Free Agent Bargain Bin

The attention is rightly focused on the big gun free agents, but it’s also fun to think about potential cheap free agency steals. The Knicks could use some bargains to fill out the rotation no matter how they fair with the bigger name free agents.

It’s not easy to know what offers various free agents will receive, but here are my (mostly subjective) rankings of the top players I assume may be had at relative bargain prices:

(Honorary mention #1 LeBron James… even at the max  LeBron is the biggest bargain in the entire league.)

#2 Craig Smith

Should be among the most underrated free agents: he’s both productive and in his prime. Doesn’t have tons of upside, but is a relatively sure thing. Most other bargains are young with no history of production or old without much left. Smith has consistently produced on bad teams for both the Timberwolves and Clippers. He scores efficiently and is a fairly stout defender, though his rebounding is mediocre and he turns it over a bit too much. Craig is among the most productive undersized 4s out there and should be a solid 4th or 3rd bigman. Lack of a jump-shot probably turns D’Antoni off.

It’s hard to imagine Smith getting more than the $4 million Brandon Bass got last offseason. He’s only about 6’6.5” in shoes, so teams are likely to have their reservations. Additionally he only averaged 16 mpg, leading to an unimpressive per game line of 8 and 4. Guys without impressive per game numbers often get overlooked by conventional GMs.

Similar Player Comparison

#3 Ian Mahinmi

There’s very little track record, but Mahinmi comes in 3rd (2nd really) because it’s unlikely he costs much (Spurs declined a $1 mill+ option for next season), his very limited track record is impressive, and he’s still got big upside.

For some reason Gregg Popovich just would not play Mahinmi. The conventional wisdom is that the Spurs have a loaded frontcourt, but until they added McDyess and Blair last offseason that really wasn’t the case. So I assume there is some sort of b-ball IQ/work ethic/attitude/injury issue. A red flag since the Spurs are smart and Pops usually gets the most from good players. However the Frenchman is crazy athletic, only 23 years old, and stands 6’11.

In the 165 minutes he earned in 2010, he managed 22 pts, 11.3 reb, and 1.7 blk per 36 minutes, with a very healthy TS% of .667. Of course some of that occurred in garbage time, but it’s very intriguing nonetheless. In 07-08 he put up similar numbers in the D-League. He’s got the feeling of a Jermaine O’Neal level hidden gem.

If Mahinmi can get it together enough to get on the court, he might be a good fit at C for D’Antoni: basically, he’s an athletic freak who finishes strong at the hoop. Has the potential to be the interior presence the Knicks have been desperate for. Even if other teams bid up his services to, say, the $4-7 mill per year range, I would consider spending short-term dollars on Mahinmi before I spent long-term dollars on Rudy Gay, Joe Johnson, and some of the other big name FAs.

Similar Player ComparisonBrad Miller’s 22 year old rookie season is another one.

#4 Shaun Livingston

Plenty of question marks, but might have put it all together last season. The biggest question with Livingston is whether he can stay healthy. Once thought to have HOF potential, Livingston’s upside is now closer to solid rotation player. He’s not a good jump shooter, so D’Antoni may not love him, but he’d be a good backcourt partner for Douglas on paper. Livingston can run an offense, but at 6’7” he can defend shooting guards.

Shaun is a low-volume scorer and was efficient last season, but in fairness it was a small sample. (Despite having no 3-pt shot, he’s primarily a jump-shooter and shot well on jumpers last season.) Solid playmaker, but TOs are a big problem. Livingston’s biggest strength is versatility: he can play PG on offense and SG on defense, allowing him to complement a smaller combo-guard who plays the SG on offense and PG on defense. Toney Douglas is such a player. (Jaycee Carroll too.) Livingston might be had cheap, since the Wiz have filled up their backcourt. We’ll see if last season was a fluke or a sign of things to come… and that’s what you want to be saying about bargain bin free agents (not highly paid ones…).

Similar Player Comparison Unfortunately, to date, closer to Marko Jaric than Doc Rivers or Penny. If we’re talking minimum salary, a 25 year old Jaric is a good value. If we’re talking $4-5 mill per… not as much.

#5 Dorell Wright

Wright is a 24 year old coming off a good season where he made $2.75 million. Should the Knicks have $3-5 mill left over perhaps he’s worth a look. If he ends up with no offer but the veteran’s minimum, then he’s a steal. There’s a lot of redundancy with him and Bill Walker, Wilson Chandler, and Landry Fields… so the Knicks resources are probably better spent elsewhere. I think Wright will be a solid FA bargain for someone, though.

