Tag Archives: NBA

Evaluating The Knicks Point Guard Play

(Note: I began writing this and collecting the data on February 27th, so the numbers may no longer exactly match, but are still directionally correct)

Farewell, Brandon Jennings. You lasted about ¾ of yet another disastrous Knicks season. It was unspectacular to say the least, but you can at least contribute to a real playoff team going forward:

I originally had the idea of trying to measure which Knicks point guard, Rose or Jennings, was more impactful this season. However, trying to decide which Knicks point guard was better is like deciding between buying a 2000 Honda Accord and a 1999 Toyota Camry. They’ll be helpful in spurts, but it’s misguided to expect big things from them at this point. So instead of overall impact, I want to take a look at how both guards played when paired with the Knicks’ prodigal son, Kristaps Porzingis.

The Knicks’ primary focus last offseason should have been building around Porzingis long term, so in typical Knicks fashion, they went on a shopping spree for aging vets whose best years are well behind them. Among them were Derrick Rose (trade covered in depth here), recently injured Joakim Noah (undoubtedly the worst signing of 2016 – 4-yr/$72M), Courtney Lee (4-yr/$48M), and Brandon Jennings (1-yr/$5M). The idea behind these moves was that the Knicks would contend for one of the top spots in the East, instead they are now 12 games under .500, have the 25thlowest Net Rating in the NBA, and are in 12th place in the Eastern Conference with 22 games left on the season. But the largest sin of this team isn’t any of the above, it’s the stunted development of their future centerpiece by poor point guard play (yes, this is subjective a subjective topic, but I believe I have a sufficient amount of empirical evidence on my side).

Though neither Rose or Jennings have been *good* this season, I just want to see if there has been any discernible difference with Kristaps’ play when he shares the court with these two.

Aside from the fact both guards are essentially defensive train wrecks, let us see who is/was a more positive influence (if possible) on the young Latvian through three quarters of the NBA season. First on a per game basis. Rose is averaging 17.6/4.4/3.9 on 46.2/23.6/86.7 shooting on 15.5 FGA in 32.2 minutes per game. Jennings is averaging 8.6/4.9/2.6 on 38.0/34.0/75.6 shooting on 7.4 FGA in 24.6 minutes per game. Both are suboptimal to say the least, but the traditional job of the point guard is to create looks for others, let’s see how these two do so for Porzingis.

Kristaps has been assisted on 250 of his 332 FGM this season. 52 of those have been from Jennings, and 49 have been from Rose. In case anyone thinks those are solid numbers, recent Knick-trade connection Ricky Rubio has assisted notable young big man Karl Anthony-Towns 160 times this season alone. Despite playing eight less minutes per game and making nearly eight less passes per game, Jennings averages one more potential assist per game than Rose (10.5 v. 9.5) and nearly one more assist points created per game as well (11.9 v. 11.0).

SSSSSS
KP Time-lapsed Shot Chart via StatMuse
As you can see from the above chart, Kristaps takes most of his shot volume from above the break and inside the paint (though he’s only shooting around league average, it’s still a positive trend). Of his 727 shots this season, 216 have come from above the break (29.7%). For catch & shoot 3-pointers, Kristaps is fourth among qualified 7-footers with a 38.3 3P% on 4.5 attempts per game. Porzingis has also been used as the roll man in the P&R on 142 possessions this season, scoring 1.02 PPP. So I think it’s fair to say he’s effective as the roll man in the pick & pop, as well as rolling to the rim.

Now let’s look at the point guard situation.

Stat dump time. On the season, Rose has played over 200 more minutes than Jennings. Despite this, Jennings had over 60 more assists than Rose up until his release from the team. Rose is 29th in the league among just point guards in total assists (Jennings 22nd), 41st in steals (Jennings 23rd), has the 15th most turnovers (Jennings down at 26th), and has exactly one game (on November 4th) with double figure assists (Jennings had seven such games). Just for hilarity’s sake, he’s only made 13 3PA on the season. Jeremy Lin has hit seven more 3PA than Rose, despite playing in 37 less games. Among the 120 guards who have played in 45 or more games, his mark is the 5th lowest in the NBA,  and he’s taken at least 23 more attempts (if not more) than those behind him. On the other hand, Rose is 14th among point guards in FTA this year, which is a positive trend considering his last few seasons, but he is still an inherently inefficient shooter.

Not a lot of green
Not a lot of green
Not sure if this is indicative of anything, but there have been 20 instances this season where the amount of shots Rose has taken are greater than or equal to the amount of points he scores in a single game (e.g. 14 points on 15 shots). For what it’s worth, Jennings has 29 of these games, but on eight less shots per contest. There could be several explanations behind that, such as Rose taking a number of shooting possessions to lessen a massive Knicks’ deficit in the third quarter, but it’s still something that caught my attention.

Below are a couple different Knicks 2-man lineups (or the team performance when these two players share the floor). Despite the 2-man lineup of Rose & Porzingis having a higher Offensive Rating, the combo of Jennings and KP had a much better overall Net Rating, better TS% and eFG%, and a much higher Ast%. In terms of league-wide 2-man lineups, the Kristaps-Jennings pairing is has the 153rd best net rating across the 250 qualified lineups. The Rose-KP pairing has the 224th best net rating of those same 250 lineups. That’s the sign of a pair that do not mesh well together.

Jennings & Porzingis
Jennings & Porzingis

Rose & Porzingis
Rose & Porzingis
Below are a bunch of gifs I created courtesy of 3ball, a great search tool for NBA clips. Jennings is by no means a great passer, but he often looks to move the ball early in possessions. As you can see in the below gif, he finds KP striding down an open lane before the Hornets defense can get set.

Animated GIF  - Find & Share on GIPHY

Jennings also (irregularly) attempts to use KP in the pick & roll. In the first gif below, Porzingis sets a high screen and then rolls down the right side of the lane where Jennings feeds him for a tough bank shot. In the second gif Kristaps looks to set another high screen, fakes it, and then pops above the break for an open trey. I find it somewhat astounding that a player with his unique skill set isn’t used in a similar fashion more regularly. On the other hand, Knicks stay Knicks.

Animated GIF  - Find & Share on GIPHY

Animated GIF  - Find & Share on GIPHY

I realize that I did do some nitpicking with these gifs, but watching the Knicks it seems like I see something below multiple times a game, and not just from Rose either.

Animated GIF  - Find & Share on GIPHY

Rose still has enough explosiveness to get to the rim (shooting 52.2% there on the year), but too often he chooses to take a contested layup instead of looking for an open man (such as Melo and Kristaps below).

Animated GIF  - Find & Share on GIPHY

Rose is 10th in the entire league (of players with 40 or more GP) with 10.3 drives per game. But as you may have have guessed he has the lowest pass % of those 10 players at 25.5%. Jennings only averages 4.3 drives per game, though he passes the ball on 38.8% of his drives.

Animated GIF  - Find & Share on GIPHY

Animated GIF  - Find & Share on GIPHY

Animated GIF  - Find & Share on GIPHY

Considering his high shot volume (15.5 FGA per game), perhaps he should to look to pass the ball a little more. Regardless, he should not return to the team under any circumstances next season.

