Suns 133 (3OT) Knicks 140

Being a bit under the weather, I was unable to watch the entire Knicks game. Luckily the Knicks outlasted their opponents in triple overtime. It’s probably better that I feel asleep in OT, because I don’t think it would have been good for my health to watch such a tense game.

So I leave it to my readers to make their own discussion here. You can rub in how good any of the overtime quarters were. You can talk about Curry hitting two free throws to send it into OT. Maybe you’d like to discuss Frye’s monsterous dunk, or how to convert mpg into aviator gif’s, since I did capture that on my PVR. I’ll even leave it to you to discuss the suspension of Jerome James. Let’s try to stick to yesterday’s events.

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2006/basketball/nba/01/02/suns.knicks.ap/index.html

Spurs 109 Knicks 96

New York continued its hot losing streak by dropping 7 straight. A first quarter Knicks scoring drought was capped by a pair of missed free throws from Trevor Ariza giving them a 15-4 early deficit. Jerome James poured in 1 point and grabbed a single rebound to spark the loss. “I was just out there last night” said the New York center. James was trying to encourage his teammates and was heard yelling “Cha-CHING!” near the Knicks bench.

The Knicks initial game plan was to escort San Antonio guard Tony Parker to the hoop early and often. However the players on the court shifted gears, improvising midway through the first. “Parker was blowing past the Knicks perimeter for an easy two,” said Marbury “but the points didn’t add up quickly enough. So we decided to collapse everyone on him, and sure enough he was kicking it out for three. At that point we were really rolling.”

New York’s strategy worked as they gave up a scorching 50% from three point land. The fans noticed the effort and gave the Knicks their due applause. “They were cheering ‘Mar-BOOOOOOO-Ry’ all night,” said Jamal Crawford. “It’s great that with the awful mess the city is in with the transit strike during the holidays, we were able to lift their spirits.”

“We never had anything like this in Arizona” said rookie Channing Frye. “A lot of this is new to me, and I’m trying to learn everything I can from these veterans.”

New York hopes to push their streak to 8 with a blowout loss to the Jazz.

Robinson’s Shot Overshaddows Frye’s Start

Although it was Nate Robinson who earned most of the plaudits for his single game heroics on Saturday, it was another Knick rookie that took a step forward in his burgeoning career. This weekend Channing Frye was inserted into the starting lineup for the first time in his career. Frye adjusted well to the transition, scoring 21 points on 57% shooting, and turned the ball over only once. Since Knicks coach Larry Brown changes his lineups as often as he changes his underwear, it’s uncertain whether Frye’s performance will earn him a permanent spot in the starting 5.

Many Knick fans were uncertain what to expect from the number 8 pick in the draft. Despite raising some eyebrows with the strength portion of the NBA Pre-Draft work outs, the power forward out of Arizona never shed the soft label from early on in his college career. Frye didn’t earn a spot in the Knicks’ rotation with a weak summer league, including one game where he amassed 10 fouls. Coming into the season I wrote this about him:

“I?m still not sure what to expect out of Frye. His frame resembles that of Marcus Camby, but he lacks Camby?s high flying theatrics. On the other hand Frye has a nice touch from the outside and should make a fine partner for Marbury on the pick & roll. With the depth at power forward and Brown?s predisposition towards rookies it?s hard to tell exactly who will see playing time.”

Looking at his last 5 games, my comments are laughable for die hard Knick fans whose faith in Frye never swayed. In that span, Channing has roughly averaged 19 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 block. However, I don’t feel so bad about my concern over the rookie power forward considering that the New York coach didn’t have much faith in him either.

Frye was a DNP for the Knicks’ opening season loss to Boston, and was played sparingly afterwards. After his 19 point outburst in as many minutes on November 13th, Brown kept the rookie on the court for only 11 minutes the day after. In that game, the Knicks struggled to beat a shorthanded Jazz squad. New York managed only 73 points, and they could have benefited from Frye’s scoring touch. Instead they used Antonio Davis (22min, 0pts), Malik Rose (19min, 7pts), and David Lee (12min, 2pts). Maybe that performance prompted Brown to give Frye more minutes over the last 5 games.

