Wednesday, July 18, 2012
My initial reaction was one of shock and disappointment. How could the Knicks let Lin, a player who showed enough promise to deserve a decent contract to return to the team, walk without getting anything in return? I have let my emotions about this decision stew for a day and, now that I'm thinking clearly, I still can't understand what the Knicks did here.
My first issue is the Knicks' reluctance to outright sign Lin once an arbitrator gave him his early Bird rights and their insistence on letting another team set the market. Instead of offering a deal in the neighborhood of four years, $24 million evenly spread across the length of the contract, they let Houston backload an offer sheet that doomed the Knicks' luxury tax predicament.
That was owner James Dolan's first mistake in this situation. We all know he's made many in the past, but we can overlook those, right? The Knicks insisted they would match Houston's initial offer sheet to Lin, so everything was good in the world of New York basketball.
Then came the absolute poison pill. With knowledge the Knicks would match, Lin secretly flew to Las Vegas to rework the contract, removing the fourth year and earning a $15 million salary in year three that would cost the Knicks anywhere between $30 million and $45 million in salary and luxury tax.
At this point, I was on the fence about keeping Lin. The same player that rejuvenated Madison Square Garden just a few months ago with his ability to finish at the basket, create opportunities for other players and take over multiple games with Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire sidelined now went behind the back of the team that gave him his big shot. It became a legitimate question of whether Lin was worth the money.
Forget that the Knicks would have cut Lin before he exploded onto the scene against the Nets in early February. That doesn't matter because if it wasn't for Mike D'Antoni giving the kid a shot nobody would know about him, right?
Wrong, apparently. When I heard about Lin's underhanded move, two thoughts ran through my mind:
Thought one: "What a scumbag! Just a few days ago, he complained that the Knicks didn't publicly say they would match the offer. Then when they did, he went and got a different offer that essentially punched his ticket out of New York. Jerk!"
Thought two: "What a savvy business move. For such an unproven player to get himself $15 million for one season, he must have gone to Harvard or something."
Then on Tuesday, word broke that the Knicks would be able to relieve some of the luxury tax hit that would stem from Lin's contract by using the stretch provision loophole in the new CBA. Essentially, they could cut Lin after two years if they deemed him undeserving of his $15 million third year and spread that cost over the next three years, limiting the luxury tax hit and most of the inherent risk associated with the contract.
Upon hearing this, it made up my mind that the Knicks needed to match this offer. In the worst case scenario the Knicks would be paying an okay point guard $25 million over five seasons and, while that scenario means he would only be on the roster for two presumably disappointing years, he would surely bring in enough revenue to offset the extra salary and luxury tax for the remaining three years.
And that was the WORST case scenario. The best case? Jason Kidd puts down the bottle and shows Lin the ropes. Lin cuts down his turnover rate, develops an average left hand and improves his lateral quickness and ability to keep opposing point guards in front of him on the defensive end.
In that case, he would be worth every penny and more over the first two seasons and likely worth the third as well. Even in an in-between, non-extreme case, matching the offer still would have made the most sense for the Knicks.
I understand that the team got incredible value buying low on Raymond Felton after a lost season where he came in out of shape after a lockout. Felton wasn't the only player to be affected by the lockout and I think he will come back this season and split the difference between his 17 PPG, 9 APG season in 2010-11 and his 11 PPG, 6.5 APG season in 2011-12.
To get a likely 14 PPG, 7 APG point guard for virtually nothing is a win no matter how you shake it. And while I believe Lin to be a better player than Felton, the amount they would have had to pay him does beg the question of whether matching the offer was really worth it.
But from a basketball standpoint and a global marketing standpoint, Lin should have been matched even with Felton on board. Lin is tall for a point guard at 6-3 and is a very adept scorer off the wing; it's very feasible that him, Felton, Kidd and J.R. Smith could share a backcourt and be extremely effective in their own ways even with three of them being point guards.
Lin is also four years younger than Felton and while I don't feel like his upside is that of an All-Star point guard, I see no reason why he can't vault himself into the second tier of NBA point guards and be an above-average player. If Goran Dragic got $8.5 million a year from the Suns, surely Lin is worth slightly less, right? Especially considering his marketing appeal in a city highly populated with Asian-Americans.
