The Worst Article Of 2007

Folks it’s about that time of year again, to announce the worst article of 2007. While there were many fine candidates throughout the year there’s one article that was published just 2 days ago that has surpassed all others. I’m proud to say that this work is right up there with previous winners such as Charlie Rosen’s most overrated list, and Frank Hughes 2004 piece. The winner for KnickerBlogger’s worst article of 2007 is brought to us by Lou V. of paperbacknovel titled “Why the Knicks Don’t Suck.. Anymore, But the NY Post and NY Daily News Do (Suck).”

I don’t know what the internet comparable version of “don’t judge a book by it’s color”, but maybe it should be “judge an article by it’s title.” It certainly applies to this year’s worst article winner. Notice the improper use of the ellipsis (two dots instead of three), and how the author has to add the final “(Suck)” in parenthesis because he decided to throw in the word “Anymore”. If the author wanted a better title, he could have dropped both words for a simpler title: “Why the Knicks Don’t Suck, But the NY Post and NY Daily News Do.” But why go for clarity when you’re aiming for much lower?

While I have to admit I thought at first that this would be an Onion-esque satirical piece, I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t. The author, Lou V., starts off by bashing the local media for “getting their [readers’] attentions off real economic and political issues by parading sports and the lottery in front of them.” A reasonable start to an article, as I’ve certainly taken my shots at the mainstream news. Unfortunately he follows it with this monstrocity:

… the Knicks are fine. They remain as they were to start the season — a young, athletic team with guys who can score; they have great chemistry, believe in their coach, and are progressively playing better defense… They’re not a championship team yet, but they’re a good team; a playoff-caliber team.

I guess if you’re going to define “good” as being one of the worst teams in the league, then the 5-11 Knicks are good. By those standards, the 6-10 Clippers are great, the 7-8 Bucks are awesome and the 8-9 Nets are unbeatable. Just about the only thing true in these sentences is that the Knicks are a young athletic team with guys who can score. They do not have good chemistry, and they certainly don’t believe in their coach. Their defense hasn’t progressively improved, in fact it’s been about the same for the last 2 years. No the Knicks aren’t a championship team. No the Knicks aren’t a good team. No the Knicks aren’t a playoff-caliber team. Of course the author throws in this nugget in the same paragraph: “… James Dolan, owner, who has proven to be a stand-up, moral guy …” More on that later.

In his next section Lou V is a bit more sensible. Lou talks about how Isiah was “castigated” by the Renaldo Balkman selection, and states that Larry Brown was viewed favorably due to racism. There’s definitely a valid point to be made with Balkman. Many in the mainstream media criticized Thomas relentlessly for the selection, one that is looking better and better by the day. And yes claiming Larry Brown was liked not because he is one of the better coaches of his generation, flaws and all, because of the color of his skin is one of the more reasonable claims of this column. Read on.

The next section titled “Why Isiah Thomas Doesn’t Suck” is laughable. The author claims that “Isiah has turned the Knicks around in 3 years at the helm as GM.” and “Most GM’s in the NBA would exchange their best three big men for [Curry-Randolph-Lee]in a heartbeat.” I guess you could debate that Isiah has only been around for 3 years, since he is 19 days short of his fourth season. However what’s not debatable is that he’s turned the team around. The Knicks have only bested their ’03 record of 37 wins once in Isiah’s tenure, and are on track for only 25 wins this season.

But it’s the author’s second assertion that has me thinking. How many teams would trade their top 3 big men for the Knicks? Well I think I can safely omit Boston, Orlando, Toronto, San Antonio, Phoenix, Utah, Dallas, and Houston due to their star power at those positions. I might add Miami (Shaq), Chicago (Ben, Thomas, Noah + didn’t want Curry in the first place), Denver (Camby, Nene, K-Mart), Clippers (Brand), Portland (Oden), and Memphis (Gasol). Then there are teams where these three wouldn’t fit in like Golden State (Nellie-ball), and Detroit (‘Sheed/McDyess). Not counting teams that wouldn’t do it for reasons of fiscal irresponsibility, I count 16 teams that wouldn’t trade for our trio tower. Of course I guess a team like the Nets or Lakers might (Bynum?), so Knick fans might want to put in an order for that Kwame Brown or Nenad Krstic jersey they’ve been pining for.

