Knicks First 2008 Summer League Game

Today the Knicks will play their first summer league game, which will be at 4pm EST. Looking over the team, I’m having a hard time figuring out who the starting 5 will be. New York does have 5 players who are on their roster: Robinson, Gallinari, Chandler, Balkman, and Collins. The obvious choice is to make them the starters.

However, this may not be the best decision. The Knicks will want to give a lot of run to their first round draft pick Danilo Gallinari. Gallo would (at least according to the heights listed by the Knicks) be the tallest man on the court, which would make him the defacto center. Unfortunately it may not be a great idea to put your European teenager at center in his first professional contest. Of the three forwards Wilson Chandler has the best bulk/height ratio (230lbs, 6-8), and Balkman has the most quickness. So you may see Renaldo at SF, Gallo at PF, and Chandler at C.

This smaller lineup does make sense, especially considering that D’Antoni likes to play quick, but what if they face a team with a rather large NBA front court player? Today that question will be answered when they face the Cavs whose summer roster features Robert “Tractor” Traylor. One way to combat a larger player is to run more, but if the pace slows down and Traylor is eating the team up on the inside, the Knicks can use summer league veteran Paul Miller or 7 footer Zhang Songtao. On the other hand if the team wanted to give Gallinari a taste of what he might face at power forward in the NBA, they just might play him at center and force him to defend Traylor.

As for the back court, the team wouldn’t have invited Nate Robinson to Las Vegas and not play him. Last year they specifically asked Robinson to be the point guard, forcing him to share the ball more. If they do that this year, Mardy Collins might not be starting. Collins is an awful shooter and playing him at the 2 would be a disaster.

If they use Collins at the point Nate would slide to the 2, but that seems counterproductive to what the team would like to do during the season. Walsh has publicly stated his like for Jamal Crawford, and it’s been reported that the team would want him to concentrate on being a shooting guard not a point guard. If the Knicks buyout or send Stephon Marbury home, they only have Duhon, Robinson, and Collins as point guards on the roster. Considering the possibility that Collins may be released to sign with the Latvian team of his choice (VEF RIGA might be a good fit) then it definitely doesn’t make sense to have Robinson waste time at the shooting guard.

Hence my choice for starting shooting guard would be the 6-4 22 year old Von Wafer, who has the most recent NBA experience (29 games for Denver and Portland last year and 46 games total over three years). According to his D-League and college stats Wafer is a strong three point shooter, and would be a better fit for D’Antoni’s offense than Collins. Other options might be Antonio Graves, a combo guard for Pitt and France’s Pau-Orthez, and Marcus Hall a long range bomber who connected on 38% of his treys at Colorado last year. Graves was supposedly a good defender in college, and seems to have done well (at least in one game) in France. Hall doesn’t have Wafer’s professional experience or and at 6-2 is a little undersized for an NBA shooting guard.

The main focus of the Knicks summer will be on Gallinari, but where he plays and who he plays with may make for some interesting sub-plots.

Knicks 2008 Summer League Roster

No Player Pos Ht Wt Born AGE College/Country 2007-08 Team Yrs Pro
32 Renaldo Balkman F 6’8 208 7/14/84 23 South Carolina New York (NBA) 2
21 Wilson Chandler F 6’8 230 5/19/87 21 DePaul New York (NBA) 1
25 Mardy Collins G 6’6 220 8/4/84 23 Temple New York (NBA) 2
8 Danilo Gallinari F 6’9 225 8/8/88 19 Italy Armani Jeans (Italy) R
18 Dan Grunfeld G/F 6’5 198 2/7/84 24 Stanford Valencia (Spain) R
7 Antonio Graves G 6’2 190 4/17/85 23 Pittsburgh Pittsburgh (CBA) R
6 Marcus Hall G 6’2 175 8/6/85 22 Colorado Colorado (NCAA) R
36 Delonte Holland F 6’7 220 3/2/82 26 DePaul Cimberio Varese (Italy) R
30 Brandon Hunter F 6’7 266 11/24/80 27 Ohio Angelico Biella (Italy) 3
1 Antione Johnson G 6’1 185 9/21/85 22 Albany Gazi (Turkey) R
40 Paul Miller F/C 6’10 250 11/17/82 25 Wichita State SPEC Polonia (Poland) R
2 Anthony Roberson G 6’2 188 2/14/83 25 Florida Hapoel (Israel) 2
4 Nate Robinson G 5’9 180 5/31/84 24 Washington New York (NBA) 3
5 Von Wafer G 6’4 195 7/21/85 22 Florida State Portland (NBA) 3
55 Zhang Songtao C 6’11 212 10/27/87 20 China Beijing (China-ABA) R

