2009 Summer League: Game 1 Recap

New York’s first summer league game didn’t go as planned for their two first round draft picks. Jordan Hill hit only 6 of 14 and failed to block a shot. He showed tenacity on the glass (8 rebounds in 28 minutes), but like I noted after New York drafted him most of his created shots were turn around jumpers or fadeaways that were away from the hoop. Hill seems to shy away from contact on the offensive end, and only drew 2 free throws. In post game reports, he admitted to being out of shape, not exactly what you want to hear from the #8 pick. Hill’s draftmate, Toney Douglas, had an even worse shooting night. Playing point guard he shot a miserable 2 of 13 (8 points) although he racked up 11 assists without turning the ball over.

As for the rest, Morris Almond is making a pitch for shooting guard with his 17 points on 12 shots. He had a Houston-esque boxscore doing little else, grabbing only 1 rebound and notching just a single assist. One thing Almond didn’t do is take a single free throw, surprising considering his propensity to draw contact in the NBDL & NBA. Considering his outside shooting, I’m curious how he gets to the line. Is it Miller-esque jump into your opponent after the fake, does he post up, or can he take it to the paint?

Tskitishvili started much to my surprise, and just as surprising played well. He connected on 3 of 5 from downtown and blocked 3 shots. I’m still skeptical of the 26 year old all of a suddenly learning how to shoot. Joe Crawford had 10 points on 9 shots and beemed confidence on the court. On one play he drive right at Thabeet, and on another he badly missed a three point shot.

On the other hand Sene only played 11 minutes, and blocked 3 shots as well, but failed to score a single point and coughed up the ball twice. Sharp shooter Blake Ahearn struggled with his shot, hitting 1 of 8 (including 0-4 from three), although he was an automatic 6-6 from the free throw line. Korolev and Noel never made it on to the court.

Knicks 2009 Summer League Roster

Looking over the Knicks’ roster there are 9 spots that are taken (Chandler, Curry, Duhon, Gallinari, Harrington, Hughes, Jeffries, Milicic, and Mobley). Two more are likely to be filled by Lee and Robinson. That leaves 4 spots possible for the summer league candidates, barring any offseason player movement.

Definites
It’s safe to assume that both draft picks Jordan Hill and Toney Douglas will be on the team’s roster come October. However it doesn’t mean the pair can relax in Vegas, as a poor showing could send them to D’Antoni’s doghouse before training camp even opens. Knick fans will expect both to make the rotation, Hill because of his status as lottery pick, and Douglas because of the lack of depth at guard. New York hopes both can help improve the team defensively, but they’ll need to prove that they’re capable on the offensive side as well. Both will need to play well now and in the preseason to make sure they aren’t sent to the D-League or practice squad. Considering their draft status and the competition, they should be able to give above average performances.

Probables
At the end of last year the team rotated in some NBDL players, and it looks like two stuck. Joe Crawford and Mouhamed Sene will be playing in the summer league, but they may need to prove their worth. Both of them combined for only 29 minutes last year, so the team isn’t committed to either. While Sene has more NBA experience, he’ll have tougher competition for playing time. New York has bolstered their front court by drafting Hill, trading for Darko, and hiding Eddy Curry’s Ring Dings. On the other hand Crawford will have less competition from the NBA roster, but might get pushed for playing time by Douglas and some of the other summer league guards New York. I wouldn’t bet on either player making the team, but they do have the inside track.

Possibles
One player that could push for a roster spot is Morris Almond. The Jazz selected him with the 25th pick in the 2007 draft, but Almond barely saw any NBA action in two seasons. However he was a prolific scorer in the NBDL, averaging 25.4 pts/36 over two seasons. Although this was due to his high usage (30.9%), to Almond’s credit his TS% was a robust 57.6%. One stat that did stand out in the NBDL is his free throw to field goal ratio. He hit .35 free throws for every shot attempted, and averaged 6.5 ftm/36. Clearly he’s skilled at drawing contact, and his 36.7% from downtown shows that he’s able to score from outside as well.

