Tyson Chandler

I may be slow to the party, but there’s a great post on Tyson Chandler at Hornets247. Ryan Schwan compares the perception on Chandler to reality, namely that Chandler is a poor defender because he doesn’t have a high block shot rate and that the half court offensive is 4 vs 5 with him on the floor. Schwan finds Chandler to be an “excellent defender” because of his agility & length to alter shots, and a valuable contributor on offense due to his excellent pick & roll game and strong rebounding.

Definitely worth the read.

Who Will Win the West?

{democracy:20}

Unlike the East, picking the winner of the West is a daunting task. There is much less variance between the top 7 teams in the West than the East. If given a thousand chances, I can see #7 Dallas winning the West at least 10 times. I don’t think #7 Philadelphia could win the East once if you gave them a million chances.

That being said the Lakers seem to be the clear favorite. The move to add Gasol reminds me a little bit of Detroit acquiring Rasheed Wallace in 2004. Both teams grabbed a big man midseason to accentuate their style of play. For the Pistons it was a tough suffocating defense, and for the Lakers it’s a diverse offense. In 2004 NBA analysts didn’t realize how much Rasheed helped galvanize their defense until after the playoffs. Most people didn’t expect Detroit to get past Indiana, much less take the Lakers in 5. It’s possible that Los Angeles is much better than the season stats show them to be. And if this is true, the Lakers would be head and shoulders above the rest of the West. The Lakers not only enjoy the #1 seed, but the best expected win% (.726).

That being said, the road won’t be easy for Los Angeles. Even though they have the West’s best chance, the Lakers will face some stiff competition to get to the Finals. They’ll meet either Utah or Houston in round 2. Not only were these teams within 3 games of taking the West, but each comes with their own brand of scary. Houston has been strong defensively since losing Yao Ming, and finished the season with the league’s second best defense (103.0 pts/100). On the other hand Utah has the league’s second best offense (115.4 pts/100). So no matter which team they face the Lakers will have their hands full.

In the other part of the bracket, any of the 4 teams involved in the middle seeds could advance to the Conference Finals. Personally I’d like to see the Hornets emerge, because it makes a nice story on so many levels. I liked Tyson Chandler ever since his days in Chicago. (I always thought he was the better of their center pair – and can’t tell you how many times I was laughed off RealGM’s Knicks board for stating it publicly. Probably a part of the reason I started this blog… but I digress.) I think a Hornets/Suns second round would be ideal. There’s a nice group of contrasts in that matchup: Paul vs. Nash, young vs. old, upstart vs. established.

If I had to chose any one team, I would take the Lakers. If I had to take the top 2 seeds (Lakers & Hornets) vs. the field I’d take the field. Such is life in the NBA’s West.

NBA 3 Way Deal Good For Most

Cleveland
Receives: Ben Wallace, Wally Szczerbiak, Delonte West, Joe Smith
Loses: Drew Gooden, Larry Hughes, Cedric Simmons, Shannon Brown, Ira Newble, Donyell Marshall

Sure it’s a sore point that the Cavs aren’t getting the point guard that they’ve been looking for, especially considering Jason Kidd, Mike Bibby, Devin Harris, and even Mike James have all changed teams this year. But looking at who they gave up, it’s addition by subtraction. Consider the league average for TS% is typically around 54% (53.7% at this moment), and look at who’s heading out of Cleveland: Drew Gooden (48.7%), Larry Hughes (46.7%), Donyell Marshall (42.7%), Shannon Brown (43.3%), and Cedric Simmons (21.0%). Only Ira Newble (52.2%) has a TS% anywhere near the median. [On a side note, one has to wonder the merits of conventional wisdom when looking at these numbers. Isn’t playing with a great passer/great scorer (LeBron James) suppose to make the rest of the team better on offense? Where are all the open looks in Cleveland?]

