Knicks Add to Front Office Staff

According to the NY Times:

John Gabriel, a former N.B.A. executive of the year with the Orlando Magic, has joined the Knicks’ revamped front office and will assume a major role in rebuilding the roster after seven straight losing seasons.

Donnie Walsh, the team president, appointed Gabriel as the director of pro scouting and free agency, a newly created position. Gabriel’s primary duty will be evaluating current N.B.A. players, with an eye toward future trades and free-agent signings.

Gabriel is well versed in the art of rebuilding. He was the Magic’s general manager from 1996 to 2004, a period in which the franchise lost Shaquille O’Neal to free agency and traded Penny Hardaway, but restocked by obtaining Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady.

Gabriel was named executive of the year in 1999-2000 after orchestrating 37 transactions that netted nine first-round draft picks and created the salary-cap space to sign Hill and McGrady.

After being fired in March 2004, Gabriel joined the front office of the Portland Trail Blazers, who have undergone a transformation that the Knicks surely hope to emulate. Once saddled with a bloated payroll and a roster of bad actors, the Blazers are now one of the most promising young teams in the league.

Also joining the Knicks’ front office is Misho Ostarcevic, who will be the director of player personnel. Ostarcevic was Walsh’s international scout with the Pacers.

Gabriel and Ostarcevic were hired earlier this month, although the team did not announce the moves. Walsh was not available for comment Wednesday.

You can see John Gabriel’s transactions as the Orlando GM at Hoopshype. Looking at his record, he seems to be average. His first two drafts were busts (Brian Evans 27th and Johnny Taylor 17th). But he grabbed arguably the best player in the 2000 draft (Mike Miller) and found Zaza Pachulia in the 2nd round in 2002. The trio of firsts in 1998 didn’t fare well (Michael Doleac, Keon Clark, and Matt Harpring) but there wasn’t much else in that draft (Rasho Nesterovic and Al Harrington would have been better choices as were Rashard Lewis & Cuttino Mobley however the latter two were taken in the second round).

Gabriel was keen enough to trade for Ben Wallace, but Wallace was shipped to Detroit in the Grant Hill trade. Hard to argue with that without putting on your hindsight glasses. Gabriel best move was grabbing Tracy McGrady from the Raptors for a first round pick. Looking through his transactions it seems Gabriel weakness was finding a stable center. He drafted Michael Doleac, Curtis Borchardt, Keon Clark, and Steven Hunter in the first round, but none were good enough to become starters. The Magic used veteran defensive minded journeymen bigs like Bo Outlaw, John Amaechi, and Horace Grant in the post-Shaq era.

After leaving Orlando, Gabriel did work with the Portland Trailblazers. This is a good sign not only because Portland has done a good job in building a strong roster, but their GM Kevin Pritchard is said to be statistical minded. It’s hard to gauge whether or not Gabriel has an understanding of statistical analysis. He did trade for Ben Wallace, but that may have been luck (considering he traded Wallace a year later). Gabriel did also acquire Hill and McGrady, two players who score highly by statistical measures, although both were known superstars at the time.

The (Fourth) Winter of Our Discontent

On December 20th, 2003, a bad New York Knicks team defeated an even worse Atlanta Hawks team, 103-92. The starters for the Knicks in that game were Allan Houston, Antonio McDyess, Keith Van Horn, Dikembe Mutombo and Howard Eisley (do note that 3/5th of the starting five are no longer in the league, and a fourth is so old that he used to babysit Julio Franco). The reserves were Kurt Thomas, Charlie Ward, Frank Williams, Shandon Anderson and Michael Doleac (3/5th of THEM are ALSO out of the league now, with Doleac hanging on by a thread).

Two days later, on December 22nd, 2003 – four years ago today, the Knicks hired Isiah Thomas as their new President and General Manager. Their next game was December 23rd, and appropriately enough, they lost. Read More

Knicks 2007 Report Card (A to Z): Channing Frye

KnickerBlogger: Channing Frye looked to be one of the better picks of the 2005 draft, earning a berth on the All Rookie 1st team, and was one of the bright spots of the abysmal 2006 season. Frye’s main strength was his jump shot. He showed good accuracy and range on his jump shot, making him an ideal pick and roll partner. Frequently he burned opposing big men who were too slow to guard him on the outside. Although primarily an outside threat, Frye did have the buddings of a decent low post game. And while he was not a fantastic rebounder or shot blocker, Frye certainly didn’t embarrass himself in either category. According to basketball-reference.com, the top 5 comparables to Knick forward/center were a solid group of Sharone Wright, Drew Gooden, Marcus Camby, Joe Smith, and Michael Doleac. Isiah Thomas looked as if he worked his draft magic yet again.

