Chris Duhon: A Midseason Look

During halftime of the Dallas game, Coach D’Antoni said the only thing wrong with Duhon was that he wasn’t hitting shots (eFG% 44.8).  Sure, and the only thing wrong with the Titanic was a small hole in its hull.  D’Antoni mentioned Duhon’s assist to turnover rating (37.0 Ast-R), and total assist (6.7 per/36) in defense of his point.  Unfortunately, Duhon’s passing numbers, while good, simply are not strong enough to make up for his abysmal shooting. Duhon’s TS% of 48.3 (28th of starting point guards) is about the same as noted brick layers Jared Jeffries (48.4) and Larry Hughes (47.4). 

It’s an understatement for D’Antoni to say that Duhon is just struggling with his shot.  The complete story is that Duhon does not have a well developed offensive game. His shot distribution sheds light on his limitations as an offensive contributor.

Duhon attempts 8 field goals per game. 57.7% of those shots are three pointers that Duhon hits at a four year low of 34.4%.  Duhon compounds his offensive struggles by showing no interest in the mid range game (1.2 fga between 10-23 feet) and no aptitude for finishing drives.  Duhon attempts 1.8 shots at the rim (dunks or layups) and he only hits 42.9% of those attempts.  Nate Robinson takes more attempts at the rim (2.5) and converts 50.9%.  I guess defenses don’t realize that Duhon won’t take a 17 footer, and that he can’t hit a lay up.  If they did, his pick and rolls with Lee would be really easy to defend.  Duhon is only attempting 1.7 free throws per game.  So we can add inability to draw contact to the list of offensive shortcomings.

It would be nice to see Duhon change his game to draw more fouls, take more mid range shots, or improve his finishing, but that seems unlikely at this point in his career.  The location of Duhon’s shots, and his shooting percentages have been pretty consistent over the past four years.  At best, we can hope for a slight improvement in his eFG%.  However, that seems unlikely if Duhon shows the same late season drop in productivity he had in the 08-09 season. Due to the lack of other options (D’Antoni sees Robinson as a shooting guard and Toney Douglas has failed to make the rotation), it’s highly likely that D’Antoni will stick with Duhon for the rest of the year.

Knick Fans Should Be Thankful This Christmas

Hey Knick fans, what’s there to be unhappy about? (And for those needing a little extra Christmas cheer, I highly recommend Twas The Night Before Knicksmas.) Wait before you answer this question, I want to put things into perspective.

First, the Knicks will have cap space this offseason. And not just a few million through the mid level exception to grab a Jerome James or Jared Jeffries. But rather enough room to get the best player in the NBA. And perhaps with a little luck there will be space for a second star as well. Considering the overspending of the last decade, this alone should have New Yorkers dancing in the aisles.

Second, the roster has some good young talent. David Lee has blossomed from a late round pick to become one of the better power forwards in the league. Maybe he’s not an All Star talent, but he’s in the discussion. It’s easy to imagine Lee on a championship team as a key element. Additionally New York has Danilo Gallinari, an intriguing 21 year old. Gallo showed he’s deadly from three his first year, and in his second he is wowing fans with multidimensional play. Personally if I’m the Knicks GM, he might be my only untouchable player on the roster.

Rookies Toney Douglas and Jordan Hill are both still raw. From the minutes I’ve seen of Douglas, the guy can defend. He’s lightning quick on the defensive side of the ball, and if he can put together his game on the offensive side, he’ll be a solid pro. Jordan Hill is a #8 pick that has been buried on the bench, but his potential is unknown. Certainly there’s a GM out there that fansied him last summer and would be willing to part with something of value for his services. Finally, of course there is Nate Robinson, who is talented and may find himself out of D’Antoni’s doghouse yet. And if he doesn’t then he might fetch the Knicks another young player, a draft pick, or some cap space.

