New York Knicks Preseason Preview 2011

[The good folks at, have been kind enough to invite us to participate in the 5th annual blogger preview. Here is my entry.]

Team Name: New York Knicks
Last Year’s Record: 29-53
Key Losses: David Lee, Al Harrington, Chris Duhon, Tracey McGrady, The Stench of Futility
Key Additions: Amar’e Stoudemire, Raymond Felton, Anthony Randolph, Kelenna Azubuike, Ronnie Turiaf, Roger Mason Jr., Landry Fields, Timofey Mozgov

1. What significant moves were made during the off-season?

If you’re reading this section curious about what New York has done, then you’ve probably just awoken from a coma. Although if you’ve been a Knick fan over the last decade, that’s understandable. In any case, let me be the first to give you the good news. New York signed All Star Amar’e Stoudemire this offseason and has room to sign another top free agent. The bad news is that the team was aiming for two of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh. Instead the trio have formed the most hated thing this side of Justin Beiber.

The Knicks also inked Raymond Felton to replace the inept Chris Duhon. Although the team did let home grown All Star David Lee go, getting Anthony Randolph in return could neutralize this loss if the young forward can reach his potential. Ronnie Turiaf will provide much needed shot blocking. Second round pick Landry Fields looked quite impressive in summer league, and Timofey Mozgov showed promise for Team Russia.

2. What are the team’s biggest strengths?

The Knicks greatest asset in 2011 should be their athletic versatility. There’s no arguing that Amar’e Stoudemire, Raymond Felton, Anthony Randolph, Ronnie Turiaf, and Timofey Mozgov are more physically able than David Lee, Chris Duhon, Jared Jeffries, Al Harrington, Darko Milicic, and Earl Barron. With a core of Felton, Randolph, and Stoudemire, the team could go big (add Gallinari, and one of Turiaf, Mozgov, Curry) or small (add two of Azubuike, Fields, Walker, Douglas, Mason, or Rautins). D’Antoni should be able to put out some interesting lineups, causing mismatches for their opponents. If Randolph or Gallinari can run the offense like Lee did last year, the Knicks could get very creative on the floor in a point guard-less offense when Felton needs a rest.

If I had to choose a second strength it might be D’Antoni’s offense. The past two seasons New York featured a ragtag lineup due to the state of the franchise from the Isiah Thomas era. In back to back years the Knicks finished 17th in offensive efficiency, and this year’s team seems more tailor made for the coach. Given the pick & roll tandem of Stoudemire & Felton, the outside shooting of Azubuike, Mason, and Rautins, and the development of youngsters Gallinari, Douglas, Walker, and Chandler, D’Antoni should have plenty of weapons to assault opposing defenses.

3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?

New York has been a bad rebounding team for D’Antoni’s tenure, and this is one area Donnie Walsh failed to address in remaking the team. Stoudemire, Gallinari, and Turiaf aren’t good rebounders, and the loss of hyalophile David Lee will hurt the team as well. According to my stat page, the Knicks were 27th on both offensive and defensive rebounding last year. Knick fans who cringe at their team forgoing any second opportunities while allowing tip ins from the opposition will have a furled brow for much of the season. Perhaps Randolph and Mozgov can work their way into heavy minutes and help prevent the bleeding.

Last year the Knicks were tied for 3rd worst defense in the NBA, and it has been a recurring issue with the team for the last decade. The Knicks have some good defensive pieces in Azubuike, Randolph, Douglas, and Turiaf. However most of the team (including the coaching staff) leans to the offensive side of the spectrum. If New York isn’t among the 10 worst defenses this year, it should be considered an accomplishment.

4. What are the goals for this team?

On April 29th, 2001, Allan Houston and Latrell Sprewell combined for 44 points and led a Marcus Camby-less New York to victory over Toronto. Despite being up 2 games to 1 in a best of 5 series, the Raptors would win the next two games and knock the Knicks out in the first round. That was the last New York playoff win. The Knicks should aim to end that drought before the streak reaches its 10th birthday. To do so, they’ll need to do better than the 8th seed, since that spot will likely face the Miami Heat, who will likely sweep their first round opponent.

A playoff spot would mean success for the Knicks. A playoff win would be a nice bonus. Anything beyond a second round appearance would be a Gotham fantasy. On the other hand, entering the draft lottery would be seen as a complete failure considering the team has offered Houston the right to swap picks.

