Anthony is often compared to Paul Pierce, and that comparison is apt. Pierce, like Melo, had a decent amount of success in the playoffs early in his career (a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals with Antoine Walker, a second round exit and a couple of first round losses for Pierce; a few first round exits with both teams, a trip to the conference finals with Chauncey Billups in Denver, a second round exit in New York for Melo) followed by a lull (what Pierce experienced after Walker left and the Celtics began to rebuild; what Melo’s going through now).
Pierce, like Melo this year, had arguably the best individual season of his career in a down year for the Celtics as he averaged 26.8, 6.7 boards and 4.7 assists for the 33-49 C’s in 2005-06 (at the age of 28; Melo is 29, close enough). As if the comparison needed some kind of symbolic kicker, the second leading scorer on that Celtics team was Ricky Davis. For Melo and the ‘13-14 Knicks, it’s JR Smith.
Pierce, a player no one was describing as a “winner” back then, picked up Rajon Rondo as a running mate that summer (the Knicks having drafted Renaldo Balkman one pick prior) and suffered through one more dismal season in Boston before Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen showed up and the Big Three led the Celtics to a title, their first since Larry Bird left town. The Paul Pierce that Allen and Garnett played with wasn’t the same guy he was before the losing started. The Big Three became winners together, no doubt motivated by all the losing they had done in their careers and appreciative of the opportunity to play together.
Trading Carmelo Anthony for Blake Griffin is a Terrible Idea
If the Knicks really think Carmelo Anthony is leaving, it’s time to tear this whole thing down and start over. Blake Griffin, who is averaging 22.1 points and 10.6 rebounds to Melo’s 26.2 and 8.9, is not going to make the Knicks better than they are now. And paying him upwards of $17 million annually until 2017-18 won’t give the Knicks any meaningful increase in cap flexibility, which they’ll need considering Griffin is an extremely limited player outside of his ability to dunk the basketball. He can’t shoot free throws, rarely shoots his jump shot and is a poor defender. He’s had the luxury of playing with Chris Paul for the last couple of seasons and the two of them have won ONE playoff series. Sounds a little like the Knicks and Melo, except Melo’s out there with Raymond Felton. Now, there is one point guard the Knicks are also rumored to covet, and that’s Rajon Rondo. Well he can’t shoot either, which would leave the Knicks to figure out how to find a stretch five who can also protect the rim (because Griffin can’t). Too bad Kevin Garnett’s washed up, he’d be a nice fit. If the Knicks really think they are going to lose Carmelo Anthony, they should trade him for some combination of draft picks, young players and cap relief. Not a highly paid player with a limited offensive game who relies on his athletic ability and has had microfracture surgery. That’s right, microfracture surgery, just like another highly paid offensive player who relied on his athletic ability and had microfracture surgery before coming to the Garden. And how’s that working out?
There have been a couple of Amar’e trades bandied about recently and almost none of them make sense for the Knicks (rule number one for any GM: don’t trade for Gerald Wallace). At the same time, there have been a lot of Iman Shumpert trades in the news, none of which make sense for the other team involved in the deal (he’s just not playing well enough right now to bring Kenneth Faried back in exchange). And the Knicks simply don’t have enough assets to get Rajon Rondo under any circumstances, no matter how much we all wish that might happen.
But here’s one that works under the salary cap and makes more than enough sense for both parties:
To the Knicks:
Hedo Turkoglu (one year, $12 million - not currently playing, buyout rumored)
Jameer Nelson (two years, $8.6 million a year)
Glen Davis (two years, $6.4 million a year)
To the Magic:
Amar’e Stoudemire (two years, $21.6 million a year)
Iman Shumpert (two years, $1.7 million a year)
The Knicks get an upgrade at point guard (Nelson, who is averaging 12.4 points and 5.8 assists this season and is a proficient pick-and-roll player) and some help on the front line (Davis*) without interfering with their Summer of 2015 free agency plan (sigh). They get an added bonus by reducing their 2014-15 payroll by about $6.6 million (Amar’e’s 2014-15 salary minus Davis and Nelson’s).They might even be able to get some additional savings by buying Turkoglu out (not that it matters much since they are so far over the cap this year anyway).
The Magic basically break even on the money over the course of the deal but get Iman Shumpert for their trouble. The trade makes them worse on the court but it doesn’t matter because they are tanking anyway. A little tiny bonus is that Stoudemire is kinda from the Orlando area, something they can use to market the deal to their fans (I assume they have fans). And if the Magic want Raymond Felton to be included in the deal so they don’t overload Victor Oladipo by asking him to play big minutes at the point, they can have his three year, $3.6 million dollar a year deal as well. The trade works under the cap with Felton included too.
If the Knicks make this trade they get better today. The Magic get Iman Shumpert for helping them. It’s not implausible.
*Playing Kenyon Martin big minutes is killing the Knicks’ offense. Teams just don’t guard him and they’re not working well enough in the pick-and-roll to make teams concerned when he sets screens. Davis can shoot effectively enough to keep teams honest. And in the right matchups he can be an effective defender. Certainly better than Stoudemire.
We might not know for sure whether the Knicks had a good offseason until well into 2014, but that’s no reason not to evaluate how they’ve done this summer.
It’s almost two months into the NBA offseason and things are quiet. What’s been an otherwise solid offseason for the NY Originals has been swallowed up by massive moves from Brooklyn, a long, sweltering heat wave and, I like to think, my marriage and subsequent honeymoon. All that’s over now (except the marriage, so far I’ve been good) so now seems as not-really-that-good-of-a-time as any to take a look at what the Knicks have done since being eliminated by the Pacers in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Oh, and grading. Let’s do some grading.
Taking Care of Their Own (4 Credits)
The Knicks had quite a few rotation players from last season become free agents this offseason. For capped out teams like the Knicks, retaining their own free agents is hugely important, picking and choosing the right ones to keep even more so. With that in mind, the Knicks are bringing back three of their four rotation players who hit the market this summer and decided to let the right guy go.
Thanks to the intricacies of the salary cap, the Knicks were able to give JR Smith a three-year deal (the last year is a player option) worth between $5.5 and $6.5 million per year (it’s a weird contract that paid Smith $9 million up front - look out video hoes (hos?), tattoo artists planning vacations and Jordan dealers running low on exclusives). JR might have issues but the reigning sixth man of the year is a better option than the alternative, which was basically nothing. This signing would look a lot better if Smith hadn’t had knee surgery just days after signing the contract (he should be back sometime in November). The Knicks say they knew about the injury before signing JR to the deal but this is the Knicks so who knows. All I can say is it seems like Frank Isola thinks something is up. On the bright side, the knee explains at least a bit of whatever the hell was going on with his play against Indiana.