Enter Wally Szczerbiak (TS% 57.3%) and Joe Smith (TS% 51.5%), both of who should provide an offensive boost to Cleveland. Szczerbiak has never had a problem scoring efficiently, and at 30 years of age is still near the top of his game. Suddenly the Cavs look to have the makings of a strong offense: LeBron, Szczerbiak, Gibson, Ilgauskas, Varejao, Smith, Damon Jones, all have TS% above 50%. And although Ben Wallace is shooting poorly (TS% 39.1%) he’ll help the defense as well. With Ilgauskas, Wallace, Varejao, and James the Cavs have enough defense to make up for the guards.

In the end it’s hard not to like this trade for Cleveland. It’s not like the big named deals Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Dallas made, but it should make them a considerably better team in the playoffs.

Seattle
Receives: Adrian Griffin, Donyell Marshall, Ira Newble
Loses: Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak

For Seattle this trade boils down to one thing: getting rid of Szczerbiak’s contract. Wally was Seattle’s highest paid player at $12M/year, nearly twice as much as their second highest paid player (Wilcox $6.5M). As for whom they’ll receive: Marshall has two years left at about $6M per, Adrian Griffin has two years left at $1.7M and Newble’s $3.4M expires this year. It’s not a great deal for Seattle, but it just doesn’t make sense to keep a Wally around on a rebuilding team that’s going to win 20-25 games. The one downside to this deal for Seattle residents is that cutting salaries is usually a necessary step prior to a team’s changing addresses.

Chicago
Receives: Drew Gooden, Larry Hughes, Cedric Simmons, Shannon Brown
Loses: Ben Wallace, Joe Smith, Adrian Griffin

And so ends the Ben Wallace era in Chicago. Big Ben never paid dividends in the Windy City for a number of reasons. Age caught up with Wallace, but he wasn’t the right fit for the Bulls in the first place. Chicago would have been better off keeping Tyson Chandler and grabbing a power forward that can score from the post. Instead they ended up with four defensive minded big men who had trouble scoring: Ben, Andres, Tyrus, and Joakim. Sometimes grabbing the best player in the draft isn’t the best option for teams that are looking to compete now.

However it’s really hard to like who the Bulls received. It’ll be a miracle if Larry Hughes can revert to his best days in Washington. As the years go on it looks as if Hughes’ 2004 & 2005 are the exceptions not the rule. Additionally Hughes contract is nearly as bad as Big Ben’s. Meanwhile Wallace and Joe Smith’s departure is addition by subtraction, because it will force Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah into more minutes. Drew Gooden might be helpful in this area as he should be compliment these players better than they would each other.

In the end it seems as if this was about getting rid of Ben Wallace more than anything else. But the price was to take on Cleveland’s equally bad free agent mistake of Larry Hughes. Chicago can benefit from this trade if one (or both) of Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah become successful with the absence of Wallace.

Why The 2008 Knicks Can’t Win (Some Plays Count)

The other day I was on the train and overheard two Knick fans talking about the state of the team. The first man asked the other what was wrong with the team to which the second replied: “Isiah has to go. They have a good team on paper.” It seems that there’s the idea floating around Knick-nation that with a coaching change and a few tweaks the Knicks could have a good team. However, watching last Wednesday’s loss to the depleted Kings gave me a clear picture of why the Knicks just can’t win with this current roster. In reality it was just two Kings that helped sort things out: Brad Miller and John Salmons.

One one possession (4:28 1Q) Miller is on the left blocks being fronted by David Lee. Salmons has the ball, lofts it over Lee to Miller, and Brad has an unobstructed path to the hoop for an easy two points. After Lee fronts Miller, someone is supposed to give backside help. On this play Eddy Curry is on the weak side, but he’s oblivious to what’s happening with the ball. Curry is engrossed in covering the ever dangerous Mikki Moore on the weak side. Miller’s layup exposed two weaknesses – Lee’s inability to play better man to man defense and Eddy Curry’s lack of awareness on defense.

