Life Without Marbury

And you thought the Knicks’ season couldn’t get any worse? The Knicks 6 game win streak ended when the hapless Raptors crushed them by 29 points on Sunday. Then New York lost to the Minnesota Timberwolves. At home. On Martin Luther King Day. Although the loss was their 22nd of the season, the worst aspect of it was the injury Stephon Marbury suffered. The early reports are that Stephon will likely miss the next 5 games due to a shoulder injury. While Marbury has been a lightning rod to those looking for an individual player to blame the Knicks recent woes on, it’s indisputable that he’s the best player on the team. Nate Robinson and Jamal Crawford will try to fill the hole left by Marbury, but their absence will leave another hole for someone else to fill. To be successful in this stretch, the Knicks will need another guard to step up & produce.

Quentin Richardson

Richardson showed some life in the Knicks last game, but on the season he’s been as dependable as a newborn puppy dog on a white couch. Injuries have kept Quentin out of the preseason, and his back has kept him out of a handful of games this year. Q is shooting an appalling 41% eFG%, way below his 48% career mark. He’s scoring at a rate of 11.5pts/40min, which places him behind granite statue Jerome James & troubled child Qyntel Woods. With Marbury out and the trade deadline a month away, now would be an ideal time for Richardson to snap out of his season long coma.

Qyntel Woods

At one point in his career, Woods was considered a decent prospect. NBADraft.Net heaped praise upon praise on Qyntel comparing him favorably to Tracy McGrady. Meanwhile the USAToday said he was good enough to possibly go 3rd overall in the 2002 draft. Woods played reasonably well his first year in Portland, posting a 11.2 PER as a 21 year old rookie. However that was the high point in his career. Portland released him after a turbulent sophomore season, and Miami sent him packing after a 3 game tryout. While Woods’ physical ability is intriguing, he’s regressed since his first year and time is running out on the 24 year old. It isn’t often that players get more than 3 chances to make it in this league, and Woods could extend his NBA life with a productive 5 games.

Penny Hardaway

Hardaway has been on the disabled list since December with an injured knee, which is the NBA’s version of “nudge-nudge, wink-wink, say no more!” If Penny is interested in rejoining the NBA as a player, now might be a good time to do so. Unlike the two mentioned above, Hardaway has had experience running the point, which could aid the Knicks since Robinson is more of a shooting guard. Penny can still play some defense on the perimeter & has good court vision with the ball. Unfortunately he suffers from Lavor Postell‘s syndrome: he can’t shoot a lick & doesn’t know it. Penny’s career eFG% as a Knick is 44.6%, which is 10 points lower than his heyday in Orlando. If Hardaway is given the opportunity, he should do a December 30th Scott Skiles impersonation & set up his teammates as much as possible.

Trevor Ariza

Although more of a small forward, Ariza is agile enough to play shooting guard as well. Last year he was the lone bright spot on the team, but this year he’s been the forgotten man in Larry Brown’s rotation. His problem is simple, he’s a liability on offense. According to 82games, Ariza is connecting on only 26% of his jump shots. While Brown has no problem putting players on the court out of position (see Lee, David – starting small forward) he doesn’t like having a black hole on offense. Remember this is the same coach who took Ben “my offensive game should be limited to tip ins and alley oops” Wallace, and encouraged him to shoot more. Ariza becomes the dark horse candidate to contribute more, because his main focus is defense and the Knicks will need more offense with Marbury out.

Lucky to get out alive?

[Today’s article comes from guest blogger Gabe Farkas. Gabe is a contributor on the APBRmetrics discussion boards, a native New Yorker, an avid Knicks fan, and he won’t be upset if (when) you disagree with him. Gabe is also currently pursuing a MA in Statistics from Columbia University.]

?Best win of the year? is how Walt Frazier described last night?s come-from-behind victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers during the post-game recap.

?Lucky that LeBron went cold at the right time? is how I?d be more inclined to phrase it.

Most of the talking heads last night and this morning attributed the win to the Knicks becoming ?defensive monsters in the fourth? and Jamal Crawford?s 26 point effort off the bench.

