Draft Day Trade Lacks Direction

Shortly after ESPN announced Zach Randolph was traded to the Knicks, a commenter named Harlan said

“are we really getting upset by dumping frye and francis and getting someone who put up 26 and 10, we have a huge lineup now who can score, they cant double team either and randolph has an outside jumpshot.”

Yes, Harlan. Some of us are really getting upset.

If you asked Knick fans what their team’s main weaknesses are, I would suspect most would say: defense, turnovers, injuries, and cap space. Unfortunately for New York, Zach Randolph doesn’t address any of these issues. Randolph is an awful shot blocker, his 0.2 blk/40 last year made Eddy Curry (0.6 blk/40) look like Raef LaFrentz (1.2 blk/40). As for turnovers, Randolph’s 3.5 to/40 would be second on last year’s Knick team behind only Eddy Curry. There’s no doubt that injuries sunk the Knicks late in the season, and Randolph won’t address that need as he has missed an average of 17.5 games each season over his 6 year career. Finally Zach’s large contract will haunt the Knicks for years to come. Next year he’ll make a little over $13M, and it escalates to $17M in 2011. New York could have conceivably been under the cap in 2009, but notions of signing a free agent have now gone out the window for 4 years.

As for what was given up, it’s no secret that I’ve soured on Channing Frye this year. Frye seemed to be uncomfortable on the court, and it’s uncertain exactly what caused it. However he did flash some talent his first year, and trading him this early in his career could haunt the Knicks in the future. Only last year did Isiah make a “no-brainer” trade involving a young player for a seemingly better veteran that is eerily similar to this deal. Lamentably Trevor Ariza blossomed for the Orlando Magic, while Steve Francis wilted in New York.

On the court this upcoming year, I’m dubious that this trade will make New York better. I imagine Randolph will start next to Curry, relegating David Lee to the bench. This is unfortunate since Lee was arguably the Knicks best player last year. Randolph is a strong scorer and rebounder, but Lee is more efficient and one of the top rebounders in the league. Neither Curry nor Randolph pass well out of double teams, so expect the Knicks’ to cough up the ball even more next year. Additionally one has to wonder if Randolph will make Curry less effective, since both players are post up players who require the ball to be effective. Lee’s “low usage plays away from the ball” game seems to better complement Curry. Of course this trade doesn’t address New York’s defensive weakness, their greatest liability, at least in any positive manner.

In the end, I’m saddened that Isiah didn’t address New York’s most crucial needs at the power forward spot with his trade. Isiah Thomas makes the same mistakes over and over again. He sacrifices young talent (sometimes in the form of draft picks) for overpriced players who show little aptitude on the defensive end. As a friend remarked, Thomas seems to be a fantasy basketball GM, getting players who have flashy offensive per-game numbers with little thought of how they fit together. Unfortunately, New York needs an NBA GM with a cohesive plan on building a team.

Draft Prospects, Part I

With draft night a little more than a week away I thought I?d take a fresh look at some of the players likely to be on Isiah Thomas? radar since posting this in early May. The Knicks, who have conducted pre-draft workouts in conjunction with the rival Nets, appear to have concluded them. Of course, additional workouts are possible, as today?s Post is reporting that the Knicks may be interested in DePaul’s uber-athletic small forward Wilson Chandler.

As one might expect of a team with only a late-first round selection none of the players New York worked out classifies as a collegiate or international superstar, though the list certainly includes some intriguing names. They include (in reverse chronological order): Aaron Gray (Pittsburgh), Herbert Hill (Providence), Jared Jordan (Marist), Marco Belinelli (Fortitudo Bologna, Italy), Daequan Cook (Ohio State), Nick Fazekas (Nevada), Artem Sabelin (Avtodor Saratov, Russia), Taurean Green (Florida), Trey Johnson (Jackson State), Dominic James (Marquette), Ron Lewis (Ohio State), DeVon Hardin (California), Marko Lekic (Vojvodina, Serbia), Jason Smith (Colorado State), Glen ?Big Baby? Davis (LSU), Josh McRoberts (Duke), Nick Young (USC), Stephane Lasme (UMass), Brandon Wallace (S. Carolina), Jamar Wilson (Albany), DeShaun Wood (Wright State), Derrick Byars (Vanderbilt), Sammy Mejia (DePaul), Demitris Nichols (Syracuse) and Curtis Sumpter (Villanova). Of those, Sabelin, Hardin, and James have reportedly withdrawn their names from draft consideration.

