Getting Ready for the Draft

Given all the craziness surrounding the Knicks these days who the heck can say what Thomas has planned for the draft, if anything? The best bet?not to be mistaken for a good bet, mind you?is that the upcoming draft will constitute only a small part of the roster changes to take place this summer. The Knicks may stand pat with their two late first round picks (#20 and #29; no second round picks) and do some wheeling and dealing after the free agent period opens. Rumors also identify the Knicks as one of several teams looking to wheel and deal on draft night, packaging multiple picks in order to move up. Of course, the actual player personnel moves may prove the least interesting draft night story.

Mr. Orange, of selltheknicks.com, is planning a protest at Madison Square Garden, and is getting pretty good coverage of his efforts. Orange is hoping to embarrass the erstwhile Knick brass on national TV and perhaps motivate David Stern to take a visible mediation role between the feuding front office and estranged coach Larry Brown. Of course, by draft night Larry Brown may have moved from merely estranged to officially unemployed. The Knicks may be introducing Isiah Thomas, or in a rumor that has Gator Nation all abuzz, former Knick guard Billy Donovan as the new coach. [Update: As of 10:15am EDT Thursday ESPN is reporting that Larry Brown has been fired and replaced as head coach by Isiah Thomas.] So pull up a chair. Throw some popcorn in the microwave and check it out on June 28th (Wednesday) at 7pm EDT on ESPN. It should make for good TV. Oh yeah, the Knicks might also draft a couple players.

Assuming that Thomas keeps the picks, who are some of the players he might consider? In fairness the draft has been the one area of Isiah?s tenure that has been a qualified success. He has generally been faithful to a ?best player available? approach. That’s probably the best approach for finding value at 20 and 29. In recent years a number of serviceable players have been drafted there including Jameer Nelson (#20, Denver) and David Harrison (#29, Indiana) in 2004, Dahntay Jones (#20, Memphis) and Josh Howard (#29, Dallas) in 2003, Kareem Rush (#20, LA Lakers) in 2002, Brendon Haywood (#20, Cleveland) in 2001, Craig ?Speedy? Claxton (#20, Philadelphia) and Mark Madsen (#29, LA Lakers) in 2000.

Is another Josh Howard lurking in this year?s draft at the end of the first round? Here?s a position-by-position look at players likely to be available at 20 or 29 (in alphabetical order) with links to player profiles on NBAdraft.net.

Point Guards. The Knicks have a number of players on the roster who all play minutes at point guard (i.e., Marbury, Francis, Crawford, and Robinson). Nonetheless, this is a deep draft for point guards. A number of players may be available who could contribute, particularly if one of the current guards is moved.

  1. Mardy Collins (PG/SG/SF, Temple) ? reminds me a lot of Aaron McKie circa, 2000.
  2. Quincy Douby (PG/SG, Rutgers) ? everything I?ve read makes him sound like current Atlanta sharpshooter Saleem Stoudamire.
  3. Jordan Farmar (PG, UCLA) ? at 20 he?s very nice value; earlier than that he?s a gamble because he?s pretty good at everything not great at anything.
  4. Kyle Lowry (PG, Villanova) ? little guy who lacks Nate Robinson?s absurd athleticism but makes better decisions.
  5. Rajon Rondo (PG, Kentucky) ? likely would fit best on a team that does not need points from that position; plays NBA ready defense right now.

Shooting Guards. The shooting guard position is stocked with the likes of Q-Rich, Crawford, and whichever of the combo guards is not playing the point. The draft at this position is not especially deep, with likely only three SGs in the mix between 18 and 29.

  1. Maurice Ager (SG, Michigan State) ? like most Tom Izzo players, he’s athletic, competitive, and aggressive on defense.
  2. Ronnie Brewer (SG/SF, Arkansas) ? a do-it-all type who struggles with his perimeter shot; likely to be off the board by #20 but could slide depending on trades.
  3. Shannon Brown (SG, Michigan State) ? see Ager; they?re very similar players.

Small Forward. The Knicks situation at small forward is a bit unsettled. Jalen Rose remains the starter but in Isiah Thomas’ world his contract, in its final year, makes him a distinct trade possibility. Q-Rich is a natural small forward who has played out of position in New York at shooting guard. Qyntel Woods played quite well at times this season but has yet to be re-signed. David Lee has bounced back and forth between both forward spots. The draft appears to be a bit top-heavy at small forward; great talent at the top (e.g., Morrison, Carney, Gay, Roy) but drops off quite a bit afterwards.

  1. Hassan Adams (G/F, Arizona) ? Adams is a Ruben Patterson quality defender, but at 6?4? is undersized, and maturity is an issue; likely a 2nd rounder.
  2. Louis Amundson (SF, UNLV) ? a four year player at UNLV. An energy guy, like a shorter David Lee.
  3. Steve Novak (SF, Marquette) ? a Pat Garrity type stand-still shooter.
  4. P.J. Tucker (SF/PF, Texas) ? an undersized ?power? small forward, like George Lynch but with more offense.
  5. Shawne Williams (SF, Memphis) ? a talented but raw freshman from Memphis who is another do-it-all (on offense) type.

Power Forward/Center. The Knicks currently have a lot of bodies at PF and C, including prized youngsters Curry, Frye, Butler, and Lee, though none is much of a rebounder (save Butler and Lee) or shot blocker.

  1. Hilton Armstrong (PF/C, UConn) ? had a good senior year at UConn; could be a Stephen Hunter-like one year wonder.
  2. Josh Boone (PF/C, UConn) ? a shot blocker/rebounder, but lacks explosion and some question his motivation.
  3. Alexander Johnson (PF/C, Florida St.) ? undersized and turnover prone, but precisely the kind of explosive shot-blocker/rebounder Larry Brown drools for. So Thomas probably wants nothing to do with him.
  4. Saer Sene (C, Senegal) ? extremely long-limbed (7?8? wingspan!!), athletic but raw big man from Senegal; probably not an immediate contributor.