Wright is similar to Wilson Chandler. Dorell is low-volume/medium-high-efficiency, while Wilson is medium-volume/medium-low-efficiency. Otherwise Wright was as good as or better than Chandler in terms of defense, shot blocking, stealing, rebounding, TOs, assists, etc (despite the prevailing homerism, Chandler is just not a very special player). Wright’s 3-pt shot took a huge step forward in 2009-10 after missing most of 08-09. He’s already shown the outside shot that we’re all hoping Chandler will develop by 24 years old.

Wright is a strong defender who I would also compare to Mickael Pietrus. He could fill the wing defense/ outside shooting role (Bowen, Bell, etc.) quite well (also MUCH better finisher than Bowen or Bell). Play either the 2 or the 3 depending on situation. A solid, well-rounded NBA rotation player entering his prime. Should Chandler be used in a sign-and-trade, Wright could instantly replace his production at a slightly higher cost. A change of scenery could do Wright some good. I bet San Antonio steals him for, say, 3-4 years $3 mill per.

Similar Player Comparison

#6 Ben Wallace

We all know Ben: big on defense, not so much on offense. Not a typical D’Antoni guy, but the Knicks were desperate for some interior D last season and might be again next season. Ben played for the minimum in Detroit last season, playing pretty well for an otherwise soft, underperforming Pistons squad. His DPOY days are over, but for the minimum there may not be a better interior defender. Detroit was 8.6 pts/100 possessions better defensively with him on the court last season and 1.6 pts/100 better offensively. Their rebounding went up on both sides of the ball, they blocked more shots, and teams had a harder time scoring 1-on-1. Wallace and LeBron have a relationship from Cleveland, no idea if that’s a plus or a minus… Of the washed up veterans, Wallace is probably my favorite (Maybe Kurt Thomas #2).

Going out of business! 50% off! Priced to move! (All sales are final. Void where prohibited by law)

Following hard on the heels of Mike K’s fine breakdown of the benefits (or lack thereof) of trading for McGrady, I’m going to channel my inner Bill Simmons (I’ve been watching “Jersey Shore” on MTV and going to strip clubs all weekend to emotionally/psychically prep m’self. Needless to say, it’s been pretty harrowing.) and throw out some possible deals that could be made, even if our erstwhile coach is playing it coy:

“The key is it’s got to fit into the plan,” D’Antoni said before the Knicks’ 112-91 loss to the T’wolves last night. “It’s got to be right. I think we as an organization, we’re looking all the time, trying to better the team without messing up the long-term plan. It’s a tricky thing to do.

“We’ll keep looking. [Team president] Donnie [Walsh] will keep looking.”

You got that right, Coach. It is tricky. Is it as tricky as realizing that perhaps you should have played more than 6 guys in the 2nd half of a back-to-back, even if it means deviating from the sanctity of your precious 8-man rotation or going to the zone when Jefferson, Love and (shudder) Ryan Freaking Hollins are positively killing the Nix in the low post? Maybe not. But I digress…

Since it’s so durned difficult to make trades, in the spirit of teamwork (I’ve been taking my Teamocil these days), here are a few reasonable and hopefully fair deals to aid our (snicker, chortle) playoff push or upgrade for the future.

New York trades: Jared Jeffries (SF/PF) and Cuttino Mobley (SG)
Sacramento trades: Kenny Thomas (SF/PF), Sergio Rodriguez (PG),  Hilton Armstrong (C)

Why it’s plausible: Rodriguez is buried behind Tyreke Evans and Beno Udrih at PG. Jeffries has been a rumored target of Cowtown’s eye for awhile. They save some serious ducats (Mobley) in exchange for taking on JJ’s last year – hence a net savings – and dump 3 cats who are out of their rotation. The Nix get a young, up-tempo PG and of course, salary-cap savings.

New York trades: Jared Jeffries (SF/PF)
San Antonio trades: Matt Bonner (PF), Michael Finley (SG) Ian Manhinmi (PF/C)

Why it’s plausible: In the west playoffs, JJ’d be a valuable piece, guarding a variety of players – from Nowitzki to Brandon Roy to Chris Paul. The Nix would agree (nudge, nudge, wink wink) to release Bonner and Finley so that they could re-sign w/San Antonio. The ‘Bockers get a young big/project and (all together now), cap room in 2010.

New York sends: Jordan Hill (PF), Cuttino Mobley (SG), Wilson Chandler (SF/PF)
Golden State trades: Anthony Randolph (PF), Anthony Morrow (SG), Speedy Claxton (PG) Devean George (SF), Raja Bell (SG)

Why it’s plausible: For whatever reason, Nellie seems down on the Anthony’s (Morrow and Randolph). Chandler’s stock is at an all-time high. Hill can be sold to Golden State of Mind-ers as a reasonable substitute for Randolph and the Nix absolutely steal two pieces and actually save cap-bucks (a million or so).