What puts this article at the top of my list is the sidebar containing “Isiah Thomas’s Knicks’ Resume.” Some of the gems:

“Zach Randolph and Fred Jones for Channing Frye? This may go down as one of the great Knick trades ever.”

“Acquired Tim Thomas from Milwaukee and center Nazr Mohammed from Atlanta in a three-team trade…. Mohammed played some good ball in NY, but then helped Isiah rebuild with the trade listed below this one. Tim Thomas played some ball in NY, but then helped Isiah get Eddy Curry from Chicago. This Feb 2004 trade was a fantastic setup trade for the Knicks.”

“Despite the criticisms, Marbury has played a lot of all-star basketball in NY. The final word is still out on this trade as there is still that conditional 1st-round pick hanging out there in 2009 or 2010 that Phoenix gets from NY, but so far, NY got Stephon Marbury for a bunch of crap — including Knick-franchise-of-the-future-according-to-Stu-Laden, Michel Lampe. Penny Hardaway was used by Knicks to help get Stevie Francis, who was used to help get Zach Randolph. Phoenix used this trade to get $7-million under the cap, enabling them to sign free agent Steve Nash, and catapulting them to an elite team. This trade looks good for both teams right now, for different reasons.”

The Knicks best trades of all time: Dave DeBusschere for Bellamy; Riordan and Stallworth for Monroe; Oakley for Camby; and Zach for Frye? Um yeah… The author also credits Isiah for drafting Trevor Ariza and Demitrius Nichols, ignoring the fact that the first was traded and the second’s expulsion from the club was a classic blunder.

Not to be outdone, the author concludes with “Why James Dolan Doesn’t Suck.” He states that “Dolan’s handling of the Anucka Browne Sanders case is prototypical of his high moral fiber.” I guess I couldn’t have said that better myself.

2008 Season Preview: The Backcourt & Swingmen

The Backcourt
Statistically Stephon Marbury still remains above average offensively, but he’s not nearly as productive as he used to be. The Knicks PG still is effective with his incursions to the basket, and at the latter stages of his career he’s become a better shooter. However to the eye Marbury doesn’t appear to be comfortable in Isiah’s offense. Gone are his pick & roll plays and his domination of the ball. Marbury has problems making entry passes to the low post, which is a problem considering that’s where the Knicks will look to score.

On the other hand Jamal Crawford’s familiarity with Curry allows him not only to get him the ball in the right spot, but to execute alley-oops. Statistically, Crawford hurts the Knicks with his poor shooting, and his turnover rate was just below Steve Francis’. On average Crawford missed 9 of the 15 shots he attempted per game, a staggering amount. Both Marbury and Crawford are subpar three point shooters, but neither is shy about taking one. Neither player is a spot up shooter, like in the Houston/Tucker mold. Both are more comfortable in creating their own shot than being the recipient. They don’t move well without the ball. And neither is a good rebounder.

The Knicks best scoring guard is 5’8, rebounds like he’s 6’8, and acts like he’s 4’8. Robinson won MVP of the Vegas Summer League, and played considerably well during the preseason. Compared to the starters, he shoots more efficiently, turns the ball over less, and actually rebounds. On the other hand, his immaturity and lack of height will limit his minutes. Robinson will be the Knicks third guard. Coming off the bench, he’ll bring a scoring punch either through his drives to the basket, his efficient shooting, or his new found joy of setting up his teammates. This preseason Robinson averaged almost an assist per 40 minutes above his career average.