5. Who is D’Antoni going to alienate this year?

In 2009, Stephon Marbury was exiled from the team. In 2010 Nate Robinson was chained to the doghouse for most of the year, and was joined by Darko Milicic and Larry Hughes. As I mentioned last year, the D’Antoni Rules aren’t kind to players who aren’t in the rotation. The combination of D’Antoni’s short rotation and his inability to communicate with his players inevitably leads to a player being irate over a lack of playing time. This year’s likely candidate is Mozgov, given his inexperience and D’Antoni’s gigantasophobia. If I had to put money on a dark horse I’d take Turiaf or Chandler. The former has a Twitter predilection that might hit a nerve with the communicationally challenged D’Antoni. The latter because after having no competition at shooting guard for two seasons, Chandler might find himself on the outside looking in. Azubuike, Fields, and even Mason could push Wilson for playing time, and those players fit D’Antoni’s offense better than Chandler.

Similarity Scores For The New Knicks

Amar’e Stoudemire

.000 Amare Stoudemire 2010 PHO 22.6 61.5 55.7 24.1 2.9 9.3 1.0 0.7 1.1 2.7
.134 Kevin McHale 1985 BOS 20.7 61.7 57.0 21.2 3.1 9.7 1.9 0.4 1.6 2.1
.206 Rik Smits 1994 IND 19.7 58.0 53.4 20.9 2.3 8.2 2.7 0.8 1.4 2.6
.235 Karl Malone 1991 UTA 24.8 59.6 52.8 26.0 2.6 10.5 2.9 1.0 0.9 2.7
.236 Andres Nocioni 2007 CHI 15.6 57.8 53.6 19.2 1.1 7.7 1.5 0.7 0.6 2.7
.243 Alonzo Mourning 1998 MIA 22.4 59.5 55.1 20.7 3.6 10.4 1.0 0.7 2.4 3.3
.247 Buck Williams 1988 NJN 18.2 60.3 56.1 17.5 4.1 11.4 1.5 0.9 0.6 2.6
.258 Armen Gilliam 1992 PHI 18.0 57.5 51.1 17.8 3.0 8.6 1.5 0.7 1.1 2.2
.273 Darryl Dawkins 1984 NJN 17.6 64.1 59.4 20.2 2.4 8.1 1.8 0.9 2.0 3.4
.274 Dirk Nowitzki 2006 DAL 28.1 58.9 51.5 25.1 1.3 8.5 2.6 0.7 1.0 1.8
.278 Chris Gatling 1995 GSW 19.5 64.0 63.3 19.5 3.5 10.8 1.2 1.0 1.3 2.9

His most similar players are McHale and Smits which gives you a good idea of Stoudemire; he’s somewhere between a Hall of Famer and a borderline All Star. Neither of them were great rebounders, although you could argue that McHale’s defense separates him from the three. There are some great players on this list, ones you could build a team around. But I, nor anyone else, think Amar’e is a player of that magnitude. Instead he’s a flawed All Star who needs a second one to get his team deep into the playoffs.

Raymond Felton

.000 Raymond Felton 2010 CHA 15.2 52.5 49.4 13.2 0.7 3.9 6.1 1.7 0.3 2.3
.036 John Starks 1991 NYK 14.3 51.1 47.2 14.3 0.9 4.0 6.3 1.8 0.5 2.3
.048 Rex Walters 1996 TOT 12.8 54.4 48.6 11.0 0.8 3.2 6.3 1.5 0.2 2.4
.052 Bimbo Coles 1994 MIA 13.0 51.0 46.8 12.3 1.0 3.3 5.5 1.6 0.3 2.2
.054 Chris Whitney 1997 WSB 15.2 56.6 50.9 13.9 0.4 3.4 5.9 1.6 0.1 2.2
.061 Brent Barry 1997 LAC 15.0 52.6 48.3 14.5 1.0 3.6 5.1 1.7 0.5 2.5
.061 Billy McKinney 1981 TOT 13.3 56.2 50.9 13.6 0.6 3.1 6.0 1.6 0.2 2.6
.063 Lorenzo Romar 1984 TOT 14.8 50.1 46.4 13.8 0.7 3.3 6.8 1.9 0.3 2.2
.064 Steve Colter 1988 TOT 12.8 50.1 46.4 11.5 1.4 4.1 6.2 1.5 0.3 2.1
.068 Luke Ridnour 2007 SEA 13.7 50.9 46.8 13.4 0.5 2.8 6.3 1.4 0.3 2.7
.070 Jason Williams 2001 SAC 12.8 49.8 47.8 11.3 0.3 2.9 6.5 1.5 0.1 2.5

Not exactly an impressive list, although Knick fans will like the person situated at #1. For the most optimistic Knick fans, this list should lower expectations a bit. Felton isn’t the second star New Yorkers were hoping for, but perhaps after two years of Chris Duhon the bar has been lowered considerably.

