Knicks Preview

11/17/2015

 
We are already 11 games in so it’s hard to call this a season preview but please excuse the tardiness.

Low expectations:

The only good thing about last season’s 17-win performance was setting of expectations so amazingly low.  It’s hard to find a publication that predicts playoffs or more than even 35 wins for the Knicks.

We are slightly more optimistic.

The Knicks made major changes to the team and kept some things the same.  We are excited about some but not as excited about others.

We will review these changes and opine on the prospects for the season.

After chasing big name free agents, the Knicks needed to settle for a few second and in some case third tier players.

Their big signing was Robin Lopez.  The irony of this signing is that he got nearly what Chandler was making and is a similar player.  Neither of them can shoot and they are both known for good team defense.  The reality is that it’s hard to believe that he could be the identical twin of Brook Lopez and yet lack any semblance of an offensive game or shooting ability.

He will be a decent piece but they will come to regret spending $14m on him.  He is simply not that good.  He is the very definition of average.  Some argue they needed to, and I’m ok with a center who is around mostly for defense and rebounding but he doesn’t really rebound and isn’t really such a prolific shot blocker either.

Kyle O’ Quinn – he is a hard body who rebounds well and can both shoot and even pass.  He has the misfortune of playing behind Porzingis which limits playing time, but he will fill the box score when in the game.  For some reason he seems to be in the dog house getting benched in favor of smaller lineups but I think that will prove to be cyclical.

Derrick Williams – it’s obvious to see both why he was a second overall pick and why he was considered a bust.  He shows tremendous potential.  He is extraordinarily athletic and can shoot reasonably well.  He was borderline dominant in pre-season and has had great runs in the regular season, but has proven to be inconsistent.  It’s hard to imagine we found something others couldn’t see but it does seem the potential is still there.

Kristaps Porzingis – admittedly not the guy I wanted.  I was looking for Mudiay once the lottery balls didn’t bounce right, but as they say you can’t teach 7 foot 3 and Porzingis comes with actual talent and hustle as well.  Given that he just turned 20, it’s amazing how many stars and coaches are already praising him.  He is years away from the all-star I believe he will become but he is unexpectedly already contributing materially to the current team.  It is the potential for his improvement that provides hope to Knicks fans for the future.

He was known for his shooting and for not being a good rebounder.  So far his shooting is not quite what it was supposed to be and his rebounding has been materially better.

Lance Thomas – Fisher loves him.  He did add muscle this off season and is very fundamentally sound but I still would rather see guys like O’Quinn and Williams play over him.  He is solid but unspectacular.

Langston Galloway – He is the player on whom my opinion most changed in the past year.  He spent the off-season adding muscle to his frame and working on his shot.  Both have significantly improved his game to where he is one of their better players.  He is light years better than Calderón on defense, and can now hit the open three-pointer.  He was actually leading the league for a short amount of time, though this is still clearly the law of small numbers.

Melo – I’d say Melo will be Melo but Melo aging may not be the Melo we have known. I was always more bullish on him than most but am unconvinced he is the player he was at his peak.   A real shame if he and Porzingis won’t have time to have their best days overlap as that is the only way this team will thrive in the next couple of years.

Afflalo – At this point incomplete.  He has recently returned from injury.  He seems to be aggressive defensively but to date I have not seen a high Basketball IQ on offense.  He seems to force shots that are not great.  I’m hopeful that as he becomes more comfortable with his teammates, that will change.

Jerian Grant – I’m in the minority here but I’m not a huge fan.  Yes, he has an NBA body and plays good defense, but it’s hard to play guard in this league with no outside shot and he has none.  Additionally, if you watch him closely, his ability to dribble left handed is not NBA level, and when other teams figure that out he will really struggle.  Perhaps he can work on these things in the off season but I actually expect his playing time will actually go down and not up over the course of the season, especially if Galloway can get minutes at the 1.

Calderón – his shot and offensive game is coming around after a slow start but he is so horrific defensively that it causes the whole defense to break down.  The good thing is that this year when his man beats him, between Porzingis and Lopez it’s no longer a guaranteed lay-up.  The Calderón trade/contract was the worst thing Jackson did to the team.

