Knicks 35 Bulls 117

Random Notes & Thoughts:

* I’ve come up with a new game to play during Knick games, I call it the Jared Jeffries game. Anytime an announcer says Jeffries stats, add the words “a career high” after it. It works well when they say things like “Jeffries has 5 points on the night” or “That’s Jeffries 3rd rebound.” It helps take the pain away when Jeffries misses from inside the paint.

* The Knicks normally have been good in third quarters, which had us guessing what Isiah does at halftimes. So far the most prevalent notion is “live cock fights.”

* My roommate asked me what Jeffries cost the Knicks. My response: “giving minutes to any small forward that might be useful.”

* I understand the Knicks are a walking M*A*S*H unit, but can’t Isiah sign someone from the D-League to help? This guy is the NBDL’s second highest scorer, is coming off knee surgery, and was drafted by the Knicks a few years back. A 10 day contract couldn’t hurt and I’d love to hear what the New York announcers could do with his name. That alone could keep me going until the end of the season.

* A Mike Sweetney sighting! If Frank Williams and Cezary Trybanski had been signed to 10-day contracts, I could have just dusted off a 2004 KnickerBlogger post and I don’t think anyone would have noticed.

* There was some discussion on what wins games (shooting, turnovers, rebounding, etc.), and those serious about the endeavor should Google “Four Factors Dean Oliver”. This link written by Dean himself, gives a pretty good plain English explanation.

* This cracks me up.

Diagnosing Patient Frye: What Ails Our Sophomore Slumper?

Healthy, Wealthy, and Young: The Birth of A New Era
Standing 6?11?, being only 23 years-old, and with a promising rookie campaign under his belt, Channing Frye seemed destined to finally fill the gaping productivity hole at the Knicks? power forward position. The Knicks haven?t employed a tall, talented four since the glory days of Charles Oakley. Having suffered through a platoon of the short (Anthony Mason, Larry Johnson), the short and useless (Othella Harrington, Clarence Weatherspoon, Malik Rose, Maurice Taylor), and the short but perennially out of shape (Mike Sweetney), Knicks fans envisioned a bright future of crisp pick-and-rolls, a smooth jumper, and a reasonable defensive presence.

The average Knick fan was in love with Frye, but those fluent in statistical analysis were downright infatuated with him. Frye produced a very healthy rookie PER (18.12) ranking him second in his class, superior to the more heralded big men drafted ahead of him?Andrew Bogut, Marvin Williams, and Charlie Villanueva. The PER was promising in general, but also healthy in its components. Frye?s skill set was broad, which is an underrated quality and a strong indicator of future growth. He created shots, hit the ones he did, kept his turnovers in check, and rebounded well. Frye averaged 20 points per 40 minutes and it?s not hard to see why: he could shoot with range, was developing a low-post game, and hit his free throws. He?s a young big man who could score, and those don?t grow on trees. In all, the only blight on his record was a dismal Curry-esque assist ratio.

It wasn?t youth and inexperience that stood in Frye?s way. His major obstacles were his coach and his health. In his relentless effort to sabotage the Knicks? season, ?Coach? Larry Brown decided to bury Frye behind the inferior, older, shorter, and ultimately unemployment-bound Maurice Taylor. When Frye was finally able to wrestle himself some playing time, he sprained his knee and missed the last month of the season. In the off-season Larry Brown was replaced with the man who drafted Frye, while the months off provided time to heal. Knicks fans indulged high, and arguably, merited hopes that Frye would continue to improve and squeeze the Knicks into the playoffs of a historically weak conference.

We have thus far been grossly disappointed. To label Frye a disaster two-thirds through his sophomore campaign is painfully appropriate. Far from being a fringe All-Star candidate, Frye is posting a paltry 11.74 PER, and having trouble justifying a rotation slot, much less a starting job. Frye’s drop of -6.38 PER is downright ridiculous. We had no reason to believe Frye?s production would plummet, since none of Frye?s metrics were outliers to suggest a regression to the mean.

Paging Dr. Stats
There?s nothing about Frye’s rookie statistics that suggest ?luck? instead of ?skill.? Frye does nearly everything well (except pass), instead of one or two things spectacularly. In other words, he?s more Elton Brand than Kyle Korver. But Frye?s game is ailing badly. What?s the diagnosis?

Examining Frye?s performance record, reveals that for the most part Frye 2.0 is the same player as Frye 1.0. His turnover rate this season is not only healthy, but slightly improved. His usage rate is down slightly, but nothing alarming. His assist ratio is as small as ever, no change there (and unfortunately no improvement). We run into the first problem with a decreased rebound rate. A downtick that?s bad but not dramatic. However Frye?s main malady is his outright implosion in True Shooting Percentage. Frye went from a better than league average 54.1% to an atrociously bad 47.1%. That?s not a decline, that?s a crash.