Wrong again. At least according to James Dolan, who for the first time in his life refused to open up his wallet to try to help his team win. It's tough to believe that there was any good reason to let Lin go once the stretch provision was uncovered, but Dolan's apparent spite at being "played" by a Harvard graduate was too much for him to overcome.
For the Knicks sake, they better hope that Lin has similar troubles overcoming his deficiencies as a player and the burden that comes with a big contact and no longer flying under the radar. If he doesn't, the Knicks will watch him blossom in Houston rather than on the NBA's biggest stage in Madison Square Garden. And Dolan's already-plummeting stock will fall even further, along with the Knicks' credibility, record and future.
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Before anything else, I'd like to apologize for my prolonged hiatus from the blogosphere. Full-time employment will do that to a person, but this news is too big for me not to thrown in my two cents.
Mike D'Antoni resigned today amidst rumors he was on the hot seat after the Knicks' six-game losing streak. Five of those six losses were on the road and all six were against teams currently in the playoffs, but the Knicks have looked terrible (to put it bluntly) since Carmelo Anthony returned from injury.
Is D'Antoni to blame? In a word, no. Is Anthony to blame? That question cannot be answered in just one word. Many people are pointing the finger at Anthony, whose return has destroyed the chemistry the Knicks enjoyed (against bad basketball teams) when Jeremy Lin was taking over the city.
I've said before that D'Antoni was a square peg in a round hole once Anthony joined the Knicks. D'Antoni's system is predicated on spacing the floor which might as well be a foreign language to Anthony, who would rather clog the post, show his frustration when he doesn't get the ball (while well covered) and force Lin to make one-on-one moves to the basket.
Jeremy Lin is not a player who thrives in isolation or by playing a one-on-one game. Just like team play was contagious when Lin was leading the Knicks without Anthony, isolation has also been contagious since Anthony returned. I hear people claiming Lin is now nothing more than a future backup.
Yes, these are the same people who were lavishly heaping praise on the young point guard a month ago. It's easy to forget that Lin is essentially a rookie; there will be growing pains and he will continue to improve. There is no reason to think he cannot be a legit starting point guard in the NBA.
Back to D'Antoni and Anthony, there is also the purported rift between the player and the coach. These two didn't mesh from the start and D'Antoni (along with Donnie Walsh) was against trading for Anthony in the first place. What a great way to start a productive relationship.
While Anthony while hurt, the team thrived without him. You would think D'Antoni would use his power as head coach to sit Anthony when he wasn't playing within the confines of an offense that was highly successful without him. Instead, D'Antoni caved to the star that would eventually cost him his job.
The problem is that without D'Antoni, the Knicks are no better than they were before. Mike Woodson is a defensive-minded coach, which leads many to believe the Knicks' defense will improve. Sorry, but that's not happening.
In order to succeed on defense, you need defensive-minded players. The Knicks have a few - Tyson Chandler, Iman Shumpert, Jared Jeffries and even Josh Harrellson - but all of them besides Chandler are not key players on this team. I personally believe Shumpert should start over Landry Fields because the Knicks' first unit needs a good perimeter defender; hopefully Woodson agrees.
When Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire are on the court together, the New York defense is a complete and utter failure. Stoudemire struggles with assignments and rotations, while Anthony struggles with effort and desire. The most frustrating thing of all is that Anthony has the talent to be an above-average defender, something I can't say with confidence about Stoudemire.
If Woodson can get Anthony to buy in on the defensive end, then the Knicks should improve. But expecting that to happen is like expecting Baron Davis to do something besides hold the ball at the top of the key for 10-15 seconds before taking an awful shot. The same Baron Davis who supposedly lobbied D'Antoni for more playing time (scroll to the bottom) so he could stray from the offense to feed Anthony and Stoudemire. What a joke.
That article also discusses the fact that D'Antoni lost the locker room, particularly because he didn't force Anthony to buy in by benching him when he stepped outside the system. D'Antoni had also been juggling multiple new pieces in the past month, which led to inconsistent rotations and inconsistent playing time for much of the roster.
From my perspective, it's hard to blame any of the Knicks' recent struggles on D'Antoni (or even Anthony for that matter). He was put into an impossible situation with unrealistic expectations; take a talented yet selfish player who won't buy into the system and doesn't play defense, combine him with multiple other defensive liabilities and win a championship.
