Sixers Win Webber Deal In Name Only

[Tomorrow morning I will analyze the Knicks’ two trades completed this afternoon.]

Anytime a trade includes only one big name, the immediate opinion is the team receiving that player is getting the better of the deal. It’s because in most sports the best players are most likely to turn a team into a winner. Just ask the L.A. Lakers or the Toronto Raptors. So when Philadelphia received mega-star Matt Barnes in a trade yesterday, the quick opinion was the Sixers made out on the deal. In a Yahoo poll, 75% of the readers selected “The Kings Blew it” (and yes that was an actual option).

Upon further inspection of the deal, I don’t think it’s as clear cut as everyone has made it out to be. The crux of the deal is of course Chris Webber (21.4, 19.9, -4.5 what do these numbers mean?). Although C-Webb was one of the best in the league at the beginning of the millennium, he’s no longer among the cream of the crop. Check out his numbers since 2001

Year PER. .eFG PTS/40
2001 24.7 48.1 26.8
2002 24.4 49.7 25.5
2003 20.9 46.3 23.5
2004 17.2 41.4 20.7
2005 21.4 45.5 23.5

All of his stats are down since 2001, and his PER puts him outside of the elite range but still in the very good category. In addition to his declining production, Webber hasn’t been very healthy. The Former Fab Five has averaged only 57 games per year (strike year excluded) over his entire career. The last three years have been even worse, as Webber has missed a total of 99 games. He’s only topped 75 games twice in his career, the last time back in 2000. With that in mind, take a look at his contract:

.2005 .2006 .2007 .2008
$17.5 $19.1 $20.7 $22.3
[Numbers in millions]

Having that much money tied into a single player with deteriorating numbers and a bad history of missing games isn’t a good place to be in. Just ask Knick fans how they feel about Allan Houston, who coincidentally had the same microfracture surgery as Chris Webber.

Now you why the Kings wanted something a little more stable. In the deal, Sacramento obviously lost on talent, but they got a younger more resilient crew. Webber makes the least healthy of the players they received, Brian Skinner, look like A.C. Green. In the same span that Webber played in 144 games (2002-2004), the trio sent to the West Coast averaged 217 games. While it’s hard to argue that any combination of the three are as good as Webber when they’re on the court, 73 games of no production is easy to beat.

On the other hand, Kenny Thomas (13.5, 17.2, -3.1), Brian Skinner (6.1, 11.9, -7.0), and Corliss Williamson (14.5, 14.4, -0.0) aren’t going to catapult Sacramento over the Suns, Sonics, or Spurs. What’s more baffling is that the Kings didn’t take the opportunity to make a major dent in their cap space.

Player... Age .2005 .2006 .2007 .2008 .2009 .2010
Thomas.... 27 $ 4.8 $ 5.3 $ 5.8 $ 6.4 $ 6.9 $ 7.4
Skinner... 28 $ 4.5 $ 5.0 $ 5.4 $ 5.9* ---- -----
Williamson 31 $ 5.5 $ 6.0 $ 6.5 ----- ----- -----
-------------------------------------------------
Webber.... 31 $17.5 $19.1 $20.7 $22.3 ----- -----
Barnes.... 23 $ 6.2 ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
*=Team Option

The Kings opted to get under the cap just a year earlier. The knock on their end of the trade is not who they got, but rather who they didn’t get. Glenn Robinson’s $12.1M expiring contract would have been a good move if they wanted to clear the cap quickly. Or Sacramento could have gone with a youth movement by asking for Iguodala, Dalembert, or Ashton Korver.

Judging by who they got in return, it’s clear that Sacramento decided instead to stay competitive now with their core of Bibby, Peja, Miller, and Jackson. The Kings helped their poor offensive rebounding (22nd) because Thomas, Williamson, and Skinner average nearly 3 per 40 minutes. According to 82games.com, opposing power forwards and centers have hurt the Kings the most. It’s likely that they’ll see an improvement with the combination of Darius Songaila (14.2, 15.7, +4.3) and the trio they received.

To sum it up, this is a trade where each team saw the grass greener on the other side. Sacramento got tired of Webber’s on-again-off-again act and longed for some stability. On the other hand Iverson has never played with a person of C-Webb’s offensive ability. Sacramento is an offensive team that could some defenders (20th), while Philly was struggling to put points on the board (22nd). Quite honestly I think both teams have the possibility to benefit from the transaction. The East is wide open, and a healthy Webber gives the Sixers a formidable starting 5 of Iverson, Iguodala, Korver, Webber, and Jackson/Dalembert. While the Kings still have plenty of firepower and they’ve improved their defense enough to go a few rounds in the playoffs.