Observations On The Eve of the Summer of Our Discontent (Conclusion)

Well, let?s wrap this up by looking at the other component of a strategic plan for the Knicks. (If you didn?t catch Part I and Part II go check them out.)

I suggested in Part II that by publicly backing Larry Brown the Knicks have made a de facto commitment to rebuild via the functional model. In this approach all the players, even superstar players, have well-delimited roles. Brown has been quite explicit about this, publicly stating his desire for players who can perform the following functions:

* Three guards that can bring the ball up against the press (presumably at least one is a pass-first point guard)
?
* Two small forwards (one that can play big guard, another that can play power forward if necessary)
?
* Four guys that can guard the post

In order for the Knicks to assemble the roster of Brown?s dreams however, they must get their fiscal house into some semblance of order. To that end, I would offer that the team’s strategic rebuilding plan should include a second major objective.

Objective #2: Institute a Zero-Growth Budget

We can all agree that the Knicks are in the seventh layer of salary cap hell, a place where the sign over the gate reads ?abandon your championship hopes all ye who enter.?

I teach college juniors and seniors, many of whom will graduate with enormous debt loads. Yet many of them exhibit better fiscal discipline than this organization. As one reader mentioned in the comments section of Part II, it seems as if Dolan is living out a boyhood fantasy. He tosses money around like he’s the BMOC. Back in the reality-based world however, Mr. Dolan is just another daydreamer doing a bid in the NBA debtor?s prison. He’s bound at the ankles to limited players with ridiculous contracts, a brilliant coach with exaggerated ego needs, and a front office in shambles. What’s worse is that all these parties are pulling in separate directions.

Zero-Growth Budget. A budget with limited or no growth would require more disciplined transactions, forcing the front office to walk away from many of the deals that have taken a bad problem and made it virtually intractable. Many reputable consumer debt counseling programs will demand that people destroy their credit card(s) in order to participate in the program. The reason is simple. Additional debt, regardless of the reason, can push some people into complete financial ruin. The same basic logic holds in professional sports managed by a salary cap. New York?s lack of fiscal discipline, and increasingly inane rationalizations for it, has put it in a position where it can no longer be competitive. Thomas?s efforts to swap expiring deals for so-called proven talent have proven too costly (e.g., Curry), superfluous (e.g., Jalen Rose), or worse, have robbed more deserving young players of needed development (i.e., Mo Taylor/Jackie Butler). Though he clearly bears the responsibility for this oddball collection of? ahem? talent, it would be a mistake to conclude that he simply should have gotten better players. The Knicks are a perfect illustration of how such thinking leads down the path to salary cap oblivion. Salary caps, for all their faults, punish the undisciplined and the intransigent who think they are being creative and clever.

A zero-growth budget is of course a bit of a misnomer. The Knicks will at bare minimum add draft picks to the cap each June, and presumably some players in trade. The real focus of the zero-growth budget is on free agency. New York?s free agency involvement is officially limited to free agent exemptions like the mid-level exemption (MLE), though more practically it also involves sign-and-trade deals.

The Knicks should treat the MLE the same way I treat the ?checks? I get in the mail from credit card companies. I shred them and put them in the trash because cashing those ?checks? worsens my financial situation rather than helps it. Just like those hyper-inflated loans masquerading as free money, the MLE market is systematically overpriced. It is the nature of any capped system to put a premium on the talent that lies between ?replacement level? and star quality. The Knicks have already paid far too high a premium in dollars, years added to the cap, and draft picks for other people?s headaches. Enough already; the Knicks will simply have to make do with less expensive role players from the veteran?s minimum market (i.e., NBA vets, D-League, CBA, and international players), undrafted rookies, and the NBA draft.

In the trade market, the overriding zero-growth principle is that no deal should add (net) salary or years to the cap. The kind of deal we want brings in players who perform a particular function and who match the trade counterpart in dollars and years. What we wish to avoid are the kinds of deals the real Isiah makes that net us a useless (on this team anyway) Steve Francis, depreciating in trade value by the day, while adding years to the cap.

One place Mr. Dolan?s mega-bucks, and his apparent willingness to throw them around, can actually help is in creating additional roster space by swallowing one or more contracts. Extra roster space can potentially enable the team to move one of the monster contracts by allowing the Knicks to take back multiple players. The Knicks could use targeted buyouts to help clear roster space. Even though teams hate to pay players not to play as a matter of religion, it may well may be worth it to create enough roster flexibility to move a bad contract without adding to the cap. Although bought out contracts stay on the cap, settlements do not. It would just be money out of Dolan?s pocket. Buyouts are one way Dolan can use his built-in cash advantage to actually help rather than hurt the team’s competitiveness.

The most interesting thing about selling a zero-growth budget to the fan base is that Isiah?s most fiscally prudent moves have been by far his best competitive moves, dollar-for-dollar. Thomas has drafted reasonably well, in sharp contrast to Layden, Grunfeld, and Riley. He plucked the likes of Jackie Butler, Qyntel Woods, and DeMarr Johnson (Denver) from the veteran?s minimum scrap heap, and each produced a 12 or higher PER this season. Since his best work occurs at the low end of the pay scale it seems the Knicks would do well financially and competitively to insist that he his focus his efforts there, and not allow his gaze to be diverted by anything shiny, sporting a high price tag.

So that?s it; a strategic plan with two straightforward objectives: pick a rebuilding plan and implement a zero-growth budget. Will the Knicks do anything like this during the off-season? I certainly hope so but what the hell do I know? I?m just some guy writing about an organization I know nothing about unless it appears in the newspaper. But, the NBA isn?t brain surgery. It?s pretty clear to anyone and everyone outside Madison Square Garden that the Knicks have mindlessly spent their way into oblivion, and currently have no idea how to get themselves out. So what else is there really but to pick a direction and quit mindlessly spending money? So get on with it already. Yeesh.

