 2 games. There are times that Jerome Williams’ infectious style and hustle are what the Knicks will require, but for a majority of the time Sweetney should be the first big man off the bench.

Generally Wilkens gets a good grade in my book. Other than Sweetney’s playing time, I have a hard time finding anything else largely disagreeable. This year the Knicks have a fair amount of depth, and Wilkens has to walk a tight line between winning now, developing their young talent, and keeping everyone happy.

As I write this, the Knicks just slipped back over .500 with an OT win over the Hawks. Writing this took a life on it’s own, because the Knicks have so many interesting topics to hit on. This year we have developing youngsters, players battling for time, Allan Houston’s return, a division race, and the speculation that Isiah Thomas can rearrange the team at a moment’s notice. Watching tonight’s game made me realize that only a short time ago, the Knicks were more like the Hawks, a team just looking forward to the next draft.

Win Some, Lose Some

What a difference a day makes. Yesterday the Knicks looked like the ’92 Dream Team at home against the Hawks. A day later they more resembled the Angolans staggering after a Charles Barkley elbow. The Toronto Raptors beat the Knicks yesterday by 23 points. Although both teams are now one game under .500, the Raptors have the slight edge in their win %, taking first place in the Atlantic.

Hawks 88 Knicks 104

New York should have expected a good offensive explosion. Using conventional statistics, the Hawks defense merely looks bad, because they rank 24th in points allowed per game. However they are actually the worse defensive team in the league, giving up 106 points for every 100 possessions. It’s Atlanta’s slow pace (93 possessions per game, 22nd) that masks how futile they are in protecting their basket. Being ranked last in shooting percentage (51.4% eFG%), is a main contributor to their pitiful defense.

The Knicks-Hawks game looked over in the first quarter. Early on, Stephon Marbury was breaking down the defense, and finding the open man time and time again. Atlanta had no inside help, as Nazr Mohammed and Kurt Thomas got off to fast starts. By my eye their interior defense looked awful and the stats confirm this shows the Hawks to give up a 22.1 PER to opposing centers. (PER is John Hollinger’s stat, and does a great job rating a player’s offensive ability.) Last year a 22.1 would have been somewhere between Dirk Nowitzki and Yao Ming. In other words, the Hawks long for the day when Theo Ratliff or Dekembe Mutombo roamed their paint.

Even though the game was a laugher, the bench guys didn’t get a lot of minutes. Sweetney only played 17 minutes, and Ariza only 10. There was a Bruno sighting, but Sundov only played 2 minutes and missed both of his attempts. The question I have to ask is when you’re up by 15 to start the 4th quarter, why not give the bench guys some burn? Some point in the season guys like Sweetney, Ariza, and possibly Sundov will have to step up due to injury or circumstance. Could there be a better team to build up their confidence, than the worst ranked defense in the league?

The one guy that did make a name for himself is Jamison Brewer. The backup PG came in for Marbury and had a fantastic jam in the 4th quarter. He came up a bit lame from the thunderous score, but shook off the injury to finish the game. A while back a poster on the board suggested that Brewer might be the Knicks’ answer to a perimeter defender. He certainly has the athleticism, but defense is largely based on fundamentals. Watching him for 12 minutes in a blowout isn’t enough to judge whether or not he can shut down opposing players.

Knicks 91 Raptors 114

The next night, Brewer would see some action as well, but this time in mop up duty against Toronto. Scott sent his condolences, but I didn’t suffer much because this is the first Knicks game of the year that I did not watch. The 23 point loss was New York’s second worst of the year. For every Knicks game, I keep track of each of the four main factors: shooting, turnovers, rebounding, and getting to the foul line. This way I can quickly see how New York won, or in this case lost. Last night’s game against the Raptors looks very similar to the 34 point beating they took from the Celtics.

BOS -16% -8% -11% -2%
TOR -15% -6% +8% -2%

Except for rebounding, the numbers are identical. I’ve noted since the season began that the Knicks would have trouble if they didn’t increase their defensive intensity. It’s no coincidence that their worst defensive shooting games of the year (59.7% & 57.1%) were also their two biggest losses. Although the Knicks finally held another team under the league shooting average (Atlanta 47%), accomplishing this 1 in every 10 games is a recipe for a tumultuous season. Of their next 4 opponents, only Memphis (16th) is an average shooting team. Against Atlanta (27th), Orlando (26th), and Charlotte (24th) the Knicks can right their woes. It’s time for them to turn the heat on, and make a defensive stand.

11/22/04 Odds & Ends

If you watched the Mavs game Friday night, you know the Knicks had two chances to win the game. Down by two, Marbury passed on a three to give an ego boost to Tim Thomas by letting him attempt the final trey. Thomas missed but the ball went out of bounds and the Knicks had another chance. Still down by 2, they threw it to Crawford who missed his newly patented 50 footer.

