A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Posts Tagged ‘New York Knicks

On why the Knicks should trade Carmelo Anthony & the Derrick Williams pick

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On http://www.morningpickup.com I wrote a few articles

The case for trading Carmelo Anthony

http://www.morningpickup.com/case-new-york-trading-carmelo-anthony/

Can Derrick Williams find his niche in Sacramento?

http://www.morningpickup.com/can-derrick-williams-find-niche/

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Why Steve Novak may be more talented than Andrea Bargnani

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English: Basketball player Steve Novak during ...

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When the Knicks traded for Andrea Bargnani, clearly they anticipated an upgrade, or the chance at one. Bargnani is both much more expensive than Novak and it cost New York a 1st and two 2nds to make the swap, thus by logic they prefer Bargnani.

Regardless of how they feel about Novak’s production the last 2 seasons vs a standard Bargnani year, it seems obvious they prefer Andrea’s talent. Bargnani is a former #1 pick and is more physically gifted, thanks to both a 7’1 height in shoes and greater athleticism.

However I’ve made the point repeatedly on this blog, that treating physical tools as the near end all of talent is dangerous. What Novak lacks physically compared to Bargnani, he may make up elsewhere:

First consider that Novak is a better pure shooter than Bargnani. Aside from his career 43.3% 3P to Bargnani’s 36.1%, Novak has a career FT% of 88.6% to Bargnani’s 82.5%. Novak shoots free throws at a rate reserved for the NBA’s shooting greats. In addition to this, Novak had an incredible shooting career at Marquette, hitting 46.1% from 3 and 93.1% from the FT line over 4 years. While Novak has only taken 105 free throws in his entire NBA career putting his FT% in small sample size dispute, that he took 261 FTAs in college at an even better rate, helps confirm his ability. The evidence suggests that for pure shooting, Novak is among the best of the best along with NBA players like Steve Nash, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, etc. Whereas Bargnani is an above average shooter for a big man, but not as freakishly gifted at it.

However the biggest difference may be in mental talent. Bargnani has awareness issues, the root of falling behind so often in help defense. Even on offense, Bargnani has never struck me as a natural or fluid basketball player. He’s not a player who surveys plays or feels his opponents out. Very few of his plays could be described as crafty. Bargnani to me, has a similar affliction that athletes like Javale McGee and Anthony Randolph do. Despite obvious talents they do not read the game well. Chris Kaman is another big man who has standout skills with size and mobility, but can’t pick up plays fast enough in a read and react dominated game. What separates Brook Lopez and Chris Kaman has everything to do with this feel and instincts.

Novak on the other hand, knows positioning, recognizes space when shooting and in the few times he needs to move shows a degree of smoothness and fluidity. Overall I would argue Novak has a better feel for the game than Bargnani does.

That’s not to say Novak is for sure more talented than Bargnani. Bargnani’s athleticism does give him more versatility attacking the basket or creating midrange jumpers off the dribble. Bargnani’s height and strength allows him to defend the post more than Novak. While defensively he may lose plays mentally more than Novak, if he’s in the area his physical tools allow him to contest shots better. It’s hard to pin down just how much value Bargnani’s physical talents could have, if it’s accepted he’s an enigma who doesn’t use all of it.

Nevertheless, to me calling Steve Novak more talented than Andrea Bargnani is perfectly reasonable. For while Bargnani may have the edge in physical gifts, I see Novak’s special talent as a shooter and his feel potentially making up the difference.

Written by jr.

October 9, 2013 at 11:21 pm

Beware the Unconventional Swordsman: Why I still see the Knicks as the biggest threat to the Heat in the East

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Carmelo Anthony

Carmelo Anthony (Photo credit: Keith Allison)

“There are some things that can beat smartness and foresight? Awkwardness and stupidity can. The best swordsman in the world doesn’t need to fear the second best swordsman in the world; no, the person for him to be afraid of is some ignorant antagonist who has never had a sword in his hand before; he doesn’t do the thing he ought to do, and so the expert isn’t prepared for him; he does the thing he ought not to do; and often it catches the expert out and ends him on the spot.”