And finally, just fo’ sh@*%s n’ giggles, a mega-deal (pigs flying not included)…

New York sends: Wilson Chandler (SF/PF), David Lee (PF/C), Nate Robinson (Freakshow), Jordan Hill (PF/C), Toney Douglas (PG)
Portland trades: Greg Oden (C), Jerryd Bayless (PG), Rudy Fernandez (SG), Travis Outlaw (SF/PF), Patrick Mills (PG)

Why it’s utterly implausible but makes a weird, twisted kinda sense: Hear me out. While Portland would be admitting that they screwed the pooch by taking Oden over Durant, look at their 8-man roation post-trade –

PG Miller/Blake
SG Roy/Robinson
SF Chandler/Webster
PF Aldridge
C Lee

Lee and Aldridge in the high/low post would be great. Robinson returns to the Pacific Northwest and wouldn’t be a PG liability since Roy does a chunk of the ballhandling. Chandler’s a serious upgrade at SF over Batum/Webster. And they get two prospects in Hill and Toney D to boot.  That Blazers team could seriously challenge the Nugs and the Spurs (if not the Lakers) and given the number of picks/overseas assets the team still has, they’d still have the pieces to make a deal if it didn’t work out.

For the D’Antonis, we’d be a little light this year (to say the least), but moving forward, wouldn’t Oden be worth rolling the dice on? If he’s healthy he’s the defensive 5 we haven’t had since Ewing. Bayless is another boom-bust investment and Rudy F. could be Ginobili 2.0. That’s a TON of if’s, but what’s the ceiling of the guys we’re trading? Lee’s great, but not a franchise player or even a Robin to someone’s Batman like Vintage Pippen/Worthy/McHale or these days, Gasol/Pierce. Chandler’s getting better n’ better, but he’s a very poor man’s Shawn Marion. Hill could be a more athletic Kurt Thomas and Douglas might turn into Chris Childs. All nice pieces, for sure. But there isn’t a franchise guy in the bunch. Now take a look at the 2010 roster if these moves pan out:

PG Bayless
SG Fernandez
SF Gallo
PF That guy from Cleveland
C Oden

You bring Jeffries off the bench and fill the rest of the roster w/vet free agents who are jonesing to be part of LeBron’s entourage & Marcus Landry types. If you wanna get really ballsy, you see if Phoenix will dump Nash for expirings + picks. That’s a serious contender right now. It won’t happen, just b/c Portland can’t/won’t bail on Oden. But a girl can dream, right? Whaddaya think Knickerblogger-istas?

I Want To Draft Like It’s 1999

An NBA draft where the #1 overall consensus is a power forward, and a ton of guards are to be had including an intriguing foreign guard? No I’m not talking about this Thursday’s NBA draft where Blake Griffin is likely to go #1, there is a lot of depth at guard, and everyone is wondering where Rickey Rubio will land. I’m talking about the 1999 draft where Elton Brand went first, guards were taken in 7 of the next 10 picks, and Manu Ginobili quietly landed to the Spurs in the second round.

Of the top 10 picks, 9 of them had solid to spectacular careers, but only one of those stayed long enough to be seen as a success for the team that drafted him: Shawn Marion. A lot of these players were traded to other teams before they could really help the team that drafted them like Brand, Francis (a draft day holdout), Odom, Hamilton, Andre Miller, and Jason Terry. Number 5 pick Jonathan Bender never lived up to his potential due to injury. Wally Szczerbiak stayed with Minnesota, but was taken too high at #6. Baron Davis stayed with the Hornets for 5 and a half seasons, but was traded midyear to Golden State where he engineered one of the biggest first round upsets in history.

Although there was plenty of value at the top 10, the next 10 was filled with busts. Only Ron Artest (#16), Corey Maggette (#13) and James Posey (#18) were worth noting. As for the rest of the draft, there were two European superstars taken late in Kirilenko (#24) and Manu Ginobili (#57), and a few fillers (Jeff Foster #21, Kenny Thomas #22, Devean George #23, and Gordon Giricek #40).

Knick fans remember this draft for grabbing Frederic Weis one pick before Ron Artest, but that may not have been the biggest bust of the draft. As I previously mentioned the top 10 all netted solid players except for Bender. If you want to excuse him for injury, then nearly every pick 11-14 (except for Maggette) could be seen as failures as well. Trajan Langdon at #11 is a candidate, although he’s had a good career overseas. Aleksandar Radojevic (from the powerhouse Barton County Community College) was taken 3 picks prior to Weis. And the Timberwolves struck out the pick before New York’s with Duke’s William Avery.

