The Darkhorse MVP Candidate

With less than a 1/3 of the season left, it’s time to start thinking about who might end up with the MVP award. I think I’ve discovered a darkhorse candidate that might walk away with the award. He’s been toiling in obscurity in the mid-west, and many of you may not have even heard of him. His name is LeBron James.

Unlike the front runner for the award, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James doesn’t have that last second killer instinct, which is likely to cost him a few votes. This non-coastal newcomer has a different strategy that seems to be ruffling the feathers of the NBA establishment. Kobe has been following the tradition of allowing the opponent to stay close in games, only to make a shot in the final seconds to secure the victory. Instead James is attempting to win by scoring in the first 47.5 minutes of the game. The difference can be viewed by using the advanced stat called “points per game”. LeBron James leads the league with 29.8, while Kobe is a comfortable 4th with 27.9. James’ early game strategy shows up in even more obscure stats like rebounds per game (7.1 to 5.4), assist per game (8.5 to 4.6), blocked shots (1.0 to 0.3), and FG% (50.2 to 46.3).

I’m sure the mainstream media is barely aware of these new fangled stats (since they tend to vote solely by watching ESPN highlights), and James’ lack of dramatic shots will certainly hurt him in the polls. Another strike against him is his lack of having a superior surrounding cast. Bryant’s ability to whine about his teammates, threaten to leave to a rival team, ask for a trade, and force the team to break-up its dynasty has made the franchise build a team around him with the best talent available.

The best LeBron James can muster is to wear a Yankee hat. No wonder Kobe has an All Star center in Pau Gasol, former DPOY Ron Artest, and the most winningest coach of our generation Phil Jackson. Meanwhile James has a 37 year old Shaquille O’Neal and that guy on the Simpsons who is always trying to kill Bart. The Cavs would be a middling .500 team with Kobe in lieu of LeBron, a clear sign of James’ lack of team building skills.

I might be wide-eyed thinking the media might actually vote for the statistically superior player, but despite all the other evidence the numbers are clear on this one. It might be unpopular to say, but LeBron James should win the MVP award this year.

Why I Hate…

[After Saturday night’s defeat against Cleveland, the self loathing Knicks fan comes out and spews some venom.]

Chris Duhon
Well there’s the obvious statistical reasons. Players are supposed to get more efficient when they shoot less. Duhon averages 8.7 pts/36 with a TS% of 48.0%. Just to put that in perspective, Jared Jeffries scores 6.6 pts/36 with a TS% of 50.7%. Yes Jared Jeffries is more efficient than Duhon. If you gave Duhon’s extra shots to Jeffries, their numbers might be identical. Here’s a note to NBA players: if you can be compared to Jared Jeffries on offense, you suck.

Watching Duhon drive the lane is like watching your least mentally stable friend trying to pick up the most drunk girl in the bar. Both are way in over their heads, and the results are going to be ugly. I’m dumbfounded at how many shot attempts in the paint from point blank Duhon passes out of. It’s like Duhon’s bigger brothers were Ben Wallace and Josh Smith, and he’s been irreparably scared from scoring inside.

What sealed the deal was Duhon’s actions with 3:12 left in the Cleveland game. New York was down by 20 at half time, but they clawed their way back to a 3 point deficit. Nate has the ball on the top of the key & Duhon is on the wing calling for the ball. Nate gives him the ball and without hesitation Duhon launches up a three. Of all the Knicks on the court, I was dumbfounded that Duhon would demand the ball then take the last shot given his poor offensive play and his unselfishness. Was this a way for him to try to get back his starting job through heroics? In any case the shot careens off the rim and the Cavs will hold onto the victory with a little help from…

Al Harrington
I’ll give you this, when the Knicks offensive is reeling and I want them to just score a freakin basket already! I hope the ball lands in Al Harrington’s hands. Yes I received some slack for being pro-Harrington at times, because all the guy does is score, but unlike Duhon he’s not awful at it. A TS% of 53.8% is good for a guy that averages 21.5 pts/36.