As for D’Antoni, he’s the best coach the Knicks have had in about a decade. Complain all you want about his short rotation, favoritism, or system, but isn’t that par for the course of a good coach? Think of the last 2 good Knick coaches. Jeff Van Gundy treated Marcus Camby like a red-headed step child for a year. It took Ewing’s injury and subsequently Camby leading the team to the Finals for Van Gundy to realize the talent he had. And Pat Riley forgot he had Rolando Blackman in the playoffs and instead played Greg Anthony (with a TS% of .487 that year) 17 minutes per game. Blackman had almost as many playoff minutes (34) as Corey Gaines (28) that year.

No matter what you think about D’Antoni, it’s clear that he’s a step up from Don Chaney, Herb Williams, Isiah Thomas or Lenny Wilkens. (I won’t even mention that other guy, considering the joyous season we’re in). D’Antoni turned Phoenix into one of the best teams in the league, and was one bloody nose (and a few suspensions) away from a title. There’s no chance any of those other guys would have been able to accomplish with the Suns. And if you think that D’Antoni gets too much credit for Phoenix’s success, think about Phil Jackson for a second. How many championships did Jackson win in the 2 years Jordan fielded fly balls? Even having Kobe and Gasol and Odom wasn’t enough talent 2 years ago. Given the players, Jackson is the type of coach that’s good enough to win a title. And the same is true of D’Antoni.

Finally Knick fans should thankful of the front office. Oh sure we can argue about every little move, and debate lots of the small stuff. But to put things in perspective, we owe a draft pick because of what Isiah Thomas did in 2004. In the preceding years, Knick fans would be cowering in fear of a news announcement involving their team because it likely meant that they traded away a draft pick or gave another team the cap space to sign the player of their dreams. Those days are gone. In fact if the team announced a trade, I think most fans would imagine it would involve acquiring a draft pick (like when we got Toney Dougals) or freeing up some extra cap space (like when we sent Jamal Crawford or Zach Randolph packing).

When I think about my childhood, opening Christmas presents wasn’t about what I didn’t get. I rarely got the exact toy I wanted, and some Christmases were leaner than others, but more often than not I got lots of good things that I enjoyed. And the same should be true of Knick fans. In the spirit of Christmas, for one day we should be thankful for the things we have and not fret the things we don’t. That, and let’s beat the tar out of the Miami Heat!

LET’S GO KNICKS!

Amid Noise, A Rooster Crows

There’s a lot to talk about with the Knicks these days. The Nate Robinson saga is in full swing, with the latest volley being the diminutive guard having his agent lobby for a trade. Of course this goes hand in hand with the Knicks current win streak, as lots of people will point out the team has gone 6-3 since D’Antoni exiled Nate to the canine abode. And if Nate is asking for a trade that means the number of rumors involving Tracy McGrady, Tyrus Thomas, and Anthony Randolph will also increase. You could add into this drama Eddy Curry’s status, as the former franchise savior sits behind Darko Milicic in terms of minutes played on the season (Curry 62, Darko 71). There are grumblings that Curry is unhappy with his lack of court time as well. Finally is the newly acquired Jonathan Bender, who is having a Rip Van Winkle style awakening.

But perhaps lost in all this is the improved play of Danilo Gallinari. The team grabbed Gallo with the 6th pick last year, and a back injury derailed his initial campaign. The Rooster was a one trick pony, hitting threes at an unbelievable rate. This season, Gallo seems to be taking the critical next step forward in his development.

Year  G  MP  FGA  FG% 3PA  3P% FTA  FT% ORB DRB TRB
2009 28 412 10.9 .448 6.3 .444 2.4 .963 1.1 3.7 4.8
2010 26 771 13.0 .432 8.2 .423 3.0 .785 0.9 4.8 5.7

Year AST STL BLK TOV  PF  PTS  TS%  PER
2009 1.3 1.2 0.3 1.3 4.2 14.9 .621 13.4
2010 1.7 1.2 1.0 1.6 2.5 17.0 .595 16.5

Although his primary asset is still the long ball (61% of all his points come from behind the arc), Gallo is showing a more well rounded game. He has improved his passing, scoring volume, free throw attempts, rebounding, fouls, and blocked shots. The latter stats are vital to Danilo’s growth. There was never any doubt that Gallinari could shot, but rather it was his athleticism that was under question. So to see Gallo contribute in these areas is a good sign. Some stats are more linked to physical ability, and it’s good to compare Gallinari’s to another young Knick known for his “explosiveness”.

