he True Fans Bleed Blue and Orange: February 2007h

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Crawford's Injury Shuts Him Down For At Least Rest of Season

Today I came home from work to find out that the Knicks shooting guard, and second best scorer, is out for the year with ankle surgery. When I heard the news I wasn't sure how to react. Obviously I felt bad for Crawford, but immediately after my thoughts went straight to how this would affect the team. In my opinion I can see one of two things happen. The Knicks will get worse for obvious reasons, or we will be better, and noticeably so better. Allow me to explain.

With Crawford out Isiah announced that Quentin Richardson will move to the two guard with Jared Jeffries once again starting at SF. Right away this improves the team defense dramatically. Crawford is a below average defender, and has even lost the person he was defending at key moments (most notably against Utah). Richardson is one of the Knicks better defenders, and Jeffries is in the NBA for his defense. With Marbury normally playing solid defense at point guard, and Q plays good defense on most nights, whether it is against a SG or a SF. Also, the Knicks will always have a plus defender at SF. Jeffries is obviously starting, and the only true SF to back him up is Balkman. In my opinion Balkman is the Knicks best defender in terms of steals of and shot blocks, and Balkman's minutes should definitely increase.

Also, even though the Knicks offense runs through Eddy Curry, curiously Crawford is averaging nearly three more shots per game than Curry is. That means that the Knicks have 15 extra shots to play around with and spread out. This means that all of the scorers on the team should see a rise in their numbers. Curry most certainly will get even more touches, Steph as well. With Q at the shooting guard I could see Isiah featuring him in the post a couple of possessions a game. Most SF can't guard Q's post up game, much-less SG. Obviously not everything is positive with Jamal out, there are also a handful of negatives.

The main loss is Crawford's scoring. Crawford was second on the Knicks with 17.9 points per game. But, in his 36 games as a starter Crawford averaged 20.8 points and 4.9 assists. In addition the Knicks are 18-18 with Crawford in the starting lineup, and 8-14 without him. An underrated facet that the Knicks lose is Crawford's camaraderie with Eddy Curry. Crawford usually has 1-3 "chemistry" passes to Curry each game, such as an alley-oop or an instinctive cut pass. An obvious loss is the Knicks team depth. The Knicks had six guards entering this season (Marbury, Nate, Collins, Q, Crawford, Francis) and they are now left with four, with two of them being question marks on what they will bring to the table. Last but not least, Crawford's ability to be clutch and take over games offensively is gone. However, judging by Marbury taking over the fourth quarter last night Steph certainly has the ability to take over quarters and lead the Knicks to a victory. The question is if he can do it on a consistent basis like Crawford did.

Nate and Collins will obviously be seeing more time with Crawford out and I'm not sure whether these are positives or negatives. Robinson has played sporadically throughout his career. Nate will be part of the second unit which may be the perfect place for him. I don't think Nate can contribute consistently in the starting due to his lack of defense and streaky shooting. The 22 year old is a spark plug, and spark plugs usually fit the best in the second unit. Nate does have a keen ability of blowing by defenders and flying at the hoop, and I can see him averaging around 12 points a game the rest of the way. Collins, on the other hand, is a huge question mark. The rookie has only had three games this year where he has played double digits in minutes. When he has played he has shown flashes of being a good pass first point guard. With the exception of an 11 point performance against the Clippers Collins' shot has been dreadful this year, even air-balling a few jump shots. In fact, if you take away the Clippers game in which he shot 4-9 and 3-6 behind the arc Collins' field goal percentage for the year is 31%. Collins is known as a defensive player, however, so perhaps Balkman and Collins could make some things happen whenever they are both in the game.

