Knickels & Dimes

It’s been a while, I feel like writing something, so here goes nothing…

  • I feel guilty thinking this, nevermind typing it, but… Amar’e who? I know this team can get too Melo-centric and struggles to score when the supporting cast’s shot isn’t falling, but it’s hard not to like the way the team has been playing with STAT out of the lineup.
  • But perhaps the team’s success with STAT out of the lineup has more to do with another factor – Iman Shumpert‘s ascension to the starting lineup. Shumpert recently had his coming out party on national television against the Bulls with Jeff Van Gundy throwin roses at his feet and plucking the petals off a tulip each time Shump would run past. Is it really any surprise that the Knicks have taken off with two elite defenders in the lineup (Chandler being the other)? Shump also brings a more dangerous offensive game than his predecessor at the 2, Landry Fields.
  • It seems that I am destined to always be in the minority when it comes to Toney Douglas. In Toney’s first two seasons he became a fan favorite (See, DWTDD). However, this season he struggled as the starting PG and found himself benched. He still seemed to have the support of the Internet die-hards, but his most recent struggles after getting another shot to crack the rotation seems to have turned the tide on Toney. Personally, I’ve never been the biggest Douglas fan. I think his defense is a bit overrated, I am amazed every time his shot goes in (which happened far more frequently last season), and he really struggles running an offense. That being said, Mike Woodson has given JR Smith a ton of rope, yet he can’t give Douglas more than a handful of minutes to try and get it going? Even worse, he has subjected us to Mike Bibby and Smith for stretches at the point. Not cool. Toney may have his flaws, but I think he can throw an entry pass to Melo and then camp out at the three point line and play a bit of D. Maybe I’m crazy.
  • Love, love, LOVE how Woodson has made a point of drawing up plays for Steve Novak.
  • Knicks really could have used another big. I was beating the Kyrylo Fesenko drum up until he signed with Indiana. I probably (likely) overrate him, but I still think he would have been a useful piece, especially with the injuries to STAT and Jared Jeffries. I like Jorts enough, but he is pretty limited.
  • Back to Douglas for a moment. Why not play him with Melo and let Baron Davis run that frenetic second unit of Jeffries, Jorts, Novak, and Smith?
  • Maybe I’m just a homer, but I think this Knicks team will be dangerous (if they make the playoffs). The way they defend will be a huge asset come playoff time. Melo also gives them a huge advantage since they have a player who can get his shots and get to the line, almost at will. Of course, Melo has his nights where you wished he would be more efficient, but you really couldn’t have hoped for anything more from Melo these past few games.
  • Oh, and please send Jerome Jordan to the D League if you’re not going to play him. Thanks.
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Knicks 82, Lakers 99 – Kneejerk Reactions

  • In case you didn’t know, I live in Los Angeles, so I was in attendance tonight. I cannot remember the last time I was this angry.
  • Seriously, I was so angry my right eyelid was twitching and I currently have a tension headache.
  • I know it’s Game Three, but I’ve seen enough. D’Antoni is not the coach to take this team to the next level He was completely out-coached by Mike Brown.  MIKE. BROWN.
  • Outside of Melo, STAT, Chandler, and Fields (who played with more decisiveness and confidence tonight), the rest of the team showed me nothing.
  • Toney  Douglas, in particular, looks like he has never played basketball in his life.  He is making poor decisions on defense and treats the ball like a hot potato on offense.  He looks totally lost.
  • I’ve also had enough of the bitching and moaning and the technical fouls that come with it.  Melo, Chandler, and STAT each had a tech in this game, and the constant complaining sets a TERRIBLE tone.  Just play the damn game.
  • I know it was the second game of a back-to-back on a West Coast trip, but the lack of energy was really discouraging.
  • Bottom line: this is currently a team without an identity. They have legit talent, but as my fiancee remarked, “There’s no flow… they don’t play together.”  Right now they’re just a bunch of dudes playing basketball.  There doesn’t appear to be any plan, and that’s a reflection on the coach.
  • But right now I need to drink some tea, calm down, and get some sleep.  More to come tomorrow.
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Grantland’s Sebastian Pruiti Takes A Look At Tyson Chandler

Excellent piece by Sebastian Pruiti over at Grantland breaking down the Lamar Odom and Tyson Chandler trades.  For our purposes I’m going to, zero in on one aspect of his article:

As great as Chandler is, he will definitely have his work cut out for him in New York. This season, not only does he have to cover Stoudemire’s back — a role similar to the one he played with Dallas and Dirk last year — but Chandler also has to help a second defense-averse superstar in Anthony.