Saturday night I watched the second half from a bar, and had to give back stories for some of the Knicks to my wife. When Harrington got the ball I said two things. First is that sometimes they play “You Can Call Me Al” by Paul Simon after he scores (she likes Paul Simon). Second is that when he gets the ball he’s not likely to give it back. And the latter is what kills me about Al. Everyone watching a Knick game knows when Al Harrington is going to shoot; when he gets the ball and makes that quick first move. That’s it the ball is going up – no matter how many defenders converge on him or how many of his teammates are open.

So with 1:51 left in last night’s game, with the Knicks down 5 and needing a score Harrington gets the ball and puts up one of the ugliest shots I’ve ever seen. If I recall correctly, Lebron James is guarding him and Al wildly chucks it off the glass. That’s it game over. Having Al Harrington on your team is the proverbial “he who lives by the sword, dies by the sword.”

Mike D’Antoni
When cornered by my wife Saturday night, I admitted that I like D’Antoni and that I think he’s one of the league’s best coaches. But I added “you have to deal with his quirks.” Now every coach has his quirks, and I’m fine with most of D’Antoni’s. Sure I’d like his rotation to be longer, to have him use a 7 foot center, or perhaps for him to communicate with his players on rotation issues. But he’s a good coach with a solid offensive and cares about defense. Even D’Antoni’s harshest critics have to admit that he’s better than the past few Knicks coaches.

However you have to wonder why D’Antoni had Harrington and Duhon on the floor for the final minutes. On the bench was Danilo Gallinari and David Lee. Gallo had 13 points on 10 shots, with 5 assists. Lee had 5 turnovers, but still managed 20 points on 14 shots, so why not pair him with Hill in lieu of Harrington? But more importantly where is the accountability with Duhon and Harrington? The pair wrecked what could have been a great comeback with lousy decision making. And they frequently make the same mistakes over and over again. Why not let them reflect on their mistakes with some extra bench time? Perhaps sticking them in the doghouse for a few games might prevent another loss from boneheaded mistakes.

2010 Game Thread: Knicks @ Cavs

The Cleveland Cavaliers are statistically the best team in the league. Their expected win percentage (based on point differential) is .743, which is slightly worse than their actual win percentage of .784. They excel at shooting percentage on both ends of the floor (2nd offensive eFG, 1st defensive eFG) and also defensive rebounding (2nd). The Cavs biggest weakness is turnovers on both ends of the floor, although on the defensive side it’s probably a result of their scheme to stay at home instead of gamble for the big play.

There’s not much to say for the Knicks these days. D’Antoni started Nate Robinson and brought Chris Duhon off the bench, but New York still couldn’t defeat a Buck squad sans Redd and Bogut. In that game Danilo Gallinari was a non-factor on offense, not making any shots until 8:13 left in the game. Robinson shot poorly from the floor (3-12, 0-1 3P) but salvaged a horrific shooting night by earning 7 points from the charity stripe (13 points total). On the bright side, he had 7 assists without a turnover. New York had 8 blocked shots, but that belies how poor they were on defense in the paint. New York had so many blocked shots, because Milwaukee frequently brought the action to the paint.

At a time when the team had a soft spot in their schedule and a low playoff seed was within reach, the Knicks went 4-10. In their next 10 games there are certainly some winnable ones (Sacramento, Chicago twice, Oklahoma, Memphis, Washington, and Milwaukee again), but they’re going to face some great teams down the stretch. New York will meet Cleveland twice, Boston thrice, Portland, Utah, Orlando, Dallas, and San Antonio. Save for a miracle turnaround, New York is probably out of playoff contention.

System Guys And All Star Games

Over the past few years the change in David Lee’s game has been unmistakable. Since his rookie year he’s nearly doubled his volume scoring, going from 11.0 to 18.9 pts/36. In that course of time Lee’s reputation among the mainstream has changed as well. He’s gone from a garbage man who could only score by put-backs, to a system guy that succeeds only due to the style of play. With Lee up for consideration as an All Star this year, the knock on him is that D’Antoni’s offense is inflating his stats.

And I agree.

You have to take context into view when making these kinds of decisions. Hence why the fans, using their own keen sense of observation, almost voted in Tracy McGrady. T-Mac certainly hasn’t benefited from his coach this year, and in fact the team has gone out of their way to prevent McGrady from being an All Star. When you account for that, McGrady is a shoe to represent the West. Similarly in the East, Iverson had to leave his first team (Memphis) and hook on with Philly to get a starting role to make the All Star team. Anyone good enough for start for the 15-28 Sixers is surely not getting help from their team’s style of play.