However a funny thing happened on the way to the All Star Game, Channing Frye suffered a horrendous sophomore slump in 2007. His PER plummeted from a vigorous 18.0 to an anemic 10.5. Frye had setbacks in a few major categories namely his scoring (20.4 to 14.4 pts/40), free throw attempts (5.8 to 2.3 FTA/40), offensive rebounding (3.5 to 1.9 oReb/40), and eFG% (47.9% to 43.5%). Frye’s top 5 most comparable players after last year were Michael Doleac, Thurl Bailey, Doug Smith, Anthony Avent, and Steven Stepanovich. Hardly the same class of players as the first 5.

There are a host of theories on what happened to Frye from his freshman to his sophomore season. The first is the Curry-Frye theory, which claims that Frye’s decline was due to Curry’s emergence as the Knicks sole low post player. Pushing Frye out to the perimeter would explain his drop in rebounding and foul shots, but 82games.com shows Frye to have a higher PER at the forward position than at center (where he plays with Curry off the court). So the entire blame can’t be placed on Curry’s shoulders.

The second theory is the Sax-Knoblauch theory, which claims that Frye’s decline was from the pressure to succeed in New York. While the Knicks aren’t as high profile as the Yankees, Frye was visibly shaky at times. He passed up on wide open 20 footers, normally his bread and butter. It’s unknown what could cause such a transformation, but clearly Frye’s suffered from a lack of confidence.

Finally the last theory, also known as the Frye-Injury theory, claims that Frye never fully recovered from his injuries. Channing missed the end of 2006 with a knee sprain, and the summer with a twisted ankle. It may not even be that Frye was physically hurt, but rather disoriented from the lack of cohesion with his teammates due to missing so many games.

KnickerBlogger’s Grade: F

2008 Outlook: Whichever theory or combination of theories you ascribe to regarding Channing Frye’s sophomore slump, 2008 is going to be a make or break season for him. Luckily for Frye, he’ll have a fresh start in Portland. He’ll back up the high profile duo of Oden & Aldridge for a team with little expectations and less brighter lights. With a boost of confidence and an offense that features him a bit more, Frye could show that 2007 was just a bump in the road.

Dave Crockett: I hate to give a guy an F, especially a fellow Arizona alum but… yeesh. This was a throw away season for Frye. For my money–and this is after having seen a ton of his college games–I think the move away from the screen-roll oriented offense along with the injuries were the major culprits. Perhaps more fundamentally though his game was built to be unsustainable; so one-dimensional it was. Frye should benefit from playing for Nate McMillan on a team that will probably run the floor a little more; something I happen to think is a palliative, if not the cure for athletic big men prone to offensive droughts.

Brian Maniscalco: Here’s a project for an ambitious researcher. Has there ever been another player whose PER dropped by 7 or 8 points in consecutive seasons early on in his career? The magnitude of that drop is so enormous that it must rank among the all time free falls in NBA history, especially for a player so early in his career. If there are players with similar falls from grace, how did they fare in the future? Is this the sort of thing a player can recover from or is it a death knell?

My guess is that Frye will bounce back, but I doubt he will regain the promise he held after his rookie season. I expect him to be a good-to-very-good backup for Portland, and in the best possible circumstances it’s conceivable that he could win a sixth man award or possibly slip into an All-Star game. But after such an awful performance last season I don’t see his ceiling being any higher than that, whereas after his strong rookie campaign it seemed like the sky was the limit.

Michael Zannettis: My feelings about Frye’s play this year are well-documented. Without getting to the free throw line or being a force on the offensive glass, the one player that showed up in his comparables both seasons, Michael Doleac, seems to be the player he’s become. Another name that comes to mind is Maurice Taylor. As we’ve learned from players like Doleac and Taylor is that as sweet as that mid-range jumpshot is, it’s actually the worst shot to take on the court. You’d have to hit it at a ridiculous rate to be a viable offensive player if that was your only skill.

I can’t blame Frye’s struggles on the screen-and-roll, the brights lights of New York, or the tunnel vision of Mr. Curry. Simply put, he didn’t man up. He played soft. As much as we often like to question Curry’s effort level, especially on defense, we have to wonder where Frye’s determination to grab an offensive board went. They don’t call it “fighting” for position, for nothing.

Brian Cronin I took Brian’s challenge, and took a look at every rookie in NBA history who played as many games as Channing Frye did in his first year (65) and ended up with a PER of at least 8 for the season.

Of the 915 matches, only ONE of them had a PER drop as large as Frye’s, John Shasky, who posted a 12.7 PER for the Miami Heat in their expansion year of 1988-89, but only a 2.5 in 14 games for Golden State the following season. Shasky played one more year before his NBA career ended, with a nice rebound PER of 11.1 for Dallas in 1990-91.

So this is basically unprecedented (Shasky wasn’t a major rotation piece like Frye was), which I guess bodes well for Frye, in the sense that it sounds like a bit of a fluke.

However, upon looking through the players, I did note a number of players who suffered decent setbacks (minus 4 or so points) and in almost every case, while there was some bounceback, for the most part, they continued to stay at the lower level or even decline further.

