Way Too Early Season Review Part II

If you haven’t read Part I already, then you might want to do so now.

The main reason the Knicks can afford losing Kurt Thomas is because Mike Sweetney (18.1, 17.1, -6.2) is ready to play PF full time. I’m not the only one who feels this way. Back in June, supersonics.com writer Kevin Pelton said the best age-21 comparisons for Sweetney are Zach Randolph and Carlos Boozer. While Basketball Forecast author John Hollinger thinks the former Hoya is ready to break out and become a 14-12 guy. Sweetney has two major strengths: he can score efficiently, and he can rebound. He’s hitting 55% of his shots, and he leads the Knicks in points per shot attempt:

Player's Name	 PSA 
M. Sweetney.... 1.26
J. Williams.... 1.25
Stephon Marbury 1.20
N. Mohammed.... 1.14
J. Crawford.... 1.03
Kurt Thomas.... 1.00
A. Hardaway.... 0.96
Trevor Ariza... 0.88
Tim Thomas.... 0.83
Vin Baker...... 0.46
Moochie Norris. 0.44
Jamison Brewer. 0.41

(Jerome Williams’ PSA is that high because he only shoots when he’s 3 feet from the hoop with a clear path.)

In addition to being a good scorer, Sweetney had the highest rebound rate on the team last year. Isiah may not clear the way for him to start this year for numerous reasons. With the Knicks on a quest to win the Atlantic, they might not want to trust the PF position to a second year player, Zeke might not be able to peddle Kurt for something the Knicks need, or they’re keeping Thomas as insurance for the center position, because the backup is gulp Vin Baker (12, 20, -1.2 last year).

The most surprising Knick up to this point is Nazr Mohammed (21.5, 17.0, +14.2). Upon seeing his numbers I thought the improvement was because he cut down on his personal fouls, but his rate hasn’t changed over the last few years. The major improvements I’ve found are in his shooting percentage (52.7%) and offensive rebounding (6.1/40min). FG% is the stat that fluctuates the most from year to year, but this year’s improvement shouldn’t be a fluke considering he shot 56% after being traded to New York last year. What might drop Nazr back to earth is his offensive rebounding. His highest rate in a full season is 4.5OREB/40mins back in 2001, and he’s a point and a half ahead of that.

In fact I think Nazr’s improvment in shooting percentage is directly related to his offensive rebounding. Last year in Atlanta, Nazr had a lower rebounding percentage, only 49% of his shots were inside, and 63% of them were assisted. Whereas in New York, his numbers are 60% and 54% respectively. Simply put, since coming to the Knicks about 10% of his shots are now unassisted and in the paint. It sounds like he’s earning those by cleaning up on the glass.

Another thing I like about Nazr is his combination of good hands and ability to finish. Mohammed usually converts on a Marbury drive & pass in the paint. Mohammed’s downfall is his weak defense, especially at the critical center position. He doesn’t bail out the other Knick defenders with blocked shots, something the Knicks could use thanks to their all around poor defense.

I think the whole city of New York has watched every step of Tim Thomas on the court (4.0, 14.9, -8.3), and it’s safe to say that I don’t need to do a full review on him. If his problem was mental & he’s back to normal, I think we can give him a Mulligan on the first month of the season. If he doesn’t regain his form, he’ll be replaced in the lineup before long. His defense looks like it’s improved slightly, down from the 16.4 oPER from last year.

The Knicks best defensive position is SF (13.8 oPER). While Thomas has improved, it’s the other three guys that can take a lion’s share of the credit. Jerome Williams (18.7, 15.8, +11.9), Trevor Ariza (13.2, 13.4, -1.3), and occasionally Penny Hardaway (10.5, 11.7, +3) are all fine defenders in their own right. Unfortunately the revival of Tim Thomas spells less time for the two most energetic Knicks, Williams and Ariza. Early on in the season Ariza was getting good court time, but these days it’s likely that he’ll play less than 10 minutes. The recipient of Ariza’s decline in minutes is Jerome Williams who has worked his way out of the dog house (pun intended). The SF situation is the same as it was last Monday when I said:

New York has a real logjam. There doesn’t seem to be a clear solution in sight. Thomas and Hardaway are nearly untradeable due to their large contracts, while trading Ariza would be insane due to his potential. I’d hate to see Jerome Williams go, because his game is uniquely different from anyone else’s on the team. So maybe everyone stays until the summer, when Hardaway and Thomas become more attractive as $30M in expiring contracts.

