Getting Ready for the Draft

Given all the craziness surrounding the Knicks these days who the heck can say what Thomas has planned for the draft, if anything? The best bet?not to be mistaken for a good bet, mind you?is that the upcoming draft will constitute only a small part of the roster changes to take place this summer. The Knicks may stand pat with their two late first round picks (#20 and #29; no second round picks) and do some wheeling and dealing after the free agent period opens. Rumors also identify the Knicks as one of several teams looking to wheel and deal on draft night, packaging multiple picks in order to move up. Of course, the actual player personnel moves may prove the least interesting draft night story.

Mr. Orange, of selltheknicks.com, is planning a protest at Madison Square Garden, and is getting pretty good coverage of his efforts. Orange is hoping to embarrass the erstwhile Knick brass on national TV and perhaps motivate David Stern to take a visible mediation role between the feuding front office and estranged coach Larry Brown. Of course, by draft night Larry Brown may have moved from merely estranged to officially unemployed. The Knicks may be introducing Isiah Thomas, or in a rumor that has Gator Nation all abuzz, former Knick guard Billy Donovan as the new coach. [Update: As of 10:15am EDT Thursday ESPN is reporting that Larry Brown has been fired and replaced as head coach by Isiah Thomas.] So pull up a chair. Throw some popcorn in the microwave and check it out on June 28th (Wednesday) at 7pm EDT on ESPN. It should make for good TV. Oh yeah, the Knicks might also draft a couple players.

Assuming that Thomas keeps the picks, who are some of the players he might consider? In fairness the draft has been the one area of Isiah?s tenure that has been a qualified success. He has generally been faithful to a ?best player available? approach. That’s probably the best approach for finding value at 20 and 29. In recent years a number of serviceable players have been drafted there including Jameer Nelson (#20, Denver) and David Harrison (#29, Indiana) in 2004, Dahntay Jones (#20, Memphis) and Josh Howard (#29, Dallas) in 2003, Kareem Rush (#20, LA Lakers) in 2002, Brendon Haywood (#20, Cleveland) in 2001, Craig ?Speedy? Claxton (#20, Philadelphia) and Mark Madsen (#29, LA Lakers) in 2000.

Is another Josh Howard lurking in this year?s draft at the end of the first round? Here?s a position-by-position look at players likely to be available at 20 or 29 (in alphabetical order) with links to player profiles on NBAdraft.net.

Point Guards. The Knicks have a number of players on the roster who all play minutes at point guard (i.e., Marbury, Francis, Crawford, and Robinson). Nonetheless, this is a deep draft for point guards. A number of players may be available who could contribute, particularly if one of the current guards is moved.

  1. Mardy Collins (PG/SG/SF, Temple) ? reminds me a lot of Aaron McKie circa, 2000.
  2. Quincy Douby (PG/SG, Rutgers) ? everything I?ve read makes him sound like current Atlanta sharpshooter Saleem Stoudamire.
  3. Jordan Farmar (PG, UCLA) ? at 20 he?s very nice value; earlier than that he?s a gamble because he?s pretty good at everything not great at anything.
  4. Kyle Lowry (PG, Villanova) ? little guy who lacks Nate Robinson?s absurd athleticism but makes better decisions.
  5. Rajon Rondo (PG, Kentucky) ? likely would fit best on a team that does not need points from that position; plays NBA ready defense right now.

Shooting Guards. The shooting guard position is stocked with the likes of Q-Rich, Crawford, and whichever of the combo guards is not playing the point. The draft at this position is not especially deep, with likely only three SGs in the mix between 18 and 29.

  1. Maurice Ager (SG, Michigan State) ? like most Tom Izzo players, he’s athletic, competitive, and aggressive on defense.
  2. Ronnie Brewer (SG/SF, Arkansas) ? a do-it-all type who struggles with his perimeter shot; likely to be off the board by #20 but could slide depending on trades.
  3. Shannon Brown (SG, Michigan State) ? see Ager; they?re very similar players.

