Zeke’s Eye For The Draftee Guy

Being maxxed out on cap space and having little left in trade bait, the Knicks future is directly tied to the draft. If New York is this bad next year, they’ll have two mid/high lottery picks and two very late first rounders in which to improve their team. Although the Knicks have had recent success in the draft with Sweetney and Ariza, their history has been more Jerrod Mustaf than Charlie Ward. A few infamous moments in New York draft history over the last decade:

2002 – Knicks trade the #7 pick, Nene Hilario, for Antonio McDyess, and then select Milos Vujanic in the second round. McDyess plays 18 games total in a Knick uniform, exactly 18 more than Vujanic plays in the NBA.
1999 – Knicks select Frederick Weis with the 15th pick while New York City born Ron Artest from St. John’s University, who lives 7 subway stops away from MSG, is still avilable. Artest wins defensive player of the year then goes crazy pondering why the Knicks selected Weis.
1996 – New York has three picks from 19-22. Those three players selected play a total of 103 games for New York. The person selected in between those three: 2-time All Star Zydrunas Ilgauskas.

While Isiah didn’t commit these atrocities, and with the Knicks’ future directly tied into his ability to draft, we should take a look at Zeke’s track record. When Thomas was the expansion Raptors GM, he participated in three drafts. In 1995 Isiah had the 7th spot. During the draft Toronto fans were cheering for Ed O’Bannon, who led the UCLA Bruins to the national championship. O’Bannon was awarded the NCAA tournament MVP & was the National Player of the Year. Instead Isiah drafted Damon Stoudamire from Arizona. The next year, the Raptors GM opted for the Unanimous Player of the Year and selected Marcus Camby with the #2 overall pick. In 1997, Thomas’ last year as Toronto GM, he took a chance on a high school player named Tracy McGrady at #9.

To take an objective look at these picks, let’s take the career PER of the players surrounding Isiah’s picks.

1995
No Player Career PER
1 Joe Smith 15.7
2 Antonio McDyess 18.7
3 J. Stackhouse 17.4
4 Rasheed Wallace 17.7
5 Kevin Garnett 23.0
6 Bryant Reeves 13.8
7 D. Stoudamire 17.4
8 Shawn Respert 11.6
9 Ed O'Bannon 9.1
10 Kurt Thomas 14.9
11 Gary Trent 15.9
12 Cherokee Parks 12.0
13 C. Williamson 15.3

Although the draft had some great players early on, by the time Toronto’s turn had arrived the pickins were slim. With the 7th pick, Isiah got the best person available, Damon Stoudamire. “Mighty Mouse” played well for the Raptors as a young point guard, but his career tailed off after he was traded to Portland. Selecting Respert or O’Bannon would have been a mistake. Kurt Thomas was still a risky pick, considering he missed a whole year at TCU due to an injury, and would miss serious time his first three years in the NBA as well.

1996
No Player Career PER
1 Allen Iverson 20.9
2 Marcus Camby 17.9
3 S. Abdur-Rahim 19.8
4 Stephon Marbury 19.4
5 Ray Allen 19.7
6 Antoine Walker 16.9
7 Lorenzen Wright 14.2

Not listed here are three excellent guys that went 13-15: Kobe Bryant, Peja Stojakovic, and Steve Nash. If the draft were held with today’s knowledge, those three middle picks along with Iverson and Ray Allen would comprise the top 5. Clearly there were better players available in the draft than Camby, however getting someone that put up a 17.9 career PER isn’t a total disaster. Camby never fulfilled his potential in Toronto, but in New York he replaced the injured Patrick Ewing and was a large contributor in the 8th seed Knicks getting to the NBA Finals. In hindsight, with such a deep draft getting Marcus Camby with the #2 pick was a sub-par selection.

1997
No Player Career PER
1 Tim Duncan 25.1
2 Keith Van Horn 17.1
3 C. Billups 16.7
4 A. Daniels 14.4
5 Tony Battie 14.3
6 Ron Mercer 12.6
7 Tim Thomas 14.8
8 Adonal Foyle 12.8
9 Tracy McGrady 24.4
10 Danny Fortson 16.6
11 T. Abdul-Wahad 11.4
12 Austin Croshere 14.8
13 Derek Anderson 16.3
14 Maurice Taylor 14.1

Even Isiah’s biggest nemesis has to admit that Toronto had the steal of the 1997 draft. Despite only playing 18 minutes a game, McGrady had a PER of 17.4 his first year. By his second season, he still didn’t see much time (23 min/g) despite seeing a marked improvement in his production (20.6). Obviously, the young McGrady was just oozing with talent.

Not listed above are any of second round selections. To round out Isiah’s career, we can add: Jimmy King (1995 #35) and Trevor Ariza (2004 #43). While we can throw King in the bust pile, Ariza was certainly the best player available at #43, and maybe the best second rounder taken (or at least the best not named Anderson Varej?o).