I beg to differ just a little bit. The Knicks managed to escape Cleveland with a win despite still exhibiting all the inconsistencies that Larry Brown was supposedly brought in to correct. We?ve all seen this self-combusting behavior once too often recently. Don’t get me wrong; I’m happy to see the Knicks win a come-from-behind game, and I thought at times their defense was ever-so-slightly reminiscent of the team circa 1994. On top of that, Stephon Marbury is finally learning how to play under Brown’s style. But, the team wasn’t without its faults. I kept a running log of the game, and I?m feeling frisky enough to break out some highlights (and lowlights) for analysis and discussion:

First Quarter

With about 7:30 left in the quarter, Jerome James was already in foul trouble, and the Cavs were off to a 13-3 start. A minute later, Jamal Crawford launched the first of what would be many long jumpers during the game.

A little past midway through the quarter, Crawford dished to Quentin Richardson who hit a 3-pointer to bring the score to 13-8. Normally this is no big deal, considering that Q-Rich led the league in 3?s made and attempted last year, but what?s interesting to note was that he did it with LeBron closely guarding him. One might have thought that LBJ considered this a personal affront, since he proceeded to take the Cavs? next three shots down the floor (not counting a missed tip shot by Drew Gooden, whom we?ll get to later), missing a jumper and a lay-in before finally making a driving layup.

In the meantime, Crawford seemed to think he was in a Usage Rate contest with LeBron, continuing to shoot almost every time he touched the ball, and even being called for a carry.

One positive is that it seems Larry Brown has finally convinced the team to at least make an effort on defense, after being ranked 25th last year in Defensive Rating. This is especially true for Mo ?Allergic to Rebounds? Taylor, who drew a charge on Ira Newble with 30 seconds left in the quarter.

The other bright spot in the quarter was Channing Frye, who hit his 3rd jumper of the game with 3 seconds left, bringing the Knicks to within 3. Channing has been coming on strong of late, and is shooting 74% from the field in January coming into the game.

Second Quarter

With 9:40 left in the quarter and Cleveland maintaining their lead 28-24, LeBron finally comes out for a rest, and is replaced by Luke Jackson, who virtually defines the term ?Replacement Level Player.? One might think on offense the Knicks might try to exploit Jackson, no? Well, if one thought that, one would be right. Almost immediately, Jamal Crawford hit a jumper with Jackson in his face, followed by Luke coming back down the court and bricking a 12-foot jumper of his own. Larry Brown definitely has the team understanding match-ups better, challenging the seldom-used Jackson right away.

On the other end of the court, Cleveland?s offense sputtered without James on the floor. Around the 8-minute mark, with the shot clock winding down, Luke Jackson passed up a wide open jumper to Eric Snow, who forced up a miss as the shot clock was expiring. In a well-executed fast break that is becoming increasingly common for the team, Marbury nicely finished a lay-in to put the Knicks up by two, prompting a Cleveland timeout.

At this point, with LeBron resting, the only player keeping Cleveland in the game was Drew Gooden. During a 2-3 minute stretch in the first quarter, he had 2 blocks and 4 offensive rebounds. By around halfway through the second quarter, he finished off a fast break to put the Cavs back up by two, and already had 10 points and 9 rebounds.

Crawford continued to force shots, and LeBron hit a jumper on his first touch after coming back in the game, then missed a jumper and began hearing boos. Seriously though Cavs fans, he?s LeBron James ? do you really need to boo every time he misses a contested jumper (although, he was 5-15 at this point)?

With 2:00 left in the quarter, Mo Taylor drew an obvious charge (what would have been his second of the game) against LeBron that wasn?t called, followed by Steph hitting a trademark jumper with help from a Taylor screen, and then Taylor drawing a much-less-obvious charge against Eric Snow. Hmmmm, so there is such a thing as star treatment. Better break out my old VHS from Game 6 of the ?98 Finals.

Breaking down the half, both teams shot poorly (40% for New York, 36% for Cleveland), and didn?t pass effectively (7 assists on 45 FGA for the Knicks, 6 on 44 FGA for the Cavs), although the Knicks held the advantage on the glass, 29 to 22.