   Player Year Age  G FTA ORB DRB TRB STL BLK  PF
 Chandler 2010  22 27 2.2 1.8 3.7 5.6 0.5 0.9 3.8
Gallinari 2010  21 26 3.0 0.9 4.8 5.7 1.2 1.0 2.5

Gallo has clear advantages in free throws attempted, steals, and fouls per minute. The first is a bit surprising considering how often Gallinari is camped behind the three point line. However he has shown the ability to get inside and either finish or draw contact. Gallo’s success could be the result of having a few different moves, as witnessed by his pump & scoop shot against the Bobcats on Sunday. The steals seem to be more the result of quick hands than playing the passing lanes. And Gallo’s height advantage allows him to commit less fouls. The interesting aspect of comparing Gallinari to Wilson Chandler is that the latter is thought of being a player that relies on his physical ability. But it’s clear that Gallo is more athletic than previously thought and/or Chandler isn’t producing has you’d expect from someone with his physique.

Looking back at the Knicks recent win streak, there’s been a lot of conjecture on if this was the result of Robinson’s banishment or Jeffries role as a defensive force. But perhaps it’s Gallinari’s emergence that has helped to put New York over the top. In the Knicks last 9 games, the Rooster has give New York 13 blocks and 13 steals, in addition to 2 double digit rebound games and 8 double digit scoring outputs. There’s an old basketball axiom that says your shot may not be there some games, but you can bring intensity on the defensive end every night. Perhaps a microcosm of Gallinari’s game could be seen in the final moments of the Bobcats game. Gallo was unable to hit free throws to ice the game, but he blocked a shot in the final second to preserve the victory.

Trading Nate, The Logistics

With Nate Robinson in D’Antoni’s doghouse it’s only natural for Knick fans to expect the diminutive guard to be traded. Nate is in the last year of his deal, and if he isn’t getting playing time now, then it seems unlikely that New York is going to tender him a long term deal. Additionally considering Nate’s instant offense and other tangibles, he’ll likely be courted by a few different teams. Hence it makes the most sense for the Knicks to move him this year, before they get nothing in return for their investment.

Unfortunately trades in the NBA are rarely as easy as finding a match in talent. You also have to be mindful of the salary cap & the rules that accompany it. For instance there have been rumors of the Knicks interested in Tyrus Thomas, but the teams couldn’t swap the two straight up due to the cap rules. And this is where things get interesting.

In the NBA any trade involving teams over the salary cap has to be within of 125% plus $0.1M of the contracts given up. This means if the Knicks traded someone that was making $4M, the most they could get back in contacts is $5.1M ($4M * 1.25 + $0.1M). However there is a rule in place for Base Year Compensation players (BYC) which is meant to prevent teams from signing players solely to match contracts in order to make trades. This was put in place to prevent teams from let’s say giving Morris Almond $10M to trade him with a future first for Luol Deng.

New York signed Robinson for $4M this year, but according to ESPN his BYC amount is $2.02M. This means that when calculating how much the Knicks can receive, we use $2.02M, and when calculating how much the other team can receive it uses $4M. Under the salary cap rules, a team that sends out $2.02M can only receive $2.54M in salaries, hence this makes it impossible to do a 1 for 1 BYC deal with a team over the cap.