So how might this draft have turned out? Here’s my re-draft, not necessarily in order of how they should have been taken. But rather in how one alternate earth might have been for the first 16 picks.

#1 Chicago – Elton Brand
The Bulls made the right pick. Actually in our reality they made 2 right picks with Artest at #15. The problem was that they gave up on that team too early. Chicago could have been a mid-west powerhouse with Brand, Artest, and Brad Miller with a supporting cast of Jamal Crawford, Fred Hoiberg and Jake Voskuhl. The problem was the team was still young & surrounded with little else. Marcus Fizer? Khalid El-Amin? Corey Benjamin? Bryce Drew? Michael Ruffin? Dragan Tarlac? Dalibor Bagaric? No wonder they won 15 games in 2001.

#2 Vancouver – Lamar Odom
Vancouver didn’t deserve Steve Francis, but they didn’t really need him either. They had grabbed Mike Bibby in the draft before, and as New Yorkers learned Francis didn’t play well with other point guards. Instead they should have grabbed Odom. The Grizzlies had an awful team, but Bibby, Odom, and Shareef Abdur-Rahem would have been a respectable threesome. Looking at their history, they were doomed to failure by their poor drafts Reeves #6, Abdur Rahim #3, and Antonio Daniels #4 is hardly the core you want to build a franchise on.

#3 Charlotte – Baron Davis
Davis was the right pick here.

#4 Los Angeles Clippers – Steve Francis
Now these two deserved each other.

#5 Toronto – Ron Artest (traded to Indiana)
The Raptors originally drafted Bender and traded him for Antonio Davis. Why would Toronto do such a thing? They have Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady, and Doug Christie. So there goes the shooting guards and small forwards. They could use a point guard, but that isn’t a priority with Carter & McGrady taking up a big share of the offense. They need a big man, but there really aren’t any in this draft (Jeff Foster?). I see why they traded this pick, they had two dynamic scorers and needed some front court depth (past Charles Oakley). So I have the Raptors trading this pick still, and Indiana selecting Ron Artest instead. The Pacers would end up with Ron after a few seasons later anyway. The Pacers would have Artest to defend Allan Houston in the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals (which Indana won) but they could also use him to shut down Kobe Bryant in the Finals (which they lost in 6).

#6 Minnesota – Manu Ginobili
I’m going to go out on a limb here. Before Garnett went to Boston and won a title, people argued how the league would have been if he had swapped teams with Tim Duncan. That the two were equally good, and Duncan won those championships because of his supporting cast. So let’s see how Garnett would have done with the Argentine at his side. Also in this Bizzaro universe Kevin McHale would be a genius.

#7 Washington – Rip Hamilton
Washington really sucked. It doesn’t matter who they draft here. The guy is going to be gone by the time Jordan arrives. Might as well be Rip so that the Pistons improbable championship still occurs.

#8 Cleveland – Shawn Marion
Cleveland took who they thought was the best guy on the board, Andre Miller. And normally I agree with such a signing, except the Cavs had two young (but undersized) guards on their roster already: Brevin Knight and Earl Boykins. Miller’s arrival meant that both would be gone within a year. Cleveland let Boykins go, but traded Brevin Knight for Jimmy Jackson, Anthony Johnson and Larry Robinson. All three would be off Cleveland’s roster by the next season. I hate it when a team overloads at one position and fails to net anything substantial from trades. If we’re not taking Andre Miller here, then you can have an up-tempo team with Knight/Boykins. So I think Shawn Marion is the right fit here.

#9 Phoenix – Corey Maggette
The Suns are probably crushed that they didn’t get Marion. They have Jason Kidd, and are about to offer Anfernee Hardaway to a huge contract. Maggette’s scoring and rebounding would be adequate in lieu of Marion’s energy game.

#10 Atlanta – Trajan Langdon
The Hawks have Mutombo and Rider and are in dire need of a point guard. So with Andre Miller on the board, they’re going to draft Trajan Langdon. This way by 2005 they’ll have learned their lesson and take Deron Williams or Chris Paul with the #2 pick instead of Marvin Williams.

#11 Cleveland – Jason Terry
With the Cavs comitting to an up-tempo offense with their #8 pick, they should take Terry here. Knight, Terry, Marion, and Donyell Marshall are undersized, but should make for a laser fast offense. With Zydrunas healthy in 2011, that’s not such a bad team.