Fighting for the remaining minutes of the Knick backcourt will be Mardy Collins and Fred Jones. While Collins is more of a one to Jones’ two, Mardy is a complete liability anytime he has to deliver the ball to the hoop. Collins’ shooting percentages are laughably bad (3p% .277, FT% .585, eFG .410, TS% .445). Meanwhile Jones is able to hit a jumpshot, but he’s not very efficient. Only his free throws average is above the league rate. Jones has had only one season where his 3p% was above the league average. To his credit he does get to the line fairly often, giving him a decent TS% (.526).

At the other end of the court Jones and Collins are the Knicks best defensive options. Last year Collins used his 6-6 frame and solid defensive footing to harass opposing guards. He’s big enough that he can guard small forwards as well. Collins is also blessed with something that most strong defenders possess: a mean streak. Remember his defensive play started the Denver brawl. Jones is an athletic player, a former slam dunk champion, who has stuck around in the league by his defense.

Nate Robinson is hindered by his size from being a great defender, but he’s a ball hawk who has good anticipation in the passing lanes. He’s also the Knicks best defender against Yao Ming. Unlike most sub-6′ guards, Nate is strong enough from being bullied in the post. Unfortunately he’s poor in fighting through screens, and I think the next time he goes over one will be his first. Meanwhile Marbury put more effort into his defense last year, but he lacks the lateral speed to keep up with quicker guards. Jamal Crawford bulked up this summer, but he’s still by far the Knicks worst defender on the perimeter.

The Swingmen
Isiah has 2 serious options at the small forward spot. When Quentin Richardson played, he was the most well rounded offensive weapon the Knicks had. Although Richardson had no holes in his game, he really didn’t excel at anything. His eFG was above the league average while his TS% was slightly below. Never a slasher, Richardson’s primary way to the free throw line was working in the post. However, he was kept off the blocks by Curry, and you would expect the same to happen this year especially with the addition of Randolph. Hence Richardson takes on the role of spot up shooter in the Knicks offense, and does an adequate job at it. Defensively he’s solid but unspectacular.

The other option Isiah has is Renaldo Balkman. Unlike Richardson, Balkman’s talents aren’t evenly distributed. In the half court he is unable to hit a jump shot, which allow defenses to leave him open on the perimeter. Nevertheless he still is able to generate offense. Balkman is excellent in transition whether it’s grabbing a rebound & starting the break or filling the wing and finishing it. In the half court set, Balkman moves well without the ball and uses his explosive leaping ability to around the basket to rebound and score. Furthermore, he’s the Knicks best defender, using his gangly frame and quickness to block shots and harass players. The only New Yorker that played 1000 minutes and averaged more than 1.0 blk/40 was Balkman.

The Knicks would be served well using the aforementioned players, but the same can’t be said of Jared Jeffries. Brought in for his defense, Jeffries scores at a lilliputian rate. He makes Balkman look like Kobe Bryant in the half court. In fact only 3 players in the league played more than 1000 minutes and scored less points per minute than Jeffries: Lorenzen Wright, DeSagana Diop, and Jason Collins. It’s not a good sign for a small forward to be compared to 3 defensive centers in terms of offensive productivity. Jeffries has one positive attribute: his offensive rebounding. But Balkman is a tiny bit better, and Renaldo scores at twice the rate.

The unknown factor at small forward is Wilson Chandler. Like Balkman, Chandler was a relative unknown but physically talented small forward. Unlike Balkman, Chandler has a jumpshot which even extends to the arc. In DePaul, Chandler shot well (eFG: 49.5%, TS: 52%), and he was even more impressive in summer league (eFG: 58.5%, TS: 56.2%). But predicting rookie performance in the NBA is a crapshoot, and a handful of preseason games aren’t enough to make any valid predictions. How much he’ll be able to contribute is unknown, but he seems to face a steep battle to earn minutes. In any case, it’s likely that Chandler will perform like most rookies, occasionally lost and a little turnover prone. Given Isiah’s clairvoyance with respect to the draft, it’s likely that Chandler be more productive than the average 23rd round pick.