Vujačić – Does everything but nothing particularly well.  With Afflalo back and Galloway playing well, he will get many DNPs this year.

Serafin – I like his skills if not his judgement.  He can block shots and hit shots and can even make an occasional good pass.  I’m not sure why he is behind Amundsen on the depth chart.  He shouldn’t be.  He did come in 25 pounds over-weight.  If he ever dropped those pounds he could be a real contributor.

Projection – the Knicks will surprise many and win 39 games this year.  They will still likely finish just barely out of the playoffs but will contend for a spot down to the final couple of weeks. 

 

Knicks Preview

11/10/2014

 
Similar to my Giants, the Knicks are a mediocre team.  They should be good for 40 wins this year. Presumably, they will improve just by the removal of Woodson.  He was a horrible coach who didn’t understand certain basics like playing offense /defense at the end of a quarter or instructing guys when it is appropriate to hold for one.  The Triangle is no panacea.  It will likely ultimately improve the team, but assume there will be a couple of month’s learning curve before the improvement translates.  Even with some tweaks it’s a similar team to last year’s 38 win team.  The hope for improvement comes from the following:

Felton had one of the worst years I’ve ever seen from a starting point guard. That is on both sides of the floor. Calderon should be a big improvement offensively and won’t be worse defensively.  Hardaway should progress as he enters his second year.  I still have big hopes for Shumpert as he is an elite defender and should have the tools to be a much better offensive player.  Smith is likely not well cut out to play the triangle and while he should be better than the first half of the year when he was injured, he won’t get back to his 2012 form or the form he showed in the last quarter of last year.  Melo will play more 3 this year hurting much of his edge.  The offense will be a large adjustment for him.  The argument people make for Melo in the Triangle is that it worked for MJ and Kobe so he should eventually figure out a way to make it work for him.

Amar’e should be healthier this year and contribute more.  He is still athletic, and will be very valuable if he is hitting his 15 foot elbow shots.  I’m not convinced he will ever learn the fundamentals of defense.  Speaking of not learning the fundaments of defense, Bargnani is the least fundamental defensive player I have ever seen.  His injury is a blessing.  I have to believe that the talk of making him into a valuable contributor coming out of Camp Jackson, has to do with trying to get someone to trade for him.  They can’t be that wrong.  Jason Smith is actually a very good addition who is perfect for this offense in that he can hit open 15 footers and this will be available for him.  Dalembert has good shot blocking skills and should not be a material down grade from Chandler.  The hope is that he is keeping a seat warm for Marc Gasol.  Prigioni still gives quality minutes despite his age limitations and Shane Larkin is never going to be a quality starter in the NBA.  At his size he needs to be a great shooter and he is not.

The Knicks record last year in games decided by 2 or less points was horrific.  The blame can be shared between Woodson and a Melo that was too tired from playing 40 minutes a game.  Both of those should be improved upon, allowing a slightly higher win total. Best case they get the 8 spot and sneak into the playoffs.  The smarter play would be to trade away what they can before the trade deadline and focus on 2015-16 season when the cap space is freed up.

 

Season in Crisis

02/25/2014

 
The Knicks tried to get something done at the trade deadline and were unsuccessful.  Inside sources tell me they were close on a 6 player deal that fell apart last minute.  It is possible that the Shumpert injury killed some opportunities they have.  It’s always possible that it turns into a blessing in disguise if he flourishes, but that looks less and less likely.  More importantly, the 2 guard is just very crowded.

The Knicks cannot be a competitive team with a 2014 version of Ray Felton playing. His offensive game is off a little, but his defense is now so uncompetitive that the other team is a +10 before they walk onto the floor. It’s too hard to make up.  Since the current Knicks team can’t compete, they should give Toure Murray a shot.  What do they have to lose?

Felton himself has started to point fingers at Woodson. He is not completely incorrect.  Opposing teams understand all you need to do is run a high pick and roll and two passes later it will result in an open corner three pointer. Three point defense is not like free throw defense.  There really is a factor determined by defense being played.  It’s sad to say that if I was Melo, I would leave the Knicks. Unless they can pull a rabbit out of a hat, I don’t see how they are better next year.  They have no first round draft pick and only Hardaway is a truly ascending player (possibly Tyler as well).