So I don’t think Channing Frye’s future is a bright one.

As for his grade for this past season, I’m gonna be nice and say D-.

Can Miami Get Anything Going?

With the game a few minutes from tip, a few thoughts…

Coming into the series I figured Mavs in six games. I never saw Shaq putting up gaudy numbers in this series, primarily because I felt Dallas?who almost always sends four or five players to the defensive boards?would keep him away from the offensive glass and make him play over the tops of their big guys. I also thought the pace would be too much for Miami. Still, Detroit looked invincible against Cleveland until the series went to Cleveland and the Cavs pushed it to seven games. So, [insert clich? or cautionary tale here] in a seven game series.

Is there anything Miami can do? Pat Riley?s pat answer is always to play better defense and have better offensive execution. In one respect this is certainly correct. Still, if Riley is to make a go of it in this series he must change a few things. Overall, Miami must find a way to get some easy scores.

Pick up the pace. In today?s New York Sun Martin Johnson gives Miami similar advice, going against conventional wisdom. Conventional wisdom coming into the series says that Miami must play at a slow pace. Well, obviously Miami must limit Dallas? fast break points. But conventional wisdom, as is often the case, throws out the baby with the bathwater. The Heat loses too much trying to be too deliberate. First, just because Miami is deliberate doesn?t mean the Mavs will be. Thus far, when Miami has been deliberate they?re the only team on the floor playing that way. Dallas can play briskly in their halfcourt sets without losing much efficiency. They shot 49.4 eFG% during the regular season when shooting between 11 and 15 seconds (a quick shot, but not a fast break), which is right about their overall eFG (49.5%). So they aren?t going to roll over and expose belly unless maybe the game slows to an absolute crawl, which seems beyond Miami?s capacity. Second, the Heat plays well offensively when they execute their halfcourt sets briskly, shooting even better than Dallas (51%) between 11 and 15 seconds. Unfortunately, Miami does not defend as well under these circumstances (48.2%) as they do overall (47.8%). They rightly fear getting into a track meet with Dallas but it appears as if this series will be played in the high 80s to mid 90s unless Dallas falls apart. So Miami has to score.

Get Shaq on the move. Although Shaq may be the ?most dominant force evah!? he is not right now. Even throwing out his game two, the difference between 2006 Shaq and even 2004 Shaq is the absence of 2-3 easy dunks from beating his man up the floor and another 2-3 easy putback dunks on offensive rebounds. Right now, a halfcourt offense that begins with Shaq holding the ball away from the double team waiting for cutters plays right into Dallas? hands. At minimum, at least some of Miami?s halfcourt sets should concentrate on getting Wade into the lane, allowing Shaq to rebound on the weakside. Additionally, a quicker pace might allow Miami to get the ball to Shaq before the defense is set and before the double team can arrive.

Use the bench. Riley is only using three bench players currently (Posey, Payton, and Mourning). Gary Payton has been just plain bad. James Posey shot well in game two but his propensity for committing fouls like Kurt Thomas circa 2003, where he hammers a guy for no reason and then just stares blankly, has limited his effectiveness. Riley needs to consider bringing players off the bench that can score, particularly with perimeter shooting, at least at the ends of quarters. Michael Doleac and Jason Kapono could both be useful in limited duty.

Looking at the 2005 NBA Draft (Part I)

[This entry comes from Knickerblogger.net?s Director of College Scouting, Dave Crockett. As always I can be reached at dcrockett17@yahoo.com]

Rather than doing the typical ?winners? and ?losers? column I want to try something a bit different in the aftermath of last Tuesday?s NBA draft. As a bona fide NFL and NBA draftnik I?m fascinated by how differently teams in the two leagues approach the draft. In the NFL the ?best player available? approach is heavily favored over drafting based on ?need or fit.? However, all things being equal, the NBA seems to be almost the complete opposite. Although the two strategies overlap, each theoretically has an advantage over the other. In the NBA the disadvantage of drafting the best player available regardless of position is that talent duplication is quite costly. A logjam at a given position can be quite difficult to clear because of the salary cap and the dynamics of the labor market in a given year. On the other hand, drafting to fill specific needs is rarely the best way to accumulate talent and improve a roster. If done wisely drafting the best player available can put a team in a position to meet its other needs via trades or free agent signings by providing greater roster flexibility. It allows the team to make deals where getting back equivalent talent is not the only objective; it may be opening up playing time for a young player already on the roster.

In the days following the NBA draft I?ve noticed that many writers seem to implicitly favor either a ?best player available? strategy or a ?need? strategy, and this certainly colors their perspective on who won and who lost on draft night.