Third Quarter

LeBron started off the quarter by hitting 3 quick shots. Suddenly I was worried. Then, Eddy Curry drew a foul on Ilgauskas (his 4th), causing the Cleveland center to head to the bench. After seemingly exploiting match-ups well in the first half, I was wondering if the Knicks could do it again without Cleveland?s defensive presence in the middle.

Well, their next three shots were a driving layup by Nate Robinson, a turn-around in the lane by David Lee, and an impressive stutter-step jumper by Stephon over LeBron. 54-53 Knicks. So far, so good.

But, while Lee has been fairly impressive lately (shooting 88% from the field in January), his inability to deny LeBron the ball and/or keep him from taking easy shots allowed Cleveland to stay in the game. After LBJ nailed another jumper over Lee at around the 5-minute mark for a 62-56 lead, Lee was finally (mercifully) pulled and Q-Rich came back in the game.

However, LeBron went 3-5 for the quarter after the defensive switch, with Cleveland running the same screen play several times in a row due to New York?s inability to successfully defend it. At this point, LBJ seemed to be taking over. The Cavs strung together a 15-3 run, and Jamal Crawford forgot what it means to hold the ball without shooting, although at the time Walt Frazier euphemistically deemed it ?creating havoc.?

72-67, Cleveland after three. For the quarter, LeBron was 6-8 for 14 points. The Knicks still held an edge in rebounds (37 to 31), but also had more turnovers (11 to 8). Surprisingly, Crawford was shooting a respectable 6-13, while LeBron doubled him up, going 13-25 so far in the game and single-handedly keeping his team in front.

Fourth Quarter

Entering the quarter, Eddy Curry was 2-6 from the field, having played only 13 minutes, despite Zydrunas Ilgauskas sitting most of the 3rd quarter. The Knicks went to Curry early, and he responded by hitting his first three shots of the fourth quarter, even posting up Ilgauskas and calling for the ball the third time around, receiving a nice entry pass from Nate Robinson.

Speaking of Robinson, this seems like a good time to touch on the Knicks substitution patterns. Although their substitutions have been somewhat perplexing all year, Larry Brown seems to be settling in on a steady rotation. One thing that I?ve noticed is that he likes to sub Nate for Steph fairly early in quarters, and then bring Marbury back in with plenty of time left. Tonight was no exception, as Nate entered the game with 10 minutes remaining, assisted on an aforementioned Eddy Curry shot, and then went back to the bench at the 8:21 mark.

Midway through the quarter both teams hit a lull in offensive productivity. For Cleveland, it was a case of LeBron going cold, and only Mike Wilks? first 3-pointer of the season saved them from being scoreless for a stretch of over 5 minutes. For New York, the ineptitude was a group activity, with Frye, Curry, Marbury, and (especially) Jamal Crawford all participating.

With his shot struggling, LBJ still managed to impact the game through his defense, forcing a bad pass turnover from Crawford to Q-Rich on a potential fast break opportunity by cutting off the passing angle. In fact, LeBron didn?t score his 2nd point of the quarter until making the first of two free throws with less than 4 minutes to go in the game, and the Knicks having reclaimed the lead 83-82. Q-Rich was doing a much better job containing LeBron than David Lee, but the team as a whole was communicating and utilizing help defense adroitly to contain James.

Channing Frye capped off a 10-1 run with another jumper with 3 minutes left, giving the Knicks a 5-point lead, and making New York 7-16 from the field in the quarter, compared to 3-14 for Cleveland. Apparently, as LeBron goes, so do the Cavs.

The only player keeping the game close for Cleveland was Drew Gooden. During the next Knicks possession, Frye was stripped on a dribble-drive by Gooden, but luckily got the ball back and was fouled. This forced the Knicks to in-bound the ball with only 3 seconds left on the shot clock, and Gooden pulled down the rebound after you-can-guess-who missed a hastily-shot layup (Hint: _amal _raw_ord).

However, it was too little, too late for the Cavs, who were outscored 25-12 in the 4th quarter. LeBron was 1-6 in the fourth, his only field goal a meaningless layup with 17 seconds left and the game already decided.

