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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Hope in Gotham? Knicks Topple Sixers, 113-102

The New York Knicks pushed their preseason record to 4-1 with a 113-102 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers, a contest broadcast by NBA TV, with the announcing duties handled by Gus Johnson and Walt Frazier. The Sixers played without Allen Iverson (sprained left hand) and Samuel Dalembert (hamstring injury) and the Knicks did not have the services of Stephon Marbury (right foot injury). Jamal Crawford and Nate Robinson led the Knicks with 19 points each, while Chris Webber and Kyle Korver topped the Sixers with 17 points apiece. Steve Francis added 13 points for the Knicks, all of them in the first half; he also had seven assists and six rebounds, turning in his best performance in the preseason in Marbury's absence. This brings up perhaps the Knicks' biggest problem: their two most talented players, Francis and Marbury, basically play the same game--(over) dribble and shoot--and their games do not complement each other. It would seem that for the Knicks to achieve maximum success, one of them will eventually have to be benched or traded. Meanwhile, the Knicks have other guards who take up a lot less salary cap room but can be quite productive: Robinson shot 5-7 from three point range, while rookie Mardy Collins made all four of his field goal attempts and had 11 points and four assists in 14 minutes of playing time.

Renaldo Balkman, Isiah Thomas's surprise selection with the 20th overall pick in the draft, scored six points in 16 minutes of action. Frazier said that Balkman "is becoming a crowd favorite because of his vivacity." At halftime, Fred Carter added, "Renaldo Balkman really impresses me. Why? Because he brings a lot of energy off of the bench and he has a way of finding open spots on the floor...he does a great job." While many people have mocked Thomas for drafting Balkman so highly, the simple fact is that Balkman can play and will be productive; it will be interesting to look back on this draft in five years and see if that can be said of all of the players drafted ahead of him, let alone those taken after him.

The Knicks are averaging over 106 ppg in the preseason after scoring less than 96 ppg during the 2006 regular season. As I mentioned during my Tuesday appearance on BetUS.com Radio, the preseason means different things to different teams: teams like the Heat (1-4), the Spurs (1-3) and the Nets (1-4) have stable rosters, expect to be playing deep into May or June and are obviously not placing a big emphasis on winning preseason games; on the other hand, teams like the Knicks, Raptors (5-0) and Warriors (4-0) have made significant roster and/or coaching changes and need to play their key players substantial minutes in the preseason. As you can see from the records of these teams, the NBA's preseason standings look upside down--perhaps that is why NBA.com does not even post them. So, a few October wins for the Knicks are no reason to start having parades. Still, it is interesting to see how the Knicks play under new coach Isiah Thomas--and who is getting playing time. Thomas believes in an offense he calls "Quick," a melding of the philosophies of John Wooden, Bobby Knight and Tex Winter that Thomas implemented during his stint as Pacers coach. As I noted in one of my posts about this year's summer league play, Jermaine O'Neal and Brad Miller blossomed into All-Stars under Thomas' guidance. "The thing you notice about this offense," Johnson commented, "is that the ball barely hits the floor."

Eddy Curry showed off some of the post moves that he learned this summer from Knicks' Assistant Coach Mark Aguirre, scoring 10 points on 4-4 field goal shooting in 22 minutes of playing time. It's nice to see guys like Aguirre, Moses Malone and Henry Bibby on the bench; the latter two are assistant coaches to the Sixers' Maurice Cheeks and I think that the presence of such "old school" players represents excellent learning opportunities for younger players, provided that they are receptive to the instruction and guidance that Aguirre and the others provide.

Frazier noted that true, back to the basket centers are becoming a dying breed and that the NBA seems like it is becoming a 6-7 and under league--that is a bit of an exaggeration, of course, but recent NBA rules changes and new points of emphasis definitely favor smaller, quicker offensive players. Frazier added that 7-footers like Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett play power forward instead of center because of their versatile skills and that "they have added a new dimension to the game."