The Dead Zone

For good or bad, the Knicks have had their share of exciting stories this year. Over the summer New York acquired Eddy Curry, a 23 year old center with heart problems. They’ve grabbed one of the best coaches in the game in Larry Brown, and the Knicks have no shortage of young players. For a few months Channing Frye was one of the forerunners in the Rookie of the Year award. Slam Dunk Champion Nate Robinson is the 5-foot-something guard who combines a football player’s mentality with a childish enthusiasm for the game. David Lee, a solid rebounder, had a dunk last week against the Hawks that showed he might be worth more than the average 30th round pick.

Second year player Jackie Butler just turned old enough to buy beer legally and shows plenty of promise for someone that never played a game in college. That Butler has made it into the big show at all is a story of itself, and if he can stick around in this league it would be an incredible achievement. Those that have read the Last Shot know how perfectly aligned everything has to be to make the NBA and how hoop dreams end more like Darryl Flickling’s than Stephon Marbury’s. A similar statement could be said for Qyntel Woods, who is running out of teams to make himself unwelcome on.

The Knicks picked up Jerome James who would give them size in the middle, something they’ve desperately needed since the days of Camby & Ewing. At the small forward spot Quentin Richardson had the most 3 pointers made in 2005, and the recently acquired Jalen Rose is versatile on the offensive end. My least favorite player last year, Jamal Crawford, has shown immense improvement in his weakest area: shot selection. And finally Steve Francis is a 3 time All Star, and his arrival gives the Knicks an odd scoring punch in the backcourt.

So, how can a team with so many interesting stories field such a boring team? There are too many offensive plays where the ball ends up in the stands. Too many times two players end up in the same spot. On defense, when the Knicks aren’t allowing their opponents an easy path to the rim, they’ve giving them a second chance to complete the job. Too often they’re down by 12 in the first, and you know they’re not coming back.

Knick-nation will spend the next 6 months arguing over who is to blame: Isiah Thomas for assembling a roster of overated players, Larry Brown’s inflexibile ways making a bad team the laughing stock in the league, or James Dolan for his emporer’s new clothes act. And while there is plenty of finger wagging to spread around to those three, as far as I’m concerned the onus for the on the court product belongs to the players and more specifically the veterans.

There seems to be a general malaise among the non-rookies. Against Toronto there was one play that sticks out in my mind, a defensive rebound that bounced past Eddy Curry, Jalen Rose, and Steve Francis before ending up in Raptor hands. These were three veterans with a combined 24 years of experience, and none of them knows that if they see a basketball bouncing past them that it’s a good idea to secure it. It’s ironic, because in that same game Nate Robinson went full speed into the scorer’s table chasing the rock, sending a pile of papers into the air in a failed attempt. How is it that a rookie is setting the proper example in putting the extra effort to get another possession? The sloppy play and lack of effort makes the games painful to watch. The 2006 Knicks are like a Steven King novel, they’re a great read but awful when translated into video.

Starbury Stuck in the Doggy Door

The ongoing soap opera style feud between coach and star player hit rock bottom yesterday (well, hopefully). Brown, in a press conference, ripped “Marbury a.k.a. Starbury” a new one, questioning his willingness to “play the right way,” as well as his [basketball] IQ. According to David Waldstein in today’s Newark Star Ledger:

[Brown] also put the onus on Marbury when he said that if the point guard hasn’t by now grasped his basic concepts of defense, rebounding and unselfish play then, “it’s not on me.” Said the coach: “The bottom line is, I want us to rebound the ball, share the ball, defend and play hard. That’s all. If you can’t do that, if that’s not important enough to you, it’s not on me. It’s not on me. And you owe it to your teammates to do that every single night if you care about the right things.”

Not that the Knicks haven’t been spiraling toward rock bottom since January but they are unmistakably there now. Sigh.

A good friend of mine tells a great story about being in a bad relationship, hitting rock bottom, having to just get up and walk away in the middle of the night, but forgetting his keys. When he returned the next day to pick up his things the doors were, not surprisingly, locked. Long story short: he got himself stuck trying to crawl in through the doggy door. It took him 30 minutes to finally slither through and get his things. During that half-hour stuck in the doggy door his mini epiphany was that he knew he’d hit rock bottom; that for all practical purposes he’d seen the worst. In an odd way he said it was kind of freeing. He looked at things differently from then on.

Marbury is stuck in his own personal doggy door. How he handles himself will in large part set the trajectory for his remaining playing days and his legacy as a player, such that it is.

Here are the two questions about this Brown-Marbury feud I’ll be looking to see answered over the remaining 20 painful games.

1. Is there any method to Brown’s madness?

The conspiracy theorist in me thinks that Brown’s constant public agitation of Marbury was designed to bait him into an outburst, or at least that such an outburst was the most likely consequence. It certainly had the effect–if not the intent–of opening the door for the coach to assert his authority in a very public way. Marbury has had institutional power over all of his previous coaches, forcing them to publicly coddle him; but not Brown.

So this must be some Marine Corps-inspired training designed to first humiliate then re-make Marbury, right? Brown wants Marbury–and everyone else–to know that he’s the man in no uncertain terms, right? That must be it because otherwise there would have been no need to constantly denigrate him in the press. (If nothing else it further diminished the already tiny possibility of trading him.) Well, if this is all part of some master plan then Brown has clearly taken the high ground (if not the high road) with yesterday’s press conference. He now has Marbury right where he wants him. Of course it’s far easier to tear people down than to build them up, which is one reason the Marine Corps training style tends not to work so well outside the Corps. So now what? I for one have no idea but am gonna be damned interested to see what Brown does next.

