Draft Prospects, Part II

If you missed Part I highlighting PGs who may be on the Knicks’ radar screen during this upcoming draft click here.

I?ll go position-by-position and highlight at most a handful of players who may be available when the Knicks select at #23. The players are listed in no particular order. Player stats and profiles come largely from draftexpress.net and nbadraft.net.

Shooting Guard

The Knicks have a number of players that play at least some time at SG, though none exclusively. Francis and Crawford play the lion’s share of minutes as undersized combo guards while Quentin Richardson is a classic swingman. All three have serious injury red-flags entering next season. So the Knicks will almost certainly consider a number of prospects, as this is the deepest position in a deep draft.

A little factoid: last season New York shot 34.6% on threes. Opponents shot 37.6%. But the raw numbers for some reason are even more dismaying to me. Opponents were +99 on 3-pt. makes (+153 on 3-pt. attempts) last season. That cannot all be attributed to the SGs but hopefully Thomas & Co. will consider prospects that can both shoot and defend the three pointer.

1. Derrick Byers (6’7″, 225#, Vanderbilt)

Byars is an intriguing prospect despite mediocre shooting numbers (57% TS, 54% eFG). Vanderbilt’s offense is, by design, very dependent on the 3-pt. shot and I thought an odd fit for his mid-range, up-tempo skill set. Byars took 47% of his attempts from behind the arc, and not surprisingly didn’t get to the FT line very often (.27 FT/FG). However, his 1.45:1 assist-to-turnover ratio, playing primarily as a SF, belies the impression that he’s gunner. NBAdraft.net compares him to Shane Battier but Byars is more of a classic swingman than an undersized PF. A more apt comparison, I think, is James Posey with better offensive potential though he’s not quite the same caliber of defender.

2. Marco Belinelli (6’6″, 190#, Italy)

Belinelli is a do-it-all combo guard with a little sizzle in his game. He looks like he can play. But everyone looks like they can play on their youtube highlight package–though admittedly throwing down a 360-degree dunk in a game got my attention. (Who even tries stuff like that other than Nate Robinson?) I don’t imagine Belinelli is on NY’s radar screen since Thomas has clearly shied away from international talent. The Knicks got fleeced pretty regularly on international players in the recent past (recall the names Weis, Trybanski, Vranes, and Lampe) and Thomas has been in no hurry to get back into that market. The key to finding international players that stick seems to be in cultivating relationships with the right people in the right leagues at the ownership level not just the executive level. New York doesn’t have those kinds of relationships. Irrespective of whether that’s entirely Thomas’ fault I’d be surprised to see him make much of an investment in an international rookie over a comparable college rookie.

3. Aaron Afflalo (6’5″, 215, UCLA)

Afflalo is one of the few SGs ready to play NBA caliber defense immediately. His athleticism is decent though not jump-out-of-the-gym overwhelming. In the halfcourt he doesn’t offer a lot of offense outside his catch and shoot game, and as we saw two straight years in the Final Four his jump shot is apt to leave him without prior notice. He still managed a 59% TS%, punctuated by many a layup at the other end of a strong defensive effort. He should be a solid enough offensive player to stay out on the floor but his bread and butter will be defense.

4. Morris Almond (6’6, 215#, Rice)

If efficient scoring from the SG position is what you are after Almond is your guy. In those categories it’s hard to fuss with what he did at Rice. He shot it well (63% TS). He shot it well from the perimeter (46% 3-pt.). He got himself to the FT line (.52 FT/FG). He improved his rebounding each season (7.9 per 40 as a senior). On the downside, it’s not clear that Almond brings anything to the table other than scoring. That makes me wonder what he can contribute playing with a center who–to put it kindly–has yet to master passing out of the double team. Almond is not himself much of a passer (0.34-to-1 assist to turnover), nor is he an adept ball handler (11% TO-r). I have no idea what kind of defender he is but suffice it to say I’ve read little commentary about his defense.

5. Rodney Stuckey (6’5″, 207#, E. Washington)

Stuckey is an athletic combo guard. NBADraftExpress.com has a TON of material on Stuckey, including a pretty extensive write-up, which is as thorough as anything I could write. They also include his stats as part of a point guard comparison. I think the odds are fairly small that he’ll be on the board at #23.