The Knicks also gave Pablo Prigioni half their mid-level exception, bringing back the player formerly known as the oldest rookie in modern NBA history for three years at about $1.6 million per (the third year is non-guaranteed). There’s no question that having Prigioni around makes the Knicks better. On the whole, the Knicks scored 108.6 and gave up 103.5 points per 100 possessions last season. With Prigioni in the lineup they scored 108.8 and gave up 100.9. Oh, and they won thirteen straight after inserting him into the starting lineup on March 18. Prigioni is a nice, useful player, much more so than his 3.5 point and 3.0 assist per game averages. Bringing him back was an obvious move.
The Knicks decision to split their midlevel exception between Prigioni and a certain hometown hero (who we’ll discuss in a second) meant that they couldn’t bring back Chris Copeland, the unheralded journeyman with the awkward-yet-effective post moves and sharp shooting from three. Copeland signed a two-year $6 million contract with the Pacers where he might fit in, either by picking up a defensive point of emphasis or two or having his teammates cover up for him. Copeland is definitely a work in progress and he might improve in Indiana but I have a feeling we won’t be seeing much of him in the future. He also had knee surgery last week and will be out 6-8 weeks. WHAT DO THE KNICKS DO TO PEOPLE’S KNEES?!?
Last but not least, the Knicks finally got around to signing Kenyon Martin to a one-year deal for the veteran’s minimum at the end of July. Martin played very well for the Knicks over the course of eighteen regular season and twelve playoff games. His 10.8 points and 7.9 rebounds per in the regular season were a huge contribution and his primal screaming after help-side blocks and powerful alleys was fantastic. Staying healthy for a full season will be a challenge for the almost-36 year old but there’s no doubt he’s an important piece for the Knicks.
Oh, the Knicks let James White go. James White was fun sometimes and depressing sometimes. He achieved the rare distinction of spot-starting throughout the season yet still never being a part of the rotation. I hope he has a pleasurable experience someplace next year.
The Knicks brought back the best three of their four real free agents (Sorry Flight). Prigioni by himself was more important than Copeland, who got double what Prigioni got anyway. What more could they do?
Trades (3 Credits)
Just one controversial move for the Knicks here, trading Marcus Camby, Steve Novak, Quentin Richardson, two future second rounders and a first rounder for Andrea Bargnani. From a basketball standpoint, this makes some sense. Bargnani is the “stretch four” the Knicks have been wanting for years (just ask Rasheed Wallace and Josh Harrellson. Hell, Amar’e even tried to nominate himself for the role two years ago). And the players they gave up don’t amount to much of anything: Camby never got his legs, it’s certain now that Novak couldn’t do anything when defenses bore down and Q-Rich was re-signed just for the purpose of making the money right (has anyone ever gotten money for doing less than he just got? Q-Rich just got $1.4 million for two “nuts on your forehead” and one fancy high-five routine with Iman Shumpert down the stretch last year. How can I hire his agent?)
But of course it isn’t that simple. Bargnani has played just 66 games over the last two seasons and shot just 30.2% from three during that time. Not so stretchy (he earned that rep by shooting 41% and 37% the two years prior to that.) The Knicks are hoping that regaining his health, becoming a third-, fourth- or fifth-banana and being freed from the yoke of bustitude will return Bargnani to form. If it doesn’t, Bargnani is just a tall overpaid guy who can’t rebound or defend. And the Knicks already have at least one of those.
Which is a nice segway into what’s wrong with this trade: imagine if some team had given the Knicks three draft picks in a deal for Amar’e Stoudemire? How hard would you laugh? You’d say “didn’t Team X realize that the Knicks would have given him away for nothing?” That’s not altogether different from what the Knicks did, although Amar’e makes about twice as much money as Bargnani and has less than two full knees. AGAIN WITH THE KNEES!
The saving grace here is that trading Novak saved the Knicks $3.75 million of their 2015-16 cap figure. The summer of 2015 figures to be a big one for the Knicks - the contracts of Chandler, Stoudemire and now Bargnani all expire following the 20014-15 (Melo will likely have been extended by then) and the Knicks are almost certain to have the cap room for a max free agent, even after they re-sign Melo. No sense keeping Novak around for that.
Trade Grade: B
Bargnani is an upgrade over Novak and has the potential to give the Knicks some of the floor spacing they missed last season, even if Mayor Bloomberg is going to have to pass a law on his way out of office that prohibits Woody from playing him and STAT together (you know that technocrat bastard has seen the advanced defensive stats and knows what could happen). As a rule, I don’t make it my business to worry about Jim Dolan wasting his money - way over the cap is way over the cap as far as I’m concerned. Still, I have to believe this deal could have gotten done without giving up a first round pick. The Knicks always find a way to throw one asset too many into a deal. Cut that out!
OPP (3 Credits)
Only one move here so far, bringing Ron Artest/Metta World Peace/Ron Artest home to New York. Artest (as he will always be known here), amnestied by the Lakers, got the other half of the Knicks’ mid-level exception. Artest’s best days are behind him but he’ll still bring toughness, defense and somewhat-adequate three-point shooting to the Garden (he shot 34% from three last season). Most importantly, he’ll free up Melo to play the four on offense and while he covers the toughest forward every night. I think he’ll be the team’s starting small forward.
I can’t in good faith give a team that’s spent its way into cap hell any kind of A grade, but the Knicks made a very sound decision by bringing Ron Artest to the Garden.
The Draft (3 Credits)
The Knicks took Tim Hardaway Jr. with the 24th pick in the draft. Hardaway is a shooting guard in the traditional sense (and who might be able to play a little SF). He’s a smooth shooter with nice size at 6-6. He averaged 14.7 points and 4.7 boards on a really solid team at Michigan last season, so it’s easy to imagine that he’d have put up more numbers on a messier college squad. Or maybe not. How does that work again? (Oh no, the dreaded unanswerable Shareef Abdur-Rahim paradox!)