2. When will it set in on Marbury that he entered a battle he cannot possibly win? What will he do?

Irrespective of whether Brown intentionally baited Marbury into his outburst following the Denver loss, he has thrown him completely under the proverbial bus for it. Brown has also drawn an equally proverbial line in the sand (“I wish he would turn into Starbury.”), a line Marbury may now lack the skills to cross–even if he has the temerity. It is now clear that Starbury glows a little dimmer than he used to. He has reached the point where he’s closer to his physical decline than to his physical peak, and that fact coupled with a few others make him far less powerful than he has ever been in a coach player relationship. Should Brown follow through on his thinly veiled threat to start Steve Francis and move Marbury to the bench Steph could do little to forestall it with his play. He is for the first time something less than a monumental upgrade over his backup. Peter Vescey may be the closest thing he has to a friend in the media who might portray him as a sympathetic figure over Brown–a thought that sends a shudder down my spine. He has an untradeable contract and little bargaining position with which to coax a favorable offseason buyout if it comes to that.

So now I can’t wait to see Marbury’s next move. He has little choice but to play ball the way Brown wants or pout. If recent history is any indication he’ll choose the latter. If he does then this thing will become “reality TV” series worthy. I hope I am wrong about his choice. In any event I think the next 20 games will tell us just about everything we need to know about Stephon Marbury as a player.

Isiah’s Latest Trade Is A No-Brainer

In terms of talent this trade is a no-brainer. Penny Hardaway is 6 years and 2 knees removed from his last good season. Meanwhile Trevor Ariza is a liability in the half court set, and unless you’re Ben Wallace it doesn’t normally work to play 4 on 5. Steve Francis can put the ball in the hoop, and is just a shade under 20 points per game for his career. He’s an excellent rebounder for a guard, and can dish the ball as well. In other words Francis is a nice addition to your fantasy team. But in the real world, Stevie Franchise joining the Knicks is a fantasy only for the rest of the league.

There’s more to consider about the Knicks’ latest trade than just talent. Francis comes with a franchise sized contract that tops out at $17M before expiring in 2009. Adding Francis’ contract to Marbury’s, Richardson’s, Crawford’s, and Jerome James’ means New York will be over the cap until 2009. Grabbing another long term deal in Francis shows the Knicks are committed to never being under the cap. If that doesn’t signal the end of the Knicks rebuilding plans, then there’s always the sobering reality that they traded a player who has yet to have his first legal beer for a 29 year old former All Star. With the deal boiling down to Ariza & a piece of paper with Penny Hardaway’s signature on it for Francis, it’s hard to argue that the Knicks are trying to get younger anymore.

Meanwhile it’s clear that Francis isn’t a complimentary player for this Knicks team. Just about the last player New York needs is another low percentage-turnover prone-needs the ball in his hands-player. Throw in that a Francis-Marbury backcourt means that every night one opposing guard will have an unobstructed view to the hoop, and it means that the Knicks defensive woes will just get worse. As for demeanor, Francis pouted his way through the first half of this season for a bad Orlando team under strict disciplinarian Bob Hill. I would have paid to see the look on Steve’s face when he was told he was sent to the only team in the league having the combination of a worse record and stricter coach. [KnickerBlogger ASCII artist rendition of that face :-\ ]

Ardent Isiah supporters point to how much more talented Francis is, and how easy it will be to move Taylor & Rose with their expiring contracts over the summer. But I have to ask, what kind of players will Isiah get by dangling those players in front of the league’s GMs? Don?t you think if Steve Francis was worth more than an expiring contract and a raw twenty year old, the Magic would have taken that deal instead? Using the expiring contract technique the Knicks have only been able to grab players who have one foot out the door in their current city. Marbury, Crawford, Curry, Rose, Taylor, James, Richardson, and Francis all come from teams desperate to get rid of them. The Knicks haven’t been able to get players that fit their needs. Instead New York can only acquire the league’s undesirables.

So while Francis is better than both players the Knicks shipped away for him, he’s doesn’t he add to the team’s trading flexibility. Nor does he become more valuable after another year in his third team. Nor does he fit into any rebuilding plans. Francis doesn’t even address the team most important on the court needs.

Yup sounds like a no-brainer to me.

Looking at the 2005 NBA Draft (Part III)

[This entry is brought to you by Knickerblogger.net’s Director of College Scouting, Dave Crockett. As always, I can be reached at dcrockett17@yahoo.com]

In part two I evaluated the NBA draft for Eastern Conference teams based on their strategy, either best player available or need/fit. Now, let?s take a look at the Western Conference teams. To review briefly, I will review each team?s draft based on its apparent strategy and categorize it as ?Accept,? ?Revise and resubmit,? or ?Reject.? Players are listed by overall selection number, name, height (with shoes), wingspan (if available), weight (lbs.), position, and school.

Western Conference

Dallas Mavericks

* No selections in this draft

Denver Nuggets

* Strategy: Need/fit

* Review: Revise and Resubmit (minor changes)

20. Julius Hodge (6-7, 7-0-1/2, 202.2#), G, N. Carolina State

27. Linas Kleiza (6-8, NA, 235#), F, Missouri?

35. Ricky Sanchez (6-11, NA, 215#), SF, IMG Academy JC (FL) ?

55. Axel Herville (6-9, NA, 230#), PF, Spain

? Denver acquired the rights to F Linas Klieza (the 27th overall selection) and F Ricky Sanchez (the 35th overall selection) for the rights to G Jarrett Jack (the 22nd overall selection).

Denver?s top priority is a (big) scoring guard, preferably one with good range. However, a reasonably deep free agent class coupled with veterans facing their impending release via the new ?amnesty? provision (e.g., Allan Houston and Michael Finley) in the CBA and the Nuggets could wind up with a quality 2nd tier free agent SG for their MLE, or perhaps even just part of it. Given this I generally like what Denver did in the draft. Hodge was asked to carry a lot of dead weight this season at N.C. State. He was asked to create offense for others and to score. Having so much asked of him affected his offense in my opinion. He is a better shooter than his final season indicated. He is a superb ball handler, a leader, very adept at getting others involved, and capable of putting a team on his skinny little shoulders at times as we saw against UConn in the NCAA tournament. Linas Kleiza has nice versatility. He?s tough, a physical rebounder with some range on his shot. However, I rated Wayne Simien and David Lee higher. Of course, the fact that Kleiza can develop overseas without costing the Nuggets any money may have played a role in his selection.