I use three stats to get a general overall value of a player, PER, oPER, and Roland Rating. If you have any doubts that PER is a good measure of offensive ability, the last two years the top 5 PER belonged to Garnett, Duncan, Shaq, Kobe and McGrady, which passes my litmus test. oPER (opposition PER) is less accurate because of how defense is played in the NBA (switched defensive assignments, help defense, zone defense, double teams, etc.), but can still be valuable up to a point. According to 82games.com, Roland Rating “represents a player’s value to a particular team and are not intended to be an accurate gauge of the ability and talent of the player away from the specific team.” To make it easier to read, I’m going to use it with these colors: (offensive PER, defensive PER, +/-Roland Rating).

2004: A Good Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AlamoBlogger Part I

There are few things you can rely on year after year in the sports world. The Yankees are going to spend more money on their team than anyone else. The Arizona Cardinals are going to loose more games than they win. Boxing is going to find yet another way to embarrass itself. And the Spurs will be playing excellent defense.

According to my stat page, the Spurs are allowing 93.9 points per 100 possessions this year. That ranks them first in the NBA in defensive efficiency. Only the offensively challenged Bulls and the defending champion Pistons are within 4 points of San Antonio. They’re so far ahead of the pack, the difference between them and the 3rd ranked Pistons is the same difference between the Pistons and #11 Sixers. Thanks to www.basketball-reference.com, we can see what the Spurs have done defensively over the last few years:

Year	DE	Rank
2004 91.6 1
2003 96.6 3
2002 96.5 1
2001 94.9 1
2000 95.7 2
1999 92.1 1
1998 96.2 2
DE is Defensive Efficiency

That’s just sick. This year will make it 8 years in a row the Spurs have been among the league’s top 3 defensive teams. Among all those Spurs teams, there have been only 3 constant factors: Gregg Popovich, Malik Rose, and Tim Duncan. While Rose is a fine player in his own right, I believe the lions’ share of the credit should go to the other two.

It’s surprising to me that Popovich has won only one coach of the year award. His team has won two championships and he’s never finished less than 3rd overall defensively. Popovich’s detractors will point to the talent on the team and say that anyone could have coached that team. However few coaches can stay with a single team that long without wearing out their welcome. Even fewer would be able to keep winning after loosing one of the franchise’s most popular and talented players. Yet the Spurs are 91-35 since the Admiral retired, and opponents are still scared to enter the SBC Center.

Unlike player awards, coaching awards are given to coaches who tend to exceed their expectations. In the 8 years since Phil Jackson won it in 1996, only 2 coaches have won the award and led their team to the Finals. Last year’s winner, Hubie Brown, is a perfect example. A year after winning 28 games, Memphis finished 6th in the West. A low playoff seed would be an average year for many teams (and a failure for a few), but Coach Brown was largely credited with the team’s success. A 22 win turnaround will catch a lot of attention, but I wonder what perennial winners like Phil Jackson, Rick Adelman, or Greg Popovich could have done to be voted best? Unfortunately in this case, their past greatness counts against them.

[Tune in Friday morning for Part II.]

Two Points For Herb

What will new coach Herb Williams bring to the Knicks? Here are two points that I’m most interested in.

1. Overall team improvement.

Improving on the Knicks win/loss record is the highest priority right now, but I’m going to concentrate on the team’s offensive & defensive rating (also known as points per possession). Why? Studies show that a team’s pythagorean record (simply a record based on their points scored & allowed) predicts how a team will do the next year better than their actual record. But more importantly I’m interested in what kind of coach Herb Williams is. We don’t know if he’s an offensive or defensive minded coach. Watching how the Knicks perform on both ends of the court will give insight into his style of coaching. Also I’m interested in the Knicks’ defense which has been awful all season. Can the current group improve with better coaching, or will Isiah need do get some better defenders in the offseason?

.......	RANK	pts/poss
Offense 17th 101.0
Defense 24th 104.3

2. Youth Movement

With the Garden Front Office considering (gasp) “rebuilding”, the Knicks will need younger cheaper talent. Fortunately New York already has some future holdings on their roster, but those players will never mature unless they are thrown into the fray.