Since the calculation is based on a percentage, the only way for a team to trade a BYC player is to include enough salaries so that the team is within the allowed threshold. Figuring out this how much requires a little bit of arithmetic. Solve for x where: $4M + X – (1.25*($2.02M+X)) = $0.1M, and X = $5.5M. So in order to trade Nate Robinson the Knicks would have to include at least $5.5M in salaries.

Knowing this makes for some interesting trade possibilities. One way to work a Nate Robinson for Tyrus Thomas trade would be to add shot-blocking bench-warming centers Darko Milicic ($7.54M) and Jerome James ($6.6M). If the Knicks wanted to shed some salary for the summer, they could include Jared Jeffries ($6.47M) and the Malik Rose trade exception ($0.9M) instead of Darko.

What if, as rumored, the Bulls want Al Harrington? Then the two could do Nate, Harrington and the Quentin Richardson exception for Thomas & Brad Miller. Too one sided for Chicago? Then perhaps the deal could be expanded to something like Thomas, Noah and Miller, for Nate, Harrington, Darko, and Jordan Hill. Although I don’t expect the Bulls to trade Noah so easily, it’s not a ridiculous deal. The Bulls plan on replacing Thomas with Taj Gibson anyway, and Al Harrington would probably eat up some of those minute and more. Between Harrington and Nate, the Bulls wouldn’t lack for scoring. They would be losing a bit at center, but Jordan Hill would give them a young option there.

In any case the Knicks and Bulls do have some options and flexibility in generating a trade. Moving Robinson is easier than moving David Lee because of the smaller salary. To trade Lee, the Knicks would have to pile on $10.1M in salary. Although you have to consider that New York isn’t likely to move Lee, given that he’s the team’s best player and leads them in minutes.

Robinson’s DNP A Test For D’Antoni

According to the Daly News, Mike D’Antoni said the following about his decicision to bench Nate Robinson against the Orlando Magic:

“We want to win, and if he’s conducive to winning then he’ll obviously be back in the lineup. If not he’s not.”

D’Antoni’s case is that the diminutive guard is not conducive to winning, but that really doesn’t hold water. The Knicks have gotten off to one of the worst starts in team historically, and Robinson hasn’t played that much in that span. Nate has missed 12 of 19 games and has only seen 30 minutes or more in 2 games. Last year he played in 74 games and averaged 29.9 minutes per game.

The biggest irony is that there is a guard that’s unconducive to winning: Chris Duhon. The Knicks point guard is shooting 40.8% ts% and averaging 7.5 pts/36 yet is first on the team in minutes played. Although not a pure point guard, Robinson blows Duhon’s productivity out of the water (54.1% ts%, 17.9 pts/36). Last year with Robinson in the rotation, New York was 17th on offense. This year they are 22nd, even with Danillo Gallinari playing excellently on that end of the floor.

If Coach D’Antoni is making the case that Robinson’s benching is solely related to the team’s ability to win games, then it begs the question “Why is Chris Duhon leading the team in minutes?” Obviously the real issue is personalities; D’Antoni has been visibly upset with Robinson on a few occasions. Fortunately conflicts can resolve in a manner that’s positive. Robinson and D’Antoni could come out of this with greater respect and understanding of each other. But disputes like this can also end ugly, and Nate could see himself on the end of more DNPs or even traded.

How this plays out will give us a little insight on D’Antoni. He has a reputation for being a player’s coach, but perhaps underneath that veneer is a little bit of a disciplinarian. A few fans have voiced that this team is reminiscent of Larry Brown’s Knicks, and perhaps this feud is D’Antoni’s version of Brown’s “playing the game the right way.” Clearly the Knicks need Robinson’s production, and if they don’t receive it you have to wonder if D’Antoni isn’t the type of coach that can motivate players of all types.

Knicks Win!