However Morris peripheral stats are weak. His rebounding numbers could be better for someone who stands 6-6, and his passing, steals, and blocks are weak for a shooting guard. Still he could provide some needed scoring off the bench and could be a poor man’s Allan Houston.

Another candidate is Blake Ahearn, a castaway from the Heat & Spurs. Like Almond, Ahearn dominated the NBDL, scoring 21.9 pts/36 on a sizzling 64.6% TS%. He connected on 43.4% of his three pointers, and was about as perfect as you get (95.5%) from the charity stripe. Unlike Almond, Ahearn has one peripheral stats that is above average, his 4.6 ast/36. At 6-2, Ahearn is more suited for point guard at the NBA level.

Doubtfuls
Yaroslav Korolev was drafted as an 18 year old by the Clippers in 2005 and spent two years in L.A. Yet even though he last suited up for an NBA game 3 years ago, he’s the second youngest player on the summer league team. Korolev is a 6-10 forward who’s father was a basketball coach and is rumored to have a sound all around game. At only 22 years old, he’s definitely young enough to be a “second draft” type of player.

Probably the last guy with a realistic shot at a roster spot is David Noel. He was a second round pick of the Bucks and didn’t play well in his one season. However he did well in the NBDL, scoring 17.1 pts/36 on 60.7 ts% and averaging 5.3 reb/36, 4.4 ast/36, and 1.7 stl/36. His free throw shooting was suspect (68.6%), but he was deadly from downtown (44.6%).

Please God No
Nokoloz Tskitishvili and Alex Acker are both 26 years old. Tskitishvili is looking for yet another chance at the NBA, while Acker is a combo guard who had 2 stints in the NBA (Pistons & Clippers). Nokoloz’s NBA numbers are laughably bad, while Acker’s D-League numbers aren’t very impressive (53.1% TS%).

Hey I Got Free First Row Tickets to the Summer League!
The summer league might be happy days for Valparaiso’s Ron Howard. Rashaad Singleton is a 7 footer, but barely played at Georgia. According to Wikipedia, Warren Carter plays in Spain and thinks Allen Iverson is the NBA’s best player. Wink Adams shot 26.9% from trey his last year at UNLV.

Who Am I Rooting For?
I think there’s the possibility that the Knicks could find a decent player here. I don’t think there are any NBA starters here, but certainly a few guys could contribute as reserves. After reviewing their numbers, Blake Ahearn is at the top of my list. I have a soft spot in my heart for snipers, and the Knicks really need more depth at point guard. I like Almond, but he scares me at the same time. His number suggest a typical me-first-shooter that’s indifferent to the other aspects of the game.

As for the rest, I hope Sene sticks around, even if it’s in the NBDL until New York moves Curry or Jeffries. Korolev has the most intriguing story, but his numbers are so bad as a teenager it’s hard to see him being good at this level. I don’t want Acker or Tskitishvili, and I sure hope the Knicks don’t fall in love with someone who is hot for a few games (*cough* Roberson *cough*). So that leaves Crawford or Noel. Perhaps Noel would be the better choice, considering D’Antoni had Crawford last year & barely used him.

Knicks Offseason Decisions Begin

With free agency commencing, the Knicks will have to make a major decision regarding their two restricted free agents, David Lee and Nate Robinson. New York has 8 players on their roster that could play the PF or C position: Curry, Milicic, Hill, Wilcox, Hunter, Sene, Gallinari, Jeffries, and Harrington. So on one hand the Knicks have the depth to let David Lee go. However at a second glance, it’s clear that the team would be hard pressed to replace Lee’s production. Although Hill and Gallinari might develop into NBA starters, none of the above are starting material on a good playoff team. Additionally the Knicks rebounding would suffer significantly, since that group is collectively bad on the glass (save perhaps Hill).

In the backcourt they face a different dilemma. If Robinson departs without a replacement, Toney Douglas would be the only backup for Duhon at the point. At shooting guard, the team would primarily rely on Chandler and Hughes, with Douglas and Joe Crawford as reserves. If last year was any indication, the Knicks can’t afford to be this thin at guard.