6. Daequon Cook (6’5″, 210#, Ohio State)

Cook is thought by many to be a more explosive version of Morris Almond with higher upside. Cook’s shooting numbers should hardly elicit shame (55% TS, 42% 3-pt., .21 FT/FG), especially considering that he was not the first option on offense. However, I had to slap the “caveat emptor” tag on him once I looked at his game logs. After exploding onto the scene Cook never scored more than 12 after the first week of January. He took at least 5 attempts in 22 of the 27 games he played in calendar 2007 so it’s not like he wasn’t shooting. When a kid is billed as an explosive scorer and spends virtually half the season NOT scoring I am inclined to say, “No thanks. Really. I’m trying to cut that out of my diet.”

Small Forward

Based solely on Hollinger’s PER small forward was the least productive position on the team (14.3) and the only one below the league average set at 15 (if we round SG and PF up from 14.9). It also had the largest differential from opponent’s PER of -3.7. This is one of those instances where the stats confirm what we plainly observed: SF sucked a bit more than the other positions on the team. The Knicks hope Richardson’s back will be less problematic this year and that Balkman continues to develop, but the team could clearly use some help. In this draft there appear to be more swingmen than undersized power forwards.

1. Jared Dudley (6’7″, 225#, Boston College)

I love Dudley’s game, which exists almost exclusively from the neck up. His basketball IQ is, to my mind at least, exactly what the Knicks need. Dudley was a 66% true shooter on 44% from 3-pt. range and .55 FT/FG. What I love is that he went from 16.5 ppg as a sophomore to over 19 as a senior on essentially the same number of shots per 40 (between 12 and 12.5). His gains were all on efficiency. Offensively, observation tells me his best attribute is his passing, though his meager assist-to-turnover (1:1.15) belies this observation. Previous seasons, when surrounded by more talent, his assist-to-turnover ratio was much better. On the downside Dudley is barely an NBA caliber athlete, if at all. He reminds me of Luke Walton more than any other NBA player. Like Walton, Dudley has replacement-level talent but is a perfect fit on a team where he can feed a low-post player. On a roster with no low-post player he’s not as helpful. That makes Dudley a gamble at #23. As much as I like him I’m not sure I’d take it.

2. Julian Wright (6’6″, 210, Kansas)

I find Wright very intriguing. I won’t be surprised almost no matter where he goes off the board. Wright reminds me of a taller Renaldo Balkman. Both are outstanding rebounders. Wright is a better passer and ballhandler but he’s not the same kind of finisher or shot blocker. Of course neither can hit a jump shot past 12 feet with any consistency. Wright’s strengths and weaknesses are fairly clear cut. So where he goes is a question of whether a team likes what he can do well enough to live with what he cannot. I think Wright would benefit most from sliding down the board into the 20s and going to a team that doesn’t expect him to score.

3. Thaddeus Young (6’8″, 217#, Georgia Tech)

In an earlier post on draft picks a reader had this to say:

Coming out of high school people were talking about Thaddeus Young in the same breath as Kevin Durant. By comparison he suffers mightily but if he hadn?t been so hyped, he would have been impressive. Everyone gripes about his shot, and it?s not pretty, but he actually shot 40 percent on threes so it doesn?t seem like that big a problem. He would probably be a Top 10 pick next year so if he slides to 23 – or even close, where we could trade up – he?d be a steal.

I didn’t see much Georgia Tech at all so I don’t have much observation to go on, only parts of a couple games. But Young’s statistical profile makes me think Channing Frye more than Kevin Garnett. The lefty Young did shoot 42% on his 3s this season, and without taking an inordinate number (25% of his FGAs). Yet his TS% is a pedestrian 56% because he didn’t get to the line much at all (only .19 FT/FG). What should set Young apart is his athleticism. He’s a chiseled 19-year old with room to grow but the two places athleticism should pay off are FTAs and rebounds (6.2 per 40), and they are clearly not strongsuits.

4. Wilson Chandler (6’7″, 220#, DePaul)

Reputed to have been offered a promise by the Knicks at #23, Chandler is a jumping jack out of DePaul who hasn’t been on many people’s radars until recently. I have never seen nor heard of him until last week. So I will point interested readers to this write-up on draftexpress and this on nbadraft.net. Suffice it to say there is nothing about his statistical performance in any area that makes you say, “this is the guy.” Although the same is true of Balkman he was a non-scorer at S. Carolina. Chandler by contrast is a very inefficient one (52% TS). Let’s hope this is all a smokescreen because drafting Chandler would be the very definition of asking for it.