I’ll go position-by-position and highlight at most a handful of players who may be available when the Knicks select at #23. The players are listed in no particular order. Player stats come largely from draftexpress.net and team pages and links to player profiles are from nbadraft.net.

Point Guard

Whether you think PG is a position of dire need or a position that could simply use some depth the Knicks could not easily afford to pass over a down the road starter in this draft. Marbury is at the point in his career when he needs to play fewer minutes. Francis’ status with the team remains uncertain. Crawford’s offensive issues and recovery from injury leaves him ideally suited for a sixth man role. Collins remains such an awful shooter it overwhelms what he does well. And Robinson is a SG for all practical purposes.

1. Javaris Crittenton (6’5″, 194#, Ga. Tech)

Crittenton has a similar physical build as Steve Francis and draws favorable comparisons as a player. The comparison is strained for a number of reasons though not implausible. Crittenton is not the same kind of true shooter as Francis. He shot an “okay” 56%. He doesn’t have three point range (and to his credit doesn’t take an inordinate number) but he doesn’t get to the FT line much either (.39 FT/FGA). Crittenton is also a pedestrian decision-maker at this point (1.47 assist-to-turnover on almost 5 TOs/game). He’s clearly talented but far from a finished product. On the plus side the kid is built like a tank, has been widely described as unselfish, and is widely regarded as coachable.

2. Acie Law (6’3″, 195#, Texas A&M)

Law is a do-it-all scoring point, who is solid in every phase–an efficient scorer (60% TS) and a solid passer (1.92:1 assist-to-turnover on just over 3 TOs/game). He doesn’t take a lot of threes but shoots a good percentage. The knock on him is that he’s a slightly bigger Nate Robinson–a natural shooting guard miscast as a point guard because of less-than-ideal size.

3. Taurean Green (6′, 177#, Florida)

Green is a classic beauty-is-in-the-eye-of-the-beholder type. He is not unlike Orlando’s Jameer Nelson, though not as accomplished a college scorer. The major question, given his size limitations, concerns how well his game translates to the NBA. His meal ticket is probably his shooting. He shot a fantastic 63% TS last season, shoots it well from three-point range (40+%) and also gets to the FT line a fair amount (.48 FT/FGA) for someone that took almost 60% of his shots from behind the arc. Green’s natural tendency is to push the ball and look for something easy before pulling it out and running the halfcourt sets. I like that in a guard. Still, he’s a fairly pedestrian passer, as his 1.37:1 assist-to-turnover ratio attests.

4. Gabe Pruitt (6’4″, 170#, USC)

Pruitt is a very athletic point guard who moved over from the SG for Tim Floyd after leading the Trojans in scoring as a freshman. His passing numbers look phenomenal (2.35:1 assist-to-turnover ratio) on only 2.2 TOs/game. A word of caution. Floyd’s offense features a high proportion of post-ups and isolation plays. So my inclination is to interpret those numbers as evidence of Pruitt’s penchant for NOT doing dumb things with the ball rather than evidence suggesting he is a “gifted” passer. I happen to love guards who don’t do dumb things with the ball, so that’s no knock on Pruitt. Pruitt’s also made himself into a good defender. One aspect of his game that does concern me however is what appears to be an overreliance on the three point shot (55% of his FGAs). Combine that with the fact that he doesn’t get to the FT line much and what you have is a decent-but-nothing-special shooter. Ultimately, I think Pruitt may be best on a team where he can backup both guard spots.

