New York Knicks Preseason Preview 2011

[The good folks at CelticsBlog.com, have been kind enough to invite us to participate in the 5th annual blogger preview. Here is my entry.]

Team Name: New York Knicks
Last Year’s Record: 29-53
Key Losses: David Lee, Al Harrington, Chris Duhon, Tracey McGrady, The Stench of Futility
Key Additions: Amar’e Stoudemire, Raymond Felton, Anthony Randolph, Kelenna Azubuike, Ronnie Turiaf, Roger Mason Jr., Landry Fields, Timofey Mozgov

1. What significant moves were made during the off-season?

If you’re reading this section curious about what New York has done, then you’ve probably just awoken from a coma. Although if you’ve been a Knick fan over the last decade, that’s understandable. In any case, let me be the first to give you the good news. New York signed All Star Amar’e Stoudemire this offseason and has room to sign another top free agent. The bad news is that the team was aiming for two of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh. Instead the trio have formed the most hated thing this side of Justin Beiber.

The Knicks also inked Raymond Felton to replace the inept Chris Duhon. Although the team did let home grown All Star David Lee go, getting Anthony Randolph in return could neutralize this loss if the young forward can reach his potential. Ronnie Turiaf will provide much needed shot blocking. Second round pick Landry Fields looked quite impressive in summer league, and Timofey Mozgov showed promise for Team Russia.

2. What are the team’s biggest strengths?

The Knicks greatest asset in 2011 should be their athletic versatility. There’s no arguing that Amar’e Stoudemire, Raymond Felton, Anthony Randolph, Ronnie Turiaf, and Timofey Mozgov are more physically able than David Lee, Chris Duhon, Jared Jeffries, Al Harrington, Darko Milicic, and Earl Barron. With a core of Felton, Randolph, and Stoudemire, the team could go big (add Gallinari, and one of Turiaf, Mozgov, Curry) or small (add two of Azubuike, Fields, Walker, Douglas, Mason, or Rautins). D’Antoni should be able to put out some interesting lineups, causing mismatches for their opponents. If Randolph or Gallinari can run the offense like Lee did last year, the Knicks could get very creative on the floor in a point guard-less offense when Felton needs a rest.

If I had to choose a second strength it might be D’Antoni’s offense. The past two seasons New York featured a ragtag lineup due to the state of the franchise from the Isiah Thomas era. In back to back years the Knicks finished 17th in offensive efficiency, and this year’s team seems more tailor made for the coach. Given the pick & roll tandem of Stoudemire & Felton, the outside shooting of Azubuike, Mason, and Rautins, and the development of youngsters Gallinari, Douglas, Walker, and Chandler, D’Antoni should have plenty of weapons to assault opposing defenses.

3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?

New York has been a bad rebounding team for D’Antoni’s tenure, and this is one area Donnie Walsh failed to address in remaking the team. Stoudemire, Gallinari, and Turiaf aren’t good rebounders, and the loss of hyalophile David Lee will hurt the team as well. According to my stat page, the Knicks were 27th on both offensive and defensive rebounding last year. Knick fans who cringe at their team forgoing any second opportunities while allowing tip ins from the opposition will have a furled brow for much of the season. Perhaps Randolph and Mozgov can work their way into heavy minutes and help prevent the bleeding.

Last year the Knicks were tied for 3rd worst defense in the NBA, and it has been a recurring issue with the team for the last decade. The Knicks have some good defensive pieces in Azubuike, Randolph, Douglas, and Turiaf. However most of the team (including the coaching staff) leans to the offensive side of the spectrum. If New York isn’t among the 10 worst defenses this year, it should be considered an accomplishment.

4. What are the goals for this team?

On April 29th, 2001, Allan Houston and Latrell Sprewell combined for 44 points and led a Marcus Camby-less New York to victory over Toronto. Despite being up 2 games to 1 in a best of 5 series, the Raptors would win the next two games and knock the Knicks out in the first round. That was the last New York playoff win. The Knicks should aim to end that drought before the streak reaches its 10th birthday. To do so, they’ll need to do better than the 8th seed, since that spot will likely face the Miami Heat, who will likely sweep their first round opponent.