5. Marcus Williams (6’7″, 205#, Arizona)

The sophomore campaign at Arizona was disappointing for the 6’7″ swingman largely because the team disappointed. Williams clearly regressed as a 3-pt. shooter (43.5% to 28.8%) but otherwise his numbers were almost identical to his freshman season. He is a better rebounder than generally given credit at about 8 per 40 but doesn’t get to the line as often as you’d hope (.30 FT/FG) for someone who isn’t a deadeye perimeter shooter. I’m not certain Williams has the makings of a special player but I’d be surprised if he’s not a league average or slightly better player by his second year. He’s smart, has a lot of skills, and understands how to get open and how to get his own shot.

My Offer For KG

Coming home from work yesterday, I thought I had my night planned. I had some painting I needed to do, which I would finish by 7:30. At that point I would kick back a few beers, order some dinner, and give my full attention to the Knicks-Mavericks game. Of course my best laid plans were thwarted by two foes. The first being my wife who had the “we need to get out of the house look on her face.” Her request was understandable. The weekend storm had brought a handful of weary traveling friends and family to our house. For a few days we were the keepers of an impromptu hostel.

The second interruption to my planned evening was an email from Henry Abbott. The email said that there was a group of bloggers representing their teams in a post-season online bid for Kevin Garnett. My job, should I accept it, was to come up with a deal that would get the Big Ticket in blue & orange. However the trade would be compared to the other offers by different bloggers, and the best one accepted. With an opportunity to play the Knicks GM, I felt as if I couldn’t refuse.

The first question I asked myself is would the Knicks want Garnett? On the negative side of the ledger, Garnett is going to be 31 by next year. Certainly his best years are behind him. Currently his PER is at 25.5, which is lower than last year’s PER. In fact should that number stay, it would be his fourth straight year in decline. Garnett has been in the league since he was 19, so his body has seen its fair share of wear and tear.

On the other hand Kevin Garnett is still a fantastic talent. He is a perennial All Star, earning a berth every possible year since he was 20 years old. Additionally Garnett has been named to 7 All NBA Teams, 7 All NBA Defense Teams, and won an MVP award in 2004. Even with his dwindling PER, Garnett is 6th overall in the league, still among the league’s best. And although he has played over 30,000 minutes Garnett should age well. He has been extremely durable, and hasn’t missed more than 6 games in any season. The 6’13” forward has another advantage: taller players age better than ones that are dependent on their speed & quickness.

It seems quite obvious that Garnett is the type of player that the Knicks could use at this stage. Since arriving in New York, Isiah has been looking for a star to mold this team around. Originally it was Stephon Marbury, and now it seems to be Eddy Curry. However neither player seems to be talented enough to be the core of a winning team. Currently the Knicks have a host of talented players, but lack the superstar that will take them to the next level. No Knick on the roster has a ceiling as high as Garnett’s over the next 2-3 years. New York seems to have made baby steps, but they’ve failed to show any major improvements over that span. While Thomas has escaped the guillotine this year, another 30-something win season won’t cut it next year. The pressure will be on to win in 2008.

So with my sights set on Garnett, I have to wonder how he would fit in on this team. His shooting touch doesn’t extend to the three point line, but he can score from inside or outside. But Garnett isn’t just a scorer, he is a consummate player that can rebound, handle the ball, and most importantly defend. None of the current trio of front court players (Curry, Frye, and Lee) are particularly good defenders. Garnett would mask Curry’s weaknesses on defense and under the glass, and the duo would create defensive nightmares for opponents. Meanwhile a Frye and Garnett duo would present the Knicks with a quick a versatile front court that can score from anywhere inside the arc. Both of these Knicks can play center, which would allow Garnett to stay at his preferred position at power forward.

Unfortunately for Knick fans, that means David Lee would be my odd man out. While Lee is the most productive Knick, he doesn’t mesh well with Garnett. Both are strong rebounders, so the team would see diminishing returns, much like adding Ben Wallace to an already strong defensive Bulls team. Additionally Lee’s ability makes him the most coveted Knick, which would increase the chances the Knicks would receive Garnett. While Lee has the most potential of any Knick, at this point it’s still just that. He’s a wonderful rebounder, finishes well around the hoop, and has a nack for passing. But he’s still a bit off from being an All Star caliber player, nevertheless a franchise player like Garnett.

