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New stats on Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire could unlock Knicks’ offense

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Stats show Carmelo Anthony was one of the most efficient players in the league from the elbow; Amar’e Stoudemire was much less efficient. (Chris Chambers/Getty Images)

It’s common for players and coaches to tell reporters how simple basketball is at its core: you move the ball around, and you try to throw it in the basket. They’re oversimplifying things, of course, since any game with 10 men moving in patterns around the floor can be pretty complex to sort out. Sometimes even fundamental decisions are difficult, including: Where should the five guys on a team be when it starts a given offensive possession? Who belongs on which slice of the court?

The Knicks’ wild 2011-12 season provides a window into this question. Charles Oakley can talk all he wants about how Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire need to play better defense – he’s right — but the basic fact that defined New York’s crazy season, and the one that will define its future, is this: New York scored only 98.5 points per 100 possessions with Anthony, Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler on the court together. That’s a mark that would have tied Toronto for 25th in points per possession, per’s stats tool. The Knicks spent most of the season as one of the league’s 10 worst offensive teams and one of its 10 stingiest defensive teams. If the offense doesn’t improve, especially when all the high-priced stars play together, the Knicks have a limited ceiling.

Last season, New York became one of 10 teams to purchase a multi-camera system from STATS, LLC that tracks every movement in an NBA game — of the players, the ball, the referees, etc. As I’ve written before, you can use it to measure player speed, the height of the ball on a particular rebound, how well a player shoots from a precise position on the floor, how well he shoots after one or two dribbles and lots of other things. Plucking out the useful data and making on-court adjustments based on it will be a giant challenge for the growing number of teams subscribing to a system that provides more information than any one person can handle.

But there is useful data in there, including info that does more than simply confirm what we already know (i.e., Tony Parker is fast, or Kevin Durant shoots better immediately after the catch than he does after a few dribbles). One thing that seems handy to know: How do particular players function when they stand in a certain area, or catch the ball there? And how do their teams function in those situations?

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  • Published On 12:34pm, Aug 30, 2012
  • Court Vision

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    • Mark Cuban is upset that Jason Kidd pulled an about-face and bolted for the Knicks after — per Cuban — verbally agreeing to return to Dallas. Now he’s coming out against retiring Kidd’s number in Dallas:

    “Putting somebody up in the rafters, that’s something sacred in my mind,” Cuban said. “You don’t just do it just to do it, to have a big ceremony, to sell tickets. You haven’t seen me decide yet. I go back and forth on Derek Harper all the time, but Harp will be up there before J. Kidd will.

    “I’ve always said my prerequisite was that you played on a championship team for the Mavs. I’d say Jet’s got a shot, Dirk’s an obvious, but as of right now I wouldn’t put J. Kidd up there.”

    Kidd played six full seasons and two partial ones in Dallas, and he was a key player for the Mavs’ only title team. Still, at best, he was the fourth-most important player on that squad. His peak years obviously came elsewhere. There is no set standard for retiring numbers, and different franchises have handled the decisions differently. Some, including the Blazers, have retired numbers for guys who played roles roughly equivalent to Kidd’s on beloved title teams. But it’s not as if Kidd would be a lock for Dallas jersey retirement by any common standard.

    • Amar’e Stoudemire is (again) promising to play better defense, per the New York Post:

    “Defense is the key to win championships, that’s something I’m dedicated on also, to become a much, much better defensive player,” he said. “It’s going to happen. It’s a matter of preparation and practice and getting that chemistry down on that end of the court.”

    Stoudemire is one of the worst defensive players in the league among those receiving heavy minutes. His issues have always struck me as having less to do with effort, and more to do with things that are much tougher to correct: a poor understanding of angles, bad timing, difficulty fitting within schemes, shaky instincts, etc. But on top of those things, Stoudemire has a painfully upright stance that makes it difficult to move side-to-side; he looks very creaky on the floor. Is that due to a lack of effort — of failing to work diligently on a crouched defensive stance? Or is it a result of his aging knees?

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  • Published On 3:26pm, Aug 21, 2012
  • Reviving Amar’e Stoudemire in the post

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    Chris Bosh; Amar'e Stoudemire

    Once one of the NBA’s best low-post scorers, Amar’e Stoudemire’s difficulties in the paint with the Knicks have prompted him to seek the advice of Hakeem Olajuwon this summer. (Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images)

    Amar’e Stoudemire is in Houston, having joined the long list of NBA players who have turned to Hakeem Olajuwon for post-up tutoring. Which raises the question: What the heck happened to Stoudemire’s post game?