5. Aaron Brooks (5’11”, 160#, Oregon)

Brooks is an Eddie House-type shooter. He can put up points in bunches. He is quick enough to get his shot off despite his size. He is best suited to be a second or third guard. Although he is frequently compared to Earl Boykins because of his size he doesn’t quite have Boykins handle but is more athletic.

Up next: shooting guards and small forwards

Could Eddy Curry Cost the Knicks Kobe Bryant?

It’s as official as unofficial gets. According to ESPN.com news services, Kobe Bryant has met with Lakers owner Jerry Buss and re-iterated his desire to be traded. According to ESPNNEWS, Kobe is willing to go to 1 of 3 different teams: Phoenix, Chicago, or New York. Of course it makes sense that the Lakers would refuse to trade Kobe to Phoenix, a Western Conference rival, so essentially it would be a 2 team race.

There’s a lot of speculation concerning possible Kobe deals. Chris Sheridan wrote that New York is a possible front runner, offering Jamal Crawford, David Lee, Channing Frye, Nate Robinson, Randolph Morris, Renaldo Balkman, and a pair of picks (’08 & ’10). Funny thing is, according to ESPN’s own’ trade checker, that deal isn’t possible, since the Knicks would be about $1.5M short with not enough small salaries to match. Even if they did a sign & trade (Cato?) to make the deal cap-frienldy, it would leave the Knicks with a roster similar to Kobe’s current team; one severely devoid of talent. New York’s depth chart would look something like:

PG: Marbury/Collins
SG: Kobe/Francis
SF: Richardson/Jeffries
PF: M.Rose/Jerome James
C: Curry/James/Cato?

The power forward depth chart would be a ghastly Malik Rose/Jerome James combo. The inevitable injury to Quentin Richardson would mean major playing time for both Jared Jeffries and Mardy Collins. New York wouldn’t have a draft pick to shore up their needs until the next Republican president. Glued to the bench for 35 minutes a game, Steve Francis would probably have his third career “in-season vacation”, and trading him would only leave a hole at reserve shooting guard. Isiah Thomas would only be left with the mid-level exception to build the team, and his previous acquisitions of Vin Baker, Jerome James, and Jared Jeffries wouldn’t instill me with confidence that he could acquire enough spare parts to build around Kobe.

Chad Ford imagines an interesting scenario: a 3-way deal concerning Los Angeles, Washington, and Chicago. The Bulls would send Ben Gordon, Tyrus Thomas, P.J. Brown to make the salaries match, and this year’s #9 pick. The Wizards would send their disgruntled superstar (Arenas) to the Lakers, and receive the Bulls’ young players. Meanwhile Chicago would net Kobe with enough of a team remaining to be highly competitive. This would be a more palatable deal for Los Angeles, who get a star in Arenas in return. Even if Washington isn’t interested in moving Arenas, Chicago can offer this deal to Los Angeles directly. Either Arenas or the Bulls package would give Los Angeles bigger name recognition and more talent than the one Sheridan proposed above

From a Knick perspective, what’s most curious about Ford’s proposal are the Chicago players involved. Chicago received Tyrus Thomas and the #9 pick from New York in the Eddy Curry trade. So with the rival Bulls in a much better position to get one of the premiere talents in the NBA, I can’t help to wonder if the Knicks would be in a better position to get Kobe had they not made the Eddy Curry trade? In this alternative world New York could send David Lee, who would fit Gordon’s role as young possible All Star, and Steve Francis who would not only match Kobe’ salary, but would be a useful replacement. An offer of David Lee, Tyrus Thomas, the #9 pick, and Steve Francis is just as good if not better than Ford’s trade. In this scenario, the Bulls wouldn’t have Thomas or the #9 pick to compete against New York’s offer, and instead Chicago would be the lesser player in this negotiation. New York could still increase the offer by including youngsters Balkman, Robinson, and/or Collins. In such a trade, New York’s depth chart would look like:

PG: Marbury/(Robinson/Collins)
SG: Kobe/Francis/Crawford/(Robinson)
SF: Richardson/(Balkman)/Jeffries
PF: M.Rose/(Balkman)
C: Frye/James/Cato?