If Minnesota were to trade their franchise player, it would mean that they have finally comitted to rebuilding. Looking at their salary cap situation, it seems that taking Marko Jaric off their hands would be most helpful. Jaric’s contract runs until 2011, and is 5th highest on the team. Unfortunately the Knicks won’t have any expiring contracts this summer, so they can’t offer any instant relief. Malik Rose is the closest the Knicks can offer in cap relief. His contract expires in 2009, a year before Blount, Hudson, James or Hassell. To make contracts match I would have to add either Steve Francis or Stephon Marbury. Considering that trading for Marbury would be a huge public relations hit in Minnesota, I chose Francis. And to sweeten the pot I’ve thrown in Nate Robinson.

So my offer would be Lee, Francis, Robinson, and Malik Rose to the Timberwolves for Garnett and Jaric.

When I first got Henry’s email, I did a little brainstorming and Brian Cronin wrote back “The SLIGHTEST chance the Knicks have would be a package of Frye, Balkman, Crawford, Richardson, Robinson and the next draft pick they are allowed to trade (maybe some second rounders, too). It works cap-wise, but would the Wolves even slightly consider it?” However this would leave the Knicks with a lineup of:

C: Curry/James
PF: Garnett/Lee/Rose
SF: Jeffries/Lee?
SG: Francis/Collins
PG: Marbury/Collins

This would give the Knicks a front court duo of Curry & Garnett, with the option of using Lee off the bench or at the 3. But we would have no depth at any of the other positions. An injury at any the guard or swingman spots would doom the team. And who knows if Francis’ “tendonitis” will flair up again, which would leave us without a shooting guard. By trading only Lee & Robinson the lineup is a more palatable:

C: Curry/Frye/James
PF: Garnett/Frye
SF: Richardson/Balkman/Jeffries
SG: Crawford/Richardson/Jaric
PG: Marbury/Collins/Jaric

In this version, the Knicks are solid at the center & both forward spots, with quality and depth at all spots. Both guard spots could use some more depth, but I left the Knicks with their first round pick and the MLE to get a pair of guards here. More importantly a Garnett led Knicks, with this supporting cast would be among the top teams in the weak East. For the first time in years, Knick fans would have their sights set a bit higher than jockeying for that last playoff spot and a first round kick in the ass.

I could live with this trade, but the question is would the Timberwolves accept? I’ve given Minnesota a bit of cap space (Rose), a possible future All Star (Lee) that the fans will love (much like they do here), a former All Star (Francis) and an exciting young player (Robinson). Check out TrueHoop (now at ESPN) to see.

Other team’s offers:
Lakers offer.
Celtics offer.
Bulls offer?
Warriors offer.

Free David Lee?

Mike Lupica must have hit his head before he wrote this week’s column, because he had a good point in the beginning of the column, where he points out that David Lee is eighth in the NBA in rebounds per game, while playing the fewest minutes out of all the eight.

Kevin Garnett MIN 39.0 12.6
Dwight Howard ORL 36.0 12.6
Marcus Camby DEN 32.5 12.1
Carlos Boozer UTA 37.0 11.8
Tyson Chandler NOK 32.7 11.3
Emeka Okafor CHA 35.5 11.0
Jermaine O’Neal IND 35.8 10.5
David Lee NY 30.0 10.4

And in the Knicks’ last loss, Lee barely played until it was too late.

Lupica made the argument that Isiah is just trying to make his free agent signing look good, but I think that is wholly unfair, as A. Isiah gets credit FOR Lee – HE drafted him! So if Isiah was just looking for things to make him look good, Lee would be it and B. Isiah has no problem with not playing Jerome James.

Still, Lupica is correct (man, that just sounds wrong, doesn’t it?) in that it is Jared Jeffries who David Lee is competing with. I think Isiah just really likes Jeffries, and believes that he is the better defensive player, and more important to have on the floor.

Still, Jeffries didn’t help much during the third quarter of the Charlotte game.

Isiah said after the game, “We ran into a hot team. They shot well, they made shots. They did the correct things, they made plays. I don’t have any excuses other than the other team that we played tonight, they were hot. They did everything right.” I understand that Isiah is just trying to put a good spin on things, but the Knicks defense was just AWFUL.

Also, while Quentin Richardson really improved his defense last year, during the previous game, Breen and Clyde were calling Q the Knicks “best perimeter defender.” What is Jeffries, then?

Finally, I love that Steph is playing so much better, but 42 minutes is a crapload of minutes for a guy who has looked tired at times this year. I’d prefer not to see that. I’d like to see them try starting Q at the 2.

Isiah Thomas: 2006 Knicks Head Coach?

I usually don’t comment on things that are rumors before they actually happen. It’s a simple rule I gave myself because often enough the rumors tend to be just that, and the time I spent on the article could have been used on something more productive. However there are a few stories that are either worth the mention or are highly likely to occur that it makes sense to spend the time to investigate them.