In an ideal world, the Knicks draft one of the top guard prospects in the 2017 draft to pair with Porzingis for the next decade. That likely will not be the case, so what’s the next best option? The free agent crop looks solid as the Knicks could take a look at George Hill, Jeff Teague, or Jrue Holiday (Steph isn’t making it to free agency). Holiday would be my pick, as he’s averaging 7.4 APG, 8.2 Drives PG, 14.4 Potential APG, has a 53.9 TS% on the season, and actually picks his head up when he gets into the lane:

Animated GIF  - Find & Share on GIPHY

Animated GIF  - Find & Share on GIPHY

Nice.

So what does this all tell us?  Only that the Knicks point guard play has been subpar and it could be hurting the development of KP (as they did him little favors this season). I take that back, Rose and Jennings might not be hurting his development, but they are just slowing it down, which is still a negative factor at the end of the day. In sum, the Knicks have had, at best, below average point guard play in 2016-17, and yet another season has been wasted.

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An Analytical Dive into New York’s Newest Addition: Derrick Rose

So…if you haven’t heard, this happened:

*Sigh* I, am not thrilled. I could go on a tangent, but I thought Seth Rosenthal said it much better than I could ever articulate,

I do not remotely understand putting such a package together for Rose. One should be able to get someone with his injury history and contract (and ongoing sexual assault suit) for pretty much nothing. Robin Lopez is a very good player on a very good contract, not someone who gets lumped into such a trade, Jerian Grant is a valuable asset as well, and there was no longer any financial pressure to get rid of Calderon.

The Knicks should be *getting* those kind of assets for taking Rose off the Bulls’ hands, not surrendering them. Even if Rose were his near MVP-level self and a very desirable asset, he’s a free agent *next year*.

There seems to be two main lines of thinking with this trade. The first is that Derrick Rose is still an MVP caliber a very good basketball player, which umm…well…we will get to that shortly. The other reasoning is that this is the first in a line of moves that will end up with a player of Kevin Durant’s caliber in NY. Hope springs eternal, but that’s why we have smart people like Robert Silverman to bring us back to reality:

I’m not super upset with the trade itself, but rather what it represents. The Knicks are #allin on trying to land a big-name free agent (or two or three) over the next couple of offseasons. I’m not sure if they believe Derrick Rose can be one of those guys, but he is the first step in that process. However, star free agents hardly ever leave their respective teams, Lebron being the most recent exception, and even then do they rarely end with good results. I won’t admonish the Knicks for trying to build the best squad possible, but don’t surrender your very few assets on the off-chance you obtain a player who slightly resembles his former MVP-self (which is now five years and three significant injuries ago). Can you name a former all-star that suffered multiple severe injuries and returned to form? I can’t, but we have several example of great careers derailed by injuries: Penny Hardaway, Tracy Mcgrady, Brandon Roy, Grant Hill, and I’m being generous with this list too.

hi-res-183192523-derrick-rose-of-the-chicago-bulls-looks-on-during-the_crop_north
via Bleacher Report

What I find most confounding is what I heard from The Vertical Podcast with Woj. On this particular podcast covering this exact trade, Woj had this to say (I cut out some of the filler),

“I am shocked at how much the Knicks gave up for him (Rose). Robin Lopez was the best contract on the team…that was the best free agent signing the Knicks had made. There was no market for Derrick Rose, there was nowhere for him to go. They had been shopping him, I was told they had shopped him at the trade deadline last year…to me it’s surprising the Knicks didn’t wait/holdout. To me, they should have taken him into space and given up next to nothing.”

Ugh. There were no other suitors. You should be getting assets back for making this deal, not giving them up. Ironically, it was literally a year ago that I defended Phil Jackson for not making any impetuous decisions. Acquiring Derrick Rose is not necessarily a “panic move” in a vacuum, but for what I believe the Knicks are attempting to do, it just may be. Derrick Rose was once the league MVP, and he is now arguably not much better than a bottom tier starting point guard. This is the same team that traded for Steve Francis and Stephon Marbury (among others) after their respective peaks, of course they would do the same with a broken Derrick Rose.

Rose is not an aesthetically pleasing basketball player to watch in the year 2016. His game revolves around reckless drives to the hoop, contested long 2’s, and a glaring lack of defense. Coincidentally, the pace & space era kicked into gear right around when Rose caught the injury bug. So, sure, trade for a point guard who just shot 29% from behind the arc. At least Calderon converted  41% of his threes the last two seasons. But the Knicks don’t want Rose for that. They believe his ability to drive to the paint can help facilitate the pick & roll and find clean looks for Melo and Porzingis. And for this, and this alone, they just may be right.

For the Bulls last season, Rose ran 563 Pick & Rolls as the ball handler. The Bulls scored on 41.4% of those plays, which translated to 0.84 points per possession. That’s the 30th best (17th among point guards) conversion rate among ball handlers who ran at least 250 possessions last season. Rose drove to the hoop 8.9 times per game in 2016, the 13th most in the NBA (Calderon, on the other hand, only averaged 2.2 drives per game). Of all the players who averaged at least 5 drives per game last season, Rose had the fifth-lowest pass percentage, dishing the rock only 23.3% of the time.

In theory, having weapons like KP and Melo will improve these numbers. Phil Jackson and Jeff Hornaceck even said so in their press conference on Thursday. But please remember, everything sounds better in theory and this current construct of a team is one giant question mark.

With that established, there are lots of potential downsides to Rose as well. Let us delve into Rose’s past season stats a bit more (you may have to enlarge the photo below).

MVP Rose v. Current Rose (stats via basketball-reference.com)
MVP Rose v. Current Rose (stats via basketball-reference.com)

To start, his shooting percentages are bad, very bad.

Good thing baseline jumpers are incredibly valuable!!
2016: Good thing baseline jumpers are incredibly valuable!!

He could make up for the fact that he doesn’t shoot well from anywhere on the floor by getting to the free throw line, but his fear of contact means he only averaged 2.7 FTA per game. At his peak, he was getting to the charity stripe 6.9 times a game. Opponents now know he won’t be able to beat you from range, so they are daring him to drive on them. More often than not, they are correct in their assumption that Rose is afraid of contact (I would be too with all of those injuries), and his FG% at the rim suffers.

Of the 105 guards who played in more than 50 games and averaged 20 or more minutes a game, Rose had the 15th highest Usage % at 27.0%. Of those same players, Rose had the 96th best True Shooting % at 47.9% (and his FT% probably brings that number up a bit as well). TS%, a shooting percentage adjusted for three pointers and free throws, is a good measurement for scoring efficiency. The only player in 2016 with a higher USG% and lower TS% was, that’s right, Kobe Bryant. Not ideal company.

On a per game basis, Rose averaged 4.7 APG, good enough for 30th in the league among qualified players, 22 of which were point guards. But assists often overly rely on teammates’ shooting percentages. Assist opportunities might be a better metric. He had 9.2 potential assists per game, good enough for 32nd in the NBA (24th among point guards, one spot behind Jose Calderon), and a 1.78 Assist to turnover ratio. Not terrible, but not great either.