    We don’t think of Stoudemire as a post-up player because even in his Phoenix prime, he was a turbo-charged pick-and-roll finisher for Steve Nash and a guy who preferred to face the basket in one-on-one situations.

    But he had a post game, especially in 2009-10, when the Suns made a memorable run to the Western Conference finals under Alvin Gentry. In that season, 19.2 percent of the possessions Stoudemire finished with a shot, turnover or drawn foul came via post-up plays, according to Synergy Sports. That was a larger share than Stoudemire devoted to pick-and-rolls or isolations. Watch the tape, and it’s clear: Going to Stoudemire on the left wing, just outside the paint and about halfway between the baseline and foul line, was probably the second-most-important set in the Suns’ arsenal.

    It was unstoppable, too. Stoudemire shot 50 percent (136-of-272) out of the post in 2009-10 and scored almost exactly one point per possession on those plays, a mark that would generally rank among the half-dozen best low-post scoring rates for players of all positions who use more than a token number of possessions on the block. Over and over, the Suns would find Stoudemire in that sweet spot on the left wing and simply get out his way, clearing the other four players to the right side of the floor or the top of the three-point arc. Creating that space was easier in Phoenix than it is in New York because Stoudemire in that season often played center, with Channing Frye, a long-range shooter, as his big-man partner. Still, the Suns sometimes paired Stoudemire with a more traditional big man, such as Robin Lopez or Lou Amundson, and simply stationed that player somewhere along the right baseline when it was time for Amar’e to operate. That set-up didn’t provide him with as much space as the Frye alignment, but it didn’t matter.

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  • Published On 1:47pm, Aug 16, 2012
  • Offseason has left number of potential contenders at risk of disappointment

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    Taj Gibson

    With Omer Asik now a member of the Rockets, Taj Gibson (above) likely will assume a bigger role in helping the Bulls defend the paint. (Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)

    We covered free agency’s winners on Thursday, and next week, we’ll touch on the most intriguing team offseasons and teams that mostly stood pat. Today: the teams that have left us concerned.

    Chicago Bulls

    I covered the state of the Bulls last week after center Omer Asik’s departure for Houston, so I won’t belabor things too much here. The Bulls have replaced four bench players — Asik, swingman Kyle Korver and guards Ronnie Brewer and C.J. Watson — who would have been due about $17.6 million next season with five due a combined $8.5 million. Only one of those players, guard Kirk Hinrich, has a contract that runs beyond next season, but the $4.1 million that he will earn in 2013-14 jeopardizes Chicago’s ability to use the full mid-level exception again next offseason.

    Chicago now has about $71 million committed for 2013-14, factoring in the minimum $1 million guaranteed on shooting guard Richard Hamilton’s deal and power forward Taj Gibson’s cap hold. Gibson, of course, is even more critical now that Asik is gone, especially given that center Joakim Noah and/or power forward Carlos Boozer seems to suffer a 20-game injury every season. Gibson will be 28 next July, much older than a typical player coming off a rookie deal, but he’ll have suitors around the league and he’s firmly in Chicago’s core, especially if this team will seriously consider using the amnesty provision on Boozer at some point.

    The Bulls can shave $1 million off that $71.1 million number by dumping Hamilton between now and then, a move they’ll likely explore midseason if they’re sputtering because it would get them under the tax. But the league’s new rules prohibit teams from using the full mid-level exception and spending past a line $4 million above the tax threshold in the same season. If the Bulls bring back Gibson at market value, they’ll likely have to rely on the lesser mini mid-level exception to add a much-needed veteran piece. That’s a problem, particularly because Watson could have duplicated much of Hinrich’s production on a cheaper expiring deal. There would seem to have been a way to mix one or two holdovers with the new bench players, though that might have left the team a bit shallow and a tad more expensive.

    There are some serviceable bench players among Chicago’s new crew, but the Bulls would have taken a significant step back even if point guard Derrick Rose and small forward Luol Deng were healthy.