The Knick Are Tanking, So Let’s Get Tanked

Sorry for the lack of updates, but there seems to be little to write about. I can’t tell you how many columns I’ve started that’s ended in the waste bin. I’m not going to rehash any of the arguments I’ve made 100 times this year. I guess this team has just sucked the creativity out of me, yet again.

So for the time being, I introduce the 2008 Official “The Knick Are Tanking, So Let’s Get Tanked” Drinking Game. The game is designed so that you can somehow get through the rest of the season.

Drink Once:
Zach Randolph takes a two point jumpshot
David Lee rebound
Any opponent takes an uncontested shot from the paint
Knicks turn the ball over
Balkman misses a free throw

Drink Twice:
David Lee makes a jumpshot
Zach Randolph takes a trey
The announcers say anything regarding whether Isiah Thomas is sitting or standing
Balkman blocks a shot
At the end of any quarter if Quentin Richardson is shooting less than 50%
Mardy Collins enters the game
Jamal Crawford shoots from the paint

Drink Thrice:
Malik Rose gets his shot blocked
Nate Robinson gets an assist
Randolph Morris enters the game
Wilson Chandler blocks a shot
Balkman commits a foul
Everytime Jeffries’ point total exceeds a new multiple of 3 (so every 3,6,9,12,etc).

Drink Quice:
At the end of any quarter when the Knicks use an isolation as their last shot
The first time the Knicks are trailing by 10+ points
If you answer the trivia question wrong

Oh and drink responsibly folks.

Real Point Guards

Unfortunately for Knick fans there’s little to say this Monday morning. With the trade deadline passed, talking trades is nearly pointless until the season ends. There probably won’t be any major changes until the offseason, because if Isiah Thomas lasted this long he’ll finish off the season as the Knick head coach. As for on the court action, there isn’t much to watch. While I’d love to see what Balkman, Chandler, and Morris can do with real playing time, Isiah seems intent on letting them rot on the bench. There’s such a lack of creativity from the coaching side that when Randolph was unable to play Thomas chose the rail thin Jeffries to start at power forward. There’s really nothing to say about that move without expletives.

So with no reason to watch the Knicks, I’ve started to turn my attention to the rest of the NBA. I caught parts of two games this weekend: Hornets vs. Jazz and Mavs vs. Lakers. There’s one thing that really stuck out at my about both teams, the defensive play of two point guards.

Watching Jason Kidd and Chris Paul play reminded me on why both are considered to be among the best point guards in the game. It wasn’t so much their offensive game, but watching them on defense was a treat. Kidd’s assignment for some critical plays in the game was Kobe Bryant. And although Kobe blew past him at least once, Kidd was able to harass him off the ball. With a few ticks in regulation and the game tied, the Lakers tried to inbound the ball to Kobe, but Kidd was able to deflect it to force overtime. Additionally the former Net was active on the glass grabbing 6 rebounds, 5 on the defensive end. Although Kidd is no longer able to play great man defense, he contributed with ball denial and rebounding.

As for Chris Paul there was one play that stood out in my head. Paul and his man were isolated on one side of the court. The Hornets guard made sure to stand in a position where he could see his player and the rest of the court. As the Jazz guard held the ball and the play was developing, Paul was constantly turning his head from his man to the rest of the players behind him. Despite standing in the same spot, Paul was playing excellent defense by preparing for what might occur.

These plays were a joy to watch, because the Knick guards in the Isiah era have been particularly lacking on the defense. I couldn’t imagine Crawford, Marbury, or Robinson being as active and aware on defense as Paul or Kidd were. As for rebounding, only Nate Robinson likes to clean the glass. The last time Crawford had 6 or more rebounds was in December of last year. And this despite playing nearly 42 minutes a night. I think watching players like Kidd and Paul are the reason why I find myself wanting to see more playing time for guards like Mardy Collins and Frank Williams. It’s not because I think Collins and Williams are/were particularly valuable (that’s especially true in Collins’ case), but because they bring an element that has been missing in New York for some time.