Now let’s get to the good stuff, the advanced metrics. In Rose’s 2011 MVP season, he had a Win Share/48 minutes of 0.208 (11th best in the league), a Value Over Replacement Player of 6.0 (third best), and a Box Plus Minus of 5.9 (tied for third best).

The following stats extend to players who played at least 50 games and at least 20 minutes per game in 2015-2016. This past season Rose had a WS/48 of 0.09 (133rd of 143 players), a VORP of -0.7 (132nd of 143 players), and a BPM of -3.3 (123rd of 143 players).  That is…[sad emoji]. If you want to look at ESPN’s Real Plus Minus metric, Rose had a -4.27 RPM, or the 81st best of the 85 point guards in 2016. If we want to get a little more technical, we can look at Nylon Calculus’ Daily Real Adjusted Plus Minus Metric (or DRE). By this metric Rose had the second worst cumulative rating in the entire NBA (a total of -202.5).

But what if it’s not just Rose, but the players around him? Now the following stats are calculated as points per possession*100. All teams play at different paces, so some teams have more possessions per game than others (and typically score more). Thus, by estimating points per possession, we can evaluate how efficient an offense is run (a team scoring 110 points on 90 possessions is superior to a team scoring 112 points on 108 possessions, make sense?). Below are the Bulls’ 2016 splits with Rose on/off the floor:

via NBAwowy.com
via NBAwowy.com

The Bulls played 5.8 points per 100 possessions better without Derrick Rose on the floor last season. Now what happens if we remove the Bulls’ real star, Jimmy Butler, from the equation.

via NBAwowy.com
via NBAwowy.com

This means that the Bulls have outperformed their opponents by 12.0 points per 100 possessions with Jimmy Butler and without Derrick Rose. I like to call this the “DeMar DeRozan Effect” or the player looks like a valuable contributor on the floor, but all of the numbers tell us otherwise.

I’m not anti-Derrick Rose. Though it definitely may seem that way, I need my fellow Knick compatriots to understand why I will not call this a “good move.” I’ll concede that he played better after the All-star break, but the Bulls were still a middling offense and were 6.3 PPP better with Rose off of the floor (0.5 Offensive PPP better without him). Rose did not mesh well with all-star teammate Jimmy Butler when the two were healthy together in Chicago, so why is Melo, another ball dominant player with bad knees, going to suddenly make a better pairing? Rose and Carmelo  were both among the top 20 players in USG% last season, and both often need the ball in their hands to be effective. So what does this realistically mean for rising star Porzingis’ development with Rose in a contract year? That’s a good question, one that I don’t really have an answer for, but Porzingis should be the team’s real priority here.

I won’t put up a fuss over dumping Jose Calderon (though he was a very good 3pt shooter). Robin Lopez and Jerian Grant were by no means all-stars, but as assets they are/were valuable to the team. Lopez did a lot of the dirty work, setting screens and boxing out opponents to give Porzingis those opportunities for put-back dunks and open treys (the same plays that made him a Vine star). Lopez was often the Knicks’ most consistent player, and one of their few above average defenders. Trading him just so you can play Porzingis at the 5 seems shortsighted at best (though bringing over Hernangomez from Spain ideally lessens the loss of Lopez).

This same logic extends to second year player Jerian Grant. I won’t go so far as to say he was good last season, but there were multiple external factors that didn’t help his cause. The team focused heavily on the triangle for much of the season, after Grant played exclusively in the pick & roll in college. His struggle to adjust and the Knicks’ mess of a coaching situation did not do him any favors, though it was promising to see the rookie play well over the final few weeks of the season. With that said, he’s still a former first round pick who is under contract for at least three more years. New coach Jeff Hornaceck’s offense utilized a number of two point guard sets in Phoenix. If you’re going to have one PG on a max deal for the 2016 season (Rose), why not have a second on an increasingly advantageous deal as well? Also noteworthy: the Knicks are now in the market for a backup point guard, even with the addition of Ron Barker.

If Grant improves, and Lopez replicates his 2015 season, the Knicks would have had two great, tradeable assets moving forward as the salary cap explodes yet again (and everyone in the NBA becomes overpaid). Instead, they were given away to rent Derrick Rose for a season and a future second round pick. AND let us not forget that Rose is currently being investigated for sexual assault. You couldn’t fetch anything else, Phil?

The only real counterpoint to this trade is that Rose might achieve a level of play close to what it was five years ago. However, when factoring in all of above, I’m not sure how anyone can say that with confidence.

So what are the potential scenarios. Derrick Rose plays bad? The Knicks gain a better draft pick (though likely one not high enough to make much of a difference) and have more cap space in an offseason where 25 other teams will be in a similar position. Derrick Rose plays well? The Knicks’ draft pick isn’t as valuable and Rose either bolts in free agency or the Knicks overpay to keep him (I think he would be eligible for the 35% max with 4.5% annual raises — yuck). I really don’t see what the big advantage was on the NY side of this trade. The worst part of this move is the Knicks organization believe they just did something great, acquiring a former MVP. However, that’s the same guy who’s played in 166 games in the last four seasons (out of a possible 328, not including playoffs).

This isn’t the worst trade this team has made (there are quite a few!), but it’s an unnecessary risk for a team with no proven track record of attracting marquee free agents. To put all your eggs in that basket (this basket = we believe Kevin Durant will come to the Knicks) might work, but historical trends tell us otherwise. I’ve seen this movie before, and it ends with Dwight Howard and Derrick Rose locked up for years to come. The lethal pairing of those two along with Melo would form the best core in the NBA…if the year were 2011 (hint: it’s not).

I believe I have provided more than enough evidence to refute how much better Rose makes this Knicks team. I’ve had people tell me he will improve with a healthy season under his belt. Well, who is to say that his last season (the healthy one) isn’t an outlier and regression to the mean means another injury-plagued 35 game season? It’s certainly up for discussion given the dude’s track record. I hope I’m wrong, I really do, because maybe this will work out somehow. I just don’t believe Derrick Rose is a very good basketball player anymore. Please see below for people who share similar sentiments.

New York Knicks 2015-16 Roster Evaluation

As of August 5th, 2015, the New York Knicks’ offseason has just all but concluded. There was a huge amount of turnover from last season’s roster as the Knicks look to move forward from the worst season in franchise history. The offseason began when the Knicks drafted Kristaps Porzingis with the fourth overall pick. That decision was met with a great deal of negativity because it appeared to conflict with the franchise’s direction after they handed Carmelo Anthony a 5-year max extension one year ago. However, it’s the “do whatever it takes to win now” mentality that put the 17-win Knicks there in the first place. If you want to read more about my thoughts on the matter, I covered that decision in detail here

Despite not landing any top free agents, Phil Jackson and the Knicks brass had a solid offseason as they rebuilt one of the most talent-depleted rosters in the league. The team now has a decent group of role-playing veterans and exciting rookies to pair up with Melo in their efforts to field an actual NBA team this year. Below is the salary breakdown for all 15 players currently on the roster:

dalmadf
Five players locked up through 2019

I was able to watch most of the Knicks Summer League play in Las Vegas this year. It was interesting to see as the Knicks moved away from strictly running the triangle and incorporated some pick & roll sets (something new guard Jerian Grant ran in college). With that said, a lot of the youngsters showed some serious promise. That’s all nice, but let’s find out about the new guys.