On the offensive end of the court, Channing Frye’s outside touch is reminiscent of Kurt Thomas. His slender build doesn’t make him as good of a pick and roll partner as the former Knick, although he’s accurate with the jumper facing the hoop from at least 19 feet. Instead Frye takes advantage of opposing big men fearing the unfamiliar confines outside the paint. Channing is not devoid of an interior game and he can hit a jump hook from inside the paint. The statistics back up Frye’s offensive performance, as he is leading the Knicks in scoring per minute (23pts/40) and shooting percentage (51.2% eFG).

Aside from his scoring prowess, Frye’s rebounding has been a pleasant surprise. Coming into the season, the Knicks had lost their three best rebounders in Sweetney, Thomas, and Jerome Williams. Additionally Isiah’s two main acquisitions, Jerome James and Eddy Curry, were notoriously bad in that regard. However Frye has the second best rebound rate (14.7) among the Knick regulars. In fact Channing is showing a well rounded game, averaging 1.2 steals and 1.5 blocks per 40 minutes.

Unfortunately for Frye rookie card holders, his status in the near future is uncertain. Due to Eddy Curry and Matt Barnes’ injuries, Brown has been forced to move Antonio Davis to center and Malik Rose to small forward. When both players are healthy, Channing Frye is going to have more competition than just Maurice Taylor, David Lee, and Jackie Butler. My guess is that when that time comes, Frye is going to feel the crunch as Coach Brown continues to rotate his players in order to gain some knowledge of their skills and keeps them prepared to play. Curry will hold onto the center spot, even if for only 24 minutes a game and Antonio Davis will stay on in his role as captain of the defense. Frye will be the primary big man off the bench, and he’ll see extra minutes on nights that Curry or Davis are plagued with foul trouble. Barring injury and considering Brown’s fondness of Davis’ defensive ability, Frye’s ceiling his rookie year might be a spot alongside Davis for the Knick fourth quarters.

2-5! What Me Worry?

If you’ve been disappointed with the Knicks 2-5 start, here are 3 reasons not to sweat out the 2006 season:

1. Larry Brown is a great coach. Brown is not Herb Williams trying to whip a dead mule over the finish line. He isn’t Lenny Wilkens past his glory days. A year before arriving in New York, Wilkens won less than 30% of his games. Last year Larry Brown was a quarter away from winning back to back championships.

Don’t be fooled when Brown says he doesn’t know who to play. He’s not Abe Simpson going through some dementia episode. Larry knows exactly what his players have done in the past. He’s just using the media to publicly ask him players to show him what they can do. The same can be said of his irregular rotation patterns. By not committing minutes to anyone, he’s trying to keep the team anxious to play. Brown has been too successful at the highest levels of basketball to be the doddering old fool who doesn’t know his own team.

2. The defense has improved. Before last night’s Utah game, the Knicks ranked 7th on defense. Then they went out and set a franchise record for the lowest points allowed in a game (62). This kind of talk was unthinkable a year ago. The Knicks top 5 minute getters are: Marbury, Crawford, Davis, Richardson, and Curry, which is not exactly a defensive juggernaut. However, Brown has improved the team using 2 methods. First is his ability to sprinkle defensive specialists in his lineups. Matt Barnes starting the game is one example. Barnes is a swingman who can defend and rebound, but is a black hole on offense. Coach Brown is hoping that the rest of the offensive minded Knicks (Marbury, Curry, etc.) can make up for Barnes’ scoring liability, and reap Matt’s strength on defense. Throughout the game he has at least two defensive minded players to balance out the rest of the team.

Brown’s second ability is get the most out of his defensively challenged players. Curry had 5 blocks against the Jazz, and he looks a little more defensively aware than he did in the preseason. While Marbury isn’t about to turn into Jason Kidd, he looks a bit more interested on that end as well. Overall the team appears to rotate a bit quicker than they did last year.

