he True Fans Bleed Blue and Orange: April 2007h

Friday, April 20, 2007

Despite Rough Season Knicks Have Smooth Future

The Knicks ended the season on a 4-15 skid that ultimately kept them out of the lowly Eastern Conference playoffs. At one point towards the end of the year the Knicks had firmly planted themselves in the playoff race, taking a one game lead over the eighth spot. However, suddenly the resilient Knicks were not so resilient anymore as New York dropped from eighth place all the way to 12th place. Their record was tied with the young and talented Bobcats, and was behind the 76ers who all but gave up on their season when they dealt away Allen Iverson only to find themselves playing some of the best basketball in the Eastern Conference in the second half. The Knicks finished an incredible seven games behind the Orlando Magic. I say incredible simply because of how far the Knicks fell, and the teams they finished behind. However, instead of diving into what the Knicks should have done to close out the season (after all they would have had to go 11-8 to make the playoffs in those same 19 games) lets look at what the Knicks did do and what we can look forward to in the future.

In many facets of the game the Knicks had a much much much more successful year than they did in '05-'06, but obviously that is not the greatest of accomplishments. Below is a combination of the positives that came from the '06-'07 campaign.
Stephon Marbury's play:
Anybody who watched the Knicks play consistently this year knows that Marbury has become a better all around player than he has ever been in his career. Despite having virtually the same season in terms of numbers that he had under Larry Brown (16.3 ppg under Brown and 16.4 ppg under Isiah) Marbury was a defensive stopper for the Knicks. One play that sticks out in my mind came against the Bobcats in the David Lee tip-in game. Marbury stole the ball from the Bobcats and then called a timeout with 0.1 seconds remaining, which led to Lee's tip in. Not only was Marbury a much better defensive player but in the second half of the season he began to discover how to score without being the focal point of the offense. Pretty much the entire season the Knicks plan had been to get the ball to Curry. The first half of the season Marbury averaged only 14.1 ppg, while in the second half (only 22 games because of injuries) Marbury averaged 21.7 ppg including a 37.9% from downtown.

Eddy Curry's improved offense (defense?):
At the end of the '05-'06 season Eddy Curry did not progress at all for the Knicks, and Knicks fans were beginning to call the Curry trade one of the worst in history. With the Bulls seemingly getting two top ten picks for a center who can't score or play defense. Well, this year Curry at least showed he can score. Curry finished 3.4 ppg higher than his career high in points (16.1) at 19.5 a game, and his offense quickly made Knicks fans think of better times. Nearly making the All-star team Curry carried the Knicks on more than a few occasions this season. Although at times it was an adventure for the Knicks to get Curry the ball whenever they did the majority of the time Curry would put it in. A blessing in disguise for Curry may have come when Crawford went down for the season. Crawford would give Curry 2-3 alley-oops a game which would get his game going, and increase his point totals. With Crawford out, the Knicks other guards were not the best at making lob passes, and Curry struggled. Without the extra 4-6 points Curry received from Crawford the Knicks had to come up with new ways for Curry to get his points. Something they did successfully, and now if Crawford returns for the Knicks next season Curry will be even more deadly. Curry scored 21.2 ppg in April next year you can add 2-4 ppg on lob passes alone. Oh, and did you see that nice little jump shot Curry had going the last few games of the year, if that develops over the summer, which it should, the Knicks could have one of the elite scoring big men in the East. Albeit all of this offense comes with Curry's lack of defensive prowess, but he is getting better defensively. After all he did have a career high in rebounds this year by a full rebound a game.

David Lee's Rebounding:
"Crawford the jumper, he misses, but David Lee is there for the tip-in!" How many times did we hear that in the first half this year? David Lee was there for the Knicks the entire first half of the year, and when he went down the Knicks struggled to rebound the basketball as well as they did when he was in the lineup, for obvious reasons. Lee is one of the best rebounders in all of the NBA, averaging 10.4 boards a game in just under 30 minutes. Lee has become one of the most beloved Knicks, and every time he does another thing well he becomes that much more liked. After winning the Rookie-Sophomore game MVP the Knicks have a lot to look forward to in David Lee, even if he can't make a jump shot.