In the second quarter at the 5:51 mark, the Kings bring the ball up on offense. Brad Miller is on the far side behind the three point line while Garcia and Moore play the high pick & roll. Lee is defending Moore and helps double on the pick & roll. Garcia passes the ball to Miller who is standing behind the three point line. Even though Miller is able to hit from downtown, Curry gives him space is and is about 2 feet from the paint. Despite Curry playing Miller deep, Miller is able to dribble right past him. Lee, recovering from the high screen, comes over to help, but can only offer token resistance by putting up his arms. Miller scores an easy two points over David Lee. Again Curry and Lee have revealed their weaknesses on defense. This time Curry shows his inability to stay with his man on the perimeter (something I’ve mentioned often here) and Lee is unable to provide assistance in the form of shot blocking.

In this game, John Salmons scored a lifetime high of 32 points. Reading over the play-by-play Salmon had 6 baskets recorded as “Driving Layup”. Watching the game it felt like it was 30 baskets. I could have analyzed any of his layups, but I chose to review his first – 40 seconds into the game. At the top of the key, Miller passes the ball to Salmons who is at the free throw line extended. Miller sets a pick on Salmons’ defender (Jeffries). Miller’s man, Eddy Curry is supposed to help, but again he’s unaware of what’s happening and fails to react to the pick & roll. Salmons goes right past Curry unhindered. Zach Randolph watches the play unfold and moves in front of the restricted area in preparation for Salmons’ approach. Yet Salmons drives right past Randolph for the easy layup. A series of mistakes on this possession lead to an easy bucket: Curry’s inability to read the screen, his failure to slow down Salmons’ drive so that Jeffries can recover, and Randolph’s futile help under the basket.

These plays expose a fundamental flaw with the current Knicks team: the lack of interior defense. It’s no secret that nearly every player on New York is a bad defender, but good defense usually begins from the inside. There’s a reason that bigmen who are offensively limited but can prevent scoring can have long careers. Players like Eddy Curry, Zach Randolph, and David Lee aren’t strong defenders so they need a defensive minded compliment in the frontcourt. In Curry’s only winning season, he was flanked by a few strong defenders: Tyson Chandler, Antonio Davis, and Andres Nocioni. In Randolph’s only winning season, he was coupled with Rasheed Wallace, Arvadys Sabonis, and Dale Davis.

Instead of a frontcourt pairing of an offensive player with a defensive player, the Knicks have two poor defensive big men on the court at nearly all times. And this has been a recipe for disaster. New York is dead last in the league in defensive efficiency, and there isn’t a coach in the world that could make the current rotation average defensively. Without the addition of a defensive frontcourt player to the rotation, New York will remain a bad defensive team. The Knicks aren’t a good team on paper, they’re just plain bad on defense.

Knicks 2007 Report Card (A to Z): David Lee

KnickerBlogger Despite standing only 6’9″, David Lee’s main strength is his rebounding. He combines excellent positioning, exceptional timing, good leaping ability, and a desire to capture missed shots on both ends of the floor. Not only is Lee the best rebounder on his team, but he’s one of the best in the NBA. Among players that logged 1000 or more minutes in 2007, Lee finished 5th in per minute rebounding. Compared to the other hyalophiles, Lee committed the fewest fouls and scored the most points.

Per 40 Minutes Height Tm OREB DREB TREB PF PTS
Reggie Evans 6’8″ DEN 5.5 10.8 16.3 5.1 11.5
Dikembe Mutombo 7’2″ HOU 5.1 10.1 15.1 4.8 7.1
Tyson Chandler 7’1″ NOK 5.1 9.3 14.3 3.9 10.9
Jeff Foster 6’11” IND 5.8 8.2 14 4.6 7.4
David Lee 6’9″ NYK 4.5 9.4 13.9 3.6 14.4

Not just a one trick pony, Lee is also adept at running the floor and strong at finishing around the hoop. A natural lefty, David Lee is ambidextrous which allows him to score with either hand. Although he doesn’t possess the extra wide body that Curry or Sweetney has, Lee isn’t slender, and can shield the ball with his body. Lee shot a robust 60% eFG from the field, and is such a good free throw shooter (81.6%) that he ranked third on the team in free throw shooting percentage. As a bonus, Lee doesn’t dominate the ball on offense. The Knicks don’t need to run any plays for him, as he’s able to produce his own offense by his rebounding and his ability to move well without the ball.