A playoff spot would mean success for the Knicks. A playoff win would be a nice bonus. Anything beyond a second round appearance would be a Gotham fantasy. On the other hand, entering the draft lottery would be seen as a complete failure considering the team has offered Houston the right to swap picks.

5. Who is D’Antoni going to alienate this year?

In 2009, Stephon Marbury was exiled from the team. In 2010 Nate Robinson was chained to the doghouse for most of the year, and was joined by Darko Milicic and Larry Hughes. As I mentioned last year, the D’Antoni Rules aren’t kind to players who aren’t in the rotation. The combination of D’Antoni’s short rotation and his inability to communicate with his players inevitably leads to a player being irate over a lack of playing time. This year’s likely candidate is Mozgov, given his inexperience and D’Antoni’s gigantasophobia. If I had to put money on a dark horse I’d take Turiaf or Chandler. The former has a Twitter predilection that might hit a nerve with the communicationally challenged D’Antoni. The latter because after having no competition at shooting guard for two seasons, Chandler might find himself on the outside looking in. Azubuike, Fields, and even Mason could push Wilson for playing time, and those players fit D’Antoni’s offense better than Chandler.

The U.N. Intramural Squad Or Something More?

Standing outside Madison Square Garden some summers ago, near the atm’s, yards away from Gerry Cosby’s. Through the glass doors, newly hired Knicks boss Donnie Walsh walked out. I watched as he stood there, lit a cigarette, a Clifford Odetts character in the flesh, he shoulda been named Sydney. As in the guy with the job nobody else wanted, toiling under the boss the whole city smirked about, for a franchise in perpetual free-fall. The suit too big, the bags under the eyes, this was a guy, this Donnie Walsh, made Jeff Van Gundy look like Randy Couture. This Donnie Walsh was a guy, you see him in a bar and you’re compelled to buy him a drink, sit him down and tell him (a’la Tony Curtis in The Sweet Smell of Success), “the cat’s in the bag and the bag is in the river.” You tell him run for your life, it’s not too late to quit this job you have undertaken.

I shake his hand and wish him luck, mentioning to we share the same alma mater, Fordham Preparatory School in The Bronx. We alumni refer to it simply as “The Prep.” Learned a lot about patience at “The Prep.” Jesuits are part Obi Wan Kenobi, part F. Lee Ermey, the drill sergeant in Full Metal Jacket (may he rest in peace).

Donnie Walsh knows a lot about patience having learned from the best. He waited patiently before he removed Isiah Thomas as coach. The replacement, Mike D’Antoni, was known for his seven seconds or less offense, a perception of his teams lack of defense, international fame a result of years playing in Italy, and his ability to recruit all-star talent.

Donnie Walsh had a vision. He waited, traded away the Knicks best players, and watched the team lose to clear cap room and got the Knicks in position to pursue free agents. One can only guess that he painfully watched as several of the bigger names formed their own fantasy basketball camp in South Beach.

Those unsure of his vision for the team need only take a second look at the group now assembled in blue, orange and white. For just a second, forget about the “Chosen One” who chose not to be in the Knicks picture. Look instead at the team Walsh has assembled.

Because it might be that all Donnie Walsh has done is carve a team out of the same stone of which New York City is built. If he pulls it off, if this team wins, ignore the suit, dismiss the wheelchair, if he pulls this off cabbies should scream out “Donnie Basketball” as they drive by.

New York is and always has been a “melting pot” of cultures, religons, ideas, tastes, culinary delights, dances, dialects, music, sounds. Go to Little Italy, Harlem, Chinatown, the Theatre District, Wall Street, the energy is there, distinctive, bright colors, vibrant sounds… one bold experiment.

The 2010 New York Knicks for the first time in franchise history are an extension of the shared experiment that is New York. On the likely fifteen man roster, there’s an Italian, a Russian, a Canadian, a Frenchman (from Martinique), a German, a Londoner, a Jamaican… nearly half the roster are players with passports from their home nations. How will these guys pick what restaurant they eat out at together?

None of this is by accident. Donnie Walsh sought out a “team that made sense…” He sought out personality types as well as skill sets that when together might add up to a sum greater than the parts.