3. The young-ins are getting time. One of the knocks against Brown was that he didn’t give ample playing time to rookies. With 3 rookies and 2 second year players on the roster, the concern was that coach Brown would stunt their development by riding the veterans. Nothing could be further from the truth. Jerome James and Penny Hardaway could easily be taking time away from the younger players, but Brown has let them rack up DNP-CDs. Instead he has relied on Frye and Ariza. With Richardson splitting time between SG & SF, you could make the argument that Ariza is the Knicks primary small forward. Matt Barnes, a 3rd year player, is the official starter but he’s averaging less than 19 minutes a game.

Meanwhile Channing Frye has settled in as the Knicks 3rd big man and is flourishing. If he qualified, his 21.6 PER would lead the team. Frye is the Knicks best rebounder, a decent shot blockers, and has a nice shooting touch. I’ll be shocked if he doesn’t pick up more minutes as the season progresses, and he might earn a starting role in the Knicks front court before the year is up.

Although Nate, Butler, and Lee aren’t getting as much playing time as the others, it’s not due to a neophyte bias. Lee and Butler are stuck at the end of a deep rotation, because the Knicks have too many power forwards. Robinson has been his own worst enemy. Nate has been too wild, averaging 3.6 TO/40, 8.4 PF/40, and is only shooting a paltry 39.4% eFG. It’s just not reasonable for him to be out there more than the ten minutes Larry is giving him.

Right now the Knicks record might be a letdown for fans that expected big things out of the starting gate due to their aggressive offseason. However, there are bright spots to the early season. Under Brown the defense has made leaps and bounds, and the Knicks young players are seeing ample playing time.

Washington 86 New York 75

Again just some quick notes:

* Matt Barnes can do everything on the defensive end, but he’s a mess on offense. He drives to the hoop uncontrollably, and he doesn’t have Marbury ability to pass or finish. On one drive he panicked in the air and threw the ball right into Arenas’ hands. Gilbert was so shocked that he knocked the pass out of bounds. Matt gets rejected way too often for my tastes, especially after rebounds. If Larry Brown is going to leave him on the court at the end of the game, Barnes needs to become less aggressive. The Knicks don’t need to give possessions back to the other team.

* Trevor Ariza is a monster on defense. The guy is a ball hawk. He knocked the ball right out of one player’s hands, and another time Trevor ran away with an inbounds pass. Ariza fronted a post player and got up high enough in the air to tip the pass off the offensive player’s fingers for another turnover. Larry Brown went to Barnes for the final minutes, and I have to wonder if it shouldn’t be the other way around. While I think Ariza might not have Barnes’ man to man skills, he’s not as much of a liability on the offensive end. Unlike Matt Barnes, Trevor seems to know his limitations and doesn’t force the issue with the ball.

* The Knicks $100M centers were both in foul trouble early. Jerome James was terrible. It wasn’t bad enough that he committed two offensive fouls in less than 5 minutes, but he vigorously argued them even though neither was close to being debatable. Brown saw enough of him & yanked him for the rest of the game. Meanwhile Curry played well while he was in the game, but foul trouble and stupid turnovers kept him benched for most of it.

* This was almost a blessing, because I saw a good amount of Channing Frye, and I like what I saw. His range extends pretty far out, although he missed badly on a three point attempt. Despite his sleight build, he can rebound, especially on the offensive end. I’d be shocked if he won’t be one of the main scorers of the Knicks second team. They need to run the pick & roll with him more often.

* Quentin Richardson looked lost in the offensive set. I counted at least 3 times where he ended up too close to another Knick. Hopefully a few more practice sessions will help him learn the plays & space the floor properly. The good news was that Richardson made his damage inside. After a year in the Suns run & gun offense, there was speculation on whether “Q” would stay on the perimeter jacking up treys. But Richardson was rebounding & scoring from the paint.

* Marbury missed an easy layup with his left hand. The whole league must know he’s really weak with his left hand, which makes his scoring ability that much more impressive.

* Finally, I have to give credit where credit is due. At least twice Jamal Crawford took the ball to the hoop after a fake out. This is as big an accomplishment as any I’ve seen this year. I can’t recall a single wild shot from him, which is a step in the right direction.