Knicks 104 Warriors 106

	Pace (Poss)	Eff	eFG	FT/FG	OREB%	TOr
NYK	94.7 (92.2)	105.1	45.9%	21.2	27.9	14.2
GSW			110.7	48.8%	26.5	31.3	14.0

Yet again the Knicks bobble, then catch up. They outscore the Warriors 59-47 in the middle two quarters, but are outscored 59-45 in the 1st & 4th quarters. The culprits: Curry & Randolph. The Knicks were -10 for the 18 minutes Eddy Curry was on the court and -12 for Zach’s 33 minutes. It really kills me that these guys played poorly, but I’m not surprised by it. Both players should have been able to score big against the smaller frontcourt of Golden State. They should have been able to draw double teams and opened up the perimeter for the Knicks. But Curry was unable to keep himself on the court, and didn’t notch a single assist. Randolph had 6 assists, but it seemed he was happy to stay on the perimeter for most of the night. He only hit 4 of 11 shots, hardly the results you’d expect from a low-post bruiser.

I like Mardy Collins getting minutes, especially at the start. This is because the Knicks are going to start Crawford, Richardson, Randolph and Curry. That group doesn’t need a scorer like Robinson, they need defense, badly. Personally I’d rather see Nate & Balkman in the starting 5, but I also wish my credit card bills were smaller. Before the game Collins’ PER was an anemic 2.6, but I think he brings defense and rebounding – something this team needs.

Robinson played well, despite his poor shooting. He’s probably still bothered by that cut above his eye given to him by David Lee. And I like the effort given by Balkman. He only missed one shot, and filled up the stat sheet like he typically does when given minutes: 11pts, 4reb, 1ast, 2stl, and 3blk. At times Balkman covered Davis, at other times he was the PF on the court.

All 5 of the Golden State starters played at least 35 minutes, with 3 of them surpassing 41. I guess you can throw out the notion that the Knick reserves only do well against the other team’s reserves, that’s if you had that notion in your head. The Knicks keep losing games by doling out the minutes by contract — but if that nets them a few more pingpong balls, I can deal with it for the time being. At times I tape the games when I can’t see them live. Maybe I should time it so that I only catch the middle half? This way I don’t have to depressed at the start or ending of Knick games.

Ankle Saves Face?

The Post, along with other outlets, is reporting that Stephon Marbury is “a lock” to have surgery on a chronically fracutred bone spur in his ankle. Although MRI results were not available at the time of writing, prior X-Rays have revealed the fracture.

The surgery is quite likely to end Marbury’s season. If the condition is both chronic and repetitive stress-induced it is possible, maybe even probable, that Marbury walks away from the game altogether; not unlike Allan Houston.

In an odd sense, should Marbury undergo season-ending surgery, it may prove a face-saving blessing in disguise for him personally. With all hope of any sort of glorious return to his hometown team pretty well dashed, perhaps the best thing for Marbury (and the team) is for him to finish his Knick career quietly.

For the team, at present the Bizarro Knicks have played well. But, let’s not blister our palms patting them on the back just yet. As one reader points out, even Larry Brown’s Knicks managed to win six in a row. Nevertheless, the recent play of Nate Robinson has been heartening–particularly the appearance of the improved passing we saw in the summer league. (As a team the turnovers during this stretch have been low as KB pointed out in an earlier post.) Crawford has also managed to string together a couple very efficient shooting nights as well. Should Marbury leave the rotation for good, the immediate concern is PG depth. Crawford is already playing just under 41 mpg (tied for 2nd in the NBA). Without Marbury, either Robinson or Crawford will need to be on the floor at all times. (Otherwise Thomas will need to depend on Mardy Collins to contribute.)

Presumably, they’ll cross this bridge when they come it, but long term the Knicks will need to determine what to do with Marbury. Keep him on the bench next season? Attempt to move his contract? Attempt to buy him out and keep his contract in order to remove it from the cap next after season?

Two Changes Isiah Might Consider

So far the start of the 2008 season hasn’t been kind to New York. In fact it’s more like the new year has reared back and given the Knicks a swift kick in the groin. The Knicks have lost 8 of their first 10 games, the last two by a combined 58 points. While it’s easy to point to the off the court chemistry problems in the Big Apple, a large part of the problem has been their on the court chemistry.