Read the whole article, which does a great job detailing what Chandler can bring to the Knicks defensively.  However, based on the above quite, it seems that the Carmelo Anthony, rather than Chandler, will be the one to determine how much the Knicks’ defense will improve. Melo has shown an ability to defend when he wants to, more so than Amar’e. If Melo can stay committed on the defensive end, this will make Chandler even more effective on defense, since he won’t have to try to be in two places at once, covering for both Melo and Amar’e.

(Hat tip to Posting & Toasting for the link.)

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So I Guess I Should Write Something About The NBA Lockout

I’m probably the worst person to write a blog post about the NBA Lockout because I am decidedly neutral when it comes to these things.  The way I see it, the NBA is a business (no matter how eloquently Malcolm Gladwell argues otherwise) and this is simply a business negotiation.  As such, both sides are going to dig in and try to get the best deal possible.

Do not try to persuade me with Gladwell-ian arguments that the NBA, or sports in general, are not like other businesses.  I understand that other businesses don’t have the collateral damage of the fans being deprived of watching their heroes (although Peyton Manning may beg to differ,) but the playing NBA basketball will be most players’ chief source of income for the rest of their lives and while owning an NBA team is not the main business for most owners, it is still a huge investment.  Bottom line: there is a shitload of money at stake.

This is why I don’t get frustrated or upset about the prospect reality of losing NBA regular season games.  When a shitload of money is at stake, things are going to get messy.  And that’s where we are right now: things have gotten quite messy.  In my opinion, here are the two most relevant tweets regarding the possibility of the NBA playing games this season:

You can essentially read these tweets as the first point leading to the second.  The owners’  offers are only going to get worse to “make up” for lost revenue.  The players will likely feel compelled to not accept lesser offers since they’re determined to “show resolve.”  Again, I’m not on a “side” here… that’s just the these things go.  Ultimately, both sides have “dug in” and it’s about the get really ugly.  The stakes are high (read: money) and both sides are thinking long-term.  What’s sad is we all know which side is in a better position to withstand a protracted stand-off.  It’s too bad we can’t just fast forward to the breaking point and get on with things, already.

As for what fans should do and how they should take this news? Go see a movie.  I’m not kidding.  I’ve seen too many tweets tonight reciting a variation on the refrain “us fans are stupid/idiots/suckers for caring so much.”  I truly don’t get that.  You’re a fan of the NBA because you love the game of basketball.  Period.  Leave the BS behind the scenes to the owners and the players.  Don’t take it personally and it won’t have an impact on you.  Does it suck that we’re missing NBA games?  Absolutely.  As a Knicks fan I’m pretty pissed that we’re not going to be able to watch Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, & Co. take a run at the Miami Heat after years of futility at The World’s Most Famous Arena.

Granted, I only blog for fun, so I’m speaking as someone whose life doesn’t revolve around the NBA, but I’m pisses nonetheless about missing out on Knicks basketball.  However, there are plenty of other ways I can occupy my time.  Aside from the NFL, NHL, and College Basketball/Football, living in Los Angeles presents me with plenty of things to do to take my mind off the lack of NBA basketball.  I’m sure there are plenty of things for you to explore in your own city.

So take this time to try something new.  Heck, you might even discover a new hobby.  And when the lockout ends, jump right back into the deep end of the NBA pool, without reservation.  There’s no reason to feel foolish for sticking with the NBA after the lockout.  Don’t ever forget why you love this game and don’t ever, ever, EVER let the in-fighting between the owners and players sour you on the beautiful game of basketball.  Once the bright lights come on and the games start, all of the nonsense from this lockout will fade away and all that will be left is the games.  And that’s why we care.  That’s why we love this game.

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Defending James Dolan’s Decision but Not His Process

Let’s cut to the chase: Don’t be mad at James Dolan for cutting ties with Donnie Walsh; be mad at him for dragging this on for too long and not giving the new President/GM more time to gameplan for the offseason.

Anyone who follows/argues with me on Twitter knows that I am an ardent Walsh/D’Antoni supporter.  Both men were put in impossible positions due to the past incompetence of Scott Layden, Isiah Thomas, and James Dolan.  It might not be “fair” to part ways  with Walsh (and possibly D’Antoni) just as things are starting to turn, fair has nothing to do with it.  Life isn’t fair.

Walsh and D’Antoni both accomplished what they were brought in here to do: Walsh got under the cap and acquired two All Stars to build around and D’Antoni played an exciting brand of basketball that was fun to watch even if the team lost far more than it one.  More importantly, D’Antoni, whose system inflates players numbers the way Coors Field inflates Dante Bichette’s home run totals, pumped up the value of some young players who would be included in a trade that netted Carmelo Anthony.  (For those who scoff at my characterization of Gallo, Chandler, and Felton, think of how many scoffed at the notion that the Knicks possessed the assets to acquire Melo.  Also recall how anyone could have signed Felton before the Knicks signed him to a very team friendly deal.)  Finally, the Walsh/D’Antoni duo brought playoff basketball back to The World’s Most Famous Arena.