So in this three part entry I?ll try to offer some post-hoc thoughts on Isiah Thomas?s draft night (Part I), as well as the other teams? (Parts II and III). I?ll list each team, the players they acquired, their Chicago pre-draft camp measurements (height in shoes, wingspan, and weight) if available, position, and school along with a few comments based on the teams’ apparent strategy.

Knicks

8. Channing Frye (6-10-1/2, 7-2-1/2, 243.6#), C/PF, Arizona
21. Nate Robinson (5-9, NA, 180#), PG, Washington (f/ Phoenix)?
30. David Lee (6-9, 7.0, 229.5#), F, Florida

?New York acquired guards Quentin Richardson and Nate Robinson (the 21st overall selection) from the Phoenix Suns for F Kurt Thomas and G/F Dijon Thompson (the 54th overall selection)

Overall, Thomas managed to blend best player available with need in this draft consistent with his ?younger and more athletic? mantra. Frye and Robinson are athletic talents at positions of need. In one respect I share the Knickerblogger?s recent pessimism about these picks (and the trade). Alone they do not adequately address defense and rebounding, the team?s biggest weaknesses. However, at least in theory these players help create enough flexibility to address those needs in free agency or via sign-and-trade deals. David Lee, for instance, seems to be precisely the kind of player that could put a pretty bow on an ugly contract (e.g., Malik Rose, Penny, Mo Taylor, or Tim Thomas) in a sign-and-trade deal.

As for the particular players drafted, I thought the Knicks did a pretty decent job. The only other players I could see the Knicks regretting passing on at #8 are Danny Granger and Antoine Wright. I have been intrigued by Granger?s scoring ability, defense, and passing, and said so back in March. Granger apparently excelled in his workouts. Since I was traveling in New Mexico last week I got to read a lot about him personally and he?s definitely a quality kid whose career I?ll be watching. Between those three players I just don?t think the Knicks could have gone terribly wrong at #8. None appear to me to be superstars on the horizon yet each appears too skilled and too smart to be a bust (barring injury). Although prep star Gerald Green was also a possibility my bias about high schoolers, particularly wing players, is that I want an NBA ready body if you?re asking me to gamble on game experience and basketball IQ. Green may yet become a great player but it most assuredly will not happen until he fills out physically. He?s quite likely to be a Dorrell Wright type player where you?ll have to wait until he matures physically to see what you have. By then he?ll be on his second contract.

Channing Frye. He?s a player whose career I have followed very closely. At his best he?s a poor man?s Rasheed Wallace, a long-armed talent who can score in the post, on the break, or out on the floor. At his absolute worst he?s an athletic version of Michael Doleac, a 6-11 screen-roll jump shooter. What I love about Frye, setting aside for the moment that he runs the floor very well, is that he added something to his half-court game every year at Arizona. First he added a little jump hook, then a lefty hook, and finally the 15-18 foot jump shot off the screen-roll. His numbers improved every year despite having never played with an NBA caliber point guard. His harshest critics claim that he?s soft. Though he?s had troubles with strong widebodies (e.g., Eric Williams of Wake Forest ate him up early this past season) ?soft? is a major exaggeration. Channing Frye is no bruiser but neither is Marcus Camby, Samuel Dalembert, Chris Bosh, Rasheed Wallace, or even Tim Duncan for that matter. Lots of guys play center in the NBA who aren?t physically dominant in the mold of Shaquille O?Neal or Ben Wallace. At 6-10-1/2 with a 7-2-1/2 wingspan Frye is plenty tough to be an NBA center. In the 250# range without the frame to get a lot bigger, he?ll never push the bigger centers around. But then, only a fool would ask him to. Like most young post players he needs to learn to better use his athleticism and length to deny post position to stronger guys rather than play behind for the shot block. On the other end though, he?s going to beat the Nazr Mohammeds of the league down the floor by 3 full strides. He?s murder on the screen roll in the 15-18 foot area. He?s a very good passer from the high post. And, he?s going to get you 1-2 blocks (mostly from the weakside) if he plays 20 minutes per night. This season he put up 18 and 16 with 2 blocks and 2 steals against the presumably more physical Lawrence Roberts. He more than held his own against Andrew Bogut (19 and 9 with 3 blocks). He went for 15 and 10 in the Regional Semifinal against Oklahoma State?s physical front line and 24 and 12 with 6 blocks against Illinois in the Regional Final (in one of the 5 best NCAA tournament games ever).

Nate Robinson. This season Nate the Great scored 16.4 points with 3.9 boards and 4.5 assists (better than 2 to 1 assist-to-turnover ratio). He shot 53.9% efg this season and got more efficient offensively each year. (His three season points-per-shot totals were 1.15, 1.32, and 1.41.) So Robinson is probably good enough offensively to stay on the floor as a backup guard despite his stature. But, what I really want to talk about is his defense. Robinson is disruptive. He averaged 1.7 steals, but that really doesn?t quite do justice to his defensive impact. He?s the kind of player that can take the opposing point guard out of the game by not allowing him to bring the ball up the floor or set the offense. Unlike other diminutive guards Robinson is Tim Hardaway strong; strong enough to make it difficult for taller guards to back him down. He?s absolutely?not just pound for pound?stronger than most point guards he saw in college. He?s an energizer. When Robinson signed his contract he became the team?s best perimeter defender since Latrell Sprewell departed. The Knicks have not seen an athlete of his caliber since Anthony Bonner in the early-to-mid 1990s.