One problem seems to be Isiah Thomas’ rotation, which doesn’t seem to maximize the talent he has. One of the Knicks’ problems is the lack of use of their younger players. Martin Johnson of the NY Sun noted this yesterday:

Even Thomas’s most fervent detractors admit that he drafts very well, yet it’s utterly mystifying why he doesn’t capitalize on that skill by playing his rookies more. Not only will they save him from playing players out of position, but they may further burnish his resume.

However the problem goes deeper than just playing the Knicks’ neophytes, there is an overall lack of a team concept. In yesterday’s game thread Ted Nelson noted:

It seems to me like their attitude towards building a team is: we?ll just get the most “talented,” “athletic” players and let them play. The attitude of the coach, interestingly enough, seems to be the same.

Watching the games, Isiah seems to have two major areas of weakness when putting players on the floor. The first is his starting lineup which he tends to end games with (that is when the Knicks aren’t down by 20 or more points). Thomas’ starting lineup tends to be Marbury, Crawford, Randolph, Curry, and whoever is healthy enough to play small forward. Usually that’s Quentin Richardson or Fred Jones. The problem with this lineup is obvious: too many players that require the ball to score and too few that can man their position properly on defense. The frontcourt issue is easy, sub in David Lee for Zach Randolph. I can hear the eyes rolling of KnickerBlogger readers everywhere, both from the pro-Lee and the anti-Lee crowd. However this is a no-brainer.

A Randolph/Curry pairing was suppose to create a twin tower effect, giving the Knicks a one-two punch on the blocks. However the actual effect seems to be Curry forcing Randolph out of the post and into mid-range territory. Randolph’s shooting percentages (40% eFG, 44% TS) are well below not only his career averages, but the league averages as well. If you’re a defense facing Zach Randolph, you want to force him out to the perimeter instead of the low post, and this is exactly what Curry is doing. It’s not to say that the pair can’t coexist on the court (possibly by moving Curry to the high-post, but that’s a thought for another day), but for the time being it’s clearly not working. Not only would Lee complement the high usage starters, but Randolph would provide potent scoring off the bench for the reserves. In other words it makes sense to let Randolph anchor the bench than play an out of tune second fiddle on the first team.

While it’s obvious that Quentin Richardson isn’t helping out the first team, especially with his sore elbow, another area to look at are the guard spots. One idea would be starting Fred Jones instead of one of the guards. Jones has started when Richardson has been unavailable due to injury, but the problem has been starting him at small forward. Two sites have Fred Jones listed at 6-2, while another has him at 6-4. Either size is too small for the swingman spot, but the former slam dunk champ is athletic enough to be a good defender at the guard spot. And unlike Mardy Collins, it’s unconceivable that Jones could knock down a jumper here and there.

Isiah’s other rotational deficiency is his desire to play small-ball. Frequently he’s been putting out three guard rotations, something he likes to do with the diminutive Robinson. But Thomas went over the small-ball deep end against the Warriors last night when he put Robinson, Marbury, Crawford, Collins, and Randolph on the floor at the same time. That’s right Mardy Collins was playing power forward. Isiah’s small ball tactic doesn’t work because the guards don’t particularly complement each other. All the Knick guards excel when attacking the hoop, and other than Robinson, none are particularly adept at hitting the outside shot.

The three guard lineup also hurts the team on defense, where the guards’ poor defense is exacerbated by their lack of size. The Knicks would be better suited throwing a couple of swingmen on the court. A trio of made of Balkman, Richardson, Chandler, Jeffries, or Lee flanked by a guard (Robinson, Crawford) and a big man (Randolph, Curry, or Lee) could make an athletic group. This team would be ideal for a press/trap style of play and they would be able to play passable, if not strong, defense. Thomas could mix & match depending on opponent. Balkman or Jeffries would be able to shut down shooting guards with their length. Balkman is especially adroit at giving shooters trouble. Meanwhile Richardson or Chandler could provide shooting on the offensive end. However with a Robinson/Randolph combo (per se), the Knicks should have too much trouble generating shots on the offensive end.

It’s clear that Thomas’ faults as a manager go further than forging a relationship with his point guard. If he wants to turn this season around, he should find a way to make his players complement each other. These might be two ways Isiah might go about doing that. Certainly they’re no worse than anything the Knicks have done so far.