There are three components that factor into TS%: 3-pt FGs, 2-pt FGs, and Free Throws. Frye doesn’t take threes, and his free throw percentage is even better this year, so it’s easy to say that his drop in FG% from .477 to .438 is the culprit. At first glance, Frye seems to be losing his shooting touch.

But let’s hold on there, because what FT% doesn’t show is his rate of attempts. Last year Frye shot 5.8 free throws per 40 minutes. This year he’s down to 2.3, which is down a staggering 60%! Frye went from taking a free throw for every two field goals, to shooting one for every four. Essentially, Frye has eliminated free throws from his offensive repertoire. Frye can shoot the rock, but relying on a mid-range jumper for the majority of your shots is career suicide. Take the master of the mid-range, Richard Hamilton. What keeps his offensive numbers up are his prodigious rate of free throw attempts, not just the accuracy of his shot. Ironically, the same plight of all ?J? no drive, is what made Frye?s predecessor, Mo Taylor, such an inefficient offensive player. After calling for Frye to replace Taylor, like a nightmare we?ve just watched the former turn into the latter.

What?s funny is the attacking the basket inclination that has escaped Frye has downright possessed his best friend, David Lee. Lee leads the league in field goal percentage despite lacking any talent as a shooter. Dunks and lay ups are the highest percentage shot, an obvious fact that Lee embraces but Frye seems to have forgotten.

The case of the disappearing free throws extends to a bout of, “Where are the rebounds?” Frye’s rebounding numbers were unimpressive in college. Red flags were raised on draft day, but the Knicks insisted he’d be fine, and his first year in the NBA he was. His rookie rate of 14.2 was reasonable, putting him in line with the second-tiered rebounders at his position, like Andrew Bogut, Rasheed Wallace, and Chris Wilcox. It was nothing to write home about, but Frye was still an above-average performer. This year, his rate has declined to 12.3%, placing him in the unenviable company of Mark Blount and Mikki Moore, the former being infamous for his pathetic work ethic and the latter for his slight frame.

What went wrong? A rebound percentage is made of two components: Offensive and Defensive Rates. In fact, Frye’s defensive rebounding has improved this year, going from 5.9 defensive rebounds per 40 minutes to 6.2. On the other hand, his offensive rebounding is down by a third, from 3.5 per 40 minutes to 2.2. As his friend the Freshman-Sophomore Game MVP demonstrates, offensive rebounds are a function of activity around the basket. They don’t come to you, you go to them.

Looking closely at his numbers?both advanced and traditional?reveal the problem: Frye is not attacking the basket. It?s not that he can?t, it?s that he won?t.

Take Two of These and Call Me In the Morning
In a sense, Frye?s problems are good problems to have. He demonstrated in his rookie season a capacity to grab offensive rebounds and draw fouls, but for some reason he?s gone away from these aspects of his game. Frye is too young to suggest his talent has abandoned him. Rather it seems, he?s switched his strategy. This is a problem of habit not skill, and should be, if any basketball problems can be, correctable. If Frye is sick, he doesn?t need a doctor, he needs a psychologist.

It would seem to reason that if Frye rededicates himself to attacking the basket, his Free Throw rates, field goal percentage, and offensive rebounds will improve. Frye has the talent to drive to the basket, the question is will he embrace that style, reverse his collapse, and once again establish himself as one of the league’s best young forwards.

Michael Zannettis regularly posts on his website www.michaelzannettis.com He addresses topics as diverse as the culture of evolution, possession law, and communication theory. He lives in Astoria and has a fond childhood memory of when the NBA Finals were interrupted by a White Ford Bronco in a low-speed car chase.

The Eddy Curry Study

“There is real hope that Eddy will develop into a league-leading center,” (Knicks owner James) Dolan said. “If you watched the second quarter of the San Antonio game he was pretty good. That’s Larry’s job … to get him from one quarter to four quarters.”
New York Daily News
March 02, 2006

Whether it’s due to the variety of cultures or the sheer number of inhabitants, New Yorkers rarely agree on anything. However, thanks to James Dolan & the Knicks front office, 2006 has given New Yorkers a topic all can agree upon: The New York Knicks suck. While Big Apple residents often have the propensity to overstate their cases, it’s hard to be a contrarian on this issue. At 17 wins and 44 losses, New York is dead last in the NBA standings. Additionally the Knicks have the NBA’s worst salary cap situation. Not only do they currently have the league’s highest salary, but they continue to trade for and sign players to exorbitant long term contracts.