The Knicks picked Hardaway before re-signing JR Smith, so he certainly fit what was a need at the time. With JR’s return and the signing of Artest, Hardaway may struggle to find playing time amid a suddenly crowded shooting guard/small forward rotation: JR, Shump, Prigioni, Felton, Melo, Ron-Ron and third-PG TBD are all going to need minutes in one or both of those spots, making minutes there hard to come by. Still, this kid ties together a lot of threads: he’s the son of notorious Knick-killer/homophobe/ESPN analyst (never forget how bad he was on TV) and he’s a Michigan alumn (just like two-thirds of all Knick fans. The other third went to Syracuse. Then there’s that one asshole sitting courtside in the Roger Mason UVA jersey.)
Draft Grade: B+
I give them a B+ because I don’t know anything about college basketball and this feels right. Hardaway seems smooth, smooth is cool. And shooting is always good to have. They could have taken a point guard or a big, certainly bigger needs but I’m going to assume they took the best player available. Always a good strategy at 24.
Dumpster Diving (2 Credits)
The Knicks have made an art of digging through the dredges of the minor leagues and foreign lands to come up with contributors the last few seasons. The ability to do this is the mark of sound organizational work (See Spurs, San Antonio) and it’s improved what would otherwise be a stagnant, capped-out roster.
Jeremy Lin, Steve Novak, Pablo Prigioni, Chris Copeland and even JR Smith and Kenyon Martin if you want to get technical, were abroad or unsigned/unattached free agents when the Knicks signed them. The Knicks have continued to go digging this offseason and have unearthed some promising young players.
First they signed CJ Leslie from North Carolina State as an undrafted free agent after he went untaken in the draft. There was a time that the high-flying, two-time All-ACC 6-9 forward was projected as a high first rounder. That time was two years ago, but a flier on Leslie is well worth the partially guaranteed contract the Knicks gave him. Even though their games aren’t similar, something about the Leslie pickup reminds me of the Knicks’ buy-low, sell-high second round selection of Trevor Ariza (forgetting for a second that “sell-high” was including him in a deal for Steve Francis).
Ariza was a former McDonald’s All-American who had a disappointing freshman year at UCLA who the Knicks took with the 43rd pick in the draft. Leslie, a freak athlete who needs a lot of skills work, has the potential to be a kind of Jason Maxiell-light, capable of giving the Knicks some explosiveness off the bench. He’s got a chance to work his way into an NBA rotation if he develops the ability to defend at an above-average level. If that happens, this signing will be quite nice. If not, no harm done.
The Knicks are also planning to bring Jeremy Tyler and Toure Murry into camp. You may recall Tyler’s name, because the 22-year old seven-footer is five years into his professional basketball career after going pro and heading off to Israel prior to his senior year of high school. That didn’t quite work out as planned and after getting taken in the second round of the draft by the Warriors in 2011 he’s bounced around quite a bit. Tyler looked hungry and aggressive in the summer league, earning a chance at a roster spot. Big men don’t grow on trees and the athletic and reasonably coordinated Tyler has a good chance of making the Knicks. That idea gets my full support. [NOTE: Tyler was signed to a partially guaranteed two-year deal yesterday]
Murry, a 6-5 shooting guard in the process of learning to play the point, looked good in summer league as well. Word is he hasn’t accepted his camp invitation because he’s got some other offers and is concerned about the Knicks’ plans to add another guard.
Tyler and Murry did this fun thing together in the summer league:
This is a pass/fail course. If you add interesting players in the hopes they pan out, you pass. The Knicks have certainly done that.
What’s Left (Incomplete)
The Knicks have twelve thirteen players under contract for next season (counting Leslie’s partial guarantee), so they have three two roster spots available. It’s only one if they sign both Tyler and Murry, my guess is they bring in Tyler [nailed this] and drop Murry. And yes, it’s Murry, no A.
The Knicks are still in the market for a backup big man and a third point guard. I’m a little concerned they don’t have an established seven-footer to bring off the bench (especially since Tyson Chandler broke down as the season went along and often gets himself into foul trouble) but there are few teams with the luxury of a second 84-plus incher and the league gets smaller every day.
There are about a million guys the Knicks have been linked to, including Ivan Johnson (cool), Lou Amundson, Cole Aldrich (ew), Hammed Haddadi, Jerome Jordan (I don’t think he’s an NBA player), Jannero Pargo, Delonte West (where was this two years ago?), Bobby “No, not that Bobby” Brown (he’s a twentysomething American PG who’s been killing it in Europe), Beno Udrih (interesting) and god only knows who else. I think it’s pretty clear the Knicks need a third point guard and can really use another big. I leave it to them to figure out which ones.
GPA (15 Credit Hours)
That all comes out to a not-too-shabby 3.45 GPA for the Knicks. It’s almost definitely not enough to catch the nerds at the top of the class (Miami, Indiana) but it just might be sufficient to stay ahead of the guys who slacked off last semester but have been working hard all summer (Brooklyn, Chicago). Even if it’s not, it’s certainly enough to make next season a lot of fun. Just a couple more months until then.
Sometimes the sun shines on dog’s asses, broken clocks are right twice a day and once every decade and a half I agree with James Dolan (kind of). I’ll try not to let it happen again.
In case you’ve missed it: Iman Shumpert was supposed to participate in the summer league. The goal was to let him play some point guard and work on his ballhandling. Shumpert was considered a 1/2 coming out of college but since he’s come to the Knicks he’s become much more of a 2/3. I think that’s happened for three reasons: 1) team need/roster makeup; 2) the increasing use of small-ball lineups around the league; and 3) Shumpert’s average-at-best ballhandling on the perimeter.
The Knicks went into summer league short a ballhandler (it appears they’re going to sign Euroleague star Bobby Brown to fill that role). Not-so-spectacular ballhandling from the Knicks’ off-guards last season was a big part of the reason they played with two point guards almost all the time. The Knicks want Shumpert’s ballhandling to improve and so they asked him to go to summer league and improve it.
And he did. Except he showed up late, played one game, didn’t seem to take it very seriously, and left for an Adidas promotional tour of China [Note: apparently this was an NBA-sponsored “Ambassador” trip]. After Shumpert left, Mike Woodson said that Shumpert’s offensive game has “a long ways to go” during a summer league sideline interview.
Woodson also said this, according to Marc Berman of the Post:
“We’re going to develop [Shumpert] as the summer goes along,’’ Woodson said. “There’s a lot of individual things he’s got to learn from a skill standpoint to better his game. He’s been good the last few years. He still has a ways to go in terms of things we expect him to do for us.