He also sought out individuals who were up to the challenge that is New York, who want to be here. Ask any native New Yorker or passing tourist: when you step out on the streets of New York, you had better be ready. The sidewalk warns “keep up, or get out of the way,” in about twenty different languages. You get the point, whether its a horn, a shout or a finger. At Madison Square Garden, the cheers don’t get any louder in the league, but the same can be said of the boos. On that stage you can become legendary or you can become infamous. In the case of John Starks you can become both. And in New York, you become that for life. Like being a “Parcells Guy.” Or playing for ” Mr. Torre.”

This current team, this 2010 edition seems special. Gallinari the Italian Knick, has in two years proven to be one of the top shooters in the NBA. It is no accident his nickname is “The Rooster,” an inference to his cockiness. The new aquisitions are long on edge. Turiaf, the Frenchman is a veteran willing to dispatch his limbs in the path of those bold enough to speed into his paint. Mozgov, the seven foot one Russian, has displayed a fire and flamboyance, a desire to dunk and block shots. And the Jamacian Jerome Jordan, a seven foot draftee joins him. Anthony Randolph, the German born player, is the simply the second coming of Marcus Camby, an uncanny dunker who posesses a jump shot that at his height is matched only by Kevin Durant. Azibuke, the Londoner, is smooth, among the best shooter/slasher the Knicks have had in a decade. The Canadian, draftee Andy Rautins, a coaches son, and a three point arsonist, who at Syracuse, played his college home games at Madison Square Garden.

They are led by All star Amare Stoudamire and Raymond Felton, both provide leadership and heart. The New York Knicks may have quietly turned the corner. The J-E-T-S Jets, Jets, Jets finished a game away from the Superbowl as that team took on the attitude of its new coach.

This team, Donnie’s team, seems to be an extension of a vision, perhaps without a single name written on it, but rather characteristics, personality traits, skill sets.

How will they fare? Will they simply look like the United Nations Intramural squad, against say the Celtics? We’ll know soon. The New York Knicks will unveil their new look in Milan and Paris this fall as part of an NBA Global initiative. The anticipation is high. The Dallas Cowboys and the Atlanta Braves once laid claim to “America’s Team.”
Now the stage is set for the 2010 New York Knicks, The World’s Team.
Knick fans across the globe can dream of the playoffs in English, Italian, Russian, French, German or the language of their choice.

If they win, we should all give “Donnie Basketball” the credit for having the vision.

Similarity Scores For The New Knicks

Amar’e Stoudemire

z-Sum FLName Year Tm PER TS eFG PTS ORB TRB AST STL BLK TOV
.000 Amare Stoudemire 2010 PHO 22.6 61.5 55.7 24.1 2.9 9.3 1.0 0.7 1.1 2.7
.134 Kevin McHale 1985 BOS 20.7 61.7 57.0 21.2 3.1 9.7 1.9 0.4 1.6 2.1
.206 Rik Smits 1994 IND 19.7 58.0 53.4 20.9 2.3 8.2 2.7 0.8 1.4 2.6
.235 Karl Malone 1991 UTA 24.8 59.6 52.8 26.0 2.6 10.5 2.9 1.0 0.9 2.7
.236 Andres Nocioni 2007 CHI 15.6 57.8 53.6 19.2 1.1 7.7 1.5 0.7 0.6 2.7
.243 Alonzo Mourning 1998 MIA 22.4 59.5 55.1 20.7 3.6 10.4 1.0 0.7 2.4 3.3
.247 Buck Williams 1988 NJN 18.2 60.3 56.1 17.5 4.1 11.4 1.5 0.9 0.6 2.6
.258 Armen Gilliam 1992 PHI 18.0 57.5 51.1 17.8 3.0 8.6 1.5 0.7 1.1 2.2
.273 Darryl Dawkins 1984 NJN 17.6 64.1 59.4 20.2 2.4 8.1 1.8 0.9 2.0 3.4
.274 Dirk Nowitzki 2006 DAL 28.1 58.9 51.5 25.1 1.3 8.5 2.6 0.7 1.0 1.8
.278 Chris Gatling 1995 GSW 19.5 64.0 63.3 19.5 3.5 10.8 1.2 1.0 1.3 2.9

His most similar players are McHale and Smits which gives you a good idea of Stoudemire; he’s somewhere between a Hall of Famer and a borderline All Star. Neither of them were great rebounders, although you could argue that McHale’s defense separates him from the three. There are some great players on this list, ones you could build a team around. But I, nor anyone else, think Amar’e is a player of that magnitude. Instead he’s a flawed All Star who needs a second one to get his team deep into the playoffs.