Final score: 92-84 New York

Game Breakdown

As I mentioned at the beginning, Jamal Crawford?s 26 point, 10 rebound, 4 assist effort was considered by many as stat line of the night. However, what you?re not seeing are the 4 turnovers (a team high), no steals, and 9-21 shooting (42%, decent but not great). In fact, if you use the “Game Score” version of John Hollinger’s PER, as outlined in his Pro Basketball Forecast, Crawford?s output didn?t pace his team:

Name GameScore

New York
S. Marbury 20.7
J. Crawford 16.3
C. Frye 9.7
E. Curry 5.1
N. Robinson 3.6
Q. Richardson 3.2
D. Lee 2.2
A. Davis 1.2
M. Taylor 1.2
J. James -1.6

L. James 25.4
D. Gooden 13.4
D. Marshall 5.8
Z. Ilgauskas 3.9
M. Wilks 1.7
I. Newble 1.2
A. Henderson 0.1
E. Snow -0.2
L. Jackson -0.7
D. Jones -2.3

Marbury seems to be finding his groove lately, and this game was no exception. Shooting 8-12 from the field and 6-6 from the line, he scored 22 points, and had 5 rebounds, 5 assists, and only 1 turnover in 43 minutes. For whatever you?ve read about Stephon?s proverbial head-butting with Larry Brown, he?s still the best player on his team and his production is closely linked to the Knicks? success as a team.

For Cleveland, it was the LeBron show and not much else. His 36 points were one less than the next three Cavs combined, and his 7 rebounds, 7 assists, and only 1 turnover were also impressive. Gooden?s rebounding (he led all players with 12) and Donyell Marshall?s 3-pointers were the only other numbers in Cleveland?s box score worth mentioning. Fortunately for the Knicks, a team defensive effort (with noteworthy man-to-man defense by Q-Rich) was able to keep LeBron in check in the fourth quarter while the offense mounted a comeback. Perhaps it?s a clich? at this point, but I saw shades of MJ circa ?88 in LeBron during this game.

Despite the victory, the Knicks still displayed some of the inconsistencies and poor decision-making that have plagued them throughout the year. Call me jaded, but I?m not ready to celebrate unabashedly after one win. That said, there were definitely a few positives to take away from the game:

– the Knicks made a concerted effort to stop LeBron from penetrating as much as possible, forcing him to settle for jumpers, demonstrating their renewed efforts on defense
– Jerome James getting to the free throw line early, after going only 5-10 all year (!)
– seeing all 3 Knicks rookies on the floor at the same time for a decent stretch of the 2nd quarter (the positive outpouring from Robinson, Frye, and Lee deserves a column all to itself)

A Few Reasons 2006 Will Be Better for the Knicks

[Today’s article comes from David Crockett. Dr. Crockett is the lead researcher of optimism at KnickerBlogger.Net industries.]

As poorly as the Knicks have played in spots they really aren?t quite as bad as they look.

In all seriousness, this team should be a bit better than its current 8-21 record (as of January 4th) based on its Pythagorean formula, which projects wins and losses based the two most direct determinants of winning (i.e., how much you score and how much you give up). If I?ve calculated it correctly the Knicks should have between 13 or 14 wins rather than their current 8. [KB’s Note: There are different ways to calculate expected win% using points for/against. David has chosen: g*pf^2.37/(pf^2.37+pa^2.37), while the stat page uses (G*(PTS^14/(PTS^14 + oPTS^14)) which has the Knicks at 10 expected wins.] The difference between actual and projected wins is often referred to as ?luck,? or perhaps more precisely the difference is in little things less directly related to winning than scoring or defense. Often, whether those little things go in your favor can be pretty random. (A good example from football is recovering fumbled balls. Jumping on a lose football is pretty much a 50-50 proposition but it can have a huge impact on winning or losing a game. Over time it evens out but it at a given moment it can really hurt or really help.)

Of course ?coulda, shoulda, woulda? is the sad lullaby of losers. Still, it is hard to deny that in addition to a number of completely self-inflicted wounds the Knicks have also been genuinely unlucky in the early part of the season. They?ve played a ton of road games against a killer schedule.