Golden State Warriors

* Strategy: Need/Best Player Available

* Review: Revise and resubmit (minor changes)

9. Ike Diogu (6-8, 7-3-1/2, 255.4#), PF, Arizona State

40. Monta Ellis (6-3-1/4, 6-2-3/4, 176.6#), G, Lanier HS (MS)

42. Chris Taft (6-9-1/2, 7-1-3/4, 261.0#), PF, Pittsburgh

It appears that Golden State was poised to take the best power forward available, whether Channing Frye, Villanueva, or Diogu. During the leadup to the draft it became more and more difficult to find people who think Diogu won?t be able to translate his game to the NBA. For all the talk about Diogu being undersized he measured only one-half inch shorter in shoes than Sean May and has a broader wingspan by more than two inches. Diogu will be able to play power forward in the league. What?s hard to miss about Diogu is that he takes the punishment and lives at the free throw line, where he?s a good free throw shooter. The downside of picking Diogu is that he scores from some of the same areas on the floor as Troy Murphy. Neither player can reasonably be switched to small forward so it is unlikely they can play together. In the second round they picked one-time lottery projection Chris Taft. While the tales of his attitude problems have been well chronicled from a pure basketball standpoint it was the tape measure as much as anything that did him in. He measured at less than 6-10, and there is little about his game to suggest he can move out on the floor at all.

Houston Rockets

* Strategy: Best player available/fit

* Review: Revise and resubmit (major changes)

24. Luther Head (6-3, 6-5-1/4, 178.8#), G, Illinois

This was a guy I?d hoped would fall to New York at #30. So I like Head. He played his ass off in Chicago. Though his ability to run the point has been called into question his defense and shooting are more than solid, which is really what matters to Houston since McGrady often dominates the ball. My problem with this pick is that the team has so little depth at small forward or power forward. McGrady is the only small forward currently under contract and Juwon Howard, who has been breaking down rapidly, is backed up by Clarence Weatherspoon and Vin Baker. Luther Head is somewhat similar to their other combo guards (Bob Sura and David Wesley). Houston may have rated Head higher on their draft board than Wayne Simien (probably because of Simien?s shoulder problems) but they may regret passing on him.

L.A. Clippers

* Strategy: Best player available

* Review: Reject

12. Yaroslav Korolev (6-9, NA, 215#), SF, Russia

32. Daniel Ewing (6-3, NA, 185#), PG, Duke

Back when the Dallas Mavs traded the draft rights to Robert ?Tractor? Traylor to Milwaukee for the rights to Dirk Nowitski I rated it as one of the most lopsided deals in NBA history. Of course at the time I thought Milwaukee was getting the better end of the deal. So I?ve learned not to overreact to such deals. This kid may turn out to be a player. But this pick was bogus; a classic case of bidding against yourself. Korolev stayed in the draft based solely on an early promise from the Clips. It?s safe to assume that the Clippers will once again be moribund next season, especially if Bobby Simmons walks. Korolev?s Russian team was not likely to play him much more next season, if at all. So in all likelihood he?d be on the board next season around the same spot, but after another piece to the puzzle had already been put in place for a year. I know the official story is that Mike Dunleavy fell in love with this kid but I smell Donald Sterling here. In round 2 the Clips were probably hoping that either Nate Robinson or Salim Stoudamire would fall to them. No such luck. Still, Ewing should be a solid role player/part time starter for them.

L.A. Lakers

* Strategy: Best player available

* Review: Revise and resubmit (major changes)

10. Andrew Bynum (7-0, NA, 300#), C, St. Joeseph?s HS (NJ)

37. Rony Turiaf (6-9-1/4, 7-1-1/2, 237.8#), PF, Gonzaga

39. Von Wafer (6-5, NA, 210#), SG, Florida State

I?m in the clear minority of people who felt like the Lakers, when forced to choose between Shaq and Kobe, had to keep Kobe and trade the Big Aristotle. However, I never liked the deal they made for Shaq. They created a glut of small forwards bigger than the one on Team USA this summer. Kobe, Lamar Odom (even if disguised as a PF), Caron Butler, Devean George, Jumain Jones, Luke Walton, and Tony Bobbitt all play small forward. The Shaq trade influenced what the Lakers did in this draft. Instead of drafting a player to help them in the top ten they drafted a player to help someone else. I think Bynum?s days with the Lakers will be relatively short; maybe this summer, maybe trade deadline, next summer tops. He is the pretty bow to tie around a package that includes one or more of the small forwards for a point guard or center who can help them in the next 2 years. Turiaf should take Brian Grant?s place in the rotation once he is released. Wafer is a scorer to bring off the bench.

Memphis Grizzlies

* Strategy: Best player available/fit

* Review: Accept (with minor changes)

19. Hakim Warrick (6-8-1/2, 7-2, 215#), PF, Syracuse

Given the impending roster fluctuation in Memphis it?s hard to argue with West taking the ?best player.? The one real downside to Warrick is that he?s a ?tweener, which means he cannot play for every team. But Memphis features a number of ?tweeners, including G/F Shane Battier, G/F James Posey, SF/PF Brian Cardinal and PF/C Pau Gasol. So clearly that?s not a problem for Jerry West. The open floor style they favor also emphasizes Warrick?s athleticism. Also, much like with the slender Gasol I don?t think the Grizzlies will shy away from posting Warrick in certain matchups. The other potential direction West might have gone would have been for a point guard, like Jarrett Jack, given that Jason Williams and/or Earl Watson won?t be back. I know they like Antonio Burks but he?s still more of a combo guard.