#12 Toronto – Aleksandar Radojevic
As I said earlier, the Raptors really need front court depth, so this is why they reached for the 7-3 Euro. And this is why you don’t draft for need.

#13 Seattle – Wally Szczerbiak (traded to Orlando)
The Magic who acquire this pick in a trade have Darrell Armstrong, Bo Outlaw, and Ben Wallace. They need someone who can score, and don’t care about defense. Wally fits the bill here.

#14 Minnesota – James Posey
In this world, McHale is a genius, and the best player on the board is Andrei Kirilenko. But taking Kirilenko after reaching for an unknown in Ginobili would get him fired. Also having Kirilenko and Garnett on the court at the same time would be too weird. That’s like 60 combined feet of skinny arms & legs. Terrell Brandon, Manu Ginobili, James Posey, Kevin Garnett, and Rasho Nesterovic – that’s a nice team for 2000.

#15 New York – Andrei Kirilenko
Ahhh to dream. The Knicks dared to take a European, but clearly the wrong one. In 2000, Kirilenko would have fit in well with that Knicks team giving them so much depth. The starters would have been Ward, Houston, Sprewell, LJ and Ewing with Camby, Kurt Thomas, Childs and Kirilenko off the bench. That’s one scary team defensively. Additionally AK-47’s arrival might have prevented the team from trading Ewing for Glenn Rice, keeping the franchise from self destruction via salary cap. Perhaps the 2001 Knicks with Camby starting, Ewing coming off the bench, the addition of Mark Jackson, and Kirlenko instead of Rice could have given the team another title run.

#16 Chicago – Andre Miller
Here are your early aughts Bulls: Andre Miller, Jamal Crawford, Toni Kukoc, Elton Brand, and Brad Miller. Not a bad rebuild post-Jordan. Try not to break that team up this time.

KnickerBlogger Turns 5

This week marks the 5th anniversary of KnickerBlogger. When I started this venture, I didn’t imagine it would last this long. Five years ago, blogging was still in its infancy. There were less than 2 million blogs when KnickerBlogger came into existence. Just six months after, the number of blogs had doubled. Today it’s unknown how many blogs there are. One estimate is 200 million. Many of them are powered by individuals like myself.

More important than the number of blogs is the role they perform. Once derided by the mainstream media, just about every newspaper, magazine, and network hosts their own blog. They are now an essential part of the world’s information and entertainment. Blogs fill an important niche in the world. Previously the only avenue for the common man to voice his opinion was through those who held the keys to kingdom. Often his voice was not heard by the public. Blogs have taken the words of the everyman and projected them from the world’s tallest soap box.

Five years ago my goal with KnickerBlogger was to create a platform for those who felt their opinion was not represented in the mainstream. Judging by the other readers who come here to share their thoughts and my affiliation with True Hoop Network that allows me to bring these voices to the mainstream, it seems that I have succeeded. I can only wonder what KnickerBlogger will be in five more years.

To celebrate this anniversary, I’m announcing the KnickerBlogger Quinquennial Team. To assist in this matter, I’ve looked at the overall PER and the single season PER for that period.

Stephon Marbury, PG – As painful as it is to admit, Marbury has dominated the team in many ways during the lifespan of KnickerBlogger. As his career with the team comes nearer to it’s disappointing end, it’s hard to remember that he was a productive scorer early on. He has the highest single season PER (21.9 in 2005) as well as the highest PER (18.4) during the KnickerBlogger era. His defense was mediocre and his contract was suffocating, had the two been reversed he would have been a shoe in for the Hall of Fame.
Reserves: Chris Duhon, Nate Robinson, Frank Williams.

David Lee, PF – It may shock many to see Lee here, but those that have watched him play aren’t surprised that he’s been the second most productive Knick by PER standards over the last 5 years. Looking at things from a objective standpoint it’s hard to find a more deserving PF. Randolph’s PER is the same and his weaknesses are similar to Lee’s (blocked shots, defense). However, Lee has played 4000 more minutes while costing the team $10M less. After Randolph are Mike Sweetney and Kurt Thomas. Sweetney ate himself out of the league, and Thomas wasn’t nearly as productive on the offensive end. Of all the starters on this list, Lee is the one who is most likely to also appear on KnickerBlogger’s Decennial team as well.
Reserves: Zach Randolph, Kurt Thomas, Mike Sweetney.