The New Additions:


Kyle O’Quinn (PF):

This is maybe the most intriguing addition of the offseason. O’Quinn never received a lot of playing time during his three seasons in Orlando, but his per-36 stats are fantastic (take this with a grain of salt as more minutes doesn’t always lead to similar levels of production).

per Basketball Reference
per Basketball Reference

In his NBA Groupon Games piece from earlier this offseason, Zach Lowe of Grantland mentioned O’Quinn. Here’s some of what he had to say:

O’Quinn has a lot of discrete skills, but lacks the one foundational skill to let them shine consistently. He might be able to approximate Boris Diaw’s passing, but he doesn’t have a Diaw-style post game to draw double-teams and open up the most productive passes. He can do work on the move, but he doesn’t actually move all that much without the ball; Orlando’s coaches have urged O’Quinn to roll hard to the rim, but he has a bad habit of just kind of floating in space after setting a screen. That would be an acceptable habit if he could float himself out to productive 3-point shots, but he hasn’t done that yet.

Even though he’s not much of a leaper, O’Quinn provides a whiff of rim protection. He has long arms and good timing; he gets a lot of Draymond Green–style blocks, in which he barely leaves the ground but uses his wingspan to smother shots. He’s a talker on that end, but he gets confused now and then, and he doesn’t have the bounce to string together multiple strong cuts and jumps around the basket.

I’d recommend reading the rest if you get the chance. Zach Lowe is the one of the best in the business and he has some nice gifs to help back his claims. Tommy Beer of Basketball Insiders brings up a nice tidbit of O’Quinn’s offensive value, which you can see for yourself in the highlight tape below:

While there’s something left to be desired about his scoring, his finishing around the rim is surprisingly good. One could certainly do worse for a rotation big man on a very sound deal (four-years, $16 million). Also: he’s still only 25 years old. Having a young core is typically regarded as a positive thing in the NBA, and the Knicks are finally catching onto the trend.

Robin Lopez (C):

Perhaps my favorite signing from the offseason. The Knicks snagged the 27-year-old for four-years and $54 million (maybe a tad pricey, but I’ll take him over Enes Kanter any day). He averaged a mere 9.7 points and 6.7 rebounds last season, but there’s more to him than superficial stats. Per Seth Rosenthal of Posting & Toasting:

Here’s what Robin Lopez does on offense: He screens. He screens constantly. He screens on the ball and off it, then he rolls hard to the rim (a LOT), or he sinks into space then plows into position. It would behoove the Knicks to work some of that old high pick-and-roll back into their offense (and based on the end of last season, I suspect Derek Fisher is happy to do so), because Lopez has some…well, some Tyson Chandler-like qualities as a threat coming off screens. When the defense wrinkles, Lopez is there at the basket for an easy feed and finish, either dumping in a wide-based righty hook or just springing forth to smash on somebody’s head. If a shot falls off the rim, he’s in place to put it back.

There’s a chance — though I wouldn’t count on it — that extra minutes and participation in some Triangle sets unlocks a bit more of Lopez’s offensive game. Though he shoots there infrequently, Lopez has shown some accuracy from the high post out to the elbow and corner:

RoLo
Perhaps more elbow shots are in his future

While he’s not an exceptional defensive rebounder, Lopez was 11th in the NBA in offensive rebounds per game last season. When adjusted for offensive rebound %, Lopez was still top 15 in the NBA among players who played significant minutes. In a post written by Seth Partnow of Nylon Calculus, he examines contested rebound % and Lopez’s value. I suggest reading the whole thing, but here’s the gist of what he had to say:

Among the set of 100 or so regular rotation bigs in the NBA last year, the lowest proportion of Lopez’s rebounds  were these uncontested defensive types. Conversely his now ex-teammate LaMarcus Aldridge was among the leaders in highest proportion of uncontested defensive rebounds.

RoLo doing dirty work

Lopez also had one of the better Opp. FG% among big men who played significant minutes (48.0%) while defending the rim. The top defenders, such as Ibaka, usually keep their opponents to around 40% at the rim, so Lopez is certainly above average.

This addition alone should make a drastic difference in the Knicks front court, and we get the added benefit of watching Lopez fight other teams’ mascots next year.

Arron Afflalo (SG):

Former teammate of Melo on the Denver Nuggets, Afflalo solidified himself as a respectable 3&D wing player. At 29 years old and following a down season, it’s unclear if Afflalo is on the downside of his career or is poised for a bounce back. Matt Moore of CBS Sports wrote a rather positive review of the Knicks offseason, and here’s what he had to say about Afflalo:

Instead, they got tremendous value with Arron Afflalo on a two-year deal. Afflalo was an All-Star candidate in Orlando, then Denver wildly disappointed him (and he them) with the Brian Shaw era. In Portland, he never found his groove. There’s a versatile two-way guard who can shoot from the outside, post at the elbow and make smart plays locked somewhere inside Afflalo, and the Knicks hope the Triangle will unlock it.

2014
2014
2015
2015

Well there’s at least one thing for certain. At the very minimum, Afflalo provides the Knicks with another scoring option (which they still have very little of). Let’s hope this most recent season was the outlier and his regression to the mean results in play like his 2013-2014 form.

Derrick Williams (PF):

Ugh
Sigh…

Undoubtedly the worst addition of the bunch (EDITOR’S NOTE: this could very easily change since the Knicks added Vujacic and Seraphin, but I don’t feel like changing the opening line). The Knicks outbid no one in their efforts to hand Williams a two-year $10 million deal (player option in year two). For a guy who doesn’t excel at any one particular thing (flashy dunks?), this deal doesn’t make a ton of sense. Look at the “real plus minus” metric for instance. The metric itself has some issues, but it’s telling that the 2011 second overall pick qualified as 92nd of the 95 listed power forwards in the NBA last season. He’s still only 24 and has played in some pretty undesirable situations for the David Kahn-era Timberwolves and the chaotic mess that is the Sacramento Kings, but I don’t know enough about him to have confidence that he will still be a productive player for this team. I’ve been wrong before though, I guess we’ll have to trust the Zen Master on this one.

Kristaps Porzingis (PF/C):

I defended Phil Jackson’s heavily criticized decision to draft the massive Latvian prospect in last month’s draft. The number four overall pick did manage to raise eyes with his play in this year’s Summer League. A lot of people have already shut the book on Porzingis, but they are likely many of the same people who tried to convince me that Melo would be a good defender at some point (it didn’t/still will not happen). The kid has a long road ahead of him and it’s wrong to expect any rookie to become an above average contributor right away (that rarely happens for rookies anyway). However, there are some positive and negative takeaways.

Many of the negatives revolve around his frame.  He’s 7’2 and is supposedly around 230 pounds (for reference 6’11 Jahlil Okafor weighs over 270 pounds). Due to his weak frame, many of the larger big men did (and will continue to do so) push him around, such as Okafor, which will lead to a low rebound % for someone so large. However, Porzingis will often times be able to use his 7’7 wingspan to help get his hands in the faces of those bigger and/or quicker than him (as you can see in the third vine below). He’ll struggle to defend many of the larger players he goes up against this season, but he’ll also rack up his fair share of blocks as well.

