Who Will Win the West?

{democracy:20}

Unlike the East, picking the winner of the West is a daunting task. There is much less variance between the top 7 teams in the West than the East. If given a thousand chances, I can see #7 Dallas winning the West at least 10 times. I don’t think #7 Philadelphia could win the East once if you gave them a million chances.

That being said the Lakers seem to be the clear favorite. The move to add Gasol reminds me a little bit of Detroit acquiring Rasheed Wallace in 2004. Both teams grabbed a big man midseason to accentuate their style of play. For the Pistons it was a tough suffocating defense, and for the Lakers it’s a diverse offense. In 2004 NBA analysts didn’t realize how much Rasheed helped galvanize their defense until after the playoffs. Most people didn’t expect Detroit to get past Indiana, much less take the Lakers in 5. It’s possible that Los Angeles is much better than the season stats show them to be. And if this is true, the Lakers would be head and shoulders above the rest of the West. The Lakers not only enjoy the #1 seed, but the best expected win% (.726).

That being said, the road won’t be easy for Los Angeles. Even though they have the West’s best chance, the Lakers will face some stiff competition to get to the Finals. They’ll meet either Utah or Houston in round 2. Not only were these teams within 3 games of taking the West, but each comes with their own brand of scary. Houston has been strong defensively since losing Yao Ming, and finished the season with the league’s second best defense (103.0 pts/100). On the other hand Utah has the league’s second best offense (115.4 pts/100). So no matter which team they face the Lakers will have their hands full.

In the other part of the bracket, any of the 4 teams involved in the middle seeds could advance to the Conference Finals. Personally I’d like to see the Hornets emerge, because it makes a nice story on so many levels. I liked Tyson Chandler ever since his days in Chicago. (I always thought he was the better of their center pair – and can’t tell you how many times I was laughed off RealGM’s Knicks board for stating it publicly. Probably a part of the reason I started this blog… but I digress.) I think a Hornets/Suns second round would be ideal. There’s a nice group of contrasts in that matchup: Paul vs. Nash, young vs. old, upstart vs. established.

If I had to chose any one team, I would take the Lakers. If I had to take the top 2 seeds (Lakers & Hornets) vs. the field I’d take the field. Such is life in the NBA’s West.

Why The 2008 Knicks Can’t Win (Some Plays Count)

The other day I was on the train and overheard two Knick fans talking about the state of the team. The first man asked the other what was wrong with the team to which the second replied: “Isiah has to go. They have a good team on paper.” It seems that there’s the idea floating around Knick-nation that with a coaching change and a few tweaks the Knicks could have a good team. However, watching last Wednesday’s loss to the depleted Kings gave me a clear picture of why the Knicks just can’t win with this current roster. In reality it was just two Kings that helped sort things out: Brad Miller and John Salmons.

One one possession (4:28 1Q) Miller is on the left blocks being fronted by David Lee. Salmons has the ball, lofts it over Lee to Miller, and Brad has an unobstructed path to the hoop for an easy two points. After Lee fronts Miller, someone is supposed to give backside help. On this play Eddy Curry is on the weak side, but he’s oblivious to what’s happening with the ball. Curry is engrossed in covering the ever dangerous Mikki Moore on the weak side. Miller’s layup exposed two weaknesses – Lee’s inability to play better man to man defense and Eddy Curry’s lack of awareness on defense.

In the second quarter at the 5:51 mark, the Kings bring the ball up on offense. Brad Miller is on the far side behind the three point line while Garcia and Moore play the high pick & roll. Lee is defending Moore and helps double on the pick & roll. Garcia passes the ball to Miller who is standing behind the three point line. Even though Miller is able to hit from downtown, Curry gives him space is and is about 2 feet from the paint. Despite Curry playing Miller deep, Miller is able to dribble right past him. Lee, recovering from the high screen, comes over to help, but can only offer token resistance by putting up his arms. Miller scores an easy two points over David Lee. Again Curry and Lee have revealed their weaknesses on defense. This time Curry shows his inability to stay with his man on the perimeter (something I’ve mentioned often here) and Lee is unable to provide assistance in the form of shot blocking.