Anthony Randolph

.000 Anthony Randolph 2010 GSW 18.7 52.1 44.5 18.5 3.5 10.3 2.0 1.3 2.5 2.4
.193 Joe Smith 1996 GSW 17.2 52.3 46.3 16.0 3.8 9.1 1.0 1.1 1.7 1.8
.200 Elton Brand 2000 CHI 20.6 52.8 48.2 19.5 4.2 9.7 1.9 0.8 1.6 2.7
.219 Shawn Kemp 1990 SEA 15.9 53.1 48.1 16.9 4.7 11.1 0.8 1.5 2.3 3.4
.226 Tyrus Thomas 2007 CHI 14.8 52.1 47.5 13.9 3.3 10.0 1.5 1.7 2.8 3.5
.230 Tracy McGrady 2000 TOR 20.0 50.9 46.0 17.7 2.7 7.3 3.8 1.3 2.2 2.3
.236 Kevin Garnett 1997 MIN 18.2 53.7 50.2 15.7 2.3 7.4 2.8 1.3 2.0 2.1
.257 Josh Smith 2006 ATL 15.5 50.0 44.7 12.7 2.5 7.5 2.7 0.9 2.9 2.3
.258 Chris Bosh 2005 TOR 17.5 54.7 47.2 16.2 2.3 8.6 1.8 0.9 1.3 2.2
.278 Amare Stoudemire 2003 PHO 16.2 53.0 47.3 15.5 3.5 10.1 1.1 0.9 1.2 2.6
.298 Andrei Kirilenko 2002 UTA 18.8 55.3 47.0 14.7 2.5 6.7 1.6 1.9 2.7 1.8

To steal an analogy from Kevin McElroy, if Randolph is the fruit of David Lee’s labor then Walsh got a damn ripe piece here. What’s not to like about a 21 year old who is most similar to a bunch of All Stars? This move is reminiscent of when New York acquired Marcus Camby. Both of them were highly regarded on draft night (Camby much more so), and it seemed that both of their teams gave up on them too early. Camby became known for his shot blocking and rebounding, but he had hyalophobic tendencies early on. In fact comparing the two players after their second season (Camby didn’t come into the league until he was 22 years old), Randolph is superior with regards to rebounding and scoring. It goes without saying that a 21 year old has room to grow, but if Randolph can improve his efficiency then just like with Camby, New York will have a real steal on their hands.

Kelenna Azubuike

.000 Kelenna Azubuike 2009 GSW 14.7 56.2 52.0 16.1 1.7 5.6 1.8 0.9 0.8 1.4
.035 Brian Cook 2006 LAL 15.6 57.8 54.6 15.1 2.1 6.4 1.7 0.9 0.8 1.4
.062 Rashard Lewis 2005 SEA 19.4 57.1 53.7 19.4 1.5 5.2 1.3 1.0 0.8 1.6
.064 David West 2006 NOK 19.7 55.4 51.3 18.0 2.4 7.8 1.3 0.9 0.9 1.5
.068 Kyle Korver 2007 PHI 14.2 56.9 51.8 16.8 0.5 4.1 1.7 0.9 0.3 1.8
.070 Pat Garrity 2002 ORL 12.3 55.3 53.7 13.2 1.2 5.1 1.5 0.9 0.4 1.0
.070 Hakim Warrick 2008 MEM 16.2 55.5 51.2 17.5 2.5 7.3 1.1 0.7 0.6 1.7
.075 Wally Szczerbiak 2003 MIN 17.3 56.7 52.3 17.9 1.0 4.7 2.7 0.9 0.4 1.7
.078 DerMarr Johnson 2006 DEN 11.7 54.5 52.3 13.8 0.7 3.7 2.1 1.0 1.0 1.8
.080 Wesley Person 1997 PHO 15.9 56.7 54.8 16.7 1.1 4.5 1.9 1.3 0.3 1.2
.080 James Jones 2006 PHO 13.2 55.1 51.3 14.2 0.9 5.1 1.2 0.8 1.0 0.7