Nazr Mohammed, C – Surprised it’s not Curry? Nazr played exactly 81 games for the Knicks in 2 seasons, and would rank 4th in Knicks PER over the KnickerBlogger era. Mohammed was a great offensive rebounder, pulling down 4.0/36 oreb/36. To put that in perspective that’s a higher rate than Lee’s career 3.6. During the Isiah era, Nazr was eventually replaced by Eddy Curry. Comparing the two, Nazr was outscored by Curry (19.2 to 13.7), but Curry did it with almost double the turnovers (3.5 to/36 to 2.0). Additionally Mohammed had nearly double the blocks (1.3 blk/36 to Curry’s 0.7), triple the steals (1.4 stl/36 to 0.4), and more rebounds (10.6 reb/36 to 7.4). With that in mind, it’s clear that Nazr deserves the nod here.
Reserves: Eddy Curry, Dikembe Mutombo.

Van Horn/Renaldo Balkman, SF Keith played only 47 games for New York, but he put up some good numbers while he was here. Van Horn was criticized for being a tweener that had trouble defending, but he rebounded well and scored efficiently. However Van Horn only played 1500 minutes for New York. That’s about as much as Al Harrington. If that’s too little for you, then Balkman is next on the PER list. Considering how PER doesn’t account well for defense, then it makes sense that he was probably unrepresented by his stats.

One note on Keith Van Horn: shortly after Isiah Thomas took over the team, he traded Keith Van Horn. At the time Van Horn was a popular player who had just been acquired that summer, so the trade felt hasty. Since then New York has suffered through instability at the small forward position, something I’ve called “the Curse of Keith Van Horn”. The list of small forwards since the Knicks jettisoned Van Horn: Anfernee Hardaway, DerMarr Johnson, Tim Thomas, Trevor Ariza, Shandon Anderson, Jerome Williams, Matt Barnes, Jalen Rose, Ime Udoka, Qyntel Woods, Jared Jeffries, Quentin Richardson, Renaldo Balkman, and Wilson Chandler. Hopefully the curse will be broken in 2010
Reserves: Tim Thomas, Junk Yard Dog.

Jamal Crawford, SG – The default pick, since there really haven’t been many other shooting guards in recent Knick history. Robinson is the only other one that merits any mention. Crawford can drive Golden State fans crazy for the next few years.
Reserves: Nate Robinson

Lenny Wilkens, Coach – I’d like to choose D’Antoni, but he’s only been around for a half season. Wilkens got the team to the playoffs until they tuned him out a year later. In retrospect that should have signified there was something wrong behind the scenes. In his latter years, Wilkens was an adequate coach, which says a lot about the coaches the Knicks have had over the last 5 years.

Most Minutes 5: Curry, Lee, Richardson, Crawford, Marbury
Least Minutes 5: Trybanski, Randolph Morris, Matt Barnes, Jamison Brewer, Jermaine Jackson

Best Defensive 5: Mutumbo, Kurt Thomas, Balkman, Ariza, Frank Williams
Worst Defensive 5: Curry, Randolph, Jalen Rose, Crawford, Marbury

Drafted 5: Frye, Lee, Balkman, Ariza, Nate
Toughest 5: Kurt Thomas, Balkman, Collins, Robinson, Frank Williams

Best Shooting 5: David Lee, Tim Thomas, Van Horn, Nate, Marbury
Worst Shooting 5: Bruno Sundov, Malik Rose, Balkman, Shanderson, Collins

All Name 5: Cezary Trybanski, Othella Harrington, Qyntel Woods, Anfernee Hardaway, Moochie Norris
Scrappiest 5: David Lee, Jerome Williams, Renaldo Balkman, Jermaine Jackson, Frank Williams

If I had to choose a Starting 5 from this era: Nazr, Lee, Balkman, Robinson, Duhon.
Reserves: Mutombo, Van Horn, Ariza, Sweetney, Frank Williams, Gallinari, Chandler.
Coach: D’Antoni

It’s sad but I think this is the best the Knicks could do combining all the players over the last 5 years. I’ve left Marbury off for obvious reasons. New York would have a tremendous rebounding starting lineup, with enough balance of offense & defense on the bench. If you wanted, you could substitute Randolph or Kurt Thomas for Sweetney. But this being KnickerBlogger, I thought it’d be good to give the guy a second chance. The same goes for Frank Williams, who is playing well enough in the NBDL to get another shot at the NBA. Gallinari & Chandler make the list because of their youth. If this team were looking at a title, then I might choose Tim Thomas and Crawford. But I think this is a .500 team that will need some youth.