Assuming that the Knicks don’t have to sweeten the pot with their young trio, the franchise would have better depth and more assets to trade than in Sheridan’s scenario. Crawford and Francis would both be expendable, and could be used to upgrade the F/C positions. Even Balkman, Collins, or Robinson could be moved to fit the team around Kobe’s needs. New York would finally have the marquee player they’ve sought since Ewing was traded. But most importantly, the Knicks would have a powerhouse team to end their 6 year declinasty.

Of course this is just speculation. The Wizards may wish to reconcile with Arenas. The Bulls might be forced to make a stronger offer containing Deng. A third team like the Pacers or Timberwolves might try to acquire Kobe. Or Kobe might rescind his trade demand and stay put. But if, or I should say, IF Kobe does get traded to Chicago for a package that included the fruit of the Eddy Curry trade, I’d spend a lot of time wondering if Eddy Curry cost the Knicks Kobe Bryant.

Jermaine O’Knick?

Sam Smith of the Chicago Tribune reports that Jermaine O’Neal has asked to be traded to the New York Knicks.

But sources say O’Neal already has told the Pacers he wants to be traded to the Knicks and former Pacers coach and close friend Isiah Thomas. Would the Pacers take Stephon Marbury or maybe a package with Steve Francis, Jared Jeffries and Channing Frye and the Bulls’ first-round pick, which the Knicks own in the swap?

While I’m not particularly familiar with Smith’s work, the article reads like the Peter Vecsey of the mid-West, especially with “sources say” line. But since it’s only the beginning of the second round of the playoffs, which means the draft is still far off and the next official Knick game even further, now is a good time to fantasize about such things.

First off, I’d like to say Jermaine O’Neal is exactly the kind of player the Knicks need. He’s a legitimate All Star, something the team hasn’t had since 2001. O’Neal would also give the Knicks a strong defensive presence in the middle, something they haven’t had since 2001. Although he’s had a lot of mileage, O’Neal will only be 29 next season, so he’s not likely to decline severely. In fact taller players tend to age better.

On the other hand, recently O’Neal has missed his fair share of games. Suspensions and injuries has limited him to an average of 55 games over the last 3 years. Additionally Indiana still has an NBA rivalry with New York, so it’s not likely that they’ll send O’Neal over gift wrapped. And lest we forget that the Pacers’ GM Larry Bird isn’t in Isiah Thomas’ 5. Finally do the Knicks have enough assets to trade for Jermaine? Or more importantly, can Isiah come up with a package for O’Neal without bankrupting the Knicks?

It’s still early in the rampant speculation season of the NBA. Between now and the draft nearly every quasi-available All Star will be rumored to be traded to one team or another. But for now it’s Jermaine O’Neal to the Knicks. Dream on, Knick fans.

A Quick Sneak Peek Draft Prospects

With the Twenty-Third Pick the New York Knicks Select?

While we are still in the midst of playoff fever I wanted to post a position-by-position thumbnail sketch of the players Isiah Thomas is most likely to consider at #23. (Of course, as Thomas proved by selecting Renaldo Balkman last June anyone’s guess is as good as mine.) I’ll do something more substantial, time permitting, closer to the draft.

PGs

Thoughts: This is probably the draft?s thinnest position top to bottom. The Knicks seem unlikely to look for a PG. Yet you cannot rule out Thomas looking for the ?best player available.?

1. Mike Conley, Jr., Ohio St., Fr. ? if he stays he will be off the board by #23; considered the best pure point in the draft

2. Javaris Crittenton, Ga. Tech, Fr. ? he will likely return to school; compared to Steve Francis athletically, only he is more turnover prone

3. Acie Law, Texas A&M, Sr. ? combo guard was not especially efficient until his senior year

4. Gabe Pruitt, USC, Jr. ? likely a 2nd round pick, but his style is tailor-made to dazzle at the pre-draft camp’s glorified pick-up games

5. Mustafa Shakur, Arizona, Sr. ? ditto; Shakur is a pure point guard, totally unselfish, but prone to poor decision-making (his shot also needs to be completely reconstructed)

SG/SFs

Thoughts: The deepest position in a draft is usually ?swingman? and this draft is no different. The best value at #23 will probably be here.