With all of that said the Knicks are known for their offense and lack of consistent defense, if the Knicks do in fact improve defensively will they score enough points to win games? Stay tuned, they play the Celtics Wednesday night, a game they must win. Keep an eye on how Isiah uses the bench, and how the team responds to playing without Crawford. If Lee returns look for a big game out of him.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Knicks Must Capitalize On Soft Schedule

At the start of the season the Knicks' brutal schedule caused a lot of controversy. They played five of their first seven games on the road, and after a 2-5 start the Knicks were immediately put in a hole to start the 06-07 campaign. However, the Knicks start the all-star break embarking on a nine game stretch in which they play nine teams with a record of .500 or worse. Five of the nine games are also at MSG, where the Knicks have a .500 record themselves, despite starting 1-6. Their first opponent is the Orlando Magic, a team the Knicks completely dominated earlier this season. The Magic may be a different team then the Knicks first saw, because Grant Hill and ex-Knick Trevor Ariza, may be returning from their injuries. In addition, Jameer Nelson went into the all-star break suffering from flu-like symptoms, but I saw him with Dwight Howard during the Dunk Contest. Even if Ariza and Hill return from their respective injuries the Knicks should still pick up the victory. The Magic lost 12 of their last 17 games entering the All-Star break, and the Knicks are coming off of a blowout loss on the road, so they should be hungry to get a home victory.
After the Magic the Knicks head out to Philadelphia tomorrow night to play the lowly Sixers. Then Friday night the Knicks play the Milwaukee Bucks who may have Michael Redd and Charlie Villanueva returning for them within the next few days. The Knicks blewout the Bucks earlier this season, and then lost a few weeks later at Milwaukee on a Mo Williams circus shot with a few seconds remaining.
After the Bucks game the Knicks head to NJ who may be without Jason Kidd. The hot rumor right now is Jason Kidd to the Lakers. Then next Monday the Knicks play the Heat, the toughest team in the next nine games. The Heat look primed for a second half run, so the Knicks will need to play very good basketball to be D-Wade's Heat. Following the Heat game the Knicks head to Boston next Wednesday. Then the Knicks will play the Warriors at home, Atlanta on the road the next night, and then finally Seattle at home three days later. Assuming Jason Kidd is dealt the only game that should give the Knicks trouble in that stretch other than the Heat is the Warriors. However, the game is at home and the Knicks should play with a purpose, and try to blow out the Warriors.

The Knicks must play well the finally 29 games of the season, but especially these first nine games. The Knicks need to go at worst 6-3 these next games, and set a tone for the rest of the season, and hopefully the playoffs. The Knicks are not in the playoffs if the season ended today, and it appears that the Nets GM wants to get rid of Kidd or Carter before their value is gone. hat leaves the Knicks, Magic, and Heat playing for the final two spots in the east. Assuming the Heat earn the final spot the Knicks will have to outplay their opponent tonight if they wish to make the playoffs.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

D Lee Wins MVP

Friday night fan favorite David Lee won the MVP for the Sophomore-Rookie Challenge. Lee did the same thing he does every night for the Knicks: rebound, dunk the ball, energize his teammates. Lee went an astonishing 14-14 from the field, as well as 2-2 from the charity stripe en route to a 30 point outing. Lee also had four assists, and another day in the office with 11 rebounds. Lee outdid Chris Paul for the MVP, although in my opinion Paul deserved it. Paul had an incredible game, dishing the ball 17 times. He also scored 16 points, and stole an incredible 9 balls. He nearly had a triple double and one of the categories wasn't rebounding. Nevertheless, Lee played a terrific game, and I couldn't be happier that he won the award.

Tomorrow night Nate Robinson looks to defend his slam dunk crown against big men Tyrus Thomas and Dwight Howard, as well as high flyer Gerald Green.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Isiah: Keep Francis

Since Steve Francis' return against the Jazz Francis has looked better than ever. The former all-star is averaging 10.5 points, 2 assists, and 4 rebounds in his two games against Utah and LA. Those numbers don't exactly blow you away, but lets take a closer look at what those stats mean to the Knicks.