Raymond Felton

z-Sum FLName Year Tm PER TS eFG PTS ORB TRB AST STL BLK TOV
.000 Raymond Felton 2010 CHA 15.2 52.5 49.4 13.2 0.7 3.9 6.1 1.7 0.3 2.3
.036 John Starks 1991 NYK 14.3 51.1 47.2 14.3 0.9 4.0 6.3 1.8 0.5 2.3
.048 Rex Walters 1996 TOT 12.8 54.4 48.6 11.0 0.8 3.2 6.3 1.5 0.2 2.4
.052 Bimbo Coles 1994 MIA 13.0 51.0 46.8 12.3 1.0 3.3 5.5 1.6 0.3 2.2
.054 Chris Whitney 1997 WSB 15.2 56.6 50.9 13.9 0.4 3.4 5.9 1.6 0.1 2.2
.061 Brent Barry 1997 LAC 15.0 52.6 48.3 14.5 1.0 3.6 5.1 1.7 0.5 2.5
.061 Billy McKinney 1981 TOT 13.3 56.2 50.9 13.6 0.6 3.1 6.0 1.6 0.2 2.6
.063 Lorenzo Romar 1984 TOT 14.8 50.1 46.4 13.8 0.7 3.3 6.8 1.9 0.3 2.2
.064 Steve Colter 1988 TOT 12.8 50.1 46.4 11.5 1.4 4.1 6.2 1.5 0.3 2.1
.068 Luke Ridnour 2007 SEA 13.7 50.9 46.8 13.4 0.5 2.8 6.3 1.4 0.3 2.7
.070 Jason Williams 2001 SAC 12.8 49.8 47.8 11.3 0.3 2.9 6.5 1.5 0.1 2.5

Not exactly an impressive list, although Knick fans will like the person situated at #1. For the most optimistic Knick fans, this list should lower expectations a bit. Felton isn’t the second star New Yorkers were hoping for, but perhaps after two years of Chris Duhon the bar has been lowered considerably.

Anthony Randolph

z-Sum FLName Year Tm PER TS eFG PTS ORB TRB AST STL BLK TOV
.000 Anthony Randolph 2010 GSW 18.7 52.1 44.5 18.5 3.5 10.3 2.0 1.3 2.5 2.4
.193 Joe Smith 1996 GSW 17.2 52.3 46.3 16.0 3.8 9.1 1.0 1.1 1.7 1.8
.200 Elton Brand 2000 CHI 20.6 52.8 48.2 19.5 4.2 9.7 1.9 0.8 1.6 2.7
.219 Shawn Kemp 1990 SEA 15.9 53.1 48.1 16.9 4.7 11.1 0.8 1.5 2.3 3.4
.226 Tyrus Thomas 2007 CHI 14.8 52.1 47.5 13.9 3.3 10.0 1.5 1.7 2.8 3.5
.230 Tracy McGrady 2000 TOR 20.0 50.9 46.0 17.7 2.7 7.3 3.8 1.3 2.2 2.3
.236 Kevin Garnett 1997 MIN 18.2 53.7 50.2 15.7 2.3 7.4 2.8 1.3 2.0 2.1
.257 Josh Smith 2006 ATL 15.5 50.0 44.7 12.7 2.5 7.5 2.7 0.9 2.9 2.3
.258 Chris Bosh 2005 TOR 17.5 54.7 47.2 16.2 2.3 8.6 1.8 0.9 1.3 2.2
.278 Amare Stoudemire 2003 PHO 16.2 53.0 47.3 15.5 3.5 10.1 1.1 0.9 1.2 2.6
.298 Andrei Kirilenko 2002 UTA 18.8 55.3 47.0 14.7 2.5 6.7 1.6 1.9 2.7 1.8