The current rumor circulating the New York papers is the possibility of the Knicks buying out the remaining 4 years of Larry Brown’s contract and Isiah Thomas assuming the role of head coach. Between Brown’s wanderlust, Dolan’s loyalty to Isiah, and Thomas’ infinite confidence in himself, this one seems to heading to fruition. As far as rumors go, throw this in the “I’d be shocked if it didn’t happen” pile.

The results of such a move might mean a short term gain for the Knicks. Brown’s career record prior to New York was excellent, one step back then two steps forward. However it seemed that he never found his groove in the Garden. There are many theories abound on why Larry’s first year with the Knicks was a disaster. One theory holds that Brown was unable to mesh with Stephon Marbury. Another was that the Knicks personnel was ill-fit for Brown’s grind them down defensive style of play. The latest rumor is that Larry’s passive-aggressive way of criticizing the team publicly instead of behind close doors led to his own self destruction. Most likely the truth is a little bit of each of these.

It’s obvious that bringing in Isiah to coach the team would help these issues. In Isiah’s 3 years as Indiana head coach, the Pacers were in the top 10 in league pace twice. The Knicks don’t have the spot up shooters nor the post up presence to run a strong half court offense. They lack the interior shot blocking presence and a perimeter stopper to play a standard half court defense as well. Changing to a coach that likes to run, or is flexible enough to play to the Knicks’ strengths should mean a few extra wins next season. At worst an up-tempo game might make a 50 loss season more bearable to watch.

Psychologically, Isiah might be the ideal person to turn the team around. First off Isiah has a strong relationship with Stephon Marbury, and would likely put the ball back in the hands of the Knicks’ best offensive player. Secondly, with Zeke as the Knicks coach, the players won’t have to read the papers to find out where they stand. Finally, the Knicks won’t have the GM/Coach power struggle that marred them last year. Isiah the coach will only have himself to blame if the team construction isn’t to his liking, as he personally signed off on the deals that brought each player to New York.

However while there are positives to Isiah assuming the sideline duties, let’s put a few things into perspective. First off the Knicks were one of the league’s worst teams last year, so even a 38 win season might be seen as an accomplishment for them. However that would give the Knicks their 6th straight losing season, which isn’t something to be proud of. Additionally, there is no guarantee that Isiah Thomas is a good coach. His Indiana teams only finished more than 2 games over .500 once and they never won a playoff series. And let’s not ignore the obvious reason, that under Isiah Thomas’ management the Knicks have become the laughing stock of the league.

So if Dolan decides to stick with Isiah, and Isiah thinks that he is the only one that can turn this team around on the court, how will the situation play out? Well the offical KnickerBlogger Crystal Ball? offers a few possible futures for the Knicks. The best case scenario: Isiah the coach realizes what a genius “Isiah the young talent evaluator” is and what a moron “Isiah the free agent cap specialist” is. He vows not to add any more high and long term contracts to the team. Dr. David Crockett is hired to oversee all cap activity.

The new Isiah does everything he can to stockpile picks, and digs through the NBDL and unsigned draftees to fill in the team’s needs. Unloading big contracts where he can, the Knicks return to a respectable level in regards to the salary cap, leaving Steven A. Smith and Charles Barkley without any salary cap jokes. Unable to think of anything clever to yell, and with the help of guru Phil Jackson, Smith and Barkley find inner peace in silence for the first time in their life. They enter a monastery in a remote Pacific island, and 5 years later world peace is achieved.

Another scenario has Isiah Thomas unable to turn the team around and the players revolt against him. With the team in a downward spiral and fans staying away from MSG as if it were infested with the bird flu, Dolan fires Thomas and brings in Jerry Colangelo. Isiah is brought on to preside over the Atlanta Hawks, and Colangelo jumps on the opportunity. Jerry is able to unload a few contracts and acquire a few of the Hawks unprotected draft picks, and the Knicks gear up for a 2009 run at the playoffs.

The worst case scenario? Due to an easy early the schedule the Knicks are a few games over .500. Jealous of the special treatment given to Eddy Curry, Channing Frye goes public with his displeasure of the team and ends up in Isiah’s doghouse. Smelling the revenue payoff from a possible postseason appearance, Dolan orders Isiah to make the playoffs. In January, Zeke packages the troubled Frye and speedy Nate along with some expiring contracts and a few draft picks to the Heat for Antoine Walker. The 2007 Knicks tank ala the 2005 Knicks, and miss the playoffs by 9 games. In 2011 the Bulls finally unseat the Cavs in the East commencing a friendly off the court (but bitter on the court) rivalry between LeBron James and Greg Oden (acquired with the Knicks 2007 first round pick) that lasts for nearly a decade. The two film a McDonalds commercial reprising the Larry Bird-Michael Jordan game of horse.