While the above is all well and good, Jimmy Dolan had to take a hard look at the Knicks management situation and answer a simple question: “Are Walsh/D’Antoni the guys to lead this franchise going forward?”  Judging from the reaction on Twitter and in the media, many people believe the answer to this question should have been ‘Yes.”  Ironically, I noticed that many of my Twitter followers bemoaning the fall of Walsh were calling for D’Antoni’s head and a more defensive minded coach following the Melo trade.  Well, I hate to break it to you, folks, the same way a vote for McCain would have been a vote for Palin, a vote for Walsh is a vote for D’Antoni.

As you can tell by now, despite being an advocate for team Walsh/D’Antoni, I don’t believe it is outrageous to question whether they were the right men for the job of leading this team going forward.  The Knicks window to win a title starts next year and will likely remain open for 5-7 years (or however long Melo/Amar’e perform at an All Star level.)  Thus, it isn’t unreasonable for Dolan to want a President/GM who will sign a multi-year deal and guide the team for the duration of Melo and Amar’e’s primes.  There is also the issue of Walsh’s health.  Even though Donnie claims he is good-to-go, what else would you expect him to say?  Walsh has spent a decent amount of time on the operating table and in a wheelchair during his Knicks tenure.  Walsh’s health  and his ability to keep up with the grind of being team President/GM is a legitimate concern going forward.

As for D’Antoni, in case you haven’t been watching the NBA playoffs, the teams that went deep into the playoffs complemented star players with strong defensive role players and defensive minded head coaches (an oversimplifcation, for sure, but you get the gist) and the 2-time defending champs hired Mike Brown, a noted defensive whiz, to take over for a coaching legend.  Having seen the success these teams are having, it’s not ridiculous to want to make a move towards a more defensive minded coach, which is a move a lot of Knicks fans would welcome.  Finally, there are some impressive front office candidates out there who would be good long-term choices to lead the Knicks, with Mark Warkentien and Allan Houston already in-house as possibilities, not to mention a solid list of coaching candidates to choose from.  I apologize if I am jumping the gun a bit on D’Antoni being replaced, but you would have to imagine a new President/GM would want to bring in his own guy.

However, the caveat to all of this is if Dolan simply hires Warkentien or Houston and D’Antoni remains head coach.  If this happens, it’s unlikely that much would change from an organizational philosophy standpoint and we’re all probably overreacting to this news.  Both men are already with the organization and would probably run the team similar to Walsh, with a few wrinkles of their own thrown in for good measure.

All that being said, I am still highly annoyed with Dolan.  My gripe is a simple one: Why did this take so long?  The Knicks were eliminated from the playoffs April 25th and the deadline to extend Walsh’s contract was April 30.  You mean to tell me it  took Dolan over a month to reach this decision?  Once Dolan passed on extending Walsh he should have parted ways with Donnie and hired a new President/GM.  Instead, a month has been wasted and now more time will be wasted finding a new President/GM.  As I noted above, a new President/GM will likely want to bring in his own coach, which is a process that would also take some time to work itself out.  And, of course, a new coach means a new system, which means a change in philosophy as to the type of players to target in the offseason and beyond.  Even if the Knicks name Donnie’s replacement within the next 48 hours, this past month has been an enormous waste of time.  As has been the case all too often with Dolan, the process has been terrible.

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Yahoo! Sports and ESPN? I Strenuously Object!

My original plan was to let the events of last night sink into my brain before I put finger to keyboard to summarize my thoughts on Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks. That plan got set aside after reading Adrian Wojnarowski’s hatchet job of Carmelo Anthony over at Yahoo! Sports:

And once again, this was enough for Carmelo Anthony. Once again, he still doesn’t understand that a superstar’s code calls for different disposition when a losing playoff night is over. Whatever he’s done, it isn’t enough. Let everyone else praise you, but the superstar doesn’t take bows when his team is down 2-0 in a series where he ended one game missing 10 of 11 shots.

“It was fun,” ‘Melo said late Tuesday.

Yes, the Knicks had so much reason to be proud, but let’s face it, after getting ripped in the New York tabloids for such a poor Game 1 performance, ‘Melo’s debriefing on Game 2 had an unmistakable message to it: Too bad we lost, but you can’t blame me for it. If Anthony wants everyone else to regard him as one of the sport’s superstars, he needs to hold himself to the standard that comes with it.