In life, I’ve been accused of excess pessimism.  In sports fandom, I’ve been accused of unrealistic optimism.  It’s really hard.  I don’t see a playoff possibility this year and the only way they get better next year is Woodson being replaced, but what good coach wants this job?

 

Signs of Life

01/13/2014

 
Since the start of 2014, the Knicks have looked like a respectable team.  They have now won 5 of 6 including signature wins over both the Spurs and the Heat.  During the Heat game, the Garden rocked like it hadn’t in a long time.  And this was without a sick Chandler, a benched JR Smith, and injured Prigioni.  How can a team look so bad for part of the year, then suddenly learn how to play?  I have a few theories.  One is that it’s just an aberration.  They were not as bad as their record and not as good as they are currently playing. 

More likely are some other reasons.  Shumpert seems to be emerging from a season long slump, resembling the player he was last year.  More importantly, injuries have opened the door for Toure Murry to get some playing time.  He is not bad at all, showing the pre-season was no fluke.  He is solid on the offensive side but very good on the defensive side.  With most Knicks point guards, and especially Udrih, the Knicks get broken down off the dribble forcing rotations that ultimately lead to an open man scoring for the opponent.  A healthier Amar’e and Kenyon Martin have also helped.  Also, Melo seems to trust his teammates more and hog the ball less.  This is creating ball movement.  Lastly, they seemed to have somewhat figured out how Woodson wants them to rotate on defense.  The one exception to this is Bargnani. 

I have been following him closely during games and here is my conclusion.  He is a solid offensive player. He has better and less good shooting nights but seems to understand the offense and be aware of his limitations and plays within his skill set.  On defense he is actually not a bad one on one defender.  He is long and can stick with most offensive players. The issue with him (other than his horrific rebounding for a 7 footer) is that nobody ever taught him how to play a pick and roll.  He doesn’t understand either when he should fight through a pick, nor when his teammate should fight through a pick, when the pick is being set by the guy guarding Bargnani.

As a result they always switch, leaving mismatches on the floor.  That is what gets them killed.  Fortunately, one of the recent improvements on the defensive side is the Knicks better understanding how to defend as a team after the switch takes place and a mismatch is created. 

The best part of the Knicks season this year is that they are fortunate to play in the horrific Eastern conference, meaning they are only a few games away from a 4 seed, and currently only half a game from the 8 hole behind the woefully inept Pistons. 

If Woodson figures out how to properly reintegrate Chandler, and make sure Toure Murry stays in the rotation even after everyone else returns, the Knicks could make it to the second round of the playoffs.  None of this is a given.

Regarding JR – If he was in the last year of his contract you bench him and don’t deal with him for a while.  But they need to figure out a way to get his head on straight.  He is with them for the next 3 years and probably untradeable.  Good for Woodson showing a spine and finally disciplining the guy.  It is likely he will need to do it again and next time even more harshly.  The reality is that the drop-off to either Shumpert or Hardaway is negligible, so it really is a no brainer.  He is so physically talented. If he can ever get his head on straight, he could be a real asset.  Until then, you will never be able to count on him.

 

Who shot JR?

12/13/2013

 
One of the main things that made the Knicks a 54 win team last year was JR Smith’s contributions.  He was a reliable second scorer who could be counted on most nights.  The hope is that his subpar play is still a result of not fully recovering from off-season knee injury.  Without a return to health, the lack of a viable strong scorer from the guard position will be problematic.

Interestingly, on the injury return from Amar’e has looked good recently.  He has looked athletic and offensively potent.  If his health can hold, this could be very helpful going forward.  Bargnani had played very well until a recent shooting slump.  A return to November form will help.  It will also be interesting to see how Woody handles the reintegration of Tyson Chandler, their most indispensable defensive piece into their rotation. 

Felton may be injured or just getting old.  When at this thinner self, he barely had the foot speed to excel.  While weight would occasionally cost him that, it’s possible some aging is now the culprit.  It’s harder to turn that one around.  Prigioni plays well in limited minutes, but I’m not sold on Beno.  I’d love to see pre-season star Murry get a real shot.