Minnesota Timberwolves

* Strategy: Need/fit

* Review: Revise and resubmit (major changes)

14. Rashad McCants (6-4, 6-10-3/4, 201), SG, N. Carolina

47. Bracey Wright (6-2-1/2, 6-10, 186.8), G, Indiana

ESPN?s Jay Bilas, who is usually not a taker of pot-shots said, ?If I had a nickel for every time Rashad McCants really got down and guarded somebody I?d have a nickel.? Now that is being called out, and the sad part is that even Tar Heel fans must admit that this is true. McCants is a talented scorer who has been taken out of games (e.g., @ Wake Forest and vs. Illinois), as all scorers are occasionally, but I have yet to see him make a significant contribution with any other part of his game. I have a difficult time with this pick for Minnesota because McHale & Co. took a player whose sole contribution is his scoring over Granger and Wright who score and defend. McCants doesn?t rebound. He doesn?t handle the ball. He doesn?t pass. And prolonged exposure to defense appears to produce in him something similar to anaphylactic shock. The Wolves, facing the likely departure of Sprewell and great uncertainty about Fred Hoiberg’s health (good luck to The Mayor of Ames, Iowa), certainly need a wing player but they also need someone apart from Garnett who plays both ends. Bracey Wright is a nice fit considering that he is something of a shoot-first point guard with passing skills, similar to Sam Cassell.

New Orleans Hornets

* Strategy: Best player available/Need

* Review: Accept

4. Chris Paul (6-1, 6-4-1/4, 178#), PG, Wake Forest

33. Brandon Bass (6-7-1/4, 7-2-1/2, 246#), PF, LSU

Chris Paul was perhaps the most efficient offensive player in the nation this past season. He shot a high percentage (52.3% efg, 1.54 points per shot), created for teammates (2.4 to 1 assist to turnover), and lived at the free throw line (5.8 attempts per game @ 83%). There is little to be disappointed with in his sophomore season, well, other than socking Julius Hodge below the belt and getting bumped early in the NCAAs. (Wake simply didn?t play enough defense to make a deep run in the tournament. They were the classic upset-prone high-seed.) Paul was absolutely the right move for New Orleans. I like the selection of Brandon Bass in the second round too. Bass is a multi-talented player who simply wasn?t getting coached at LSU. Though he measures only 6-7 he has shoulders right out of the Karl Malone catalog, long arms, and an expanding game. This kid will always be a rebounder but has the potential to be much more, particularly on a team with steady point guard play that likes to run.

Phoenix Suns

* Strategy: Clear cap space

* Review: Accept (with minor changes)

54. Dijon Thompson (6-8, 6-9-3/4, 195.8#), G/F, UCLA?

Cash??

? Phoenix acquired F Kurt Thomas and G/F Dijon Thompson (the 54th overall selection) from the New York Knicks for G/F Quentin Richardson and G Nate Robinson (the 21st overall selection).

?? Phoenix traded the rights to C Marcin Gortat (the 57th overall selection) to the Orlando Magic for cash.

Phoenix?s primary interest was in getting Kurt Thomas and clearing cap space to re-sign Joe Johnson and Steven Hunter. Dijon Thompson is a talented offensive player, especially in the mid-range area. He?s not such a threat from long range (which makes me wonder why everyone lists him as a guard when he played the SF almost exclusively at UCLA). Even if Phoenix does re-sign Joe Johnson the team would be remiss if it did not explore other options at the backup point guard.

Portland Trailblazers

* Strategy: Best player available/need

* Review: Revise and resubmit

6. Martell Webster (6-7-1/2, 6-11, 229.6#), SG, Seattle Prep HS (WA)

22. Jarrett Jack (6-3-1/2, 6-7-1/2, 197.6#), PG, Georgia Tech?

? Portland acquired the rights to G Jarrett Jack (the 22nd overall selection) from the Denver Nuggets for the rights to F Linas Klieza (the 27th overall selection) and F Ricky Sanchez (the 35th overall selection).

Webster and Gerald Green will always be linked as the last ?pre-age restriction? class. The two will always be compared to each other, even apart from the other high schoolers chosen in this draft; a bit like LeBron and Carmello but rarely LeBron and Dwyane Wade. Unlike Green Webster is a big (i.e., chunky) kid. I don?t know that he?s in NBA caliber condition but he is thick. I like the trade for Jack, who can play some shooting guard, and really helps shore up the defense.

Sacramento Kings

* Strategy: Need/fit

* Review: Accept

23. Francisco Garcia (6-7, 6-10-3/4, 189.6#), SG, Louisville

Garcia won?t help the Kings get key stops but he will add depth and another shooter. Make no mistake about it though the window has closed on that group. They?re 7th or 8th seed material for the foreseeable future. If they?re smart they?ll begin moving pieces (e.g., Brad Miller) that they can get value for now.

San Antonio Spurs

* Strategy: Clear cap space

* Review: Accept

28. Ian Mahinmi (6-10, NA, 230#), PF, France

You have to give the Spurs the benefit of the doubt when it comes to international talent. They scout overseas more extensively than any other team. The Spurs don?t really need anything out of this draft so it hardly surprises that they would pick a player who can be stashed overseas to develop. Most of their key players are in their primes and locked up long-term. So in one sense there?s no sense in paying first round scratch to a kid who is not going to contribute in the foreseeable future when they could use that money to keep Horry and/or Glen Robinson. Mahinmi is only 18 and it may be 2-3 seasons before he is ready to play in the NBA.