Now I see why Wojnarowski makes the big bucks: he’s clairvoyant. I’m not sure what’s more impressive, Melo’s 42 points, 17 rebounds, six assists, and two blocks, or the fact that Wojnarowski can extrapolate all of the above from Melo saying, “It was fun.” Of course, Wojnarowski must have had his jump to conclusions mat laid out in front of him. He obviously landed on “Go Wild.”

When Anthony had a chance to close out the game, he made the safest possible play to ultimately deflect criticism, the one that deep down he knew would free him of blame when it predictably crumbled.

It was ‘Melo and four bench players on the floor, and it didn’t matter that he had found several of them for assists in the fourth quarter. Everything changes with the game on the line, and ‘Melo had to choose without a moment’s notice: Could I split the defenders and bet on myself or give the ball to Jared Jeffries because he happened to be open?

Huh? It didn’t matter that Jared Jeffries got the ball about two feet from the basket? It didn’t matter that all Jeffries had to do was turn around and lay it up off the glass? Even if you concede the point that Melo shouldn’t have left the game in Jared Jeffries’ hands, it is yellow journalism to say “[Melo] made the safest possible play to ultimately deflect criticism” when he attempted a 28 foot three-pointer with a hand in his face when taking the last shot in the game immediately preceding this one. That deduction is even more incongruous with the truth when faced with the fact that Melo has been taking (and often hitting) almost every big shot since bring traded to the Knicks.

While the above comments represent a “reporter” inappropriately playing fast and loose with the facts, the following comment actually riled me up more than the rest:

Carmelo Anthony says this was a lot of fun, but champions don’t find joy in statistics that spare them the tabloids’ wrath. They come to take everything, and they’re miserable unless they do. Anthony’s never been that superstar, never embraced that burden, that mindset.

Peter May had a similar comment in this morning’s Daily Dime at ESPN.com:

This is how teams that come close, but can’t finish, rationalize things. The Knicks gave the Celtics everything they could handle — and left Boston on the Good Ship Lollipop with nothing to show for it. They should be spitting nails.

Is that right, gentleman? “[Champions] come to take everything, and they’re miserable unless they do?” “[The Knicks] should be spitting nails?” It’s not like that loser Manny Ramirez ever won anything after he said this:

“Why should we panic?” he said Wednesday in a rare clubhouse interview. “We’ve got a great team.”

And then, this: “It doesn’t happen, so who cares? There’s always next year. It’s not like it’s the end of the world.”

Wait… what was that? The Red Sox went on to win the 2007 World Series? But I thought champions are miserable unless they take everything and spit nails when they don’t.

I understand these writers need to generate hits for their respective sites and that’s why they make these outlandish statements. However, I take issue with anyone telling someone else how they should react to anything, never mind how they should react to losing a basketball game, even if it is a playoff game. People react to things differently and just because Melo doesn’t go through the histrionics of a Kevin Garnett doesn’t make him any less of a leader. Because we all know how successful KG, the great leader, was before he joined forces with Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo. What? You don’t remember all those titles the Timberwolves won, inspired by KG headbutting the padding under the hoop and scowling at the media after losses? Perhaps I have a faulty memory, but I seem to remember Melo the Selfish having far more success (read: winning basketball games) with his initial NBA team than Kevin “I Wear My Heart on My Sleeve” Garnett had with his.

Finally, basketball should be fun. Sure, it sucks that the Knicks lost last night, but that game sure was a lot of fun to watch. Especially when Knicks fans take a moment to reflect on where this team was last year (hint: playing golf.) So if Melo having fun equals him posting a stat line that would make the Big O jealous, then I hope he has a lot more fun in these playoffs.

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Knicks Let One Slip Away Against Celtics

Had the Knicks been able to hold on against the Celtics, the ending would have been almost poetic. With 50 seconds left in a tie game, Chauncey Billups, the Knicks floor general, suffers an apparent knee injury and cannot return. After getting a stop, Toney Douglas comes down and pulls up from 3 early in the shot clock, just like his mentor would, and drills the 3… just like his mentor would. This  would should have been the story. Instead, well, you know how it ended.

So instead of talking about Douglas’ clutch 3 or how Amar’e Stoudemire eviscerated Kevin Garnett in the 4th Quarter or how Mike D’Antoni deserves props for coming up with a smart game plan and navigating through early foul woes for Carmelo Anthony, we’re instead talking about Melo’s poor 2nd half performance and that looong 3-pointer he jacked up with time ticking down. We’re talking about how badly D’Antoni got schooled by Doc Rivers in the final 30 seconds of this game, starting with the Rajon Rondo-Garnett alley-oop and ending with Ray Allen getting an open look that allowed him to drive the dagger through the heart of Knicks Knation.