In this game, John Salmons scored a lifetime high of 32 points. Reading over the play-by-play Salmon had 6 baskets recorded as “Driving Layup”. Watching the game it felt like it was 30 baskets. I could have analyzed any of his layups, but I chose to review his first – 40 seconds into the game. At the top of the key, Miller passes the ball to Salmons who is at the free throw line extended. Miller sets a pick on Salmons’ defender (Jeffries). Miller’s man, Eddy Curry is supposed to help, but again he’s unaware of what’s happening and fails to react to the pick & roll. Salmons goes right past Curry unhindered. Zach Randolph watches the play unfold and moves in front of the restricted area in preparation for Salmons’ approach. Yet Salmons drives right past Randolph for the easy layup. A series of mistakes on this possession lead to an easy bucket: Curry’s inability to read the screen, his failure to slow down Salmons’ drive so that Jeffries can recover, and Randolph’s futile help under the basket.

These plays expose a fundamental flaw with the current Knicks team: the lack of interior defense. It’s no secret that nearly every player on New York is a bad defender, but good defense usually begins from the inside. There’s a reason that bigmen who are offensively limited but can prevent scoring can have long careers. Players like Eddy Curry, Zach Randolph, and David Lee aren’t strong defenders so they need a defensive minded compliment in the frontcourt. In Curry’s only winning season, he was flanked by a few strong defenders: Tyson Chandler, Antonio Davis, and Andres Nocioni. In Randolph’s only winning season, he was coupled with Rasheed Wallace, Arvadys Sabonis, and Dale Davis.

Instead of a frontcourt pairing of an offensive player with a defensive player, the Knicks have two poor defensive big men on the court at nearly all times. And this has been a recipe for disaster. New York is dead last in the league in defensive efficiency, and there isn’t a coach in the world that could make the current rotation average defensively. Without the addition of a defensive frontcourt player to the rotation, New York will remain a bad defensive team. The Knicks aren’t a good team on paper, they’re just plain bad on defense.

Knicks 2007 Report Card (A to Z): Nate Robinson

KnickerBlogger: New Yorkers absolutely loved Nate Robinson when he first came to the Knicks. Coming out of the University of Washington, Robinson was a lilliputian guard with colossal physical abilities. Last year Robinson did what you’d expect from an undersized shooting guard. He led all Knick guards in eFG% (51.3%) and 3P% (39.0%) and showed despite his short stature he could get to the line (TS% 55.2%, second among Knick guards). Due to his efficient scoring ability, Robinson was second on the team in points per 40 minutes (19.0 pts/40) only behind Eddy Curry. Not just a one dimensional scorer, among Knick guards Robinson was the best in respect to offensive rebounds (1.6 OREB/40) and turnovers (2.1 TO/40), and second best in respect to steals (1.5 STL/40). Yet despite all that, Robinson is no longer a fan favorite. So what happened?

Simply put, Nate Robinson is his own worst enemy. Along with his diminutive stature and his youthful enthusiasm, Robinson comes with a childlike temperament. There’s a fine line between having a zest for the game and acting like a grade schooler. Robinson not only crosses that line, he lives on it. Less than one month into the season, Nate attempted an in game alley-oop dunk on a fast break, only to be called for traveling on the play. Throwing away points on a losing team for the sake of showboating is among the game’s cardinal sins.

Robinson exacerbated his image problem by perpetually arguing with officials. It’s annoying when a marquee player like Tim Duncan disputes every call, but it’s downright unbearable when a bench guy like Robinson does it. Unfortunately, Nate gave himself plenty of opportunities to argue with officials as his foul rate (4.7 PF/40) was equal to Marbury (2.7 PF/40) and Crawford’s (2.1 PF/40) combined.

Robinson’s immaturity causes his actions to be viewed by the public through tinted glasses. Take for instance Nate’s role in the Denver melee. In the past plenty of Knicks have improved their public image through fisticuffs. Fighting improved Starks, Childs, and L.J.’s popularity among Knick fans. Although Nate was an instigator in the event, it’s hard to believe that a player with a calmer outward demeanor like Eddy Curry would have been seen in the same light. Had Curry been involved, the local airwaves would be talking about his moxie and willingness to defend his teammate. But Robinson was vilified for his role. It’s ironic considering a few years ago, Knicknation was up in arms when no one came to the rescue of Tim Thomas after Jason Collins slammed him to the floor.

