## Welcome Back Tim Thomas

Rewinding back to Monday, I had a theory that Tim Thomas’ problem was psychological:

“His per minute averages are about the same across the board except for points & assists… This makes me think the problem may not be physical … If it were, I would expect his stats based on physical ability (steals, rebounds) would see the biggest change … he’s suddenly & inexplicably lost his ability to make a shot… Watching Thomas it’s hard to tell if he’s mentally unhappy… It’ll be interesting to see if he can snap out of his shooting funk because everything else is right where it should be.”

A few days later on Thursday, the Daily News reported:

“Tim Thomas admitted yesterday that family-related issues have affected him on the court this season. Over the summer, Thomas had to deal with the death of his sister and a cousin. Last week, Thomas’ mother underwent surgery for an undisclosed illness.”

Fast forward to today, and Thomas rediscovered his shooting touch, at home against the Raptors. Tim went 8 for 14 with 17 points, a highly efficient 60% eFG%. It’s easily his best effort in over 2 weeks, and the most Thomas-like game since last year.

I could speculate that it’s the airing of his problems publicly to the press that snapped him out of his funk. There is usually a big relief when you’ve shared your internal problems with others. I might wonder if his mother’s surgery was successful, alleviating some of his mental duress. It would make sense that he would play better hearing good results about a close family member’s health.

However this is all conjecture, and really I don’t have any basis for any of it. I’m not Thomas’ psychologist or best friend. I’ve never met the guy, or anyone that even knows him. I don’t know how his mother’s surgery turned out. All I know is that after spending the first part of the season shooting the ball like Ben Wallace blindfolded, he had a game more typical of what he’s done over his career. One game doesn’t mean that Thomas is totally “cured”, and the next time he goes 3-10, the Garden is going to grumble that maybe he’s entered another extended slump.

What I do know is that player’s skills rarely erode at the age of 27 without the help of a crippling injury, so it’s very likely that if Thomas’ problems were mental. If he’s gotten that aspect under control, we should see him return to his normal form.

Right now I’m working on a review the Knicks early season. It will be ready by Monday or Tuesday morning. Find out which players are cutting it, and which ones should be cut.

## Win Some, Lose Some

What a difference a day makes. Yesterday the Knicks looked like the ’92 Dream Team at home against the Hawks. A day later they more resembled the Angolans staggering after a Charles Barkley elbow. The Toronto Raptors beat the Knicks yesterday by 23 points. Although both teams are now one game under .500, the Raptors have the slight edge in their win %, taking first place in the Atlantic.

Hawks 88 Knicks 104

New York should have expected a good offensive explosion. Using conventional statistics, the Hawks defense merely looks bad, because they rank 24th in points allowed per game. However they are actually the worse defensive team in the league, giving up 106 points for every 100 possessions. It’s Atlanta’s slow pace (93 possessions per game, 22nd) that masks how futile they are in protecting their basket. Being ranked last in shooting percentage (51.4% eFG%), is a main contributor to their pitiful defense.

The Knicks-Hawks game looked over in the first quarter. Early on, Stephon Marbury was breaking down the defense, and finding the open man time and time again. Atlanta had no inside help, as Nazr Mohammed and Kurt Thomas got off to fast starts. By my eye their interior defense looked awful and the stats confirm this 82games.com shows the Hawks to give up a 22.1 PER to opposing centers. (PER is John Hollinger’s stat, and does a great job rating a player’s offensive ability.) Last year a 22.1 would have been somewhere between Dirk Nowitzki and Yao Ming. In other words, the Hawks long for the day when Theo Ratliff or Dekembe Mutombo roamed their paint.

Even though the game was a laugher, the bench guys didn’t get a lot of minutes. Sweetney only played 17 minutes, and Ariza only 10. There was a Bruno sighting, but Sundov only played 2 minutes and missed both of his attempts. The question I have to ask is when you’re up by 15 to start the 4th quarter, why not give the bench guys some burn? Some point in the season guys like Sweetney, Ariza, and possibly Sundov will have to step up due to injury or circumstance. Could there be a better team to build up their confidence, than the worst ranked defense in the league?