Small Forward. The Knicks situation at small forward is a bit unsettled. Jalen Rose remains the starter but in Isiah Thomas’ world his contract, in its final year, makes him a distinct trade possibility. Q-Rich is a natural small forward who has played out of position in New York at shooting guard. Qyntel Woods played quite well at times this season but has yet to be re-signed. David Lee has bounced back and forth between both forward spots. The draft appears to be a bit top-heavy at small forward; great talent at the top (e.g., Morrison, Carney, Gay, Roy) but drops off quite a bit afterwards.

  1. Hassan Adams (G/F, Arizona) ? Adams is a Ruben Patterson quality defender, but at 6?4? is undersized, and maturity is an issue; likely a 2nd rounder.
  2. Louis Amundson (SF, UNLV) ? a four year player at UNLV. An energy guy, like a shorter David Lee.
  3. Steve Novak (SF, Marquette) ? a Pat Garrity type stand-still shooter.
  4. P.J. Tucker (SF/PF, Texas) ? an undersized ?power? small forward, like George Lynch but with more offense.
  5. Shawne Williams (SF, Memphis) ? a talented but raw freshman from Memphis who is another do-it-all (on offense) type.

Power Forward/Center. The Knicks currently have a lot of bodies at PF and C, including prized youngsters Curry, Frye, Butler, and Lee, though none is much of a rebounder (save Butler and Lee) or shot blocker.

  1. Hilton Armstrong (PF/C, UConn) ? had a good senior year at UConn; could be a Stephen Hunter-like one year wonder.
  2. Josh Boone (PF/C, UConn) ? a shot blocker/rebounder, but lacks explosion and some question his motivation.
  3. Alexander Johnson (PF/C, Florida St.) ? undersized and turnover prone, but precisely the kind of explosive shot-blocker/rebounder Larry Brown drools for. So Thomas probably wants nothing to do with him.
  4. Saer Sene (C, Senegal) ? extremely long-limbed (7?8? wingspan!!), athletic but raw big man from Senegal; probably not an immediate contributor.

Is there anything left to watch?

It gets harder and harder with each maddening loss to root for this current collection of Knicks. Watching Friday night’s loss vs Chicago with about 5 or 6 minutes remaining I knew, the fans knew, and more importantly the Bulls and Knicks knew that the Knicks were going to throw that game away. Their inability or steadfast refusal to show consistent improvement in turnovers, defense, and overall decision making–not just the bloated salaries–is to my mind what makes this team the most unlikeable in recent memory. (Yes, even less likeable than Nellie’s Knicks or the Glen Rice/Travis Knight freak shows.)

This team is an official train wreck. The 2005-2006 New York Knicks have all but engraved their names on the “Biggest underachievers in NBA history” team trophy. And yet… chronicling in excruciating detail just how awful the Knicks are in order to deride them for it stopped being even vaguely interesting reading about two weeks ago. Seriously, we’ve arrived at that place where the vultures are just picking at the remnants of the carcass.

So what’s left to talk about? I think we can safely rule out any pollyanna “silver lining” nonsense. This season is sunk in any meaningfully competitive sense. Still, I think there are at least three reasonably intriguing questions facing Knicks fans, which are as yet unanswered about this season, that will in part determine the possibility of a turnaround in ’06-’07. It will be interesting to see them play out.

1. Is Eddy Curry a bum? And will it even matter to Knick fans if he’s not?

The likelihood that Curry will ever become all he was touted to be on draft day now seems so laughably low I have no idea why Brown and Thomas continue to repeat such puffery. There’s a point where you just have to concede that the expectations were themselves overblown–something that appears to happen quite a bit with young bigs. However, that Curry will continue to develop into a pretty good offensive center is not nearly so far fetched. For all our pronouncements (myself included) about what Curry will never be and the focus on his shortcomings as a defender/shot blocker, he is hardly alone in these shortcomings among the league’s top offensive centers–plus his 16.4 PER and 58% True Shooting% should not be lightly dismissed. You can count nine centers with better offensive production (Shaq, Duncan, both Wallaces, Ilgauskas, Brad Miller, Zo, Okur, and Gadzuric), and all but Gadzuric are a good bit older than Curry. Ilgauskas, Miller, and Okur–like Curry–are primarily offensive players who bring little defense to the table but who have been key contributors to decent teams. Curry has also managed to demonstrate some improvement in one of his notorious weaknesses; rebounding. His current rebound rate of 14.2 is a career high–not especially impressive–but improvement nonetheless. (Unfortunately, his notoriously high turnover rate has worsened this year due in large part–I think–to all the roster churn.)

