The Knicks’ Defensive Stopper Dilemma

Originally I was going to write an article about David Lee’s minutes, or lack thereof. Even though Brian Cronin is the president of the “Free David Lee” club, I’m a card carrying member. This seemed like an especially good idea after Lee’s last game. The forward scored 20 points and led the Knicks in minutes, defensive rebounds, offensive rebounds, and free throws. Unfortunately Lee was given the playing time not due to his wonderful production, but because of the foul trouble of the Knicks frontcourt. Frye only managed to stay on the court for 10 minutes before earning his 6th foul; meanwhile Curry shot well (10-12 for 26 pts) but only grabbed a single rebound before hitting the bench for good in the fourth quarter.

Unfortunately for those that wanted to read more about David “Shallow Waters” Lee, my research led me in another direction. While some writers would have continued onward with their originally intended article, that’s not my style. I prefer letting the facts lead me, rather than distorting or ignoring them to fit my opinion. In any case I wanted to look at how Lee’s minutes affected the Knicks. So I singled out the games where he played a large amount of minutes & wanted to see how the team fared. To use as a comparison, I decided to do the same with another Knick: Jared Jeffries. And that’s when the data took me on a different journey.

Jeffries, Isiah’s most notable offseason signing, was brought to New York to boost the team’s porous defense. He missed the beginning of the year with an injury, and was suspended for 4 games when he returned. Due to his missed time, I have a good amount of data with and without Jeffries to get an idea of how he affects the team. In the 29 games that Jeffries played less than 20 minutes (or missed altogether), the Knicks defensive efficiency was 110.2. In the 12 games that the Knicks swingman played 20 or more minutes per game the Knicks defensive efficiency was 112.9. In other words with Jared Jeffries the Knicks allowed 2.7 points more per 100 possessions than they do without him. Unfortunately this isn’t the only data that shows Jeffries inability to improve the Knicks’ defense. 82games.com shows New York to be 5.3 points worse on defense when Jeffries was on the court.

The problem isn’t Jeffries per se. Last year the Wizards were 4.6 points better on defense with Jeffries on the court. And from what I’ve seen this year, Jeffries is a solid, but not spectacular, defender. So why aren’t the Knicks getting the same performance boost from their starting small forward?

Looking at Jeffries’ 82games.com page from last year, his top 3 most frequent floor units all included Brendan Haywood. At the time of the Jeffries signing, there was a general consensus that Haywood was Washington’s best defender. Pairing Jeffries with a strong defensive center in Haywood enhanced Jeffries’ effectiveness. This year, Jeffries has been paired most often with Eddy Curry, a notoriously poor help defender, and the results have been unfavorable.

Armed with this knowledge, the Knicks are in a quandary. Option one would be not to change their rotation. However it’s obvious that Jeffries alone isn’t enough to make New York a decent defensive team. Last year 20 players received at least 1 vote for defensive player of the year, and Jeffries wasn’t among them. He’s just not a lockdown on the level of Bowen, Artest, or Prince. Another option would be to try to emulate Washington’s success with Jeffries. Isiah could give more minutes to some of the defensive minded centers like Kelvin Cato or Jerome James. Unfortunately this would mean that it would cut into the minutes of Curry, Lee, and Frye. The third option is to limit Jeffries’ minutes. If Jeffries isn’t as productive defensively without a strong presence in the middle, then it doesn’t make sense to play him. The Knicks would be better off giving the minutes to David Lee and Balkman, who fared well when Jeffries was suspended.

At the time of this writing the Knicks are ranked 11th on offense, but only 26th on defense. If they seriously want to compete, even in a weak Atlantic, they’ll need to improve those numbers. Considering how bad they are, it’d probably be easier for New York to become more efficient on defensive. Jared Jeffries has shown that he can help on the defensive end, but the Knicks aren’t using him to his fullest extent.

Memo to Isiah: YOU Drafted David Lee

To: Isiah Thomas
From: Brian Cronin
Re: David Lee’s success

Isiah, it has come to my attention that perhaps you do not realize that it was you, in fact, who drafted David Lee with the 29th pick in the 2005 NBA Draft. You traded a good center to acquire the draft pick, and you made a very nice pick, choosing a player that 26 other teams turned down, while Lee is not a better player than the majority of those 26 other players (28 if we count your picks as well).

You did a good job.

Last year, Larry Brown was not willing to play David Lee much, which was a negative against Larry. Remember how much you disagreed with Larry, Isiah?

If you play David Lee more, he will play well, and you will both

A. Get credit for a great draft pick

and

B. Make Larry Brown look bad for not playing David Lee more last season.

21 minutes in a game your team barely lost (1 minute LESS than Jared Jeffries and his 4 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist and four personal fouls), in a game where Lee still managed to net 9 points and 9 board (FIVE of which on the offensive glass) is just inexcusable.