The one guy that did make a name for himself is Jamison Brewer. The backup PG came in for Marbury and had a fantastic jam in the 4th quarter. He came up a bit lame from the thunderous score, but shook off the injury to finish the game. A while back a poster on the RealGM.com board suggested that Brewer might be the Knicks’ answer to a perimeter defender. He certainly has the athleticism, but defense is largely based on fundamentals. Watching him for 12 minutes in a blowout isn’t enough to judge whether or not he can shut down opposing players.

Knicks 91 Raptors 114

The next night, Brewer would see some action as well, but this time in mop up duty against Toronto. Scott sent his condolences, but I didn’t suffer much because this is the first Knicks game of the year that I did not watch. The 23 point loss was New York’s second worst of the year. For every Knicks game, I keep track of each of the four main factors: shooting, turnovers, rebounding, and getting to the foul line. This way I can quickly see how New York won, or in this case lost. Last night’s game against the Raptors looks very similar to the 34 point beating they took from the Celtics.

TEAM	eFG%	TO%	REB%	FTM%BOS	-16%	-8%	-11%	-2%TOR	-15%	-6%	+8%	-2%

Except for rebounding, the numbers are identical. I’ve noted since the season began that the Knicks would have trouble if they didn’t increase their defensive intensity. It’s no coincidence that their worst defensive shooting games of the year (59.7% & 57.1%) were also their two biggest losses. Although the Knicks finally held another team under the league shooting average (Atlanta 47%), accomplishing this 1 in every 10 games is a recipe for a tumultuous season. Of their next 4 opponents, only Memphis (16th) is an average shooting team. Against Atlanta (27th), Orlando (26th), and Charlotte (24th) the Knicks can right their woes. It’s time for them to turn the heat on, and make a defensive stand.

## Kevin’s Off-season Plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PG Marbury	  WilliamsSG Houston	  WilliamsSF T. Thomas	  Johnson/ArizaPF Sweetney	  K. ThomasC  Mohammed	  K. Thomas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

## Vinsanity 40, Starbury 38 (but the Knicks win)

Vince Carter might have outscored Stephon Marbury 40-38 last night, but it was Marbury with the last laugh as the Knicks won 108-101. I tried to watch the game last night, but was suffering from food poisoning (slightly worse than the bad taste left in my mouth from the Memphis game). In between bouts of running to the bathroom and a general overall sense of nausea and pain, I saw Marbury light it in the second half.

Other than Stephon Marbury’s outburst there were a few notables in last night’s game. First is DerMarr Johnson’s 40 minute 15 point game. It was his first 40+ minute game since March 13, 2002. That year he had 4 games where he played that many minutes. The first month and a half of that year, he didn’t get much play, but eventually he would log major minutes, and start 46 games that year. Of course he would have that ill fated car accident in the off-season, which ended his Hawks career.

So far Dermarr’s time as a Knick has been unspectacular. He’s only had 6 games with more than 10 minutes, but we should see more of him with 4 of those coming in the last 4 games. Dermarr’s time yesterday was out of necessity, with Houston only playing the first 8 minutes due to injury, coupled with Toronto’s ability to go big at times. At one point the announcers noted that Vince Carter was the shortest player on the court at 6’6″. If you’re Lenny Wilkens, you’re not exactly going to put Moochie Norris on the court as the SG at that point.

Shooting 5-14 isn’t that impressive, but when you hit 3 from beyond the arc, it becomes a more respectable 46% adjusted FG%. He hit his only 2 free throws in the fourth quarter to help seal the deal against the Raptors. His 6’9″ frame also helped him to snag 7 rebounds. It’s hard to judge a player that has seen as little time as DerMarr has, but his Achilles heal seems to be his erratic shooting. Right now Wilkens’ has little other choice to play Johnson, but if the youngster wants to earn more minutes, he should concentrate on his shooting.