$11.6M Part III: Why this Means the Knicks Will Continue to Stink

If you haven’t check out Part I and Part II.

In Part II I made a case for how the Anucha Brown Sauders verdict (as well as the handling of Don Chaney’s dismissal) illustrates a fatal flaw–contempt–in Thomas’ decision making style. My point is simply that contempt (a callous disregard for others) is not simply unethical behavior; rather, it is also strongly associated with specific types of poor decisions that continue to haunt this team.

Contempt diminishes the ability to recognize mistakes and learn from them. In moments of complete and total privacy I often wonder if Isiah Thomas recognizes his role in the various messes he’s made. I am not convinced he does, though I suppose only he knows for sure. When Don Chaney said he felt disrespected by the way his situation was handled, Isiah responded that he didn’t think it was appropriate to give Chaney “a 24-hour status update on what was going on.” Of Anucha Brown Saunders, he says, “She made the whole thing up. The jury didn’t listen to the evidence.” Of upper management/ownership in his prior NBA stops in Indiana and Toronto, and in his brief stint with the CBA, Thomas claims they were all just out to get him. Apparently, the international conspiracy dedicated to his downfall continues on unabated to this very day.

The great thing about being contemptuous is always being able to believe that your failures are someone else’s doing–leaving you free to repeat the mistakes you made. So, in Thomas’ mind’s eye the problem is that the players haven’t gelled or that they have underperformed. It’s never that his strategy of stockpiling redundant talent is a limited strategy. Winning the East is a simple matter of landing the right star player. Enter Marbury. Tim Thomas. Crawford. Curry. Steve Francis. Now, Zach Randolph. Without knocking Zebo, who I like, his deal was just more of what Thomas has always done. There’s been no real introspection about the overall approach. He simply doesn’t see a downside.

Contempt breeds an exaggerated need for secrecy and loyalty. If you believed your failures were never of your own making imagine the twisted logic you would need to sustain that kind of fantasy. Real world common sense and people who just won’t play along would constantly threaten this fantasy world with collapsing under its own weight. The Thomases and Dolans of the world, who are contemptuous of others, don’t leave their fantasy world vulnerable to common sense or to people who don’t play along. Instead they prefer to surround themselves with loyalists who enable their fantasies, closing themselves off to “outsiders” as much as possible. Not surprisingly, this behavior suggests intolerance for self-examination, competing approaches, fresh ideas, or honest criticism.

Nowhere has this intolerance been more perfectly exemplified than through the organization’s relationship with Stephon Marbury. If the Brown Saunders verdict has done nothing else it has established beyond any reasonable doubt Thomas’ coddling and enabling of Marbury. Thomas has demanded nothing of Marbury since his arrival, despite making him the face of the franchise. Further, Isiah has sought to punish anyone in the organization or move any player or coach who would dare challenge Marbury to lead. Larry Brown’s no saint. He has his own dysfunctions, which not coincidentally include an exaggerated need for loyalty. But that whole drama is far uglier now in retrospect than it was even at the time.

Where to from here? One reader in the comments on Part II wrote:

How about the fact that the NBA will discipline you for punching someone, but not for sexual harassment?

That’s sticky, because the NBA is a collection of businesses that agree to cooperate on certain aspects of business but leave others to each individual franchise. Since sexual harassment is a civil legal matter I could certainly see the league not wishing to wade in such murky water. If Stern punishes the Knicks it means the league is claiming jurisdiction in that area. That potentially makes the NBA liable to be named a party in the next lawsuit alongside any team. Further, it’s not clear to me that any league punishment (a fine in all likelihood) would be any more of a deterrent than a civil trial. However, the question remains, what will the Knicks do in the aftermath of this case? Given that Dolan and Thomas didn’t have sense enough to keep this case out of court in the first place, and apparently have enough money to throw at appeals, it’s safe to speculate that they probably haven’t learned much.