David Lee. I missed the end of the first round on television so I didn?t get to hear David Lee get booed by the Garden faithful. Huh? I don?t get it. Who was left on the board that was a significantly better choice with a lower ?bust? probability at that spot than Lee? Lee is a 6-9 lefty who can score with either hand in the post. He has a shot out to the 15-18 foot area coupled with very good run jump athleticism and decent handle for a 6-9 kid. Just wait until the summer league Knicks fans. I bet there?ll be a lot of folks saying ?who knew?? when they see the box scores. Currently, Lee?s part of a logjam at power forward. So it wouldn?t surprise me if his stay in New York is brief but I certainly hope Isiah doesn?t just give this kid away. He’s got some talent and some skill, and that’s all you’re looking for at #30.

Draft Reviews. In the ?publish or perish? world of academics when an up-and-coming young scholar, such as yours truly, submits a manuscript to a journal for publication the editor and some number of anonymous reviewers typically decide its fate in one of three ways. In the best case scenario they may accept the author?s brilliant exegesis for publication, perhaps with only a few cosmetic changes (Accept). That, for all practical purposes, never happens. Rumors and legends persist but they are merely this and nothing more. More likely, if the publication gods are smiling, after the editor and reviewers have sufficiently ridiculed a manuscript they will ask the author to revise it based on their oh-so-helpful comments and to then resubmit it for additional battering (Revise and resubmit, or R&R). Or, in the worst case scenario, they may reject it outright (Reject).

In this draft Isiah Thomas gets a revise and resubmit (with major revisions needed). Certainly Zeke upgraded the talent on the roster. One could quibble about the selection of Channing Frye but no one available at #8 was, as far as I could see, a clearly superior choice. The addition of Robinson was to my mind the real plumb. At #21 the expectations for him should be realistic; come in, make the rotation, and contribute. Robinson should be able to do that on his defense alone. But his athleticism, energy, and charisma could very pleasantly surprise. Given the current roster makeup it?s hard to envision David Lee getting to see the light of day in New York, but he?s a nice pick at the end of round 1. And hey, nothing about the current roster should be taken as given.

Zeke can change this R&R to an acceptance for publication if he can manage to find something that looks like a direction. Some of the parts, though certainly not all, appear to be falling in place but this roster still needs a lot of work.

Up next: Eastern Conference Reviews

Oh, and Happy 4th everyone!

The Knicks Needs, Summer 2004 Part 2

This is the second part of a 2 part series. If you didn’t read the first part, please do so now.

Offensive Rebounding (oREB%)
Offensive 19th, -2.4%
Defensive 8th, +5.5%


Name oReb% dReB%
Sweets 14.5 18.3
Kurt 6.0 20.1
Deke 10.1 19.1
Baker 11.8 11.6
Nazr 11.5 20.3
Thella 6.9 14.3
TimT 3.5 12.7
Penny 3.5 12.0

Offensively the Knicks are hurting on the glass. Sweetney is by far the Knicks’ best offensive rebounder, and next year the Knicks should be giving him more playing time. Nazr Mohammed is a good rebounder as well. As a Knick, Baker was good on the offensive glass, but downright awful on the defensive boards. In fact his Boston numbers show him to be poor on both ends of the glass (8.0%/12.7%). That doesn’t give me confidence in his rebounding.

If there is one person that hurts them the most on the offensive glass, it’s Kurt Thomas. Kurt just plays too far from the hoop to make an effect on the offensive glass. 82games.com shows that 83% of his shots were jump shots and only 17% were from inside, which is high for a PF. Compare that to Sweetney who’s shot selection consisted of only 39% jump shots and 61% inside shots. Bringing up the rear is Othella Harrington. Thella similarly takes a small percentage of inside shots (39%), hence why the poor rebounding.

Tim Thomas is thrown in because he’s 6-10, and SF are supposed to help out on the glass. You’d expect his numbers to look low because he’s a SF, but it’s known that he’s not aggressive on the boards. Penny Hardaway is not a great rebounder either, but he also spends time at the point & shooting guard spots. Keith Van Horn, as a Knick, was an impressive 6.6% & 15.1%, or 3% better in both offesive and defensive rebounding.

Free Throw Line (FTM/FGA)
Offensive 22nd, -7.2%
Defensve 27th, -11.7%

If you’re a first timer, or new to my blog, you probably don’t know about my distaste for the Knicks’ foul problems. It just kills me to see them commit stupid fouls.

