On Tap: The New York Knicks

Kurt —  January 30, 2007

Breaking News — No Kobe Tonight. Apparently the league thought Kobe intentionally swept his elbow into Manu Ginobli’s face when Manu came at Kobe from the side with 2.7 left in regulation Sunday and blocked Kobe’s shot. Because of that, he’s suspended for tonight’s game
I’d love to see a replay of that again, to me Manu made a good play and Kobe was simply trying to draw contact and get a foul, there was no malicious intent deserving a suspension. I don’t really get it. Doesn’t matter what I think, Kobe is out tonight. That means Odom will have to step up, and look for more from Bynum as well.

UPDATE: Apparently Kobe is asking for an immediate appeal hearing, and since he is in New York he can just drop on by the NBA league office right now for the meeting. It strikes me as a longshot the NBA would backtrack that fast, but it’s worth the effort.

UPDATE 2: No go, Kobe is out for sure tonight. You know, it’s all about the process.

Ask the expert. Despite trying to watch a lot of basketball, there are a few teams I have seen very little of outside of highlight clips. The Knicks are one of those squads, they are on wrong end of the country and don’t have many nationally televised games.

So for some insight on tonight’s opponent, I asked a few questions of the guy I think remains the gold standard of NBA bloggers — Mike at Knickerblogger.

First, since the media reports seem to say that the Knicks need to make the playoffs for Thomas to keep his coach/GM jobs, will they?

The Knicks aren’t making the playoffs this year unless they put together a great run. Yeah they’re only 3 games out, but they just don’t play any defense. The Boykins, Bell, and Bogut Bucks are tied with New York, and the healing-like-the-cheerleader-from-Heroes Miami Heat are looking up from the 9th seed. It’s certainly possible that New York could make it in as the 8th seed, but you have to figure they’d need help to do that. Either a devastating injury to Toronto and/or the Nets would help.

Okay. So, is Thomas gone at the end of the year?

The fans want Isiah out, but it’s not their decision. Knicks owner James Dolan has been vague on Isiah’s required goals on purpose. Dolan is usually loyal to the people that work under him, which is why Scott Layden was able to stick around so long. The Knicks are on pace to win about 34 games, which would be an 11 game improvement over last year. Eddy Curry is scoring more, and the trio of Frye, Lee, and Nate have made the Knicks a more exciting team to watch. So it looks like Isiah has done a good job.

On the other hand, New York won 37 games the year before Thomas arrived and 33 games just two years ago. The roster is void of strong defensive players, and Isiah has made some questionable coaching decisions at the tail end of games. So it all depends on your expectations. Or rather Dolan’s.

Just how good a young nucleus is there with Frye and Lee and Curry?

The first problem is that the named trio play only 2 positions. The Knicks had a good amount of success when they were forced to start all three (due to the suspensions), but I’m not sure if they can go an entire season with Lee at SF. The next problem is that none of the three are particularly good defenders. Curry is absolutely awful on the defensive end. He’s slow to rotate, doesn’t jump well, and his defensive intensity is sporadic. Curry’s ideal front court mate would be a strong defender, but neither Frye nor Lee fits that role.

Prior to the season I thought Frye was going to excel, and Lee was going to be a role player. Right now exactly the opposite is true. Even though Lee comes off the bench, he’s been absolutely dyno-mite! This guy cleans glass like a housewife on Memorial Day. And his ambidexterity makes him tough to defend down under the hoop. Meanwhile Frye seems to have a confidence problem, occasionally passing on open shots. I’m just praying he doesn’t go down Chuck Knoblauch Avenue, Mackey Sasser Street, or Steve Sax’s Boulevard. By next year I expect Lee to be the starter, and Frye to be the 6th man.

So what was the question again? Oh yeah. Individually each one can be pretty good. Curry is one of the most efficient scoring centers in the league. Lee is one of the league’s best rebounders. While Frye is a forward/center with a sharp eye from the outside. However I’m dubious on whether the combination can be successful.

Anything else to look for?

If Renaldo Balkman enters the game (imagine Plastic Man with dreads) keep your eye on him. He’s a treat to watch.

The Laker defense. During the Spurs game broadcast, Marc Jackson kept saying “the Spurs get open looks but they can’t get shots to fall.” And that was partially true; they did miss some open ones.

But when the Lakers make their rotations their length can cause problems – the Lakers are a long team and they got those long arms near the shooters, maybe closing a little faster than San Antonio expected.

That said, they don’t make good rotations on a regular basis.

Bet the over. The Lakers defense isn’t good, but neither is the Knicks. They give up 111.1 points per 100 possessions, the 26th worst in the league (the Lakers are 23rd at 109.4). What hurts the Knicks most is they do not create turnovers, just 14.8% of opponent possessions end in a turnover. The Lakers are middle of the pack creating turnovers on 16.4% of opponent possessions.

Things to look for. If the Lakers are going to win this one, it may be because they win the turnover battle in a big way, Not only do the Knicks not create turnovers, they cough the ball up a lot – 18.4% of their possessions end in a turnover, one of the highest rates in the NBA. If the Lakers win the turnover by 5 or more, that’s a lot of possessions in what should be a high-scoring game.

With Kobe out, the Lakers need some people to step up, and because he’ll be matched up on Eddy Curry this is a night Bynum can have a big game. Opposing centers are averaging 19.7 points and 12.7 boards per game on the Knicks, shooting 53%. Drew is capable of that kind of night.

The Knicks struggle to defend just about every position, the Lakers just need to keep passing the ball and making their shots tonight.

As for defending the Knicks — make them jump shooters. As a team they shoot just 40.1% (eFG%) on jumpers but get the ball inside and they shoot 57.9%. Curry has good offensive moves in the post and Lee gets offensive rebounds and putbacks. Maybe we’ll see some zone, but the Lakers need to pack it in a little tonight and make the Knicks a perimeter team.