I’m going to use Azubuike’s 2009 stats, considering he played only 9 games in 2010 due to injury. There are some impressive sharpshooters (Lewis, Korver, Szczerbiak) and forwards (Garrity, Lewis, West) which means that Kelenna is an efficient scorer and strong rebounder for his size. D’Antoni’s love of the long ball and Azubuike’s three point percentage of 40.9% seem like an ideal of match. Consider that Wilson Chandler is a 6-8 forward mascerading as shooting guard who hits three pointers at 10% less, and it isn’t hard envisioning Azubuike replacing him in the starting lineup. Perhaps the only thing stopping Kelenna is his recovery from last year’s injury.

Ronny Turiaf

.000 Ronny Turiaf 2010 GSW 12.6 57.4 58.2 8.5 2.2 7.9 3.7 0.9 2.2 2.0
.224 Will Perdue 1993 CHI 14.8 57.8 55.7 12.3 3.7 10.4 2.7 0.8 1.7 2.7
.296 Bo Outlaw 1999 ORL 12.8 53.5 54.5 8.6 2.3 7.1 2.4 1.7 1.8 2.5
.302 Brad Lohaus 1992 MIL 15.0 54.0 52.9 13.6 2.2 8.3 2.5 1.3 2.4 1.5
.318 John Salley 1992 DET 14.7 57.0 51.2 13.9 2.2 6.0 2.4 1.0 2.2 2.1
.364 Brad Miller 2004 SAC 19.4 57.9 51.8 13.9 2.6 10.2 4.3 0.9 1.2 2.0
.369 Kermit Washington 1979 SDC 15.0 60.3 56.2 12.1 3.9 10.4 1.6 1.1 1.6 2.4
.369 Vlade Divac 1996 LAL 17.4 54.4 51.5 14.9 2.9 9.9 3.8 1.1 1.9 2.9
.390 Mike Green 1979 SAS 12.9 52.8 49.3 12.5 2.9 7.8 2.5 0.8 2.7 2.0
.391 Shane Battier 2006 MEM 14.7 57.4 54.0 10.4 2.1 5.4 1.7 1.2 1.4 1.1
.403 Boris Diaw 2010 CHA 12.8 55.2 52.5 11.5 1.6 5.3 4.0 0.7 0.7 2.2

Turiaf has an odd mix of strong shotblocking, weak rebounding, miniscule scoring volume, and good passing. Hence why there aren’t a lot of similar players. I liked him in college, but at this point he’s strictly bench material. Teaming Turiaf with Stoudemire might bring tears to hyalophiles, but alongside Randolph they should make the paint on 32nd street an unfriendly place for the first time in a decade.

Knicks 2007 Report Card (A to Z): David Lee

KnickerBlogger Despite standing only 6’9″, David Lee’s main strength is his rebounding. He combines excellent positioning, exceptional timing, good leaping ability, and a desire to capture missed shots on both ends of the floor. Not only is Lee the best rebounder on his team, but he’s one of the best in the NBA. Among players that logged 1000 or more minutes in 2007, Lee finished 5th in per minute rebounding. Compared to the other hyalophiles, Lee committed the fewest fouls and scored the most points.

Per 40 Minutes Height Tm OREB DREB TREB PF PTS
Reggie Evans 6’8″ DEN 5.5 10.8 16.3 5.1 11.5
Dikembe Mutombo 7’2″ HOU 5.1 10.1 15.1 4.8 7.1
Tyson Chandler 7’1″ NOK 5.1 9.3 14.3 3.9 10.9
Jeff Foster 6’11” IND 5.8 8.2 14 4.6 7.4
David Lee 6’9″ NYK 4.5 9.4 13.9 3.6 14.4

Not just a one trick pony, Lee is also adept at running the floor and strong at finishing around the hoop. A natural lefty, David Lee is ambidextrous which allows him to score with either hand. Although he doesn’t possess the extra wide body that Curry or Sweetney has, Lee isn’t slender, and can shield the ball with his body. Lee shot a robust 60% eFG from the field, and is such a good free throw shooter (81.6%) that he ranked third on the team in free throw shooting percentage. As a bonus, Lee doesn’t dominate the ball on offense. The Knicks don’t need to run any plays for him, as he’s able to produce his own offense by his rebounding and his ability to move well without the ball.

