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.
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.
All that can start tonight against Philadelphia.
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’s amazing.
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.