KnickerBlogger Chat

Come here for the KnickerBlogger chat, Thursday September 8th, 6pm EST (3pm PST), where I will answer questions from my readers. Feel free to submit your questions by email.


I’m here & just about ready to go. I’ll post an answer every few minutes starting at 6pm. There is still time to get your questions in. Feel free to leave a url and/or location as well. :-)

Afterwards I’ll open up the comment section.

Aaron (whereabouts unknown): Here is my question: Do you agree with all of the flack Isiah is getting about being the only GM who could screw up “the Alan Houston rule” and not use it to let go of Alan Houston? Is there really any chance for AH to return this season and be productive? thanks.

KB: AAron those are two questions. :-)

I’ll answer the second one first. No way in hell. I freely admit I’m not Will Carroll, but Houston had surgery 821 days ago and he’s still not healed? I talked about this topic nearly a year ago, and it seems that with this type of operation it’s either hit or miss. I think Allan’s was a miss.

As for your first question, right now Isiah is a lightning rod for any writer looking for a cheap joke. With the Knicks able to outspend every other team, anything short of a Finals apperance will allow these guys to continue mocking him. Every writer wanted this team gutted, but I would bet dollars to doughnuts that half those people would rip the GM that would have the grapes to do such a thing in this city.


Vadim (Russia): Hello. Excuse me for bad English. I’m from Russia – press-atashe of team “Spartak” (Vladivostok). My question – why on page http://www.knickerblogger.net/stats/jh_ALL_PER.htm is not present Andrei Kirilenko and other players from Utah?

KB: Hello Vadim! Andrei Kirilenko doesn’t appear on the page because he didn’t have enough games to qualify. According to the NBA you have to have at least 70 games or 1400 minutes to qualify in scoring, and that’s what I use for PER. That’s also why Utah’s second leading PER-er, CarlosBoozer (51 games), doesn’t appear as well. The first Jazz to appear is Okur with a PER just under 19.


Benny (TN): Hey. I must admit that I am somewhat flummoxed personnel-wise by another busy summer in Knickville. Can you please draft a projected 8-man and 10-man rotation, and for extra credit give some guesses on what stats each player will put up. For the double-bonus round you could even speculate on team defensive statistics, but I know it may be too early to guess on those.

KB: Marbury, Richardson, Sweetney, Ariza, James, Rose, Robinson, and Crawford. Jamal Crawford and Tim Thomas will quickly find the address to Brown’s doghouse. Thomas for his hyelophobic habits, and Crawford for his poor shot selection. I think Nate will leap over Jamal with his disruption on defense, and Brown’s desire to move Marbury to the 2. To fill out the 10 man rotation, I’ll take Taylor & Frye, if for nothing else that the Knicks will need depth at the 4 & 5.

For the double bonus, it’s way too early to guess. So I’ll say the Knicks finish 15th on defense, with full immunity for having to live up to the prediction.


Mel (Somewhere, Idanoe): What kind of seasons do you expect from the younger knicks players (Ariza, Sweetney, Fyre, Nate Robinson David Lee and Jackie Butler) under Larry Brown who has garnered a reputation for not liking young players much.

KB: Mel, I really think the youngins with talent (Sweetney, Ariza, Robinson) will thrive under Brown. Coaches, like Brown – who improve every team they touch, get the most out of what the roster has to offer. While Brown’s life with newbies is a topic for a further study, if he is going to succeed in New York he’ll have to make to make do with the Knicks’ younger players. As for Frye, Lee, and Butler, it’s just that I haven’t seen them play enough to have a serious opinion about them. I watched a little summer ball, and let’s just say they didn’t do anything to get my hopes up.


Kelly Dwyer (CNNSI): Why did the Knicks draft John Thomas in 1997 when they could have had Serge Zwikker?

KB: That one keeps me up late at nights.


Terence (UK) : KB, what do you think the likelihood of Allan Houston retiring is? Also, do you think that Isiah is likely to let Penny and TT’s contracts expire? Or will he go and trade for more payroll? In this era, looking at most of the successful teams, their payroll is quite low, it goes to show that you don’t need massive salaries to have a successful team. If the Knicks get those players off the books, their payroll doesn’t look so bad, it frees up financial flexibility doesn’t it? I’m a Marbury fan, but I think it might make sense to break up his contract, trade him for a couple of decent guys, get the flexibility, what do you think?

KB: No chance. No. Maybe. Not really. That could work.

First I don’t think Allan Houston will retire this year. He’s determined to play, even if it means playing a handful of games, and then wearing a suit for the rest of the season.