To be fair, Nate’s negatives aren’t all in his head. His defense is suspect, and his assist rate is minuscule for a guard. While 82games.com says the Knicks are 2.4 points per 100 possessions better defensively with Robinson on the floor, opposing PGs are better than average (16.3 oPER) when Nate guards them. To the eye Robinson struggles mightily against the pick & roll, and other than the steals he doesn’t do anything particularly well on defense. I would rate him a mediocre to average defender.

Most people expect Robinson to be a point guard due to his height, but he’s really more of a shooting guard. Even accounting for that, his assist rate is subpar. As I said earlier, the Knick offense allows all the guards to play the point interchangeably. But it seems that Robinson isn’t sharing enough with his teammates. To put things in perspective, his 2.7 AST/40 is about the same as David Lee’s 2.4 AST/40 who rarely touches the ball. Nate does have the ability to make the spectacular play, and can pass the ball on his drives. It just that he desires to take the shot instead of making the pass. Normally you wouldn’t mind that from a guard that shoots as efficiently as Robinson. But then again Robinson suffers from his poor image, one that being a greedy guard certainly fits in with. In a way, for Nate Robinson hell is other people.

KnickerBlogger’s Grade: C, due to bad behavior.

2008 Outlook: With Nate Robinson entering his third season, it’s time to evaluate whether his poor decision making in the past was just youthful exuberance, or if it will continue to be a Rasheed Wallace like permanent petulance. I don’t expect Nate Robinson to turn into John Stockton, because he’s such an excitable person. What I would like to see is for Nate to take his job a little more seriously.

Robinson played 21.4 min/g under Larry Brown, and 21.2 min/g under Isiah Thomas. It seems that two coaches, who had very different views & philosophies, saw Robinson in the same light. If Nate wants to shed his role as spark off the bench, he’ll need to shed his image as a circus act crammed into a basketball uniform. It’ll be interesting to see how Nate plays in the preseason. I can envision Isiah giving Robinson more minutes due to his strong summer showing. If Nate can continue his productive ways, it could mean more playing time when the season starts. That would be a good thing, since the Knicks are paper thin at shooting guard, and they could use Robinson’s production.

Dave Crockett

In many ways KB’s take on Robinson has been by far the most “fair and balanced” (pardon the regrettable and unintended pun) I’ve read. I agree with his take on Robinson in total, but I also wish to offer a complementary perspective that’s less about Robinson’s performance than Robinson as a character in the theater that is professional sports. It’s easy to forget that sports is more than the simple pursuit of competitive dominance since that is precisely what the regular visitors to this blog come to read about and discuss. But, pro sports is also improv theater and all good theater (or “good copy,” to use the parlance of journalists) needs “heroes,” “bad boys,” and “villains.” As the great fat sage, Charles Barkley, is purported to have once said, “They can love you or they can hate you. Both sell tickets.”

Robinson, through a combination of his own immaturity as well as the fickle nature of media and fans, has gone from being a precocious but impish bad boy to something of a villain in just two full seasons. Though Robinson has clearly been the catalyst for his own fall from the good graces of many Knicks fans I also think he’s suffered from a demand for a steady of supply of villains that is becoming insatiable. Most of the time in professional sports players move seamlessly between the basic “villain,” “bad boy,” and “hero” roles for any number of reasons through a process that is reasonably organic and not always totally predictable. (I suspect many readers aren’t old enough to remember when Muhammad Ali was a villain to much of the American sporting public. He was hated in no uncertain terms. He had perhaps the most amazing role transformation ever.) But increasingly, the theater of pro sports has come to resemble the theater of pro ‘rasslin’ in its predictability, its cardboard cutouts of who gets assigned to which roles and for how long.

In Robinson’s case, since the Denver fight I see him being typecast as a particularly crappy villain archetype, and I really hope he’s allowed to work his way out of it. I call it the “Jeff George” villain archetype. Sometimes a player opens himself up to fan/media disdain by doing something over-the-top or exposing himself as a jerk and for whatever reason isn’t allowed much of a shot at redemption. Soon, the guy just can’t do anything right. The media fits him with a black top hat and a curly-Q mustache and it becomes obvious to the audience that he’s the guy to hate. (Note: I’m talking about sports-related stuff here NOT criminal or near-criminal behavior.) If you remember former NFL QB Jeff George, he was by most accounts a pompous jerk; universally reviled by fans, media, opposing players, even teammates and coaches. You would think by the way people couldn’t wait to denounce him that the NFL was not littered with similarly unbearable jerks. But of course it was, and is. As much as I truly loath Kansas City Star (and former ESPN.com) columnist Jason Whitlock, I must agree with his sentiment that no one can point to anything George ever said or did that was uniquely awful.