Curry has recently been compared to Victor Zambrano in discussions on this blog. I can certainly see the parallels in the circumstances surrounding their acquisitions, as well as their reputations for tantalizing without delivering. However, as a lifelong Mets fan I’d actually re-focus the comparison to a different pitcher Mets fans have loved to hate: Armando Benitez. Curry is drawing ever closer to that kind of iconic status in NY, that point of no return where an athlete goes from mere overpaid underachiever to punching bag. It will be interesting to see if that happens. What makes the situation so fascinating is that he’s inching toward the precipice deliberately enough so that you can see it coming into view in the press. I hope he doesn’t cross the point of no return because it’s a uniquely miserable place where even good performance is easily discounted with a few tried and true catch phrases. (e.g., “Why can’t he do this every night?” or “Let’s see him do it in a big game.”) Unfortunately for Curry, as if to double dog dare the NY press to begin the Benitez treatment, both Brown and Thomas have very publicly (and wrecklessly) raised the stakes by labeling him “the franchise,” well worth two potential lottery picks–and Curry has followed their lead. (In the NFL the equivalent would be signing a free agent slapped with the “franchise tag” for the price of two first round picks. It’s never been done because nobody is worth that.)

2. Will the team ever learn to defend?

In all of Larry Brown’s moves across the NBA landscape the one constant has been that his teams showed some improvement defensively in the first year. According to basketball-reference.com last year’s Knicks were 25th in defensive efficiency at 109.2. According to KB’s stat page this year’s version is 26th in the league and well off last year’s pace at 112.2. Unless something “clicks” the Knicks seem destined to underachieve defensively this season relative to Brown’s other first year teams. But, looking forward can this team–as currently constructed–even aspire to be middle-of-the-pack on defense?

My assumption is that the basic core will remain in tact this offseason. Marbury isn’t going anywhere and I don’t suspect Francis or Richardson will either. They all have contracts that are untradeable. Richardson and Marbury (once an iron man) both have physical issues. Other guys like Lee, Rose, Crawford, Taylor, and Robinson could potentially be moved but the core of Marbury, Francis, Curry, and Frye is here–for better or worse–for the foreseeable future.

So perhaps the most prudent question is, who among them is even willing to defend? The player who has stepped up recently to become the team’s… ahem… perimeter stopper is Quentin Richardson. Of course, that’s a bit like a buddy of mine–a big Duke fan–contending that JJ Redick is Duke’s “best perimeter defender.” It says good things about the player but not much about the team’s defense. The only way I can see the Knicks improving the team defense with this core is to go the old Sacramento Kings “Bomb Squad” model, where they build defense into the second unit because the first unit has too many guys who cannot defend.

3. Can Knicks fans learn to look forward to the draft again? (Or at least root against the Nuggets?)

There are Mets fans who continue to torture themselves by following–and sometimes posting–the stats from Scot Kazmir’s starts in Tampa. The deal is done. It was a bad deal but it’s non-refundable. The Knicks, it should be noted, do have two draft picks this coming June. They will not, in all likelihood, be commensurate with NY’s miserable record but the team should get two players who can help.

I have almost completely ignored college hoops this season but some of you know I’ve had my eye on 6-6 Temple guard Mardy Collins since last year. His stock has been rising recently. Josh Boone, the 6-10 shot-blocking power forward from UConn could also help. NBAdraft.net currently has New York selecting him with Denver’s pick.

Right now Knick fans would be best served by letting the Curry picks go–we ain’t gettin’ them back no matter how much we sulk–and rooting against Denver, who currently has the third seed in the West at 32-28. Denver has a cushy swing through the Atlantic coming up but a nasty stretch of games against Western playoff teams at the end of March through mid-April. Short of a massive collapse NY’s pick will be a late lottery pick or just outside the lottery but we can certainly root for the massive collapse.