Knicks 2006 Preview Part II

Small Forward/Shooting Guard: New York has some depth at the swingman spots, as the only Knick that can’t play both spots is the rail thin Jamal Crawford. Newly acquired Quentin Richardson hasn’t played much with the team due to injury. Reportedly he’s back practicing with his new teammates, but it’s unknown whether he’ll be used at the 2 or the 3. So far Penny Hardaway has been the benefactor of Richardson’s hamstring, and he could find a role in Brown’s rotation as a perimeter defender. Hardaway still has good court vision, but his shooting has deteriorated to the point where it has become a liability. I would imagine that this would be a temporary solution, because Penny’s $16M expiring contract will be too much temptation for Isiah to resist (see the Charlton Heston comment from Part I). Vegas odds are 5:1 against Hardaway remaining a Knick by the trade deadline.

With all the excitement over Eddy Curry, Jerome James, Larry Brown, and the three drafted rookies, it seems that Trevor Ariza has become the forgotten man in New York. As a second round pick, no one expected much from him, but last year Ariza might have been the lone bright star in what was a dark season for the Knicks. This season he has a year of experience under his belt, an improved team, and one the best coaches in the game. I don’t want to go as far to say this is a critical year in Ariza’s development, but he won’t find a better environment to improve himself. The same could be said of Jamal Crawford. While he’s still young, he’s approaching that age where players stop showing improvement. If Jamal can’t put it together under Brown, he’ll never do so.

I’ve talked time and time again about Isiah’s ability to find young talent. Like a miner in a dark cave, Zeke may have found another gem in Matt Barnes. I have a special scouting report from Chief KnickerBlogger Talent Evaluator, David Crockett:

Barnes can start or come off the bench. He has always been an underrated defender – good feet, long arms, and just a little more athletic than you think he is. Perhaps most importantly, he doesn’t need the ball to make an impact. Barnes is a very good passer. He runs the floor and boards. He does all the hustle stuff, and unlike Tim Thomas he’s good at defensive rotations. That help will be critical as Marbury and Crawford continue to feel their way into their roles.

I know Brown has been angling for his guy, the ancient George Lynch, but i think Barnes will grow on him and stay in the rotation even after Quentin Richardson gets healthy.

If Barnes is the real deal (and I have no reason to doubt Dr. C.) then it’ll be all the more reason to trade Hardaway. On second thoughts make those odds 10:1 in favor of Isiah trading Penny. The obvious choice is Richardson at small forward and Crawford at shooting guard. Earlier I said that Jamal would find his way to Brown’s dog house, and I’ll stand by that statement. Don’t be surprised if Isiah finds a way to upgrade the position, or if Ariza, Barnes, and Hardaway steal Crawford’s minutes at the 2 to provide a better defensive alignment.

Coach: New York’s biggest upgrade might not see any time on the court. Larry Brown gives the Knicks their first real coach since Jeff Van Gundy. Although you won’t see Brown buffing the floor holding onto opposing player’s ankles, his presence will be felt on the court as if he was doing just that. The Knicks don’t have a particularly good defensive team, but Larry Brown will get every bit of effort possible out of his players on that end of the court. While Brown’s wanderlust will eventually get to him and the Knicks will be worse off when he goes, the Garden faithful should enjoy their hometown coach while they have him.

Outlook: I’ll start with the most pessimistic view. Eddy Curry’s heart sidelines him for good, and Quentin Richardson’s back keeps him from playing more than 40 games. Jerome James tries to eat the $30M the Knicks gave him and Channing Frye is too soft to man the center. Isiah panics and trades Hardaway & David Lee for Mike Olowokandi and instantly gives him a 6 year $45M extension. Trevor Ariza and Nate Robinson spend the year at the end of the bench, as Brown has Isiah grab Lynch & Eric Snow for their leadership abilities. Their traded unprotected 2006 pick wins the draft lottery & turns into Andrea Bargnani, the next Dirk Nowitzki.