Robinson, though not having “achieved” anything approaching the pariah status of George, seems to be quickly approaching the “can’t do anything right” status that is the hallmark of the Jeff George villain archetype. Hell, watch any Knick’s telecast with Mike Breen (even before the fight) and you’ll see what I mean. Regardless of what Robinson actually did on the court Breen would raise questions about his immaturity and decision-making, typically citing his ball-handling, shot selection, and his role in the Denver fight as prima facie evidence. So a poor shooting night or any turnover became proof of Robinson’s immaturity and poor decision-making. Yet somehow a good shooting/low turnover night did not indicate maturity or improved decision-making. The “Nate Robinson cautionary tale” always spins such a night as proof of how much talent Robinson is potentially squandering by his immaturity and poor decision-making.

My outlook for Robinson in 2008 completely mirrors KB’s in most respects. I believe Robinson is quite important to the Knicks playoffs chances. Not only are the Knicks thin at the SG, my entirely intuitive suspicion is that Crawford’s injury last season may be the first in a string of small-but-ongoing leg-related ailments that may keep him shuttling in and out of the lineup. So I believe the Knicks need Robinson to improve; it’s not a luxury. To do so he will have to start with the man in the mirror. Whether he is the new Jeff George or the new Bozo the Clown he simply must learn to focus on things that help the team win and leave the nonsense alone–period. But, I also urge the fans not to give up on this kid. He’s already a useful player and has the chance to get even better.

Brian Cronin – Man, Dave just reminded me of how annoying Mike Breen can be sometimes. The man is a GREAT announcer, but I think he works better on national telecasts, where he is not close to the situation, because man, he certainly seems to have soured upon the Knicks.

Breen reminds me of the stereotypical middle age guy complaining about how the NBA is “all thugs” nowadays. Those guys annoy me so much.

Anyhow, as to Robinson, the guy definitely exhibits some weird behavior, but since the fight, I thought he was actually a lot calmer than before the fight, and he seemed like a real nice asset to the team as an outside shooter. I hated when he tried to control the offense at times (that is not his specialty), but as a guy there to hit the outside shot, I like him there more than most other Knicks, and I think he will be a useful player this season.

Diagnosing Patient Frye: What Ails Our Sophomore Slumper?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Noah’s Arc

Watching the Gators & Bruins play for the NCAA championship, I’m excited about basketball again. I can’t remember the last time I felt this way. While KnickerBlogger.Net runs on a linux server somewhere, the chief author runs on his passion for the game & his team. Don’t let the advertising banners on this page fool you, I don’t break even on this site monetarily. I spend hours writing, researching, and thinking about the Knicks & the NBA because I enjoy it.

This season has really taken it’s toll on me. None of my favorite teams have ever been this frustrating to watch. No matter what Walton, Coslett, or Kottite did to my Jets, there was always a bit of hope. Maybe not the year they were playing, but the draft could yield hopes of the next star player that could lead the team out of despair. Needless to say neither this year nor thoughts of the draft inspire me to write anything I haven’t said already.

Although I’m not normally a college fan, a Gator win would mean the difference between 3rd & a 5th place tie in my bracket pool. However there is more in this game than just a few bucks to pique my interests. Florida’s style of pressing and using team speed on defense is fascinating to watch. I had spent a week with Ms. KnickerBlogger in Al Horford’s wonderful hometown of Puerto Plata. And UCLA is strong enough to come back from a first half double digit deficit.

But it’s the play of Joakim Noah that has me glued to the television. I’m always intrigued by children of athletes, and the native New Yorker Noah is having a phenomenal first half. NBADraft.Net has him going in the 14th pick in this year’s mock draft, while hoopshype has him going 5th overall. The first has him compared to Anderson Varejao, the latter Rasheed Wallace. However I can’t help to think of him more like Marcus Camby. Granted his 4 first half blocks might skew my view, but his rebounding, speed & energy reminds me of Marcus’ days in New York.