Besides Stephon Marbury the Knicks do not have another player who can consistently run the point. Nate Robinson is listed as a point guard, but doesn't pass the ball enough to be an effective one for a long stint. Not only was Marbury the only point guard on the Knicks when Francis was out, but he has a lingering knee injury that seemingly hinders his game every other night. So when Francis returned from his knee injury it was a blessing in disguise. Francis has been ineffective at best during his time with the Knicks since last season's trade deadline. However, it recently came out that Francis' knee injury has effected him for most of his time in a Knicks uniform. So the 20+ games he missed couldn't have helped him more.

Now that Francis is back and so far it appears that his knee is healthier than it has been thus far with the Knicks. Francis has been getting into the paint with ease, and has shot 50% from the field. Oh, and did I mention he is coming off of the bench. Although a return from Francis to the Franchise would be wishful thinking it is certainly possible that Francis can re-establish himself in the league. Even if Francis continues to put up the numbers off of the bench that he has done the past two games he will be very valuable.

He would instantly give Marbury a bit of a cushion in case he needs to miss a game here or there. Plus, he would be what Crawford was earlier in the season, instant offense. Like a bad commercial for instant coffee, I can picture it now: "Running out of time? Need offense? We have your solution! From the makers of instant coffee and the chia pet comes instant offense. All you need is Steve Francis." OK, maybe not, but it was worth a try. Not only is Francis solid offensively, but he is one of the better rebounders for a point guard in the league. In his prime Francis averaged 7.0 rebounds a game, and has averaged 5.7 boards a game over his career. Francis makes the Knicks best quality even better.

Although the 29 year old (turns 30 on Feb. 21st) turns the ball over a lot, already a Knicks weakness, he also steals a couple of those lost balls back. Over his career Francis has averaged 1.5 steals a game, and even with a balky knee he has managed to steal 1.0 balls a game, which is tied for the team lead. In addition, Francis has a quality that isn't shown in stats. Francis has shown he can be a leader for a team. Earlier in the season Francis spoke with Nate Robinson about trying to pull off a dunk in which he bounced the ball on the floor first. Also, Francis has joined Nate, Balkman, Lee, and a few others in leaping off of the bench whenever a Knicks player does something impressive.

I understand Francis has only played two games and praising him as the Knicks offensive savior off the bench is definitely premature, but when I notice potential for something I enjoy sharing it. Francis certainly has the potential to be a threat for the Knicks, and so far New York has played very well against two very good West Coast teams with Francis.

Stat Craze for next Opponent:

The Knicks play the Golden State Warriors tonight, and the Warriors run and gun offense could tire out the Knicks who will be finishing a three game road trip before the all-star break. The Warriors will be without a personal favorite of mine, Baron Davis. Davis was averaging around 21 points and 9 assists a game before undergoing knee surgery on Monday. The Warriors have also been playing without Jason Richardson for most of the year. However, Golden State still has a few players who can light the Knicks up in Stephen Jackson, Monta Ellis, and Al Harrington. They also have their own version of David Lee in Andris Biedrins. Despite averaging the fourth most points a game in the NBA the Warriors rate in the middle of the league in FG% and 3PT%. They are also the third worst free throw shooting team. However, the Warriors also deal off the fifth most assists, while throwing away the sixth most balls a game. The Warriors are one of the worst defensive teams in the league, ironically they lead the entire NBA in blocks and steals a game. Most of the stats have been when Baron Davis has played, but when the off-injured point guard hasn't played the Warriors are 4-6. Expect a very high scoring game, and I envision a very close game.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Chan Ho Park Signed By Mets