The take away from this game is that the Knicks can play with the Celtics. Then again, anyone who watched Knicks-Celtics games this season could tell you that. The Knicks almost stole one in Boston despite poor performances from basically everyone except Amar’e Stoudemire. If I told you the Knicks would lose on a last second shot despite Melo, Billups, and Douglas combining for 33 points you would have laughed in my face. The take away from this game should be as follows: if the Knicks can carry over the defensive intensity from Game 1, you have to expect better offensive performances from Melo and Douglas. This series isn’t over, folks. It’s only just begun.

Observations & Thoughts

  • The Jeff Green acquisition has been panned by many and, based on the Celtics performance following the trade, rightfully so. However, I thought Green played Melo pretty tough, which saved Paul Pierce‘s legs for offense and defense. Remember, Melo basically had sole responsibility for Pierce on defense for the Knicks.
  • I would have liked to see a bit more Bill Walker. Admittedly, I’m a big fan of Walker’s game and have championed him since training camp, but he provided a nice spark when Melo had to sit with foul trouble. Plus, Landry Fields looked lost out there and the Knicks need more on the offensive end. Walker has also played pretty solid D. IMO, Walker should cut into Fields’ minutes, especially with Billups looking doubtful for Game 2.
  • Along the same lines, what’s with Shawne Williams only getting nine minutes? The Celtics are not as big and long as their reputation would have you believe. When the Celtics go with their small lineup I’d like to see D’Antoni get Shawne in the game to spread the floor and make life easier on STAT and Melo. Imagine a lineup of STAT-Shawne-Melo-Walker-Douglas? Talk about spreading the floor with shooters.
  • That being said, both Ronny Turiaf and Jared Jeffries had solid games (although Turiaf was only a +1 and Jeffries was a -9.) It’s just incredibly frustrating to watch the offense when they’re in the game since the Knicks are basically playing 4 on 5 in those situations.
  • Anthony Carter gave the Knicks decent minutes, but I still would have liked to see Walker in the game when Billups had to come out. The Knicks are not good enough to beat the Celtics by playing it safe. Walker presents more upside than Carter and he is much more versatile offensively.
  • D’Antoni was badly outcoached by Doc at the end of the game. The alley-oop to Garnett off the out of bounds play was inexcusable defense coming out of a timeout. However, I give D’Antoni a pass on not having a timeout for the last possession since he had to burn one following Billups’ injury. Plus, the Knicks had plenty of time to get down the floor and set up a last shot and they were probably going to ISO Melo anyway.
  • Last night was a statement game  for Amar’e. He is out to show that he is an elite player and he really got after Garnett, posting a very strong 28 & 11. We’re going to need more of that and then some from our captain. Let’s hope the team continues to go to STAT when they see he has it going.
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The NBA Playoffs Narrative

It should come as no shock that I’ve been thinking a lot about the NBA playoffs. In order to try and get a handle on these playoffs, I’ve been studying my NBA history with the hope that some patterns would emerge. Looking at modern NBA history (which, IMO, starts when Magic and Bird entered the league,) something jumped out at me.

As Kurt Helin of ProBasketballTalk noted, “Bill James, the legendary baseball statistician, has said the problem with the NBA is the best team almost always wins.” While I would argue that this isn’t necessarily a “problem”, if you look at the list of NBA champions you will notice an interesting narrative that runs through NBA Playoff history. Simply put, after the “best” team dominates the league for a few seasons, the ascension of a new dominant team and dominant player coincides with the descent of the formerly dominant team and player. This may seem like an over-simplification (and common sense) but it is actually possible to make sense of the NBA’s modern age through this narrative and with this narrative in mind it provides some interesting storylines to watch in the current NBA Playoffs.

In the early 80′s Magic and Bird were the most dominant players and they played on the most dominant, and loaded, teams. Thus, the 80′s saw either the Lakers or the Celtics win the NBA title with the exception of the ’82-’83 season which saw Doctor J and Moses Malone join forces on an awesome 76ers team.

The ’86-’87 season can be viewed as the line of demarcation signaling the end of the Lakers’ and Celtics’ reign of terror. Although the Lakers held off Isiah Thomas and his Detroit Pistons for one more year, the writing was on the wall: the Pistons were the new dominant team, winning back-to-back NBA titles.

However, the Pistons reign would be short-lived, with Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls marking the beginning of the 90′s by ascending to the throne as the NBA’s most dominant player and team, respectively. This would seemingly go against the Playoff Narrative, however, the Pistons were never heard from again after losing to the Bulls in the ’90-’91 Eastern Conference Finals. As we know, Jordan and the Bulls would go on to 3-peat with Jordan leaving a huge void when he retired for the first time after the ’92-’93 season.