Whether it’s his bullying of Dikemebe Mutombo for a rebound on Friday, or his blocking of Keith Van Horn and going into the camera row to retrieve the ball on Sunday, Mike Sweetney shows flashes of brilliance every night. Despite his skill, Sweets was only getting 16 minutes a night under the old regime. His Player Efficiency Rating, (18.6 third on the team), is fueled by efficient low post scoring, and tenatious rebounding. I’m concentrating on Sweetney’s minutes under Herb, because it’s undeniable that giving him playing time is beneficial to the team in the short and long term.

One word captures Trevor Ariza’s future: intriguing. I wrote about him in November, and my opinion of him hasn’t changed since:

Actually Ariza’s skills make him a Jekyl & Hyde player. He’s calm & confident in transition, or when the focus is not on him in the half court. One play in the first quarter exemplifies Ariza’s strengths. He stole the ball near midcourt, and beat out everyone to the ball and laid it in leaving everyone else trailing behind him on the play. It looked like Ariza was jogging while everyone else was running at full speed. Clearly, he was in his element.

On the other hand, Ariza looks lost in the half court game. His first jumper rebounded high over the backboard, causing him to loose faith in his shot. By my count, he passed up 3 open jump shots in the first half. The other end of the court didn’t offer any solace for Ariza, where his one-on-one defense was lacking.

Many people think that “Air Riza” is a good defender because his athletic ability and instincts get him 2.2 steals per 40 minutes (first on the Knicks). However, he has lapses when it comes to one-on-one defense. Even Desmond Mason blew past him a few times on Sunday. For the time being it looks like the Knicks won’t be able to rely on him day in and day out. There are times when his flashy rebounding, getting to the free throw line, and propensity to steal will make him look like a future All Star. But there will be other nights when his matador defense and lousy shooting (41% eFG) will make Herb Williams wish he was still an assistant coach.

Some coaches tend to rely on veterans because they’re too impatient to live with a rookie’s mistakes. Herb Williams has shown that he’s not that kind of skipper, by making Ariza his starting SF Sunday. The Knicks coach will come under fire the days that Ariza doesn’t produce, especially with fan favorite Jerome Williams on the bench. How many minutes Ariza gets will show how committed Herb is to developing his young players.

NAME....	MIN	PER	eFG
Sweetney 16.3 18.6 54%
Ariza... 15.8 12.4 41%

International Relations Part 2

Scott Carefoot runs RaptorBlog.com, the self-proclaimed “best Raptors fan site – now and forever”. In a tradition that began last season, we wrote guest blogs on each other’s sites before a Knicks-Raptors game. Here, Scott offers a preview of the new-look Raptors before Wednesday’s match in Toronto. KnickerBlogger returns the favor on his site.

“Addition by subtraction.” It’s one of those sports cliches that sound neat at first but nonsensical if you really think about it. The theory is that a team can improve after a negative influence is removed. Bill Simmons calls it “The Ewing Theory” in reference to his friend’s notion that the Knicks in the Patrick Ewing era always seemed to play better when he wasn’t in the lineup.

For years, Simmons has claimed that this theory applies to Vince Carter. Considering that the Raptors went 0-9 last season when Carter wasn’t in the lineup, I figured we could put that theory to bed as far as Vince and the Raptors were concerned. But a funny thing has happened to this team since Vince was traded to New Jersey for Eric Williams, Aaron Williams and Alonzo Mourning’s dialysis machine…they’re playing more like a “true team” and winning more games.

In all fairness to Vince, the Raptors had one of the toughest schedules in the league leading up to his departure. Toronto had a 7-14 record after the loss to the Pistons on Dec. 8 when he suffered his final injury in a Raptors uniform. If I remember correctly, he was diagnosed with “sand in his vagina”. Anyway, Toronto lost three of the next four games leading up to the trade, so Vince left as Toronto had an 8-17 record.

The Post-Vince era got off to a rocky start as the Raptors dropped four of their next six games before they returned to Toronto for a four-day rest. Lo and behold, the Raptors opened 2005 by winning six of their next eight games and we now stand two games behind the three-way clusterhump of the Knicks, Celtics and Sixers for the Atlantic division lead.

This resurgence can be partially attributed to an easier schedule, as they played 19 of their first 31 games on the road followed by six of their next eight at home. Considering that they are 3-18 on the road after beating the Timberwolves in Minnesota on Monday, there’s no doubt this is a mitigating factor. But it shouldn’t take Knicks fans long to see how different this team is from the Raptors that lost 108-102 in New York on Nov. 27.