“He’s got to develop go-to moves where he can score the basketball and get shots,’’ Woodson added. “Defensively, I like everything about him. Offensively, he has to learn to play with the basketball, get players off and get and make shots for himself.’’
So far, nothing crazy had happened and Woodson gave a reasoned, frank and accurate assessment of Shumpert’s game in an interview. Most fans wouldn’t have batted an eye or even noticed what was going on. A short phone call from Shump to Woody likely would have patched things up.
But then this happened:
Yes, that’s a video of Stephen A. Smith telling Dwight Howard, during a break in an interview that James Dolan wants to trade Iman Shumpert because he blew off the summer league. Please watch the whole video if you can, it’s fun to watch Stephen A. get annoyed about having to turn all his phones off during the interview.
I know, it’s completely obvious the Knicks shouldn’t look to trade Iman Shumpert unless they can get something really good back. And if for some reason they wanted to trade Iman Shumpert, the worst possible way to go about it would be to tell the world they’re pissed off at him, thereby lowering his trade value (this is definitely how the Knicks would go about doing it).
Stopping short of agreeing that the Knicks should trade Shump, I strongly agree that Shumpert should have played in the summer league.
First, he agreed to do it. He told Newsday on July 11 that "I’m here with a smile, I’m not here with the angry eyes" and explained that "they want to make sure I’m comfortable, make sure that I’m working on things I need to be working on. It’s all about smoothing everything out, making sure everything is polished. I understand it completely.” When you tell your boss you’re going to do something, you have to do it. That’s how having a boss works. It sucks, we all know.
Second, for the guys on the Knicks’ summer league roster, Shumpert is a role model. First round draft pick Tim Hardaway Jr. injured his wrist and played very little, but a good example from Shumpert would have been good for his development. Same goes for Toure’ Murry and Jeremy Tyler, two summer league guys who have a good chance of making the Knicks.
Third, Iman Shumpert is not Dwight Howard. He’s not off in China building a global brand. He’s not yet a star and he may not ever be. His game needs work. Iman Shumpert will never be the kind of player with a huge overseas following. Iman Shumpert might one day become a borderline All-Star, a sort of mini-Luol Deng, a defensive stopper with a versatile offensive game. Working on his game is the best way for him to become known globally, get a nice big contract extension and a second endorsement deal from Adidas when his current deals expire. Not by playing horse in shopping malls with Damian Lillard Danny Green or whatever it is that happens on these tours.
An elite perimeter defender with a versatile offensive game is a damn good player and is exactly what the Knicks need. What’s missing from Shump’s game right now is the “versatile offensive game” part. Shumpert can shake a defender off the dribble and finish in transition but when it comes to simply handling the ball, helping operate the offense and playing with the right pace, he’s sloppy and he struggles to score in the half court. He’s never played in the summer league and has limited reps otherwise thanks to the lockout and his knee injury. Every practice, every scrimmage, every messy summer league game can help Shumpert develop. He should have been in Vegas getting all those things with the Knicks.
So yeah, James Dolan was kind of right that Shumpert should have stayed in Vegas; he’ll be wrong if the Knicks trade Shump.
There was this stupid cliche thing that always used to pop up in girls’ AIM profiles and yearbook quotes. It was something like “everything works out in the end. If it hasn’t worked out, it isn’t the end.” I don’t have to tell you that I believe that to be bullshit. But every now and then it turns out to be true.
I’m thinking of that pithy little “sorry your boyfriend dumped you” expression today, as the Knicks finally righted the wrongs of the 1999 NBA Draft and Frederic Weiss-gate and signed Ron Artest, bringing the Queensbridge native home. They gave Artest a two year deal for $1.6 million this year (the second year is a player option). That $1.6 million is all that’s left of their mini-MLE so all they can do now is sign players for the minimum.
On the court, Artest will help. He’s not the lockdown defender he once was and opponents are usually happy to see what happens when he gets the ball in his hands. But he can still play tough defense on big small forwards like Brooklyn’s Paul Pierce (damn that feels weird to type). He can shoot it well enough from three (34.2% last season, 36% from the corners), he rebounds solidly for a small forward (five a game last year) and averaged 12.4 points a year ago. He has had some pretty big playoff performances when you stop to think about it. He had twenty points, five boards and five steals in game seven of the 2010 Finals against Boston and made a huge three to give the Lakers a 79-73 lead with a minute left. He also helped the Lakers get to those Finals by doing this, which gave the Lakers a 3-2 lead in the 2010 Western Conference Finals against the Suns.
Most importantly, Artest’s the likely starter at small forward which will allow Melo to play the four where he had so much success last season. Against small ball lineups (like when the Heat put LeBron at the four), the Knicks will be able to play Artest against whichever forward is the tougher guard while Anthony can take the easier matchup. That is a very, very good thing.
Look, we all know Artest has some issues. First and foremost, his real, legal name is Metta World Peace (I will not be calling him that). He once tackled Eric Snow. He was one of the people responsible for the Malice at the Palace and pretty much ruined what could have been a run at the championship for the Pacers. He thanked his shrink and gave one of the most bizarre press conferences I’ve ever seen after the Lakers won in 2010 and wore his uniform to the club afterwards. He nearly killed James Harden just two seasons ago. Before he signed with the Knicks he said he was interested in playing in the arena football league or the NHL.
He also had one of the best quotes about Jason Collins:
Whether it’s a free country or not, you should be free to act as you want to do as long as it’s not violent. No matter what it is. I came here in a Cookie Monster shirt because I wanted to, and I was going to wear the pants. But I thought you guys were going to judge me. I was going to wear the hat too. But I thought you guys would judge me. I didn’t want Mitch [Kupchak] to judge me. So that’s why I didn’t wear the hats and the pants. But I should’ve wore it. You should be free to do and act how you want to act.
I don’t know which category to put that quote in. I certainly like the message.
Whether he’s crazy or not, the Artest signing is a smart move for the Knicks. With the limited amount of resources available to them, they can’t afford to be picky. Artest was a good teammate throughout his time in LA. His skill set and position address a clear need. He’ll be the first Knick from St. John’s since Lavor Postell (I think). He’s intimidating, which will come in handy against Kevin Garnett.
And one way or another, the Knicks just got a lot more fun.