Since their 2000 season ended, the boys in blue & orange have been in a slow & steady decline. It’s no coincidence that the Knicks demise is accompanied by two major events that left them absent of a quality big man. Patrick Ewing was traded to Seattle in the summer of 2000, and Marcus Camby was sent packing over a year later. While I’m not obtuse enough to think that you need a dominant center to win in the NBA, New York’s most successful teams have been lead by the man in the middle. The 70s Knicks wouldn’t have been the same without Willis Reed. Patrick Ewing kept the team afloat in the 80s and 90s. And Marcus Camby almost catapulted them to an improbable Finals victory in 2000. Since then, the Knicks have attempted to fill this void with undersized power forwards like Kurt Thomas and Mike Sweetney. New York’s only playoff appearance in this period was when they had a serviceable (but past his prime) Dikembe Mutombo roaming the paint.

It’s probably these kinds of thoughts Isiah Thomas had in his head when he signed Eddy Curry for 6 years and $60M. Curry is only 23 years old, and at a listed 6’11 285lbs is no undersized power forward. There is no doubt that once Curry releases the ball, he is an able scorer. In David Crockett’s last KB.Net article, he said of Curry:

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.

And this is where the opinions of Curry begin to diverge. Although he doesn’t lack the ability to score, it’s the other aspects of the game that elude Eddy. He seems disinterested on the defensive end, is a timid defensive rebounder, and turns the ball over too often. When Isiah Thomas decided to pursue Eddy Curry, he must have thought that these attributes would change. In fact the quote above shows that the Knicks owner, James Dolan, feels the same way. But is this true? How likely is it that New York’s present center will become their center of the future?

To answer a question like this, we just need to look in the past. To find players similar to Mr. Curry, I limited myself to 23 year olds who were 6’10 or taller. I also limited myself to the last 25 years, or what I would term the modern era of the NBA (1980 or since). This is due to the changes in the game including the ABA/NBA merger, the three point line, gaps in statkeeping (blocks, steals, turnovers), etc. Using this information, we can gauge how likely it is for Curry to become a more productive player. If we look at 23 year old players whose defensive rebounding rates were close to Curry’s (5.0 & 6.2 DREB/40 min) we find that after 3 years those same players on average saw a meager increase of 0.5 defensive rebounds per 40 minutes. Optimists will find comfort in the knowledge that there were a few players who started out as timid as Eddy, and turned into excellent rebounders.

Marcus Camby was an awful rebounder for the Toronto Raptors, which is probably the reason they traded him to New York. In his first two years he averaged 5.5 and 5.3 defensive rebounds per 40 minutes. In New York, his rates steady increased until blossoming as a full time starter in 2001. That year Marcus averaged 9.9 defensive rebounds per 40 minutes, nearly double his average in Toronto. Another player who went from hyalophobe to hyalophile is Jayson Williams. Like Camby, in his first two seasons Williams showed a fear of glass for the Sixers. And just like Marcus, Jayson nearly doubled his defensive rebounding by age 26, snaring 10.0 DREB/40min.

Camby and Williams show that it’s not impossible for Curry to become a strong rebounder. However if you’re going to start to tout Curry as a future All Star, you might want to preface your statement with something to the effect of being a blind optimist who will be winning the lotto in the near future. By looking at defensive rebounding averages of all players from age 23 to 36 (see graph below), players will hit their peak around the age of 27 and begin to decline at around 32. From this data it might be reasonable to incur that Curry will be at best a league average rebounder for a man of his size, and at worst remain a poor rebounder.

By using this same technique, we can also analyze his turnover and blocked shot rate. The next two charts reveal that both turnovers and blocked shots decrease steadily as a player ages. That turnovers decrease is a good sign for the Knicks, since it’s a major weakness in Curry’s game. As poster NGLI pointed out, the Knicks young center is prone to being stripped due to keeping the ball too low and is called for offensive charging by bowling over his defenders. If Eddy can improve on his career 3.3 TO/40 minutes, it’d make him a legitimate offensive option, one the Knicks can feed into the post without effectively giving the other team the ball in the process. As for blocked shots, it looks as if it’s a skill a player either has or does not have. I did eyeball a few of the league’s best shot swatters, and their rates do increase. Nonetheless for everyone else it’s just a skill that erodes as a player gets older.


Armed with this data it’s clear that Eddy Curry will remain a “Baby Shaq” and never become the real deal. The safe money is that he should be able to reduce his turnovers enough to become an offensively productive center. Unfortunately he’ll never be strong on the defensive end, either in rebounding or blocking shots. Now is this the definition of a “league-leading center” that the Knicks front office had in mind when they gave away a couple of first round picks and signed Curry to $60M? That’s something New Yorkers can debate about for the next few years.