The only two starters that remain from that game’s lineup are Rafer Alston and Chris Bosh. Morris Peterson has replaced Vince Carter at shooting guard, Eric Williams has replaced Jalen Rose at small forward, and Rafael Araujo has replaced Loren Woods at center. This lineup is bigger, plays better defense and defers to Chris Bosh as the first scoring option. The 20-year-old sophomomre power forward has taken a quantum leap in 2005 with double-doubles in all eight games while averaging 20.5 points, 12.1 rebounds, two blocks and shooting 54 percent from the field.

Meanwhile, the Raptors have some pretty decent players coming off the bench. Jalen Rose has played his best basketball in years since he was relegated to an “instant offense” role after the trade. Donyell Marshall still provides rebounding and long bombs from the corners (he made three of them in a row late in the fourth quarter to slay Minnesota on Monday). Matt “The Red Rocket” Bonner has quietly been a rookie revelation, as the 2003 second-round pick has returned from a season in Italy to provide the Raptors with the league’s deadliest shooting touch off the bench. He’s third in the NBA with a .556 field goal percentage and most of those shots have been taken a few feet inside the three-point line.

In summary, I am as thrilled with this 16-23 team as it is humanly possible to be without narcotics. Now that Vince is gone, players like Bosh and Peterson have capitalized on their opportunities to take on leadership roles and there is no doubt that the team chemistry has improved as a result. It’s easy to root for this team, which is more than I can say for the Knicks. That’s not a cheap shot, it’s just that I could never root for a team managed by Isiah Thomas and coached by Lenny Wilkens. I expect this will be the last Lenny appearance in the Air Canada Centre before Isiah puts him in a home.

The Last Emperor – East

Dynasties in China lasted about 4 millennia. From the Xia Dynasty in 2000BC, to the Qing Dynasty which folded in the early 20th century, you’d have to admit they had a pretty good run. Looking at the NBA standings, they might be done with their dynasty rule as well.

In a league where multiple championship teams are the norm, we’re seeing a new face on the NBA. Just look at the standings, and honestly say that you thought Cleveland would be leading the Central, or the Sonics in the Northeast. Before last year, the last time a team won a championship without winning one in the 5 years before or after is the 1983 Sixers. That means in the last 20 years, we’ve seen the same few teams win year after year.

Professional basketball wasn’t always this way. In the 10 years before 1984, the league saw equality with 5 of the 10 champs being non-dynasties. I welcome parity, because it means every year any team can win. Nobody wants to start the year already knowing their team has no chance to compete. The NFL was a dynasty driven league in the 80s & 90s when only 8 different teams won in 20 years. However things have changed for the NFL, in the last 5 Super Bowls, 4 different teams have gone to Disney World. If you weren’t a fan of the Niners, Cowboys, or Packers, I’m sure you much prefer the current situation.

In the East, the biggest surprise might be the first place Cavaliers. Cleveland was suppose to be, at best, third in the tough Central. However the Pistons underestimated the importance of their bench. Detroit won the championship around a team model, and losing Okur, Williamson, and James made them less of a complete team. Meanwhile the Pacers might have forfeited their chances at taking the division with the 3 major suspensions that have crippled their team.

The Cavs’ offseason was suppose to be a disaster when already signed-Carlos Boozer bolted for Utah. However the Cavs have barely missed a beat at PF with the emergence of Plan B signee-Drew Gooden (49.8% eFG, 1.12 PSA, 19.9 PER). In addition, Paul Silas has gotten Jeff McInnis to play at a decent level for the second straight season (51.9 eFG, 1.09 PSA, 14.5 PER) which allows LeBron James to play SF, a position that more naturally suits him than PG. The Cavs no longer have the East’s best center with the trade of Shaq trade to the East, but The Big Z (47.1, 1.11, 19.6) gives the Cavs one of the better centers in the league.

