New York Knicks Preseason Preview 2011

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

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

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

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

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

2. What are the team’s biggest strengths?

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

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

3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?

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

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

4. What are the goals for this team?

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

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

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

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

One Months Time

“Oh well I look at you and say
It’s the happiest that I’ve ever been
And I’ll say I no longer feel I have to be James Dean
And she’ll say
Yah well I feel all pretty happy too
And I’m always pretty happy when I’m just kicking back with you”
–“Five Years Time” Noah and the Whale

For the first time in years, there is optimism for Knick fans. Looking at the reaction on Twitter, fans are eager to grab T-Mac jerseys first thing tomorrow morning from the NBA store. The Daily News put the words “Former All Star” in the title of one of their articles describing T-Mac. Even an old friend on my facebook seemed to wonder why I was so down on grabbing such a big name as Tracy McGrady.

My grades from yesterday’s post reveals that I’m less than pleased with how the team did on the trade deadline. While there seems to be a euphoric fog following the team, I’m curious how people feel things will work out. So I propose the following question: “In one month, what will the starting lineup and rotation look like?”

My optimistic side says:
Rodriguez
McGrady
Chandler
Gallo
Lee
bench: House, Harrington, Douglas

This lineup would mean that McGrady and Rodriguez are playing well, which from a long term perspective isn’t such a bad thing. Nothing would make me happier to have Rodriguez and Douglas relegate Duhon to the bench for good. I’d settle for Sergio starting, and Duhon coming off the bench, but that doesn’t bode well for Douglas’ future. Actually I could also live with House starting at point guard, and letting the offense run through McGrady. I imagine that might be the Knicks “best offensive 5” team, which could prove useful considering their lack of size. What I would hate to see is this:

My pessimistic side says:
Duhon
Chandler
McGrady
Harrington
Lee
bench: Gallo, House, Bender

Duhon remains entrenched as starting PG, and between him and McGrady there’s no need for another PG, leaving Douglas and Rodriguez out of the rotation. D’Antoni finds Gallo/Chandler too small for the 4, and inserts Harrington into the starting lineup instead.

Somewhere in the middle lies:
Rodriguez
McGrady
Chandler
Gallo
Lee
bench: House, Harrington, Douglas, Bender

Yes a 9 man rotation wouldn’t be out of the question, although I don’t see a lot of minutes for Douglas/Bender. Chandler and Gallo rotate at the 4 defensively so neither are continually over matched. Duhon is nowhere to be seen, and the Knicks have 2 scorers off the bench in House & Harrington.

So how do you see the lineup in one month?

Step 1. Conclusion – Step 2: Look At The Facts

Bad writing is when an author writes an article with a biased conclusion before looking at any of the facts. The worst misuse of statistics is cherry picking ones that support your point, while ignoring any facts that reject your hypothesis.

Enter ESPN.com columnist Frank Hughes, and his article “These moves aren’t so smooth.” Now I’m not such a Knick fan that I would let my fandom get in the way of an objective and intelligent argument. However luckily for me, Hughes’ article was neither of these. Hughes sets the tone with the first line:

“With all due respect to my esteemed colleague and compadre Chad Ford: What the heck is Isiah thinking?”

The first time I read this I said to myself “Great!” I like to hear opposing opinions. Sometimes it’s good to have a devil’s advocate, because it keeps you in check. If you can’t defend your ideas and theories, then maybe they aren’t as valid as you think. Even better, sometimes you’ll learn something that’s contrary to your current beliefs, and change the way you think. Unfortunately the article had little chance of swaying any rational person. Read on:

“If, in fact, Isiah signs Erick Dampier to go with a sign-and-trade deal for Jamal Crawford that essentially eliminates any future flexibility he may have had, well, in my mind that is figuratively putting the cement shoes — why has Nike not made a pair of those yet? — on the Knicks and throwing them in the East River on a frigid January day.”

Organized crime references to describe a New York sports team? Nothing says bad writing like a tired, drawn out metaphor. Memo to Mr. Hughes: the Knicks have been in salary cap hell for years now. Even without Crawford & Dampier’s contracts, they will be over the cap until at least the summer of 2007. This is his only valid point in the entire article. Being over the cap gives you less flexibility than being under the cap. However being over the cap & being willing to take on more contracts doesn’t make you inflexible. Consider this: if the Knicks are so inflexible, then how come they only have 3 players remaining from the pre-Isiah era? And Zeke hasn’t been with the team for a whole year yet! That sounds pretty darn flexible to me.

Looking at the Knicks roster, they still have some valuable trading chips. Sweetney is valuable for his contract as much as his promising ability. I’d imagine a few teams are interested in Kurt Thomas and Nazr Mohammed. If the Knicks don’t trade them this year, next summer they have a ton of expiring contracts to deal in Penny Hardaway ($15.8M), Tim Thomas ($14M), Nazr Mohammed ($5.5M), and Moochie Norris ($4.2M with a team option – an option that no sane team would be dumb enough to activate). That’s almost an entire salary cap in expiring contracts, enough to make any money strapped GM start drooling. The year after, they have about $35M in expiring contracts in Allan Houston, Shandon Anderson, & Jerome Williams (team option).