Michael Sweetney: Big Mike’s Numbers and the Analysts Who Love Them

The foundation of the statistical analysis revolution in sports is the fact that subjective impressions are not sufficient measures of a player performance. Objective measurements, usually in the form of statistics, are needed to properly determine value. Using too much subjective impression will either overvalue or undervalue a player. By the basis of their objectivity, statistical analysts (statheads) are supposed to be immune to the rank subjective posturing that afflicts most general managers and sports writers. That statheads are impartial observers is itself a hypothesis, which like all scientific hypotheses must be tested against the evidence. For that end, let us consider the stathead commentary on our favorite misused Knick of the past three years, Michael Sweetney, a.k.a. Big Mike.

Just the very fact that I appropriately used the word “favorite” to describe Sweetney is telling in as much as it is accurate. First, take a great player like Lebron James. His talent is so obvious and properly reflected by the scorecard statistics that there is little in the way of evaluation a more advanced statistical analysis provides. On the other hand, Sweetney is widely viewed as a toad: short, fat, and slow. Therefore, statheads like you or me love Big Mike because it gives us a chance to prove our hypothesis: “Subjective impression is insufficient to gauge player worth, so we need objective measurements.” Big Mike validates our scientific enterprise because we “know” he’s a productive player, even if nobody else can see past his limitations.

In a sense too, we statheads are rooting for an underdog, seeing in Sweetney his inner prince .

Accordingly, statheads are willing to look past Sweetney’s warts: he is a poor open court player, draws too many fouls, and does not rotate well on defense. These are all real concerns in the current ecology of the NBA which favors quick perimeter players. But staheads still stare at his steadfastly efficient production as a scorer and rebounder and insist he has value.

Last season, while we were ruing the Knicks’ poor usage of Sweetney, not much was being said of the undervaluing of their best player, Stephon Marbury. That statheads would ignore Marbury’s Top-3 point guard PER (just a hair behind the league MVP Steve Nash) to complain that he “dominates the ball too much” is a curious case of selective judgement. Compare the two: Sweetney is a statistical monster, who upsets aesthetically, and Marbury is a statistical monster, who upset aesthetically. But statheads have been much more vocal in support of Sweetney than for Marbury.

The reason for this asymmetrical commentary is strictly subjective “liking” of a player (which admittedly was the motivation for why I wrote my first piece on Marbury). This author was outright flabbergasted at the subjective criticism levied against Stephon Marbury by statheads in the face of his outstanding statistical performance. As statheads we laugh at labeling a productive player like Sweetney as useless for being lumbering and oafish. However, we then turn around and bemoaned Marbury’s inability to improve teammate performance, even if we should know better. By our own advanced metric standards of Plus/Minus, Marbury made the Knicks 12 points better per 48 minutes, easily ranking him as a league leader in that category.

By our own standards, the criticism of Marbury’s cancerous effect on team play is completely unjustified.

An update on Sweetney’s performance demonstrates another limitation on statistics: They are for the most part reactive. They tell us what happened in the past, but even our informed opinions on the future are still educated guesses. Statheads expected Sweetney’s performance to steadily improve, thrusting him into the Top-10 Power Forward plateau. Unfortunately, much to our chagrin, he has regressed, now posting a PER as slightly below league average.

This PER depression is largely due to a dramatic plummet in TS%. Sweetney was a monster low-post scorer last season, but his Field-Goal percentage has sunk inversely to his weight. Sweetney’s foul rate was expected to decrease as he got older and saw more regular minutes, but that hasn’t happened either. One promising indicator is his turnover rate declined with increase usage, though that is tempered greatly by his lowered shooting efficiency. In all, we should take Sweetney’s unique player card and file it into our database in order to improve our models and hypothesis. The regression is especially alarming because Sweetney is short for a frontcourt player and those performers have historically had shorter (no pun intended) careers with quicker peaks. At this stage it might only be wishful thinking, and not statistical indication, to believe he will ever move into an elite tier of power forwards.

Statistical analysis does greatly improve the evaluation of player performance, but like any other science it must maintain its discipline to be both credible and effective. For that matter, we cannot only point fingers at the subjective media for filling their columns with mindless ruminations: we must also be vigilant in policing ourselves. There should be no rooting in the press-box, nor in the regression model.

Of course, we can in our own time take off our stat thinking hats too and place Sweetney’s framed player card atop our mantle, remembering fondly how on those horrifically bad Knicks teams sometimes the only entertainment was his periodic hip checking of seven footers out of the lane.