Seattle Supersonics

* Strategy: Best player available

* Review: Revise and resubmit (with minor changes)

25. Johan Petro (7-1, NA, 250), C, France

38. Mikael Gelabale (6-7, NA, 210), SF, France

Seattle went big and young in last year?s draft, taking Robert Swift. They follow it up with the athletic Petro from France. He is said to be very athletic, a skilled shot-blocker, but raw. Seattle could lose both Jerome James (especially if Nate McMillan does not return) and Vitale Potapenko, robbing them of their size. It seems unlikely that either Swift or Petro is ready to contribute in the upcoming season should Seattle?s current centers walk. Nonetheless, given what was available (primarily power forwards) and persistent rumors that the team is unhappy with Swift?s progress Seattle likely made lemonade out of lemons. Much like Damien Wilkins last year, Gelabale is an athlete who?ll probably be invited to summer league. While it appears Seattle is poised to re-sign Ray Allen the odds of re-signing Antonio Daniels seem a bit lower. Seattle might have considered using that second round pick to take a flyer on a backup point guard (e.g., Alex Acker or John Gilchrist)

Utah Jazz

* Strategy: Need/fit

* Review: Revise and resubmit (with minor changes)

3. Deron Williams (6-2-3/4, 6-6-1/4, 202.4#), PG, Illinois

34. C.J. Miles (6-6, NA, 207), SG, Skyline HS (TX)

51. Robert Whaley (6-9, 7-2, 269.4#), C, Walsh

I love Deron Williams, particularly in Jerry Sloan?s system. He?s the right player for what they do. He also plays defense, which will allow him to stay on the floor for Sloan. (Defense is something Chris Paul doesn?t do; at least not yet.) However, I?m not in love with anything Utah did in the second round. Bad teams have to make second round picks pay dividends. C.J. Miles apparently never hired an agent and may honor his letter of intent to attend Texas; much like Vashon Lenard went through the draft but stayed in school years ago. If Utah was going to take a flyer on a high school kid why not take Andray Blatche, the 6-11 high school kid from CT at 34 then Dijon Thompson from UCLA at 51? Robert Whaley played his tail off in Chicago but seems more of a priority free agent.

Brrr?. Is There a Draft in Here?

[While KnickerBlogger has been ignoring his blog by shmoozing it up with close friends visiting from out of town, KnickerBlogger’s Head College Expert David Crockett has been busy thinking about the Knicks future. In an attempt to become the Mel Kiper Jr. of the NBA, “Dr. C.” has gone over the Knicks’ needs for the June draft.

David Crockett is an Assistant Professor of Marketing at the University of South Carolina, and can be reached at dcrockett17@yahoo.com.]

On May 24th the 2005 Draft Lottery will take place in the NBA studios. At that time the Knicks will know where they will draft in what is shaping up as a reasonably talented draft, depending on which early entrants hire agents and stay in the draft. Of course the playoffs will determine where the team?s second first round pick, obtained from the Spurs (via Phoenix), will be chosen. I knew it was time to think about a draft column when I got an email from a buddy of mine, a bona fide Jayhawk backer and Duke hater, comprised of three short sentences:

I hope you?re sitting down when you read this?
I just heard that Shavlik Randolph is going league.
I am incapable of rational thought right now.
So even though much is still to be determined between now and June I thought I?d fire up my Mel Kiper wig and dig into the NBA draft a bit.

First, We Need a Guard
So what do our beloved Knickerbockers need heading into the 2005-2006 season? Well, in a sharp departure from many of the pundits I believe the Knicks? first priority is in the backcourt rather than at center.

Stephon Marbury had one of the finest offensive seasons by a New York Knick in recent memory in 2004-2005. Though he is not the league?s best point guard, a claim for which he was waaaay overcriticized, ?Starbury? demonstrated the kind of skill and maturity ? e.g., moving off the ball to facilitate Crawford?s development ? few thought possible. According to Knickerblogger’s stat page Marbury?s assist ratio (27.3 assists per 100 possessions) ranked him a somewhat pedestrian 14th in the league among those playing at least 25 minutes per game. However, he was one of only five players on that list who also had a turnover ratio under 10. 82games.com lists Marbury?s PER as a lofty 23.3 and Knickerblogger reports it as a tad below 23; both numbers are clearly in the high-rent district. Marbury?s efg was over 50% and he went to the line frequently, making 35 free-throws per 100 shots from the floor.

Of course, offense was not the problem at the world?s most famous arena this season. Offensively, the Knicks? 103 points per 100 possessions (offensive efficiency) was middle of the pack (16th) ? a far cry from Phoenix?s 111.8 but better than that posted by these playoff teams: Pacers, Nets, Bulls, Pistons, Sixers, and Grizzlies. Unfortunately, in an all too familiar refrain the Knicks sucked eggs defensively this season; just like last season. However unlike last season when the available statistical evidence failed to provide undisputable proof that the backcourt was the primary problem, this season?s stats are much more sympathetic to this point of view. Marbury and Crawford were, simply put, terrible. According to 82games, in 2003-2004 Marbury held opposing point guards to a surprisingly respectable 14.5 PER. (Average PER is set at 15.) This season he allowed an opponents? PER of 16.5. Marbury gave up more penetration (26% in-close FGAs vs. 21% in 2003-2004) and more free throw attempts per 48 minutes (4.7 vs. 3.6). His opponents shot 48.6% efg and had over 8 assists per 48. These incidental numbers strongly suggest that Marbury?s shoddy defense requires him to post phenomenal offensive numbers just to remain a net positive and that his offense comes at the price of major stress on the frontcourt to cover for his deficiencies.

Certainly, a large part of Marbury?s inconsistency and ineffectiveness on defense comes from his indifference. However, we are also starting to see the ill-effects of 8 consecutive seasons of 38+ minutes per game (mpg) on his body. He has fatigued at the ends of the last two seasons and his knee became a problem as this season wore on. Is it any wonder? He just completed his ninth season averaging 40 minutes per game and a career high in total minutes, 2nd only to Lebron James. Only in Marbury?s rookie season did he average fewer than 38 mpg. It would simply be foolish for the Knicks to continue to play Marbury 38-40 minutes per night without expecting his body to break down even more rapidly and eventually impact his offense. Marbury can be more effective playing fewer minutes. Jason Kidd has had seven sub-38 mpg seasons, including each season in New Jersey. Steve Nash has yet to average 38 mpg in any season. This season he averaged 34 (not even among the top 50), managing the league?s most efficient offense without a ?true? backup point guard no less. If these two guys are playing around 34-35 mpg Marbury should be playing no more.