The knock against him is his slender build, but I think the NBA is moving away from the lumbering big man. Gone are the days of Ewing and Malone, and Shaq is on the tail end of his career. The new NBA big man is slender and agile, more in the mold of Kareem. Kevin Garnett. Dirk Nowitzki. Amare Stoudemire. Even the Knicks Channing Frye is showing that he’s a better center prospect than his elephantine teammate Eddy Curry.

So I ask the question, where would you draft Joakim Noah in this year’s draft (on any team)?

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Hollinger’s Knicks

[In today’s article, we take you back in the KnickerBlogger.Net Time Machine? to February 8th 2006. In this much darker time in Knick history, the hometown blue had been in the middle of a 10 game losing streak. It’s a stark contrast to the 1 game win streak the team is currently riding.

In this date in history, Michael Zannettis sent me this intelligent discourse on the Knicks of his era. Unfortunately I was out of town on business (that thing that allows me to collect money to pay for this thing), and the KnickerBlogger publishing group was on a team building exercise in the mountains of Nepal.

Mr. Zannettis is head of the KnickerBlogger.Net Biology department, ensuring that all employees of KB.N Industries do actually bleed orange & blue. So without further ado…]


mort (nyc): Okay, smart guy. Imagine this: Larry Brown gets fired and John Hollinger is named head coach of the Knicks. Oh, and Stephon Marbury just broke his leg. Who are your starting 5?

John Hollinger: (3:12 PM ET) Wouldn’t be MY dream job, that’s for sure. The obvious move in the frontcourt would be start Frye and Curry, bring Lee off the pine and forget the others. I’d have to play Crawford at point and if Q’s back felt OK would probably play he and Ariza at the wings, with heavy sprinklings of Jalen off the pine. Nate Robinson and Qyntel Woods could sop up whatever minutes are left over and take over for Q when the back acts up.

In the wake of the Davis-Rose trade a lot has been spoken of the luxury tax consequences of assuming Rose?s salary, but I share the sentiment of many Knicks fans in saying I could care less how much money James Dolan loses. Moreover, since their salary cap was already a hopeless situation going into next year, adding Rose does nothing to hurt the remote possibility that they might be under the cap in the summer of 2007. At that time the cages should be cleaned of such albatrosses as Allan Houston, Shandon Anderson, Jerome Williams, and Maurice Taylor. Three players who do not actually play on the team, and the fourth who shouldn?t.

Since the Knicks gave away their draft pick and they are nearly mathematically eliminated from the playoff picture, their record this year has no significance. However, that being said, it would still be nice to see the Knicks win some games. After all, we do like rooting for them.

So the question remains, what is the best rotation for the Knicks in terms of winning games this season (and next)? The conventional wisdom seems to state, at least according to Larry Brown?s resume, that playing rookies is an untenable option, since they are undeveloped and unproductive. Therefore Brown has been riding the more ostensibly reliable veterans?.um?wait. Only the problem is this logic does not apply to the 2006 Knicks. The rookies Brown has on the team are not named Darko or Delfino and are now already superior players to the ones in his rotation. Since Larry Brown did not follow Hollinger?s plan, his latest starting five was: 1, Jamal Crawford; 2, Quentin Richardson; 3, Jalen Rose; 4, Maurice Taylor; 5, Eddy Curry.

FRONTCOURT
This latest game was a microcosm of the entire season. When Curry ran into early foul trouble, he was replaced with resident worst free-agent signing of the year champion, Jerome James. If Brown wanted to bring in more front-line support he called on Malik Rose?s number 13, which is actually higher than his PER 8.9. The ineffectual trio of Taylor, Rose, and James played 51 minutes, while David Lee played less than 1, Frye played only 19 and Curry 23.

Let?s first examine the difference in production between David Lee & Channing Frye versus Maurice Taylor & Malik Rose, assuming that any rational observer can agree that James should not be beating out Herb Williams for the back-up center spot, much less the promising Jackie Butler.