What can the Knicks build on in the New Year?

The Schedule Gets Kinder. Through November and December the Knicks spent a lot of time on the road. In those two months the team had only four sets of consecutive home dates. One negative impact of playing so much on the road is lost practice time spent traveling. January will mark the first month where the Knicks will play the majority of their games at home. They will have four sets of consecutive home dates in January alone. Apart from the crowd noise, the home cooking, and all that jazz, Larry Brown will have the opportunity to practice and teach which should pay some dividends in the spring.

Of course the cynic in me responds that with all the time the fans at MSG spend booing them the road may not be so bad for the Knicks. Certainly, the Knicks will be dogs in most of their home dates going forward. Still, for a young team trying to find itself home is probably the best place to be.

The Four Factors (Offense). Any longtime reader of knows that KB?s stat page allows the reader to sort teams by Dean Oliver?s four factors most closely associated with winning (i.e., shooting, turnovers, rebounding, and free throws). Offensively, in two of those areas (rebounding and getting to the free throw line) the Knicks are among the best in the league. Conversely, the Knicks are the highest turnover team in the NBA and in the bottom five in eFG%.

As I alluded to in September (see Question #2) the question of style/tempo would be an interesting one for Larry Brown. Fortunately, he has allowed the Knicks to play the seventh quickest pace in the league at 92.6 possessions per game (Phoenix is 1st at 95.6). Given the makeup of the roster I believe this is the right call. Unfortunately, at this point the Knicks aren?t any more efficient now (103.2) than they were last season (103). But, one could change the framing of that statement and argue that the current Knicks have managed to match the offensive output of last year?s version despite only intermittent production from an out-of-shape and hobbled Curry, an unstable rotation filled with rookie starters, and perhaps most importantly with a knack for getting to the free throw line. So going forward one reason to suspect that the offensive efficiency will improve is that Curry is getting closer to game shape. One reason to suspect that the Knicks will cut down on turnovers is that the rotation is beginning to stabilize. Also, adding David Lee to the starting lineup, even out of position at small forward, brings better ball handling and passing to the frontcourt than Quentin Richardson or Trevor Ariza.

The Four Factors (Defense). Interestingly, the Knicks are also good in two of the four areas on defense. First, the positive. This Knick team forces turnovers. At just over 17 per game the Knicks are 6th in forcing turnovers in the league. It?s easy to overlook this aspect of their game since they give all those back plus some. Also, they currently rank 12th in defensive rebounding (where only 1.1 offensive rebounds allowed per game separates them from #5 San Antonio). The Knicks do a very good job of limiting their opponent?s second shots. Now, the not so good. The Knicks are among the worst in the league at eFG defense, allowing over 50% eFG. Thus, not surprisingly the Knicks are among the most charitable teams in the league sending opponents to the FT line almost 29 times per 100 FGAs.

How can the Knicks improve on defense? Well, for starters they could stop turning the ball over on offense so doggone much. Cutting down on easy baskets won?t turn them into the 2004 Pistons but it could, even with no other improvements, move them out of the bottom quarter of bad eFG defense teams. A quick look at appears to confirm this. The Knicks allow by far the largest percentage of opponent?s shots early in the clock (37% of opponent shots come at 0-10 seconds) and yield the highest eFG (55%) on those attempts. This is most likely the accumulated impact of turnovers and poor transition defense.

Let?s hope for all our sakes that the Knicks have resolved in the New Year to be smarter with the ball, to get back on D, and keep getting to the line. If so, 2006 may be a happy year indeed.

The Knicks Guard Quandary

Going into preseason the Knicks were suppose to have stability at the guard spots. During the summer Allan Houston initially slipped out from under the guillotine that bore his name (the “Allan Houston Rule”), which meant another season of uncertainty concerning how much and what role he would play on the team. However his knee had other ideas, and forced Houston to retire before the season started. Isiah Thomas had brought in Quentin Richardson and drafted Nate Robinson which meant the Knicks would have depth and reliability coming into the season. Unfortunately things haven’t turned out as planned.