But I feel as if there’s still some unfinished work with regards to ridding “system guys” from the All Star team. The league’s premiere system guy, Kobe Bryant, will be making his 12th mid-season appearance. The Lakers’ method of getting some of the league’s best talent makes Bryant look much better than he actually is. They even hired the NBA’s greatest “system coach”, Phil Jackson, who inflates his coaching record by using the league’s best players to win multiple championships.

Another guy that’s getting a free pass is LeBron James. James is leading the league in points per game, but that’s because the Cavs run a system where they let him shoot whenever he wants. James averages 20.1 shots per game, and only one other Cavalier takes more than 8.1. First in the league in field goal attempts per game, is of course the aforementioned Kobe Bryant with 22.9. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that LeBron and Kobe are going to have their stats amplified with that kind of offense.

So I’m with the mainstream on this one. No “system guys” on the All Star team. Sorry Kobe, LeBron, David, you don’t get my vote. Let’s go T-Mac & AI!

Cavs 100 – Knicks 91

Not with a bang, but a whimper.

LeBronFest 2K9 has come and gone as Citizen 23 nonchalantly tossed up a jumper-heavy 32-9-8 against a surprisingly listless Knicks’ side.  The King seemed fully aware of the moment, firing up long shots early, often, and with impressive efficiency (8 of 9 on mid-rangers, according to ESPN Stats and Information).  On the rare occasions that he elected to drive, he met predictably little resistance and converted easily.  The Knicks actually managed to contest a number of his jumpers, but their defense had little impact and LeBron showed himself to be every bit the superstar that has us salivating for next summer.

Gallo, Hughes, and Lee each had solid offensive outings, and Jordan Hill even stopped by and showed off a versatile offensive game in an abbreviated appearance.  In the end, however, sloppy passing, poor shot selection, and a particularly ugly chapter in the ever-more-puzzling story of Al Harrington’s 2009-10 season doomed the Knicks to a defeat that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score would indicate.

And so we are left to sit and wait and dream of a summer that seems too far away.  At some point next year, LeBron will return to play his next game at Madison Square Garden, and he either will be wearing a Knicks jersey or he won’t.  We have no new information, no new arguments, no new reasons to believe or doubt that there is a headband-wearing savior on the horizon for the Knicks.

20 players took the floor at some point in tonight’s Knicks/Cavs game, but only one of them really mattered.  Not on the grandest level (in which ending world hunger matters) or on the smallest level (in which it matters to me that David Lee is emerging as an increasingly aggressive offensive player on what he has realized is, for better or worse, his team) but on the NBA’s macro level — a level on which the Knicks have not meant anything in quite a while.

On this night, they looked like a group of guys waiting for someone to come along and change that, and not a group that had any confidence in their ability to change it themselves.   I wish I disagreed with them.

2010 Poll: Who Will Win the East?

Cleveland Cavaliers (Vegas odds to win title: 3:1)
Despite failing to reach the Finals last year, the Cavs remain the favorite to win the East. Over the summer, Cleveland swapped Ben Wallace for Shaq, and while the Big Diesel is merely a fraction of his former dominant self, he’s miles ahead in productivity over Wallace. But the Cavs didn’t stop there, they also augmented their defense with Jamario Moon and Leon Powe. Last year Cleveland was unable to stop Howard in the middle, or preventing both Lewis and Turkoglu from torching them from the perimeter. This year they should be better equipped against those types of matchups.

Orlando Magic (5:1)
After shocking many with their playoff victory last year over Cleveland, Orlando made one major change this off season. The Magic lost Hedo Turkoglu in free agency, but managed to replace him with Vince Carter. This certainly is an upgrade by talent, but it remains to be seen how Carter fits in with Howard and co. Additionally Orlando managed to keep productive backup center Marcin Gortat and netted Brandon Bass in a double whammy free agency scuffle with the Mavericks. Howard was miffed last year at his lack of touches down the stretch late in games, and this year any late game heroics will likely begin with the ball in Carter’s hands. If Stan Van Gundy isn’t his team’s own worst enemy, Orlando will have enough firepower on both ends of the court to vie for a championship.