Also appearing last night was Michael Sweetney. The Knicks’ first round pick made his presence felt in the second half. In his 20 minutes, he grabbed 9 rebounds, and scored 8 points on 3 of 4 shooting. He left the game after committing an ill advised foul to stop the clock late in the game. If you call this a rookie mistake, you’d have a hard time explaining why Kurt Thomas did the same thing a few seconds later.

Of course there was little room for Sweetney in the first half, because Othella Harrington was logging his minutes. Other than miss 3 shots, Harrington only managed to commit a personal foul in his seven minutes of play, which is right about his average. I just don’t see why he gets any time at all. At best he should be the third option, when Thomas & Sweetney are in foul trouble. It’s more beneficial for the Knicks’ present and future to give Sweetney 27 minutes instead of 20.

## Ugh

When do you turn the game off & do something else? I found out my limit is something close to when my team is losing 40 to 16 in the second quarter. Maybe it wasn’t the score, but more likely watching Shandon Anderson turn the ball over twice in a row that was the final straw. One was a pass in transition that he didn’t grab cleanly near the sidelines, the second was to dribble the ball off his foot near the baseline. Both times the ball went out of bounds, and back to Memphis.

I didn’t actually turn the game off, but instead I turned my attention to my fantasy baseball team. I hope those PECOTA ratings are somewhat reliable, since I based two risky trades offers on them.

If you came here for some kind of statistical analysis and feel short changed by this column, I suggest you go over to Page 23, and read an interesting column on Offensive Effeciency. One thing that I thought about while reading it, is that this kind of thinking must be relatively new, since points per shot has 4 different names.

The Knicks play the Raptors on Friday at home. I hope they play well enough to take the bad taste away from my mouth.

## Good News and Bad News

KnickerBlogger fans. I have good news and bad news.

First the bad news. There will be no entries for KnickerBlogger until Monday March 21st, due to KnickerBlogger and Mrs. KnickerBlogger going away on vacation. There is a small chance I will post something while away, but it’s doubtful. Even though I won’t be going to one, I might as well be on a deserted island as far as internet service goes.

Now the good news. Come Monday I will have an interview with Dean Oliver. Yes the Dean Oliver. So if you haven’t already, you should run out and buy his book Basketball on Paper (or order online while sitting in front of your computer). If you won’t take my word on it, you can read the review by Kevin Pelton, who called it “revolutionary.”

Dean’s writing is colorful, entertaining, and intelligent. He is a master in two areas that seperates him from the rest of the basketball writers out there. First Dean understands what goes on during a game. Second is his ability to think clearly in relation to statistical methods. It’s his ability to combine these two talents that puts Dean in the same class as Bill James. Some of the title chapters alone should pique curiosity:

• The Significance Of Derek Coleman’s Insignificance
• Reserve Your Playoff Tickets Now! We Won Three In A Row!
• The Effect Of Bad Referees and Other Short Stories
• Should I Firebomb Billy Donovan’s House?

The books is filled with fascinating things like: the best (and worst) offensive and defensive teams of all time, how good were some of the league’s best players (Bird, Magic, Jordan, Ewing, Shaq, Iverson, Stockton, Malone, and more!), and the interesting plight of the 2002 Raptors (they did loose 13 games in a row, then won 9 to get a playoff berth). Knick fans will be satisfied getting this book & learning exactly how good defensively those Ewing/Oakley/Riley teams were.

Here’s some suggested readings for the week:
Monday: The Corner Triangle – This is a Bucks blog, and since the Knicks play the Bucks on Sunday, there should be something about the Knicks on there.
Tuesday: Page 23 – If Dean Oliver is the Bill James of basketball, then Pelton might be Rob Neyer. His articles are sharp, and he’s been posting an article every few days recently, so something new should be up. If not, check out his archives, on of my recent favorites is Do Point Guards Develop Differently?
Wednesday: Knicks Clicks – The Knicks play the Wiz on Tuesday, so as always Mr. Avallone should have some great stuff.
Thursday: GroupHug – Like Penthouse letters, where you’ll wonder how many are true. Go make a confession!
Friday: Aaron’s Baseball Blog – The best sports blog out there. On Friday’s he’ll have a wrap up of the week’s blogs, and you’ll have plenty of great material to read.
Saturday: RaptorBlog.com and Bulls Blog – These two teams play each other on Friday, so you can read both for a full report on the game.