Quentin Richardson, who was to solidify the shooting guard & small forward spots, has been a disappointment thus far. Injuries kept Richardson from practicing with his new teammates during the preseason, so when the season started he was frequently out of position and was unfamiliar with the plays. So far this season he has yet to surpass his career average in points (12.5) in any game for New York. If matters weren’t bad enough, Friday he left the game after playing only 6 minutes and was a “DNP-Back Spasms” for Sunday’s game. So not only has Quentin’s various maladies kept him from settling into the Knicks’ offense, but now they are keeping him from playing altogether. While Richardson played in 79 games last year, the Knicks might have purchased the 2003-2004 version, where he only averaged 62 games a season.

At the risk of being unpopular, Nate Robinson might be the worst Knick still in Brown’s rotation. Although Robinson is an undersized rookie shooting guard trying to learn the point, he has done little to help his team. While he’s nearly a better rebounder (5.0 REB/40) than Marbury (3.4 REB/40) and Crawford (2.4 REB/40) combined, Nate is shooting a feeble 36.3% (eFG) and fouling opponents at a ridiculous rate for a point guard (6.6 PF/40). Usually a player whose shooting percentage resembles Ty Cobb’s career batting average might try to minimize the damage they are doing to their team by shooting the ball less. Unfortunately for New York, Robinson is doing more jacking than a Rock Star Games convention (19.4 FGA/40 second on the team). Nate’s selfishness is so bad that his usage rate (27.1) is nearly identical to All Star Vince Carter’s (27.2).

When Robinson gets the ball, he streaks into the paint where the defense colapses around him. For most point guards this is an ideal situation, because it means a teammate is open for an easy shot. Unfortunately for Nate he infrequently passes out of the double team, and instead forces up a contested shot. Opponents have caught on to this and send one or two help defenders into the paint, knowing that the Knicks’ guard won’t burn them by passing to the open man. With Brown’s impatience with shoot first point guards and players who foul incessantly, one has to wonder if Robinson would get the same treatment if he were 6’1.

Surprisingly, the only guard to show improvement is the player in which I had the least amount of confidence. Jamal Crawford seems to have retired his patented “off balanced-21 footer-hand in my face” shot. He is attempting less shots (14.4 FGA/40 compared to 16.3 last year) and has become more aggressive pushing the ball towards the hoop. Once his free throw percentage (currently 67%) returns to his career average (83%), he could have the most efficient season of his career. One thing Crawford needs to do better is give the ball up in transition. At least twice this year he has kept it for himself trying to elude defenders with a fancy dribble or a fake pass and go the full length of the court. Jamal needs to give up the rock when the Knicks have the numbers in the open court.

Even the Knicks best guard has been wildly inconsistent. Stephon Marbury had point totals of 10, 4, and 9 until erupting for 27 on Sunday against his cousin. Unfortunately for New York, they don’t face any more point guards from the Marbury family tree. Until that game, he seemed content to hang out on the perimeter and feed the ball to everyone else. Stephon’s main weapon is attacking the basket with a strong ability to finish or find the open man. Whether it is due to Larry Brown being overly restrictive or Marbury taking his instructions to an extreme, having him handcuffed to the three point line is not the best way to utilize his talents.

The other day Marbury took a lot of slack from the media & the fans for requesting to move to the shooting guard position. It doesn’t make sense that Robinson’s leash is long enough that he can take any shot he pleases, and Crawford is encouraged to make his way into the paint. Stephon is superior to his teammates in both passing and scoring from inside. The Knicks could help their last place offense and add stability to their backcourt by letting Marbury return to the form that made him one of the better offensive point guards in the league.

New York 86 Denver 95

Since I’m away on a trip, I didn’t get to see this game. Although I got to watch a competitive game last night between the Celts & Raps, I’m curious if anyone can tell me what happened to the Knicks?

From the box score it’s pretty obvious how the Knicks lost. The Nuggets shot at a higher percent (47% – 40% eFG%), turned the ball over less (16% – 21% TO Ratio), and repeatedly got to the foul line (.32 – .21 FT Ratio). The Knicks beat them on the boards (35% – 21%), but that’s nowhere near enough to overcome those odds. What is not explained in the AP release or the box score is Larry Brown’s substitutions. I’m curious why Eddy Curry, Quentin Richardson, and Trevor Ariza only played 20 minutes.