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  • Published On 2:18pm, Aug 03, 2012
  • NBA schedule a complicated work of balancing logistics and popularity

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    Ty Lawson

    Ty Lawson and the Nuggets will find themselves on the road often in the opening weeks of the 2012-13 season. (Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)

    The NBA has an unbalanced schedule, and it will continue to have one as long as the league is determined to play 82 games, include 30 teams and use an antiquated divisional format. Given competition for arena dates, logistical realities (some teams, especially in the Northwest Division, always have to travel more over a season), national TV requirements and the rule that teams must play each division rival four times, it is impossible to build a perfectly balanced NBA schedule.

    And so every season, when the schedule is released, we see instant reaction from fans — almost literally instant in this age — about this team or that team being “screwed,” and how the league has it out for the Nuggets or favors the Lakers. The league, in reality, has it out for no one, and the schedule is much less imbalanced than most people think. The league’s schedule-maker, Matt Winick, is a brilliant guy with all sorts of resources at his disposal and a million different variables he has to take into account.

    Most conspiracy theorists don’t consider all those variables, from hockey to flight paths, and most don’t consider every facet of the schedule itself. What I find most common in tweets and e-mails is the tendency to zero in on one detail as prima facie evidence that the league has saddled Team X (always the fan’s favorite team, somehow) with a schedule disadvantage. The most common piece of data cited is usually the team’s number of back-to-back games, or perhaps a very tough stretch with which a team must open the season.

    And discrepancies in those areas exist. The Nuggets open with 17 of their first 23 games on the road, and a bunch of teams — nine to be exact — will play a league-high 22 back-to-backs, compared to just 13 for the Magic, 15 for the Thunder and 16 each for the Lakers and Heat.

    But you can’t stop there. The next logical place to look is opponent rest data, and there you’ll find the league’s first and easiest way to balance things. The Nuggets, of course, are going to make up those home games later in the season, and they will play 12 games in which they will have one day of rest and their opponent will be on the second half of a back-to-back — the second-highest number of such games in the league, per the work of well-known analyst Ed Kupfer.

    And Denver should win a fair share of those 12 games; long-term studies have shown that teams on the second end of a back-to-back have a collective winning percentage of .430.

    But there is even mystery here. Is it better to face a really good team on the second end of a back-to-back, or a really bad one? The latter game is an almost certain win, but the former — against the top team — provides a better than usual chance to snag a win that would otherwise be unlikely. Then again: If you lose that game against the good team, you’ve “wasted” one of those favorable rest nights on your schedule. Read More…

  • Published On 5:20pm, Jul 27, 2012
  • Addition of Ronnie Brewer will afford Knicks flexibility, margin for error

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    Ronnie Brewer

    Ronnie Brewer’s addition to the Knicks’ backcourt will replace much of what the team lost with the injury to Iman Shumpert. (Yong Kim/Philadelphia Daily News/MCT)

    When the Knicks were done manufacturing ways to acquire Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby, Raymond Felton and Kurt Thomas, some via transactions that will be against the rules starting in 2013-14, I wrote that moves on the fringes were nice, but did not change the fact that New York’s ultimate ceiling would be determined by how well Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler could function together.

    Those three will take up New York’s entire salary cap for each of the next three seasons, and though Chandler propped up the trio to league-average levels defensively, they failed badly on offense. New York scored just 98.5 points per 100 possessions when they were on the floor together, a (way) below-average mark that sunk the Knicks’ overall offense. Anthony hogged the ball when allowed, and when not allowed, he looked uncomfortable at times finding the right spots and rhythms in a Jeremy Lin pick-and-roll-centric offense. Stoudemire looked uncomfortable almost all the time, and very much like a player in serious decline.

    Those three may still determine just how close this Knicks roster will get to sniffing the Heat, but New York has made enough fringe moves now to put some other factors in play in its development. The latest: somehow nabbing former Bulls swingman Ronnie Brewer on a one-year deal for the veteran’s minimum despite almost certainly facing some competition — including from teams that could offer more money. A bunch of solid teams could use some wing depth and defense, including Denver, Milwaukee, both Los Angeles teams, Utah and Atlanta. Some of those teams face roster ceiling issues (Denver) or salary cap complications (the Lakers are way over the tax, and the Clippers used their biannual exception on Grant Hill), but you could add others to the list of teams that could have used Brewer at this price. Kudos to the Knicks for getting him — a rare drama-free bit of basketball sense from a team that has given us far too much self-created drama over the last 24 months.