If it seems that the Knicks have too many forwards, they might have a similar problem with the guards once Allan Houston becomes healthy. How Lenny Wilkens handles this should be interesting. Houston will initially come off the bench, but if he’s back to his true form, who plays the two guard spots in the fourth quarter between Starbury, Crawford and Houston? The guard quandary is more difficult to solve than the PF or SF one. Guys like Ariza, Sweetney and “JYD” can handle being benched due to their circumstances, but how do you tell the 3 Knicks accustom to taking last second shots that one has to sit?

Wilkens giving Ariza few minutes isn’t much to get upset about. Trevor is young and inexperienced, and there is a lot of depth at SF. But Lenny needs find more time for Sweetney. Although he’s averaging 17 minutes a game, his time has dwindled so much that against Toronto he played a total of 17 minutes in 2 games. There are times that Jerome Williams’ infectious style and hustle are what the Knicks will require, but for a majority of the time Sweetney should be the first big man off the bench.

Generally Wilkens gets a good grade in my book. Other than Sweetney’s playing time, I have a hard time finding anything else largely disagreeable. This year the Knicks have a fair amount of depth, and Wilkens has to walk a tight line between winning now, developing their young talent, and keeping everyone happy.

As I write this, the Knicks just slipped back over .500 with an OT win over the Hawks. Writing this took a life on it’s own, because the Knicks have so many interesting topics to hit on. This year we have developing youngsters, players battling for time, Allan Houston’s return, a division race, and the speculation that Isiah Thomas can rearrange the team at a moment’s notice. Watching tonight’s game made me realize that only a short time ago, the Knicks were more like the Hawks, a team just looking forward to the next draft.

11/22/04 Odds & Ends

If you watched the Mavs game Friday night, you know the Knicks had two chances to win the game. Down by two, Marbury passed on a three to give an ego boost to Tim Thomas by letting him attempt the final trey. Thomas missed but the ball went out of bounds and the Knicks had another chance. Still down by 2, they threw it to Crawford who missed his newly patented 50 footer.

Down by only 2 points, New York attempted two three pointers and missed both. Isn’t it logical for them to have tried for a 2 instead? I thought about this hard, and the best I could come up with is no. Let’s assume that you’re an NBA coach and have the option of a two pointer or a three pointer with a few seconds left and your team is down by two. The NBA average for three pointers is about 35%, and let’s assume the average NBA two pointer is about 50%. So let’s compare the two options:

A. Attempt 3 pointer:
Chance of winning = 35%

B. Attempt 2 pointer & try to win in OT.
Chance of hitting 2 pointer = 50%
Chance of winning in OT = 50%
Chance of winning = chance of hitting 2 pointer * chance of winning in OT
= 50% * 50% = 25%

With these general odds, it looks like the three pointer is a better chance. However what if we account for the home court advantage? We know that the chance of winning at home is 61%. So the odds of playing for the two and winning in OT at home rise to 30% (50% * 61%). On the road it drops to 20% (50% * 39%). There are hundreds of values you could put in this equation: accounting for the shooters you have, their ability to get open, whether the opposing team has better perimeter or paint defenders, what the defense gives you, how effective your team is getting open, etc. However from what I saw that night, the Knicks had a good open look (actually they had two if you consider Marbury passing on his attempt), so the odds should be just about equal to the player’s ability to hit the three.

Quick Trivia: In per game averages, which Knick is 4th in scoring, 3rd in rebounds, 2nd in free throws (attempted & made), and 1st in eFG%?

Is it me or are the Knicks forcing themselves to play Tim Thomas more? In his first 5 games, Thomas never went over 25 minutes. In the 4 games since, he’s done it 3 times. The Knicks don’t want his value to slide to nothing whether they’re trying to move him, or if he’s coming off the bench. The only problem is his time has come at the expense of Ariza’s. Inversely to Thomas’ minutes, Trevor played 20+ minutes in the Knicks’ first 5 games, but he hasn’t topped that mark since then.