– Mark Twain

With the Miami Heat on a 27 game winning streak and up 12.5 games on 2nd place in the East, the first 3 rounds of the playoffs in the East looks like a mere formality. After Miami the rest of the East are the Seven Dwarves. Who of the group of Indiana, New York, Brooklyn, Chicago, Atlanta, Boston and Milwaukee can possibly beat this Heat team – and this legend in Lebron James, at their absolute apex? Can they even get more than 1 game against the Heat?

Some are selling themselves on the Pacers or Nets or the Bulls if Derrick Rose returns as a threat, but my overwhelming choice for the “Maybe… if… perhaps” threat to the Heat, is the New York Knicks.

True, the Knicks are only 11-8 after the all-star break and are both old and badly injured. They’re wilting and barely holding onto their division lead and a top 3 seed. The Knicks are not a sexy choice right now.

My case starts with going back to the 2011 Mavericks, the only team to beat these Heat. My theory for why the Mavs pulled this off – and as I predicted before that series – is because of how weird they were to play. The Heat’s stellar athletes were forced to chase 3 point shooters around the perimeter, instead of using their athleticism to protect the paint. Of course this was added to defending Dirk’s spread/post offense at the 4, hands down the most unconventional player to guard in the league. Adding to this, defensively the Mavericks used not freakish athleticism, but intelligence and a coaching bag of tricks. The Mavericks were the opposite of the Heat. Instead of blinding athleticism and slashing, they used skill and shooting. Instead of physically dominating teams defensively, they relied on formation and positioning and weird tricks like sticking Jason Kidd on Lebron. If the Heat were Superman, a supernatural physical force of powers – then the Mavericks were Batman, a hero with no superpowers but incredible intelligence and an array of gadgets. In 2013 with the Heat playing like this, I suspect having a shot comes down to being Batman, not an inferior version of Superman.

The Knicks this year has been built very similarly to the 2011 Mavericks. On both teams Tyson Chandler manned the middle at C, with elite efficiency and positional defense. Carmelo and Dirk play the stretch PF and center the team’s offense. Then on the perimeter, the teams lack great penetrators but a group of perimeter shooters. Instead of driving into the paint against Miami’s swarming help defense, they will wait on the perimeter for shots to open up. The Heat’s athleticism is much less dynamic on defense, when it’s chasing 3 point shooters instead of blocking penetrating.

Another model for the East’s Seven Dwarves to follow is the 2009 Magic, who shocked the 66 win Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals. Like the 2011 Mavericks, the Magic were a weird team, defined by it’s 6’10+ 3 point shooting combo in Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis flanking Dwight Howard at C. The Magic rained 3s on the Cavaliers, too short to cover those shots. The 2009 Cavaliers were flawed, but playing an untraditional team did not help matters.

In the above Mark Twain quote, the Indiana Pacers are the 2nd best swordsman in the East. They are as fundamentally sound as can get, the play the “right way.” The Heat have no reason to fear the Pacers, their straight laced fundamentals also makes them less likely to play over their heads. But the Knicks are the unconventional swordsman. By relying on the 3 pointer if they get hot and players like Jason Kidd, JR Smith and Steve Novak start hitting from the outside, no amount of athleticism chasing them on the perimeter will be able to stop those shots from going in. Defensively they are old but smart and will try to positionally block off the Heat.

Finally, the Knicks have all too much reason to be confident against the Knicks. Tyson Chandler and Jason Kidd have already beat them. JR Smith is the ultimate “irrational confidence” player, to quote Bill Simmons. Carmelo Anthony is good enough to believe he can be the series’ best player. Players like Iman Shumpert, Kenyon Martin, Amar’e Stoudemire, Steve Novak are also far from lacking in balls. The Knicks have also had success against the Heat this season to boost their belief.

I’m far from betting against the Heat in the East this season. But it’s no lock. Nothing is a certainty in the NBA. If I had to pick one team to “shock the world”, I’m taking those weird, unconventional swordsman New York Knicks.