I imagine that the best the Knicks fans–and I continue to count myself among them–can hope for in the immediate future is a rift between Dolan and Thomas that leads to his dismissal. The problem of course is that Dolan has all the same problems Thomas has. There is little reason to believe he wouldn’t hire another Thomas.

$11.6M Part II: What This Means for the Franchise

As you no doubt are aware, a jury has sided with former Knicks executive Anucha Brown Saunders and found the New York Knickerbockers and the Madison Square Garden organization guilty of sexual harassment (perpetrated primarily by Knicks team president Isiah Thomas). The Knicks and MSG were also held liable for creating a hostile work environment and for retaliating against Mrs. Brown Saunders when she protested her treatment. The jury of four women and three men awarded Mrs. Brown Saunders $11.6 million in damages, with a further award for back and present pay (for wrongful termination) pending. The jury declared a mistrial on Thomas’ personal culpability and thus did not subject him to punitive damages. Also, early indications are that Thomas will face no further discipline from the league. Though the case uncovers aspects of the MSG environment that are utterly distasteful, which include repeated reprimands of Thomas’ behavior by MSG officials, the judgment is unlikely by itself to directly impact the team’s on court performance this upcoming season.

In discussing the case I want to pick up where Knickerblogger left off yesterday. Like him, I also couldn’t bear to watch. I went out of my way to ignore details of the case as best I could until a verdict was reached. Now that a verdict has been reached I want to show how the case is directly relevant to everyday die-hard Knicks fans. So, even while acknowledging that this is unlikely to have any direct impact on team performance in 07-08 it is still quite meaningful. This case, along with the Don Chaney’s firing, illustrate with crystal clarity the fundamental problem that plagues the Dolan/Thomas regime. I will limit my comments mostly to Thomas but you could practically substitute Dolan’s name into every sentence.

At the risk of belaboring the obvious, it is worth stating a basic premise. Isiah Thomas has a problem making good decisions. His worst decisions, which I won’t take the time to recount, have become the stuff of legend. And even his better decisions come with a string of “yeah, but” clauses attached (e.g., “Thomas stole Trevor Ariza in the draft. Yeah, but then he traded him–a young, cheap, solid wing defender–in order to pair Steve Francis with Stephon Marbury.”). Isiah, sometimes in spite of himself, is an intelligent guy. So, what gives? Why such poor decisions. I won’t make you guess. I’ll cut to the chase. In a nutshell, Isiah Thomas’ poor decisions are a natural consequence of his remarkable contempt for other people. (Contempt in this context means an acute lack of respect for others and a callous disregard for their perspective.) In a leader, this is a character flaw so grave it renders good decision making practically impossible.

Now to be clear, I have little interest in doing any sort of long distance psychoanalysis of Isiah Thomas. I do not profess to know why Thomas is contemptuous of others. That’s not the point of this entry. Rather, I am interested in showing how Isiah’s words and actions indicate his contempt for others–and how that contempt hinders his ability to lead. To do that, I first need to briefly describe the two cases.

Firing Chaney on Letterman. At the time Don Chaney was dismissed it is safe to say he had it coming. The NBA is a tough, results-oriented business and the results were awful. Additionally, Chaney had few supporters among the media or the Knick faithful, and it certainly appeared that the players had tuned him out. The “FI-YER CHAY-NEE!” chants had become an unfortunate nightly serenade for a man universally regarded as one of the game’s true gentleman. Of course, the “Chaney watch” began in earnest once Thomas rode into town on his trusty white steed with promises to make the Knicks younger, more athletic, and more importantly, relevant again. Thomas appeared on David Letterman’s Late Show and made his now infamous pregnant pause following Letterman’s speculation that Chaney would be fired. Chaney was of course fired soon thereafter.