The SF position has become even more cloudy, as Jerome Williams is starting to make a name for himself. Lenny Wilkens put him out there for 24 minutes against Nowitzki, and the Junk Yard Dog lived up to his name by hounding the 7 foot German. Throw in Penny Hardaway who according to 82games.com plays 1/3 of his minutes at SF, and New York has a real logjam. There doesn’t seem to be a clear solution in sight. Thomas and Hardaway are nearly untradeable due to their large contracts, while trading Ariza would be insane due to his potential. I’d hate to see Jerome Williams go, because his game is uniquely different from anyone else’s on the team. So maybe everyone stays until the summer, when Hardaway and Thomas become more attractive as $30M in expiring contracts.

How long before message boards fill up with Artest to (insert poster’s team) trade scenarios?

Getting back to Tim Thomas, his per minute averages are about the same across the board except for points & assists. The drop in his assists go hand in hand with his poor shooting (34% eFG%), because he’s really not involved in the offense these days. This makes me think the problem may not be physical due to the back injury he suffered last year. If it were, I would expect his stats based on physical ability (steals, rebounds) would see the biggest change.

Guest-KnickerBlogger David Crocket said Tim Thomas “may be staring over the edge of the same cliff Roberto Alomar dove off.” Since his decline seems to be related primarily to his shot, maybe he took a turn down Chuck Knoblauch Lane? OK, so he’s hasn’t regressed to the point where Thomas is hitting fans in the stands with his jumper. But he’s suddenly & inexplicably lost his ability to make a shot. Watching Thomas it’s hard to tell if he’s mentally unhappy, since his usual game looks uninspired (not rebounding, not hustling, etc.) It’ll be interesting to see if he can snap out of his shooting funk because everything else is right where it should be.

The Knicks’ still haven’t put out a good defensive effort with respect to shooting percentage. Their last two opponents shot an identical 49.4% (eFG), still well over the league average (47.3%). That makes them 3-0 when they outshot their opponent, and 1-5 when out-gunned.

Before the year started I predicted the Knicks odds of their first 20 games. It looked like they would be most likely to win between 8 & 9 games. Of their next 10 games, only 2 are against winning teams. They play the victorically challenged Hornets, the perennially awful Hawks twice, and expansion team Charlotte. Given that they play 8 games against losing teams, it wouldn’t be ridiculous for them to win 6 of their next 10 and bring their record up to a respectable 9-9.

Trivia Answer: Michael Sweetney. The Knicks second year PF is putting up great numbers, despite being 7th in the team in minutes. He’s also 2nd in blocks per game, and 4th in steals per game.

Knicks 93 Houston 92

How did the Knicks win last night? The easy answer was a heave-ho off the glass from what seemed like 40 feet. What Jamal Crawford described after the game as the biggest shot of his career, gave the Knicks their first road win of the 2005 season. New York didn’t look good early on. A 7 point Houston lead at the half grew to 11 points by the start the 4th quarter. However the Knicks came storming back with a 3-point barrage. Actually Penny Hardaway and Jamal Crawford combined for all 7 of New York’s treys. All of Penny’s came in the 4th quarter, and Crawford’s last trey gave the Knicks a 1 point edge as time expired.

The four factors tell an interesting story of the game that was highly entertaining to watch (for a Knicks fan anyway). Again New York failed to keep their opponent at a bay with regards to shooting percentage. The Rockets eFG% of 48.8% meant that the Knicks still haven’t forced a competitor under the league average (47.1%). On the positive side, it was their second best effort since they held the Clippers to 48.6% in their 110-96 victory at the Garden. The Rockets came into the game as the third best team in the league at defensive shooting percentage (43.6%), and Houston kept the Knicks to 44.3%. This meant the Rockets had the shooting percentage advantage in this game, and so far this year, New York has lost every single game when their opponents held this edge.

Two of the factors were very close, although slightly in the Knicks’ favor. Turnovers were kept remarkably low, as both teams combined for only 15, which is usually what the Knicks average on their own. New York also had a small advantage at the free throw line as well. The Knicks hit 16 free throws to the Rockets 12, a 4 point advantage.

What kept the Knicks in the game out was their superior rebounding. They snared 14 offensive boards, while keeping the Rockets to only 8. In fact, Nazr Mohammed pulled in 8 New York misses on his own. Kurt Thomas had a great game scoring 23 points, but he also had 14 total rebounds, 11 on the defensive end.