What’s likely to happen? Well the 2007 Knicks will probably improve by some amount, just because the 2006 team was so bad. Isiah will feel justified with the improvement, and the effort earns him at least another year as the president of the organization under Dolan. However he is unable to bring in an impact player, and the 2008 team does not make the playoffs. The press catches on that Isiah tenure has lasted as long as Scott Layden’s without any positive results, and harps on the issues that the under Thomas the Knicks haven’t produces a single playoff win. Dolan caves in to the media and fan pressure and finally sends Isiah packing.

Unfortunately for Knick fans, the next few seasons are unlikely to be fruitful unless Isiah unearths a pair of studs with the 20th and 29th picks in the draft, or Kevin Garnett demands to be traded to the Big Apple. With Dolan steadfast in his belief that Isiah will turn the team around, and with Isiah showing little understanding of his own strengths & weaknesses there seems to be little to believe that the Knicks are going to be anything other than a lower-to-middle of the road team.

Noah’s Arc

Watching the Gators & Bruins play for the NCAA championship, I’m excited about basketball again. I can’t remember the last time I felt this way. While KnickerBlogger.Net runs on a linux server somewhere, the chief author runs on his passion for the game & his team. Don’t let the advertising banners on this page fool you, I don’t break even on this site monetarily. I spend hours writing, researching, and thinking about the Knicks & the NBA because I enjoy it.

This season has really taken it’s toll on me. None of my favorite teams have ever been this frustrating to watch. No matter what Walton, Coslett, or Kottite did to my Jets, there was always a bit of hope. Maybe not the year they were playing, but the draft could yield hopes of the next star player that could lead the team out of despair. Needless to say neither this year nor thoughts of the draft inspire me to write anything I haven’t said already.

Although I’m not normally a college fan, a Gator win would mean the difference between 3rd & a 5th place tie in my bracket pool. However there is more in this game than just a few bucks to pique my interests. Florida’s style of pressing and using team speed on defense is fascinating to watch. I had spent a week with Ms. KnickerBlogger in Al Horford’s wonderful hometown of Puerto Plata. And UCLA is strong enough to come back from a first half double digit deficit.

But it’s the play of Joakim Noah that has me glued to the television. I’m always intrigued by children of athletes, and the native New Yorker Noah is having a phenomenal first half. NBADraft.Net has him going in the 14th pick in this year’s mock draft, while hoopshype has him going 5th overall. The first has him compared to Anderson Varejao, the latter Rasheed Wallace. However I can’t help to think of him more like Marcus Camby. Granted his 4 first half blocks might skew my view, but his rebounding, speed & energy reminds me of Marcus’ days in New York.

The knock against him is his slender build, but I think the NBA is moving away from the lumbering big man. Gone are the days of Ewing and Malone, and Shaq is on the tail end of his career. The new NBA big man is slender and agile, more in the mold of Kareem. Kevin Garnett. Dirk Nowitzki. Amare Stoudemire. Even the Knicks Channing Frye is showing that he’s a better center prospect than his elephantine teammate Eddy Curry.

So I ask the question, where would you draft Joakim Noah in this year’s draft (on any team)?

< ?php jal_democracy(8); ?>

Knicks Unbearable To Watch

I turned the TV off.

And I rarely turn the tv off. Even in a blowout loss, there are a few interesting things that can make the game worthwhile. Sometimes the 11th & 12th man will make an appearance, and the end of the bench guys are always fan favorites. In the tail end of his career, assistant coach Herb Williams would come off the bench to cheers of “Herb! Herb! Herb!” Unfortunately Larry Brown’s rotation is so deep that seeing the 11th man isn’t reserved for blowouts. Hence the little joy I got last year from a Bruno Sundov sighting isn’t even there this year.

Although the chance of coming back from a 20 point deficit is miniscule, being around for one can be an exhilarating experience. The best NFL game I ever watched was the Jets Monday night game against the Dolphins, where they rallied from 23 points down in the final quarter and won the game in OT. But watching the last Knicks’ game, I felt like Popeye after he’s gotten his ass kicked for the last time. “I?ve stood all I can stands, and I cants stands no more!” And off the tv went.