The true measure of contempt is, how do you treat others when they have nothing you want or when you think they cannot effectively retaliate? Do you treat them with respect or callous disregard? Do you change how you treat others depending on whether you think people who really matter are watching? I have no reason to believe Thomas especially disliked Chaney or had any particular ax to grind with him. I just don’t think Thomas cared enough to pass on a chance to laugh at Chaney’s expense. After all, what could Chaney–who was for all practical purposes dead man walking–do? It was painfully obvious he was going to be fired. So, given a chance to be magnanimous–with the cameras rolling no less–Thomas chose callous disregard. He had nothing to gain apart from a few chuckles on the Late Show. I recall saying to a friend the next day, “I don’t know how Isiah’s going to work out in New York but I can tell you that it’s going to end ugly for him. He really is an asshole. Guys like that can never stay out of their own way.”

Who You Callin’ A Bitch!? The Brown Sauders Case. The case time line published in the Daily News hits many of the low-lights of the case, so I won’t recount them all. Despite his protestations of innocence, Thomas had been reprimanded by Steve Mills for his behavior towards Brown Saunders (and for related behavior as far back as 2004). At root, Thomas showed the same callous disregard towards Brown Sauders he exhibited towards the outgoing Chaney; just in a different context stretched out over a longer period of time. His claims about who can call black women “bitches” without being offensive is a prime example of this disregard. Aside from expressing the most idiotic racial and gender politics since X-Clan, Isiah clearly ignored or forgot these words from the Queen.

Maybe none of this talk of contempt explains Thomas’ inability to manage a salary cap or make a trade that isn’t redundant. Perhaps. But I don’t think so. I think the behavior in the MSG offices makes its way onto the bench and into management decisions. In the last part I’ll try to make a case for how this happens. I’ll talk about precisely how contempt for others can often lead to particular types of poor decisions.

Knicks 2007 Report Card (A to Z): Stephon Marbury

KnickerBlogger: When Marbury first arrived in New York, the Knicks’ offense centered around his pick & roll game. Stephon was never a top flight offensive talent, but was consistently good, a near All Star. However in 2006 Larry Brown insisted on stamping his brand of basketball on the offense and curtailed Marbury’s game. The Knick guard had career lows in assists and points (per 40 minutes), even lower than his rookie year as a 19 year old neophyte. Consequently Mabury’s PER dropped from a steady 20/21 to a pedestrian 16.5. Surely it seemed that Marbury’s decline in production was caused by Brown’s iron fist.

Going into the 2007 season Marbury should have reverted to his old form. Not only was he freed from Brown’s restrictive offense, but he would be playing for the former point guard that acquired him. Unfortunately for Coney Island’s brightest, Marbury’s numbers didn’t recover to his pre-Brown levels. Instead Stephon’s numbers declined for the second straight year, and again he set career lows in assists and points (per 40 minutes). Marbury’s drop in assists is alarming as his 5.9 AST/40 is sickly for a point guard. So what’s the deal? After 2 consecutive declining season is the Knick guard washed up?

My answer is ‘no’, or better yet ‘not exactly’. The Knick offense moved away from the pick & roll, Marbury’s bread & butter, to a more open offense. As last season began, Isiah installed “The Quick?”, an amalgamation of offenses. As described by coach Thomas, “The Quick?” was modular where the non-post players took turns running the point. So it’s not so much that Marbury became a worse player, but instead it’s the Knick offense diminished his role.

Last year Marbury was unable to dominate the ball as he was accustomed. To exacerbate the problem Marbury had to share the backcourt with another ball-happy guard in Steve Francis. More often than not, Marbury was a spectator watching his teammates run the offense. Often he had trouble feeding Eddy Curry in the post, and without constant possession of the ball his scoring declined. A master at the pick & roll, Marbury was mortal outside of that role.