Omar Minaya continued his search for a diamond in the rough on Friday when he signed veteran pitcher Chan Ho Park. Park a one point won 18 games with the LA Dodgers during a stretch where Park have five of six seasons with the Dodgers where he recorded an era well under four. However, that Chan Ho Park has drastically changed from the one the Mets signed. After he left the Dodgers 2001 Park never pitched well again. He averaged a 5.86 era with a 1.63 WHIP since 2001. Not the best numbers, especially considering two of his years were pitched at Petco Park, one of the best pitchers parks in baseball. In fact, in only 136.2 innings pitched this year Park allowed an outrageous 20 home runs. In addition, 12 of the 20 home runs were in Petco, so don't expect Shea to help him too much. On the bright side Park did have a very good K:B ratio of 2.1:1. Park has always had erratic control, so perhaps Peterson can tinker with Park and have him return to his old form with the Dodgers. Or perhaps reuniting with Paul LoDuca will do the trick. With all of the poor numbers you ca throw out about Park he still signed for a very low amount of money, and could have quite the large upside if he can pitch anywhere close to his Dodger form. Although, I don't see much chance of that happening.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Balkman Should Learn From Wallace

A weak jump shot, a great rebounder, a lock-down defender, a mis-director of shots, a thief, a terrific leaper, likabillity, and the abillity to drive to the basket with no fear. What else do rookie Renaldo Balkman and 24 year old Gerald Wallace have in common? If you must know, both were born in July and grew up in home towns that start with the letter S. It's easy to see that Balkman's potential rivals that of Gerald Wallace.

Before I continue I am not suggesting that Balkman is as good as Wallace at this point, I am mearly suggesting that Balkman has the talent to become a Wallace type player.

Now that I have that out of the way allow me to continue with my point. In Gerald Wallace's first three seasons in the league with the talent filled Kings he struggled to find minutes. After playing only one year at Alabama Wallace averaged only 10:10 minutes a game while scoring 3.3 ppg, 2.1 rpg, .5 apg, .4 steals, .1 blocks, and a 49.5% from the free-throw line. Those numbers sound familiar? They should, because Balkman is having a very similar season, even better. In Balkman's 13:11 minutes a game he scores more points (3.6 ppg), grabs more rebounds (3.4 rpg), dishes the ball more (.7 apg), steals more balls (.7 a game), blocks more shots (.7 a game), and shoots a bit better from the free throw line (52.2%) then Wallace averaged in his first three seasons. Why compare Wallace's three season's to Balkman's one? There are two reasons. One, it was his only three seasons that he has played under 30 minutes. Two, since Wallace left Alabama after one year and Balkman left after his junior season the players are roughly the same age in the comparisons.

If you didn't see enough of Wallace dropping 42 on the Knicks last night then allow me to take a look at Wallace now. In 2005-2006 Wallace was a true fantasy stud. Wallace finished in the top ten in blocks a game (2.1) and was one of two (Josh Smith) SG/SF in the top ten. He also led all of basketball in steals a game at 2.5. In addition, Wallace had career highs in points (15.3 ppg), rebounds (7.5 rpg), and 53.8% from the floor, although most of his field goal attempts are on drives. This season Wallace hasn't been quite as effective, blocking only .8 shots a game (would lead the Knicks, however) and stealing less balls at 1.8 (would also lead the Knicks).

So lets go back to Renaldo Balkman this year. Since this is Balkman's rookie year we do not have any extended numbers to look at like we do with Wallace, so lets project. Obviously the following numbers would be altered if he played enough minutes, but for now this is the only way to compare at the moment. Wallace plays 33 minutes a game, so I'll project at the same amount of minutes a game. While shooting 43.1% from the field Balkman would be scoring 9.1 ppg, 9 rpg, stealing 1.8 balls, blocking 1.8 shots, and dishing the ball 1.8 times a game. Recognize those last three stats? They happen to all be the same or better than Wallace's numbers at the moment. Impressive, huh?

If Balkman compares like that to Wallace in his sixth year in the league than how does he compare to Wallace in his first three seasons? Well, if you project Wallace's three seasons to 33 minutes a game he was averaging 10.8 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 1.6 apg, 1.3 steals, and blocking only .3 shots a game. Despite Wallace's better scoring abillity Balkman is ahead in every other category shown.

Keep an eye on Balkman he could become the next great defender in the NBA.

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