Although Lee is slightly undersized at power forward, his defense is passable. He has good footwork and is strong enough to not get bowled over against other post players. Additionally Lee can play the small forward or center spots, albeit in short stints depending on the matchup. If Lee were 2 inches taller he probably would excel as a shot blocker, but he is only able to alter shots of smaller players. Among the Knick forwards/centers Lee committed the fewest per minute fouls, which allows him to stay on the court for long periods of time. According to 82games, the Knicks were 2.5 points per 100 possessions better on defense with Lee on the court. Even if that number comes from his outstanding rebounding, he clearly doesn’t hinder the team with his defense.

In 2007, the Knicks record was 26-32 (.449) with David Lee and 7-17 (.291) without him. In the three games after the suspensions from the Denver fight, Lee averaged 13 points and an incredible 17.7 rebounds. Last year he led the Knicks in 4 important categories (eFG%, TS%, OREB/40, and DREB/40) and had the highest PER on the team. Quietly he was New York’s most valuable player.

KnickerBlogger’s Grade: A

2008 Outlook: Despite Lee’s outstanding sophomore season, there are a few questions that 2008 will bring:

1. Was 2007 a fluke?
Too often have we seen young players have a fantastic year, only to fall down to earth never to reach that level of play again. Hopes may be high for Lee to continue to progress, and one only needs to look at Lee’s draftmate Channing Frye to see how far a young player can slide from a single season. On the positive side, Lee’s pertinent stats are nearly identical from his rookie year, with one exception: his defensive rebounding. Lee grabbed 2.6 DREB/40 more in 2007, which is more likely due to his switch to power forward (from small forward under Brown) and Curry’s increase in minutes (Curry is a poor rebounder).

2. How will the injury affect Lee?
Of all the questions, this one is the most concerning. Lee’s injury seems to have been misdiagnosed, his return date kept sliding, and he made a token appearance hobbling at the end of the season. Since Lee uses his jumping ability to secure a lot of his rebounds, suffering an ankle injury should cause some concern. It’s probable that he missed the summer league because he’s still not 100%, although there were reports that he was working out with the team. Watching him early in the pre-season should give fans a good indication if this injury is behind him or not.

3. How much will he play?
Prior to draft night it seemed that David Lee would have a bright future in New York. He only had Channing Frye, Malik Rose, Jerome James, and Randolph Morris to compete with for the starting spot in the Knick’s lineup. Considering that group of talent, Lee should have been a lock to start in 2008. That all changed when Isiah Thomas acquired Zach Randolph on draft day. Now Knick fans are wondering if David Lee will see enough court time this year. Consider that last year Curry and Randolph averaged a little over 35 minutes a game each. If the duo play the same amount of minutes, and David Lee backs up both players, it only means he’ll play about 25 minutes a game, less than the 30 he played last year.

But the problem with that logic is that the Knicks can’t just use only three players for two spots all year. There’ll be times that they’ll need a defensive presence in the paint, so they may have to look to Rose, James, Morris, or Cato (considering any of these players are on the roster come November). While Lee can play small forward for short stretches, there’ll be nights that the matchup will make it impossible. Additionally small forward seems to be the Knicks’ deepest position, so Lee may have a hard time finding minutes there either. My ideal situation, while still being realistic, would be for Isiah to occasionally use Lee as a small forward in a big lineup to force other teams out of their comfort zone, slightly cut back on Curry and Randolph’s minutes, be open minded in the fourth quarter and use Lee down the stretch especially when Zach or Eddy are having an off night.