Over his last three games, Carmelo Anthony is averaging 43.7 points on 64% shooting. The explosion has brought his scoring average to 28.3 points a game, behind Kevin Durant by 0.1 a game for the scoring title. In a lucky twist, Durant and Melo go head-to-head in just a couple hours. I’m not a mathematician, but what I have figured out is that if Durant gets to 28 points and Melo gets to 33, Melo will lead Durant 28.396 to 28.364 (a whopping thee one-hundreths of a point.) No Knick has led the league in scoring since Bernard King at 32.9 in 1985-86. Word on the street is that King has finally been voted into the hall of fame. Melo catching Durant today would dovetail with that quite nicely.
Is Melo chasing the scoring title? Hard to say. Over his red-hot last three games, Melo’s averaging 27 shots a game, up from his season average of 19.5 per. That in and of itself doesn’t prove much of anything. Melo’s on fire, of course he’s going to take more shots than he usually does. He also looks healthier than he has in months, which has no doubt contributed to his shot totals. I haven’t noticed too many forced shots the last few games, although I have seen a moment or two when a teammate has passed up an open look to get Melo basically the same shot. Again, though, that’s probably because he’s so damn hot. And if Melo is chasing the scoring title, Mike Woodson probably isn’t in on it as he’s averaging about 39 minutes a game, not much more than his 37.2 average.
Either way, this afternoon’s duel promises to be a shootout between two of the league’s best scorers. Neither team has to have the game, but both are in tight races for home court deep in the playoffs.
Keep your eye on Melo, though. I think you’ll know early if he’s trying to climb ahead of Durant and if the game’s tight down the stretch and both guys are feeling it, we could get a classic.
Anyone who reads this blog, or any basketball blog really, has probably seen "So Right," the hilarious tribute to JR Smith released last week by Milford Jerome. There’s a lot to like about the video: the way it sums up the love some fans have for JR (myself included), covered most of the big moments he’s had as a Knick (whether on- or off-court) and is really professionally edited. Just as important, though, is the song. It sounds good. This Milford Jerome seems like quite a character: a knowledgable JR Smith fan who knows how to sing and edit video. That’s pretty much a set of one. Even Woody Allen and Spike Lee only have two of those attributes.
Not content to let the story of this video drift away into the internet ether, I tapped my extensive contact list and got in touch with Mr. Jerome. What is the mind of a man who made the greatest JR Smith music video of all time like?
Jerome’s Knick roots go back to trips to the Garden with his father in the early-nineties. I don’t know what young Milford was like, but he confided in me that he was attracted to the odd pairing of Xavier McDaniel and Kiki Vandeweghe early on. He got his bearings after that: Charles Oakley, John Starks and a trail of broken childhood playoff dreams left Jerome loving the Knicks in a way no championship ever could.
When the Knicks brought JR on, Jerome couldn’t have been happier. His fascination with Smith went back to 2004 when JR was rumored to be going to UNC, another team Milford’s a big fan of. (Hold up: JR at UNC? He would have made Rasheed Wallace look like Shane Battier. Damn.)
Jerome told me that when he saw Smith in a Knicks jersey he saw “Starks on steroids on a constant mushroom trip.” He meant this as a compliment, adding “I love his swag.”
All this swirled in Jerome’s mind as he was freestyling in the studio with his friends in the band Kidding on the Square. When they started playing a “zooted out organ progression” it made him feel like he could “channel JR” and started putting together the chorus that would form the song’s backbone. The Kidding on the Square guys helped Jerome craft the chorus into a real piece of music and from there it was on to the video. Jerome’s day job in the film editing business meant he had the skills to put together a video that looks as good as “So Right” does.
The video’s break came from a friend of Jerome’s at Complex magazine and from there it was off to the viral video races. The video has well over 500,000 views and has been noticed by quite a few big names, JR included. Smith retweeted Complex’s tweet with the link to the song, adding “LMAO,” and retweeted Kenneth Faried’s declaration that it was “the toughest song out.” Knicks fans Adrock and Fab 5 Freddy got in on the action too, tweeting about how much they loved the song. Jerome even appeared on WFAN’s Boomer and Carton to discuss it last week.
I suggested to Mr. Jerome that there is lots of other material out there for him to mine, even offering to ghost write a song about Chris Childs for him. I tried to convince him to take me up on the offer with my opening line: “drink a case of beer every night/crack Kobe’s jaw in a fight.” I think he politely blew me off: “I’m not sure. Steve, James and I need to circle the wagons and think.” OK, fine.
Much like myself and all the other Knicks fans who sustained so much heartbreak at such a formative age, Jerome’s a Knicks pessimist. I asked him how he thought the season would play out and he answered:
I was so high on this team early, but it was obvious that they rely too heavily on three pointers. They do not score enough in the paint and their defense comes and goes. Their perimeter play remains slow and they get outrebounded too much even with Chandler out there. When you watch them against a team like Indiana their weaknesses become obvious. Indiana throws a bunch of young live bodied wing players at you, while the Knicks just have Melo and JR and a bunch of slower and smaller guards. Felton can penetrate on offense but his defense is suspect. I think Prigioni should play more. Novak is basically useless come playoff time. And as much as I love Melo I still wonder about his mental makeup. I think this team will probably lose in the second round. Worst case scenario, in my opinion, is that they lose to the Celtics in the first round. Sadly, I see longterm scenario in which LeBron will be our roadblock similar to the days of Jordan. If LeBron goes to Cleveland he will team up with Irving and still be the best in the East. It’s hard to see how the Knicks will be able to have the flexibility to retool this roster in any sustainable way that gives us a chance to get younger and better. I love that we are relevant now, but the future could get dark quick.”
Hopefully, Jerome’s long-term view doesn’t play itself out and someday he’s inspired to produce another kind of Knicks music video: a championship one.
Those of you who have been checking in with me for a while know that I’ve had my eye on Delonte West for a long, long time. His deflated value due to off-court issues has always made him a good fit for the capped-out Knicks and now more than ever his game is a good fit too.
Marc Berman of the Post says the Knicks have their eye on West, who’s starting a stint in the D-League this week. With Raymond Felton struggling, Mike Woodson’s confidence in Pablo Prigioni waning and Jason Kidd still old, it’s clear the Knicks need a reinforcement in the backcourt. When healthy and right, West can shoot, handle, defend and play either guard position. He’d be a nice dose of firepower when Carmelo’s on the bench and would allow the Knicks to do more with their second unit than watch JR Smith shoot.