Although Lee is slightly undersized at power forward, his defense is passable. He has good footwork and is strong enough to not get bowled over against other post players. Additionally Lee can play the small forward or center spots, albeit in short stints depending on the matchup. If Lee were 2 inches taller he probably would excel as a shot blocker, but he is only able to alter shots of smaller players. Among the Knick forwards/centers Lee committed the fewest per minute fouls, which allows him to stay on the court for long periods of time. According to 82games, the Knicks were 2.5 points per 100 possessions better on defense with Lee on the court. Even if that number comes from his outstanding rebounding, he clearly doesn’t hinder the team with his defense.

In 2007, the Knicks record was 26-32 (.449) with David Lee and 7-17 (.291) without him. In the three games after the suspensions from the Denver fight, Lee averaged 13 points and an incredible 17.7 rebounds. Last year he led the Knicks in 4 important categories (eFG%, TS%, OREB/40, and DREB/40) and had the highest PER on the team. Quietly he was New York’s most valuable player.

KnickerBlogger’s Grade: A

2008 Outlook: Despite Lee’s outstanding sophomore season, there are a few questions that 2008 will bring:

1. Was 2007 a fluke?
Too often have we seen young players have a fantastic year, only to fall down to earth never to reach that level of play again. Hopes may be high for Lee to continue to progress, and one only needs to look at Lee’s draftmate Channing Frye to see how far a young player can slide from a single season. On the positive side, Lee’s pertinent stats are nearly identical from his rookie year, with one exception: his defensive rebounding. Lee grabbed 2.6 DREB/40 more in 2007, which is more likely due to his switch to power forward (from small forward under Brown) and Curry’s increase in minutes (Curry is a poor rebounder).

2. How will the injury affect Lee?
Of all the questions, this one is the most concerning. Lee’s injury seems to have been misdiagnosed, his return date kept sliding, and he made a token appearance hobbling at the end of the season. Since Lee uses his jumping ability to secure a lot of his rebounds, suffering an ankle injury should cause some concern. It’s probable that he missed the summer league because he’s still not 100%, although there were reports that he was working out with the team. Watching him early in the pre-season should give fans a good indication if this injury is behind him or not.

3. How much will he play?
Prior to draft night it seemed that David Lee would have a bright future in New York. He only had Channing Frye, Malik Rose, Jerome James, and Randolph Morris to compete with for the starting spot in the Knick’s lineup. Considering that group of talent, Lee should have been a lock to start in 2008. That all changed when Isiah Thomas acquired Zach Randolph on draft day. Now Knick fans are wondering if David Lee will see enough court time this year. Consider that last year Curry and Randolph averaged a little over 35 minutes a game each. If the duo play the same amount of minutes, and David Lee backs up both players, it only means he’ll play about 25 minutes a game, less than the 30 he played last year.

But the problem with that logic is that the Knicks can’t just use only three players for two spots all year. There’ll be times that they’ll need a defensive presence in the paint, so they may have to look to Rose, James, Morris, or Cato (considering any of these players are on the roster come November). While Lee can play small forward for short stretches, there’ll be nights that the matchup will make it impossible. Additionally small forward seems to be the Knicks’ deepest position, so Lee may have a hard time finding minutes there either. My ideal situation, while still being realistic, would be for Isiah to occasionally use Lee as a small forward in a big lineup to force other teams out of their comfort zone, slightly cut back on Curry and Randolph’s minutes, be open minded in the fourth quarter and use Lee down the stretch especially when Zach or Eddy are having an off night.

4. Can he generate more offense?
With Isiah’s offense centered on the low post play of Eddy Curry, and now Zach Randolph, it becomes important for all the Knicks on the floor to knock down an open jumper. Unfortunately Lee hits only 29% of his jump shots according to His shot looks awkward, and maybe part of it is due to being left handed. Nonetheless it appears as if he doesn’t square his shoulders to the hoop. Often relying on others to score, his usage is very low and his per minute scoring is only tied for 7th on the team. While Lee is plenty valuable without a jump shot, for him to go from being a very good complimentary player to an All Star will require a bit more scoring volume. A 15 footer would go a long way in Lee’s development.