Beyond the four factors, there’s a lot to report on this game. You would have thought Van Gundy coached the Knicks, as four of their starters played 40 minutes or more. By the second half it was pretty much a 7 man playoff-style rotation. Anyone else think Lenny is feeling pressure to win games? Shockingly Nazr Mohammed was credited with 45 minutes. He’s usually on the bench because he hacks more than a 2600 conference. Nazr not only kept himself to 3 fouls, but he played Yao fantastically on defense. One of Mohammed’s fouls came on a block of Ming, that from the replay looked clean to me.

Tim Thomas only played 12 minutes, and you have to wonder how much longer he’ll be the starting SF. No I really mean it this time. His confidence is non-existent at this point. Even though he looked for his shot early, he couldn’t get his offense going and ended up with 2 points on 5 attempts. Ariza and Hardaway played the rest of the game at SF, and combined for 17 points in 44 minutes. I mentioned earlier that Penny scored primarily from beyond the arc. Ariza was just as effective without the long range shot. He had a traditional three pointer, and had 5 free throw attempts in just 20 minutes. This is one aspect of his game I really love, getting to the foul line. Although he does give it back, and had 3 fouls of his own. When he matures if he can reduce the number of fouls he commits, getting to the line will give his team a serious advantage.

Defense is still an issue, and Marbury seemed to put in a better effort tonight (as did most of the team, especially the Knicks’ big men). Charlie Ward put up a big goose egg for the Rockets, but on the other hand their diminutive PG Tyronn Lue scored 15. Most of the damage was done by the Rockets’ unstoppables McGrady and Yao. This is a defensive effort I could better stomach, as they gave the appearance of actually trying.

Kurt’s big game (23pts, 55% eFG, 14 REB) meant little time for Michael Sweetney. The big man from Georgetown did play some D against Yao Ming, but had little effect in his 10 minutes. The rumors about Sweetney being available as trade bait for other teams scare me, especially when his playing time dwindles like this. Two games ago he played 32 minutes, but he just doesn’t get large amounts of minutes on a regular basis. The situation is out of Sweetney’s control, as the Knicks will play Kurt and Nazr as long as they are effective. How bad is it when I’m dreaming of a Nellie-esque lineup that sends Tim Thomas to the bench, so the Knicks can start all 3 of their big men? This wouldn’t be the first time the Knicks put a PF in at SF, and at least in this incarnation the Knicks can drop back into a legal zone.

In the near future I would imagine Tim Thomas will be sent to the bench, and the Knicks try out figure what combination of Trevor Ariza, Penny Hardaway and the forgotten man Jerome Williams works at SF. I’m sure at first Wilkens might try to use Thomas a 6th man, to help him regain his composure, but right now I can’t predict anything positive for Tim. Isiah said that Sweetney would not be traded, and given the choice to believe an NBA trade rumor or the Knicks GM, I’ll stick with Zeke on this one. Sweetney will get whatever minutes trickle down from Thomas & Nazr. Some nights he’ll give us flashes of what’s to come, others he’ll be the fogotten man like last night.

For the time being the Knicks will live with their jump shooters. When Crawford and Marbury and Penny and Kurt are hitting iron, the Knicks offense will self-destruct like it did against the Spurs. However when those same shots are finding net, the Knicks will find themselves with happier endings like last night’s win against Houston.

Game 3: The Sixers

After the Knicks first loss, a hard fought battle on the road against one of the NBA’s best team, came their second loss, an effortless embarrassment on their home court. New York needs to do one simple thing tonight: outscore their opponent. No it isn’t a “must-win” game, but it’s a “they-should-really-win-this” game. The Sixers have been on a steady decline since their 2001 Finals appearance, winning only 33 games last season. Philly represents the Knicks’ easiest challenge to date.

What am I going to watch for in tonight’s game? First is if Nazr Mohammed & Tim Thomas decide to start their season. Neither has made any impact so far, and I’m sure both of them are tired of reading the name Keith Van Horn in the papers. Next thing is if the Knicks are challenging the Sixers’ shots. Their opponents eFG% has been through the roof in the first two games, and I wonder if this is going to be a season long trend or if it’s just an early aberration. As always I’m going to see how much Sweetney & Ariza play. Sweetney hurt his thumb in the Boston game, but I’m more curious how the Knicks’ future continue their development. Finally I’ll wonder if this is the day Lenny Wilkens takes my idea & institutes a trap/press defense.