Five Reasons the Knicks Should Stand Pat at the Trade Deadline

[If you came here looking for Part 2 of “Five Stats The NBA Should Keep“, I apologize. KnickerBlogger.Net’s Official Trade Deadline Specialist, David Crockett, had an opinion that he urgently needed to share with everyone before the trade deadline. If pre-emptive scheduling angers you, David is an Assistant Professor of Marketing at the University of South Carolina, and can be reached at dcrockett17@yahoo.com

Tomorrow Part 2 will be here, and that gives me extra time to speel cehck it.]

1. The Knicks have taken the crucial first step ? admitting it?s time to rebuild ? in their journey toward wholeness. But they could undo this progress with a foolish trade.

Of course any rebuilding will likely include some trades. Should the right move come along then by all means Isiah should make it happen. Unfortunately the right move rarely comes along for rebuilding teams at the trade deadline; particularly for capped out teams reduced to exchanging bad contracts.

Isiah has had to learn the hard way that although the NBA?s beautiful people can add a little makeup to cover up barely noticeable blemishes the league?s butt-ugly must take the time to work on their personalities. The Knicks are about as butt-ugly as it gets in the NBA. A little makeup here or there might not hurt but it isn?t gonna solve the problem.

2. Few if any great moves are out there

Q: If you find that you?ve dug yourself into a hole what is the first thing you must do to get yourself out of it?

A: Stop digging.

The Knicks must avoid taking on any more bad contracts. Most of the players widely rumored to be on the move (e.g., Baron Davis, Donyell Marshall, Jalen Rose, Chris Webber, Peja Stojakovic, Keith Van Horn, Michael Redd) simply aren?t what the Knicks need. They are either too old, too expensive, slowed by injury, or D ? all of the above. The Knicks need a shot-blocking, rebounding center, but who is desperate to get rid of such players? The Knicks need a defense-first backup point but cannot offer much in return without taking on a bad contract.

The answer to that question again: stop digging.

3. Roster-wrecking makes player assessment so much more difficult

This season, fairly or unfairly, is a referendum on the wisdom of building a team around Stephon Marbury. (If you have not seen this write up on Marbury in the New York Times (registration required) it?s pretty interesting and more balanced than is typical.) If management is committed to building around Marbury it must answer two questions about him based on his play the rest of this season.

First, can he lead? That is, what will he do to keep this team from disintegrating as the losses mount? How is he aiding in the development of Crawford, Ariza, and Sweetney? Second, will he commit to playing defense? The more roster fluctuation there is the more difficult it will be for management to truly make this assessment. Of course Marbury isn?t the only player for whom the stakes are high for the rest of this season. The informal ?no trade clauses? Isiah has attached to Sweetney and Ariza will no doubt expire this summer unless they continue to improve.

Having said that, I would like to see Isiah make a move to improve the end of the bench. With New York fading rapidly from Chicago?s rearview mirror I?d like to re-visit the possibility of re-acquiring Frank Williams to play the backup role he played last season. Brewer and Sundov for Chicago?s Williams and Jared Reiner seems a workable swap of 11th and 12th men. (Of the four only Brewer averages over 10 mpg.)

4. What the Knicks can offer in trade will have more value this summer.

Other than Kurt Thomas, the Knicks basically have contracts due to expire at the end of next season to offer in trade. I was hoping that Tim Thomas would play well enough this season to be a useful rental for a contender with an expiring contract after next season at the deadline. But alas, he?s having the worst season of his career and for all practical purposes cannot be traded. By contrast Kurt Thomas?s trade value may be as high right now as it will ever be. Still, Isiah is likely better off peddling his wares this off-season.

5. Draft position

I believe ? or at least I am sincerely hoping ? that the team?s slight momentum heading into the All-Star break foreshadows good things to come. Though the Knicks are clearly no longer serious contenders for the playoffs I do not think the team should be diving for ping-pong balls.

Still, it appears that Isiah already has an eye toward the June draft. The best centers in the upcoming draft appear to be Andrew Bogut, the Aussie who plays for Utah, and Brazilian Tiago Splitter. Both will likely be off the board in the top five picks. The Knicks, at their current pace, are looking at a pick in the 6-10 area. However this draft appears to be packed to the gills with players who could contribute immediately at backup point guard. Some of the defense-oriented guards (e.g., Deron Williams of Illinois and Mardy Collins of Temple) are likely to be available outside the top ten.