Saturday, February 18, 2012

Why Signing JR Smith Makes Perfect Sense For the Knicks

For starters:

1)   Knicks as a team shoot a paltry 29.9% from the 3 point line (29th in the league out of 30 teams)

2)   The Knick backcourt of Iman Shumpert, Landry Fields, Jeremy Lin, Bill Walker, Toney Douglas, and Mike Bibby combine to shoot 27.5% from 3 point range (JR Smith over his 7 year career? 37%).

I'm a big picture thinker. Thankfully, the Knicks general management team shares that. This move in the big picture is about the playoffs.  When you look at the backcourt the Knicks possessed pre-JR, there was no one of note that would make the Dwayne Wade's, Rip Hamilton's, or Ray Allen's of the world lose any sleep.

Landry Fields simply doesn't have the skill set nor athletic ability off the bounce to make quality opposing 2-guards work hard to defend him.  (Must I remind you all of his infamous 1.8 ppg in the 4 game sweep vs. Boston in last year's postseason, shooting 20% from the field, and 16% (1-6) from the foul line?????)

For all the upside that Iman Shumpert possesses, he's still a rookie who isn't a proficient jumpshooter at this stage, and is still learning how to find his comfort zone offensively at the pro level.

Bill Walker is fearless, but is a hit or miss type of player who is relentless at attempting 3's.  And although it may surprise some that Walker actually has a higher 3 point % in his career than Smith, JR isn't relegated to just being a 3 point attempt specialist.  He's just as relentless and fearless as Walker, but accompanies that with a midrange off the dribble game, and can finish above the rim with regularity in the paint.

Smith is a better talent with a higher ceiling than any SG the Knicks have.

And NOW to the fun part.

The horror stories about JR Smith's baggage, the "team cancer" label, the 'selfish'  label headlined by this not so endorsing narrative from former teammate Casey Jacobsen , off the court drama, issues with coaches, etc. I'm not going to ignore some of these points the anti-JR Smith camp have brought up because some of them are legit concerns.

I'll remind you, however, that there's something in life called maturity.  It should not always be assumed that because a player has shown himself to be a knucklehead in the past that he'll forever remain that way.  People are too quick to paint certain athletes in a light that they can't or WON'T ever change their ways for the better.  

Can he ultimately wind up blowing up and regressing into his old habits?  Sure.  But I won't speak on it as if it's a guarantee.

The "chemistry" stuff has been overblown. Just because the Knicks were on a 7 game winning streak beating lottery teams and sub .500 road teams doesn't mean that their glaring flaws suddenly went away. 

In a system predicated on spacing the floor, and playing with prolific scorers that draw attention, being the second worst 3 point shooting team in the NBA is not the type of "chemistry" that's sustainable to beating upper echelon opponents in April and May.

I applaud Knick management for not being blinded by the Linsanity that many others are blinded by, and recognizing the team is still in need of improvements to its roster.

For months and months, I've touted that JR Smith would become an instant fan favorite in the Garden due to his explosive style of play, his on-court self-confidence, the fire and passion he displays on the floor, and his shot making ability.  He will be embraced and beloved by the Garden faithful in the same vein that another guy who once upon a time was acquired by the Knicks with a ton of baggage surrounding him was embraced during a lockout-shortened season. 

Welcome to NY, JR. 


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Overlook'DDD in the Linsanity

While the waves of “Linsanity” produced by Jeremy Lin have been felt nationwide and his impact to the Knicks during their 7 game winning streak is unquestioned, an overlooked aspect of the teams’ recent success has been the one glaring weaklink of the team since Mike D’Antoni became head coach: The team Defense.

I, for one, have always been a proponent that the players are more responsible than the coaches for how effective they play defensively.  Coaches can certainly help with scheme, matchups and intricate strategies in certain key situations of a game, but when it comes to overall effort, personal pride, and downright “on the fly” basketball IQ, these are aspects that coaching has little to no impact on while the ball is in play.  

According to’s  Defensive Rating (DRtg) metric (one I personally trust the most), the Knicks are currently ranked 5th in the NBA (and that’s not a misprint, folks). That’s up 17 spots after a ranking of 22nd a year ago.  In  D’Antoni’s first 3 seasons as head coach, the Knicks average DRtg rank?: 24.