So what is Hughes “proof” of Isiah’s poorly thought out plan:

“Yes, I agree, some of the Knicks’ pieces certainly look good, to go with Stephon Marbury and Allan Houston. But now more than ever I am a big believer in chemistry, and when you really get right down to it, the collection of players Isiah has assembled has really accomplished very little in their respective careers, and they have had plenty of time to do it.”

Did you catch that? Chemistry = career accomplishments. What type of chemistry I’m not exactly sure about. Is it locker room chemistry? On the court chemistry? Molecular chemistry? He just doesn’t specify the type. Of course what does he use to measure career accomplishments?

Number of playoff games played.

That’s right it’s the old ring argument (Player A is better than Player B, because he’s won more championships). This kind of thinking is just not well thought out, because winning a playoff game or championship is a team effort, not an individual one. Last year, the following players didn’t play in the playoffs: Vince Carter, Tracey McGrady, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Gilbert Arenas, LeBron James, Carlos Boozer, and Allen Iverson. I didn’t even bother to include any players from the West. Players that did have playoff experience were such superstars as: Dana Barros, Vin Baker, DerMarr Johnson, Shammond Williams, Daniel Santiago, and Wang ZhiZhi. I don’t know about you, but if I were making a team, I’d overlook playoff experience, and go with the first group.

Let’s see he continues with this line of thought, and if you think I’m paraphrasing to make my point, read the article & be the judge for yourself. (Bolding is not in the original article, but added by me.)

  1. “[Marbury]’s been in the league now for eight seasons. Ten. [Editor’s note: I don’t know why this sentence “Ten.” is there or what it means, but I left it in so you get the exact feel of the article.] You know how many playoff games he has been in in that span? Eighteen. And he’s never been out of the first round…
  2. Tim Thomas has been in the league nine years, playing a grand total of 33 playoff games
  3. Kurt Thomas, signed at sizable dollars through 2008-09, has 48 career playoff games in nine years with career postseason averages of 6.5 points and 5.8 rebounds
  4. “Since he left Orlando in 1999, Penny Hardaway has played in a grand total of 18 playoffs games. By comparison, his sophomore season in Orlando, he played in 21 postseason games…
  5. Nazr Mohammed … has played seven playoff games and has never advanced past the first round. He has career averages of 6.7 points and 5.3 rebounds…
  6. Allan Houston is the biggest conundrum because he clearly is talented. He also clearly is frustrating, going into long spells of quietude during a season and seemingly disappearing at important junctures…

What’s interesting is how he changes the facts he uses from one person to the next when the stats don’t support his point of view. To bash Tim Thomas & Marbury, he shows how few playoff games they’ve played. However, unfortunately for Frank, counting playoff appearances doesn’t necessarily work with his third choice: Kurt Thomas. Kurt’s seen enough playoff action with the Knicks, including going to the Finals in ’99. So he drags up Kurt’s poor playoff statistics. Of course he doesn’t mention that those numbers are heavily weighted when Kurt was a backup (only 22 minutes per game, not the 31+ we’ve been accustom to over the last 3 years.) In his playoff experiences as a starter, Kurt’s averaged 13.6PPG & 11.4REB, which is conveniently ignored. Also ignored are Marbury’s playoff numbers: 19.4PPG, 6.7AST, and 1.6STL.

For Penny Hardaway, not only does he eliminate his early playoff success with the Magic, but uses it against him. In essence splitting Penny’s career in two. What gives him the right to do that? Did Penny’s “chemistry” change after he left Orlando? BTW since Hughes doesn’t mention it, Penny’s career playoff numbers since he left Orlando – 19 games (not the 18 he falsely reported), 17.1PPG, 5.4AST, and 1.7 STL.

For each of the first five guys, he’s mentioned the number of playoff games they’ve played in over their career and when it suits him, their playoff statistics. But eventually he has to mention Allan Houston. H20 has played in 63 playoff games, averaging 40 minutes, 19.3 PPG, and a 48.7% eFG%. If Hughes wants to be an impartial and forthcoming writer he can mention these numbers, and say that Houston is the only player on the Knicks with playoff experience. Surely admitting that the Knicks have one playoff tested starter won’t blow his whole argument out of the water. So does Frank take the high road?

“Allan Houston is the biggest conundrum because he clearly is talented. He also clearly is frustrating, going into long spells of quietude during a season and seemingly disappearing at important junctures.”

I have to give Frank some credit, if you’re going to write bullshit, you might as well use big words like conundrum, quietude, and junctures.

I won’t even bother to go over the rest of the article. It’s more of the same – choose a player & pick only the numbers that make your claim look good. The flaws are obvious in this piece, beginning to end. If Hughes want to criticize Isiah’s moves, then there are many logical arguments that would make sense. This is a lesson to all aspiring writers out there. If you are having trouble writing an article because the facts don’t support your point, then maybe your initial hypothesis was wrong in the first place.