NAME		PF/48
C. Trybanski 19.2
V. Baker 9.5
Harrington 7.4
M. Doleac 5.9
N. Mohammed 5.8
K. Thomas 5.6
M. Sweetney 5.5
D. Johnson 5.4
D. Mutombo 4.5
T. Thomas 4.4
S. Anderson 4.4
F. Williams 3.9
M. Norris 3.8
A. Hardaway 3.2
A. Houston 2.8
S. Marbury 2.6

You really don’t get at how bad the Knicks are until you look at PF/48 around the league. The 50th worst in PF/48 is Udonis Haslem with 5.3PF/48. Of the 16 players listed above, 8 players were worse than that mark. Sweetney was a rookie so you’d expect him to foul often, but he was still better than veterans Kurt Thomas, Nazr Mohammed, Michael Doleac, and Othella Harrington.

NAME		FT%	FTM/FGA
C. Trybanski .50 .50
V. Baker .71 .32
M. Sweetney .72 .30
D. Johnson .90 .29
Harrington .74 .29
M. Norris .77 .28
D. Mutombo .68 .27
S. Marbury .83 .27
T. Thomas .81 .26
S. Anderson .76 .22
A. Houston .91 .20
F. Williams .85 .20
A. Hardaway .78 .17
N. Mohammed .53 .16
M. Doleac .86 .14
K. Thomas .84 .13

It’s no surprise that Kurt Thomas has the lowest amount of free throws made per shot attempt, especially with his away from the hoop play. Nazr Mohammed’s ratio would go up about 7 points if he were a 75% free throw shooter instead of 53%. Sweetney’s numbers are very promising in this area, especially for a rookie.


Summary:
Of the 8 areas I outlined, the Knicks have 5 big weaknesses:

  • Committing Turnovers (23rd, -7.0%)
  • Creating Turnovers (23rd, -7.2%)
  • Offensive Rebounding (19th, -2.4%)
  • Scoring From the Free Throw Line (22nd, -7.2%)
  • Sending Their Opponents to the Free Throw Line (27th, -11.7%)

I could have added shooting efficiency as a 6th weakness as well. Their eFG% was just above league average. It’s not as bad as it looks. For the Knicks to be a great team, they don’t need to fix all their problems. Detroit was 20th in offensive shooting efficiency and offensive turnovers. The Lakers were worse than 15th in 4 of the 8 categories. Minnesota had 3 categories that they were ranked 23rd or worse. The one thing about these teams is that they were very good in many of the categories. Minnesota and Detroit was among the top 5 in 3 factors, while Indy & the Lakers were in the top 5 in 2. Unfortunately the Knicks were not in the top 5 in any factor. They were in the top 10 in 2 categories: defensive shooting efficiency and defensive rebounding. Getting an offense upgrade could push their eFG% into the top 10 as well.

It’s clear that they have problems with the center and forward spots. In the areas that the Knicks need the most help, Kurt Thomas is especially weak in at least three of these, while Nazr Mohammed and Othella Harrington are weak in two. Giving Sweetney major minutes (or even making him the starter) would be a good start. Sweetney’s strengths fit the Knicks’ weaknesses. He is a good shooting PF, that gets to the line, is agressive on the offensive boards, and at worst won’t send opponents to the line more often than Kurt Thomas. They need to unload one or more of Othella, Nazr or Kurt for another big man that doesn’t foul as often. They can hang on to one, or even two, but all three just compounds the problem.

Sweetney (and a healthy Houston) are the only internal options the Knicks have. To improve on next year, they’ll need some help from outside. So how do the three commonly rumored players fit in?

Name	eFG%	TO/48	STL/48	oREB%	DrawF	PF/48
Crawford 45.0 3.3 1.9 1.5 5.8 2.7
Dampier 53.5 2.6 .66 14.3 18.5 4.5
A. Walker 46.4 3.4 1.1 6.6 7.7 3.6

Let’s start with the guy that I think makes the biggest difference: Dampier. Dampier’s arrival originally meant Othella’s & Nazr’s departure. Not only would the Knicks get rid of a ton of fouls, but they pickup someone that lives inside the paint, shoots at a high percentage, gets to the line fairly often, can rebound, and by my last account can defend. The only thing to not like about the deal is the length of Dampier’s contract, which was a big point of contention. If the Knicks can get him for 3 years, without losing another major cog like Sweetney, I would be ecstatic. If I were the Knicks GM, I’d even take him for 4 years, but would have to take a long look in the mirror if his agent wanted 5 or more guaranteed years.

If Crawford comes to the Knicks, he’ll be taking Shandon Anderson’s place. If Houston isn’t healthy, Crawford will be the starting SG. Crawford’s FG% (38.6%) is horrible, but his eFG% (45.0%) is more respectable due to the number of 3 pointers he hits (2.1 3PM/G). Crawford took 16.5 shot attempts per game, which is more than double than Anderson’s. This could improve the Knicks’ offense by taking away shots from inefficient scorers like Penny Hardaway.