On another note, there’s been some good blogging going on early on in the year. These Days tops my list, and not just because Shaddax approved of my trap/press idea for the Knicks. If you like basketball, baseball, football, soccer, boxing, or great writing you’ll like his site. Bulls Blog is getting press from the mainstream, which means now is your time to request Matt to write an article about the Bulls on your fantasy team. (Thanks Matt!) Keeping it real for the influx of ex-Americans who can’t tolerate “4 more years” is Scott of Raptorblog, while Jeff is hoping the Celts will make it three championship teams in one year in Beantown. If you have a fantasy team, you might want to check out Gimme the Rock, or maybe Aaron Gleeman (the most famous blogger in the world), if Blogger doesn’t conspire to keep his blog NBA free.

Check them out, as well as the links along the side of the page. There’s lots of great writers out there. Just come back tomorrow, hopefully for a recap of a Knicks win.

Celtics 107 Knicks 73

I love getting email. This one comes from occasional guest-blogger Dave:

a few quick impressions after the opening home loss…

1. the field goal defense, after only two games, is atrocious. the knicks are unable to take anything away from the offense. is there a weaker defensive pg, sg, sf combo than marbury, crawford, and tim thomas in the entire NBA? (denver’s miller, lenard, and anthony are the only ones i can think of that even come close.)

In the last line on my Wednesday column, I said we’re going to have to watch the Knicks’ opponents shooting percentage. That night T-Wolves shot well (54% eFG%) against New York. Kevin Garnett was Minnesota’s leading scorer, but 5 of the next 6 T-Wolf scorers played either PG, SG, or SF. Watching the game tonight (as much as I could stomach) the Celtics looked unstoppable at times. Boston’s eFG% was through the roof (59% eFG%). Again most of the scorers (6 of the top 8) are from those same 3 positions: PGs (Payton & Banks), SGs (Davis) SF (Pierce & Welsh). The Celtics combined stats at the 1, 2 or 3 were a gaudy 75PTS, 29-47, 66.0% eFG%, 1.41PSA.

As always with defense it’s hard to pinpoint exactly who is to blame. Dave has a great point that the Knicks have 3 weak defenders at the smaller spots. However the Knicks lack interior defense from the big men as well. The perimeter guys did score, but I clearly recall two occasions where Pierce & Davis were having their way in the paint. Something tells me if Deke was on the court, this wouldn’t have happened.

Denver’s perimeter defense may be weak with Miller, ‘Melo and Boykins (who’s been getting major minutes with Lenard out), but at least they have some help behind them with Martin & Camby.

2. i’m beginning to think this isn’t just a slow start for tim thomas, and that perhaps his back still isn’t quite right. lenny’s decision to go with shanderson and ariza as the small forwards almost exclusively in the 2nd half when he could have reinserted thomas to try and help him find his rhythm concerns me. if it’s the back this is obviously a really big problem since thomas doesn’t defend, rebound, or pass even when he’s healthy.

Granted Pierce can make a lot of people look bad, but Thomas looked horrible. At one point Pierce was shooting a three pointer, and Thomas closed the distance, but didn’t bother to raise his arms. He wasn’t close enough to block the shot, but he could have easily gotten a hand in Pierce’s mug. One of three things was going on there. Either Thomas was really careful about giving Pierce’s dentist some more work, his back is bad enough that it hurts him to lift his arms, or he’s just in a funk. Right now I’m hoping he’s just an anti-dentite.

Seriously, being hurt might explain Thomas’ poor play, but since there is no public evidence of an injury, I have to go with random chance. Everybody has two bad games in a row a few times during the season, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that Thomas’ has started the season off this way. Hopefully he’ll snap out of it on Tuesday.

3. trevor ariza’s going to be a very good defender. he already gets his hands on a ton of balls. more importantly, he puts a lot of pressure on the man with the ball. jamal crawford, on the other hand, is a much worse defender than i’d anticipated.

Agreed. Ariza is real quick & has a good nose for the ball. My personal feeling is Wilkens should try to trap and press more, especially when Ariza is in the game. This way he might get an honest defensive effort from Marbury and Crawford. The only problem with this style is the Knicks’ guards would tire quickly, and right now their depth at guard is a real concern. Penny did not play tonight, and Allan Houston is waiting for government sponsored health care. The Knicks backup PG is their starting SG, and an audible moan can be heard from the crowd when Moochie Norris or Shanderson enter the game.