Second I don’t think I could put money down on Isiah letting both contracts expire. If he does trade one, my bet would be Penny Hardaway.

Third the Knicks are so far over the cap that letting those guys go won’t free anything up. Letting Penny & Tim Thomas’ contracts expire would be like taking a bucket of water out of the Hudson River. Of course if they get more long term contracts in exchange of these guys it will obviously hurt the team in the future.

Finally, I’m sure there are many ways of righting this ship, and some of them contain trading Stephon Marbury. It’s not that the move on it’s own that would work, but if you decide to undertake such an endeavor you have to go all the way with it and gut the team. If you rebuild like that you might get a LeBron James or Kevin Garnett to fall to you in the draft, or you could end up like the Bulls and spend half a decade rebuilding before you make the playoffs. Of course with Larry Brown in the picture, stripping the team is not the way to go.


Kurt (Forum Blue & Gold) : If the current New York Knicks were a band/muscian, which one would they be?

KB: Hmm… Last year’s group was young, and started off relatively well. However they weren’t very good, nor did they last very long. So my vote would be Hanson (yes I had this shirt for a time – but no that’s not me).

This year’s gang will have a more interesting cast of characters, but that might be the most entertaining aspect of them. I’d say they’re like the 2005 version of the Pixies. Frank Black would be the musician that most reminds me of Larry Brown. Brown changes his teams every few years, and Frank Black can’t decide if he wants to be in a band, have a band accompany him, or go solo. The Pixies frontman has one more on Larry, in that’s he changed his name enough times to make Diddy jealous. While the Pixies were one of my favorite bands of all time, I still have some reservations about them making future albums. Just like I have reservations about the future of this team.


Dogan (Netherlands): I love the KnickerBlogger Stats Page, keep up the good work, but it would be great if there would be a playoffs stats page too (especially PER). What it the reason for its absence?

KB: First thanks for the compliment!

Second, well I had a little problem with my old web host & parted ways. Unfortunately in the divorce they took all my files. I’ve put the playoff page back up from what I had cached on my hard drive. Let me know if you find anything terribly wrong.

http://www.knickerblogger.net/stats/2005pla/

Oh and since this is my third international questioner – a shot goes out to all the homies that are reading this page from far away, and a special shot out to all those struggling to read this in another language. You guys are hard core basketball fans!


And a quintet from Gabe F. (NY, NYC): : Which position is the most glaring weakness in the Knicks roster, and which is their most useable strength?

KB: The Knicks’ weakness is easily the same weakness they’ve had for the last few years, center. Jerome James couldn’t crack 17 minutes a game in center starved Seattle, and the reviews on Frye are mixed at best. As for their strength, that’s a tough one.

GF: What do you think are the most viable short-term (ie, for this year: playing uptempo, focusing on defense, lots of pick-and-roll, high post, etc) and long-term (ie, 5 years down the line: going for cap relief, start from scratch, who to build around) strategies for the Knicks?

KB: Short term, defense has to be the priority. The Knicks were nearly last in the league on D, and that has to change under Larry Brown. As for long term, with how the team is now the best strategy would be to build on their youth, aim to eventually get under the cap, and hope a big star will want to make an average team great under the big lights of New York.


GF: Can Jerome James be written off as a bust right away? What kind of expectations should Knicks fans have for him?

KB: Plenty of people have already tabbed him a bust. Anyone that thinks he’ll give us more than a handful of blocks, a couple of jogs back on defense, and less than a couple of turnovers is going to be dissappointed. The Garden faithful should look at his career numbers, and set their expectations accordingly. If James plays 24 minutes a night, hustles, and doesn’t pass the ball to Spike Lee more than twice a game, then New Yorkers should give him a hearty ovation every night.


GF: Is Q-Rich better suited in the Knicks offensive schemes as a long-range gunner, or should the team try to leverage his post-up abilities?

KB: I’m never one for having teams abandon their offense to take advantage of a mismatch. In other words, if your PG is posting the other team’s because Boykins is in the game, you’re going away from how you normally operate to score.

However, it will depend on what the Knicks need. If Sweetney and Taylor are manning the post, Ariza is cutting down the baseline, and Marbury is living in the lane, then Q-Rich should see plenty of opportunities on the perimeter. If Sweetney is forced to play mop-up again, Crawford is on the outside jacking them up, and Ariza still hasn’t developed his jumper, then Q-Rich should see some time near the paint.

Quite honestly, if he can do both, then the Knicks should take advantage based on opponent. I like flexibility up to the point where it won’t hurt you. If one isn’t working then he should concentrate on the other aspects of his game.