Dave Crockett

Lee’s career has been one I have followed with some interest since seeing him in listed as a McDonald’s HS All-American in 2001. I suspect most Knickerblogger readers are not familiar with the St. Louis metro area, which is where I spent my high school years some 20+ years ago. Lee’s high school, Chaminade College Prep, suffice it to say is not to be mistaken for the prototypical high school sports powerhouse. (Back in my day Chaminade actually ran a single-wing offense in football.) So when this mop-topped, rosy-cheeked lad won the McDonald’s slam dunk contest I was, to say the least, intrigued. Unfortunately for Lee he virtually never had a play run for him at Florida until his senior season, overlapping as he did with trigger-happy guards Anthony Roberson and Matt Walsh. Fortunately for Knicks fans Lee learned how to be uber-productive without the ball in his hands. His long arms, timing, and knack for positioning virtually ensure that he will always be a quality rebounder.

The key for Lee going forward will be developing a 15-18 foot jump shot. If he never improves in that area he still promises to be an exceptionally useful complimentary player, along the lines of A.C. Green–the player to whom he compares most favorably at the same age. But if he can improve his ball-handling and his shot–a feat that may require reconstructing that ugly looking thing–I see Lee’s peak years comparing favorably to those of Larry Nance or Horace Grant (i.e., very good, though probably not Hall of Fame).

Putting a damper on some of the superlatives though, I do have my concerns about Lee’s injury. I am still not completely certain of the final diagnosis. Its description in the press even now remains somewhat murky. My initial thinking was that Lee suffered a “high ankle sprain,” an injury commonly suffered by football players. That’s generally a 6-8 week injury. But, it remains unclear if Lee is back to 100% even now.

As for Lee’s minutes this upcoming season, I suspect that after pulling Lee–clearly his most desired asset–off the market Thomas plans to play him. My best guess is that he will be part of a rotation that sees him log some minutes at SF while the lion’s share will come at backup PF when Zach Randolph slides down to C. My sincere hope is that we have seen the last meaningful minutes for Malik Rose and Jerome James, who combined to be on the floor for over a quarter of the team’s minutes in ’06-07.

Brian Cronin – Yeah, the injury problem is my only concern about Lee. It’s not like Lee just developed all these skills out of nowhere. He was basically the same player in his sophomore year as in his rookie year – only more so. ;)

But I’ve seen way too many NBA players get similar injuries to Lee and just have their distinctive abilities, if not ruined, at least diminished for quite awhile. So I am certainly hoping that Lee will recover nicely.

I am not too worried about minutes, really, because, as Dave mentions, if Zeke isn’t going to trade him, I gotta figure it is because he actually plans on using him. I, too, think he will see most of his minutes at the SF position.

As for the grade, come on, could it be any grade BUT an A? Dude was a legitimate contender for the All-Star team in his second season!!

The Eddy Curry Study

“There is real hope that Eddy will develop into a league-leading center,” (Knicks owner James) Dolan said. “If you watched the second quarter of the San Antonio game he was pretty good. That’s Larry’s job … to get him from one quarter to four quarters.”
New York Daily News
March 02, 2006

Whether it’s due to the variety of cultures or the sheer number of inhabitants, New Yorkers rarely agree on anything. However, thanks to James Dolan & the Knicks front office, 2006 has given New Yorkers a topic all can agree upon: The New York Knicks suck. While Big Apple residents often have the propensity to overstate their cases, it’s hard to be a contrarian on this issue. At 17 wins and 44 losses, New York is dead last in the NBA standings. Additionally the Knicks have the NBA’s worst salary cap situation. Not only do they currently have the league’s highest salary, but they continue to trade for and sign players to exorbitant long term contracts.

Since their 2000 season ended, the boys in blue & orange have been in a slow & steady decline. It’s no coincidence that the Knicks demise is accompanied by two major events that left them absent of a quality big man. Patrick Ewing was traded to Seattle in the summer of 2000, and Marcus Camby was sent packing over a year later. While I’m not obtuse enough to think that you need a dominant center to win in the NBA, New York’s most successful teams have been lead by the man in the middle. The 70s Knicks wouldn’t have been the same without Willis Reed. Patrick Ewing kept the team afloat in the 80s and 90s. And Marcus Camby almost catapulted them to an improbable Finals victory in 2000. Since then, the Knicks have attempted to fill this void with undersized power forwards like Kurt Thomas and Mike Sweetney. New York’s only playoff appearance in this period was when they had a serviceable (but past his prime) Dikembe Mutombo roaming the paint.