Mike D'Antoni is a good basketball mind and he will be a head coach in the NBA next season. The Knicks were a bad fit once they gutted their fun-filled roster to acquire Anthony but there are plenty of other NBA teams with coaches worse than D'Antoni, including the Knicks now (with all apologies to Mike Woodson). Phil Jackson, where art thou?
Thursday, February 23, 2012
The Jets restructed D'Brickashaw Ferguson's contract today, saving $7.5 million this season by taking the $9 million owed to him and turning it into a signing bonus split over the next six seasons of his deal. While many Jets' fans would love for this money to be spent on Texans' outside linebacker Mario Williams, does throwing some of this money at speedy Steelers' receiver Mike Wallace make sense?
The Jets want to get younger and faster at receiver. The 25-year old Wallace, who ran a 4.33 at the 2009 NFL Combine and has averaged 18.7 yards per reception in his three-year NFL career, would fit that bill better than any other receiver on the market besides DeSean Jackson, who is surprisingly still just 25 himself.
Jackson has had his share of issues both on and off the field, however, while Wallace hasn't. The Steelers also have cap issues that may preclude them from matching offers to Wallace, who is a restricted free agent. If the Jets or another team throws millions of dollars at Wallace, Pittsburgh may have no choice but to let him go.
The only problem with this plan for the Jets is the first-round pick they would need to give Pittsburgh in exchange for signing Wallace. The Jets pick 16th in April, a spot where an impact prospect such as Courtney Upshaw, Melvin Ingram, Mark Barron or Mike Adams could be available.
The real question for the Jets becomes whether Wallace is worth a hefty contract AND a first-round pick. He's certainly worth the money and the pick on their own but both? That becomes a dilemma.
The Jets could use that money on a pass rusher like Williams, an unrestricted free agent, and draft an impact player with their first-round pick as well. A player of Williams' caliber along with a first-round prospect is certainly a better use of resources than just signing Wallace.
On the surface, it may seem like the Jets are a perfect fit for Wallace. Upon digging deeper, however, the option becomes less desirable when you look at the alternatives. If the Jets can't sign Williams or another big-name free agent, maybe this discussion heats up a little once we get closer to the draft.
For now, the Jets would be wise to let teams like the Bengals and even the division-rival Patriots do the bidding for Wallace. There's no doubt he would be a great add and give the Jets a different and necessary dimension on offense, but at what cost?
Tuesday, February 21, 2012
Naturally, the Knicks lost in Carmelo Anthony's return last night. To the Nets. At Madison Square Garden. After winning seven of eight games with Jeremy Lin starting and Anthony injured.
As a result, all the questions about whether Anthony would disrupt the team's chemistry are now over. The answer is yes, he did disrupt their chemistry, and their season is obviously lacking promise the rest of the way, right?
Wrong. Anybody that tells you otherwise doesn't understand basketball. Yet all I saw last night on Facebook and Twitter and heard in person or through text and e-mail was that Anthony is the devil and will once again ruin the Knicks' success.
If you read my work consistently, you know I have many issues with Anthony. He's one of the league's most talented players, yet he thrives in isolation which destroys the ball movement that was so prevalent with Lin in and Anthony out.
Anthony shoots too much, he's selfish and he doesn't compete defensively despite having the talent to be an above-average defender, on the perimeter and in the post. The only intangible he seems to possess is the ability to hit shots late in the game because he never has an issue creating a shot he can bury.
So why, if I hate Anthony's game and watched last night's Nets debacle, am I preaching patience with this team? Amar'e Stoudemire returned from a leave of absence and fit right in with the Lin-led Knicks, so why should they get a pass now with Anthony back?
Not only have the Knicks found a new point guard in Lin, they signed a new shooting guard in J.R. Smith (who likes to play with the ball and shoot as well) and have recently gotten Anthony and Stoudemire back in the lineup as well as Baron Davis, the original point guard savior. The only position where they don't have any new faces is center.
Even at center, Tyson Chandler is getting banged up playing big minutes and must be grateful for the upcoming All-Star Break. The Knicks will also get backup Josh Harrellson back sometime in March to share backup minutes down low with Jared Jeffries.
There has been a lot of change with the Knicks roster recently and they went from an extremely shallow team a few weeks ago to one that may have a fluctuating rotation, with certain players who can play their way in or out. That's a good problem to have.
Everybody knows Anthony and Stoudemire aren't great defenders and their returns will severely squeeze the minutes of Iman Shumpert and Jeffries, two of the team's three best defenders. The Knicks were winning with ball movement and defense, but now the script has changed.