With the full understanding that Delonte West is more than a little unbalanced, if he’s in shape the Knicks should sign him. They need the help that bad and they need it immediately.
The 2012-13 Knicks are no doubt at their lowest point. They’ve lost four straight, all of which have been disappointing: flat performances against the Clippers and Raptors before the All Star break, an abominable effort in Indiana and a second loss to Toronto on Friday night. And it isn’t just that they’ve lost four straight, it’s also that they’re just 12-12 since Christmas. That’s two months of essentially flat play. Their lead in the Atlantic is down to a single game over the Nets (although they are up three in the loss column) and they’re now a game behind Indiana for the second seed. Do the math: that’s just one game out of the four seed and a second round playoff matchup with Miami (if they get out of the first round at all.) They can’t let that happen. And that’s not to mention playoff teams like the Bulls, Celtics and Pacers seem to have the Knicks’ number.
It’s always dangerous to take stock when a team is at its nadir. But it was easy to rationalize the Knicks’ poor play before the break: dog days of the season, ebbs and flows, etc. Now that they had a week off and came back just as uninspired and sloppy as they were before the break something is clearly wrong. Taking stock is in order.
Something needs to change. Mike Woodson needs to change it and show the NBA he is a coach capable of adapting on the fly. In Atlanta, it was iso-Joe, always. In New York, I’m not sure what it is any more. It was pick-and-roll, one-in-four-out offense with a side of Melo when the situation called for it. Now it’s a pro forma run through the pick-and-roll to start possessions that inevitably segues into a forced shot from Melo or JR or someone else. If the Knicks are lucky they throw an ill-considered alley to Tyson Chandler, who seems to be receiving the ball further and further from the rim every game.
A quick run through some of the issues:
Jason Kidd is in such a slump he’s forgotten that he’s the third most prolific three point shooter in NBA history.
Iman Shumpert is struggling in his comeback from ACL surgery and doesn’t look comfortable at small forward.
Raymond Felton is averaging just 2.6 assists over the last six games (the Knicks have lost five of them.)
The Knicks are averaging fourteen turnovers a game over the last five. Before this stretch they were averaging eleven.
Carmelo Anthony seems to be wearing down.
Amar’e Stoudemire’s defense is as bad as it has ever been.
They switch on everything defensively and have been getting exploited for it lately.
So what can Woodson do? First, they need to recommit to running their offense. Second, they need to adjust the starting lineup by inserting (gasp) JR Smith as the starting small forward. It might sound illogical to fix a lack of offensive discipline by adding a dose of JR Smith, but Smith’s ability to score and to make plays out of the pick and roll has been shown time and again this season. Not only that, he’s a capable and willing shooter, something neither Shumpert or Kidd is at the moment. It’s clear from the numbers that Kidd should remain the starting shooting guard and Shumpert should go to the bench: their offensive efficiency with Kidd on the court is 108.6 (0.6 higher than it is without him.) With Shumpert on the court? 98.6 (more than ten points worse than it is without him.) It’s no coincidence they got killed by Toronto in the first and third quarters on Friday: that’s when they come out with their starting lineup. Smith is no defensive step back from Shumpert at the moment either. It was Smith’s defense that slowed Rudy Gay down the stretch after a seventeen point third. If Shumpert needs time and work to get his athletic ability back, he needs to get it when it works for the Knicks. It isn’t right now.
In addition to adjusting the starting lineup, the Knicks need to play Amar’e Stoudemire less. Or when they do play him, it needs to be with Tyson Chandler on the court and Steve Novak off it. Stoudemire has always been a mess defensively but it’s getting worse. Over the Knicks’ last five games the Knicks’ defensive efficiency rating with Stoudemire on the court is a truly disturbing 122 (and that’s against some questionable offensive teams.) I don’t know about you, but that’s the highest number I’ve ever seen. The Knicks are waiting on the return of Rasheed Wallace and will be seeing what Kenyon Martin can give them this week. Any minutes those two get should be at the expense of Stoudemire first and foremost. Some of their minutes should also come from Carmelo’s stash as he seems to be wearing down under the stress of playing 38 minutes a game, most of them as an undersized power forward.
If Martin is in good shape he’ll be a boon to their defensive gameplan as well: he’s a capable on-ball defender who can stay in front of ballhandlers for the time it takes to get settled after a switch. While we’re on the subject: the Knicks need to switch less and make it harder for teams like Toronto to isolate Amar’e against smaller players and Raymond Felton against bigger ones. Some switching is good, always switching is bad. It’s predictable and easy to exploit. And assuming he ever gets right, Rasheed Wallace’s defense down low and renowned communicative ability will also make the Knicks better on that end. Who knows, Marcus Camby might even play one day too.
Last and certainly not least, the Knicks need to get their mojo back. I don’t know if they need to go bowling or horseback riding or something. I don’t know if they’re suffering from seasonal affective disorder like the rest of us and just need to hold on until daylight savings time on March 10th. What I do know is they need to loosen up, get back to running their offense, make a couple of lineup tweaks and get back to winning some games.
What Can The Knicks Do To Improve Before The Trade Deadline?
Things haven’t exactly gotten bad for the Knicks but they aren’t going great either. They’re just 12-10 since their loss to the Lakers on Christmas, a stretch that includes losses to Indiana, Chicago, Boston and Brooklyn, at least one of which they’ll have to face in the playoffs, maybe in the first round.
While it’s true that the Knicks have battled health issues during the last couple of months, well, so has every other team in the league. And some health issues are repetitive, so the challenges the Knicks have faced dealing with injuries serve to illustrate what their needs actually are.
It’s clear the Knicks need to make a move before the February 21st trade deadline. It’s also clear they don’t have a lot of flexibility in terms of what they can offer. Chandler, Melo, Amar’e, Felton, Smith and Kidd are all either off the table or extremely unlikely to be moved. Prigioni, Wallace, Camby, Kurt Thomas and James White all have little or no trade value. That leaves Shumpert, Novak, Brewer and Copeland as players who could realistically be included in trades. The Knicks cannot trade their first round pick this year because they do not have their first round pick in 2014. NBA rules prohibit the trading of back-to-back first round round picks. This is not referred to as the “Knicks Rule” but it should be.