It’s not hard to imagine why Curry hit the pine. Marcus Camby is a quick and athletic center and I’m guessing that Curry would have had trouble keeping up with him on the defensive end. With Carmelo having a big scoring night, I can make the same excuse for Q-Rich, given his defensive reputation. However I’m at a loss why Ariza only played 7 minutes. Matt Barnes was unavailable due to injury, which would leave Trevor as the Knicks’ best defender at the small forward spot.

Instead it looked as if Brown wanted to go big. He gave his power forwards and centers a combined 128 minutes, which means than over the half the game the Knicks had three big men on the court. So my question to KnickerBlogger.Net readers is why in a close game (New York would start the 4th only down by 10 points) would their two best small forwards be largely unavailable?

Washington 86 New York 75

Again just some quick notes:

* Matt Barnes can do everything on the defensive end, but he’s a mess on offense. He drives to the hoop uncontrollably, and he doesn’t have Marbury ability to pass or finish. On one drive he panicked in the air and threw the ball right into Arenas’ hands. Gilbert was so shocked that he knocked the pass out of bounds. Matt gets rejected way too often for my tastes, especially after rebounds. If Larry Brown is going to leave him on the court at the end of the game, Barnes needs to become less aggressive. The Knicks don’t need to give possessions back to the other team.

* Trevor Ariza is a monster on defense. The guy is a ball hawk. He knocked the ball right out of one player’s hands, and another time Trevor ran away with an inbounds pass. Ariza fronted a post player and got up high enough in the air to tip the pass off the offensive player’s fingers for another turnover. Larry Brown went to Barnes for the final minutes, and I have to wonder if it shouldn’t be the other way around. While I think Ariza might not have Barnes’ man to man skills, he’s not as much of a liability on the offensive end. Unlike Matt Barnes, Trevor seems to know his limitations and doesn’t force the issue with the ball.

* The Knicks $100M centers were both in foul trouble early. Jerome James was terrible. It wasn’t bad enough that he committed two offensive fouls in less than 5 minutes, but he vigorously argued them even though neither was close to being debatable. Brown saw enough of him & yanked him for the rest of the game. Meanwhile Curry played well while he was in the game, but foul trouble and stupid turnovers kept him benched for most of it.

* This was almost a blessing, because I saw a good amount of Channing Frye, and I like what I saw. His range extends pretty far out, although he missed badly on a three point attempt. Despite his sleight build, he can rebound, especially on the offensive end. I’d be shocked if he won’t be one of the main scorers of the Knicks second team. They need to run the pick & roll with him more often.

* Quentin Richardson looked lost in the offensive set. I counted at least 3 times where he ended up too close to another Knick. Hopefully a few more practice sessions will help him learn the plays & space the floor properly. The good news was that Richardson made his damage inside. After a year in the Suns run & gun offense, there was speculation on whether “Q” would stay on the perimeter jacking up treys. But Richardson was rebounding & scoring from the paint.

* Marbury missed an easy layup with his left hand. The whole league must know he’s really weak with his left hand, which makes his scoring ability that much more impressive.

* Finally, I have to give credit where credit is due. At least twice Jamal Crawford took the ball to the hoop after a fake out. This is as big an accomplishment as any I’ve seen this year. I can’t recall a single wild shot from him, which is a step in the right direction.

Knicks 2006 Preview Part II

Small Forward/Shooting Guard: New York has some depth at the swingman spots, as the only Knick that can’t play both spots is the rail thin Jamal Crawford. Newly acquired Quentin Richardson hasn’t played much with the team due to injury. Reportedly he’s back practicing with his new teammates, but it’s unknown whether he’ll be used at the 2 or the 3. So far Penny Hardaway has been the benefactor of Richardson’s hamstring, and he could find a role in Brown’s rotation as a perimeter defender. Hardaway still has good court vision, but his shooting has deteriorated to the point where it has become a liability. I would imagine that this would be a temporary solution, because Penny’s $16M expiring contract will be too much temptation for Isiah to resist (see the Charlton Heston comment from Part I). Vegas odds are 5:1 against Hardaway remaining a Knick by the trade deadline.