So why the big jump this year?   Is it because a) the coach suddenly became ‘smart’ about defensive gameplanning and scheming?  b) because Mike Woodson graced the Knicks presence with his defensive brilliance (Hawks average DRtg rank in Woodson’s 6 years there?: 20th)    Or is it c)  because the defensive personnel has improved at some critical positions? 

Coop in Philly goes with choice c). 

Two tremendous new roster additions from last season have stood out. 

Tyson Chandler is an elite defensive Center.  Communication, leadership, rebounding, shot altering & shot blocking, his athleticism in help defense, pick and roll defense; all things Tyson’s brought to the table as he’s been the best and most consistent Knick of this season to date.

Perhaps the biggest benefit he brings is the ability to defend 1 on 1 in the post without a double team (something that makes coaches look brilliant).

The second player who’s flown under the radar in mainstream America is 1st year player, Iman Shumpert; a guy I pegged an elite defensive player after watching 2-3 games of film.  From what I’ve seen as this season has played out, I stand by my initial scouting report. 

Listed at 6’5, 220 pounds, Shump is truly a special, shutdown player from the backcourt, in the ilk of Tony Allen, Bruce Bowen.  He defends 1’s, 2’s, and 3’s, has very quick feet, a wingspan of a 6’11 player, anticipates and positions his body well to force ball handlers to change directions, and he is a master of the “strip low” technique; getting his hands on the ball as a ballhandler picks up his dribble preparing to take a shot or make a pass.  

He has lightning quick hands, incredible anticipation with basketball IQ and instincts to go with his physical gifts.   His 4th quarter lockdown job against Jose Calderon in Toronto was a beauty to witness; perhaps an even bigger reason for the victory than Lin’s late game heroics.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also give a major shoutout to Jared Jeffries, who’s commitment on defense, his help and recover skills, drawing charges (4th in the NBA) has always been a positive of his game.  He’s been a vital cog to this defensive renaissance. 

So the next time you hear a famous TNT analyst who shall remain nameless, or any ESPN ‘expert’ analyst breakdown the 2011-2012 Knicks and still mention defense as being a problem, you can pretty much disqualify any and everything else that comes out of their mouths about the team. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

NFC Championship: Giants Red Hot, Just How 49ers Want Them To Be

The 49ers have made a living this season playing (and beating) teams who came in with the infamous "playing their best football of the season" label.   Below are some glaring examples; ominous signs for Giants fans playing the "We're as hot as ever.  We can't be beat!" card.

  • Week 5 vs. a Tampa Bay Bucs team sporting a 3-1 record, coming off 3 straight wins.  Sure, Captain Hindsight will quickly state that the Bucs finished the season 4-12.  However, many talking heads and media pundits had the Bucs winning this game or at least called this a 'toss-up' contest.  Final score:  49ers 48, Bucs 3. 

  • Week 6 vs. an undefeated Detroit Lions squad coming off 5 straight wins (9 straight going back to the previous season), averaging 32 ppg over that stretch. Final score: 49ers 25, Lions 19 (in Ford Field)

  • Week 10 vs. a 6-2 New York Football Giants team entering with 3 straight W's (6 of their last 7), riding the highs of an epic last drive road victory in New England (first team to defeat a Brady-led Pats team in a regular season contest in Gillette Stadium in 31 games).    Final score.  49ers 27, Giants 20. 

  • Week 15 vs. a Pittsburgh Steelers team who seemingly had 'turned it around and were finally getting in rhythm after a slow start', on a 4 game winning streak (victories in 8 of their last 9 games).  Final score: 49ers 20, Steelers 3.  

  • Week 16 vs. a Seattle Seahawks team riding a 3 game winning streak (5-1 over their last 6, outscoring their opponents 162-88 over that stretch; with an average margin of victory of over 16 points). This game was also played in Seattle, one of the toughest home field advantages in the entire NFL.  Final score:  49ers 21, Seahawks 19.

  •  And then of course, last week's instant classic Divisional Playoff battle in Candlestick Park vs. a New Orleans Saints team who last suffered a defeat on October 30th (!!), putting together a 9 game winning streak outscoring their opponents by more than 17 points in each contest, installed as a 3.5 point road favorite.  Final score:  49ers 36, Saints 32. 

Coincidence?  Luck?   Even with a 14-3 record after 17 games?  