1. Arron Afflalo, UCLA, Jr. ? projects as primarily as a defensive specialist and rebounder; a capable though not outstanding scorer

2. Morris Almond ? big-time scorer that brings little else to the table

3. Derrick Byers, Vanderbilt ? a complete prospect; draft position may depend on whether he really is 6?7?

4. Rudy Fernandez, Spain ? combo guard stands roughly a foot taller than Nate Robinson yet is 8 lbs. lighter

5. Alando Tucker ? virtually the same skill set as Arron Afflalo

6. Nick Young, USC, Jr. ? increased efficiency each year at USC; plays NBA caliber defense

7. Marcus Williams, Arizona, So. ? a better defender and rebounder than usually given credit for, but didn?t improve as a sophomore; long player with high basketball IQ

8. Julian Wright, Kansas, So. ? a bit of a jack-of-all trades; very good passer and long-armed defender (very unlikely to drop to #23)

PF

Thoughts: This position is also very deep, and has perhaps the draft?s most intriguing prospects from a Knicks perspective. It features a number of players that don?t necessarily need to score to be effective. I am listing the second tier power forwards most likely available at #23.

1. Jared Dudley, Boston College ? classic case of “do you focus on what he can do or cannot do?”; likely a 2nd rounder but a team could easily fall in love with him in workouts

2. Spencer Haws, Washington, Fr. ? super-hyped prep prospect with a pro-ready 18-foot shot, excellent passer; upside could be limited because he doesn?t jump out of the gym

3. Josh McRoberts, Duke, So. ? ditto; however McRoberts is a very underrated defender and rebounder as well as a gifted passer

4. Jason Smith, Colorado St., Jr. ? 7-foot shooter in the Brian Cook/Channing Frye mold

5. Tiago Splitter, Brazil ? has appeared in mock drafts seemingly forever; nbadraft.net compares him to P.J. Brown

6. Thaddeus Young, Ga. Tech., Fr. ? gifted lefty athlete with undeveloped skills; should stay in school but pre-draft camp might disguise his deficiencies

7. Sean Williams, Boston College, Jr. ? PERFECT fit for the Knicks; long-limbed shot-blocker with Camby?s shot-blocking instincts but a better developed body; unfortunately he?s a bona fide knucklehead, kicked off Al Skinner?s Boston College squad for repeated drug offenses (sigh); no sane executive should hand this kid first round money to piss away

C

Thoughts: As you are probably well aware the real value at this position is almost always at the top of the board.

1. Marc Gasol, Spain ? Pao?s younger brother is 270 with a well-developed post game
2. Aaron Gray ? he?s definitely a ?beauty is in the eye of the beholder? prospect; poor footwork but very good hands

Would you want Telfair on the Knicks?

Apparently, Sebastian Telfair’s career with the Boston Celtics is over, and Telfair’s career is in some serious jeopardy. That being said, certainly SOME team out there will give him another chance.

The question is – should it be the Knicks?

As commenter “Hudson River” points out, the downsides are:

He is another Shoot first point guard, but he can?t shoot. He doesn?t get along with Stephon at all. He could very well practice on the practice team, but whose minutes would he take? Not Marbury or Collins or even Steve Francis.

The upsides, of course, is that he is 21 years old and has a crap load of “talent.”

He can’t be expecting much money right now, can he? The Knicks could probably get it done without using their whole mid-level exemption.

But is it worth it?

I am not sure, but it’s definitely an interesting new wrinkle to the Knicks’ offseason.