The Knicks couldn't guard Deron Williams last night, and he proceeded to hit eight three-pointers and score 38 points. Iman Shumpert missed the game due to a sprained MCL. Coincidence? No way.
Shumpert wouldn't have completely stopped Williams but his presence in the lineup would have completely changed the complexion of last night's game, especially considering he would have seen all the minutes he could handle to slow down the scorching Williams.
Chandler also got into foul trouble early and has been dealing with wrist and back issues, which hurts the Knicks inside where Stoudemire is nothing more than a shell of the explosive MVP-caliber player we saw at the beginning of last season. And that player still couldn't defend.
When Shumpert returns, Mike D'Antoni will need to figure out which lineups work well together. Three of his four best players (Lin, Anthony, Stoudemire) are not known for their defense; Lin has great hands, but he's average laterally and obviously couldn't keep up with Williams.
Shumpert is the obvious fit at shooting guard with the above three players and Chandler, but Landry Fields has played very well lately and doesn't deserve to lose his starting spot. This is where the Smith signing and Davis' return complicates things.
The Knicks need contributions from all six of these guys. Besides Lin and Anthony, Fields rebounds well for a guard and can score multiple ways while Davis can distribute and give Lin a blow. Smith is the kind of knock-down shooter that thrives in D'Antoni's system while Shumpert is the team's only above-average perimeter defender.
There just aren't enough minutes to go around here, which is going to lead to some decisions for D'Antoni. Those decisions will likely come in the flow of the game and depending on the Knicks' opponent, but he's going to have to get creative here.
This is what everybody has been talking about. The Knicks have lacked chemistry ever since acquiring Anthony on this day last season. I preached patience then as well, considering the Knicks essentially gutted their entire roster to get Anthony from Denver.
I even preached patience as the playoffs came; a team with only a month and a half to learn to play together with limited practice time isn't going to jell quickly. The Knicks were promptly swept by a Celtics team that has been playing together for years.
New York certainly looked good when Lin was leading the way. His ability to lead the offense, move the ball (which was absolutely contagious) and create his own points was the perfect remedy for what was ailing the Knicks at that position.
Lin also had issues turning the ball over but committed just three turnovers last night, his second-lowest total in a start (he had two against the defensively-inept Wizards two weeks ago). He still had 21 points and nine assists, so his ability to be a playmaker wasn't negatively impacted by Anthony's presence.
Anthony returning put less pressure on Lin to handle the ball 100 percent of the time, which led to less turnovers. Once Anthony gets back into rhythm and doesn't miss as many easy layups as he did last night (which is why he was 4-11 rather than 6-11) or turn the ball over six times, these two can make each other better.
Lin will figure out where Anthony likes the ball and get him better shots, which will lead to better than the sub-40 percent shooting we've seen from him so far this year. Anthony, a career 46-percent shooter, can lessen the load on Lin and Davis can give him an occasional breather, increasing his efficiency as well.
Without all the pieces in place, this team was a lot like last year's. Fun to watch, but not a contender. With Stoudemire and Anthony now back in the mix as well as Davis and Smith, this team has the upside to compete with Miami and Chicago if everything falls right. That's a big if, but one that's worth giving some time to come together.
Friday, February 17, 2012
J.R. Smith is officially a Knick for the "room" exception of $2.5 million, and his arrival likely signals the end of Renaldo Balkman's second tour of duty with the Knicks.
On the good side of things, Balkman for Smith is a definite upgrade and the Knicks have been searching for another reliable shooter off the bench. The Knicks' current bench shooters, Bill Walker and Steve Novak, play the same positions as Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire, which would make minutes hard to come by once the team is fully healthy.
As a career 37% three-point shooter and a guy who can fill it up at times, Smith will be a welcome addition to the Knicks' bench. But his reputation as a selfish player continues to follow him around the league. Will the combination of him and Anthony destroy the ever-so-tenuous chemistry this team has right now?
To his credit, Anthony has said all the right things about the new-look Knicks led by Jeremy Lin. Anthony even pushed Mike D'Antoni to give Lin a chance, so it would look pretty bad if he came in and slowed down the offense yet again, along with the team's winning streak.
Like Anthony, Smith can also be a ball-stopper and there don't seem to be heavy minutes available for him; will he be okay with that?