As for the Sixers, they are so dependent on Iverson to score and create scoring opportunities for his teammates that it is difficult to say much about them regarding a game in which Iverson didn't play, other than the obvious: whether or not they will be a good team with Iverson, they are clearly not a very good team without him.

posted by David Friedman @ 2:12 AM

9 comments

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9 Comments:

At Wednesday, October 25, 2006 11:39:00 PM, Blogger illest said...

Walt said there are no more heavyweights in boxing, quarterbacks in the NFL, and pitching in baseball. Leadership is gone.

Is there hope in Gotham? Every team has hope. Ive been a Knicks fan since birth so naturally Im negative. I think they will go 37-45. Which is 14 games better than last year.

 
At Thursday, October 26, 2006 3:32:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I heard Frazier say that. It is an interesting comment, but I am not sure of the connection between the sports in this context--or even if all three assertions are true. The perception is certainly that the heavyweight division is not doing well, but I have not actually seen any of the current champions fight, so I have no idea how good they are or how their skills compare to other, earlier champions.

I think that Peyton Manning has a lot in common with Marino, Tom Brady is similar to Joe Montana and Michael Vick is a unique talent. Carson Palmer throws a very pretty deep ball. The NFL has changed a lot of rules over the past 25 years or so to help the passing game but I don't think that it is true that there are no good quarterbacks in the NFL.

Expansion has diluted pitching staffs and there is less emphasis on pitchers going a full nine innings but there are still a lot of quality pitchers around--not to mention the fact that two of the greatest of all-time, Clemens and Maddux, are still active. I don't think that their productivity at an advanced age is an indictment of today's game, either; Nolan Ryan pitched well into his 40s and other greats also had long careers if they were able to avoid devastating arm injuries.

Back to hoops, I think that 37-45 sounds about right for the Knicks. I was asked about them during my weekly BetUs.com radio appearance and I said that I see them clumped in the group of teams that will finish 9-10-11 in the East. I think that there will be a lot of teams in the 33-43 win range; it would not shock me if the Knicks grabbed the eighth spot but I think that there are a few too many teams that are just a little bit better. I see Orl, Indy and Mil battling for the 7-8-9 spots, with NY, Philly, Bos and Tor settling in just below them. A key injury or two could easily shuffle those teams around.

 
At Thursday, October 26, 2006 8:10:00 AM, Blogger vednam said...

Call me crazy, but I think the Knicks will make the playoffs. I'm kind of sickened with the media's obssession with making a goat out of Isiah Thomas every chance they get. He's made some bad moves as GM, but so have lots of other GMs and they never get that much criticism. A great example of this was this year's draft. Never in recent years has a 20th pick been so scrutinized.

I think Thomas is a solid coach and will get a lot out of some of the underachievers on the Knicks (Curry, etc.). I think if the Knicks make their young core (Curry, Frye, etc.) the focal point of the team they can be successful. I also expect the Knicks players to play hard after all they went through last year.

Oh, and thanks for noting the Walt Frazier quotes which related to my previous comments on one of your posts.

 
At Thursday, October 26, 2006 1:00:00 PM, Blogger illest said...

Walt was obviously trying to make a point, some of it true some of it not true. There are definitely good quarterbacks in the league, but the pitching in the MLB has lacked for years. There wasnt a 20 game winner this year; the first time ever excluding the strike seasons.

Isiah ruined the CBA, left the Raptors (even though he drafted well) and he didnt do well with the Pacers. The Knicks will need to win at least 41 games to make the playoffs. I dont see that.

 
At Thursday, October 26, 2006 3:32:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Vednam:

I don't think that you are crazy but I also don't think that the Knicks have quite enough to make the playoffs; it would require an 18-20 jump in wins and that is a lot in the NBA unless you add a superstar to your roster. A Knicks playoff appearance would not shock me but at this point I would call it unlikely.

Yes, I thought of you and our recent discussion when Frazier mentioned some of the issues we had just been writing back and forth about.

 
At Thursday, October 26, 2006 3:45:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Illest:

Not to get too far on a non-basketball tangent, but part of the reason that there are no 20 game winners is that the complete game has gone the way of the dinosaurs. Teams go to the bullpen much earlier now. Is that because starters aren't as good as they used to be or because strategy has changed? I don't know. Nowadays teams want to preserve starters' arms and also don't want to give hitters an extra look at the starters' stuff that day, preferring to throw a new wrinkle at them by trotting a different arm out there.