KnickerBlogger’s Anti-Tank Idea

The NBA’s dirty little secret is out, and everyone knows that teams are intentionally losing games down the stretch. Franchises that have been eliminated from the playoffs and held on to their pick (sorry Knick fans) can reward themselves by losing games down the stretch. And I can’t say I blame them. Athletes are trained from day 1 that winning is the ultimate goal (right Herm?) and a lot of players will resort to just about any means that accomplishes that goal. I’m sure Knick fans aren’t outraged when Malik Rose gets a handful of jersey when he performs his “pull the chair out from under the guy” routine. While an illegal move, if he can get away with it, Rose would be foolish not to keep it in his repertoire. The same goes for the league’s franchises. Would Milwaukee or Memphis or Boston be doing their team a disservice by trying to win down the stretch, when they can put an inferior lineup on the floor? Yes, as long as they can get away with it.

There has been some discussion in the media about possible solutions. One idea, which I think Mike Wilbon of PTI fame has been touting, would be to give all non-playoff teams an equal chance at the lottery (or the “one team one envelope” rule). The downside to this solution is that teams that really need help may not get it, which is antithetical to the draft’s purpose. Imagine if the Clippers or Pacers landed that #1 overall pick this year, while Boston or Memphis sat at #14. A team could finish in last place for 3 straight seasons, and would only have a 51% of getting one top 3 pick (for those scoring with a calculator at home that equation is 1-[11/14]^3). Not only would this solution cause an imbalance in the league, but it would give conspiracy theorists something else to harp on. To this day there are people convinced that Patrick Ewing to the Knicks was an NBA orchestrated event.

Bill Simmons has proposed a tournament where the top 6 teams in each conference are guaranteed playoff spots, and everyone else plays for those last remaining playoffs spots. It’s an interesting concept, but it’s just as easy to circumvent. No one in their right mind would think that if Boston or Memphis won a mini-tournament, they could go on and take the Pistons or Mavs in 7. So this doesn’t really address the problem. Why would a team risk losing a franchise player like Durant or Oden in order to have the privilege of getting spanked by the first or second seed? Teams will be tanking games in the tournament just as they would if it were a regular season game. In fact they would only have to purposely lose one game with this method.

Other solutions include handing out fines to teams that tank, shortening the season, and eliminating the lottery altogether. David Stern’s office could fine teams that are throwing games, but this would be a hard rule to enforce. Often teams have players fake injuries, and disproving something like knee tendinitis would be impossible (right Steve?). And an eliminated team could say they’re trying to give extra playing time to their end of bench guys. Shortening the season would take revenue from both the players and owners, so that option is out the window. And removing the lottery would just exacerbate the problem. In fact that’s what the lottery was created for in the first place, so that teams wouldn’t tank down the stretch.

So what’s a league to do? Here is a fool proof solution: set the lottery order earlier in the season, like at the All Star Game. In other words take a snapshot of the standings at the the All Star break and use that as a basis for the lottery. Obviously only the teams that fail to make the playoffs will participate in the lottery. The only teams that this might give an advantage to are teams like the Sixers who have a good second half. But then again, that’s what we want bad teams to do, win games down the stretch (and Philly was trying to rebuild with the Iverson trade). No team is going to start the season losing, because attendance is linked to winning percentage. And also they might have a Cinderella team in the making (2005 Sonics, I’m looking at you), which would net them profit due to a playoff series (7 games series means that both teams get at least 2 home games).

Below is a chart with the lottery team’s All Star Game ranking (ASG), and their end of season ranking (EOS).

ASG Rank EOS Rank Team
11 20 Indiana Pacers
16 24 Minnesota Timberwolves
17 17 Los Angeles Clippers
18 18 New Orleans Hornets
21 22 New York Knicks
22 21 Sacramento Kings
23 25 Portland Trail Blazers
24 27 Atlanta Hawks
25 26 Seattle SuperSonics
26 23 Charlotte Bobcats
27 28 Milwaukee Bucks
28 19 Philadelphia 76ers
29 30 Memphis Grizzlies
30 29 Boston Celtics