At this time the popular opinion is that the Knicks would prefer to keep Lee and might let Robinson leave. Considering the current roster construction, it’s hard to envision that scenario because they have more depth behind Lee than Nate. With this being just the start of free agency, the personnel may differ greatly between now and opening day. Not only do other teams covet Robinson and Lee, giving the team the option to shake up their roster with a sign & trade, but there have been rumors about a few Knicks being desired around the league. The Wizards may wish to reunite with Hughes and Jeffries, Wilson Chandler has been coveted by other teams, and with Yao Ming out for the season the Rockets are in hot pursuit of Eddy Curry. OK that last one I made up, but nonetheless there will be many opportunities that could provide New York with the ability to shuffle their roster.

Not only does the team have to consider this upcoming season, but the one after. The Knicks are poised for making a big splash in free agency next summer, so long term salaries are an issue. New York also needs to think about what talent will be remaining in 2010. Currently they only have 4 players on contract for that season in Curry, Jeffries, Gallinari, and Chandler, with their 2 draft picks this year (Hill and Douglas) likely to join them. While getting rid of both Robinson and Lee would free up their purses, it may leave the cupboard bare for an incoming acquisition. The Knicks will need to balance between making the team attractive for a mega-star and having enough money to bring one in.

Knicks Draft Hill/Douglas

In the 2009 draft, it seemed as if the stars would align for New York. Rubio was passed over for the first 4 picks, and it seemed he might drop to the Knicks. But Minnesota snapped him up with the 5th pick. At that point it appeared that the Timberwolves would be done with taking point guards, but they grabbed Syracuse’s Flynn with the following selection. All that stood between New York and Stephen Curry were the Golden State Warriors. Clearly they didn’t need a guard, especially with 6’3 Monta Ellis signed to a lucrative $66M deal. However the Warriors grabbed Curry with the #7 pick, giving them a 6’3 backcourt for 2010. New York’s dreams of either Rubio, Evans, or Curry were not to be.

But the oddities didn’t end there. The Knicks, in desperate need of a guard, took 6-11 forward Jordan Hill with the 8th pick. New Yorkers seemed stunned by the move. Some of the non-profanity laced comments from the KnickerBlogger chat session from draft night:

Lee: lock your doors.. we may have a riot.
Thomas B: Even stern was like..wait what?
Dan Panorama: listen to the boos!
BigBlueAL: Channing Frye part 2
Owen: There goes David Lee
Dan Panorama: no one wants jordan hill, who would we even trade him for???
Thomas B: Okay when the 1st thing you say is wingspan…..
jon abbey: there had better be a trade in the works
Brian Cronin: this is so not cool

At this time it’s unknown if New York will keep Hill. The Timberwolves selected point guards in back to back picks (Rubio, Flynn), so it’s possible that a trade might be in thw works. New York can’t officially trade either Lee or Robinson until the first week of July when the veil lifts on restricted free agents. It’s possible that Hill was selected for another team, in a trade that will be announced in the coming days.

From all accounts, Hill appears to be an energy big man, who has an unpolished offensive game. He can rebound and block shots, both things that are needed by New York. However Hill was rated poorly by two statistical studies. Hollinger had Hill in his disappointment section, noting:

The other big surprise down here is Jordan Hill, who could go as high as No. 4 but rates 26th in the Draft Rater. Hill had solid rebounding and scoring numbers, but his percentages weren’t off the charts, and his poor assist and turnover numbers were a red flag. Although one might think that ballhandling categories wouldn’t matter for a power forward, apparently they do — pure point rating (a measure of how a player passes and handles the ball) is a pretty strong success indicator for frontcourt players, and only four prospects rated worse than Hill.