On Sunday, the Giants will not be playing against a team who's "on a red hot streak of games" and "playing their best football of the season". 

They'll be playing the San Francisco 49ers.  The NFC's most complete football team; a 'trend' that has remained CONSISTENT since Week 1, while the football world refused to pay attention.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Offenses Suffering From Post-Lockout Syndrome

It's clear from watching the early part of the lockout shortened 2011-2012 NBA season that there's been a significant dropoff in the overall quality of play by just about every team, particularly on the offensive end of the floor.  Scores are lower than they've been in years, shooting percentages are down, injuries are mounting and certain players who came into camp out of shape are still struggling to get themselves back into their normal playing condition;  all anticipated byproducts of the lockout. 

I conducted a study to give a first-hand illustration of how putrid and sloppy the offense has been around the league by researching how many teams finished games with a point total in the 70's through their first 10 games last season and compare that to this season. 

Through each team's first 10 games of the 2010-2011 season, there were a total of 8 scores where a team finished in the 70's.  
This season?  32!!   (including 4 point totals in the 60's!!)

Teams with youth, depth and cohesion due to limited turnover to their rosters are all reaping benefits early in the season record wise, and in terms of their offensive efficiency (Miami, Chicago, Philadelphia, Oklahoma City, Indiana, Orlando).  Meanwhile teams with age, injuries and some key roster additions (combined with limited practice time to help establish chemistry) have come out of the gate slower than expected (Boston, New York, Memphis, Dallas).

Because of the unrelenting schedule, teams have to be extra cautious about managing their rosters and preserving key players, even if it means resting them for a couple of games during a rough stretch of games for the sake of surviving this ultimate battle of attrition which will define the 2011(sorta)-2012 NBA season. 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

For Toney Douglas, Less Will Mean More (see Jason Terry)

"But he's not a PG!!   HE SUCKS!!   BENCH HIM!!! TRADE HIM!!"

Just some of the many things uttered by Knick fans who've spent countless nights living with the frustrations of watching Toney Douglas play basketball.  

I've long been a Douglas supporter (others say 'apologist' among other clever words) because I've always felt he's been a square peg being forced into a round hole.  The hardest transition that any player has to make from college to the pros is a "combo guard" type (which in this case is code for a SG trapped in the body of a PG ) who's forced to handle the duties of a point man.  Douglas, a 6'2, 190 pound guard, fits this prototype.

Many players have had similar paths, and were just as frustrating to watch early in their careers as their coaches were hell bent on forcing them to be what they're not.   Sometimes you have to accept what you have and just let players be who they are.   Everyone can't be a starting PG or even a backup PG in this league.  ACCEPT it! 

If you REDUCE Toney Douglas' role to a guy who comes off your bench and aggressively looks to attack and score EVERY TIME he touches the ball, he will become a more confident, productive player.  Don't worry about trying to set up or run the offense, be a distributor, make pinpoint passes, etc.   Just do what you do best, and let everything else flow from there.  And contrary to popular imagination, what he does best is aggressively look to score.    

Once upon a time, a 6'2, 180 pound guard by the name of Jason Terry was the 10th overall pick in the 1999 NBA Draft by the Atlanta Hawks.  He was a combo guard in college at the University of Arizona playing alongside the likes of Mike Bibby, Michael Dickerson and Miles Simon; a team who won a National Championship, albeit in college, but neither was a true, traditional point guard.

The Hawks envisioned him being their PG of the future, and spent years forcing him into that uncomfortable, unnatural role. While always a good scorer in Atlanta, his turnovers numbers and "bonehead decisions" (sound familiar?) were so glaring that they eventually parted ways with him after five seasons.   For the record, for their first 2 full seasons, per 36 minutes,  Douglas averaged 1.7 turnovers per game ;  Terry? 2.9. (Now ask yourself if Jason Terry isn't a guy you'd want coming off the bench for your favorite team).

His 1st year with his new team, the Dallas Mavericks, he shot a career high 50% from the field, (this after shooting no higher than 43% in any of his Atlanta years) and while this had alot to do with a better cast of scorers around him, it also had to do with him having a reduced role in terms of being the primary decision maker and facilitator.   Maturity and experience have played a big part in his growth as well, but few would argue that since his role was reduced from an every game starting PG to an aggressive "scoring guard" off the bench, he's maximized his NBA potential.