Third most efficient scorer among the lottery picks is something, right?

He’s a knockdown shooter with very swift feet. He can hit shots off of a screen, which leads me to believe he’ll be great on catch & shoot opportunities as well.

He can stretch the floor:

He can play some defense (read more about it in the link):

And he can pass out of the low block:

Porzingis’ size isn’t a huge concern for me as that will improve now that he’s working with a professional strength and conditioning coach/team. I understand the fear and concern of the “soft European” type, but someone has to break that stereotype at some point and I’m betting on him. Very few things are more valuable in the current NBA than 3-point shooting and rim protection. It just so happens that he can (to an extent because he turned 20 three days ago) do both.

Jerian Grant (PG):

Grant is the son of former NBA role player Harvey Grant (who is the brother of the much more recognizable defensive big man Horace Grant). He’s 23 years old and stands at nearly 6’5 with a 6’8 wingspan. At Notre Dame, Jerian Grant hit 34.5% of his career college 3PA and was a solid overall scorer.

I won’t attempt to convince you I watched him play a lot in college (I didn’t), but I did see some nice things from Grant in Summer League play. He looks great driving to the hoop and in transition, but also looks very lost in the Knicks’ half court sets. And while he likely won’t be an elite wing defender (he could be I honestly have no idea), he will probably rack up a fair amount of steals and blocks because of his length and size (and jumping ability).

One weird issue Grant has is that he often jumps in the air before making his decision about what to do with the ball (as you can see in the third vine below). He’ll find himself in some rough patches this season, but it will be nice to see the Knicks have a (hopefully) stable and productive option at the point guard position for the foreseeable future.

Pull up jumper and recovery block:

Finds Porzingis on the difficult pass:

Hitting the big man again:

Finding the backdoor cut after a Porzingis block:

Contested Finish at the rim:

I really like Grant, and I hope he’ll be a great player for years to come.

Wesley Saunders:

A Harvard grad and shooting guard who recently played for the Utah Jazz in the Summer League. I know nothing else about him, but he has a partially guaranteed deal and it will be interesting to see if he makes the opening day roster.

Sasha Vujacic (SG):

Vujacic was a solid role player on Phil’s most recent Laker title teams who has been playing in Europe for the last few years. I thought his last season was 2011 when the Lakers traded him to the Nets, but he apparently made a welcomed addition brief appearance for the Clippers in 2014 (only four games). I don’t really know what he provides the Knicks at 31 years of age, but at the very least he gives them depth at shooting guard, some familiarity with the triangle, and hopefully some outside shooting.

One bright side of Vujacic’s return is that we will hopefully see more of these incredible videos from his Laker days:

Kevin Seraphin (C):

I had already been working on this piece for a while before the Knicks used the room Mid Level exception on Seraphin so I’m not going to spend much time on him. He’s a solid backup center who can play some defense, but his career BPM (a whopping -3.9) is terrible (especially on offense). I can’t name anything that he provides that the Knicks don’t already have between O’Quinn and Lopez. I doubt he’s apart of the future and is probably just depth at this point, but the Knicks might as well have retained Cole Aldrich then bring in Seraphin. I don’t think he’ll play too much this upcoming season and is only on a one year deal. Oh well.

The Incumbents:


The Knicks re-signed Lou Amundson and Lance Thomas earlier this offseason. Amundson provides big man depth and pesky defense/rebounding. Thomas doesn’t excel at much but can hit the occasional three-ball and adds another body on the wing. Other returning rotation players include youngsters Langston Galloway and Cleanthony Early, as well as veterans Jose Calderon and Carmelo Anthony. That brings the roster to 15 total players, which means the Knicks will likely bring aboard one of their summer league players.

The grizzled veterans are amongst the least desirable on the roster. Despite returning from knee surgery and now on the wrong side of 30, Carmelo is still one of the best volume scorers in the game. However, he typically needs to work in a high isolation offense to showcase his skills. For the Knicks to get a whiff of the playoffs this season, Melo has to not be Melo. Isolation offense is typically dreaded by stat heads as inherently inefficient. So ideally what we need from Melo is system discipline and to be unselfish with his possessions. Melo is already a gaping black hole on defense and that is never going to change. Therefore, Melo has to become (somewhat) of the player he has resisted for so long to give the Knicks a chance at a playoff spot this year. But don’t worry, he’ll still have his nights where scores 32 points on 28 shots.

Calderon is what he is at this point. He’s 34 years old and can run an unsexy offense and hit 3 pointers around the 40% mark. He, like Melo, is a woeful defender and the Knicks are on the hook for two more seasons and $15 million of unspectacular play. My guess is that they are reluctant to use the stretch provision on him, but would love to move Calderon if a trade presents itself. I still have to imagine he’s the starting point guard on opening day.

Galloway is a solid backup point guard who can hit threes and run the triangle. Arguably the Knicks best player post-All Star break last season (doesn’t mean as much as you think), I would be shocked if he was cut. Due to their differing sizes and skill sets, I believe there’s a good chance the Knicks look to implore some of the two PG sets they used quite a bit from a couple of seasons ago with Galloway and Grant on the floor.

Early was perhaps the Knicks’ best player during the Summer League. He was often the focal point on offense, and did a solid job as a wing defender. His passing and 3-pt shooting both need work, but an expanded role in the Knicks offense this year is definitely in the works. I didn’t watch him much when he played last year on the actual Knicks roster, but I was impressed from what I saw in his Summer League play.

If you want to read some positive things about Thanasis Antetokounmpo, check out this Upside Motor piece. From watching the Knicks Summer League play, he doesn’t do a whole lot in my eyes. He had the occasional flashy block or dunk which made you marvel at his athleticism, but he also had the worst +/- of everyone on the Summer League roster. He’s 23 and an incredibly raw player. To borrow a phrase, “he’s a year away from being two years away.” I’m not so certain he’d be getting the same amount of consideration if his brother wasn’t the Greek Freak, so I’m not sure what he’ll provide this year. However, the Knicks will probably give him the 15th roster spot to keep him from going to Europe.

Other players the Knicks could bring back are Travis Wear, Louis Labeyrie, and Alex Kirk. However, I believe Thanasis probably has a better shot than the others to make the team due to some of the reasons I listed above.

And that’s about it. 3,000 words on the Knicks and about 2,500 too many. Can Derek Fisher coach this much improved roster? Will Lopez, O’Quinn, Afflalo and others learn to play in the triangle, or will it be abandoned altogether? Will Porzingis be the next European phenom, or will he be another bust? (It can be somewhere in between, but give him more than a season at the very least). It all remains to be seen, but if everything goes their way, it’s possible that the Knicks might not be bad. Take the poll below so we can estimate how many games people expect the Knicks to win next year.

My “Don’t Mess Up Free Agency” Knicks Post

NBA free agency begins tomorrow. And while the New York Knicks will likely not be top players, they will and should be active and aggressive in their quest to assemble an actual NBA roster. Rumors are beginning to swirl and it’s anyone’s guess as to who they will actually pursue. I have no idea what will happen, but since I was not upset with the draft results, I’m almost positive free agency will be a big letdown (almost).