Written by jr.

March 27, 2013 at 4:46 pm

The year of coaching narratives and the right fit

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Mike D'Antoni coaching the New York Knicks in ...

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve made a handful of posts regarding the value of coaches in the NBA. My general belief is coaches are more often than not overrated. There is usually no escaping a team’s talent level in the NBA. Furthermore something I’ve been fascinated by is the connection of offense and defense in the NBA. I do not favor isolating team ORTG and DRTGs, because I believe teams can have “identities” or push their energy and planning towards one side of the court, elevating either the ORTG or DRTG, but at the cost of the other end. As a good example this year’s Indiana Pacers are 1st defensively and 29th offensively. Why so futile offensively with talents on that end like Paul George, David West and Roy Hibbert? They’re probably playing below their heads offensively for the same reason they’re playing above their heads defensively: Because they’re a defensively orientated team. On the other hand, the Houston Rockets are 9th offensively and 19th defensively despite having one of the best defensive centers in the league in Omer Asik and little offensive talent outside of James Harden. Chances are with a different style of play they could be better defensively but at the cost of offensively. The end result of the Pacers and Rockets is that they’re playing almost exactly as expected, the Pacers in the mix for the 2nd-4th seed and the Rockets in the mix for the 8th. While I respect Frank Vogel and Kevin McHale, I see little reason to believe they’re coaching has made their teams better. It makes more sense to say Pacers are great because they have 3 all-stars at SF, PF and C in George, West and Hibbert, the Rockets because they have one of the league’s best players in Harden along with a few decent supporting pieces like Asik, Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin – and the coach and system did enough for these rosters to play up to their ability, no matter whether it was with offense or defense emphasized.

Despite this being my general philosophy with coaching, there hasn’t been a year recently where coaching has seemed more relevant than 2012-2013. Coaching has been a crucial part of the story of the Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks, and Brooklyn Nets, 3 high profile markets and situations. Let’s start with the New York Knicks. A year ago they fired Mike D’Antoni with the middling results under him and have been playing like a top 3 seed ever since. Woodson’s approach has been to simplify the team. The Knicks understand that to win, they play defense first and then move the ball on the offensive end, from Melo to the array of 3pt shooters to Tyson Chandler finishing inside. A similar simplifying has happened in Brooklyn. Avery Johnson micromanaged his point guard Deron Williams and wanted to run a system heavy team. With Carlisemo the Nets seem freer to make their own decisions on the fly. What’s important about the Knicks and Nets improvement to me is that both teams seem happier. On the surface, to me much their improvement has been emotional. The Knicks have a perfect culture in the style they play. They seem to have great chemistry, share the ball and all commit on defense. The Knicks are now a bonded team in a way that should be emulated by other franchises. Likewise the Nets are playing together on both ends since P.J. took over. Importantly, Deron Williams is a player who’s numbers have greatly improved under their new coach. The freedom in style of play seems to have rubbed off well on him.

Another good example of a “free play” coach is Scott Brooks. Brooks has been criticized at times for being hands off on his players and letting them play. He doesn’t pull in Russell Westbrook’s boundless energy by making him walk up the court and run pick and rolls. He lets the players figure it out and makes sure they play hard and move the ball and this seems to fit their team the most.

But compare this to Tom Thibodeau’s Chicago Bulls, who are the posterboy for elite coaching in the NBA. What’s interesting is that Thibodeau has the mentality of a coach, that the Knicks and Nets arguably succeeded by abandoning. He’s the uber-intense, micro-managing system coach. Yet his style works perfectly for the Bulls. Perhaps it’s because they have the roster to pull it off, mainly thanks to the psychotic competitiveness of Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah leading the way. Tom Thibodeau on another team may not have found any more success than Doug Collins in Philadelphia or Scott Skiles on the Bucks, but for the Bulls he is perfect.