GF: Did Isiah Thomas make a mistake by releasing Jerome Williams under the amnesty clause, rather than Allan Houston? What are the benefits and drawbacks to each choice?

KB: Again, I’m not going to pretend that I’m Dan T. Rosenbaum. My understanding is that they saved more money with Williams. However I think that Williams would have contributed more to the team than Houston. On the other hand if the Knicks keep Houston, Dolan is on good terms with his golfing buddy.


That’s it – The comment section is opened. Thanks for all those who submitted questions!

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!

Brrr?. Is There a Draft in Here? (Episode II: The Frontcourt)

[If you missed Episode I click here.

David Crockett is an Assistant Professor of Marketing at the University of South Carolina, and can be reached at dcrockett17@yahoo.com.]

I the previous Episode I identified the backcourt as the team’s highest priority heading into the off-season. Whether through the draft, a sign-and-trade, or with the mid-level salary slot the Knicks must find a way to improve their perimeter defense as well as shave Marbury’s and Crawford’s minutes. To that end, let’s take a look at the frontcourt. First up: the big guys.

The Knicks ended the season with perhaps the highest percentage of power forwards on any roster in the league. Consider that the team started essentially two power forwards, Kurt Thomas and Mike Sweetney. Herb Williams also played Jerome Williams at both forward positions regularly. Isiah then traded for Malik Rose and Mo Taylor, placing Tim Thomas a mere heartbeat away from 4th string power forward.

The team’s ostensible center, Mike Sweetney, put together a solid (at best) campaign, especially considering that he played out of position. It was the kind of season that probably didn’t change many minds among his supporters or detractors. On offense, his PER (from 82games) at center was a very nice 18.8. As always, he shot a solid efg (53.5%), rebounded well (13.5 per 48), and got to the free throw line (7.9 per 48). However he struggled on the defensive end, giving up an opponent’s PER of 17.7. Though he managed to outshoot and out-rebound opposing centers per 48 minutes he also slightly out-fouled them (7 per 48), which meant that much of his potential offensive productivity went unrealized as he sat on the bench. That he struggled with fouls and offered essentially no shot-blocking against opposing centers is not necessarily surprising. He played virtually every game at a significant height disadvantage. Even conceding this, I still maintain that “Sweets,” as he is commonly known, would do well to lay off the sugary treats and slim down. He may be a bit young to remember that once upon a one time “The Thing that Ate” Ollie Miller was more than a punch line for a would-be sports writer.

Miller was an even better version of Sweetney, a rising young player with promise, fresh off the toughest Finals series the Jordan-led Bulls ever played. But basketball is an unforgiving profession on tendons and joints, even for the most finely tuned bodies. So ultimately Miller’s inability to keep off the extra 35-40 pounds made him less effective on the floor, kept him on the injured list with an endless assortment of ankle and knee ailments, and eventually forced him from the league. His problems were exacerbated – if not caused outright – by his obesity; and I won’t even get into the John “Hot Plate” Williams cautionary tale. (Note: “Hot Plate” is mentioned in this Washington Times column by Tom Knott on the end of the Bullets/Wizards futility. I defy you to read the article and NOT laugh out loud. It’s hysterical.)

Interestingly, backup center Mo Taylor is this season’s biggest defensive surprise. Ignoring for the moment that his acquisition is Isiah’s least defensible roster move to date, Taylor was a genuine surprise. After expecting to see Marburyesque indifference I recall watching games this season and being genuinely stunned at Taylor’s defensive effort. The numbers appear to bare it out. On offense Taylor was pretty much what I’d come to expect: an accomplished (though streaky) scorer and a turnover machine. His PER of only 13.1 at center was a tad lower than I’d expected but not altogether shocking. I would expect that with a full training camp we’d see Taylor move into the 14-15 range. The big stunner was on defense where Taylor held opposing centers to a fantastic 14.3 PER. Obviously the Knicks would love to see this kind of defensive production off the bench. Even should Taylor regress a bit on defense an opponent’s PER just around league average would be tremendous production from the backup center over a full season.