Right now, the Knicks have sunk to rock bottom. It was understandable when they lost to the Clippers and Suns just last week. Both teams are having good seasons, and the Knicks went into the 4th quarter of each game either tied or winning. But after those two games, they lost by 20 to the Bucks, and by 15 to the Magic. If back to back humiliations weren’t bad enough, they followed it up by getting laughed out of Atlanta.

Normally this would be acceptable for a rebuilding team. I can watch the Jets because I can find a silver lining whether they win or lose. If they win, well it should be obvious why that would be a joyous occasion. However, if they lose, at least I can console myself knowing the Jets are getting a better position in next year’s draft. Unfortunately the Knick have denied me even that. New York is tied for the 4th worst record in the league, and as the Bucks showed last year it’s entirely possible to win the draft lottery from that position. However the Knicks have already traded their first round pick unconditionally to the Bulls in the Eddy Curry deal. I can’t even take solace that every loss would make their second round pick better, because they’ve traded that pick away for Maurice Taylor. I can’t take solace that they could grab the top pick in the 2007 draft, because they’ve given the Bulls the option to swap those picks as well.

In other words, every Knick defeat lacks any positive merit. Isiah Thomas has gone all in with this year’s team, and right now he has the worst hand at the table. He’s sold off everything the Knicks own in the next two years to do it, and so far the results are 6-16. Right now Isiah’s only chance is some superstar forcing his way to New York, and those odds are as slim as getting an inside royal flush. Boston is not going to trade Paul Pierce to a division rival, Kevin Garnett is happy now that the ‘Wolves are winning again. LeBron, Kobe, Duncan, Nowitzki, Amare, Nash, or McGrady, aren’t going anywhere. The Knicks are the guy at the poker table with a shit hand, not drawing any cards, who keeps peaking at them hoping that somehow they’ve changed from the last time he looked.

So the next time you’re watching the Knicks, and they’re getting blown out by one of the worst teams in the league, don’t think of how they might have gotten Rudy Gay, Andrea Bargnani, or LaMarcus Aldridge. Just turn the tv off.

In Defense of Marbury: Usage Rate and the Ball-Hog

This article was written by KnickerBlogger reader Michael Zannettis, who originally sent this to me in a different form. I’ve taken the liberty to edit the work to make it more befitting this space. Any grammatical or spelling mistakes are therefore mine. Additionally I sat on this article for well over a week, so I’ve attempted to update the stats where applicable. At the time the Knicks were doing much worse on offense and much better on defense, so it may suffer from it’s late publication. While it may not be best presented after Marbury’s 35 point outburst against Detroit, I feel that the piece should be heard, and believe that it still stands on its own.

Again any issues that arise from these changes are the fault of the editor, so save Michael from the voodoo doll pins that many of you are currently using to punish yours truly.

It is with great concern for the current competitiveness and future viability of our beloved Knickerbocker franchise that I have become distressed with the treatment of the Knicks? best player, Stephon Marbury. I was certainly a supporter of one of the great coaches of all-time, Larry Brown, being hired to lead this franchise back to the NBA playoffs, but his initial returns on player development are frustrating.

Most obviously, Mr. Brown?s poor treatment of his only star performer, Stephon Marbury, has collapsed a once-decent New York offense. I will not forget that the defense has made a turn around from 27th to 16th without the addition of even one frontline defensive player. Due credit will be meted out in time, but even Mr. Brown?s championship Detroit Pistons had an average offense to complement their superior defense.

Let the numbers decide the offense?s stature. Last year’s team was an average offense, ranking 17th (105.9pts/100 poss). This year, the team’s production has plummeted to 24th (100.7pts/100 poss), a decrease of 5.2pts/100 poss. Last year, the entire scoring load of the Knicks’ offense fell to its guards, Stephon Marbury and Jamal Crawford, both of whom were the only Knicks to average 15 points or more per game.

In the more advanced metrics, Marbury fared well while Crawford looked worse. The former led the team with a .690 player win percentage and a 21.9 PER, while the latter was an inefficient, if volumous, scorer with poor defense, whose win share was a replacement-level .344 with an average 15.4 PER. It was Crawford’s low shooting percentage, often forcing ill-advised shots, which killed his contributions to the offense. He didn’t help his cause by being a spectator on the defensive end either.