To steal an analogy from Kevin McElroy, if Randolph is the fruit of David Lee’s labor then Walsh got a damn ripe piece here. What’s not to like about a 21 year old who is most similar to a bunch of All Stars? This move is reminiscent of when New York acquired Marcus Camby. Both of them were highly regarded on draft night (Camby much more so), and it seemed that both of their teams gave up on them too early. Camby became known for his shot blocking and rebounding, but he had hyalophobic tendencies early on. In fact comparing the two players after their second season (Camby didn’t come into the league until he was 22 years old), Randolph is superior with regards to rebounding and scoring. It goes without saying that a 21 year old has room to grow, but if Randolph can improve his efficiency then just like with Camby, New York will have a real steal on their hands.

Kelenna Azubuike

z-Sum FLName Year Tm PER TS eFG PTS ORB TRB AST STL BLK TOV
.000 Kelenna Azubuike 2009 GSW 14.7 56.2 52.0 16.1 1.7 5.6 1.8 0.9 0.8 1.4
.035 Brian Cook 2006 LAL 15.6 57.8 54.6 15.1 2.1 6.4 1.7 0.9 0.8 1.4
.062 Rashard Lewis 2005 SEA 19.4 57.1 53.7 19.4 1.5 5.2 1.3 1.0 0.8 1.6
.064 David West 2006 NOK 19.7 55.4 51.3 18.0 2.4 7.8 1.3 0.9 0.9 1.5
.068 Kyle Korver 2007 PHI 14.2 56.9 51.8 16.8 0.5 4.1 1.7 0.9 0.3 1.8
.070 Pat Garrity 2002 ORL 12.3 55.3 53.7 13.2 1.2 5.1 1.5 0.9 0.4 1.0
.070 Hakim Warrick 2008 MEM 16.2 55.5 51.2 17.5 2.5 7.3 1.1 0.7 0.6 1.7
.075 Wally Szczerbiak 2003 MIN 17.3 56.7 52.3 17.9 1.0 4.7 2.7 0.9 0.4 1.7
.078 DerMarr Johnson 2006 DEN 11.7 54.5 52.3 13.8 0.7 3.7 2.1 1.0 1.0 1.8
.080 Wesley Person 1997 PHO 15.9 56.7 54.8 16.7 1.1 4.5 1.9 1.3 0.3 1.2
.080 James Jones 2006 PHO 13.2 55.1 51.3 14.2 0.9 5.1 1.2 0.8 1.0 0.7

I’m going to use Azubuike’s 2009 stats, considering he played only 9 games in 2010 due to injury. There are some impressive sharpshooters (Lewis, Korver, Szczerbiak) and forwards (Garrity, Lewis, West) which means that Kelenna is an efficient scorer and strong rebounder for his size. D’Antoni’s love of the long ball and Azubuike’s three point percentage of 40.9% seem like an ideal of match. Consider that Wilson Chandler is a 6-8 forward mascerading as shooting guard who hits three pointers at 10% less, and it isn’t hard envisioning Azubuike replacing him in the starting lineup. Perhaps the only thing stopping Kelenna is his recovery from last year’s injury.

Ronny Turiaf

z-Sum FLName Year Tm PER TS eFG PTS ORB TRB AST STL BLK TOV
.000 Ronny Turiaf 2010 GSW 12.6 57.4 58.2 8.5 2.2 7.9 3.7 0.9 2.2 2.0
.224 Will Perdue 1993 CHI 14.8 57.8 55.7 12.3 3.7 10.4 2.7 0.8 1.7 2.7
.296 Bo Outlaw 1999 ORL 12.8 53.5 54.5 8.6 2.3 7.1 2.4 1.7 1.8 2.5
.302 Brad Lohaus 1992 MIL 15.0 54.0 52.9 13.6 2.2 8.3 2.5 1.3 2.4 1.5
.318 John Salley 1992 DET 14.7 57.0 51.2 13.9 2.2 6.0 2.4 1.0 2.2 2.1
.364 Brad Miller 2004 SAC 19.4 57.9 51.8 13.9 2.6 10.2 4.3 0.9 1.2 2.0
.369 Kermit Washington 1979 SDC 15.0 60.3 56.2 12.1 3.9 10.4 1.6 1.1 1.6 2.4
.369 Vlade Divac 1996 LAL 17.4 54.4 51.5 14.9 2.9 9.9 3.8 1.1 1.9 2.9
.390 Mike Green 1979 SAS 12.9 52.8 49.3 12.5 2.9 7.8 2.5 0.8 2.7 2.0
.391 Shane Battier 2006 MEM 14.7 57.4 54.0 10.4 2.1 5.4 1.7 1.2 1.4 1.1
.403 Boris Diaw 2010 CHA 12.8 55.2 52.5 11.5 1.6 5.3 4.0 0.7 0.7 2.2