Smith could have started for the Clippers, but chose the Knicks because they could offer more than the veteran's minimum. Reading into this says that Smith is about the money more than the playing time, which could work in the Knicks' favor.
The other issue with this move is what the Knicks will do with Iman Shumpert, who has been thriving recently playing mostly shooting guard and small forward. Shumpert is a great perimeter defender and is essential to the Knicks' 2012 success and while Smith is all offense, he could be just as important.
Assuming 35 minutes for Anthony, 35 for Lin and 30 for Landry Fields, who should still start over Smith, that leaves 44 minutes for both Smith and Shumpert at both guard and small forward positions. Each player should see 20-25 minutes off the bench and while that leaves Walker, Toney Douglas and Mike Bibby in the cold, that's not a bad thing this season.
Shumpert has struggled in the backup point guard role this season but most of those minutes will come will Smith or Anthony (or both) in the game, which will help lessen Shumpert's ball-handling role and let him focus more on being the shut-down defender the Knicks need him to be.
For those worried about the Knicks' chemistry, all they need to do is get it right by the playoffs (assuming they don't tank badly enough to fall out of the 8th spot; they're currently 2.5 games ahead of Milwaukee). On paper, this looks like an awesome move for a team that needed a player with Smith's skill set.
Of course, basketball games are not played on paper and it will be interesting to see how the team meshes once all the pieces are in place, likely for Sunday's marquee matinee against Dallas. I'm actually more worried about Anthony's return than Smith's arrival as far as chemistry goes.
As long as Smith checks his attitude at the door (I know, big if), this move will look good. Half of Smith's minutes will likely come with Shumpert at the point as well, so he might not see enough court time with Lin to destroy any of the flow the team is currently enjoying.
Adding a competent scorer to a backup unit that lacks such a player and pairing a high-usage swingman with an out-of-position point guard actually makes sense for the Knicks. It remains to be seen if it looks as good in person as on paper, but the intrigue surrounding this team continues to grow ever since Lin took over at point guard.
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
First, let me destroy the comparisons being made between Jeremy Lin and Tim Tebow once and for all. For one thing, Jeremy Lin actually plays well for the first three quarters of the game. But the differences don't end there.
Tebow was an All-American in college. Lin was All-Ivy. Tebow's receivers struggled often when the ball was in his hands thanks to an inability to read coverages and general inaccuracy. Lin makes his teammates better when he has the ball with impressive court vision and pinpoint dimes.
Most pro-Tebow articles refused to give credit to anybody but Tebow. That won't happen here, even as Lin tied the game last night with a minute remaining with a sensational three-point play and won it at the buzzer with a straightaway three-pointer.
How quickly people forget about Iman Shumpert, who picked Jose Calderon's pocket and got an easy dunk out of it to cut the Toronto lead to 87-84 two possessions before Lin's three-point play. The same can be said for Tyson Chandler, whose offensive rebound of Shumpert's late miss to give the Knicks the final possession helped Lin make magic happen.
Without Shumpert's steal, the Knicks are down two points on the final possession and Lin likely doesn't clear out for the three like he did. Without Chandler's rebound, well, Jose Calderon had a pretty good game himself (25 points, nine assists). Maybe he hits the game-winning three over Lin instead of Lin over him.
As much as his teammates have helped in spots, it's been Lin who has taken this Knicks team from out of the playoff picture back into contention. Before last night, he did it without Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire. Stoudemire scored 21 points in his return, but it was a quiet 21 thanks to Lin.
Lin has set two records in his first five NBA starts: Most points (136) and most turnovers (30). I see both going down in the near future thanks to the return of Anthony, who also likes to play with the ball on offense. Anthony's presence will lessen both the scoring and ball-handling pressure on Lin.
Anthony's return should also help Lin get some rest, as he's played over 40 minutes per game in his five starts. Fatigue has been evident at times for Lin; last night he missed some free throws late and some of his turnovers against Minnesota came when he was straight gassed.
Lin's minutes won't stay in the 40 range all season, especially if Baron Davis can come back healthy to play 20 or so minutes a night. It's funny how a few weeks ago, Davis was the savior who was going to need to play 30-35 minutes a night at the point. Now, he's going to help keep the Knicks' new savior fresh.
I might have slightly lowballed Lin in my previous article when I said "Once Stoudemire returns Monday and Anthony about a week later, the young point guard should settle in around 12-13 points per game and dish out five or six assists as well." Stoudemire's presence didn't affect Lin's numbers at all but Anthony's certainly will.