4. Can he generate more offense?
With Isiah’s offense centered on the low post play of Eddy Curry, and now Zach Randolph, it becomes important for all the Knicks on the floor to knock down an open jumper. Unfortunately Lee hits only 29% of his jump shots according to 82games.com. His shot looks awkward, and maybe part of it is due to being left handed. Nonetheless it appears as if he doesn’t square his shoulders to the hoop. Often relying on others to score, his usage is very low and his per minute scoring is only tied for 7th on the team. While Lee is plenty valuable without a jump shot, for him to go from being a very good complimentary player to an All Star will require a bit more scoring volume. A 15 footer would go a long way in Lee’s development.

Dave Crockett

Lee’s career has been one I have followed with some interest since seeing him in listed as a McDonald’s HS All-American in 2001. I suspect most Knickerblogger readers are not familiar with the St. Louis metro area, which is where I spent my high school years some 20+ years ago. Lee’s high school, Chaminade College Prep, suffice it to say is not to be mistaken for the prototypical high school sports powerhouse. (Back in my day Chaminade actually ran a single-wing offense in football.) So when this mop-topped, rosy-cheeked lad won the McDonald’s slam dunk contest I was, to say the least, intrigued. Unfortunately for Lee he virtually never had a play run for him at Florida until his senior season, overlapping as he did with trigger-happy guards Anthony Roberson and Matt Walsh. Fortunately for Knicks fans Lee learned how to be uber-productive without the ball in his hands. His long arms, timing, and knack for positioning virtually ensure that he will always be a quality rebounder.

The key for Lee going forward will be developing a 15-18 foot jump shot. If he never improves in that area he still promises to be an exceptionally useful complimentary player, along the lines of A.C. Green–the player to whom he compares most favorably at the same age. But if he can improve his ball-handling and his shot–a feat that may require reconstructing that ugly looking thing–I see Lee’s peak years comparing favorably to those of Larry Nance or Horace Grant (i.e., very good, though probably not Hall of Fame).

Putting a damper on some of the superlatives though, I do have my concerns about Lee’s injury. I am still not completely certain of the final diagnosis. Its description in the press even now remains somewhat murky. My initial thinking was that Lee suffered a “high ankle sprain,” an injury commonly suffered by football players. That’s generally a 6-8 week injury. But, it remains unclear if Lee is back to 100% even now.

As for Lee’s minutes this upcoming season, I suspect that after pulling Lee–clearly his most desired asset–off the market Thomas plans to play him. My best guess is that he will be part of a rotation that sees him log some minutes at SF while the lion’s share will come at backup PF when Zach Randolph slides down to C. My sincere hope is that we have seen the last meaningful minutes for Malik Rose and Jerome James, who combined to be on the floor for over a quarter of the team’s minutes in ’06-07.

Brian Cronin – Yeah, the injury problem is my only concern about Lee. It’s not like Lee just developed all these skills out of nowhere. He was basically the same player in his sophomore year as in his rookie year – only more so. ;)

But I’ve seen way too many NBA players get similar injuries to Lee and just have their distinctive abilities, if not ruined, at least diminished for quite awhile. So I am certainly hoping that Lee will recover nicely.

I am not too worried about minutes, really, because, as Dave mentions, if Zeke isn’t going to trade him, I gotta figure it is because he actually plans on using him. I, too, think he will see most of his minutes at the SF position.

As for the grade, come on, could it be any grade BUT an A? Dude was a legitimate contender for the All-Star team in his second season!!

Free David Lee?

Mike Lupica must have hit his head before he wrote this week’s column, because he had a good point in the beginning of the column, where he points out that David Lee is eighth in the NBA in rebounds per game, while playing the fewest minutes out of all the eight.

Kevin Garnett MIN 39.0 12.6
Dwight Howard ORL 36.0 12.6
Marcus Camby DEN 32.5 12.1
Carlos Boozer UTA 37.0 11.8
Tyson Chandler NOK 32.7 11.3
Emeka Okafor CHA 35.5 11.0
Jermaine O’Neal IND 35.8 10.5
David Lee NY 30.0 10.4

And in the Knicks’ last loss, Lee barely played until it was too late.