The best case scenario might start with Eddy Curry and Stephon Marbury making the All Star team. Isiah Thomas is able to turn Malik Rose and Penny Hardaway into Dan Gadzuric, Danny Fortson, and a first round pick. The two became expendable because of the rapid development of Frye, Lee, Ariza and Barnes. Brown makes the Knicks one of the top defensive teams in the league, and they take the Atlantic. The Knicks use home field advantage in the first round to trounce the injury ridden Pistons. In the second round they face the Cavaliers and Trevor Ariza gains national prominence on his ability to shut down LeBron James. Against the Heat, Shaq inexplicably wanders on the court to break up a fight between Dwayne Wade and Nate Robinson. All three are suspended, which allows the Knicks to advance to the Finals.

Reality lies somewhere in between, the Knicks only won 33 games last year, and I think improving by 8 and making the playoffs seems to be reasonable given all that is involved. 41-41 and a first round whipping.

Knicks 2006 Preview Part I

Center: This is one area that the Knicks have certainly upgraded. While Nazr Mohammed filled the position reasonably well last year, his departure left a 6’10 foot void in the middle of Knicks’ lineup. Herb Williams did the best he could with a rotation of Mike Sweetney, Kurt Thomas, Malik Rose, Maurice Taylor, and any fan 6’7 or taller willing to don a uniform for a few minutes.

This year Knick fans should notice an instant transformation at the 5. When the Knicks acquired Curry, the press was quick to compare him to Patrick Ewing, but I was reminded of another young Knick center. Marcus Camby arrived in New York in a controversial summer deal. Both players were former high lottery picks, with health issues, whose previous teams had soured on them, and were brought over in controversial summer trades. If Gothamites are looking for a bright comparison, it would be fantastic if Curry’s could break out for New York like Camby did years ago.

There is one problem with comparing Curry to either Ewing or Camby. Both of the former Knick centers excelled at rebounding & defense. In the 2006 Basketball Forecast, John Hollinger said that Curry was among the 5 worst rebounding centers in the league, meanwhile Dan Rosenbaum had him ranked as the 5th worst defensive center in the league. Watching him during the preseason, Curry’s defense appears as poor as advertised. His ‘D’ suffers from poor footwork, being out of shape, and a general indifference. The Knicks young center is a beast when he has the ball, but shies away from contact at all other times. The blocked shots that I recall from preseason were from the weak side, and unfortunately Curry doesn’t have Camby’s athleticism to be a force in that manner.

Eddy is a fantastic scorer who does so at a very high rate. Big men that shoot well usually get a lot of easy buckets from tip-ins, but Curry was a pitiful 89th in offensive rebounds per minute last year. This just means that Curry’s skills as a scorer are even more impressive than his 54% might indicate. Luckily 82games.com tracks such things, and Curry only scored 2% of the time on “tips”. In comparison Nazr Mohammed rebounding tips comprised 7% of his scores, and Mike Sweetney tipped the ball in 4% of the time. Kurt Thomas matched Curry’s 2%, which is a bad sign since the pick and roll specialist Thomas only ventured into the paint when he was lost.

Eddy’s size presents problems for opponents trying to defend him. Defenders that that allow him to get too deep in the paint are likely to fall victim to one of his variety of post moves. Fronting Curry isn’t a better proposition, as his soft hands allow him to handle the lob and he can finish the alleyoop as well as any big man in the league. Eddy Curry’s addition means that the Knicks have a legitimate second scoring threat next to Marbury, which should improve New York’s offense tremendously.

Before acquiring Curry, the Knicks signed Jerome James to help bolster the middle. Like Curry, and unlike any of the Knicks centers last year, James’ size is more than adequate for the position. Jerome will be able to protect the rim, and will provide a bit of muscle as his 8.4 fouls per 40 minutes will attest to. Unfortunately, James also shares Curry’s lack of rebounding and offseason conditioning.