I really haven’t paid too much attention to Crawford’s defense individually, as the whole Knick team has a problem stopping their opponents. Crawford, Marbury, and Tim Thomas look like they have to tools to play good defense, but just don’t apply them. That’s why I think taking an aggressive approach might get their game up to speed on that end of the floor.

4. i wondered how sweetney would fare against shot-blockers like lafrentz and blount. he had a difficult time getting the shot off but he did draw fouls. (most of his points came against the rookie al jefferson.) if he can get into the mid 70s ft shooting he could average 15 ppg.

If Michael Sweetney can get more minutes, he could easily average 15PPG. He’s looked good so far this season. I don’t think his size is much of an issue, because of his girth, reach, and strong hands (when the ball is already lodged in there). Even tonight when he went up against two shot blocker, he was able to draw the foul, and put points on the board. He needs to improve his free throw shooting, but if anything is limiting his per game scoring, it’s a lack of time.

One thing I did notice is that the Knicks don’t feed Sweetney the ball in the post often. In fact tonight I can’t remember anytime where dumping the ball into the post was the primary option. Hopefully Wilkens will correct this in the near future. So many good things can happen when you have a strong post player. The perimeter guys can get open looks when the defense collapses, drawing fouls is always good thing, and the slashers can cut towards the hoop for a quick score. Hopefully Sweetney will get more minutes and take a more prominent role in the offense.

*eFG% = Efficient field goal percentage, this is like FG%, but gives a proper bonus for three pointers made. (FGM + 1/2*3PM)/FGA
**PSA = Points per Shot Attempt. Unlike eFG%, it includes free throws. PTS/(FGA+FTA*.44)

One Game Pessimism

Just the other day I was talking about the Knicks inevitable slow start, and made the following prediction:

“Message boards will have plenty of fans will write off the Knicks for their poor start in December and in April at least one commentator will tout them as the “hot” team heading into the playoffs.”

Well I should have included print columnists, since Mitch Lawrence has already penciled in the Knicks for a losing season. Lawrence can’t make up his mind whether he is angry at the NBA re-alignment, the Knicks, Lenny Wilkens rotation, or the Nets fire sale. Judging by this column, anything short of a guaranteed championship team would draw the ire of Lawrence.

The worst line of Lawrence’s column is:

“As bad as Tim Thomas and Nazr Mohammed were, it doesn’t begin to explain how or why we got a major dose of Michael Sweetney and somebody named Trevor Ariza.”

Actually their poor play is exactly why Ariza & Sweetney saw so much time (if 18 & 23 minutes is a “major dose”). Lawrence prefers Wilkens to play “proven players“. The Knicks other options at SF were Shandon Anderson and Jerome Williams. The only thing they have proved is that they have no offensive skills, while Tim Thomas (3-13) and Nazr Mohammed (29 minutes 5PTS) were busy proving that they didn’t belong on the court Wednesday night. If that’s what Mitch Lawrence means by “proven”, then I’ll pass.

The Knicks finally have two rookies that can develop into NBA talent. Michael Sweetney is the Knicks’ best first round pick since 1994 (Charlie Ward), and you’d have to go back almost 20 years since they had a second round pick that was good enough to play (1985 – Gerald Wilkens). Sweetney is by all accounts ready to start at PF. As for Ariza, he’s only played well ever since joining the Knicks. He finished the game with 8 points (4-7), 5 boards, 3 assists, and 2 steals.

The Knicks won 39 games last year, but it was after a horrendous 9-18 start and a major facelift. Mitch Lawrence pretends this year’s team is the same one that finished with only 30 wins just 2 seasons ago. If you want to see how far the Knicks have come in a year, look at last year’s box score. The Knicks lost to Orlando in OT. Yes the same Magic that started off 1-19. Shandon Anderson and Howard Eisley played a (gulp!) combined 58 minutes.

Instead of being forced to play cap-killers to justify their bloated contracts, we’ve turned to using players because of their potential to contribute. This year, Knick fans can argue about what seed the Knicks can be in April, instead of whom to draft in June. The Knicks aren’t among the NBA elite, but there are only a handful of teams that can lay claim to that status. Let’s wait until the Knicks play half a season before writing their eulogy. New Yorkers should be happy that the team playing in this city is not the Hawks or the Clippers, which is where the team was heading at the beginning of last year.

Knicks Roster Analysis – Power Forwards

After some excellent insights from both Bob Chaikin and Dave, we’re on to the Knicks’ power forwards. If you haven’t read my point guard analysis, that’s probably worth reading before this post so that you understand what I’m doing here.