At power forward, Kurt Thomas is limited in what he can contribute on offense as a spot-up jump shooter and rebounder. Though his PER at power forward is below league average (14.4) he remains a decent shooter from field (46% efg), and superb in the 15-20 foot area off the screen-roll. He also still rebounds quite well (13.7 per 48). On defense he’s pretty awful, allowing opposing power forwards a 19.1 PER. Among the backup forwards perhaps the biggest surprise is Malik Rose. His defense, which is his calling card, was generally quite good (13.7 opponents PER). His aw-fense was awful. His PER of 9.7 is the unsightly fate of undersized power forwards with limited perimeter skills; they rarely age gracefully. But, such is the price of the additional first round pick. He better be good, whoever he is because watching Rose jack up shots has been painful. I knew that it seemed like he shot the ball an awful lot to me but when I went to 82games.com I was dumbfounded. For all the talk of his selfless professionalism no one mentioned that this guy is a bona fide ball hog. Rose took almost 13 shots per 48 minutes at power forward, hitting at an abysmal 40% efg. Sweetney and Thomas both took just under 15 and JYD took only 10.3 shots per 48. These players all shot over 50% efg.

Wherever it comes from the Knicks most certainly need better overall play from the frontcourt. I compared Sweetney’s and Thomas’ PER and opponent’s PER with center/power forward tandems from the league’s five most efficient defensives. (I also included the same comparison for backcourt players – just for kicks and giggles.)

Name Pos. PER Opp. PER
Sweetney, M (NY) C 18.8 17.7
Thomas, K (NY) PF 14.4 19.1
NBA Top 5 Teams in Defensive Efficiency
Duncan, T. (SA) C 28.6 13.8
Muhammed, N. (SA) PF 6.8 15.8
Nesterovic, R. (SA) C 13.1 13.2
Curry, E. (Chi) C 17.4 13.3
Davis, A. (Chi) PF 13.1 14.6
Chandler, T (Chi) C 19.1 12.8
Wallace, B. (Det) C 18.7 15.8
Wallace, R. (Det) PF 17.7 15.3
Ming, Y. (Hou) C 24.9 14.6
Howard, J. (Hou) PF 13.9 16.9
Wright, L. (Mem) C 15.4 16
Gasol, P. (Mem) PF 25.7 17

Name (Team) Pos. PER Opp. PER
Marbury, S. (NY) PG 23.3 16.4
Crawford, J. (NY) SG 16.8 18.2
NBA Top 5 Teams in Defensive Efficiency
Parker, T. (SA) PG 19.6 13
Ginobili, M. (SA) SG 22.7 10.8
Duhon, C. (Chi) PG 10.8 15.2
Hinrich, K. (Chi) SG 17.6 13.8
Billups, C. (Det) PG 20.4 12.9
Hamilton, R. (Det) SG 17.5 13.8
Sura, R. (Hou) PG 16.1 17.3
Wesley, D. (Hou) SG 12.4 15.7
Williams, J. (Mem) PG 16.7 16.2
Battier, S. (Mem) SG 18.3 14.1

* Non-starter

Although this comparison hardly qualifies as scientific it aptly illustrates how far the Knicks are behind the best defensive teams. Nonetheless, there is hope that at least Sweetney can lower his opponent’s PER into the 15.5-16.5 range next season. Entering his third season he should begin to catch an occasional break from the zebras on the “nickel-dime” type fouls that put him on the bench with regularity. Hopefully, his summer will be spent working on his conditioning so he will be less prone to such fouls. More importantly, the Knicks must make the commitment to put him at his natural power forward spot and keep him there. This of course means the team must acquire or develop a center.

Should the Knicks look to the draft to address the frontcourt presumably they’ll be in the market for a player who can log many if not most of his minutes at center, preferably providing some shot blocking. Given the paucity of quality true centers available in the draft in the table I combine centers with power forwards who play both positions. I leave out high school and international players as well as true power forwards that would have a difficult time helping the team immediately (e.g., Sean May, Ike Diogu, Wayne Simien).

Centers/Power Forwards

Name/College Availability? Comment
Andrew Bogut, Utah Top five Bogut is a consensus top 5 pick. He is a good ? not great ? athlete who can control a game with his skill and passing, particularly for a team who could play him in the high post. I hope he likes Atlanta.
Chris Taft, Pittsburgh Anywhere from #8 to #15, based on workouts/interviews The size and willingness to use it are all what you?re looking for in a big 6?10? pf/c, yet he has never dominated. People keep waiting for the light to come on. The interviews may be as important to this kid as any in the draft, including the high schoolers. It?s unlikely he falls far out of the top 10, if at all. If the Knicks remain at #8 this will likely be the guy slotted to them.
Charlie Villanueva, UConn Anywhere from #8 to #20 There is much to like about Villanueva. He runs the floor well. He shoots a high percentage. He rebounds and blocks shots. Unfortunately, he also likes to play like a small forward at times even though he is 6?11?. Does he want to play center?
Channing Frye, Arizona Anywhere from #15 to late first round Disclaimer: I?m an Arizona grad. Channing Frye may be the Shane Battier/Josh Howard of this draft. He doesn?t have superstar potential but he also doesn?t have a lot of holes in his game. He should be a very good pro PF/C for a lot of years. It would be highway robbery if the Knicks pick him up at the end of the first round. More likely they?d have to move into the 16-20 area.
Randolph Morris, Kentucky Anywhere from #15 to mid-second round I know the league is starved for big players but if this kid doesn?t pull out and go back to Kentucky for at least one more season something is dreadfully wrong with the NBA. I can understand over-estimating the potential of high schoolers but this kid staying on the floor at Kentucky and he was basically the only center in the entire SEC.
Jared Homan, Iowa State Second round If you?re looking for a backup center that ONLY rebounds and blocks shots in the second round he?s your guy.