Lupica made the argument that Isiah is just trying to make his free agent signing look good, but I think that is wholly unfair, as A. Isiah gets credit FOR Lee – HE drafted him! So if Isiah was just looking for things to make him look good, Lee would be it and B. Isiah has no problem with not playing Jerome James.

Still, Lupica is correct (man, that just sounds wrong, doesn’t it?) in that it is Jared Jeffries who David Lee is competing with. I think Isiah just really likes Jeffries, and believes that he is the better defensive player, and more important to have on the floor.

Still, Jeffries didn’t help much during the third quarter of the Charlotte game.

Isiah said after the game, “We ran into a hot team. They shot well, they made shots. They did the correct things, they made plays. I don’t have any excuses other than the other team that we played tonight, they were hot. They did everything right.” I understand that Isiah is just trying to put a good spin on things, but the Knicks defense was just AWFUL.

Also, while Quentin Richardson really improved his defense last year, during the previous game, Breen and Clyde were calling Q the Knicks “best perimeter defender.” What is Jeffries, then?

Finally, I love that Steph is playing so much better, but 42 minutes is a crapload of minutes for a guy who has looked tired at times this year. I’d prefer not to see that. I’d like to see them try starting Q at the 2.

Wallace Signing Shakes Up Central

At their highest level of success the Pistons relied on their defense to carry them, and at the centerpiece of that stalwart defense was center Ben Wallace. Unfortunately for Detroit, Ben Wallace recently agreed to a 4 year deal with divisional rival Chicago. The move struck a serious blow to the Pistons as 4 time defensive players of the year don’t come along that easily. The team attempted to minimize the damage by signing center Nazr Mohammed. The ex-Spur, ex-Knick, ex-Hawk, ex-Sixer will try to replace the rebounding void left by Ben, and add a scoring punch that Wallace never had. However Nazr’s not nearly the defender that Ben is, nor does his scoring make up the difference. Like their name implies, Detroit’s success relied on each Piston firing at an above average level, and without their defensive keystone they aren’t likely to sustain their high level of play.

Last year the Chicago Bulls finished 6th in the NBA on defense so Wallace doesn’t address a big need for them. However it doesn’t mean that the signing won’t make them better. One way Big Ben can help the Bulls is to make them the best defensive team in the league. There were 6 teams within 1 point per 100 possessions defensively of the Bulls (from the #3 Nets to the #8 Clippers). So while the Bulls were above average, there were a lot of teams that were comparable defensively. The difference between the #1 Spurs and #6 Bulls is the same difference between the #6 Bulls and the #17 Warriors. Using the pythagorean formula for expected wins, the Bulls would go from a 43 win team to a 54 win team by becoming an elite defensive team like the Spurs.

Wallace’s addition also allows the Bulls to move their other centers for more scoring punch. Both Tyson Chandler and the newly drafted Tyrus Thomas have the same strengths and weaknesses as Big Ben: strong at defense and rebounding, weak on offense. It doesn’t make sense for the Bulls to keep all 3, and with the dearth of centers around the league they should be able to move one of them with ease. Rumors are already circulating the mill about the Bulls moving Thomas to Minnesota for Garnett, and Chandler being swapped for the usual suspects (PJ Brown, Al Harrington, etc.) If the Bulls can nab a strong post player or an unhappy superstar they might become favorites in a strong Central division.

On the other hand, the biggest winners in the Ben Wallace sweepstakes could be the Cleveland Cavaliers. During the regular season the Cavs finished second in their division behind the Pistons, and Cleveland’s postseason was ended in the second round of the playoffs by Detroit. LeBron James is already playing MVP caliber ball, and if Ilgauskas and Hughes stay healthy for the year (and maybe with a little off-season tweaking) dismantling the Pistons could be just the thing they need to reach the Conference Finals.