The more I see from Hardaway, the more I believe he could be a good player.  That also means I’m getting on board with the possibility of trading Shumpert.  Kenyon Martin has also been a valuable addition when healthy playing aggressive defense, but he is a head case who will go off at any time picking up flagrants and technicalities in costly ways. 

The Knicks are fortunate that the East so bad.  They are only 2.5 games out.  If Chandler returns this week, and some stars align, this could still be not only a playoff team but a 4 seed.  That is more of a commentary on the East than on the Knicks. The way this team is constructed, I’m starting to miss Isiah.
 

Update

11/21/2013

 
The Knicks are the very definition of a dysfunctional team; a team of ill-fitting parts that just don’t work well together.  In hindsight it is pretty miraculous they won so many games last year.  They played over their head.  Many statisticians who analyze these things thought they won more than they should have last year.  At this point, a 5 seed is a dream and it’s easy to see them not making the playoffs.  They were most thin up front and then Chandler, their most indispensable player went down. Compounding the problem is the Knicks don’t have a point guard with quick lateral quickness who keep the opposition from driving to the hoop.  This is where the secondary shot blocker is more necessary.

The good news is that Chandler will eventually comeback and that will make a material difference.  The bad news is that neither Felton nor Udrih can cover fast point guards.  I sat next to a team executive from another team recently who previously employed Felton and knew him well.  He said “He loves that Felton loves to compete, he doesn’t love that Felton loves to eat”.  At the end of the day, he still needs to drop some weight to keep the quickness on.

In addition to the eventual addition of Chandler, presumably J.R. Smith will get healthier and return to last year’s form.  He was a material contributor and could make a real difference.

Column favorite Copeland, who signed with the Pacers, is seeing no playing time there.  He was a good fit for the Knicks when on the floor with Melo.  Without him and Novak, they can double Melo without paying the price of an open 3 pointer.  They didn't need both but could have really used one.

Bargnani is shockingly playing very well.  He is hitting his shots and playing close to, but not quite decent defense.  He has not been the problem.  I’m not sure how he is fitting in to NY. He seems to be liked by his teammates, but I think he brought his mother to town - her seats are next to mine at the Garden –or at least I really hope it’s his mom and not his wife

Regarding Shumpert trade rumors:  I have very mixed feelings.  I believe he has the capabilities to be one of the great on ball defenders in the league and he has actually learned how to hit a 3 pointer.  Additionally, given his athleticism, he should figure out the other parts of the game too.  He could be special.  However, he is a tradable piece on a team that has too many guys at the same position.  Hardaway actually seems like a player worthy of rotation time, so combined with J.R. Smith it’s a bit crowded on the wings.  If they can convert him into a quality big man, it needs to be considered.  They should not do a trade that is short sighted to fix a 4 week hole in Chandler’s absence.

I will say that in the most recent game against Detroit they at least looked to be putting forth a real effort.  Sometimes that just doesn’t translate to a win.

 

Pre-Season

10/15/2013

 
It’s hard to make much of the Knicks pre-season.  When you rest key starters you don’t get a feel for what the team will be.  Bargnani is out of shape due to pneumonia, but hope to see him in better shape as we get closer to season.  He should be complimentary to Melo, if he can rediscover his outside shot.  The “Melo at the 4” issue that everyone brings up should be mostly irrelevant with Bargnani in there.  Even though he pushed Melo to the 3, having a 4 whose shot you need to respect (unlike a Martin for example) should free up enough space for Melo to operate.  

Since Chandler will come off the floor when the starters are rested, having Metta World Peace on the second unit makes sense.  It may also make sense then to have J.R. Smith over Shumpert, but I’m slightly torn on that one.  Shump is so priming, but so inconsistent.  He shoots 7-7 one night and looks like the “Breakout star” from game 6 in Indiana (which if the Knicks had one would have catapulted Shumpert into Knicks playoff lore), and then goes a lackadaisical 2-7 a little while later.  

What Amar’e can bring in his 20 minutes a game is still a large unknown. He was actually pretty effective in his floor time last year.  Having him for a few minutes a game at the 5 (especially since there are no good back up 5s this year), alongside Kenyon Martin and Metta World Peace can work
with the right back court.  I’m not saying he will earn his $20m, but he can be a positive source. 