Adding to the depth at this position are some talented international players: Johan Petro from France, Fran Vasquez from Spain, and Tiago Splitter from Brazil, as well as two schoolboy 7-footers Andrew Bynum and Andray Blatche. Although no David Robinsons or Tim Duncans populate this draft, some pretty serviceable centers are available. Most – after Bogut – will likely go off the board in the 8-20 range. If the Knicks remain at #8 in the draft lottery they could conceivably move down and still get a pretty decent player.

Small Forward

Name/College Availability? Comment
Marvin Williams, UNCC Top 3-4 pick Honestly, I didn?t see him play enough to do anything but parrot what everyone else is saying. ?This kid is the greatest thing since snowshoes. He?s much better than Cats. I?d go see him again and again.? They must know what they?re talking about, right?
Danny Granger, New Mexico Late lottery to end of first round I doubt Granger lasts until the end of the first. I think he?s the best ?true? small forward available but that tends to be the deepest pro position. His points per shot each year at New Mexico: 1.29, 1.41, 1.55, 1.62. His rebounds: 7.1, 7.9, 9, 8.9. He hurt himself with an awful game in the NCAA though.
Joey Graham, Oklahoma State Mid-to-late first round The athletic comparisons to Corey Maggette I have yet to see. Like Maggette he?s going to have to move his game outside to play his pro position. Coming out of OSU, he?s not surprisingly a good defender.
Ryan Gomes, Providence Late first/Early second Gomes re-made himself from a post-up only player into a ?power? 3, with a lot more skill than Graham. He dramatically improved his ball-handling and his perimeter shot.
Linas Kleiza, Missouri Second round/undrafted Kleiza is quality rebounder with a decent offensive repertoire. He probably lacks the quickness to defend SF?s in the NBA. He may go to Europe.

Looking at New York’s roster today, small forward does not appear to be a position of need. Of course, things change in the off-season. The Orlando Sentinel is reporting that Penny Hardaway is pushing for a buyout in order to re-sign with the Magic. Tim Thomas is also entering the final year of his deal. So those two contracts may indeed be moved this off-season. If they are, Trevor Ariza may be the incumbent at small forward unless Allan Houston can come back. Consequently, the Knicks cannot afford to ignore the swingmen in the upcoming draft. I’ve included swing players, who play in the backcourt, as well as ‘tweener types that play up front but handle the ball.

Of the small forwards I see the Knicks as most interested in a swingman than a power-three. Should the Knicks wind up in the top 3 certainly Williams would have to be one of the names they’d consider, along with Bogut and Paul. Should the Knicks remain at #8, irrespective of who is on the board the team should strongly consider Granger. He’s a do it all swing player. He could play in the backcourt, with Ariza at the small forward, and all of a sudden the Knicks could be looking at cutting off much of the penetration that plagues the defense.

Indiana 79 Knicks 90

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

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

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

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

Other notes:
Back in November I said:

Ariza is real quick & has a good nose for the ball. My personal feeling is Wilkens should try to trap and press more, especially when Ariza is in the game. This way he might get an honest defensive effort from Marbury and Crawford.

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

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

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

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

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

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

2004: A Good Year

The New York Knicks entered the first day of January 2004 with 14 wins and 19 losses on the 2003-2004 season. While they would lose 4 straight games to start the year, it would turn out to be a good year for the 32nd street crew. The Knicks went 25-24 the rest of the way and made the playoffs for the first time in 3 years. Against the New Jersey Nets in the playoffs, New York received a whooping the size of Tim Thomas’ lower back bruise. Still the Knicks improvement was celebrated by their fans, and the summer of 2004 would bring a ray of hope for New York.