Babcock Loses Job

Toronto GM Rob Babcock was fired today, and it’s ironic that his former team is not even in last place in their division. The Knicks are below the Raptors in winning percentage, but somehow the Knicks are actually ahead in the “games behind” column. Unlike the Knicks, the Raptors don’t have the luxury of the league’s biggest payroll. Nor do they have a shoe-in hall of fame coach roaming their sidelines. They don’t have the advantage of being one of the biggest sports market in the US. Toronto has to recruit athletes for a winter sport in one of the colder cities in the league. Hell they don’t even collect the American dollar at the gates. And as of today, they’re still doing better than the Knicks.

Since Toronto has opened up the can of worms on firing GMs, I’d like to broach the topic on whether the Knicks should keep Isiah? Right now he’s put together a dubious roster that even Larry Brown can’t get to win more a third of their games. The only thing worse than Isiah’s judgment on NBA talent might be his understanding of the NBA’s salary cap. Just like the team Isiah has inherited, the Knicks lead the league in salary while remaining south of the .500 mark.

Thomas’ strength is his uncanny ability to spot talent in the draft, but he’s traded the next two Knick first round picks. The traded draft picks mean that Isiah won’t be able to use his greatest trait, but it also means he’s removed his second best trait. Look at the Knicks roster & ask who are the Knicks best assets? Personally I would choose Marbury, Frye, Curry, Crawford, Lee, Davis, and Ariza. All of those players except for Crawford were either drafted by the Knicks or acquired with draft picks. Marbury cost the Knicks their 2004 pick, a future 1st round pick, and the 30th pick in the 2003 draft (Maciej Lampe). Curry and Davis came to New York for the Knicks 2006 first rounder, the option to swap 2007 first rounders, two second rounders, and the 9th overall pick in 2003 (Mike Sweetney). Isiah’s track record sans drafting and using picks as bait has been unimpressive. Of his 8 trades, only 3 didn’t have the Knicks shipping away a draft pick, the inconsequential Weatherspoon/Norris swap, the controversial Nazr to the Spurs, and the ‘decision still pending’ Crawford deal. Free agency hasn’t been kind to Isiah either. Reclamation projects like Baker, Woods, and Butler have yet to bear any fruit. Even when given a little money to spend on free agents Thomas has gaffed with the knee slapping, side splitting (to everyone but Knick fans) 5 year deal to Jerome James.

Let’s stop for a second & think about this more objectively. Imagine we can clone the Knicks’ franchise, with everything remaining the same except they don’t have a GM. You’re the owner of a franchise with some promising young players that has mortgaged a bunch of its future draft picks and has the worst salary cap situation in sports. Would you hire a GM who has been successful in drafting players, trading draft picks, and has shown no ability in being able to reduce the salary cap? If the Bulls can turn it around in 2007 with a pair of first rounders and a load of capspace, the Knicks will only see one mid (Bulls ’07) and one late (Spurs ’06) first round pick so they won’t be able to take advantage of Isiah Thomas’ draft wizardry. Additionally, without those future draft picks, Isiah won’t be able to use his second favorite tactic: dangling picks in front of other teams looking to unload players (Marbury, Curry) that they’ve soured on.

Take a look at Isiah Thomas’ track record. Outside of the draft, Isiah’s acquisitions have been risky gambles. Some have turned out reasonably well (Nazr Mohammed, Jamal Crawford) while others have gone from harmless wastes of time (Vin Baker, Tim Thomas, Qyntel Woods) to the downright bad (Jerome James, Quentin Richardson, Malik Rose, Penny Hardaway). The rest are muddled with cap and trade implications (Eddy Curry, Stephon Marbury) that make it hard to judge whether or not they were worth it. In baseball terms Isiah Thomas might be a Dave Kingman, Rob Deer, or Pete Incaviglia. Someone that hits for a low average, but is always swinging for the fences. Continuing the metaphor, the Knicks have a runner on third with two outs in the ninth inning of a tie game. In this situation, Isiah Thomas is not the man you want at the plate. I’d rather have a slap hitter that can get that run home, than the guy who is going to strike out trying to put two on the scoreboard. Translating back to basketball, today’s New York Knicks need a guy that can dump some salary and grab some useful guys that can fill the rotation. As far as I’m concerned, Isiah Thomas has shown he’s not that guy.