The Expected

Sometimes a commenter makes an point that inspires an article. I could have written this in the comments section, but I think it deserves an post of it’s own. Yesterday BigBlueAL wrote:

Look I have praised David Lee alot this season because he has improved his offense alot in terms of hitting that baseline jumper a bit more consistantly and being able to drive more often w/o getting his shot sent into the stands. But his numbers to me are a huge reflection of this system and Randolph being traded. Defensively he is still horrible and is not going to be anywhere near worth what his salary will most likely reach if you are trying to put together a championship caliber team.

Again I like David Lee and dont like ripping him, but please he is not a starting PF on a championship team. He is what his and Nate’s role should be, 20-25 minute players who bring energy off the bench. Those players are very important on good teams, but they are easier to find than go-to, superstar type players which is clearly what the Knicks are lacking and have lacked since Houston/Spree were together.

Unlike baseball where I have vast knowledge of sabermetrics and such in basketball I dont look at stats beyond the basics as much as I should, although being an ESPN Insider I do like reading John Hollinger and becoming more aware of more analytical basketball stats.

I have a theory on why David Lee is underrated from a visual perspective. Two of the things he does well are “expected”: rebounding and finishing around the hoop. Every time the other team misses a shot you expect your team to get the rebound. So when David Lee comes flying in to secure the rebound, it’s expected that the he does it. It’s not an act that is remembered or noted because it’s counted upon. Compare this to when Jamal Crawford sinks an impossible shot. Those memories usually stick in someone’s mind because of the rareness of the act. Yet most people don’t remember when Crawford misses a shot, since missing a shot is commonplace and an expected result.

But watching last night’s game against the Thunder, down the stretch Lee’s defensive rebounding was excellent. If you were concentrating on him, it was amazing watching his positioning and tenacity. There were a few rebounds that I don’t think any other Knick (or most big men in the league) would have secured. I honestly don’t think the Knicks would have been in yesterday’s game at the end if it weren’t for Lee’s rebounding.

The same goes for his inside scoring. Fill in the blank in the following sentence: Chris Duhon drives the lane and is double teamed, so he passes to an open David Lee who…

{Have your answer?}

Depending on your imagination you might say:
* dunks the ball.
* makes a reverse left handed layup.
* draws the foul for 2 shots.
* makes the buckets and draws the foul.

Now fill in the blank on this sentence: Chris Duhon drives the lane and is double teamed, so he passes to an open Jared Jeffries who…

{Have your answer?}

This time your answer will probably differ from Lee and you might say:
* fumbles the pass.
* blows the layup.
* scores with a nice finger roll (Jeffrightened style!).

Depending on the player you would have a different result. Yet Lee doesn’t seem to get credit for being able to catch a pass in traffic and score around the hoop. It’s because it seems to be such an easy act that it’s expected that he does so. Yet few players in the league can be as successful Lee, when performing this action. Now if you think I’m using a strawman argument with Jeffries, then replace Lee with Chandler or Curry. Chandler is more likely to take a turnaround jumper instead of going inside and isn’t very likely to draw a foul. Meanwhile Curry is more apt to either fumble the ball or commit an offensive charging foul.

David Lee’s rebounding and efficient inside scoring (without turning the ball over) is valuable because there aren’t a lot of players in the league that do those things at such a high level. That makes him a valuable starter level player, even with his defensive shortcomings. Hence why the Knicks have entertained so many offers for Lee from other teams. Of course everything depends on context, he would need to be paired with a strong defensive center. But as for Lee not being a good starter on a championship team, don’t you think the Spurs would love to have him on their team right now? Currently their PFs are Matt Bonner, Kurt Thomas and Fabricio Oberto (who pushes Duncan to PF).

However, the more relevant point I’m trying to make is that it’s hard to catch these things with the naked eye. As Michael Lewis wrote in Moneyball:

One absolutely cannot tell, by watching, the difference between a .300 hitter and a .275 hitter. The difference is one hit every two weeks. It might be that a reporter, seeing every game that the team plays, could sense that difference over the course of the year if no records were kept, but I doubt it. Certainly the average fan, seeing perhaps a tenth of the team’s games, could never gauge two performances that accurately-in fact if you see both 15 games a year, there is a 40% chance that the .275 hitter will have more hits than the .300 hitter in the games that you see. The difference between a good hitter and an average hitter is simply not visible-it is a matter of record.

Similarly observers might not be able to differentiate between a player has a TS% of 60 and one that has a TS% of 55. And the value of player who averages 11.7 reb/36 might not be noticeable. But it’s undeniable that these stats correlate to winning, more than the naked eye would believe. To make an analogy to baseball David Lee might be the .280 hitting shortstop with a handful of few home runs, but has a strong .OBP, hits a lot of doubles, and doesn’t make a lot of errors (but maybe doesn’t have a lot of range or a great arm). For decades things like OBP, SLG, etc. were not valued by generations of baseball fans. And much like baseball, unless you’re looking at the advanced stats, you might not be able to see the value David Lee gives a team.