Isiah Thomas signed Jamal Crawford to sow up two gaping holes. Crawford would provide insurance for Allan Houston’s knee, while his ball handling skills would make him able to play point guard when required. Jerome Williams was a minor addition, while Trevor Ariza and Mike Sweetney showed promise in the summer league. Based on their good second half and the additions they made in the offseason, the Knicks were favorites to win the newly diluted Atlantic division.

Facing a seemingly tough schedule, the usually optimistic Isiah Thomas hoped his team would go 10-10 in their first 20 games of the 2004-2005 season. After a 34 point debacle in Boston, the Knicks were off to a bleak 0-2 start. However, they rebounded from their early ineptitude, and met their president’s expectations of 10-10. In December, New York won 6 and lost 3, and entered 2005 with a 16-13 record.

Considering the two years before, 2004 was a success for the Knicks. After two lottery seasons, they had seemed to turn the corner. They made the playoffs in the summer. By the winter, the Knicks were 3 games up in the win column, their best record in 4 years. No one else in their division was over .500. From January to December of 2004, the Knicks were 41-37. It seemed that 2005 would be even better than 2004 for boys in orange and blue.

It’s hard to believe that was only one month ago. Since the ball last dropped in Times Square, the Knicks have lost 14 of their last 16. In one 8 day stretch, the Knicks lost 4 games; two back-to-back to the baby-Bulls, and one each to the single digit win Hornets and division rival Raptors. Three days after, their coach had resigned. Right now, they are tied for last in the weakest division in the NBA.

So far in 2005, the Knicks’ have been bitten by the injury bug. Mike Sweetney was incapacitated for 4 games, which is the exact number of games that Penny Hardaway has played in. When Trevor Ariza twisted his ankle, he suffered his first injury as a pro. Both shooting guards have missed a combined 12 games. Allan Houston’s future is uncertain, and the expensive guard has refused any talk of retirement. Being strapped by Houston’s contract is bad enough, but not being able to get any production for their money is the deepest cut.

For 2005 the question becomes: is the Knicks 2-14 record the exception or the rule? Even if the Sixers remain two games under .500, New York would have to go 21-14 the rest of the way to retake the Atlantic. Tough, but not impossible. Right now the onus is on the players and coaches to steer the ship from crash landing in April. If not, this summer it’ll be up to Isiah to give New Yorkers back the hope that they had only a year ago.

Marbury is the Problem

[Today’s column comes to us from KnickerBlogger Point Guard Specialist David Crockett, Ph.D. David is an Assistant Professor of Marketing at the University of South Carolina, and can be reached at dcrockett17@yahoo.com. This article was originally written earlier this week, but was bumped by the Editor In Chief in an effort to improve international relations. It has been published in it’s original form.]

The past two games against the Chicago Bulls should not be cause to overreaction here in Knick Nation. No one really has any good reason to expect this team to be a vast improvement over last year’s edition, even when healthy. It may be a tad more exciting than last season’s edition, but it will not jell into a good basketball team. This is life in the NBA’s salary cap purgatory, a place the Knicks seem to have taken up permanent residence in the penthouse apartment. On the bright side, at least some cap relief is on the way. This summer the contracts of Vin Baker, Penny Hardaway, and Tim Thomas enter their final seasons. If I am not mistaken so does Moochie Norris’s contract, either through option or buyout. My hope is that Isiah Thomas thinks very seriously about preserving roster spots for young developing players, not merely dealing those contracts for someone else’s mistake.

Having said that, let me also offer Isiah Thomas another piece of sage advice. This offseason trade Stephon Marbury while you still can. In every sense Thomas has tied his own fate, and that of the franchise to Marbury’s considerable offensive talent. In many respects Marbury has lived up to what could have been reasonably expected based on past performance. Offensively, if one considers shooting prowess, ability to create scoring opportunities for others, and propensity for turnovers Marbury may well indeed be the league’s best point guard. He is certainly among the best. He is 4th in overall PER 2nd in eFG%, 2nd in assist ratio, and tied for best turnover ratio among players at his position according to the Knickerblogger’s stat page.

Player.............	PER	eFG%	Ast-r	TO-r
Dwyane Wade (Mia).. 24.10 49.6 23.4 12.5
Steve Nash (Pho)... 22.49 57.0 41.1 11.8
Allen Iverson (Phi) 22.47 44.6 19.1 10.3
Stephon Marbury(NY) 21.98 50.7 29.6 10.3

These are indeed impressive accomplishments that are far too often dismissed by sports pundits who appear contractually obligated to promote Jason Kidd as the archetypal point guard at the expense of all others. Then, as the syllogism goes, sense Marbury is a different kind of point guard than Kidd he must be inferior to Kidd.