Since no one updates these these things regularly enough, I have put together my own salary analysis for the Knicks below.

The Knicks declined to extend the QO to Quincy Acy the other day
The Knicks declined to extend the QO to Quincy Acy on Sunday

Galloway’s contract is partially guaranteed so he will definitely be on the roster for this upcoming season. That gives the Knicks six players under contract and just about under $30 million of cap space to work with. If you’re wondering how I came up with the rookie salaries, I worked it out from here. The listed salaries for those two will likely not be their exact figures, but they will be close enough.

Another option to gain cap space is to use the stretch provision on Jose Calderon. Tommy Beer wrote a nice piece on how it could help the Knicks here. Per Basketball Insiders:

If the player’s salary payments are spread-out using the stretch provision, the team may elect to stretch the salary cap charge to match. For example, if two seasons remain on the player’s contract when he is waived, and the payment is spread-out over five years per the stretch provision, then the team may elect to spread-out the salary cap hit over those same five years.

Calderon is set to earn $15,111,239 over the next two seasons. By utilizing the stretch provision before August 31, the Knicks could stretch out his salary to $3,022,248 a season over the next five seasons. However, I would have to imagine Phil will desperately try to trade Calderon before he considers using the provision.

With many of the free agents who are anticipating a max contract, several starting max salaries (like Aldridge or Love) will begin around $19 million. I would guess it’s not likely for the Knicks to extend the qualifying offer to Wear (very slim chance the Knicks extend that QO to Shved, but there are rumors circulating he will be brought back along with Jason Smith), but they still have less salary space than desired for another max contract on the roster. On the other hand, with the rapid spike of the NBA salary it’s not out of the question (though you might want to reconsider when it comes to certain players, such as Greg Monroe).

Seriously, while Greg Monroe would be a good fit for the triangle because of of his solid post play and passing ability (despite posting a 0.95 Assist/Turnover ratio this past season), I just can’t fathom handing a max contract to a big man who can’t defend or stretch the floor.

89.5%
89.2% of his total shots came from within eight feet of the hoop

Of all players who played in at least 40 games and had at least 5.0 opponent FGA per game at the rim, Greg Monroe surrendered the seventh highest opponent FG%. Of the 72 players that met the criteria in that last statistic, Greg Monroe was 61st in blocks with 34 total (despite having the 16th highest minutes played per game).

If the Knicks are going to pay top dollar for a big man, I would rather someone with some defensive prowess. Melo still is and should be the focal point of the offense, but if we’re being honest he is a massive liability on the defensive end. I think moving him to the 4 makes sense because it takes some of the wear off his legs and hides him on defense a bit more, but the Knicks need plus defenders. Greg Monroe’s offense doesn’t do it for me.

Afflalo is a more interesting prospect. He’s considered a good “3 and D” guy, but he is coming off some up-and-down seasons on a bad Orlando team and an underwhelming stint with the Trailblazers. He shot 35% from beyond the arc last season, but he did hit 37% of his catch & shoot 3’s. Though in his defense (pun intended!), opponents shot under 33% on 3-pointers when guarded by Affalo. He is reportedly seeking a deal worth around $12 million a year for three seasons. Signing Greg Monroe to a max deal and giving Afflalo his desired asking price is a classic NBA panic scenario. A team strikes out on the top tier free agents and then overpays for the next group to compensate for the loss. I usually don’t agree with Jason Mcintyre, but he’s absolutely right about how the Knicks should approach this situation.

The Knicks have also been linked to DeAndre Jordan, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love, Robin Lopez, Danny Green, Wes Matthews, Jeremy Lin (huh?), Caron Butler among others.

Realistic players I would like to see considered: DANNY GREEN (like Afflalo except younger and better), Kosta Koufos, Branden Wright, Robin Lopez, Khris Middleton, Mirza Teletovic (bargain bin), Al Farouq Aminu, Ed Davis, Wes Matthews (for the right price), Paul Millsap, Jae Crowder, Lou Williams, and Cory Joseph.

I’m rushing to post this before I leave for my soccer game. It could be chaotic, but hopefully in a good way.

 

NEW YORK KNICKS OFFSEASON WISH LIST

The NBA draft is tomorrow. NBA free agency begins next week. EXCITING! WHAT COULD GO WRONG??!! A lot actually, especially if you are the New York Knicks. I wrote a piece back in February about the success woes of the Knicks and I briefly covered what could lie ahead in their plans for the future (I guessed the Knicks would wind up 5th in the draft, so I guess I should be happy they received the 4th pick).

The Knicks officially have four players under contract for the 2015/2016 season. This includes Carmelo Anthony, Jose Calderon, Tim Hardaway Jr, and Cleanthony Early (cringeworthy). The salaries between these four players total $32,427,391. With the expected salary cap level to be $67.1 million for the upcoming season, that leaves the Knicks over $34 million to play around with.

So what should the Knicks look to do in the draft and through free agency? The hell if I know, but I have a (potentially far-fetched) idea. It appears that this is going to be a trade-heavy draft. Therefore, I believe the Knicks will trade back in this year’s draft, and my ideal trade candidate is the Denver Nuggets

TRADE PROPOSAL:

Knicks Receive: PG Ty Lawson, 7th pick in the draft

Nuggets Receive: PG Jose Calderon, 4th pick in the draft

ANALYSIS:

The Nuggets love foreign players, and have recently been on bad terms with star point guard Ty Lawson (don’t drink and drive kids). They have been actively shopping him as they look to rebuild their 57-win squad from two years ago. In this scenario the Nuggets trade up to grab 19 year old Latvian star-child Kristaps Porzingis as an athletic big man who can stretch the floor. He has a slim frame and little muscle, but could be a decent weak-side defender to Jusuf Nurkic and Kenneth Faried. The Nuggets also walk away with Jose Calderon (he’s European!) to help control the pace offensively and provide some 3pt shooting while they rebuild this squad.

The Knicks receive an instant upgrade at point guard in Ty Lawson at a reasonable price tag (he is set to make $12.4 million this upcoming season). Lawson is an effective point guard who can score (15 PPG on 52.6 TS% in 2015) and facilitate (9.6 APG on 43.0 AST%), but leaves something to be desired at the defensive end. How does he fit into the triangle? I have no idea, I really hope it becomes abandoned this year after people realize it’s unsustainable without Kobe or MJ in your offense. Now with the 7th pick, the Knicks could go in a few different directions. Every player you and I want will not be there, but I think they will grab either Willie Cauley-Stein, Justice Winslow, or Mario Hezonja.

Confidence Galore

I’m going with the unconventional pick, Mario Hezonja. “What! Why?” you say. Wait until I get to free agency before you criticize me and my rationale. He’s an athletic freak, can shoot the 3 ball, and played very well in limited minutes on FC Barcelona (one of the top teams in the world’s second best league, the ACB, and yes it’s better than the NCAA). Is he a great fit? Eh, hopefully. I have no faith in Fisher or Phil to run this franchise correctly, but I can dream.