I think that Isiah gets a bum rap regarding the CBA. Once the NBA decided to fund its own minor league (the NBDL) I think that the CBA was doomed. The fact that Isiah bought the whole league for $10 million in the first place tells you that the CBA was on less than solid ground by the time he showed up. I hear so many people say that Isiah "destroyed" in a couple years a league that had survived for decades but that is an empty statement; just because the CBA had been around for a long time didn't mean that it was relevant now or had something to offer in the modern marketplace or could compete with a minor league subsidized by the NBA. A lot of businesses survive for a long time and then go out of business when the marketplace changes.

Isiah left the Raptors after he lost a power struggle to control the team. I don't think that the Raptors have had a great deal of success since he left but three of the players he drafted (Camby, Damon Stoudemire, T-Mac) are still productive, albeit none of them are in Toronto.

Isiah did do well with the Pacers. When he took over, the team lost a lot of the key parts from the squad that went to the Finals under Larry Bird. The team improved steadily under Isiah and Jermaine O'Neal and Brad Miller blossomed into All-Stars. Isiah is a student of the game and will do a good job as a coach. My main concern about the Knicks is that Isiah the GM brought in Marbury and Francis and I don't think that the backcourt is big enough for the both of them. I think that Francis is the more coachable of the two, so if I were the Knicks I'd get rid of Marbury and try to bring the best out of Francis. I understand Isiah's rationale--that Marbury and Francis are more talented than the players he shipped off--but I am skeptical about how well a team can do with one of them, let alone both of them, playing substantial minutes.

 
At Friday, October 27, 2006 9:28:00 AM, Blogger illest said...

Francis may be more coachable of the two, but he is not coachable.
All he wants to do and has done in the NBA is over dribble, shoot, and make turnovers. Rudy T let him do what he wanted. Van Gundy definitely didnt like him.

CBA owners were happy with their teams. I know you saw SportsCentury with Isiah and the owners of CBA teams said this. Of course the CBA cant compete with an entity of the NBA. And the players improved at Indiana, but they didnt win a playoff series.

Teams have been going to the bullpen early for years now. There were still 20 game winners. Ironically before last nights game in the World Series this year, both teams are hitting under 200. Is that good pitching? Maybe.

 
At Saturday, October 28, 2006 3:08:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Illest:

That's why I phrased that remark the way that I did: I think that Francis wants to win enough that he will listen a little bit to coaching, but I agree that overall he is basically uncoachable. "Starbury," on the other hand, feels the need to constantly say that he is the best point guard in the league and that no one can tell him how to play. Based on some of his recent comments, he didn't even know that his former coach Larry Brown was at one time an ABA All-Star guard.

I know that the CBA owners are all unhappy with Isiah but, as the saying goes, there are two sides to every story. I don't think that the CBA could have survived at that time no matter who was running it; it just happened to be Isiah who was left holding the bag, so to speak, when everything fell apart. My understanding is that he has been successful in his other business ventures away from basketball (I believe that he ran a printing business at one time).

Yes, teams have been going to their bullpens for years and during that time the number of complete games and 20 game winners has been steadily declining. Baseball is a strange game--Polanco is the ALCS MVP and then is basically useless in the World Series. I can't think of a comparable basketbal analogy--and this happens all the time in baseball, a guy doing very well in one series and disappearing in the next one; it also happened to Frank Thomas this year.

 
At Saturday, October 28, 2006 6:55:00 PM, Blogger illest said...

Thats a problem with these young guys. And Marbury is a few years younger than me. So who am I to talk. He should know the history of the game, at least his coach. These guys dont care. He will never win a ring. Marbury's best years were with Minnesota, you know that. If him and KG would have stayed together and added players who knows what would have happened. Hes a bum.

We will see what Isiah does. He needs to stop worrying about Anthony, who is doing his job as analyst, and change the Knicks franchise around.

 

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