What are the Knicks’ needs? In my view, they need a defensively capable energy big off the bench and an upgrade at backup point guard. Prigioni isn’t bad but he could certainly be improved upon. We already learned they cannot use Jason Kidd at point guard if Raymond Felton is injured and we also know Mike Woodson doesn’t feel Prigioni is capable of being a starter at the position. Prigioni is good in the pick-and-roll but his lack of scoring ability lets defenses double off him too easily. He’s fine. Nothing more.
A healthy Rasheed Wallace might be sufficient to give the Knicks what they need as a defensive big off the bench but at this point I don’t see how they can rely on him. He’s been out for two months with a stress fracture in his foot and once he gets back it’s just a matter of time before he gets hurt again. They need a player with some reckless abandon, someone who makes opposing teams uncomfortable, an enforcer who can keep the Knicks level of physicality up when Tyson Chandler goes to the bench.
So what’s out there?
A Simple Plan
Step One: Send Chris Copeland to the D-League and sign Kenyon Martin. Copeland has shown some promise, even if he moves like someone who will never be a good NBA player. No reason to cut him or trade him as filler. Send him to the D-League and let him ride the bus for a while. Martin, a strong rebounder, shot blocker and post defender at power forward is exactly what the Knicks need. Another interesting option might be to explore adding DeJuan Blair. Of course, that’s a risk because whoever you trade to the Spurs is going to become awesome upon touching down in San Antonio and meeting Greg Popovich.
Step Two: Add backup point guard Luke Ridnour in a trade for either Steve Novak and/or Ronnie Brewer. It’s got to be Novak to make the salaries match up. Novak keeps the Timberwolves white, which is important to them. He doesn’t see a lot of minutes for the Knicks and hasn’t contributed meaningfully at all this season. Ridnour is experienced and solid and would be an upgrade over Prigioni. The Knicks considered Ridnour over Raymond Felton the first time around so they’re well acquainted with his game and he’s having a nice offensive season, averaging 12.3 points a game on 46% shooting to go with 3.9 assists. He’s also spent a lot of time sharing the backcourt with other point guards (Jennings in Milwaukee, Rubio last season in Minnesota) so he’d be comfortable playing with Felton. I’d like to see the Knicks get a second round pick out of this deal as well as Minnesota has two second round picks in the upcoming draft and three second round picks in the 2014 draft (a draft in which the Knicks currently have no picks whatsoever.) Unless they’re planning on starting a second D-League team, they’re going to have to dump a couple of those picks someplace.
The bottom line is that this plan strikes a balance between improving the team and significantly altering the roster and team chemistry. Put another way, it doesn’t mean selling out the future by trading Iman Shumpert.
The Risky Plan
Trade Iman Shumpert for all or some of what they need. This is a much riskier move, one that’s sure to shake up the locker room, where Shumpert is very popular. It’s also a risk because Shumpert still has quite a bit of potential and is coming back from knee surgery. A Shumpert move now might be selling low. Although of course it might be selling high because it isn’t at all clear whether he’ll develop into the player he looks like he can become. So yeah, risky.
Millsap’s $8 million salary makes a deal almost impossible and that’s not to mention that it’s a pretty lopsided trade in favor of the Knicks. Millsap is a very good player who’s going to command a lot. He’s also going to be a free agent at the end of the year. Ideally, trading Shumpert would bring back someone who’s going to be around for a while, not just three months.
I like a deal for Dudley, he helps the Knicks at small forward which is another place they need a hand and his ability to spread the floor and play multiple positions makes him a good fit for their offense. The first round pick makes losing Shumpert’s potential a lot more palatable. If they were able to convince Phoenix to include Sebastian Telfair, that’s a trade I think the Knicks should make, to the extent they decide moving Shumpert is something they are willing to do. They would likely have to include Steve Novak to make the deal work financially.
They could also trade Shumpert, Novak and Ronnie Brewer for Marcin Gortat, a backup center who would bring exactly the kind of toughness the Knicks need.
The Bottom Line
I think a series of smaller moves is the way to go. Given that the Knicks don’t need a major overhaul they should take until at least the summer - and the draft - before coming to any conclusions on Shumpert. They can address a lot of their needs by dealing out of the bottom of their rotation. On the other hand, if they decide to trade Shumpert I’m not going to be crushed. I see a guy who is going to grow into a capable rotation player but who isn’t ready to contribute at a high level right now. Players in that position are eminently tradable.
Should be an interesting next few days, either way.
With the relative quiet of NBA All Star weekend upon us, I thought it would be a good time to take a look at whether #vamplife enthusiast JR Smith really struggles in day games or whether that belief - held by many - is just based on what we know of his off-court lifestyle.
I crunched the numbers and I’ll share them with you, with the understanding that the highest level of math I’ve completed is high school advanced algebra (I think I got an 85, I don’t know, all I remember is that my parents were disappointed.)
In all games, JR is averaging 16.2 ppg on 40% shooting, 5.0 rpg and 2.8 assists. He’s also shooting 34% from three and is good for 1.4 TOs a game.
In eight day games this season (which I defined as those at 3 pm eastern or earlier and didn’t include the London game because that game was played at night in London after a week spent there adjusting to the time difference), Smith is averaging 13.4 points a game on 40% shooting (it’s actually .395), six rebounds and 3.3 assists. He’s shooting 37% from three and is averaging 1.4 TOs.
In non-day games, he’s averaging 16.7 ppg on 40% shooting, 4.8 rebounds per game, 2.7 assists, 33% three point shooting and 1.4 TOs.
I realize that some of the stats don’t quite tie out. That’s because of rounding, I swear. I swear!
JR’s had two of his worst games on Sunday afternoons (he shot 1-11 against Phoenix on December 2nd and 1-9 against the Clippers last Sunday) which likely plays into the myth that Smith is significantly worse in day games. But that’s just JR being JR, he’s an up-and-down player. He’s had nights of 2-13, 3-16 and 0-8 in night games this season. Sometimes JR is a mess. Other times he’samazing.
So what do the numbers tell us? Smith’s averaging more than three points less a game in the afternoons. He’s also shooting better from three. He rebounds and dishes a bit more and turns the ball over at the same rate. Not a wild difference in his performances. Three points a game isn’t insignificant but the slight uptick in his rebounding and assist numbers pretty much make up for it. The conclusion has to be that Smith is pretty much the same player during the day as he is at night. This doesn’t alter my belief that the optimal time for JR to play in a basketball game is 3:30 am, but we don’t have the data to figure out whether that’s true.