Now let’s talk about the mess that is the Los Angeles Lakers. Mike D’Antoni has undoubtedly failed his second franchise in a row. If recent reports are to be true, they are a chemistry disaster. Pau Gasol is a headcase who’s gone off the deep end and the Kobe Bryant-Dwight Howard relationship sounds like it’s going as well as the one between Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano’s characters in “There Will Be Blood”. I believe D’Antoni is the wrong fit for this system that reasons that have little to do with his strategically system. He’s a bad fit because of how he’s clearly not the type who could keep Kobe’s ego, Dwight’s lack of assertiveness and Gasol’s sensitivity from sprawling the team into mental chaos.

One thing this situation made me appreciate is Phil Jackson’s greatness. Look at that Lakers core from a few years ago with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum and Metta World Peace. Based on what we know about those players, that’s a ticking time bomb mix of alienating ego (Kobe), mental fragility (Odom and Pau), distracted immaturity (Bynum) and an actual crazy person (World Peace). Kobe, Odom, Pau and Bynum have befallen to the absolute worst of their character flaws without Jackson, while MWP funnily enough has been the most sane. Phil managing to keep a team with THOSE 5 players afloat from a chemistry and emotional perspective, has to be one of the most underrated coaching achievements of all time. And this is not the first time Phil has done a great job keeping locker-rooms with big heads together, turning the uneasy Shaq-Kobe relationship into 3 titles, as well as keeping Scottie Pippen on board with playing #2 for 6 titles with Michael Jordan (and later, getting Dennis Rodman on track after he had gone off the rails in San Antoni). This is ultimately why Phil Jackson is the greatest coach of all time. Although he had more talent than any coach in history, he did an amazing job playing caretaker to some situations that may have blown up without him.

What this all tells me is that coaching is important, but perhaps coaches shouldn’t be judged in a vacuum. Instead it’s about fitting the players to the coach. Both in style of play and in the way those players approach the game. Sometimes you need a Scott Brooks to leave his hands off and sometimes a Tom Thibodeau to put his hands on.

But with that said. While he’s not in the right spot, let’s face it. Mike D’Antoni is still doing a really, really bad job.

Written by jr.

January 24, 2013 at 8:13 pm

Should the Celtics trade for Amar’e Stoudemire?

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Amar'e Stoudemire of the New York Knicks addre...

Amar’e Stoudemire of the New York Knicks addresses fans at the team’s open practice session in October 2010. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With Amar’e Stoudemire coming back from injury, all the talk is of what to do with him. The Knicks have clearly been successful without him, starting 21-8. A key to this is Carmelo playing at the 4 beside Tyson Chandler, the two providing a perfect harmony of offensive spacing and mobile defense. Carmelo and Amar’e have never been able to win while on the court together. The offensive chemistry and synergy between them is impossible with their style of ball-needing play. While Amar’e seems destined to come off the bench when he returns, this does not fix the issue. Carmelo, Amar’e and Chandler will need to play together a certain portion of the game – and I suspect Stoudemire will want to finish games and play the end of 4th quarters. Coming off the bench is one thing, but being benched in “winning time” is arguably an even bigger slight to star player’s egos.

Trading Amar’e is the natural move, the problem is he has the single worst contract in the league. At 2 years/45 million owed after this season, if his health issues prevent him from playing at a star level, he will be a massive albatross.

Here’s the team I like for Stoudemire: The Boston Celtics. Boston has started a disappointing 14-14 and looks in no way like a title contender this year. Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo are still effective, the problem is the rest of the team. All of Jason Terry, Courtney Lee, Brandon Bass, Jeff Green, Jared Sullinger are performing poorly. The Celtics frontcourt in particular has been ineffective aside from Garnett. I’m of the belief that when you have old stars like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, you should push all in to try and win the title. Because having players that effective is a scarce asset and it can take decades to contend for a title again after they’re gone. The Celtics only being a .500 team in a year they expected to compete for a title is a huge failure from that perspective.