FREE AGENCY:

The Knicks need help everywhere, and if they sign Greg Monroe to a max contract, then you might as well give up hope. I doubt the Knicks get or even pursue any of the top guys, so I think go the next tier down.

Signing 1: SG Danny Green

Contract: three years, $36 million

Danny Green is a 3 and D specialist (career 42.0% 3P%), and a native New Yorker. He is listed as Tom Ziller’s 14th-best free agent this year, and he is a sensible addition to this woeful Knicks roster.

Signing 2: C Robin Lopez

Contract: two years, $15 million (team option year 2)

Ziller had this to say:

“RoLo is a center who knows his role offensively (an efficient, low-volume scorer who eats on the pick-and-roll) and is a really solid defender without hunting down blocks. He’s a top offensive rebounder and a dreadful defensive rebounder, so fit is a concern — I wouldn’t trust him on teams reliant on smallball lineups. But as a plus player at a premium position, Lopez is a very attractive free agent.”

I’d take the flyer. I wouldn’t really want to lock him up long term, but I think he could be a decent fit, especially on the offensive end. I’d still try to make sure Cole Aldrich comes back on a minimum deal to shore up some of the defense that will be lacking.

Signing 3: PF Jonas Jerebko

Contract: one year, $4 million

I picked up on a little something earlier in the season

He was seldomly used in Detroit, but after being traded to Boston on February 19th, his per-36 minutes stat line looked as follows:

40.6 3P%, 9.6 RPG, 1.3 SPG, 14.1 PPG, and a +7.5 box plus-minus

Oh yea, opponents shoot less than 40% from the field when guarded by Jerebko on 7 FGA per game. Also has great hair. For a 6’10 mobile backup big man, you could certainly do worse.

So I expect the Knicks to pick up the options on Quincy Acy and Langston Galloway, as well as offer the vet’s minimum to Cole Aldrich. That brings the roster total up to ten players, and the salary total up to around $62 million (including Hezonja’s rookie-scaled wage), which should leave them plenty of money to fill out the roster without exceeding the luxury tax threshold.

PROJECTED STARTING ROSTER:

PG: Ty Lawson

SG: Danny Green

SF: Mario Hezonja

PF: Carmelo Anthony

C: Robin Lopez

Yes Melo should be spending most of his time at the four at this point in his career (he’s on the wrong side of 30 and has questionable knees). The second unit should hopefully look as follows:

PG: Langston Galloway

SG: Tim Hardaway Jr

SF: Quincy Acy

PF: Jonas Jerebko

C: Cole Aldrich

EXPECTATIONS:

Honestly, maybe a 50 win team that could get the 4th seed in the East. However, in 2017 the Knicks would only have Melo, Danny Green, and probably Hezonja under contract. In that season the NBA salary cap could reach upwards of $108 MILLION. I don’t have to tell you what that means. The Knicks just really need to stop trading away first round draft picks.

Why Phil Jackson Needs To Adapt

Phil Jackson, president of the New York Knicks and former successful NBA coach, has taken to Twitter recently to voice his opinions on 3 point shooting in the NBA. For those that are unaware, the 3-point shot is more important than ever with many analysts valuing 3’s over 2’s (that are more than 8-10 feet from the hoop). However, things weren’t looking so good for the NBA’s most 3pt-reliant teams just a couple of weeks ago, which led to Phil tweeting this:

The Warriors were down 2-1 to the Grizzlies, the Cavaliers were down 2-0 to the Bulls, and ditto for the Hawks with the Wizards. The Warriors, Cavs, and Hawks (along with the Rockets and Clippers) were ranked by regular season 3PA as follows; 4th, 2nd, 7th, 1st, and 5th. Not goink very well indeed. It looked like maybe Phil was right, except that he wasn’t. Just about a week later the Cavaliers and Hawks had won four straight to advance, while the Clippers and Dubs both advanced on three-game win steaks as well. Those four teams have the highest average 3PA of the 16 teams that made the playoffs, and it looks like we are on our way to a Cavaliers-Dubs finals. Yet Phil cannot admit defeat, and he tweeted the following yesterday:

A couple of points I want to make about Phil’s thoughts from yesterday.

1. Phil Jackson’s coaching career ended in 2011 when the Lakers were swept by the Mavericks in the Western Conference semifinals. The Mavericks shot 46.2% from 3 throughout the series and 62.5% from 3 (20 of 32) in their 36-point game four win (Jason terry hit 9 of 10 3PA too!).

2. The last four title winners (since Phil’s 2010 Lakers) had the following Finals 3P%: Mavericks (41.1% on 20.6 3PA), Heat (42.9% on 19.6 3PA), Heat (43.2% on 21.1 3PA), and the Spurs (46.6% on 19.6 3PA).

3. I’m not upset Phil traded away the players he did for minimal returns (though he could have received a much higher yield for Tyson Chandler last summer). If you’re going to rebuild a franchise, might as well strip it down to nothing as much as possible. On the other hand, it’s very frustrating to watch so many former Knicks play pivotal roles in the playoffs this year. Among these players are Iman Shumpert, JR Smith, Pablo Prigioni, Timofey Mozgov, Tyson Chandler, Beno Udrih, and David Lee (the list goes on, but these are all players that I believe could still be on the Knicks roster right now). The departures of these players are not all because of Phil, still a culture of mismanagement and poor talent evaluation is exactly what the Knicks need to refine in order to turn the franchise around.

4. The Zen Master had his own hand-picked coach in Derek Fisher running the triangle offense for the Knicks this year. I know, probably better than most, just how woeful the Knicks roster was this season. Despite that, there’s a lot of irony in Phil emphasizing the importance of penetration and then this happening:

A lot of Phil defenders will point to the fact that he has 11 championship titles as a head coach (the last of those in occurring in 2010). I believe that is a fair defense, but I would also like to make note of the fact that he has had some of the best players ever on his former Bulls and Lakers squads. Looking at the top 30 players ever according to VORP (value over replacement player) we see the following from Basketball Reference:

Five of the top 30 players
Five of the top 30 players
From each of Phil’s six Bulls championships he had MJ (#1), Scottie Pippen (#16) and even Dennis Rodman for a few (#60). For his first Lakers title run Phil had Shaq (#14) and Kobe (#15), and the second Lakers title run had Kobe again, as well as Pau (#29). Now if we look at those same players according to career win shares, their ranks are as follows: MJ (#4), Scottie (#36), Shaq (#10), Kobe (#15), and Pau (#38).

My point there was not to take a shot at Phil, but to express the sentiment that maybe 3 pointers aren’t as important for teams with incredibly talented players that excel at other facets of the game. I’m not attempting to diminish Phil’s accomplishments (he’s earned his praise), nonetheless winning championships is a bit easier when you have some of the best players of all time. However, that point is a bit moot. Nine of Phil’s championship rings came in a different era of NBA basketball where offense revolved around dominant low-post centers, a dramatically slow PACE (the metric), and hand-checking was still allowed. In today’s NBA there are very few real two-way centers even left (I count Dwight Howard, Demarcus Cousins, and maybe DeAndre Jordan). These players have been replaced with 3-point shooters who excel in a game where spacing is key. Just take a look at the correlation between regular season success and 3-pointers attempted per game (done by me in this excel chart below).