In Defense of Marbury: Usage Rate and the Ball-Hog

This article was written by KnickerBlogger reader Michael Zannettis, who originally sent this to me in a different form. I’ve taken the liberty to edit the work to make it more befitting this space. Any grammatical or spelling mistakes are therefore mine. Additionally I sat on this article for well over a week, so I’ve attempted to update the stats where applicable. At the time the Knicks were doing much worse on offense and much better on defense, so it may suffer from it’s late publication. While it may not be best presented after Marbury’s 35 point outburst against Detroit, I feel that the piece should be heard, and believe that it still stands on its own.

Again any issues that arise from these changes are the fault of the editor, so save Michael from the voodoo doll pins that many of you are currently using to punish yours truly.


It is with great concern for the current competitiveness and future viability of our beloved Knickerbocker franchise that I have become distressed with the treatment of the Knicks? best player, Stephon Marbury. I was certainly a supporter of one of the great coaches of all-time, Larry Brown, being hired to lead this franchise back to the NBA playoffs, but his initial returns on player development are frustrating.

Most obviously, Mr. Brown?s poor treatment of his only star performer, Stephon Marbury, has collapsed a once-decent New York offense. I will not forget that the defense has made a turn around from 27th to 16th without the addition of even one frontline defensive player. Due credit will be meted out in time, but even Mr. Brown?s championship Detroit Pistons had an average offense to complement their superior defense.

Let the numbers decide the offense?s stature. Last year’s team was an average offense, ranking 17th (105.9pts/100 poss). This year, the team’s production has plummeted to 24th (100.7pts/100 poss), a decrease of 5.2pts/100 poss. Last year, the entire scoring load of the Knicks’ offense fell to its guards, Stephon Marbury and Jamal Crawford, both of whom were the only Knicks to average 15 points or more per game.

In the more advanced metrics, Marbury fared well while Crawford looked worse. The former led the team with a .690 player win percentage and a 21.9 PER, while the latter was an inefficient, if volumous, scorer with poor defense, whose win share was a replacement-level .344 with an average 15.4 PER. It was Crawford’s low shooting percentage, often forcing ill-advised shots, which killed his contributions to the offense. He didn’t help his cause by being a spectator on the defensive end either.

Marbury was criticized for his high Usage Rate (24.7%) but considering the teammates he was expected to pass to, it’s a wonder that he didn’t shoot the ball even more often. The only other Knick regular with Offensive Efficiency ratings at the league average or better were Jerome Williams and Mike Sweetney. Williams was a rebounding specialist whose 13.2% Usage Rate belied the fact that the only time he scored was off a tip-in or offensive rebound. Meanwhile the underrated and underutilized Mike Sweetney was a low-post scorer with a prodigious free throw rate, who neither was a pick & roll partner nor a particularly explosive finisher around the basket that would complement Mr. Marbury?s talents.

No other teammate, besides the underused Sweetney, approached offensive competence.

If the criticism of Marbury was that Sweetney should have received more touches in the low block, then I would certainly be in agreement. This was not the case. Rather, it was the Knicks’ coaching staff themselves who limited Big Mike’s production by playing him only 19.6 minutes per game, and all that behind inferior talent.

Sweetney even played less when Malik Rose joined the team through a mid-season trade with San Antonio. Rose was clearly finished as an offensive player, and shared Sweetney’s biggest weakness: being short. If Mike Sweetney was losing playing time for being an undersized 6?8? power forward with limited open court athleticism, then what exactly was Malik Rose, an undersized 6?7? power forward who could no longer hit a jump shot doing playing over 20 minutes a game?

Who then was Marbury expected to share the ball with? Because of his incompetent teammates, on any given possession the best option for the Knicks was Stephon taking the shot.

Examining the Usage Rate comparables of the 2004-05 season makes the ball-hog criticism even more inane. Marbury ranked 30th in the league in Usage Rate. For those of us keeping score at home, there are only 32 teams in the league, and since Usage Rate cannot exceed 100% by a team, the more one player’s ratio increases the more another’s must decrease (although if they are playing as substitutes one might not affect another’s directly). An obvious example would be Chris Webber?s high usage rate falling precipitously when he was traded to the Philadelphia 76er?s midseason. Allen Iverson led the league in Usage Rate, and promptly cut Webber?s dramatically, before it stabilized to a 17% decrease from his Sacramento rate.

As Dean Oliver explains in Basketball on Paper, a high usage scorer could be an asset to a team even if he is below average efficiency, because it permits his teammates to take fewer but higher quality shots. This improves the team?s overall efficiency. Ideally, of course, a team would like several high usage/high efficiency scorers. The Chicago Bull dynasty had this with the ultimate example of Michael Jordan and his Top-50 Player of all Time teammate Scottie Pippen. By the time they were done using the ball, the remainder of their teammates had only to use a small high quality percentage, which improved the team?s overall efficiency even more.