It’s probably these kinds of thoughts Isiah Thomas had in his head when he signed Eddy Curry for 6 years and $60M. Curry is only 23 years old, and at a listed 6’11 285lbs is no undersized power forward. There is no doubt that once Curry releases the ball, he is an able scorer. In David Crockett’s last KB.Net article, he said of Curry:

You can count nine centers with better offensive production (Shaq, Duncan, both Wallaces, Ilgauskas, Brad Miller, Zo, Okur, and Gadzuric), and all but Gadzuric are a good bit older than Curry.

And this is where the opinions of Curry begin to diverge. Although he doesn’t lack the ability to score, it’s the other aspects of the game that elude Eddy. He seems disinterested on the defensive end, is a timid defensive rebounder, and turns the ball over too often. When Isiah Thomas decided to pursue Eddy Curry, he must have thought that these attributes would change. In fact the quote above shows that the Knicks owner, James Dolan, feels the same way. But is this true? How likely is it that New York’s present center will become their center of the future?

To answer a question like this, we just need to look in the past. To find players similar to Mr. Curry, I limited myself to 23 year olds who were 6’10 or taller. I also limited myself to the last 25 years, or what I would term the modern era of the NBA (1980 or since). This is due to the changes in the game including the ABA/NBA merger, the three point line, gaps in statkeeping (blocks, steals, turnovers), etc. Using this information, we can gauge how likely it is for Curry to become a more productive player. If we look at 23 year old players whose defensive rebounding rates were close to Curry’s (5.0 & 6.2 DREB/40 min) we find that after 3 years those same players on average saw a meager increase of 0.5 defensive rebounds per 40 minutes. Optimists will find comfort in the knowledge that there were a few players who started out as timid as Eddy, and turned into excellent rebounders.

Marcus Camby was an awful rebounder for the Toronto Raptors, which is probably the reason they traded him to New York. In his first two years he averaged 5.5 and 5.3 defensive rebounds per 40 minutes. In New York, his rates steady increased until blossoming as a full time starter in 2001. That year Marcus averaged 9.9 defensive rebounds per 40 minutes, nearly double his average in Toronto. Another player who went from hyalophobe to hyalophile is Jayson Williams. Like Camby, in his first two seasons Williams showed a fear of glass for the Sixers. And just like Marcus, Jayson nearly doubled his defensive rebounding by age 26, snaring 10.0 DREB/40min.

Camby and Williams show that it’s not impossible for Curry to become a strong rebounder. However if you’re going to start to tout Curry as a future All Star, you might want to preface your statement with something to the effect of being a blind optimist who will be winning the lotto in the near future. By looking at defensive rebounding averages of all players from age 23 to 36 (see graph below), players will hit their peak around the age of 27 and begin to decline at around 32. From this data it might be reasonable to incur that Curry will be at best a league average rebounder for a man of his size, and at worst remain a poor rebounder.

By using this same technique, we can also analyze his turnover and blocked shot rate. The next two charts reveal that both turnovers and blocked shots decrease steadily as a player ages. That turnovers decrease is a good sign for the Knicks, since it’s a major weakness in Curry’s game. As poster NGLI pointed out, the Knicks young center is prone to being stripped due to keeping the ball too low and is called for offensive charging by bowling over his defenders. If Eddy can improve on his career 3.3 TO/40 minutes, it’d make him a legitimate offensive option, one the Knicks can feed into the post without effectively giving the other team the ball in the process. As for blocked shots, it looks as if it’s a skill a player either has or does not have. I did eyeball a few of the league’s best shot swatters, and their rates do increase. Nonetheless for everyone else it’s just a skill that erodes as a player gets older.

Armed with this data it’s clear that Eddy Curry will remain a “Baby Shaq” and never become the real deal. The safe money is that he should be able to reduce his turnovers enough to become an offensively productive center. Unfortunately he’ll never be strong on the defensive end, either in rebounding or blocking shots. Now is this the definition of a “league-leading center” that the Knicks front office had in mind when they gave away a couple of first round picks and signed Curry to $60M? That’s something New Yorkers can debate about for the next few years.