On the other hand, Marbury’s shooting percentages improved from the reduced usage. His eFG% and TS% (48.0% and 53.9%) were above their career averages, and his 3P% (35.7%) was the highest of his career. He also turned the ball over less than ever (2.6 TO/40). As an added bonus he seemed to put an extra effort into the defensive side of the ball. Whether or not this actually improved his defense is debatable, as his numbers at 82games are awful. The Knicks were 5.4 points worse on defense with Marbury on the court, and point guards averaged a healthy PER of 17.4 with Steph on the floor. Marbury’s main weakness is his poor lateral speed as last year he absolutely got killed by quicker point guards. Still the effort was a departure from previous seasons where Marbury seemed disinterested on his own end of the court. There were times he took the tougher assignment by taking on the opposing SG, and on some nights he did a fair job. But as we learned from Jamal Crawford, the NBA is such that you need consistent production every night, and overall on the season Marbury’s defense was still below average.

KnickerBlogger’s Grade: C+

2008 Outlook: With Marbury entering his 30s, the Knicks will eventually need a new starting point guard. Stephon entered the league at the tender age of 19, and has been an iron man for most of his career. Combine his long tenure with his high minute per game average, and that’s a lot of wear and tear on his 6-2 frame. He has missed more games in the last 2 years (30) than he did in the 8 seasons prior (25). Marbury was never a good defender to begin with, and although he’s putting in more effort on the defensive end, he still gets beaten by inferior players.

One indication that Marbury still has life in those $15 shoes is that his free throw attempt per field goal attempt rate hasn’t declined. Aging players that have lost a step become less able to get to the hoop and draw contact. Since Marbury seems to still have his athleticism and has trouble setting up his teammates in Isiah’s offense, Zeke should put some more pick & roll plays into the 2008 Knicks playbook. This is especially true considering the acquisition of a second post player with a range on his jumper, in Zach Randolph. Looking at some of the other options at guard, namely Crawford and Collins, increasing Marbury’s shot attempts in the offense wouldn’t be such a bad idea.

At this stage of his career, Marbury is no longer the focal point of his team’s offense. However even with his reduced role, he is still an efficient scorer. One thing Isiah might try in 2008 is to reduce Marbury’s minutes per game. The Knicks aren’t suffering from a lack of depth as Nate Robinson earned MVP honors in summer league, and Mardy Collins is useful with his stout defensive presence. Since Marbury’s reduced role in his offense seemed to increase his defensive desire, a decrease in his minutes might invigorate Stephon and produce better defensive results on the court.

Brian Cronin – My strongest memory of Marbury from this past season is the stretch after Crawford and Lee went down that Marbury seemed like he determined that he had to score like crazy for the Knicks to have a chance at winning – so he just went out and did that, scoring 23, 34, 38 and 40 in his next four games, lending credence to the argument that Marbury was allowing his numbers to go down for the betterment of the team, which is nice to see from a player (and another reason why basketball statistics are so difficult – as Marbury’s numbers were worse than normal for the “betterment of the team”).

I think a C+ is fair. I was considering a B-, but yeah, that’s probably a BIT high. I wish Marbury would be able to find Curry in the paint more often, but at least, as Mike mentions, Randolph seems to be a good pick and roll partner for Marbury.

Oh, and Marbury also gave us one of the comedic high points of the past NBA year, so that’s something, right?

Knicks 2007 Report Card (A to Z): Steve Francis

KnickerBlogger: When Steve Francis came into the league, his All Star game earned him the nickname “Franchise.” An alliteration on his last name, but Francis hardly deserves that moniker anymore. Along those lines, maybe we can find a few words to describe the Knick guard.

Fragile or Fractious?
The first thing that comes to my head when I think of Francis’ 2007 season is the winter break he took for the month of January. Depending on what you believe either Francis was tending to his knee tendinitis, he quit on the team, or the team asked him to go home. Whatever the reason truly was, Francis missed nearly half the season, which hurts his value.

Last year on the court, Francis had two major strengths. The first was his ability to get to the free throw line and convert. He was second on the team in free throw attempts per minute and third in TS%. Francis was best among the Knick guards in both categories. The second was his rebounding ability. Francis was second among Knick guards in per-minute rebounding, just behind Mardy Collins. This speaks well of Francis’ rebounding, since he gives up 3 inches to the taller Collins. At 6-3, Francis seemed willing to throw himself into the fray on both ends of the court.