Compared to Stephon Marbury?s much maligned 24.7% Usage Rate, Scottie Pippen’s usage during the Bulls? championship seasons is comparable: 1990-91, 23.2%; ?92, 25.8%; ?93, 25.4%; ?96, 24.4%; ?97, 24.1%; ?98, 21.4%. And what about the one year Pippen had to lead the Bulls completely without Jordan? His Usage Rate in ?94 was 27.4%. Obviously, he should have passed the ball more. What a hog!

This additive function of Usage Rates would make it extremely difficult for any two teammates to be near the league leaders in Usage Rate, unless it was a classic pairing like Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles during their championship run, or the aforementioned Jordan-Pippen combination. For the 2004 season, there were only four teams that had a pair of teammates who played with each other all season and both had a higher usage rate than Marbury’s 24.57%, 30th: Indiana Pacers (Jermaine O’Neal 32.32%, 3rd; Jamaal Tinsley 26.12%, 17th; Stephen Jackson, 25.03%, 29th); Miami Heat (Dwyane Wade, 29.03%, 5th; Shaquille O’Neal, 27.45%, 10th); Washington Wizards (Gilbert Arenas, 25.95%, 18th; Larry Hughes, 25.30%, 24th); Minnesota Timberwolves (Kevin Garnett, 25.88%, 19th; Sam Cassell, 25.86%, 20th). In other words, as the best player on the Knicks’ team Marbury only used the ball as much as the 24th most heavily used first-rate player. Including the 76ers and Warriors by projecting full season stats and therefore including Iverson/Webber and Davis/Richardson, only moves Stephon up to 22nd, still a below average rate for a team?s best player.

If Marbury’s reputation labels him a ball-hog, the statistical evidence does not support the hypothesis. Instead, he resembles a talented offensive player who creates his own shots and creates high quality efficiency. Teams need more of this, not less. Considering the Knicks general incompetence at the offensive end, it was a wonder that Stephon Marbury is not asked to increase his Usage Rate.

Knicks 2006 Preview Part I

Center: This is one area that the Knicks have certainly upgraded. While Nazr Mohammed filled the position reasonably well last year, his departure left a 6’10 foot void in the middle of Knicks’ lineup. Herb Williams did the best he could with a rotation of Mike Sweetney, Kurt Thomas, Malik Rose, Maurice Taylor, and any fan 6’7 or taller willing to don a uniform for a few minutes.

This year Knick fans should notice an instant transformation at the 5. When the Knicks acquired Curry, the press was quick to compare him to Patrick Ewing, but I was reminded of another young Knick center. Marcus Camby arrived in New York in a controversial summer deal. Both players were former high lottery picks, with health issues, whose previous teams had soured on them, and were brought over in controversial summer trades. If Gothamites are looking for a bright comparison, it would be fantastic if Curry’s could break out for New York like Camby did years ago.

There is one problem with comparing Curry to either Ewing or Camby. Both of the former Knick centers excelled at rebounding & defense. In the 2006 Basketball Forecast, John Hollinger said that Curry was among the 5 worst rebounding centers in the league, meanwhile Dan Rosenbaum had him ranked as the 5th worst defensive center in the league. Watching him during the preseason, Curry’s defense appears as poor as advertised. His ‘D’ suffers from poor footwork, being out of shape, and a general indifference. The Knicks young center is a beast when he has the ball, but shies away from contact at all other times. The blocked shots that I recall from preseason were from the weak side, and unfortunately Curry doesn’t have Camby’s athleticism to be a force in that manner.

Eddy is a fantastic scorer who does so at a very high rate. Big men that shoot well usually get a lot of easy buckets from tip-ins, but Curry was a pitiful 89th in offensive rebounds per minute last year. This just means that Curry’s skills as a scorer are even more impressive than his 54% might indicate. Luckily 82games.com tracks such things, and Curry only scored 2% of the time on “tips”. In comparison Nazr Mohammed rebounding tips comprised 7% of his scores, and Mike Sweetney tipped the ball in 4% of the time. Kurt Thomas matched Curry’s 2%, which is a bad sign since the pick and roll specialist Thomas only ventured into the paint when he was lost.

Eddy’s size presents problems for opponents trying to defend him. Defenders that that allow him to get too deep in the paint are likely to fall victim to one of his variety of post moves. Fronting Curry isn’t a better proposition, as his soft hands allow him to handle the lob and he can finish the alleyoop as well as any big man in the league. Eddy Curry’s addition means that the Knicks have a legitimate second scoring threat next to Marbury, which should improve New York’s offense tremendously.