My amendment to that above predictions is as follows: I think Lin will score around 15 points per game with 9-10 assists. It's a big move up on the assists but considering even Raymond Felton averaged nine assists in 54 games in Mike D'Antoni's system last year, the quicker Lin should be able to at least match that.
Monday, February 13, 2012
With today's news that Randy Moss plans to come out of retirement on his 35th birthday, rumors will inevitably swirl about Moss and the Jets being a fit: New York is unlikely to retain the services of Plaxico Burress and had serious interest in Moss last season.
The real question is: Should the Jets pursue Moss? While the possibility is tempting and it's always nice to give a shorter quarterback like Mark Sanchez a big target, I think the Jets should pass on the future Hall of Famer once again.
History tends to repeat itself and for the Jets, this would be deja vu all over again. Burress missed two seasons thanks to jail and came back at age 34. Moss didn't play last season and will be coming back at age 35.
Moss was still a stud in 2009 with 84 receptions, 1,264 yards and 13 touchdowns before going back to his malcontent ways in 2010, leading the Patriots to cut him outright. Burress had a great season in 2007 and a solid half-season in 2008 before shooting himself in the foot at a New York nightclub.
Burress was largely a disappointment this season with the exception of his three-touchdown game against San Diego in October. That was his only multi-touchdown game and he had more than four catches or 75 yards just once all season.
The Jets should be looking to get younger and faster at wide receiver. Moss accomplishes neither of those goals while adding another potential diva to the locker room alongside Santonio Holmes.
Unlike a guy like Terrell Owens, Moss has often been a good teammate in the NFL, especially when his teams were winning and he was a large part of their success. The last thing Mark Sanchez needs in his make-or-break season is another potential spat with a receiver who may not be contributing to winning (or losing) as much as he thinks he should be.
Everybody knows Randy Moss is talented and I don't doubt that he can make more of an impact this year than Plaxico Burress did last season. He's one less year removed from the game and was by far a better receiver in his prime. Moss can help a team in 2012, but it shouldn't be the Jets.
Thursday, February 9, 2012
Jared Dudley – Pho – Since being re-inserted into the starting lineup by coach Alvin Gentry six games ago, Dudley has averaged 15.7 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 2.0 three-pointers and 1.5 steals while shooting almost 50% from the field. Those are numbers worthy of starting in almost any league but considering the Suns play five games next week, Dudley is a no-brainer.
Channing Frye – Pho – Sticking with the Suns, Channing Frye has seen a resurgence in his past two games, scoring 33 points with 14 rebounds, five three-pointers and four blocks. If he was dropped in your league, now might be the time to scoop him up with a full schedule on the horizon.
Randy Foye – LAC – The fourth guard in the Clippers’ rotation for most of the season, Foye will step into a much bigger role with Chauncey Billups out for the season. When Chris Paul missed five games a few weeks ago, Foye averaged 11.2 points, 4.6 assists, 2.2 three-pointers, 2.0 steals and 1.4 blocks per game in just over 34 minutes a night, numbers that he can easily match for the rest of the season. If you can stomach his poor shooting (39.8% from the field), he makes for a solid play with four games this week.
Jeremy Lin – NY – Lin has been the talk of New York over the past week and rightfully so; three straight games with at least 23 points and seven assists make him more than deserving of the attention he’s receiving. Lin won’t hit threes (1-for-10 in those three games) but he’ll help nicely in assists and steals (five during that two-game stretch), two of the more difficult categories to find on the waiver wire. Lin is becoming a must-start, especially with Carmelo Anthony expected to miss some if not all of next week with a groin injury.
Nikola Pekovic – Min – Pekovic might be playing better than any player on this list right now and he’s been doing it for a longer stretch of games. In his last nine games, Pekovic is averaging 14.7 points and 9.2 rebounds on 69% shooting from the field. He won’t contribute anywhere else but if you need quintessential big-man stats, Pekovic will give you four games of solid production even if Darko Milicic starts to eat into his minutes.
Greivis Vasquez – NO – Vasquez played well while replacing Jarrett Jack in the starting lineup and certainly earned himself more minutes off the bench. While he can still produce enough across the board (especially in assists and steals) to maintain a roster spot in all but the shallowest of leagues, Jack’s return combined with the Hornets’ three-game week make him a must-bench this week despite his recent strong play.