Yes
Is that a positive relationship I see?
So do I think 3-pointers are the only offense that matters in today’s NBA? No, I think having a well rounded offense that involves a balance of driving, post play, and ball movement that leads to open shots is the key to having a good offense (anyone watch the Spurs?). However, it does appear that win percentage is heavily correlated with average 3PA per game. So while Phil is obviously a much more intelligent basketball mind than myself, I think he needs to be less stubborn and learn that the game is evolving. If not, then we will likely see a depressing end to the career of what was otherwise maybe the greatest player-turned-coach in NBA history. He’s right in that 3-pointers are not the end-all be-all, but they are growing more and more integral with each passing season.

After a disastrous first season running the Knicks, the pressure is mounting to keep the team out of mediocrity. The 4th pick in this year’s NBA draft should help, but coaches/personnel like Phil, Mike Brown, Byron Scott, and Randy Wittman are a dying breed. It’s not the 90’s or early 2000’s anymore and unless they learn alter their coaching/managing styles, the game will inevitably leave them behind (though I’m willing to bet Dolan offers Phil a very lucrative extension regardless of the results). I hope for my sake (and the sake of other Knicks fans), that the teams’ future does not rely on one man’s refusal to change.

The Return of Danilo Gallinari

The Maestro

I am a Knicks fan, albeit often a bitter one. Danilo Gallinari was drafted by the Knicks in 2008 and quickly became a fan favorite (I was one). He was apart of a very enjoyable Knicks team in 2010 before he was abruptly dealt to Denver in a trade that saw half of the Knicks’ rotation replaced by Carmelo Anthony. This appalling transaction saw the Knicks sacrifice talented young assets and salary flexibility for Melo, all because James Dolan couldn’t wait until July (this trade also led to former Knicks President of Basketball Operations Donnie Walsh resigning after being overruled by Dolan). I realize it’s not that simple, but the Knicks could have at least attempted to play hardball, instead of throwing in Mozgov just to sweeten the deal. If the Knicks ended the 2010-2011 with their initial roster intact, they would have had somewhere around $38 million tied up in salary between seven players (by my calculations) for the following season. The NBA salary cap for 2011-2012 was $58,044,000 and the luxury tax sat at $70,307,000. There was more than ample room for the Knicks to sign a max contract free agent (Melo) and still round out the roster through various exceptions and draft picks. But I digress, I just believe the Knicks could have gone about it in a much better fashion.

Fast forward to the 2012-2013 season where the Nuggets are one of the most enjoyable teams in the NBA (see above gif) and finish third in the Western Conference with a 57-25 record (the Knicks also went 54-28, somehow). Gallo was having his best season at the age of 24 with a 56.1 TS%, a + 2.3 box plus/minus (52nd best in NBA), and 7.2 win shares (38th best) along with a per-game stat line of 16.2/5.2/2.5. The Nuggets looked poised to make a deep playoff run, but then disaster struck. Gallo tore his ACL with 10 games to go and the Nuggets fell apart in the opening series of the playoffs. That next year saw the Nuggets (wrongly) dispose of head coach George Karl, the (poor) hiring of Brian Shaw as his replacement, and a (questionable) four year $50 million extension for Kenneth Faried. Which brings us to the current season at hand.

Gallo made his return on November 1st, 2014  after sitting out the entire 2013-2014 season. It was unspectacular to say the least as Gallo struggled to find a solid role in the Nuggets rotation. His shot chart for November to March certainly seems less than stellar.

Well that's not good
Well that’s not good

I don’t believe the blame falls solely on his shoulders. The team quietly became one of the NBA’s more hilarious spectacles with the players apparently counting down the weeks until the season’s end in the team huddles. After their loss against the Pelicans on March 1st, the team had a 20-39 record and had lost 18 of their previous 20 games. Then the front office did something right, they fired the ineffective Brian Shaw as their head coach and promoted Melvin Hunt to take his place. During that horrific span, specifically after the all-star break, Shaw attempted a different approach (most likely in the hopes of saving his job). He began to play Gallo more and we saw a resemblance of the player prior to the injury. The promotion of Hunt helped transcend the revival and it seems we now have the Gallo we know and love once again.

I realize that some people hate numbers, but this is where the fun begins for me. Below are Gallo’s numbers before and after the All-Star Break:

Pre-All Star Break (34 GP): 19.4 minutes, 36.3 FG%, 30.0 3P%, 20.1 USG%, 51.7 TS%, 8.3 PPG

Post-All Star Break (17 GP): 31.0 minutes, 42.3 FG%, 38.5 3P%, 22.1 USG%, 58.1 TS%, 17.6 PPG

That’s some darn good shooting. One can see the improvement is definitely present, but it’s not just the shooting either. Gallo is a creative playmaker who can not only shoot, but penetrate off the wing as well. So while the assist numbers aren’t necessarily high, you can see the effect on the defense and the spacing that opens up for the Nuggets. Look at the vine below:

Nifty. He’s like a really tall Italian version of Steph Curry. It’s only been a few games, but it appears he’s beginning to play some of the best ball of his career. It was only a few days ago that this happened as well:

Thanks to the beauty of the Sport VU tracking system (DEFINITELY CLICK THIS LINK), we can track metrics such as type of shots, number of dribbles before a shot, drives, rebounding opportunities and more at nba.com. Gallo has recently seen a tremendous amelioration in his game in the form of “catch and shoot” jumpers. These are defined as “any jump shot outside of 10 feet where a player possessed the ball for two seconds or less and took no dribbles.” In the 11 games since Melvin Hunt took over on March 3rd, on catch & shoot opportunities Gallo is connecting on 42.2% overall FG%, 41.4 3p%, and 42.9 3P% with a defender within 2-4 feet of him. In his 40 games prior his catch & shoot numbers were 32.5% overall, 32.4 3P%, and 34.5 3P% with a defender within 2-4 feet of him. Oh yeah, he’s shooting 89.4% from the free throw line on the season as well. You can see the developments from the earlier shot chart since Hunt took over as head coach below:

Better! Moto bene!
Better! Moto bene!

It’s hard to say what exactly has led to his resurgence over the past three weeks (I am never able to watch the Nuggets, ever). However, there are some other interesting stats to note. His Player Impact Estimate (measures a player’s overall statistical contribution against the total statistics in games they play in) has gone up from 10.0 (around league average) to 12.3, his eFG% has increased from 45.1% to 53.8%, and his Net Rating has gone from -2.8 to +9.1. His Usage %  is only up 2.0%, but the fact that he is touching the ball more is doing wonders for the offense when considering the drastic change in Net Rating. The Nuggets starting 5-man lineup currently has a +/- of 2.8 (10 game sample), which makes them the 20th most effective lineup in the league. One would have to make an inference that it is largely due to Danilo Gallinari, and I’m that person.

Much of this could be contributed to more minutes, an expanded role, a change in coaching style, or all of the above. Despite the small sample size, it’s apparent that he’s turned a corner and looks very much like his old self. Even though I’m happy he’s found his way back,  I’m still resentful he’s not in blue and orange. Here’s to staying healthy Danilo, I’ll be breaking out the #8 soon myself.