I’m a little uncomfortable with relying too much on Bargnani and with the fact that all the other teams at the top of the East have improved. However, the Knicks should be good for a competitive 50 games, and a good shot of hosting a first round playoff game.  

At the very least as a Giants fan, the only thing getting me through is that the Knicks season will start soon enough.  
 




 
 
After watching all their Eastern rivals improve while not having the cap space to keep pace, the Knicks finally got some good news this week.  The artist formerly known as Ron Artest (aka Metta World Peace), was amnestied by the Lakers in a cost cutting move.  Artest is certainly past his prime but still fills a big need for the Knicks and represents an upgrade in a position they needed.  The only true small forward the Knicks have is Melo.  As discussed many times in this blog, Melo is usually better put at the power forward, where he presents a mismatch against most teams, while still being able handle most opposing 4s (Indiana’s David West one notable exception).  At the begging of last year, Ronnie Brewer was playing sold defense at the 3, while hitting his outside shot and the Knicks got off to a great start.  Once he reverted to his historical shooting norms (meaning he can’t shoot), this lineup no longer worked as teams could double Melo without adverse consequences.  Artest should bring to New York regularly what Brewer was on his good days and that is what led to the 18-6 start.  Given what they paid for him, this is an excellent pick up for the Knicks.  He is not the player he once was and will not be a material difference maker but he fills a number of needs and is an excellent pick up given the price.

On another note:
I am a Prigioni fan.  However, his signing at that cost was a bad move. Realistically, Shumpert and JR Smith will fill the 2 guard position (and perhaps Hardaway too). This means Prigioni will be a 12-15 minute a night backup point guard.  This is an important job, but the Knicks needed to either get him to play for the veterans minimum or have toslightly downgrade to one of the many other decent back up point guards that are on the market.  The difference between Prigioni, and whoever the other point guard they could have signed for 12-15 minutes a game, wasn’t worth missing out on whatever the use of the full mid-level exception would have gotten them.  Whether that was an Elton Brand or a Sam Dalembert, the whole there is more important than the difference between Prigioni and the next best option.  I like Prigioni, but losing his ability to get the full exception to one key cog was a mistake.  

Lastly –JR Smith injury. 
It is absurd that they waited this long to get surgery.  However, looking on the bright side, it does confirm that he was legitimately injured during the playoffs. The Knicks were a much better team with JR at full strength in the regular season and if his playoff performance really was injury related, it gives hope for what the healthy Knicks team could be this year.  Most are down on the Knicks because of how they finished the season and what the Nets, Bulls, and Pacers will have in terms of upgrades, but I believe the Knicks will surprise many this year.  When Vegas makes the over/under line for wins, I’d take the over.



 
 
We have been behind on our commentary, so here is a quick update going into the long holiday weekend.

The Knicks drafted Tim Hardaway Jr., son of former Knicks nemesis.  I have seen him play a couple of times.  My impressions were that he was solid, but not spectacular.  I personally would have preferred Bullock from NC.  He is the better shooter and given the free looks you get off of Melo double teams it would have made more sense.  In general, two types of players tend to get over drafted.  One is those with name recognition, and the others, were those who played in an NCAA championship game.  Two for two here.  At 24, expectations had to be modest.  I would have preferred a point guard or defensive specialist.  

The bigger recent news was the trade for Andrea Bargnani from Toronto for Steve Novak, Marcus Camby and a first round pick.  This is being widely panned.  It is being compared to all the infamous Isaiah Thomas trades.  It is possible this is a fair assessment but ill offer up the other side of the argument if only to plays devil’s advocate.  

Novak was a one dimensional player.  He was a horrific defender and rebounder.  He was a real liability out there for those aspects of the game.  He couldn’t drive either.  All he could do was hit the open 3, which also allowed them to stretch the floor.  However, once the league adapted and
learned not to give it to him, he was not doing much. He fell behind Copeland, rightfully so in the rotation (more on Copeland later).  Losing him will be a non-factor, but more importantly the Knicks remove his $4m per year salary from their books.  I should take this opportunity to say that I liked Novak.  