Enter Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets. Hakeem and the Rockets filled the vacuum of most dominant player and team that Jordan’s foray into Minor League Baseball created. It is notable that Hakeem’s Rockets took down the Blazers (Clyde Drexler,) the Suns (Charles Barkley,) the Jazz (Stockton and Malone,) and the Knicks (Patrick Ewing) to win their first title. Even more notable was that the Rockets added a 2nd superstar (Drexler) to bolster their chances of repeating. Also notable is that Hakeem’s Rockets vanquished a young Shaquille O’Neal in he ’94-’95 NBA Finals. Apparently, it wasn’t Shaq’s time just yet.

The ’95-’96 season would see Jordan return to the NBA so that he and the Bulls could reclaim their throne as the most dominant team and player in the League. Following Jordan’s retirement and a lockout shortened season there was the weird ’98-’99 playoffs where the Spurs beat the 8th seeded Knicks for the title. Duncan would be the first rookie “star” to win a title since Magic however the parallels are important to note: both young stars landed on teams with still formidable All Star centers. Even more interesting is that Duncan would not win another title until 2002-03, his age 26 season, which would put him back on track to following the NBA Playoff Narrative.

Anyway, following the lockout shortened season, we entered a period where Shaquille O’Neal was the most dominant player in the league. Shaq’s Lakers would win three straight titles with a young Kobe Bryant playing a large role in that success. The Lakers quest for a fourth straight title was thwarted by Tim Duncan and the Spurs, with Duncan capturing the second title that I alluded to above. This had the makings of a modern Magic vs. Bird rivalry, with Shaq’s Lakers and Duncan’s Spurs battling for supremacy for the foreseeable future. The 2003-04 playoffs seemed to confirm this until the Lakers suffered an embarrassing defeat to the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Finals. Without taking too much away from the Pistons, we would eventually learn following the Lakers traded Shaq to the Heat that there was a lot of internal strife with that Lakers team.

In a way Duncan and Shaq did provide a modern refrain on the Magic vs. Bird rivalry, although we never got the ultimate payoff of those two facing off in the NBA Finals. However, following the Pistons title, the next three NBA titles were won by Duncan’s Spurs, Shaq’s Heat, and Duncan’s Spurs, respectively (although, Dwyane Wade had a lot to say about the Heat’s championship.)

Following the Spurs championship in 2006-07 we saw the beginning of a modern trend with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen joining Paul Pierce in Boston to form a “Big 3″ and an “insta-dominant” team of veteran stars. This Big 3 would go on to defeat Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and the Lakers in the NBA Finals. But Kobe & Co. would be back, going on to win back-t0-back titles in the two most recent NBA Finals.

So where does this leave us? Don’t the six years between Lakers titles dispel this “narrative?” I don’t think so.

You could argue that the Heat could have won back-to-back titles with Shaq and Wade in ’04-’05 and ’05-’06 if Wade hadn’t hurt his ribs in the ’05 playoffs. Additionally, Kobe has appeared in three straight NBA finals, winning two, in his age 29, 30, and 31 seasons. I think an argument could be made that if Shaq and Kobe could have found a way to co-exist and if Shaq had deferred to Kobe the way he deferred to Wade in Miami, then the Lakers could have easily won two or three more titles with the Shaq and Kobe combo. Therefore, we had the rare instance where the torch of “most dominant player” in the NBA should have been passed between teammates. Thus, if Shaq and Kobe could have found a way to make it work, then Kobe spends his prime years chasing titles with a still more than capable Shaq (as his run with the Heat illustrated) rather than dragging a team that played Kwame Brown, Smush Parker, and Luke Walton big minutes to the playoffs. In short, the League’s dominant player(s) and team should have been Shaq/Kobe and the Lakers until roughly present time with the Lakers winning multiple titles with a couple of Spurs titles (the other dominant team/player from this era) and perhaps a Celtics title (the “insta-dominant” team) sprinkled in.