The Knicks also have a pair of young players that should be able to fill in at center for a few minutes a game. The number 8 pick in this year’s draft, Channing Frye, and undrafted CBA prospect Jackie Butler have gotten good reviews from Larry Brown. Of the two, Butler is more likely to see time at the 5 for two reasons. The first is that Frye’s slender build will make him more suitable for power forward his first year. The second is despite his inexperience, Butler is the Knicks’ best rebounder. Unfortunately like most young players, Jackie finds himself committing mental mistakes. In one summer league game, Butler had 3 whistles on him in what seemed like a 5 minute stretch. If he wants to earn playing time, he’ll have to cut back on the gaffs.

Power Forward: In recent history, the Knicks have had a glut of power forwards. This year seems to be no exception. Less than a month ago I asked Knick fans “By January 1st, who is the Knicks’ starting PF?” The most popular choice was Malik Rose, which was my answer as well. I chose Rose due to the Knicks lack of defenders, but after watching a few preseason games, I’m going to switch to Antonio Davis.

Malik Rose is an intelligent player who understands the concept of team defense. Rose is rarely lost in a defensive rotation and has a sneaky array of moves to thwart opposing players. However he is staring down the wrong side of 30, and won’t be able to compensate for his lack of size with physical ability anymore. Davis’ height has allowed him to age more gracefully than Rose. Despite nearing the end of his career, Davis’ rebounding and defense is still at an acceptable level. Although Rose was never a big shot blocker, his per minute rate is half of what it was just a year ago, and less than a third of what it was at its peak. Malik’s rebounding dipped noticeably as well, grabbing only 7.4 boards per 40 minutes for the Knicks.

If rebounding and defense will keep Davis as the starter, then it’ll be the same thing that will keep Maurice Taylor off the court. Taylor will have the role of scoring big man off the bench, and he’ll be limited to 15 or 20 minutes a game, depending on how often the Knicks are behind. Joining Taylor on the bench will be the rookies, Channing Frye and David Lee. Although Frye was taken much earlier in the draft, Lee has been the more impressive of the two. A natural lefty, Lee has become ambidextrous and is a handful (punny!) for defenders when he’s in the post. He can score with either hand, and seems to have a wide array of moves in the paint. Lee was thought of as a good rebounder in college, and hopefully that skill will transfer over to the NBA.

I’m still not sure what to expect out of Frye. His frame resembles that of Marcus Camby, but he lacks Camby’s high flying theatrics. On the other hand Frye has a nice touch from the outside and should make a fine partner for Marbury on the pick & roll. With the depth at power forward and Brown’s predisposition towards rookies it’s hard to tell exactly who will see playing time.

Point Guard: I bet you thought I was going to talk about the Knicks’ small forwards, but the only other position I’m sure about is the point guard spot. Despite reports of a Brown enforced Iversonian-esque move to shooting guard, Stephon Marbury will run the point for the Knicks. The reason is simple, neither Crawford nor rookie Nate Robinson are able to run the point for an extended period of time. Crawford still suffers from poor shot selection, and while the NBA doesn’t keep it as an official stat, I would bet that he led the Knicks in airballs from off balanced jumpers this preseason. The Knicks will rely on Jamal to run the point for a few minutes a game, but leaving the ball in his hands for too long is like putting a gun in Charlton Heston’s hands at an NRA rally. The pressure to shoot becomes unbearable.

Meanwhile Robinson is still learning what he can do at this level. Ironically his rebounding has remained impressive as he tied for the Knicks lead in total rebounds. This should be taken with a grain of salt considering he was also second in total minutes and the Knicks don’t have a lot of good rebounders. Nate’s biggest weakness has been his passing, which shouldn’t be a surprise because he’s more of a shooting guard that needs the ball in his hands than a point guard. He throws too many lazy college passes which end up as NBA turnovers. The Knicks diminutive guard is best suited at going to the hoop with reckless abandon, and using his blazing speed to convert steals into easy buckets. It will be those attributes that keep him Brown’s rotation.


Tune in tomorrow for Part II. For optimists I will have a best case scenario for the 2006 Knicks. For pessimists, there will be a worst case in hell prediction. For small forwards & shooting guards I’ll break down those positions as well.