So that’s that: JR is pretty much JR, whether the Knicks play during the day or during the night.
By now you’ve probably heard that the Phoenix Suns have asked the Knicks about Iman Shumpert’s availability. According to you-know-who over at Yahoo, the Suns are willing to give up Jared Dudley and perhaps a first round pick to get their hands on Shump and his flat-top. So far it doesn’t appear that the Knicks are interested.
The initial reaction of any Knick fan who’s been following Shump’s exploits on-court and off is that trading the young man is a terrible idea. Before he tore his ACL in the playoffs last season Shumpert was an on-the-ball defensive dynamo (his attention waned at times away from it) and ferocious dunker. Most were unconcerned that he was a 30% three point shooter and turned the ball over just under twice a game in less than thirty minutes per because the positives - and the potential - outweighed any trouble youthful exuberance and inexperience might cause.
Then Shump got hurt. Since returning from injury twelve games ago he’s averaging just under twenty minutes a game. He’s shooting better from three (40%) than he did before but his field goal percentage is a troubling 34% and he’s been to the line just eight times. He’s averaging just 5.4 points a game. He doesn’t look as explosive and his lateral movement hasn’t been where it needs to be. He seems like a clumsy fit at small forward. Indeed, in the seven games the Knicks current starting lineup of Felton, Kidd, Shump, Anthony and Chandler has been on the floor it has been outscored five times.
All that said, a healthy Shumpert addresses one of the Knicks biggest needs: they just can’t stop opposing point guards. A healthy Shumpert is a terror and it’s easy to imagine Shumpert chasing Jrue Holiday while Raymond Felton bangs around with Jason Richardson. That’s a healthy Shumpert though and we don’t know when we’re going to see that. Once (if) we do, we don’t know where his shooting is going to be. It’s Shumpert’s shooting - or lack thereof - that will determine whether he’s a good offensive fit. And we may not see a healthy Shumpert this season at all.
On the other hand, Jared Dudley is healthy and established (but not old - he’s just 27.) He’s not a star by any means but he’s a versatile player who can give the Knicks help in a lot of places. He’s probably a natural three but is just as suited to play the four as Carmelo Anthony (where the Knicks are thin right now) and can slide over to the two as well, guarding tweeners like Paul Pierce, Evan Turner and Danny Granger. And as a three, he could slide right into the starting lineup - at a position where the Knicks have been forced to use Chris Copeland and James White. That’s all not to mention that Dudley is a career 40% shooter from three. Dudley is basically a perfect fit for what the Knicks want to do on offense. And as a guy who can guard three positions, he’s the perfect fit for their switch-tastic defensive philosophy.
First round picks speak for themselves. Let’s assume for a moment that the pick isn’t for this year’s draft, the rare year when the Knicks have their own pick. They do not have a 2014 pick (they gave it up in the Melo deal.) It’d be nice to pick one up - you could argue that the pick by itself is worth almost as much as Shumpert right now (the imaginary player they’ll take is certainly healthy.) With the exception of Jordan Hill, the Knicks have gotten a lot out of their first round picks the last few years and the Suns pick is likely to be better than their own pick would have been.
Even if Iman Shumpert has more potential than Jared Dudley has talent (an argument offset somewhat by the potential that comes with a future first-rounder), you have to consider whether the Knicks are truly in a position to win now. If you think they are, they’ve got to do the deal (especially if they can also extract backup point guard Sebastian Telfair.) In the tightly packed East, teams are going to improve. The Bulls will get Rose back, the Pacers Granger. The Nets are rumored to be adding Josh Smith (unlikely) or Ben Gordon (possible.) It’s not far to the 4/5 spot and a certain second round matchup with the Heat. It’s imperative that the Knicks find a way to improve.
I understand. Young players are exciting, especially ones you’ve watched grow and Shump’s got a lot of flair. He still has potential. But it takes talent to get talent; a good trade is always a risk. If you think the Knicks are good enough to win now, they have to take this opportunity to get better, especially if they can bank a draft pick while they’re at it. It’ll only hurt for a second. I promise.
Hey, it’s always good to do some bargain shopping. According to Adrian Wojnarowski they’re taking a look at Martin and will consider signing him if Rasheed Wallace doesn’t get better soon (he’s missed 10+ games with a stress injury to his foot.)
Martin to the Knicks would be a good move. He’s a good rebounder and a strong defender. He’s tough. He’s got plenty of tats so you know he’ll fit in.
With Sheed out and Camby starting, the Knicks have been forced to use some weird second unit lineups lately. Stoudemire, Copeland and Novak on the floor together is a recipe for disaster defensively. Martin would help. I hope they do it.
This afternoon’s game between the Knicks and Lakers in LA is a much bigger game than it seems. For the Knicks, their 116-107 pasting of the Lakers on December 13 may have been the high water mark of the season thus far. For the Lakers, it may have been a low point. Since that game, however, the Knicks have hit a rough patch, partly due to Carmelo missing two games thanks to a sprained left ankle he sustained against the Lakers. Missing Melo was only a small factor in their struggles (they went 1-1 without him.) In the five games since they last played LA, the Knicks are 3-2 with narrow victories over the Cavs and Timberwolves and ugly losses to the Rockets and Bulls. Only a strong victory over the Nets stands out. All of those games were played at home. The offense looks stagnant and the defense looks unenthused. The Knicks aren’t on the ropes but they haven’t looked as good as they did to start the season. Winning this afternoon would go a long way towards getting the Knicks back on track.
The Lakers, on the other hand, haven’t lost since they left New York. Not only are they 4-0 since then, but Steve Nash came back against the Warriors two nights ago and they got a productive forty minute, twelve point, nine assist performance from him in an ovetime win. Don’t look now, but the Lakers look like they just might be turning this thing around.
So it isn’t just the Christmas showcase that makes this one a big game for Carmelo and the Knicks and Kobe and the Lakers. It’s a big test for both teams. Playing a team they worked over when things were going perfectly two weeks ago, the Knicks have a chance to right the ship as they begin their first west coast trip of the year. The Lakers have a chance to get back to .500 and announce to the league that they are far from dead. Factor in Mike D’Antoni versus the Knicks and a chance to watch point guards emeritus Jason Kidd and Steve Nash square off and you’ve got the makings of a really good game.