Marbury was criticized for his high Usage Rate (24.7%) but considering the teammates he was expected to pass to, it’s a wonder that he didn’t shoot the ball even more often. The only other Knick regular with Offensive Efficiency ratings at the league average or better were Jerome Williams and Mike Sweetney. Williams was a rebounding specialist whose 13.2% Usage Rate belied the fact that the only time he scored was off a tip-in or offensive rebound. Meanwhile the underrated and underutilized Mike Sweetney was a low-post scorer with a prodigious free throw rate, who neither was a pick & roll partner nor a particularly explosive finisher around the basket that would complement Mr. Marbury?s talents.

No other teammate, besides the underused Sweetney, approached offensive competence.

If the criticism of Marbury was that Sweetney should have received more touches in the low block, then I would certainly be in agreement. This was not the case. Rather, it was the Knicks’ coaching staff themselves who limited Big Mike’s production by playing him only 19.6 minutes per game, and all that behind inferior talent.

Sweetney even played less when Malik Rose joined the team through a mid-season trade with San Antonio. Rose was clearly finished as an offensive player, and shared Sweetney’s biggest weakness: being short. If Mike Sweetney was losing playing time for being an undersized 6?8? power forward with limited open court athleticism, then what exactly was Malik Rose, an undersized 6?7? power forward who could no longer hit a jump shot doing playing over 20 minutes a game?

Who then was Marbury expected to share the ball with? Because of his incompetent teammates, on any given possession the best option for the Knicks was Stephon taking the shot.

Examining the Usage Rate comparables of the 2004-05 season makes the ball-hog criticism even more inane. Marbury ranked 30th in the league in Usage Rate. For those of us keeping score at home, there are only 32 teams in the league, and since Usage Rate cannot exceed 100% by a team, the more one player’s ratio increases the more another’s must decrease (although if they are playing as substitutes one might not affect another’s directly). An obvious example would be Chris Webber?s high usage rate falling precipitously when he was traded to the Philadelphia 76er?s midseason. Allen Iverson led the league in Usage Rate, and promptly cut Webber?s dramatically, before it stabilized to a 17% decrease from his Sacramento rate.

As Dean Oliver explains in Basketball on Paper, a high usage scorer could be an asset to a team even if he is below average efficiency, because it permits his teammates to take fewer but higher quality shots. This improves the team?s overall efficiency. Ideally, of course, a team would like several high usage/high efficiency scorers. The Chicago Bull dynasty had this with the ultimate example of Michael Jordan and his Top-50 Player of all Time teammate Scottie Pippen. By the time they were done using the ball, the remainder of their teammates had only to use a small high quality percentage, which improved the team?s overall efficiency even more.

Compared to Stephon Marbury?s much maligned 24.7% Usage Rate, Scottie Pippen’s usage during the Bulls? championship seasons is comparable: 1990-91, 23.2%; ?92, 25.8%; ?93, 25.4%; ?96, 24.4%; ?97, 24.1%; ?98, 21.4%. And what about the one year Pippen had to lead the Bulls completely without Jordan? His Usage Rate in ?94 was 27.4%. Obviously, he should have passed the ball more. What a hog!

This additive function of Usage Rates would make it extremely difficult for any two teammates to be near the league leaders in Usage Rate, unless it was a classic pairing like Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles during their championship run, or the aforementioned Jordan-Pippen combination. For the 2004 season, there were only four teams that had a pair of teammates who played with each other all season and both had a higher usage rate than Marbury’s 24.57%, 30th: Indiana Pacers (Jermaine O’Neal 32.32%, 3rd; Jamaal Tinsley 26.12%, 17th; Stephen Jackson, 25.03%, 29th); Miami Heat (Dwyane Wade, 29.03%, 5th; Shaquille O’Neal, 27.45%, 10th); Washington Wizards (Gilbert Arenas, 25.95%, 18th; Larry Hughes, 25.30%, 24th); Minnesota Timberwolves (Kevin Garnett, 25.88%, 19th; Sam Cassell, 25.86%, 20th). In other words, as the best player on the Knicks’ team Marbury only used the ball as much as the 24th most heavily used first-rate player. Including the 76ers and Warriors by projecting full season stats and therefore including Iverson/Webber and Davis/Richardson, only moves Stephon up to 22nd, still a below average rate for a team?s best player.

If Marbury’s reputation labels him a ball-hog, the statistical evidence does not support the hypothesis. Instead, he resembles a talented offensive player who creates his own shots and creates high quality efficiency. Teams need more of this, not less. Considering the Knicks general incompetence at the offensive end, it was a wonder that Stephon Marbury is not asked to increase his Usage Rate.