Of course the biggest improvement in Cleveland might just be the King himself. James (52.1, 1.14, 26.4) has improved just like a rookie on his way to superstardom should. If you’re a fan of the Basketball Forecast/Prospectus, James has improved in all three of Hollinger’s independent stats: assist ratio (21.1 from 19.1), turnover ratio (10.8 down from 11.2), and rebound rate (10.8 from 7.6). LeBron has a higher PER despite taking less shots, because his shooting percentage has improved as well. If you’re wondering exactly how far LeBron has come in his second season, James ranks 6th overall in PER this year. That’s higher than Shaq, Marion, Kobe, Pierce, Francis, or Nash. The top 6:

TEAM	NAME............	PER	
SAS Tim Duncan...... 30.51
MIN Kevin Garnett... 30.32
DAL Dirk Nowitzki... 30.05
PHO Amare Stoudemire 29.14
MIA Dwyane Wade..... 26.82
CLE LeBron James.... 26.40

Cleveland isn’t just doing it on offense. The Cavs have the 2nd ranked defense, allowing only 96.3 points per 100 possessions. Looking at 82games.com, their only defensive weakness is PG. Opposing playmakers are averaging a 16PER against Cleveland. The good news for the Cavs is it’s the only position that’s doing better than average. If Cleveland can keep this up, and get a shooting guard before the deadline, they could be serious contenders in an East that is wide open.

Before the season started everyone was guessing that a Florida team would be atop the Southeast. However few would have predicted Orlando as the Florida team leading the division (Ed Note: since writing this the Heat have re-taken the lead, but isn’t this a nicer story?) I already did a little piece on the Magic, where I found three factors in the rebirth of Orlando: Grant Hill’s health, the improved defense, and the fast development of Howard. Hill did miss his first game, apparently because of a shin problem not related to his ankle. However it doesn’t appear to be serious, as he played 34 minutes tonight against the Lakers. As long as Hill stays healthy, the Magic will be competitors in the East.

Orlando isn’t the only surprise team in the Southeast. Washington looks more formidable this year as well. So far the Wiz are getting a boost from their two highest scorers, newly acquired Antawn Jamison (46.6 eFG, 1.03 PSA, 21.18)and currently healthy Gilbert Arenas (50.0, 1.12, 19.6). However their best player maybe unheralded Larry Hughes (42.4, 0.99, 23.54). The Washington shooting guard can score (21.6 PTS/40) and is one of the best rebounding guards in the league (6.8 REB/40). What’s incredible is he’s added a passing game to his offense. Hughes has nearly doubled his assists, whether you judge by per game (2.4 last year to 5.2 this year) or by Hollinger’s assist ratio (10.2 last year to 19.8 this year). To show how good a player he’s been so far, Hughes is 10th in the league in PER, between Marion and Marbury. At $5.5M he’s a steal, and the Wizards would be smart to resign him to a long term deal.

Stay tuned for Part 2, when I cover the West’s first place newbies.

Way Too Early Season Review Part I

The Knicks are 6-6, good enough to sit atop of the Atlantic division, a half a game ahead of the Sixers. Although it’s tough to be unhappy about being in first place, things aren’t all as good as it seems. New York ranks 25th in defensive efficiency, and next to last in defensive shooting percentage (51% eFG). With all of 12 games under it’s belt, we’ve seen enough of the Knicks to start evaluating the players individually. To give a complete view, I’m going to mix my observations (I’ve watched all but one of their games) with some statistical methods.

To validate what my eyes have seen, I’ll use three stats to get a general overall value of a player, PER, oPER, and Roland Rating. If you have any doubts that PER is a good measure of offensive ability, the last two years the top 5 PER belonged to Garnett, Duncan, Shaq, Kobe and McGrady, which passes my litmus test. oPER (opposition PER) is less accurate because of how defense is played in the NBA (switched defensive assignments, help defense, zone defense, double teams, etc.), but can still be valuable up to a point. According to 82games.com, Roland Rating “represents a player’s value to a particular team and are not intended to be an accurate gauge of the ability and talent of the player away from the specific team.” Since it takes the player in context of his team, and we’re only looking at the players on one team, it’s perfect for our needs. So you can train your eyes on what to look for, I’m going to use it with these colors: (offensive PER, defensive PER, +/-Roland Rating).

Let’s start with the Knicks’ best player Stephon Marbury (24.3PER, 15.7oPER, +13.7RR). There’s nothing here that is different from every scouting report on the Knicks PG: great offense, mediocre defense. I’ve lost hope of Marbury ever turning up his intensity on defense, but for someone who has the untapped ability to be a good defender, he shouldn’t be criticizing his teammates for their lackluster play under their hoop. It’s easier to ignore Starbury’s aversion to defense when his offense is that good, and when the alternative could be Moochie Norris (0, 12.1, -12.4). Yes folks, thats a zero offensive PER. Norris is currently on the IR, and if I were the Knicks I wouldn’t be in a big hurry to bring him back. According to the Pro Basketball Forecast his PER has declined each of the last 4 years. Deteriorating production, being on the wrong side of 30, a long contract, and not being that good to begin with is a bad combination (right Shanderson?). Giving Norris’ few minutes to a younger and bigger Jamison Brewer can’t hurt.