So what does this mean for the 2010-11 NBA Playoffs? As I noted above, it is difficult to predict ahead of time when a team”declines” or “takes a step back.” Remember, there were many who thought the Big 3 Celtics era was going to end before it even began until they made an unexpected run to the NBA Finals. Anyway, here are the storylines I am monitoring that would fall in line with the NBA Playoff Narrative:

  1. First, let’s apologize to the Pacers, Hawks, 76ers, Grizzlies, Nuggets, Trail Blazers, and Hornets. While these are all solid teams, the Blazers and Nuggets in particular, none of these teams have the star power required to win an NBA title. The only exception is the Hornets, but either they need to bring in a 2nd superstar to help Chris Paul or CP3 needs to join forces with another superstar (or superstars) before he can start chasing titles.
  2. Can the Lakers and Celtics remain the current dominant teams? The Lakers are more than Kobe Bryant. Odom, Gasol, and Bynum give the Lakers a trio of extremely talented players with size. The Celtics, for all people talk about their defense and their length, actually aren’t that big up front. I see the Lakers remaining a dominant team with the Celtics possibly pulling off a last hurrah akin to the ’87-’88 Lakers.
  3. The Spurs have been an interesting case. They can be considered a dominant team in this era, but I’m not sure their championship teams were quite as good as the Lakers or Celtics. The Spurs seem to be a tick below the level of being a true dominant team. Instead, over the course of their run they’ve stepped in to fill the gaps in between runs of dominance by the Lakers. It seems that the Spurs know that this year might be their last best chance of snagging another title in the Duncan era and I think most people would agree with them.
  4. The Bulls seem destined to become “Spurs 2.0.” They’re a great defensive team built around the other-worldly talents of one player, Derrick Rose. While the Bulls will be a very good team for the foreseeable future, I don’t see them every becoming dominant unless they can add a more reliable secondary scorer. I could see them making a Finals run if, like the Spurs, they fill the gap this year while the Heat and the Knicks take a year to gel.
  5. The Miami Heat are not as revolutionary as ESPN would have you think. LeBron James has basically followed in Garnett’s footsteps where a dominant player handpicks his supporting cast after being surrounded by crap for most of his career. That being said, Miami is the team to be worried about both now and for the foreseeable future. If the NBA Playoff Narrative is to be trusted, we should be entering an era where LeBron James, easily the best player in the League, and the Heat run roughshod over the League. The runs of the Lakers, Celtics, and Spurs are all drawing to an end and I don’t see another star player playing for a team that is is significantly better than the Heat. Thus, with James being the League’s best player and surrounded by two big time players, it looks like the Heat are poised for a lengthy reign atop the NBA.
  6. Earlier in the season I thought the Mavs were a potential championship contender. However, it appears that they’re destined to become this generation’s Utah Jazz. A very, very good team that wasn’t quite good enough to win a title. Dirk is great, no doubt, but I don’t see Dirk and Kidd overcoming the Lakers, Spurs, or Thunder.
  7. Speaking of the Thunder, they are the League’s White Knight. While the Heat have been anointed the League villains, the Thunder are easily the heroes. Rather than steal superstars from other cities, the Thunder did it the old-fashioned way, drafting and developing their own stars (yes, I see the irony in the beginning of that sentence.) With the risk of sounding blasphemous, the Thunder have a lot of Jordan’s Bulls in them with Durant playing the role of MJ and Westbrook and his well-rounded game playing the role of Pippen. Granted, Durant is not and will not ever be as good as MJ, however, the Thunder have better role players than Jordan’s Bulls had. Jordan never had a big man like Kendrick Perkins. How good the Thunder become falls squarely on the shoulders of Durant and Westbrook. While it still might be a bit early for the Thunder’s rise to prominence, if Durant and Westbrook can find another level of greatness in them, then we could see the Thunder and the Heat battling for titles like the Lakers and Celtics of the 80′s.
  8. For the second time in recent memory, the Magic have had a dominant big man plopped into their lap. And for the second time in recent memory, the Magic are blowing it. This team is Dwight Howard and little else. Unfortunately, it appears that if Dwight wants to win a title he’s going to have to pull a Shaq/Garnett/LeBron and align himself with a second superstar.
  9. Finally, we have the Knicks. After all, this is a Knicks blog. The Knicks made a bold trade just before the deadline to add Carmelo Anthony to Amar’e Stoudemire, giving them two NBA All Stars. While the price was steeper than many expected, this was still the right move. As NBA history shows, stars win titles. This begs the question: How good is Carmelo Anthony? The answer to this question will determine whether the Knicks can be legitimate challengers to the Heat for the next 6-8 years. Let’s be honest for a moment, the Knicks aren’t making a run to the NBA Finals. Heck, they’ll be lucky to beat the Celtics in the first round. The team just doesn’t have the kind of supporting cast that a championship team requires. However, I will be watching to see what Melo and Amar’e do in the playoffs. Even if they don’t upset the Celtics, if they could just take the Celtics to 7 games, then I think that bodes well for the future. And if they do upset the Celtics? I think that bodes very well for the future of the New York Knicks. It would make me believe that the Knicks have two legitimate difference makers in Melo and Amar’e; two dominant stars capable of leading a team to a title if the front office surrounds them with the right kind of complementary players. Because that’s what you need to win an NBA title.
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The New York Knicks are Back in the Playoffs