His lovely Christina had the season tickets right next to mine and was a lovely person. By now she should have had their second kid, and I wish them well.  Every time Novak walked off the court at half time and at the end of the game, he would wave at her (and occasionally their toddler son, if it was a day game). When I brought my young son I would stand right next to them and convince him that the player was going to wave at him.  He was always impressed by this.  
 
Regarding Camby, I am in a very small minority.  I thought he did still have something left in the tank defensively.  I thought he was still a real presence out there on the defensive side and was significantly underutilized by Woody.  Regardless, if Woody wasn’tusing him, it’s of no use to have him.  
 
For the most part, Grunwald has done a decent job. It’s not quite like Jerry Reese where he should be given the benefit of the doubt, but he may know what he is doing.  Firstly,before last year, opinion on Bargnani was vastly different than it is today.  He was injured part of the
year, and it is possible that the Kicks research suggests that he was not really healthy when on the court. IF so, a return to 2011 levels would be great.  I recall seeing him play against the Knicks at some point in the past two years and he killed the Knicks. When you are selected number one overall it comes with expectations.  Once you fail to live up to those, it’s hard to get the crowd back.  Coming in with very different expectations in New York should help. 

More importantly, and contrary to popular belief, this is actually a good salary cap move.  There is virtually no circumstance where the Knicks could get under the cap in the next two years prior to expiration of Amare’s contract. Melos finished the same time,. So the extra expense for the next couple of years is just money, but not really salary cap hit.  In years 3 and 4 of the contract there 
are no more obligations to Bargnani and Novak, who had four years, would still be on the books for $4m.  Helping the 2015 cap is all that matters for this.  Additionally since the Knicks should be well set up to sign players in 2015, giving up a 2016 draft pick should not be very meaningful.  
 
From a playing perspective, Bargnani didn’t have a star to play with in Toronto.  He is a good open shooter.  With Melo and Amara, you have two players requiring double teams.  If he could unclog the middle by taking opposing bigs away, it should help open things up for Melo and Amare underneath and he should be able to hit the open jumper when Melo gets doubled and kicks it out. 


 

May 17th, 2013

05/17/2013

 
The Knicks won a difficult game last night, living to fight another day. They pulled the series within 3-2.  They head back to Indy still one loss away from going home.  They did it mostly by following my suggestion.  They benched Kidd and played Copeland.  I had been calling for this all playoffs.

Kidd is over the hill. He is now what Bibby was last year.  He is a liability defensively when playing quicker players (Stevenson qualifies).  Since his man gets by him it always causes a double team that then leaves someone else open.  Copeland has that stretch the floor ability.  When the team is struggling to score an especially can’t drive due to Hibbert’s shot blocking abilities, it’s a no brainer to add Copeland to the rotation.  He is a very poor perimeter defender but not a bad post defender so just make sure to play him at the 4 and not on Paul George at the 3.

The last suggestion I had has not been taken up yet.  They need to insert Camby into the rotation at the 5 when Chandler is on the bench.  There are very few opponents that I would suggest this for but the Pacers are one of them.  Martin is strong enough to guard most centers.  But in this case, with Hibbert at 7 foot 2 inches tall, he just doesn’t have the length to guard him down low.  He can’t stop the hook.  Camby could.

The Pacers are just a bad match up for the Knicks.  Melo at the 4 is also something that usually works but it doesn’t work well when you have a big tough opposing 4 (David West) who has a good inside offensive game.  Nevertheless, if the Knicks can somehow pull out an unlikely upset in Indy on Saturday the play a Game 7 at home on Monday.  If JR Smith (who is being persecuted by the refs) somehow rediscovers his shot, this series could continue. . I’m not optimistic about beating Indy in Indy but as they say “on any given night”.  Realistically I see the season ending Saturday but hope I’m wrong. 

Side note:  The one positive that will come out of this horrible playoff for Smith is that he just went from out of their free agency price range to back into it.  When the season ended he was in line for an $8m+ annual contract.  Now he potentially could be had for $5.5m.  That is the most the Knicks will be allowed to pay him next year per the rules.  The opposite may apply for Copeland. They may not be able to keep him.