No longer a top notch scorer, Francis has dropped nearly 6 points per 40 minutes from his career peak. Therefore his flaws were less tolerable. Francis fractured the Knick offense with his dominance of the ball. He dribbled frantically eating time off the clock, and lost the ball much too often for a guard. His 3.2 TO/40 was right along with stone handed defensive minded big men like Jerome James (3.4 TO/40) and Malik Rose (3.2 TO/40). Ironically this rate is among the best of his career, probably due to his decrease shot attempts which also hit a career low.

KnickerBlogger’s Grade: D+

2008 Outlook:
Francis was traded to Portland in the Zach Randolph deal. It’s unknown at this time whether or not he’ll actually play for them. If Portland does buy him out, who knows where he’ll land.

Dave Crockett: Francis was the most vexing Knick for me personally, though reasonable fans are welcome to disagree. Knickerblogger mentions Francis’ ability to get to the line as one of the best on the team. He was actually 2nd in the league in FTA per 100 FGAs at 51. His 57% TS% was actually a career high–on a career low usage rate. I’d also add that Francis is a quality rebounder at guard–not Jason Kidd quality, but still quite good.

Unfortunately, with Stevie Frequent-Crossover, you get a lot of cloud with that silver lining. Mind you, I do not consider him a selfish player, and his career assist rate of 22.7 (which he topped this season) strongly suggests that he is not. Rather, his particular limitations make him an especially poor fit on this team–a far better fit for say, the Clippers. He’s perfect on isolation plays as a primary offensive option, but a lot of his assists come off his own scoring as opposed to setting up his teammates. He’s a notoriously poor decision-maker on the fastbreak, where he gets a lot of FTAs but frequently won’t pass to teammates for wide open layups. Additionally, he’s a turnover machine. His 06-07 turnover rate (14.2) was ghastly, which should come as no surprise since he’s been almost as turnover-prone as Eddy Curry throughout his career, and just about as bad a defender. I’m not sure I could say that Francis has earned a D. His strengths are so clear-cut but his negatives are magnified on this team. Also, given the team’s willingness to banish Penny Hardaway I’m inclined to give Francis the benefit of the doubt about his month off. Some of his “attitude problems” he’s either outgrown or have been exaggerated. Other than the typical quips about playing time I think he’s been a fairly solid citizen in New York. I think Francis could be a nice fit for a number of teams, just not at his current price. [Ed’s note: this was written before the trade – good foresight Dave!.] If the Knicks could find a taker for his gargantuan contract he’s probably a goner–and better off for it. However, I do not expect Daddy Warbucks to buy Francis out this summer.

Michael Zannettis: In the end, Francis sitting out games was one of the best things he did for the Knicks. That way he neither took away minutes from younger players, nor spent a lot of time proving to teams that he’s not as good as either he used to be, or we all thought he used to be. On that note, I wonder how much Portland plans to play him. Between Webster, Roy, Outlaw, Jack, and Rodriguez, that’s a lot of young backcourt talent that shouldn’t be shelved when the Blazer’s goal this season is to develop, not compete.

Brian Cronin: Francis is one of the best examples of how individual statistics in the NBA are difficult to integrate into the overall game, as someone like Francis can produce very respectable statistical numbers, but at the same time, not fit in with the rest of the team well at all. That’s where scouting becomes so important.

In any event, I probably would give him a D+, but yeah, this was not a good season for Francis.

What’s interesting to me to note is exactly where will Francis end up this season if Portland does, indeed, end up cutting him.

Cleveland showed interest in him last year, but I think that would be a terrible fit.

As would Miami (another team looking for a point guard).

Houston would have been interesting, but then they picked up Mike James. How about Detroit? Indiana, maybe? Milwaukee if Mo Williams doesn’t resign?

I think those three teams would probably be the best matches I can think of – Detroit/Indiana/Milwaukee.

Any team I’m missing?