While Ed Weiland’s words were just as unkind:

…Hill just doesn’t look like anything more than a career journeyman. There is some good stuff in his career. I like that he shot over 60% his first two seasons. I like that his rebound rate has consistently improved. I like that he destroyed both Cole Aldrich and Josh Heytvelt in head-to-head matchups this year. I don’t like that he can’t get his SB40 over 3.0. This is something that even the rawest of top PF prospects should be able to do. I don’t like that his team was so ordinary despite featuring two first round draftees. What bothers me the most is his .537 2-point pct. this year when he became a top scoring option. History simply hasn’t been kind to such players. I feel any team drafting Jordan Hill in the top 10 and expecting him to become something of a cornerstone will come to regret it. He looks like nothing more than a decent journeyman.

The Knicks first round didn’t end there. New York bought Los Angeles’ pick and took defensive minded guard Toney Douglas with the 29th pick. Again Hollinger was down on Douglas, ranking him 62nd among potential draftees. Weiland was a little more positive saying that “his defensive chops and the scoring ability he flashed this year, Douglas should be a lock to go later in round 1… When investing a 1st round pick after #20 in a weak draft a player like Douglas who meets all the important criteria on scoring, efficiency and defense seems like a better gamble than most.”

As I said earlier it’s still unknown whether the team will keep both players. Most likely Douglas will stay, but the waters seem murky around Hill. And these picks don’t really give any insight to what the team might do with their unrestricted free agents. Had the Knicks taken Stephen Curry, I thought it was going to signify the end of Nate Robinson, since the two would provide the same roles and weaknesses. Meanwhile Hill should be able to play alongside Lee, so Knick fans shouldn’t feel threatened by the move. New York will have to wait until July to see how things might play out.

2009 NBA Draft Day

REMINDER: Don’t forget to enter the KnickerBlogger.Net 2009 Draft Contest before the draft starts!

With the draft less than 12 hours away some recent developments have changed how the night might proceed for the Knicks. Most pertinent is Minnesota trading for the #5 pick. There were rumors that New York was looking to acquire this asset from Washington, but with the pick traveling north that option has vanished. More importantly this move might affect who is available when the Knicks turn comes around. Originally it was assumed that Washington would take PF Jordan Hill with this selection. However it’s unlikely that the Timberwolves will take him because they already have two young frontcourt players in Jefferson and Love. They sent PG Foye and GF Miller in the deal, and with a guard heavy draft it’s likely that Minnesota will select two guards. Therefore it’s possible that both players Minnesota takes tonight are ones the Knicks were targeting.

There have been a few other rumors that New York was trying to add a late first round pick, but as of this writing nothing has been made official. With a draft that is more deep than top heavy, the pick could net a rough gem like Austin Daye, Marcus Thornton, or Nick Calathes.

Chad Ford reported that the Knicks are likely to send Quentin Richardson to Memphis in exchange for Darko Milicic in the next few days. This is a smart short term move for the Knicks. For the first time in years, the Knicks will have a shotblocking center, something they sorely lacked in the Isiah Thomas era. Milicic has averaged 2.6 blk/36, but his other numbers have disappointing. Last year Darko’s TS% was a respectable 53.3, but that was about 50 points above his career average so it’s possible that his good shooting was just a career fluke. He’s never averaged more than 24 minutes per game over the course of a season, so it’s unlikely that Milicic will earn a starting spot. However he’ll provide some much needed interior defense to a team that is starving for it. Milicic has only one year left on his deal, so it will not affect the team’s 2010 plans.

In other NBA news, the Hawks have netted ex-Knick Jamal Crawford, while the Cavs are on the verge of grabbing Shaquille O’Neal. The latter deal is quite interesting from a number of perspectives. Cleveland is hoping that adding Shaq will help fuel a Cavalier championship and keep LeBron from leaving via free agency. From Shaq’s perspective he gets to match up against rival Dwight Howard and Magic Coach Stan Van Gundy, who he has feuded with in the press. And should the Cavs beat the Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals this year, Shaq will go up against the Lakers and another rival Kobe Bryant.

Finally yours truly appeared on a Hardwood Paroxysm’s podcast last night for about 10 minutes, answering questions about the draft & the upcoming season.

*** BREAKING NEWS (1:30pm): Yahoo reports the Knicks acquired the Lakers’ first round pick (#29). According to the article the Knicks are looking to target a big man with this pick.