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  • Published On 3:03pm, Jul 24, 2012
  • Impact of Jeremy Lin’s move to Houston

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    Jeremy Lin is waving goodbye to the Knicks after a brief, electrifying run in New York. (Debby Wong/US Presswire)

    The Knicks have declined to match Houston’s three-year, $25.1 million offer sheet for point guard Jeremy Lin. If you’re a Knicks fan, you can only hope the team let him walk on Tuesday night for the right reasons — basketball reasons, as it were — and not because of the front office’s resentment toward the Rockets, or bitterness within New York’s locker room over the twice-waived 23-year-old’s sudden rise to fame and fortune.

    The decision isn’t indefensible, even though it is clearly going to hurt the Knicks on the court in 2012-13. Point guards Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd are here, but it has been years since either played anywhere near the level that Lin reached last season in his small sample size of 26 games as a starter or rotation regular. Felton was terrible in Portland last season, shooting bricks and coughing up an almost-unbelievable number of crunch-time turnovers with dribbles off his foot. Kidd, 39, is barely a point guard anymore, nearly incapable of attacking the lane off the dribble. He’s an outstanding perimeter quarterback who makes the smartest skip passes in the league, and he’ll toss better-timed and more creative entry passes than Lin could deliver to forwards Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire. But let’s not pretend that the Knicks can count on Felton or Kidd to run dynamic pick-and-rolls with center Tyson Chandler next season and dive into the lane, draw the defense and find last season’s NBA’s leader in three-point percentage, forward Steve Novak, spotting up in the corner.

    Lin can do those things. It’s fair of the Knicks to ask whether his ability to do those things with this roster was worth what they would have had to pay, especially in 2014-15. Under the terms of the offer sheet, the Knicks would have owed Lin nearly $15 million in that season. Giving Lin that much would have taken New York’s payroll, based on the current roster, to about $92.5 million, nearly $20 million over the projected luxury tax for that season. The league’s new, harsh tax rates will be in effect then, and exceeding the threshold by $20 million would come with a tax hit of a whopping $45 million. Lin’s salary would create the bulk of that penalty.

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  • Published On 7:45pm, Jul 17, 2012
  • Knicks’ offseason moves raise more questions than answers … for now

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    Carmelo Anthony; LeBron James

    Carmelo Anthony’s Knicks will need to be better offensively in order to contend next season against LeBron James’ Heat and other top teams. (Andrew Innerarity/Reuters)

    For all of the Knicks’ moves in increasing an already-expensive payroll, this team is still a total mystery. New York is an on-the-fly construction project that, in the big picture, has had very little time to work together and learn.

    Until we get some answers about this group on both sides of the floor, it’s hard to picture New York’s core competing with Miami and Brooklyn, if the Nets manage to acquire Dwight Howard. For one, the Knicks — who have added point guard Jason Kidd and center Marcus Camby while retaining forward Steve Novak, shooting guard J.R. Smith and (presumably) point guard Jeremy Lin — are not done buying. They’ll try to get something for center Dan Gadzuric’s non-guaranteed deal, and they still have a form of Bird Rights on free agent Jared Jeffries, a valuable fourth big man behind center Tyson Chandler, Camby and power forward Amar’e Stoudemire (and perhaps Novak, if you’d like to classify him as a “big”). And we won’t see New York’s best wing defender, guard Iman Shumpert, until at least January, as he recovers from a torn ACL.

    That’s the puzzling thing about this team, especially without Shumpert: The Knicks look bad, defensively, on paper. But they looked just as bad last season, with minus defenders (Carmelo Anthony and Stoudemire) at both forward spots, a bunch of guys splitting time at shooting guard and an untested second-year player in Lin manning the point. Despite all of that, New York ranked fifth in points allowed per possession and spent the entire season as one of the league’s stingiest defenses. Chandler was at the heart of that, talking to everyone and sliding all over the place to plug holes before they fully opened. The Defensive Player of the Year was so good that the Knicks managed to allow points only at a league-average rate even with Anthony and Stoudemire on the floor together.

    It was the offense, bottom-10 almost all season despite all of the glittery names, that failed the Knicks. There were semi-productive streaks, but even those came with caveats. Linsanity was wonderful, but the Knicks scored only at a league-average rate and won mostly with defense in that stretch. They surged again late in the season when a back injury to Stoudemire forced them to shift a suddenly invigorated (on defense) Anthony to power forward.

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  • Published On 1:22pm, Jul 10, 2012
  • Are the Knicks in the lead for Nash?