Down by only 2 points, New York attempted two three pointers and missed both. Isn’t it logical for them to have tried for a 2 instead? I thought about this hard, and the best I could come up with is no. Let’s assume that you’re an NBA coach and have the option of a two pointer or a three pointer with a few seconds left and your team is down by two. The NBA average for three pointers is about 35%, and let’s assume the average NBA two pointer is about 50%. So let’s compare the two options:

A. Attempt 3 pointer:
Chance of winning = 35%

B. Attempt 2 pointer & try to win in OT.
Chance of hitting 2 pointer = 50%
Chance of winning in OT = 50%
Chance of winning = chance of hitting 2 pointer * chance of winning in OT
= 50% * 50% = 25%

With these general odds, it looks like the three pointer is a better chance. However what if we account for the home court advantage? We know that the chance of winning at home is 61%. So the odds of playing for the two and winning in OT at home rise to 30% (50% * 61%). On the road it drops to 20% (50% * 39%). There are hundreds of values you could put in this equation: accounting for the shooters you have, their ability to get open, whether the opposing team has better perimeter or paint defenders, what the defense gives you, how effective your team is getting open, etc. However from what I saw that night, the Knicks had a good open look (actually they had two if you consider Marbury passing on his attempt), so the odds should be just about equal to the player’s ability to hit the three.

Quick Trivia: In per game averages, which Knick is 4th in scoring, 3rd in rebounds, 2nd in free throws (attempted & made), and 1st in eFG%?

Is it me or are the Knicks forcing themselves to play Tim Thomas more? In his first 5 games, Thomas never went over 25 minutes. In the 4 games since, he’s done it 3 times. The Knicks don’t want his value to slide to nothing whether they’re trying to move him, or if he’s coming off the bench. The only problem is his time has come at the expense of Ariza’s. Inversely to Thomas’ minutes, Trevor played 20+ minutes in the Knicks’ first 5 games, but he hasn’t topped that mark since then.

The SF position has become even more cloudy, as Jerome Williams is starting to make a name for himself. Lenny Wilkens put him out there for 24 minutes against Nowitzki, and the Junk Yard Dog lived up to his name by hounding the 7 foot German. Throw in Penny Hardaway who according to plays 1/3 of his minutes at SF, and New York has a real logjam. There doesn’t seem to be a clear solution in sight. Thomas and Hardaway are nearly untradeable due to their large contracts, while trading Ariza would be insane due to his potential. I’d hate to see Jerome Williams go, because his game is uniquely different from anyone else’s on the team. So maybe everyone stays until the summer, when Hardaway and Thomas become more attractive as $30M in expiring contracts.

How long before message boards fill up with Artest to (insert poster’s team) trade scenarios?

Getting back to Tim Thomas, his per minute averages are about the same across the board except for points & assists. The drop in his assists go hand in hand with his poor shooting (34% eFG%), because he’s really not involved in the offense these days. This makes me think the problem may not be physical due to the back injury he suffered last year. If it were, I would expect his stats based on physical ability (steals, rebounds) would see the biggest change.

Guest-KnickerBlogger David Crocket said Tim Thomas “may be staring over the edge of the same cliff Roberto Alomar dove off.” Since his decline seems to be related primarily to his shot, maybe he took a turn down Chuck Knoblauch Lane? OK, so he’s hasn’t regressed to the point where Thomas is hitting fans in the stands with his jumper. But he’s suddenly & inexplicably lost his ability to make a shot. Watching Thomas it’s hard to tell if he’s mentally unhappy, since his usual game looks uninspired (not rebounding, not hustling, etc.) It’ll be interesting to see if he can snap out of his shooting funk because everything else is right where it should be.

The Knicks’ still haven’t put out a good defensive effort with respect to shooting percentage. Their last two opponents shot an identical 49.4% (eFG), still well over the league average (47.3%). That makes them 3-0 when they outshot their opponent, and 1-5 when out-gunned.

Before the year started I predicted the Knicks odds of their first 20 games. It looked like they would be most likely to win between 8 & 9 games. Of their next 10 games, only 2 are against winning teams. They play the victorically challenged Hornets, the perennially awful Hawks twice, and expansion team Charlotte. Given that they play 8 games against losing teams, it wouldn’t be ridiculous for them to win 6 of their next 10 and bring their record up to a respectable 9-9.

Trivia Answer: Michael Sweetney. The Knicks second year PF is putting up great numbers, despite being 7th in the team in minutes. He’s also 2nd in blocks per game, and 4th in steals per game.