Turiaf has an odd mix of strong shotblocking, weak rebounding, miniscule scoring volume, and good passing. Hence why there aren’t a lot of similar players. I liked him in college, but at this point he’s strictly bench material. Teaming Turiaf with Stoudemire might bring tears to hyalophiles, but alongside Randolph they should make the paint on 32nd street an unfriendly place for the first time in a decade.

Three Or So Minutes With Mike Kurylo

Summoning my inner Andy Rooney, here are some things that I’m going to nitpick on.

John Krolik on where LeBron could go:

Say “screw it,” join Amar’e on the Knicks, run some great pick-and-rolls, make a lot of money, possibly become the A-Rod of basketball, win relatively few playoff games.

OK so it’s supposed to be a tongue in cheek remark primarily for humor, but there’s an ounce of truth to every joke. This swipe at D’Antoni’s playoff record riles me up, because under the surface it’s an extension of the cliche [only] defense wins championships. The common wisdom is that D’Antoni doesn’t care about defense, but according to Kevin Pelton, “D’Antoni’s teams have never been the defensive liabilities they were made out to be in the media.” Additionally implying that offensive minded coaches don’t win championships ignores the contrary. There are lots of defensive minded coaches that were unsuccessful in the playoffs: Mike Fratello, P.J. Carlesimo, Doug Collins. Larry Brown coached for 21 years until he finally won an NBA championship.

Every year there are 29 coaches that end the season without a new ring, so the inability to win a championship isn’t strictly a D’Antoni trait. The other LeBron-a-thon coaches have the same issues. Is Byron Scott a playoff risk because he was unable to win a title in New Jersey or couldn’t get out of the second round in New Orleans? Avery Johnson’s playoff record is worse than D’Antoni’s. In only 3 seasons, he managed to have back to back first round exits. One of those teams won an astonishing 67 games during the regular season.

Kelly Dwyer on Chris Duhon:

This is a good acquisition, for the Magic. A very, very good one, I’d say; and that’s coming from someone who has spent a good chunk of this decade ruing Duhon’s very presence and the strange hold he had on a very good (but very flawed) pro basketball coach and the resulting minutes allotment with a team located in the American Midwest. Chris can play, he can pick up plays very quickly, and he gives good effort.

To give Dwyer credit, the majority of his article is about how bad Duhon is. Nevertheless I could be convinced that Orlando signing him as a backup PG is a decent move. A solid move. A safe move. But a “very, very good one?” No way. If Nelson misses a chunk of time this year their fans are going to hate Duhon. If it happens deep in the playoffs, they’re screwed. The PG depth in free agency isn’t much, but compared to Felton & Ridnour, Duhon is awful. And let’s be blunt, Felton & Ridnour aren’t all that great themselves.

Playoff teams usually play it safe, instead of taking risks. Instead of choosing a PG that could win a playoff game, they went with one that they hope won’t lose one. They might not have landed one of the guys above, but maybe they could have gotten a player like Jordan Farmar. Compared to Duhon, Farmar is 4 years younger, a better defender, scores twice as many points with a sizable advantage in efficiency (TS% 53.5% to 50.1%).

[Note: I highly respect the work of Krolik and Dwyer. For instance Krolik’s most recent piece on LeBron James is stunningly beautiful and well thought out. It’s a prime example of what blogs do right, that newspapers get wrong. Newspapers have been focusing on the rumors, speculation, and hoopla. Krolik is quite reasonable and gets to the heart of the matter, in a profound manner. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t read Ball Don’t Lie to get Dwyer’s keen opinion on any transaction or event in the league.]