At the shooting guard position Jamal Crawford looked every bit the ?instant offense? third guard he really is this season. At times he was indefensible but as his minutes increased to 38+ his warts became more visible. According to 82games.com, in his minutes at shooting guard Crawford shot almost 50% and had a more than respectable 16.8 PER. However his 18.2 opponents? PER made everyone he guarded look practically like Peja Stojakovic. Crawford, like his backcourt mate, gave up tons of penetration to opposing guards (26% in-close FG%), and ever the gentlemen, regularly ushered them to the free throw line (5.3 FTA per 48). Whatever additional pressure Marbury put on the frontcourt to mask his defensive shortcomings Crawford matched, only without the consistent offensive production. The Knicks don?t want to be forced to play Crawford more than 20-25 mpg, much less the 38+ he played this season.

The Knicks desperately need backcourt help. On a per 48 minute basis the opposing backcourt is taking more than half its shots from in close and taking 10 trips to the free throw line. The key to defensive improvement is cutting down on the penetration from opposing guards. A shot-blocking center that can erase penetration is a luxury; one most teams must live without. Such players are in woefully short supply and the Knicks would not be wise to pin their hopes on acquiring a ready made center in the draft or the free agent market.

The wiser course of action is to look to the draft for backcourt help. The value appears to be at point guard, with high-quality collegiate point guards available into the 2nd round. The shooting guard position looks weak by comparison. Which point guards and shooting guards should the Knicks consider with their three picks? I?ve listed a few players the Knicks might consider just to whet the appetite. More will come after the Chicago pre-draft camp and workouts. (Note: comments on college players only.)

Point Guards

Name/College Availability? Comment
Chris Paul, Wake Forest Early first round, 2nd (New Orleans) to 6th (Milwaukee), depending on team needs and workouts Paul was perhaps the most efficient offensive perimeter player in the nation this season. He absolutely lived at the free throw line; amazing for a sub-six footer. On the other hand, Paul doesn?t defend. The Knicks don?t need anymore of that.
Deron Williams, Illinois Early first round 4th (Utah) to late lottery 16th (Toronto) depending on workouts I really like Williams even though he doesn?t fit Isiah?s ?athleticism? mantra. He?s a high IQ, instinctive player. He?s a bit like Andre Miller without the post-up game but a much better jump shooter. He?s best-suited to run a half-court screen-roll or a passing and cutting offense but he can get up and down too.
Raymond Felton, North Carolina Early first round 4th (Utah) to mid-lottery 12th (LA Clippers) No college player is better than Felton at pushing the ball at the defense. He?s smart, fearless, he defends, and his jump shot is developing. He?s tailor-made for an uptempo team that asks its point guard to penetrate-and-kick. He strikes me as a comparable, though better prospect than T.J. Ford because of his strength.
Jarrett Jack, Georgia Tech. Mid-lottery 8th (Knicks) to end of round 1 30th (Knicks) depending on workouts Declared but hasn?t hired an agent. Opinions are all over the place on him. His detractors generally point to his turnovers. I love Jack?s all around game, particularly his on ball defense, and his athleticism. If he goes to Chicago and plays well he could solidify his status in the mid-to-late lottery.
Nate Robinson, Washington Early 2nd round Robinson is an exceptional on-ball defender and may be the best pound-for-pound athlete in the draft. Unfortunately, he also may have hurt his draft status more than any other player with a disappointing NCAA tournament.
John Gilchrist, Maryland Early to mid 2nd round He has everything you could ask for from a physical standpoint. His basketball IQ just isn?t there yet. He should have gone back to school.
Luther Head, Illinois Early-to-mid 2nd round Luther is a combo guard who will find his way onto a team as an excellent passer, defensive stopper, and a guy who will take a big shot.
Aaron Miles, Kansas Late 2nd round/free agent Miles has all the intangibles ? basketball IQ, pure point guard skills, feel for the game, leadership, toughness, unselfishness ? but lacks size and anything resembling a jump shot. He?s small and light. He has to find the right situation, or as I heard someone put it recently, ?Hit the Chris Duhon lottery.?

Of the point guards listed I think Williams, Felton, and Jack have the most to contribute to the Knicks immediately. Each could run the second unit. Each pushes the ball and thinks pass-first, but can score if needed. Most importantly, each will play their first NBA summer league game as a better on-ball defender than Marbury or Crawford is right now.

Shooting Guards

Name/College Availability? Comment
Antoine Wright, Texas A&M Late lottery #10 (Lakers) to #30 (Knicks) Played his entire career on really awful teams but put up good numbers. He?s a willing defender and a potentially dynamite scorer. He has an NBA ready body.
Kennedy Winston, Alabama Late lottery #10 (Lakers) to #30 (Knicks) There is a lot to like. Winston has a great body and a great stroke, but can be lazy defensively and is turnover prone.
Francisco Garcia, Louisville Late first round #20 (Denver) to #30 (Knicks) Garcia is the Deron Williams of shooting guards. His basketball skills and IQ are his biggest assets. He?ll need to go to a team that values those things and is willing to live with his athletic deficiencies.
Salim Stoudamire, Arizona Early 2nd round More Steve Kerr (pure shooter) than Eddie House (scorer). Unlike House or Kerr though, Stoudamire?s defense will allow him to stay on the floor. Also, he can run the point for a few minutes a night.
Tiras Wade, LA-Lafayette Mid-late 2nd round Big-time scorer with nice size from a small conference.
Alex Acker, Pepperdine Late 2nd round/free agent Alex is another combo guard. An athletic 6?5? with some legitimate point guard skills he could conceivably work his way into round 1.

Overall, I?m not so sure this is the draft the Knicks will find an heir apparent to Houston at shooting guard, particularly once Wright and Winston are off the board. I?m assuming Isiah isn?t silly enough to consider a schoolboy shooting guard (Gerald Green or Martell Webster), particularly since defense rather than scoring is the problem in the backcourt. The Knicks may be best off continuing to develop Ariza as a swing man rotating him with Crawford and Penny.

Coming Soon: We Need a Center Too