You do a good job motivating your team, Isiah. Last year, this game would have been over by the beginning of the fourth quarter, and would likely have been a lackluster 20 point loss. This year, the players try harder for you. And do you know which player seems to try really, REALLY hard?

David Lee.

Remember him?

You drafted him. YOU get credit if he does well.

Please play him more.

You will not regret it.

The Fifth Man

One of my favorite movies of all-time is Carol Reed’s The Third Man, where the film’s protagonist searches for the mysterious “third man” who was seen with a friend of his when his friend died.

I am reminded of this today, when I consider our search for the Fifth Man…the fifth guy who we think should close out the end of Knick games.

The other four are fairly easy…Marbury and Curry are the “stars”, they need to be out there. Jamal Crawford is the Knicks’ “closer” (whether that is a good idea or not, he has come through in the clutch enough times that he is going to be out there at the end of the game). David Lee’s rebounding skills are extremely valuable at the end of the game, so he’s a lock.

So those are the four – but who should be the fifth?

Channing Frye and Quentin Richardson are the real candidates, with Renaldo Balkman and Jared Jeffries being the outside shots.

I will be frank, I do not think I have a personal preference between Q and Frye. They are both good shooters. Q is the better defender, but Frye is taller. I think it is a real crapshoot.

What do you folks think?

Free David Lee?

Mike Lupica must have hit his head before he wrote this week’s column, because he had a good point in the beginning of the column, where he points out that David Lee is eighth in the NBA in rebounds per game, while playing the fewest minutes out of all the eight.

Kevin Garnett MIN 39.0 12.6
Dwight Howard ORL 36.0 12.6
Marcus Camby DEN 32.5 12.1
Carlos Boozer UTA 37.0 11.8
Tyson Chandler NOK 32.7 11.3
Emeka Okafor CHA 35.5 11.0
Jermaine O’Neal IND 35.8 10.5
David Lee NY 30.0 10.4

And in the Knicks’ last loss, Lee barely played until it was too late.

Lupica made the argument that Isiah is just trying to make his free agent signing look good, but I think that is wholly unfair, as A. Isiah gets credit FOR Lee – HE drafted him! So if Isiah was just looking for things to make him look good, Lee would be it and B. Isiah has no problem with not playing Jerome James.

Still, Lupica is correct (man, that just sounds wrong, doesn’t it?) in that it is Jared Jeffries who David Lee is competing with. I think Isiah just really likes Jeffries, and believes that he is the better defensive player, and more important to have on the floor.

Still, Jeffries didn’t help much during the third quarter of the Charlotte game.

Isiah said after the game, “We ran into a hot team. They shot well, they made shots. They did the correct things, they made plays. I don’t have any excuses other than the other team that we played tonight, they were hot. They did everything right.” I understand that Isiah is just trying to put a good spin on things, but the Knicks defense was just AWFUL.

Also, while Quentin Richardson really improved his defense last year, during the previous game, Breen and Clyde were calling Q the Knicks “best perimeter defender.” What is Jeffries, then?

Finally, I love that Steph is playing so much better, but 42 minutes is a crapload of minutes for a guy who has looked tired at times this year. I’d prefer not to see that. I’d like to see them try starting Q at the 2.

Stat Happy

This year at the CourtsideTimes.Net we’ve been concentrating on the news content, as opposed to original articles. That’s because typically a statistical piece takes longer to write than your average article, and most of the people involved in CTN have their own blogs/lives to worry about. Nonetheless this week we’re having a bevvy of articles.

Gabe Farkas weighs in on the effect the new ball had on the league, while Kevin Pelton looks at how a midseason coaching swap has changed the Memphis Grizzlies. If that’s not enough to tickle your number lovin’ noggin, then later on in the week I should have the latest update to OTTER, with a new #1 team.

Treading Water

I think, going to the West, 2-3 seemed like a realistic expectation, although 3-2 was clearly the hope. Basically, the Knicks are a pretty bad team, which means they should be able to beat bad teams (Seattle and Portland), lose to good teams (Clippers and Suns) and toss ups against other pretty bad teams (Sacramento).

However, 2-3 also brings the Knicks to only a game out of first place, which is basically the same place they were when they left on the trip. Treading water, but at least they are not drowning!!

Meanwhile, Steve Francis’ time as a Knick appears to be basically be over, as the Knicks have allowed him to go to Houston to rehab his knee with John Lucas. Francis says he wants to stick around, but by the Knicks allowing him to leave the team to rehab, that doesn’t seem all that likely (if he was actually part of their plans, can you really see them letting him leave the team like that?).

Here’s an interesting question…with this particular lineup, who would you rather be the guard who gets benched when Nate Robinson returns – Mardy Collins or Nate himself? I’ve been really impressed with Collins in the little time he’s played, and with this specific group of players, he might be a better option (specifically his ball-handling and his defense) – but Robinson has such talent – it too much to bench, I guess. But what do you folks think?