## International Relations

In the spirit of international friendship between our two nations and because our two favorite teams will be facing each other Friday night, Scott from RaptorBlog.com and I will be swapping blogs for a day. You can catch my blog on the “new” Knicks there.

Cuz this life is too short
To live it just for you
But when you feel so powerless
What are you gonna do?
So say what you want

— “Powerless”

Since I’m guest blogging for Mike, I figured I’d drop some Canadian content on y’all with the opening lyrics. Also, they’re an apt summary of my current state as a Raptors fan. Toronto’s recent injuries and pathetic performance have me feeling powerless and all I can do is bitch about it.

Knicks fans have undoubtedly been watching the Raptors’ recent struggles with great interest due to the effect they have on your playoff position. Toronto has lost 10 of their last 11 games with six of those losses occurring while Vince Carter and Jalen Rose were sidelined. Jalen is on the IL recovering from his broken hand but Vince is back in uniform. Even though he’s still suffering from his ankle injury from two weeks ago, he’s still the key to any hopes we have of making the post-season.

In his current condition, Carter does not have the explosiveness to beat your defenders off the dribble nor does he have the mobility to defend your quick guards. It won’t surprise me if Allan Houston gets the open looks he needs on Friday to rediscover his shooting stroke. Raptors’ coach Kevin O’Neill’s best bet would be to put Morris Peterson on H20, since Mo Pete is our best perimeter defender right now.

Down low, Chris Bosh will probably be unable to stop Nazr Mohammed and Kurt Thomas from dunking and rebounding at will. Bosh is woefully undersized at center and his bum ankle negates any athletic advantage he might have. I’m not particularly hopeful for a repeat performance of his 18-point, eight-rebound, four-block performance against your team in January. In his current emaciated, crippled condition, he’s as well-suited to play center as Al Sharpton is to become your next president.

At this point, you’re probably wondering if the Raptors have any hope whatsoever of preventing an old-fashioned New York beatdown at the Air Canada Centre. If Toronto has a secret weapon, it’s Donyell Marshall. Jalen Rose was the biggest name in November’s trade with Chicago, but Marshall has proven to be the true stud in this deal. He’s averaged 17 points and 10 rebounds as a Raptor while shooting 42 percent from three-point range. Donyell is our “stealth bomber”. Several times a game, Vince will drive and draw a double-team before dishing out to Marshall for a wide-open trey. The Thomas boys would be wise to stick to Donyell like glue rather than worry about Carter taking it to the hole. These days, his drives are mostly decoys.

I’m not even going to bother discussing Friday’s point guard matchup. Marbury vs. Palacio is more lopsided than a dance-off between Usher and William Hung. On Wednesday night, Starbury outscored Milt 36-0. I just threw up in my mouth while writing that last sentence.

Once your current group gets used to playing with each other, I think the Knicks could really make some noise in the post-season. Unfortunately, I can’t bring myself to root for your team even after the Raptors are inevitably stomped in the first round like a narc at a biker rally. I could never support a team run by a cold-hearted snake like Isiah Thomas. Oh, you’re cheering him now. But one day, you’ll see what a complete bastard, what a psychotic megalomaniac he is. And when that day comes, I’ll laugh and have a sandwich. Isiah has failed at everything he’s done since he retired from his playing career. It will be particularly sweet to see him crucified once and for all by the ruthless vipers in the New York media. Peter Vescey is sharpening his knives as I write this, waiting for the right moment to strike the killing blow…

Whoa, sorry about that. I got a little carried away with my Zeke-hate there. Anyway, good luck on Friday. But don’t count on seeing too many “Welcome back, Lenny” signs in the stands. The only reason we’re glad to see him again is that he’s coaching our opponents this time.

Email Scott

OR