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    The Knicks have reportedly emerged as the frontrunners to land Steve Nash in a sign-and-trade deal with the Suns. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

    In what has to come as something of a surprise, the Knicks have taken the lead in the Steve Nash derby despite the Raptors’ efforts to eliminate them by agreeing to sign Landry Fields to an onerous, back-loaded contract. Fields was set to be a key chip in a potential New York and Phoenix sign-and-trade, a deal that would’ve offered Nash a salary not drastically lower than Toronto’s eight-figure annual offer.

    But the Knicks still have Iman Shumpert, and the Suns are reportedly interested in Shumpert as the centerpiece of a Nash sign-and-trade package, per Marc Stein of and Adrian Wojarnowski of Yahoo!. The latter described the current New York-Phoenix talks as being in the “critical stages” on Wednesday. All of this is unfolding as Houston is reportedly preparing their own back-loaded offer for Jeremy Lin, a move which (along with the agreed upon back-loaded offer to Chicago’s Omer Asik) played a role in the Rockets renouncing part of their rights to Courtney Lee. Lee, in turn, will be a prime mid-priced candidate for teams in need of a shooting guard, with the Clippers and the Bulls already having expressed interest, per the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune, respectively. The Bulls face massive tax issues that will essentially make any Lee contract count double, while the Clippers appear ready to offer the full mid-level exception to Jamal Crawford, a player who is 32 years old, shot 38 percent from the field last season and ranks as a minus defender — the last of which should be slightly more important for a team that ranked a porous 18th in points allowed per possession last season.

    So many moving parts, so little time for Independence Day barbecue and fireworks. And we haven’t even touched on the fact that Dallas — having missed out on Deron Williams — will surely examine Nash as a possible way to fill its cap space for at least one season. (Signing him to a two-year deal would imperil the Mavericks’ chance at max-level space in 2013, when Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum are set to become free agents.)

    But back to the Knicks: If they match a competing offer sheet for Lin and acquire Nash on a deal that pays something like $8 million per year over three seasons (as reported above), then we can conclude that the new collective bargaining agreement and beefed up luxury tax provisions have very little impact on James Dolan’s thinking in New York. And acquiring Nash would not necessarily mean saying goodbye to Lin. Nash is a 30-minute-per-game player now, and as he approaches age 40 during the span of this contract, it may be a good idea to play him less frequently have another player available to shoulder part of the escalating workload at the point. Signing Nash without a reliable back-up is not a viable option, and though the Knicks could find a backup with the veteran’s minimum (Mike Bibby, Ish Smith, etc.), the drop off after Nash would be steep.

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  • Published On 4:45pm, Jul 04, 2012
  • With Landry Fields offer, Raptors complicate Knicks’ bid for Steve Nash

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    Landry Fields struggled from three-point range last season, but he’s a good rebounder at shooting guard. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

    The Raptors have taken a page from Houston’s pursuit of Omer Asik and agreed to a backloaded three-year, $20 million offer sheet with Knicks restricted free agent Landry Fields. And if you thought it was ridiculous for the Rockets to throw $25 million at a 7-footer with two proven elite skills, defense and rebounding, I wonder what you think of Toronto’s offering $5 million less to a shooting guard who hit 25.6 percent from three-point range last season.

    The Raptors cannot actually value Fields as an above-average player, which is what this deal would make him, at least in terms of salary. Fields is a useful rotation piece; he’s one of the best rebounders for his position, a clever cutter and passer and a player who can run a fairly effective wing pick-and-roll with the shot clock running down. It’s not easy to average better than three assists per 36 minutes on a team with Jeremy Lin and Carmelo Anthony. But Fields’ outside shooting makes him a liability when it comes to spacing. Defenses can tilt away from him on the wing or in the corner to crash the middle and interfere with more effective actions elsewhere. And despite his rebounding skills and smart sense of where to be and whom to help, Fields is not a top-shelf defender; he lacks the quickness to keep up with dynamic NBA shooting guards.

    All of this makes it strange that the Raptors would value Fields this highly. DeMar DeRozan is entrenched at shooting guard, and the team is skeptical he can make anything like a full-time transition to small forward. The Raptors just drafted Terrence Ross, another shooting guard, with the eighth pick last week. Fields is an interesting player who can play small forward in a pinch, but he would not seem like a $7-million-per-year answer on this Toronto team.

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  • Published On 3:36pm, Jul 03, 2012