Boston Celtics (9:2)
Just two years ago the Boston Celtics dominated the league with 66 regular season victories and a title run. But last year injuries to Garnett and Powe thwarted any playoff hopes. Like the other two Eastern powerhouses, the Celtics didn’t stay put in the off season. Boston replaced Powe with Rasheed Wallace, and ‘Sheed will help the team cope defensively against Shaq and Howard while spacing the floor on offense. The line on the Celtics opened at 9:1, but enough money has come in to propel them above the Magic. Given the choice, I would put the Celtics third back given the team’s age and lack of depth. If the ancient core of Garnett, Allen, Pierce, and Wallace all aren’t upright for May & June, Boston won’t make it past the second round this year.

Everyone else (starting at 20:1)
The field consists of a few minor players that are hoping for Cinderella seasons. Atlanta has scratched at the cusp of the upper Eastern teams, but always seem to fall short and Jamal Crawford isn’t the person to put them over the edge. Miami is hoping that youngsters Beasley and Chalmers combined with oldster Jermaine O’Neal provide enough of a supporting cast for Dwyane Wade. Meanwhile the Wizards are hoping that a core of Arenas, Butler, Jamison, and Miller will put enough points on the boards to offset their team’s lack of defense. Last year Philly was the talk of the off season with their abduction of Elton Brand in free agency. Perhaps Eddie Jordan can find a way to make a most of their talent.


2009 NBA Draft Day

REMINDER: Don’t forget to enter the KnickerBlogger.Net 2009 Draft Contest before the draft starts!

With the draft less than 12 hours away some recent developments have changed how the night might proceed for the Knicks. Most pertinent is Minnesota trading for the #5 pick. There were rumors that New York was looking to acquire this asset from Washington, but with the pick traveling north that option has vanished. More importantly this move might affect who is available when the Knicks turn comes around. Originally it was assumed that Washington would take PF Jordan Hill with this selection. However it’s unlikely that the Timberwolves will take him because they already have two young frontcourt players in Jefferson and Love. They sent PG Foye and GF Miller in the deal, and with a guard heavy draft it’s likely that Minnesota will select two guards. Therefore it’s possible that both players Minnesota takes tonight are ones the Knicks were targeting.

There have been a few other rumors that New York was trying to add a late first round pick, but as of this writing nothing has been made official. With a draft that is more deep than top heavy, the pick could net a rough gem like Austin Daye, Marcus Thornton, or Nick Calathes.

Chad Ford reported that the Knicks are likely to send Quentin Richardson to Memphis in exchange for Darko Milicic in the next few days. This is a smart short term move for the Knicks. For the first time in years, the Knicks will have a shotblocking center, something they sorely lacked in the Isiah Thomas era. Milicic has averaged 2.6 blk/36, but his other numbers have disappointing. Last year Darko’s TS% was a respectable 53.3, but that was about 50 points above his career average so it’s possible that his good shooting was just a career fluke. He’s never averaged more than 24 minutes per game over the course of a season, so it’s unlikely that Milicic will earn a starting spot. However he’ll provide some much needed interior defense to a team that is starving for it. Milicic has only one year left on his deal, so it will not affect the team’s 2010 plans.

In other NBA news, the Hawks have netted ex-Knick Jamal Crawford, while the Cavs are on the verge of grabbing Shaquille O’Neal. The latter deal is quite interesting from a number of perspectives. Cleveland is hoping that adding Shaq will help fuel a Cavalier championship and keep LeBron from leaving via free agency. From Shaq’s perspective he gets to match up against rival Dwight Howard and Magic Coach Stan Van Gundy, who he has feuded with in the press. And should the Cavs beat the Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals this year, Shaq will go up against the Lakers and another rival Kobe Bryant.

Finally yours truly appeared on a Hardwood Paroxysm’s podcast last night for about 10 minutes, answering questions about the draft & the upcoming season.

*** BREAKING NEWS (1:30pm): Yahoo reports the Knicks acquired the Lakers’ first round pick (#29). According to the article the Knicks are looking to target a big man with this pick.