Kurt Thomas

Year    MPG   PPG   RPG  APG   TS%  Reb%  Pass   Off   Def  Win%  WARP  Value  Salary
01-02 33.8 13.9 9.1 1.1 .542 15.6 0.03 89.9 90.8 .502 5.9
02-03 31.8 14.0 7.9 2.0 .511 14.5 0.23 89.4 89.8 .484 4.5
03-04 31.9 11.1 8.3 1.9 .503 15.0 0.19 87.8 89.5 .457 3.0 $3.446 $5.885

Last Thursday, before the draft, I wrote that a deal of Thomas for Jerome James and the 12th pick would be good for both the Sonics and the Knicks. You’ll have to excuse me for that one; I was apparently delusional because of writing too much about the draft. Thomas’ game is showing some steady signs of decay, both in terms of traditional statistics and more advanced metrics. Last year, his offensive game cratered, as he was very inefficient without using many possessions. His rebounding has been consistent, but neither that nor his defense is good enough to keep him valuable unless he’s scoring better than he did last year.

The real reason a Thomas trade wouldn’t have been good for the Sonics (or most anyone else) is the extension he signed during last season. Thomas is now signed up for three years after this one, presumably with standard 10%-12.5% raises. That means by 2007-08, Thomas will be pulling in $8.09 million. He’ll also be 35 then, and, given the current trend, it’s tough to see Thomas being a particularly valuable player. The raises in contracts can often make them a lot worse than they look. You look at the salary numbers I report above, and Thomas looks overpaid, but not drastically so. The problem is that his salary and production will likely be headed in different directions in the years to come.

There was a school of thought that Thomas’ numbers would improve with him returned to power forward instead of playing out of position at center, as he did almost exclusively during 2002-03. That was pretty clearly not the case on offense, which is backed up by 82games.com’s by-position data. Thomas defended power forwards better — especially when you take into account that power forwards in general have higher PERs than centers — but I doubt the difference is big enough to overcome the greater positional scarcity in the middle. Thomas is simply more valuable as a center.

What can Thomas do to get back on track? The biggest thing would be getting to the line more. Thomas is a good foul shooter for a big man, hitting 83.5% last year, but he doesn’t get to show off the skill very often. When Thomas was at his most efficient, 2001-02, his FTM/FGA ratio was 0.23; the last two years, it’s dipped to 0.13.

From a Knicks perspective, I think Thomas would be best utilized as a combo four/five, coming off the bench behind the starters at both positions. He’s productive enough to keep around, but if the Knicks get an offer that doesn’t return them an equally bad contract (read: Jerry Stackhouse), they have to seriously consider it, especially if they can use him in a multi-player deal to upgrade either small forward or center.

Mike Sweetney

Year    MPG   PPG   RPG  APG   TS%  Reb%  Pass   Off   Def  Win%  WARP  Value  Salary
03-04 11.8 4.3 3.7 0.3 .544 18.3 0.02 88.1 89.3 .563 1.7 $3.266 $1.979

It was about a year ago that I fell in love with Sweetney. He had the best college stats of any player in the 2003 Draft, and in my newfound infatuation with these numbers, I was desperately hoping he’d be left on the board when my Seattle SuperSonics picked 12th. Unfortunately, even a blind squirrel finds acorns now and again, and Scott Layden scooped Sweetney up three picks ahead of the Sonics. It might just have been the best move of Layden’s time in New York.

Sweetney spent the first half of the season buried, but finally found some playing time after Lenny Wilkens took over the New York helm and acquitted himself quite nicely. That 54.4% true shooting percentage is outstanding for a rookie, and Sweetney was a fabulous rebounder, pulling down nearly one in every five available rebounds. He was also one of the few Knicks not to embarrass themselves during the playoffs.

One of my few concerns about Sweetney was whether he could translate his ability to get to the free-throw line to the NBA, but that wasn’t really a problem. Entering this season, he has breakout written all over him (not literally; that would be strange).

Want some incredibly exciting news, Knicks fans? Here are Sweetney’s best age-21 comparables. Number one? Zach Randolph. Number two? Carlos Boozer. If I’m running the Knicks, I do whatever I can to ensure that Sweetney is playing at least 30 minutes per game next season, and let the results speak for themselves. Most Improved Player isn’t a bad guess, and I’ll pick Sweetney so long as a path is cleared for him to start.