Jamal Crawford, Lou Williams, Moe Williams, JJ Barea, Eddie House, Gilbert Arenas, and the list goes on and on.   Each of these players experienced similar situations early on in their careers and began to thrive and find their niche as pros as their roles became reduced to a "scoring guard";  something there's no shame in being.

I see Toney Douglas in this same ilk.  The failure has been on the Knicks coaching staff and organization for forcing him into a role he isn't best suited for.  It would be just as much of a failure to give up on him this early into his career after he's proven that he can be a guy who produces scoring for your 2nd unit. 

Love or hate him, that's something the Knicks DESPERATELY need right now and would be very difficult to replace.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

What Happened to Amare's Shot Blocking?

Last season Amare Stoudemire averaged 1.9 blocked shots per game.  Through the 7 games he's played this season, Amare only has 4 blocked shots total, averaging just 0.6 per game. 

However, looking deeper into the numbers, Amar'e averaged 5.6 defensive rebounds per game last season, and currently is averaging 6.3 defensive boards per game this year.

Without question, the addition of Tyson Chandler has directly impacted this favorable ratio for Amare (and for the Knicks); particularly in the 4 games since Amare has returned from his sprained ankle; 0 blocked shots, 29 defensive rebounds (7.25 per game).    To no surprise, the Knicks have outrebounded their opponents in all 4 games;  this after being outrebounded in each of the previous 5 games. 

Part of the adjustment Amare has had to make playing alongside a C like Chandler is being more aggressive going to the glass, and less aggressive going for blocked shots, since Tyson alters so many shots with his presence alone. 

Look for this trend to continue for the betterment of the team moving forward.  

Once again, Tyson Chandler's value extends far beyond his individual numbers. 

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Unofficial Preseason Period Has Ended for the Knicks

Disgruntled Knicks Fan: “I don’t care there’s no excuses for losing to a team like Toronto and Charlotte!!!!  This team is in total chaos and in a crisis mode!!”

Me:  “It’s way too early in the season to be jumping the gun and claiming Armageddon; especially in a year like this.”

Disgruntled Knicks Fan:  “I don’t care!!  You’re just making excuses!! “


Well.  Perhaps I am.    But if I’m guilty of anything, it’s seeing the big picture and in the process failing to give credence to “small picture” issues that could lead to problems down the road.    I'll gladly accept my "sickness".  

Everyone is well aware of the lockout, the shortened training camp and lack of a true preseason this year (each team with 2 preseason games apiece).  Combine this with the hectic schedules being faced with back –to-back games followed by travel days, and teams barely have enough time to practice.

The teams who face the biggest disadvantages in this scenario are those who:

1.  have some key turnover to their roster with new players stepping into their rotations 

2.  teams with new coaching staffs implementing new systems 

3.  teams with a lot of young players and rookies seeing prominent minutes, and of course

4.  teams with injuries.

Numbers 1, 3, and 4 all apply to the Knicks as the team adjusts to playing with a center who roams the paint area like Tyson Chandler (in particular Amare Stoudemire, who has to adjust his game as a PF without having the same spacing on offense that he's accustomed to having when playing the C position).  

Rookies Iman Shumpert and Josh Harrelson both have integral roles in the rotation.

And of course the team has been left shorthanded through the early part of the season with injuries to Shumpert, Mike Bibby, Jared Jefferies, and of course Baron Davis who's yet to suit up as a Knick.

With the victory Saturday night in Detroit against a very young (and predictably struggling) Pistons team, the Knicks have now played their 10th game of this season; 8 regular season games, 2 preseason games.  

 Why is this significant?   Last season, the Knicks played 10 PRESEASON games.  And as Knick fans recall from the 3-8 start last season, it wasn’t until 22 total games were played that the Knicks started to finally gel as a unit and become the type of team that many expected to be. 

The unofficial preseason period has officially ended for this years version of the  ‘Bockers.

As the Knicks come off their most impressive all around win of the young season, I expect them to look sharper from this point forward.  Still way too early to get too high or too low after wins and losses.  The true evaluation period of where teams are shouldn’t come until at least 20 regular season games have been played by each team, but right now the typical preseason cobwebs should be all but gone. 

I’m all for analyzing what we’re watching and offering fair criticisms of the team from day to day (both coaches and players), but let’s not lose perspective and draw irrational conclusions this early into a lockout shortened campaign.