Crawford is by reputation a good ball handler. His turnover per 48 minutes is the same as all the Knick guards combined (3.3). Crawford gets the same amount of steals as Stephon Marbury, so he should address the Knicks’ turnover woes on both ends of the ball. Crawford is only 24 years old, and considering Houston’s health, signing him to a long term deal would be a plus for New York. Of course the loss of Frank Williams in a Crawford trade would be a minus, but as long as New York has Marbury and Houston’s health is up in the air, they need a SG more than a backup PG.

Of the three, Antoine Walker makes the least sense for New York. On the plus side, he doesn’t foul often, has a good handle for a PF, and he gets a decent amount of steals for a big man. On the negative side, he plays further outside than Kurt does. Walker’s shot selection is suspect, as his 3 point percentage last year dropped to a pathetic 27%. He doesn’t get fouled often and doesn’t get many offensive rebounds. Walker wouldn’t address many of the Knicks needs.

In any case I doubt Dallas would trade Walker to the Knicks. Antoine has a huge expiring contract and the Knicks are trying to trade their lesser expiring contracts (Othella & Deke). I don’t know if New York will be able to get Dampier, with the Warriors making that last deal for a backup center. However interest for Dampier around the league seems to be slow. Dampier wants what’s best for him (a long deal), and New York has been reported to have the most long term interest in him. Golden State would rather not loose him without any compensation. So there is still hope.

It has been reported that Isiah Thomas is currently in Chicago to iron out a deal for Crawford. Zeke and Paxson have been playing a game of chicken, and they’re going to have a showdown in the middle of town to see who blinks first. I’d expect that we’re going to know for sure whether or not Crawford will be traded to the Knicks by the end of the week. After that Isiah should know what pieces he has left for any other deals.

Kevin’s Off-season Plan

I’ll be the third person to officially lay out on an off-season plan of attack for the Knicks. Presumably, you’ve already read Dave’s take, and Chad Ford recently put together his “summer blueprint”. I don’t have Insider, so I haven’t read all of that one, but if the free part I linked is any indication, it’s as insipid as Ford’s “blueprints” traditionally are.

I can’t copy Ford’s stuff and don’t care nearly enough to re-type it, but, to summarize, Ford complains that Isiah Thomas has locked the Knicks into long-term mediocrity with his moves and left them with no chance in the free-agent market. That’s true, of course, but no more so than it was true when Thomas took over the team. With Houston’s mammoth deal and a few others on the books, the Knicks weren’t getting under the cap in the foreseeable future anyway, so all Thomas really did was spend more of Cablevision’s money. Raise your hand if you care about Cablevision’s bottom line. I didn’t think so.

If there is an argument to be made, it would center on Thomas dealing youngsters like Milos Vujanic and Maciej Lampe, as well as some picks, but it would be a relatively weak one. Vujanic and Lampe can’t hold a candle to Stephon Marbury and Mike Sweetney at their respective positions, and the Knicks’ picks wouldn’t have had a huge impact either. New York can get players of similar ability, if not potential, in free agency.

Brendan at the These Days blog (which I found thanks to its link to KnickerBlogger) has a slightly different Knicks rant that I can get behind:

I understand that to rebuild the Knicks is a 5 year job, minimum. As a fan, I’d much rather watch that than any more of this high-paid dreck. Isaiah Thomas, for the most part, deserves credit for the way he’s been able to make trades with the mess Scott Layden left him- but he’s still executing an interest-annihilating and utterly dreadful strategy handed down from on high. The result is, even when I read something really interesting like Kevin Pelton on Knick power forwards which teaches me something that I didn’t know, like how good Mike Sweetney was, all I can think is ‘dang, now I’ll be really annoyed when he’s tossed in on some deal for a guy like…Malik Rose’. And so it goes, at the Garden.

In a broader context, are the Knicks in a good position? Of course not. But that’s not Thomas’ fault; he inherited a mess, and if he has to sweep some junk into a corner so the house at least looks presentable enough for guests, well, I don’t think that’s a huge mistake.

Assuming that Thomas doesn’t dump Sweetney for a journeyman — and please, if that is going to happen, let Sweetney come to Seattle for Jerome James! — I actually think there is a way the Knicks can make some slight modifications to remain competitive in the East without sacrificing their youth.