Renaldo Balkman:
For the second straight year Isiah Thomas plucked good players out of the draft. When Balkman was drafted he was immediately met with boos because the New York fans expected the Knicks to select future Net, Marcus Williams. However, as Balkman later said in an interview "they just didn't know". We know now. After struggling to find playing time the first half of the year Balkman was given an opportunity with all of the Knicks injuries in the second half. Balkman finished the year fifth in RP48 (rebounds per 48 minutes) for all rookies with 13.3 boards. In addition Balkman was sixth amongst rookies with .84 steals a game and fourth in SP48 (steals per 48 minutes). In addition, Balkman was seventh amongst rookies with .6 blocks a game and with 2 blocks per 48 minutes. When comparing Balkman's rookie stats to another fan favorite, David Lee, it is easy to see how much better Balkman can get by next year alone. Balkman averaged 4.9 ppg, 4.3 rpg, .6 apg, and shot at a 56.7% while David Lee averaged 5.2 ppg, 4.5 rpg, .6 apg, and 57.7% in his rookie year. Plus Balkman adds the steals and blocks that Lee does not offer. No matter how impressive Balkman's stats are, and they are quite impressive for a rookie with his playing time, Balkman's impact goes beyond stats. As one of the better defenders on the team Balkman can stop opponents, and bring a swagger to the Knicks. I have added a video of when the Knicks played the Cleveland Cavs and Balkman was guarding LeBron James. James has obviously cemented himself as one of the top five players in the NBA, and because of his status in the league he has the fear factor over some players, specifically rookies. Not Renaldo Balkman.

Mardy Collins' Surprising ability to score:
Balkman's rookie partner in crime was lights out the last few weeks of the season. In fact, Collins was so good that Clyde Frazier saw a little bit of himself in Mardy, and he wants to spend time with Collins during the summer to help him strengthen his game. Mardy's overall stats are deceiving because before the all-star break Collins averaged only 4 minutes a game, which brings down his averages. The only month where Collins consistently showed his talents was the last month, where he started all nine games. In those nine games Collins averaged 14.8 ppg, 5.8 apg, 6.7 rpg, and 2.0 spg. If Collins averaged those numbers for a full season the Knicks would have a rookie of the year winner on their hands. Obviously it is much harder to average what Collins did for a whole year than it is for a month, but it shows you the ceiling Collins has. If Collins can develop a semi-decent jump shot over the summer the Knicks may have gotten their second straight steal at the end of the first round. Maybe Isiah knew what he was doing after all.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Don't Give Up On The Knicks, Yet

With nine games remaining the Knicks are 2.5 games out of the eighth seed and 3.0 games back of the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. The odds are against the Knicks, but do not give up on the season yet. Of the nine games remaining four of them are against poor teams the Bucks, the Bobcats, the 76ers, and the Timberwolves. The Knicks have displayed a lac of focus against the teams in the lower class of the NBA, such as the Sonics and the Blazers. All four of the games I just mentioned are absolute must wins, and should they lose any fo those games the season may very well be over.

When looking at the Magic's schedule (only have eight games remaining) they also have four "gimme" games, against the Bucks, 76ers, Celtics, and Grizzlies. Therefore, this makes the "gimme" games for the Knicks that much more important, because if the Magic slip up just once the Knicks must be there to jump. The Nets, on the other hand only have one "gimme" game, against the Hawks. The Nets schedule is obviously much more demanding and the last week and a half of the season becomes that much more important when the Nets play the Knicks twice. This is yet another reason not to give up on the season. The Knicks need to cut the Nets lead over them to 2.0 games, and suddenly if they can beat the Nets twice, they played two close games already against them this year, they are tied for the playoffs, assuming the Pacers don't outplay the Knicks, not likely to happen.

The Pacers lead the Knicks by only .5 game and although they have the easiest schedule of all five teams the Pacers have not played consistently good basketball since January. I have talked about the "gimme" games for each team, but what about the other games? Well, for the Knicks and Nets I already mentioned the two games they play each other, and for the Knicks all that leaves is Toronto, Chicago, and Detroit. The Knicks beat Detroit earlier this year in triple overtime, but don't count on it to happen again, expect a loss that day. But the Raptors, a team without Bargnani and Garbajosa, can be very vulnerable against the Knicks, considering the Knicks usually lose to 3pt shooting, and those two players are two of the Raptors best. Plus, the Raptors have already clinched their division, which means their starters will not be playing normal minutes, and will not be as motivated as normal. The Bulls have also already clinched the division, but they will likely be playing for seedings. The Knicks also beat the Bulls 103-92 in late December. The Knicks will need to win at least one of those games, preferably two.

NJ still plays Indiana once which will only help the Knicks, because at least one team they are trailing will lose that game, which will allow them to catch up, or strengthen a lead when those two match up. The Nets also play Chicago twice, Washington twice, and the LeBron's once. If the Nets go 4-5 and I'd consider their last nine games a success, but I wouldn't be on it. The Magic play Detroit, Toronto, Miami, and Washington. Their last two games of the year are against Washington and Miami, respectively. The Knicks hold the tie breaker over the Magic so in effect the Knicks only need to play tie the Magic to make it over them into the playoffs.

The Knicks need to start rooting for the Wizards, the Cavs, and the Heat to do some dirty work for them in order for them to have a chance. But judging by how sporadic the Nets, Magic, and Pacers have played this year I'm betting we can count on them.

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