Thankfully, the primary backup for Marbury is the Knicks’ new acquisition Jamal Crawford (16.1, 21.6, +2.4). He has been good offensively, but his defense is porous. Crawford’s thin frame is ill-suited to fight through picks, and too fragile to slow down a drive once the other team gets a step on him. Jamal has an excellent handle, but there is nothing more frustrating than having Crawford settling for a jumper (which comprise 82% of his shots), after he’s faked his defender with a series of fancy dribbles. Crawford should force the issue towards the basket with his great passing and dribbling skills. In addition, he’d do well getting fouled driving to the hoop, since the guy makes a free throw shot look like a layup (86% FT).

Crawford’s only 24, so I hope the Knicks coaching staff can get Jamal to produce a little more before he becomes set in his ways. For someone that will likely be in New York for the next 7 years, I’d like for him to be able to give us a little more production, either on offense and defense. He has excellent skills to build on: quickness, dribbling, a good shot, and that three point buzzer beater shows his confidence. He just needs to be smarter with his shot, and work on his defensive fundamentals. The Knicks announcers always make me chuckle with the line “he gets his hands on a lot of balls”, and Crawford’s one positive aspect on defense is creating turnovers (2.1 STL per 40 minutes).

It’s no secret that the Knicks’ defense has been pitiful, but what surprised me is what position has been their worst. I would have thought opposing shooting guards would be circling the New York dates on their schedule, but it’s actually been the power forward position that’s given the Knicks the most trouble. Amazed as I was, 82games.com reports that PFs have a 20.8 PER against the Knicks. Checking their individual stats, it’s Kurt Thomas (15.3, 22.5, -9.2) who seems to be the culprit. Just to make sure this year’s results aren’t a victim of small sample size, I checked last year’s stats, where Kurt shows up as a below average defender (17.5 oPER) as well.

Watching the games I would have never believed this, so I decided to double check this manually. Since Thomas plays more minutes at PF than anyone else on the team, it’s logical to judge his worth by the opposing starting PF. For every Knicks game, I added the stats for every PF that played more than 20 minutes. The compiled offensive line is very nice from an offensive standpoint: 15.3 Points in 33 minutes on 56% eFG. Of the 15 opponents in my list, only 5 had an adjusted shooting percentage under 50% against the Knicks.

The Knicks have played some great PFs in Duncan, Garnett, Nowitzki, and Brand, but even guys like Gooden (11-16, 25PTS 75% eFG), Austin Croshere (3-4 12PTS 100%), and Matt Bonner (12-16, 24PTS 75% in 2 games) are having great shooting nights. I know that Kurt has a great reputation as a man-man defender, but the numbers say otherwise. Guys like Garnett and Duncan will score against any defender, however if Kurt is as good as his reputation, he should be able to handle the Crosheres and Bonners of the NBA. Thomas’ defense isn’t the only issue. His ability to get to the charity stripe has been fading since 2001.

year	FTA/40

2001 3.8
2002 2.9
2003 2.0
2004 0.8

The news isn’t all bad for Thomas, as his shooting as held steady over his career (currently at a nice even 50%), and his rebounding has spiked up this year. Additionally, he doesn’t turn the ball over too often.

If you disliked reading the last two paragraphs as much as I hated writing them, you’re going to really hate this one. At this moment, Thomas is the Knicks’ most attractive tradable asset. Why? First, for GMs that still use traditional stats, he’s a double-double (maybe the most misleading stat in the NBA) that’s shooting 50% and probably still has that good reputation as a tough defender. His contract is reasonable (more reasonable this year at $6M, than in 4 years at $8M). Although he’s past his prime at age 32, that Thomas has a been a healthy and solid contributor over the last 6 years makes him a nice fit for a team looking for a veteran presence to help them for a playoff run. Additionally the Knicks can easily make up for Thomas’ production with two underused players in Sweetney and Williams. Finally, although other teams covet the Knicks’ little used young players like Sweetney and Ariza, the Knicks would be unlikely to get fair value in return.


That’s the end of Part I. Tune in for Part II, where I continue with my ranting & raving.