So Isiah’s draft report card looks like this:

1 player who was the steal of the draft (McGrady)
2 players that were the best picks available (Ariza & Stoudamire)
1 second round bust (Jimmy King)
1 overall #2 bust, yet serviceable player (Marcus Camby)

While Thomas’s track record is favorable, his past is a small sample size which may not indicate future successes. Knowing Isiah’s method, whether it be scientific, scouting, or dart board, would make it easier to judge his ability. However, the Knicks President’s draft history makes me more comfortable with the Knicks’ future than if Pete Babcock, John Gabriel, or Garry St. Jean were the man in charge.

Indiana 79 Knicks 90

Everyone was laughing at of Isiah Thomas and the Knicks for loading up on power forwards. Everyone, except the Indiana Pacers last night.

Kurt Thomas was nearly unstoppable in the first half, finishing it off with two shots in the last 30 seconds, one a buzzer beater from the right wing. Thomas hit 6 of 8, and had 12 points by mid-game. His backup, Jerome Williams, had a dunkfest that would have made Chris Anderson jealous. The “Junk Yard Dog” had three massive jams, and tipped in a Marbury miss for 8 first half points. Williams did it all without a single dribble, hustling off of pick & rolls and missed shots.

Also impressive was newly acquired Malik Rose, who made a big contribution despite only playing 9 minutes. In that time he had 8 rebounds, 4 on the offensive glass. Rose’s effort extended to the defensive end, where he “pulled the chair” from a bullish Jermaine O’Neal. The Pacers high scorer went sprawling across the Garden floor on his backside. On another play, a Rose quick outlet pass led to a Knicks fast break that ended up with a three point play. Later in the game the other new guy, Maurice Taylor, had his first two points as a Knicks, when his jumper swirled around the rim and dropped through the net.

The Pacers came into the Garden winners of their last 5, and 8 of their last 10. With Jamal Tinlsey out Indiana couldn’t muster enough offense to beat New York. Jermaine O’Neal’s tried to pick up the slack, but his 24 points went in vein. Other than Reggie Miller no other Pacer presented an offensive challenge. Despite the loss, Indiana still holds the last playoff spot in the East.

Other notes:
Back in November I said:

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 Knicks turned to the press for a single play, but it was the weakest press I think I’ve ever seen. Stephon Marbury, Jerome Williams, and Tim Thomas played more of a full court escort than actually attempting to steal the ball.

Jamal Crawford was awful at point guard with Marbury on the bench. Not once but twice number 11 threw the ball behind his head for a turnover. Within a few minutes, Penny Hardaway took over running the offense.

Although I mentioned the Knicks forwards propelling them to victory, I didn’t use Mike Sweetney’s name once. That’s because Sweetney is for all intents & purposes the Knicks starting center. The starting lineup showed Kurt Thomas picture as the center, and the Knick announcers spent a few minutes talking about how statistically the year that Thomas played the 5 was his best season. Nonetheless, after the opening tip off Sweetney was covering the Pacer center Scot Pollard.

Big Mike got himself in foul trouble early & often, forcing Thomas into the center position. The Knicks center rotation seems to be Sweetney, Thomas, Williams, then probably Rose. After that Herb Williams would have to decide between Maurice Taylor, Bruno Sundov, or donning a uniform himself.

The Knicks went really small in the second quarter. At one point the lineup was from biggest to smallest, Jerome Williams, Tim Thomas, Trevor Ariza, Penny Hardaway, and Stephon Marbury.

Walt “Clyde” Frazier on Jamal Crawford who received a pass with one foot out of bounds “The court is 50 feet wide, but not wide enough for Crawford that time.”

Breaking Down the Knicks Deadline Deals? A Little More

[Today’s column was written by David Crockett, who has been taking note of the wild trade action, creating a new frontier on the NBA landscape. (You must be this old to get that joke.) David is an Assistant Professor of Marketing at the University of South Carolina, and can be reached at dcrockett17@yahoo.com]

At the trade deadline the Knicks consummated two separate deals. If you?ve not had an opportunity to read the Knickerblogger?s excellent breakdown of the deals please do so. He does an especially good job of debunking the knee-jerk media tendency to ignore the importance of draft picks in deadline deals.

At the risk of putting words into his virtual mouth, he basically argues that the Knicks are in the seventh layer of salary cap hell until 2007 irrespective of what they do primarily because of Houston?s contract (KB: that’s exactly what I was arguing). Consequently, he argues, the amount by which the Knicks exceed the cap threshold is irrelevant as a strategic matter, at least it is until Houston comes off the cap in summer ?07. If the Knicks wish to rebuild with young players and/or draft picks other teams will assuredly demand a premium; either the Knick?s young players or cap relief.

Given this, the real wisdom in taking on a given contract lies in its implications for financial flexibility at the beginning of the 2007-2008 season (i.e., when Houston comes off the books). Prior to that Marbury?s and Houston?s pacts will keep the team hopelessly above the cap. (A nice salary breakdown per season can be found here.) Of course the other piece to the puzzle is the roster construction.