Before acquiring Curry, the Knicks signed Jerome James to help bolster the middle. Like Curry, and unlike any of the Knicks centers last year, James’ size is more than adequate for the position. Jerome will be able to protect the rim, and will provide a bit of muscle as his 8.4 fouls per 40 minutes will attest to. Unfortunately, James also shares Curry’s lack of rebounding and offseason conditioning.

The Knicks also have a pair of young players that should be able to fill in at center for a few minutes a game. The number 8 pick in this year’s draft, Channing Frye, and undrafted CBA prospect Jackie Butler have gotten good reviews from Larry Brown. Of the two, Butler is more likely to see time at the 5 for two reasons. The first is that Frye’s slender build will make him more suitable for power forward his first year. The second is despite his inexperience, Butler is the Knicks’ best rebounder. Unfortunately like most young players, Jackie finds himself committing mental mistakes. In one summer league game, Butler had 3 whistles on him in what seemed like a 5 minute stretch. If he wants to earn playing time, he’ll have to cut back on the gaffs.

Power Forward: In recent history, the Knicks have had a glut of power forwards. This year seems to be no exception. Less than a month ago I asked Knick fans “By January 1st, who is the Knicks’ starting PF?” The most popular choice was Malik Rose, which was my answer as well. I chose Rose due to the Knicks lack of defenders, but after watching a few preseason games, I’m going to switch to Antonio Davis.

Malik Rose is an intelligent player who understands the concept of team defense. Rose is rarely lost in a defensive rotation and has a sneaky array of moves to thwart opposing players. However he is staring down the wrong side of 30, and won’t be able to compensate for his lack of size with physical ability anymore. Davis’ height has allowed him to age more gracefully than Rose. Despite nearing the end of his career, Davis’ rebounding and defense is still at an acceptable level. Although Rose was never a big shot blocker, his per minute rate is half of what it was just a year ago, and less than a third of what it was at its peak. Malik’s rebounding dipped noticeably as well, grabbing only 7.4 boards per 40 minutes for the Knicks.

If rebounding and defense will keep Davis as the starter, then it’ll be the same thing that will keep Maurice Taylor off the court. Taylor will have the role of scoring big man off the bench, and he’ll be limited to 15 or 20 minutes a game, depending on how often the Knicks are behind. Joining Taylor on the bench will be the rookies, Channing Frye and David Lee. Although Frye was taken much earlier in the draft, Lee has been the more impressive of the two. A natural lefty, Lee has become ambidextrous and is a handful (punny!) for defenders when he’s in the post. He can score with either hand, and seems to have a wide array of moves in the paint. Lee was thought of as a good rebounder in college, and hopefully that skill will transfer over to the NBA.

I’m still not sure what to expect out of Frye. His frame resembles that of Marcus Camby, but he lacks Camby’s high flying theatrics. On the other hand Frye has a nice touch from the outside and should make a fine partner for Marbury on the pick & roll. With the depth at power forward and Brown’s predisposition towards rookies it’s hard to tell exactly who will see playing time.

Point Guard: I bet you thought I was going to talk about the Knicks’ small forwards, but the only other position I’m sure about is the point guard spot. Despite reports of a Brown enforced Iversonian-esque move to shooting guard, Stephon Marbury will run the point for the Knicks. The reason is simple, neither Crawford nor rookie Nate Robinson are able to run the point for an extended period of time. Crawford still suffers from poor shot selection, and while the NBA doesn’t keep it as an official stat, I would bet that he led the Knicks in airballs from off balanced jumpers this preseason. The Knicks will rely on Jamal to run the point for a few minutes a game, but leaving the ball in his hands for too long is like putting a gun in Charlton Heston’s hands at an NRA rally. The pressure to shoot becomes unbearable.

Meanwhile Robinson is still learning what he can do at this level. Ironically his rebounding has remained impressive as he tied for the Knicks lead in total rebounds. This should be taken with a grain of salt considering he was also second in total minutes and the Knicks don’t have a lot of good rebounders. Nate’s biggest weakness has been his passing, which shouldn’t be a surprise because he’s more of a shooting guard that needs the ball in his hands than a point guard. He throws too many lazy college passes which end up as NBA turnovers. The Knicks diminutive guard is best suited at going to the hoop with reckless abandon, and using his blazing speed to convert steals into easy buckets. It will be those attributes that keep him Brown’s rotation.


Tune in tomorrow for Part II. For optimists I will have a best case scenario for the 2006 Knicks. For pessimists, there will be a worst case in hell prediction. For small forwards & shooting guards I’ll break down those positions as well.