It was one of those games where everything seemed to go right for one team, and wrong for the other. Except this time, the Knicks were on the winning side. The Knicks beat the Suns tonight handily 126-99. How improbable was tonight’s win? Well Phoenix had an inverse record of 14-3 and hadn’t scored under 100 points in any game this year. Jared Jeffries scored 10 points without a turnover. He also had 4 assists and 4 blocked shots. Danilo Gallinari led the team in minutes played, shots attempted, points and rebounds. Larry Hughes had 12 assists. The Knicks shot 14-31 from downtown, while Phoenix was 4-17. New York got off to an 11 point first quarter lead and didn’t trail from that point forward.

If you have to nitpick from this kind of game Chris Duhon still played poorly and Nate Robinson hardly played at all. Duhon had 5 points on 8 shots, including not attempting a wide open three in the second half. Robinson failed to score in just over 10 minutes of action. And although Hughes dished the ball well, he only made 4 of 11 shots, and forced a few bad ones up.

But all in all the game was one that Knick fans have been waiting for, a blowout laugher. Gallinari looked great in many facets of the game. He had a few shots inside moving off the ball. He buried a loooong three with the shot clock expiring. He had a couple of nice blocks, and hit the boards. David Lee only missed 3 shots all night, and picked up 4 steals. And of course Jared Jeffries improved his trade stock. At the end Hill, Douglas and Landry all received some playing time as well, which is always a plus for these kinds of games.

Some Thoughts, Good and Bad

The Good:

The Knicks almost beat the Celtics, and for the most of the game they were competetive with one of the best teams in the NBA. In fact New York had a 5 point lead to start the 4th quarter, but couldn’t extend it past 6 points.

Nate Robinson had his best game of the year, and first good game in nearly a month. Last year Robinson averaged 29.9 minutes a game and was a pivotal piece of the Knicks season. He gives New York scoring and rebounding at the guard spot off the bench. Sure Nate is still struggling with maturity issues and clearly gets under D’Antoni’s skin, but without a doubt New York needs him playing well for a successful 2010.

Wilson Chandler showed some signs of improvement. His stat line was still poor, but he played tough defense on Garnett and showed some smart play. A few times Chandler took the action to the bucket, and late in the 4th quarter smartly avoided committing an offensive foul by dishing off to Lee for an easy score. I’ve said on more than one occassion that Chandler needs to shoot better or drive to the hoop more often, and he seemed to do the latter frequently against Boston. Hopefully he can keep it up.

The Bad:

You’ve probably already heard about Eddy Curry’s mindless technical foul. What has also bothered is how he’s played since his first game. During his tenure here, it always seemed that the New York guards had trouble getting him the ball in the post. But what I’m finding is that Curry is lackadaisical when it comes to catching passes. This year a lot of entry passes are getting bobbled or plain ending up in the other team’s hands. Granted he’s got a lot of rust to shake off, but Curry has to do a better job catching the ball, even if the pass isn’t thrown perfectly.

I’d also like to see him do more than just plant himself on the blocks. The team should use on the high screen or off the ball as well. When Curry’s on the floor, the team should have guys drive to the hoop more (namely Douglas, Nate, Chandler) and let Eddy pick up some easy buckets from double teams or offensive rebounds. Additionally Curry (and Lee) should be allowed to be aggressive on the offensive boards, instead of worrying about transition defense.

In order of minutes received, Sunday’s top minute getters were: Duhon, Harrington, and Hughes. Meanwhile Nate Robinson had a sizzling 19 points on 11 shots in 26 minutes (and blocked 2 shots). Gallo shot well and had a few strong rebounds, and only managed 24 minutes. Toney Douglas was on the court for only 6 minutes.

This is a disturbing trend because the Knicks should be playing their youngsters more. I understand the need for winning games, but if Nate, Gallo, and Douglas aren’t getting action when they’re playing well (or in Douglas’ case his replacement was playing awful), when are they going to see playing time? Al Harrington isn’t going to score 30 points on 21 shots every night, while Duhon and Hughes combined for 7 points on 17 shots (3-17). D’Antoni is generally good at finding playing time for the kids, but I hope that philosophy doesn’t get lost when it comes to crunch time.