Vin Baker

 Year    MPG   PPG   RPG  APG   TS%  Reb%  Pass   Off   Def  Win%  WARP  Value  Salary
01-02 31.1 14.1 6.4 1.3 .517 12.1 0.05 89.2 91.8 .436 1.3
02-03 18.1 5.2 3.8 0.6 .531 11.9 0.02 87.6 90.8 .413 0.3
03-04 24.3 9.8 5.2 1.2 .530 12.2 0.11 88.9 90.1 .472 2.0 $3.131 UFA

Before I say anything about Baker, I want to emphasize that I am as far from possible as objective about Baker. He is one of my least favorite players in NBA history because of his time in Seattle, and as much as I may try to divorce myself from that, it still factors into my thinking.

To demonstrate that, I’ll start by saying I find it a validation of my WARP ratings that they reflect Baker’s uselessness prior to last year more accurately than do my linear-weights ratings. The 2003-04 rating reflects an interesting mix of Baker’s numbers in Boston and in New York. With the Celtics, he was rated at a .494 winning percentage and 2.0 WARP; in New York, those dipped to .393 and 0.0.

A lot of credit for Baker’s great start to the season went to his new svelte physique. Well, amazing as Baker’s transformation was — he looked different facially, he was so skinny — I don’t think it was the real reason he was improved. Baker’s fitness was never really an issue in Seattle after the lockout season; every year we heard how he was in better shape and was going to turn it around, but he never dead. I think, instead, that the noticeable uptick in play stems from the fact that Baker was, presumably, sober. By the time he got to New York, one has to imagine (hope?) he was still sober, but he also hadn’t played for some time and didn’t have a training camp to work his way back into the swing of things.

After his short stint with the Knicks, Baker is a free agent again. There is clearly interest out there in him; big guys are in such short supply, especially in the Eastern Conference, that somebody will give him a chance. I can’t see investing too much money in him, because of the history with alcohol. Even if it weren’t for that, Baker will turn 33 in November, and age alone will take its toll. Thomas seems interested enough by Baker that a return is a possibility, but I don’t see the Knicks gaining much by that.

Othella Harrington

 Year    MPG   PPG   RPG  APG   TS%  Reb%  Pass   Off   Def  Win%  WARP  Value  Salary
01-02 20.3 7.7 4.5 0.5 .567 12.9 0.01 89.7 92.0 .437 1.2
02-03 25.0 7.7 6.4 0.8 .563 15.1 0.04 88.8 92.0 .440 1.6
03-04 15.6 4.6 3.2 0.5 .546 11.7 0.02 87.0 91.3 .357 -0.8 $1.156 $3.150

Before last Thursday’s Draft, some friends and I were trying to make sense of Al Jefferson’s ridiculous high school stats, including better than 42 points per game (besides the fact that high school stats are only one step above meaningless because of the inconsistent level of competition), and one mentioned that Harrington averaged similar stats in the same league. Well, apparently that’s not quite true — he only averaged something like 29 points and 25 rebounds per game — but I had not realized that Harrington was an incredible prospect who was MVP of the McDonald’s All-American game in 1992. Maybe because I was 10 then. I also didn’t know he averaged 16.8 points and 8.8 rebounds as a freshman and won Big East Rookie of the Year before his numbers trailed off, presumably because of Allen Iverson’s arrival on the scene after his sophomore season.

In the NBA, Harrington has found his niche as a high-efficiency, medium to low volume scorer who doesn’t offer a ton on defense and the boards. Harrington’s true shooting percentages are great, but they overrate him, because he’s assisted on a high percentage of his baskets (66% last season) and rarely picks up assists of his own. Harrington wasn’t as efficient last season and also posted the worst rebounding season of his career in terms of rebounds per minute. As a result, he went from an acceptable rotation player to a guy who didn’t deserve to see major minutes.

Harrington’s contract is one of the few on the Knicks that isn’t a problem; he’s signed for just one more year at slightly more than $3.15 million, which is more than he’d pull on the open market but not horrible. He might be included in some sort of deal, but otherwise he’ll play some spot minutes off the bench up front.

Kevin Pelton writes “Page 23” for Hoopsworld.com on a semi-regular basis. He can be reached at kpelton@hoopsworld.com. Check back Thursday for his analysis of the Knicks’ centers.