Two Games Over .500?

Stephon Marbury was the point guard with Allan Houston at the 2. Kurt Thomas and Tim Thomas were the forwards and Nazr Mohammed was in the middle.

The bench players were Mike Sweetney, Anfernee Hardaway, Jerome Williams, Trevor Ariza and Moochie Norris

That was the Knicks team on January 1st, 2005, when a Knick three-game winning streak came to an end with a loss to the New Jersey Nets, 93-87. The Knicks ended the night at 16-14, the last time they were two games over .500 until last night. Read More

Ah… The Bittersweet Taste of Ambivalence

As you are no doubt aware by now, the Knicks have hired former Phoenix Suns head coach Mike D’Antoni to be their new head coach (4 years/$6 million per). Opinions are flying in from pundits, bloggers, fans, and onlookers. Opinions, it should come as no surprise, cover the spectrum. Some are excited. Others are disappointed. Personally, I am ambivalent about the hire.

I both love it and hate it.

Ambivalence: The condition of holding opposite feelings for the same person or object

Love. I’ve been begging the Knicks to run for quite some time. Although the current roster is missing Steve Nash the Knicks could increase their pace from a middle-of-the-pack 13th into the top 7 just by deciding to play faster. Running would maximize the strengths of the young core, Curry’s and Randolph’s loafing be damned. When pundits opine about how poorly D’Antoni fits the roster, they are usually referring to Marbury, Curry, and Randolph. But, Walsh is here precisely because these players really are no longer the core. They’re baggage. On the other hand, Nate Robinson, Crawford, Lee, Jeffries, Chandler, and Balkman could potentially thrive in an uptempo running game. And for what it’s worth, in the brief moments Curry has been healthy and in reasonable shape he’s run the floor well. He’s not a poor fit for D’Antoni’s system per se. Finally, the other thing I love is that it is relatively easy to find complimentary players for D’Antoni’s style at fairly reasonable prices. Raja Bell, James Jones, Anthony Parker, T.J. Ford, Kurt Thomas, and Boris Diaw were all basically considered minor acquisitions when they joined Phoenix or Toronto (Phoenix’s closest imitator).

Hate. On inspection the D’Antoni courtship is eerily like Larry Brown’s. Like Brown, D’Antoni has had some issues working and playing well with others. I’m not suggesting that D’Antoni is a drama queen on par with Brown, but basically D’Antoni put himself on the market because Steve Kerr bruised his ego. It’s ostensibly NY’s gain, but still troubling. I am concerned that D’Antoni’s tendency to bristle at criticism, a bit like former Mets skipper Bobby Valentine, is a potential land mine. If/when Walsh inserts a GM (perhaps Billy King) between himself and D’Antoni we could see history repeat itself. It’s quite possible that the messenger–the inexperienced Kerr–rather than the message was the problem for D’Antoni but it’s something to keep an eye on. I also think it’s legitimate to question D’Antoni’s willingness to hold his players accountable–particularly on defense. Amare Stoudemire is unguardable when he’s on, but he remains mostly an indifferent defender. I don’t expect D’Antoni to publicly humiliate his players but I do expect to see improvement in the “hustle” categories (i.e., steals, blocks, drawn charges, boards, deflections) from stars. A friend once told me that when one of your stars doesn’t defend–which is to say, gives effort on the defensive end–it is a direct reflection of his respect for the coach. I believe that. None of these are fatal flaws for D’Antoni, but they are precisely the kinds of flaws that could keep a championship caliber team out of the finals or turn an imposing rebuilding job into an impossible one.

A word about Mark Jackson. One routinely over-valued aspect of sports is coaching experience. Coaching is obviously important, but it’s so important few truly incompetent coaches ever see the light of day, Jerry Tarkanian’s brief foray into the NBA notwithstanding. The distance separating the best coaches from the worst is routinely offset by factors outside the coach’s control like injuries, relationships with players or management. Inexperience can be offset by the experience of others, like Avery Johnson’s staff in Dallas. I would like to have seen Mark Jackson offered the head-coaching job. He seems like the right fit for a bad team in need of a classic rebuild. But I don’t feel bad for him. This would have been a terrible first job. Having said that, there is little reason to believe that D’Antoni will be a complete disaster. He’s clearly a quality coach and he has players on the roster that do in fact fit his preferred style. NY should improve from horrible to mediocre just from competent management and coaching.