My own suspicions about Marbury at the time of the trade were that he was a selfish, shoot-first guard, who could not run the screen-roll. Whether Marbury is selfish is one of those debates that will continue to rage between his supporters and detractors around the league. What I think we can conclude however, is that on offense Marbury creates scoring opportunties for other players through his penetration. He takes 36% of his own shots in close. This was second only to the hyper-athletic Wade who takes 38% of his shots in close, even more if one counts dunks and tip-ins. (Iverson takes 30% and Nash 20%.) He also runs the screen-roll well, particularly with Kurt Thomas. This is a more subjective assessment but I certainly have no problem with the way Marbury runs the screen-roll. Another subjective assessment: his offensive game has matured. He’s much less prone to the “heat check” hoisted jump shots that are basically as good as turnovers. Earlier in his career he had the shot selection of Jamal Crawford but appears to have grown out of settling for the long jumper. Virtually, no matter how one slices it Marbury is an elite offensive player – not just for his position but in the league. But, does he make others around him better? I suppose the answer to the question is in the eye of the beholder to some extent. What we can say with a reasonable degree of certainty though is that he creates scoring opportunities for his teammates. He penetrates off the dribble more than any other player in the league (other than Wade). As it concerns creating opportunities he more than fulfills expectations in that part of the job description.

So why move him? In a word: defense. 82games.com lists counterpart’s production as its primary defensive metric. Opponent’s production is a seriously flawed metric for evaluating power forwards and centers, whose responsibility for defensive rotation seemingly overstates their defensive liabilities relative to the backcourt. However it appears to be a reasonable measure of the backcourt’s defensive contributions. In Marbury’s case specifically, since he plays nearly 40 mpg virtually all of the opposing point guard’s production comes against him. Look at opposing PG’s production against the same group of players.

Player.............	PER	eFG%	Close% Ast48	TO48 
Dwyane Wade (Mia)*. 13.9 42.4 26 7.3 2.7
Steve Nash (Pho)... 14.4 47.9 23 8.3 3.6
Allen Iverson (Phi) 12.0 44.1 22 9.6 3.8
Stephon Marbury(NY) 15.9 46.1 27 8.5 3.8

* In Wade’s case, since he has played some SG and SF I used only opposing PG figures on 82games.com

Marbury allows by far the highest opponent’s PER, almost a full point above league average (set at 15). He is second worst to Nash in opponent’s shooting. He is worst in giving up penetration (as measured by % shots in close – a conservative measure), and unlike Dwyane Wade’s Heat the Knicks have no shotblockers protecting his back, or the rim for that matter. It is tempting in one respect to simply offset Marbury’s defensive liabilities against his phenomenal offensive production and live with the difference. But that would miss the point. Marbury’s incredible capacity to penetrate creates scoring opportunities for both he and his teammates. The opposite is true of his defense. Marbury’s defensive indifference, propensity to be beaten off the dribble, unwillingness to fight through screens, and freelancing create easy scoring opportunities for opponents, putting his teammates in a terrible bind. Unlike him, they cannot necessarily shoot their way out of a poor defensive showing. I would suggest that even if the team were blessed with much better interior defenders its defensive efficiency might not improve much, if at all. The guards allow so much penetration that many opponents’ shots are taken in high percentage areas.

At this point in Marbury’s career it seems unlikely that he is going to devote himself more fully to defense for more than a quarter here or there. Thus, even if the Knicks are fortunate enough to escape salary cap hell in the next 2 seasons, how can the team construct a title contender with Marbury as its focal player? I argue that it cannot. The team cannot surround him with enough offensive talent to offset his defensive liabilities with more scoring, a la Dallas of two seasons ago. Nor can the Knicks construct themselves like the San Antonio Spurs of three seasons ago, surrounding Marbury with 2 shot blockers and another perimeter defensive stopper. In order to do either Isiah Thomas would have to be perfect in all of his moves for the next 4-5 seasons. The far more sensible approach would be to attempt to build around another player where the gap between his offensive contributions and defensive liabilities is not nearly so wide.

The Beginning of the End?