The thing about the Celtics is that they’re loaded with long term deals. Jeff Green is owed 3 years/27.1 million after this season and may be a below league average player, Brandon Bass is owed 2 years/13.7 million after the season, Courtney Lee is owed 3 years/16.3 million after this year. Combine those 3 poor contracts together and financially, it’s almost an exact match for Stoudemire’s salary. The Green, Bass and Lee combination is owed 19.6 million in 2012-2013,  20.65 million in 2013-2014, 21.6 million in 2014-2015 and 14.9 million in 2015-2016. Amar’e is owed 19.5 million in 2012-2013, 21.7 million in 2013-2014, and 23.4 million in 2014-2015. Because the Knicks do not likely have room for 3 extra players in their rotation, especially an extra wing defender like Lee, a logical swap would be sending back Ronnie Brewer and 1.1 million expiring contract. Brewer has been losing minutes lately due to his lack of shooting and would be replaceable by Lee.

So the Knicks move on from their Amar’e conundrum and get a legitimate backup big who’s OK being a backup in Bass and give Green a try at SF and PF, while replacing Brewer with Lee. All of these pieces are more moveable in upcoming years than Amar’e himself. The important part though is avoiding the potential chemistry nuke of an unhappy Amar’e returning and being benched in 4th quarters.

As for the Celtics, they hope Amar’e can spark them to contention this year. With Terry, Pierce, Amar’e and Garnett, the Celtics would have tremendous offensive spacing for Rondo to play with. They would have an extra scorer to match up with Miami, Chicago and New York’s tough defense in the playoffs. Defensively they would have to hope the team thank to Garnett can get back to the heights they were in previous years. Getting Ronnie Brewer back may help that as well. Overall, it’s a gamble, but one that doesn’t cost them anything financially and they’re in a position where they need to take chances, if they want to compete for a Finals berth again this year. With Rondo, Pierce and Garnett on the team they can’t be far away from contending again. One more big gun could do it.

Written by jr.

December 28, 2012 at 2:22 pm

Dwight Howard in Tragic Kingdom

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Image by Carmela Nava via Flickr

And so here we are. Again. Another star at the crossroads.

Odd that a year ago at this time, the idea of superstars changing teams seemed such a longshot, and now it feels so inevitable in the case of Dwight Howard. A lot’s happened in a year, true, but there is more to it than that.

Here today, gone tomorrow

With the apparent trend toward superteams in Miami and New York, there is a fear that every superstar will seek join or form a superteam. This trend though is quite a bit more fragile than most realize. What makes joining such a team sexy to players, is the idea that by simply joining with talent, great team success is sure to follow immediately. This idea is strongly influenced by what happened in the ’07-08 season where the Boston Celtics essentially jettisoned the vast majority of their team to acquire two stars (Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett), and went from being a 24 win team, to having the single best season of the past decade. Then there was also the Lakers acquisition of Pau Gasol and their subsequent move from a solid team to a potential dynasty. These ideas seem to prove that stars who don’t win are simply suffering from a lack of supporting talent around them.

Suppose though that these nouveau superteams fell on their face? Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Matt Johnson

May 1, 2011 at 5:55 pm

Fixing the Knicks and the 2012 myth

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Image via GearLive

A month after the Carmelo Anthony trade,  the Knicks are crumbling and have lost 8 of their last 10 – with 6 to under .500 teams (2 to Indiana, 2 to Milwaukee, 1 to Detroit, 1 to Charlotte). With the success of the post Carmelo Nuggets, the vultures are swirling and declaring the Knicks trade a failure. Advanced staticians are picking Anthony’s game apart.

What’s going wrong? Ball movement on the offensive end. D’Antoni teams rely on spacing and finding the open man and Carmelo’s ball reliant, isolation game is an awful fit for this. Billups and Amare have yet to find their efficiency legs in the new get it to the stars offense. The Knicks also have among the worst offensive depth I’ve ever seen. In their last loss to Charlotte they started Shawne Williams and Toney Douglas beside Melo, Amare and Billups and their bench was Anthony Carter, Roger Mason, Jared Jeffries, Shelden Williams, Landry Fields and Bill Walker. That’s not going to cut it.

Read the rest of this entry »