So let?s take an even closer look at the two deadline deals from both a financial and a roster construction perspective.

Deal 1
? The Knicks Receive: Malik Rose, PF, 2005 first round draft choice (SA via Pho), and 2006 first round draft choice
? The Spurs Receive: Nazr Mohammed, C, Jamison Brewer, G

Financially, the Knicks have replaced Mohammed?s short, reasonable deal with Rose?s considerably longer, less cap-friendly deal. Rose enters the final year of his deal, which pays him $7.1 million, just as the Knicks get out from under Houston?s mega-deal. By then I expect Rose?s current 15.5 PER to have shrunk considerably, right along with his market value. I think it?s reasonable to anticipate that, short of a buyout, Rose is in NY for the duration of his deal. Clearly, this is the bitter pill Thomas was willing to swallow for the two first round picks.

What might those picks turn into? Obviously, there?s no way to characterize future picks as anything other than a gamble. Yet there is no risk-free way to acquire talent prior to its prime. One way we might consider the value of the 2005 draft (New York?s own lottery pick paired with the pick coming from San Antonio through Phoenix) is by look at the past few drafts. I was not at all sold on the wisdom of this deal until I went back and looked at who was drafted in the spots where New York?s and Phoenix?s picks would land based on record (i.e., 6th and 29th overall as of this writing).

A glance back at 6th and the next-to-last players drafted in round 1 from 2000-2004 might make Isiah?s decision to pull the trigger on this deal easier to understand, even at the price of Rose?s contract. (Recall that the first round only had 28 picks total until 2003.)

2004 ? Josh Childress, Atlanta; David Harrison, Indiana (Luol Deng #7, Chicago)
2003 ? Chris Kaman, Clippers; Josh Howard, Dallas
2002 ? Dejuan Wagner, Cleveland; Chris Jeffries, Lakers (Nene #7, Wilcox #8, Stoudamire #9)
2001 ? Shane Battier, Mem; Jamal Tinsley, Atlanta (Tony Parker #28)
2000 ? DeMarr Johnson, Atlanta; Erick Barkley, Portland (Mark Madsen #29)

So really, the question is how wise was it to swap Mohammed?s contract for two additional (slightly more expensive) years of Rose and a two-in-five shot at Kaman/Howard or Battier/Tinsley? Framed this way the deal looks like a pretty reasonable gamble. Consider also that this is purely a deadline deal; no way does San Antonio consummates this deal during the off-season. San Antonio doesn?t need Phoenix?s 2005 or its own 2006 pick, but they could demand a much greater premium for them on draft night than Nazr Mohammed and Jamison Brewer. They could easily trade for future picks or draft some European teenager and keep his rights.

Even though the picks will be towards the end of the round the cap makes it prohibitive to have two lottery picks in consecutive seasons anyway. Also, the Knicks may be able to package the pair to target a specific player. Isiah?s thinking here is shrewd because he?s taking most of the bitter medicine now while the team is well over the cap anyway, with an eye toward 2007-2008 when he?ll have maturing young talent and money coming off the cap.

Deal 2
? The Knicks Receive: Maurice Taylor, PF
? The Rockets Receive: Moochie Norris, G, Vin Baker, F, and 2006 second round draft choice.

Much like the Knickerblogger I think had Isiah stopped with the previous deal I?d be pretty darned happy with things. Unfortunately, just like last season Zeke has a knack for making one deal too many; one that will eventually cost him something to undo. My impression is that I?m a bit more leery about the impact of this deal than is the Knickerblogger. Two things about it really bother me well beyond their curious nature.

First, what need does Mo Taylor address? Surely, the role of overpaid, undersized power forward has now been amply filled by Rose for the foreseeable future. Even anticipating an off-season move involving one or more of the Knick forwards, the Knicks are well-stocked at the position. Taylor is a worse rebounder than Tim Thomas, who at least shoots a high % from 3 point range. Taylor doesn?t defend; his 19 oPER is Moochie Norris bad. Worst, Taylor is expensive at over $9million per, meaning he?s not likely to be more valuable nor converted into anything more valuable than what NY gave up to get him.

Second, Taylor further skews an already unbalanced roster into a dangerously guard-light roster. The team now has no third guard and no true third small forward, but has 5 capable power forwards. This is not just an aesthetics problem. The Knicks simply cannot afford for Hardaway or Crawford to be injured again this season. They would have to sign a guard off the street. Moving both Norris and Brewer without getting at least an emergency guard in return is just silly; worse yet, it may be expensive. New York is virtually guaranteed to enter the off-season, if not before, desperate for a third guard. As a consequence Thomas will almost assuredly pay a premium unless he drafts one. There?s no way the Knicks can go into next season carrying only two guards, and every GM in the league knows this. Had the Knicks thrown in Sundov and cash for Reece Gaines this deal would have still been superfluous but at least not innately harmful. As it stands this deal makes zero sense on any dimension ? financial, performance, or roster balance.