Taylor scores more than Lee, but does so at a less efficient rate with more turnovers and less rebounds. Moreover, Lee has an Assist Ratio twice as high. In fact, if Lee keeps up his 14.0 rate, it would qualify as top-ten among NBA power forwards. All that being said, Taylor is still a superior player to Malik Rose, who has the same rebounding problems, but with an altogether new level of offensive incompetence. He shoots a woeful TS % 42.5, which is almost as bad as Darko last year, who couldn?t get off the end of Brown?s bench despite his implicit connections to Eastern European mobsters. And while Rose is a far worse player than Taylor, Frye is a far superior player to Lee. In fact, Frye?s rookie PER of 19.9 ranks 30th in the league. With such strong production, he is qualified to be a starter on every team in this league with the possible exception of Brown?s old team the Pistons.

Last year, Michael Sweetney?s lack of playing time caused temper fits from Knick fans fluent in statistical evaluation of performance. This year Lee and Frye are d?j? vu all over again. Once again, the Knicks simply do not seem to understand what they have on their hands. The fact that Frye and Lee are rookies is simply irrelevant on a team that currently has the league?s worst record. They are already better than aging veterans who have no roles in the Knicks? future.

Using Curry and Frye as starters with Lee off the bench, the Knicks can employ a rotation in structure congruent with Brown?s last team, the Detroit Pistons, who start Rasheed and Ben Wallace, then bring in Antonio McDyess off the bench to play power forward, moving the remaining player to center. Since both Frye and Curry can play center, Lee can be used in this way at power forward, a more natural position for him than the awkward small forward, where his inaccurate jump shot was a liability. Lee shoots an astronomically high percentage from the floor, albeit in his limited minutes, and one would think putting him into the post will deter too much regression to the mean, as he can employ more of his around the basket moves and less 15-foot line drives off the side of the backboard.

Finally, if this rotation leaves any stray minutes, they should go to Butler. In a rebuilding team filled with talented and promising rookies, there is no place for Taylor and Rose.

BACKCOURT
Marbury?s absence gives this author a modicum of pleasure to see how important he was to the ?competitiveness? of the Knicks. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. His continued inactiveness presents considerable problems for the Knicks? rotation.

While Crawford is a no-brainer at the point, Hollinger prefers Trevor Ariza over Qyntel Woods even though the latter is experiencing a resurgence in his second chance opportunity. Woods 15.3 PER is very respectable and superior to Ariza?s 10.7 PER. Nonetheless, Ariza was a burgeoning perimeter stopper before he was lost in Brown?s doghouse. That Trevor does not get along better with the coach is unfortunate for the young player?s development.

Conversely, Brown is certainly giving QRich ample opportunity to prove himself now that he is back in the Knicks? rotation. Nonetheless with QRich collecting bricks like he’s starting a construction company, it would seem he would be a more prudent benching. Perhaps much of his struggles should be attributed to rust and injury, but no matter the reason he?s still stinking up the joint. It?s admirable that he?s playing with heart, but a healthy Ariza should be getting his minutes. Using Woods and J. Rose, who both have average PERs and alternating Ariza for defensive assignments seems a more prudent course than currently relying on QRich.

In only two games with the Knicks, it is clear that J. Rose should be the primary ball-handler whenever he is on the court. This should alleviate Crawford?s bad shot tendency and Robinson?s turnover rampage, both which are wrecking havoc to the Knicks? offense. Therefore if Marbury ever returns, there is optimism that Knicks will no longer have to employ either Robinson or Crawford at the point. Considering that Robinson is not yet a competent rotation player, using him in a more limited role will improve the Knicks? competitiveness. In Hollinger?s scenario he would only receive sparse minutes when Crawford is sent to the bench, for a more reasonable ten minutes of energy off the bench.

All three swing spots, sans Marbury, are average at best, or rather, at worst. There is not one among them that even posts a 16 PER, but neither are they below 14 PER. Having no open sores in your starting line-up is more than can be said for many other teams around the league. Once Marbury returns, the Knicks can go eight players deep ? Marbury, J. Rose, Woods, Crawford, Lee, Curry, Frye, and Butler ? who post average PER or better. Conceivably, by eliminating Robinson and Richardson from the rotation, if the Knicks employed this line-up for a full-season without starting the season 19 games under .500, it would be more than reasonable to expect competition for a playoff berth. But just as importantly it would allow their rookies to receive the playing time they need to develop.

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!