Paging through the local fishwrap one might get the impression that Lenny Wilkens’s days patrolling the sidelines at Madison Square Garden are nearing an end. The team is reeling. Key players are injured. Stephon Marbury has allowed himself to be baited into a pointless back-and-forth with the media about his value relative to Jason Kidd’s. Worse, he’s being enabled in this insanity by Isiah Thomas. Speaking of insanity, Penny Hardaway has apparently asked to be traded. Is there suddenly a market for a rapidly declining swingman with a wrecking ball of a contract that I didn’t know about? Penny must know that if he could be moved he’d have been moved. Boy, Saturday?s game against a very solid Cavs team could portend some dark days ahead for our beloved Knickerbockers, a team I once thought to be incapable of either winning or losing 5 consecutive games. If dark days are indeed ahead, here?s what I see as New York?s three major problems (excluding roster issues ? that?s a whole other blog entry for another day) as we enter the new year.

Health. Even with everyone relatively healthy the Knicks are a one-step forward one-step back team, the very definition of mediocre. The recent rash of injuries to young players, however, threatens to turn the Knicks into a two- or three-steps back team over the coming weeks. Houston is still trying to play himself into game shape. Sweetney?s ankle sprain now means that Kurt Thomas must play even more minutes than he should be playing. Not that he wasn?t already playing too many minutes, which leads me to the second major problem facing the Knicks.

The Rotation
. I recall when Lenny was first hired last season. He made a remark that made me think even then, “I hope he didn’t really mean that.” He was commenting about how he?s not one to engage in sideline histrionics, yelling and screaming at players. That didn?t bother me. I have never been one who mistakes histrionics for coaching. What bothered me is that he said something to the effect that he found it most effective to remove a player?s minutes in order to send a message. The remark struck me as shockingly passive-aggressive from so seasoned a coach. But, at the time I thought, “Surely Wilkins is just looking to avoid being labeled ‘too nice’ by the NY media.” In media parlance “too nice” is most often a euphamism for weak, and it constitutes a death sentence in NY. So I couldn’t blame Wilkins if he pulled something out of his butt to make himself look closer to Vince Lombardi than Don Chaney. Nonetheless, I figured any coach who has been around as long as Wilkins must realize that diddling with minutes is perhaps the least effective way to deliver a message. If you’re going to bench a guy then bench him. Don’t jerk him around. Diddling with minutes is a strategy rife with the potential for all kinds of unintended, perverse (but entirely foreseeable) consequences. It?s easiest to deny playing time to young players who have little recourse but difficult to bench malcontents or underperformers on a roster as dreadfully unbalanced as New York’s. So ultimately whatever message a coach thinks he or she is delivering gets lost because players don’t know what playing time (or the lack of it) really means. A coach will get the players? attention alright, but for all the wrong reasons; he may also be stuck with dysfunctional rotations.

Unfortunately, it looks more and more like Wilkins’s early comments were really foreshadowing. During his tenure as Knick coach I have never understood Wilken?s rotations, particularly his unwillingness to play younger players who are also superior defenders. Usually, young guys don?t play because they don?t defend. Much to Isiah?s and (gasp!) Scot Layden?s credit, this has not been the case with the Knick youngsters over the past couple seasons. These guys defend. So as a fan it?s next to impossible to figure out why certain guys play (e.g., Moochie Norris) while others don?t (Frank Williams last season) when they so clearly fill a need. In fact I?m not all that confident that the players themselves are much better informed on these matters. For instance, coming into this season I thought it obvious that the team needed to monitor Stephon Marbury?s minutes. He simply does not need to play 40 minutes per night. He was clearly exhausted coming down the stretch and into the playoffs last season. In fact, I thought that was why Isiah went out and beefed up the Knick backcourt this off-season, not only trading for Crawford but signing a defense-first backup point guard, Jamison Brewer. Yet here we are a year later and Marbury is averaging 39.4 minutes per game, which leads me to the third major problem facing the Knicks.

Defense. The Knicks are still a pretty abysmal defensive team. Prior to Christmas (and the current losing streak), according to the Knickerblogger?s fantastic new stats page, the Knicks were allowing over 104 points per 100 possessions. The starting 5 of Marbury, Houston, the Thomases, and Mohammed simply isn?t very good defensively. That?s not likely to change much. However, a look at various other 5-man units on 82games.com shows that the Knicks can put good defensive units on the floor when they go to their bench. The Knick version of Sacramento?s old ?bench mob,? featuring Sweetney, JYD, and Ariza are among the team?s best in effective field goal defense. However, the Knick’s bench doesn?t play nearly enough minutes. I believe this is in large part due to the failure to develop a capable backup point guard who can help orchestrate enough offense to keep the second unit on the floor. Looking ahead the Knicks would be wise to either acquire a cheap, defense-first backup point guard, or give Jamison Brewer a real shot to play 12-15 minutes a night with the second unit.