Man, did it feel good to type that headline. Honestly, I don’t even know where to begin. So, let’s start with this: Enjoy the moment, Knicks fans. As New Yorkers we’re so used to a lightning fast news cycle. There is a natural temptation to immediately start thinking about whom the Knicks opponent will be in the first round of NBA playoffs and whether the Knicks can pull off a first round upset. However, that can wait. This playoff berth has been seven years in the making. Enjoy it. We have six games until the regular season ends. That’s six games to enjoy THIS moment. Once the season ends we will know for sure whom the Knicks opponent will be and then there will be three days where we can dive into playoff analysis. But, for now, don’t look ahead; enjoy the moment. The Knicks are back in the playoffs. (Take the jump for some cathartic goodness.)

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Knicks Defense Improving

There has been a lot of hand-wringing about how poor the Knicks defense is and how Coach D’Antoni is not equipped to coach defense.  However, as two well-written (and timely) posts have pointed out, the Knicks defense has improved since the trade.

First up is Sebastian Pruiti of Basketball Prospectus (subscription required for the full article):

Despite running into some bumps in the road, (the two Cleveland games) New York’s defense has been better since the Anthony trade. How much better? The Knicks were giving up 112.4 points per 100 possessions before the trade, but since the trade, the Knicks have been giving up 109.7 points per 100 possessions.

So how has the Knicks defense gotten better despite adding a poor individual defender in Carmelo Anthony? Well, so far, the team’s total effort on the defensive end has been much better. This effort has lead to more close-outs and contested jumpers, resulting in more misses for Knicks’ opponents, who have been held to a True Shooting Percentage (TS%) of 54.7 percent. Before the Anthony trade, Knicks’ opponents were posting a TS% of 55.7 percent.

The number crunching seems to indicate positive progress on the defensive side of the ball.  However, anyone familiar with statistical analysis knows that small sample sizes can be misleading. So what are the chances that this progress is sustainable? Let’s turn to Danny Chau of Plantar Fascitis for his take on Jared Jeffries’ intangibles:

Jeffries’ calling card was always defense, and really, what’s left to be said about it? He’s a great help defender mainly because he’s willing. He’s tall and long, and will always take the charge… While I thought Jeffries could’ve helped other elite teams in need of a versatile defender to round out the bench, there really isn’t another place where Jeffries would have as much of an impact.

In the first 58 games without Jeffries, the Knicks gave up an average of 105.8 points a game. In the four games with Jeffries, the Knicks have allowed 98.8. Small sample sizes are usually a huge deterrent in any realistic projections, but considering how Jeffries on-court presence positively affected the Knicks last year, this can probably be seen as more of the same. For a terrible team like last year’s, it’s easy to scoff at Jeffries’ impact. But with a playoff-bound team paying him a fraction of what he was owed last year, his worth has magnified.

So far we have an apparent increase in effort on the defensive end plus the addition of a more than willing defender in Jeffries. I can see how you may not be totally convinced that this improvement on the defensive side is real, or sustainable, so I will take part in a Humblebrag and quote myself:

Finally, I believe there is a huge aspect to acquiring Carmelo Anthony that I haven’t seen discussed enough (if at all.)acquiring Melo serves as way to protect the Knicks investment in Amar’e because it will allow Coach D’Antoni to rest Amar’e more often. Up until the team acquired Melo, once Amar’e left the lineup, the offense went in the tank. It became a lot more difficult for the Knicks to score and D’Antoni was forced to play Amar’e too many minutes. Now that the Knicks have Melo, Amar’e can do what he did in the Cleveland game: sit out for a long stretch while the offense runs through Melo. Additionally, once they learn to play together, it should be a lot easier for both players to get their points when they’re on the floor at the same time. In theory, with playing less minutes and having to expend less energy on offense should translate into more energy and focus on defense (perhaps wishful thinking, but I digress.)

Both Amar’e with the Knicks prior to the trade and Melo with the Nuggets for the majority of his career have been forced to shoulder an incredible offensive burden. Most nights those guys were their respective team’s offense. The presence of another star player should make scoring easier for Amar’e and Melo,  and it also gives D’Antoni, as he has noted a few times, the luxury of resting Amar’e and Melo separately. Thus, this affords each star player more rest which, combined with not having to shoulder so much of the scoring load, should provide Amar’e and Melo with more energy to expend on defense. Additionally, this also allows D’Antoni to surround the star that remains on the court with sound defensive players (or, in the Knicks case, players who at least try hard on defense) without seeing the offense become inept since the team can still run its offense through Amar’e or Melo, depending on which star player remains on the floor.

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