I outlined some of what I’d look at in my position-by-position analyses, but let’s start with this. Entering the summer, my ideal Knicks rotation would look like this:

PG Marbury	  Williams
SG Houston Williams
SF T. Thomas Johnson/Ariza
PF Sweetney K. Thomas
C Mohammed K. Thomas

Houston is now the only starter on the wrong side of 30, Thomas the only backup that old. It’s a decent start. Giving minutes that went to Dikembe Mutombo and Othella Harrington to Sweetney should alone be worth a couple of wins. Trying to put a round number to that, by the win-based system I’ve introduced, giving Sweetney Harrington and Mutombo’s minutes and replacing Sweetney’s minutes with a replacement-level player improves the Knicks by one win, right on the top. Amazingly, replacing Shandon Anderson with Dermarr Johnson projects as worth about a win and a half over the course of the season. A healthy Allan Houston (fingers crossed) adds another win or two, as compared to Anderson and Anfernee Hardaway. So, barring major injury, it’s not unreasonable to think the Knicks might improve next season.

Even though Ford points out the Knicks won’t be luring Kobe Bryant or Rasheed Wallace to New York any time soon, that hardly means they’re finished in free agency. The name most bandied about at the moment is Chicago’s Jamal Crawford, but, even though Crawford’s a Seattle native, I’m not a big fan, certainly not for the Knicks. Crawford’s a low-efficiency, high-possessions tweener who isn’t very good on defense; barring a Houston injury, he does nothing for the Knicks, really. I’d rather give those minutes to Frank Williams, who at least brings some complementary skills relative \to what the Knicks already have.

Unfortunately, with their mid-level exception, the Knicks will have a hard time picking up someone who’s better than their two weakest starters (Thomas and Mohammed). The best they can probably hope to do is upgrade their reserve core, making a logical target for me a backup small forward who can also play some shooting guard and step in if Houston gets hurt.

Looking around, you’ve got guys who will likely have any offer matched by their current team (Darius Miles, who’s an interesting prospect after putting up off-the-charts numbers in Portland) or don’t fit the Knicks’ needs (Rodney White).

The best fit I could come up with was Toronto’s Morris Peterson. Peterson isn’t really young, as he’ll turn 27 over the summer, but he’s in the prime of his career, he’s a good outside shooter (which my vision of the Knicks wouldn’t really have on the bench) and a quality defender who shut down opposing small forwards last year.

Peterson is a restricted free agent himself, but the Raptors aren’t in great financial shape and might have to choose between signing a point guard and re-signing Peterson. He could be had for a pretty reasonable deal — maybe three years, $10-$12 million? — and would be a huge upgrade on Anderson playing a similar role.

Lo and behold, this might not be a completely implausible thought; Newsday mentioned Peterson in a recent free-agent roundup.

Now that we’re through free agency, we’ll have to look at the trade market. The first move I’d make is with the Sonics. The Knicks have been linked to James for two years now, and a deal that would make sense for both sides is Dikembe Mutombo and Cezary Trybanski (for cap purposes) for James. Mutombo is probably the more valuable player, but not really wanted in New York from what I read about him while researching my centers breakdown. The Knicks basically take a chance that James can make good on his promise, and it’s not really a risk for either side since both players’ contracts end next year and neither is penciled in as a key player next year.

After making those moves, I go fishing for a bigger deal with the Thomases and/or Mohammed as the lures, trying to upgrade either small forward or center. I’m not sure I could find any takers or make anything make sense, but it’s worth a look. Kurt Thomas wouldn’t really be a big loss; we could fill in his minutes with James (or Mutombo) and possibly a low-level-type free agent power forward (Vin Baker? Michael Doleac? There’s not a whole lot else out there).

Beyond that, I look at some buyouts (Hardaway, Norris, Anderson) and sign some cheap, underrated guys: Richie Frahm, Jaime Lloreda, Zendon Hamilton, keep Andre Barrett around as my third point guard. Good times.

Depending on who, if anyone, I can trade for, I project this team to win somewhere between 40-45 wins. Unless the bottom really falls out, it’s a playoff squad, with the potential to get as high as around the fourth or fifth seed (depending on how Miami fares). At the same time, it’s a reasonably young squad. These aren’t the Baby Bulls or anything, but virtually all the contributors are young enough that they’ll still be productive in two-three years. Again, depending on the trade, I haven’t done any further damage to the salary-cap situation, so the long-term sacrifice is minimal. And if Sweetney turns out to be as good as I think he might be ? well, maybe life isn’t so bleak at the Garden after all.

With KnickerBlogger’s return on the horizon, just a couple of days away, that wraps it up for me unless the Knicks do something exciting over the weekend, and, presumably, for all of us guest bloggers. I hope the readers out there have enjoyed this as much as I have — it really was a fun exercise looking in detail at a team I’d followed only casually beforehand, and I’ll be rooting for the Knicks the rest of this summer and into the season. I mentioned to KB recently that I wished I had a team blog, and he retorted he wished he worked for a team, so I suppose the grass is simply greener on the other side. It was certainly nice to spend a couple of weeks on this side of the fence, and I’d like to wrap up by thanking KB for the opportunity.

Kevin Pelton writes “Page 23” for Hoopsworld.com on a semi-regular basis. He can be reached at kpelton@hoopsworld.com.