With all the excitement over Eddy Curry, Jerome James, Larry Brown, and the three drafted rookies, it seems that Trevor Ariza has become the forgotten man in New York. As a second round pick, no one expected much from him, but last year Ariza might have been the lone bright star in what was a dark season for the Knicks. This season he has a year of experience under his belt, an improved team, and one the best coaches in the game. I don’t want to go as far to say this is a critical year in Ariza’s development, but he won’t find a better environment to improve himself. The same could be said of Jamal Crawford. While he’s still young, he’s approaching that age where players stop showing improvement. If Jamal can’t put it together under Brown, he’ll never do so.

I’ve talked time and time again about Isiah’s ability to find young talent. Like a miner in a dark cave, Zeke may have found another gem in Matt Barnes. I have a special scouting report from Chief KnickerBlogger Talent Evaluator, David Crockett:

Barnes can start or come off the bench. He has always been an underrated defender – good feet, long arms, and just a little more athletic than you think he is. Perhaps most importantly, he doesn’t need the ball to make an impact. Barnes is a very good passer. He runs the floor and boards. He does all the hustle stuff, and unlike Tim Thomas he’s good at defensive rotations. That help will be critical as Marbury and Crawford continue to feel their way into their roles.

I know Brown has been angling for his guy, the ancient George Lynch, but i think Barnes will grow on him and stay in the rotation even after Quentin Richardson gets healthy.

If Barnes is the real deal (and I have no reason to doubt Dr. C.) then it’ll be all the more reason to trade Hardaway. On second thoughts make those odds 10:1 in favor of Isiah trading Penny. The obvious choice is Richardson at small forward and Crawford at shooting guard. Earlier I said that Jamal would find his way to Brown’s dog house, and I’ll stand by that statement. Don’t be surprised if Isiah finds a way to upgrade the position, or if Ariza, Barnes, and Hardaway steal Crawford’s minutes at the 2 to provide a better defensive alignment.

Coach: New York’s biggest upgrade might not see any time on the court. Larry Brown gives the Knicks their first real coach since Jeff Van Gundy. Although you won’t see Brown buffing the floor holding onto opposing player’s ankles, his presence will be felt on the court as if he was doing just that. The Knicks don’t have a particularly good defensive team, but Larry Brown will get every bit of effort possible out of his players on that end of the court. While Brown’s wanderlust will eventually get to him and the Knicks will be worse off when he goes, the Garden faithful should enjoy their hometown coach while they have him.

Outlook: I’ll start with the most pessimistic view. Eddy Curry’s heart sidelines him for good, and Quentin Richardson’s back keeps him from playing more than 40 games. Jerome James tries to eat the $30M the Knicks gave him and Channing Frye is too soft to man the center. Isiah panics and trades Hardaway & David Lee for Mike Olowokandi and instantly gives him a 6 year $45M extension. Trevor Ariza and Nate Robinson spend the year at the end of the bench, as Brown has Isiah grab Lynch & Eric Snow for their leadership abilities. Their traded unprotected 2006 pick wins the draft lottery & turns into Andrea Bargnani, the next Dirk Nowitzki.

The best case scenario might start with Eddy Curry and Stephon Marbury making the All Star team. Isiah Thomas is able to turn Malik Rose and Penny Hardaway into Dan Gadzuric, Danny Fortson, and a first round pick. The two became expendable because of the rapid development of Frye, Lee, Ariza and Barnes. Brown makes the Knicks one of the top defensive teams in the league, and they take the Atlantic. The Knicks use home field advantage in the first round to trounce the injury ridden Pistons. In the second round they face the Cavaliers and Trevor Ariza gains national prominence on his ability to shut down LeBron James. Against the Heat, Shaq inexplicably wanders on the court to break up a fight between Dwayne Wade and Nate Robinson. All three are suspended, which allows the Knicks to advance to the Finals.

Reality lies somewhere in between, the Knicks only won 33 games last year, and I think improving by 8 and making the playoffs seems to be reasonable given all that is involved. 41-41 and a first round whipping.