Manu Ginobili – SA – Ginobili is “likely” to return on Saturday according to coach Gregg Popovich but even if he does, his minutes will likely be monitored for his first few games back. The Spurs play just three games next week and two come against Detroit and Toronto, opponents San Antonio will likely blow out and use as a reason to rest Ginobili. It may be tempting to get a stud back right away but if you have a decent option with four games (or a Phoenix Sun with five), bench Ginobili for this week and this week alone.
Trevor Booker – Was – Booker has played well since Andray Blatche hit the shelf but I’d be wary of using him next week. The Wizards play just three games in a West Coast road trip against the Blazers, Clippers and Jazz. Role players like Booker tend to perform better at home, which is where the Wizards played their last two games that saw Booker score 36 points. He could be in for a low-output week.
Daequan Cook – OKC – Cook has played well in his five games as a starter, averaging 9.2 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.6 three-pointers, 0.8 steals and 1.2 blocks replacing Thabo Sefolosha. Sefolosha is due back soon and while there’s a chance he misses a game next week, his return would significantly cut into Cook’s minutes and make him devoid of fantasy value. With a four-game schedule, he might still be playable by deep-league teams desperate for three-point help but you can most likely do better next week.
Chris Kaman – NO – Two hornets on this list is a big byproduct of a three-game week but there are other reasons to bench Kaman. Since returning to the team he’s averaged 13.5 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in two games, but he averaged just over 25 minutes a night. His season averages are 9.6 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game in just over 23 minutes, but some owners may look at his past two games and say he’s worth a shot despite only three games. You can get a subpar week out of a four-game player like Pekovic and find more value in him than in Kaman.
Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Jeremy Lin got a chance to play this past Saturday against the Nets, backing up Iman Shumpert at point guard for the Knicks. Six points, three rebounds and three assists in the first half later and Lin found himself on the court for most of the second half in a Knicks' win.
It wasn't just the numbers that were impressive about Lin, either. The former Harvard point guard gave the team a spark they haven't had all season; the kind of spark that can be provided by a player who is a natural point guard.
Lin enjoyed a huge second half with his extended playing time, finishing the game with 25 points, seven assists and five rebounds. His passes led to multiple easy baskets for teammates, including difficult alley-oop passes perfectly thrown between multiple Nets defenders that he made look easy.
Many questioned whether Lin could match his success on Monday against Utah and, with the exception of an unsightly eight turnovers, he was actually better. Lin, who has spent much of the season in the D-League, put up 28 points with eight assists and helped the Knicks beat a solid Jazz team without the absent Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, who limped off the court early with a strained groin.
Nobody in their right mind thinks that Lin can continue to score 25-plus points per game and push double-digit assists every night, but he can certainly continue to contribute. Let's also not forget the eight turnovers and the fact that both of these games were at home; playing on the road adversely affects every NBA role player.
The Knicks travel to Washington tonight to face John Wall and the Wizards and, while Washington is one of the NBA's worst teams, it will be interesting to watch the undrafted Lin go up against last year's first overall pick in Wall.
Wall is one of the fastest players in the league and can definitely make life tough on Lin at both ends of the court, as Lin is nowhere near the athlete Wall is. Rather, Lin relies on his basketball IQ (he did go to Harvard) to get the most out of his talent.
I can see Lin being productive tonight and in the next week or so, but his 56% shooting (20-for-36) won't continue and he may turn it over three or four times a night. Considering the Knicks already lead the league in turnovers and have struggled at the point this season, those may not be that big of a deal if he continues to penetrate effectively and open up opportunities for his teammates.
With Baron Davis' return perpetually on the horizon and now pushed back until the All-Star Break, Lin will have a few weeks to prove he's not just a flash in the pan. Once Stoudemire returns Monday and Anthony about a week later, the young point guard should settle in around 12-13 points per game and dish out five or six assists as well.
The only major issue with Lin's game is his lack of range as a jump shooter. He hit just one three-pointer in his two big games and will need to work on his ability to stretch the floor to stay effective. Rajon Rondo can do that, but Lin can't rival his athletic ability. Regardless, Lin will remain easy to root for as a surprise solution to the Knicks' biggest problem.
Thursday, January 26, 2012
With Wayne Hunter being one of the major disappointments for the Jets this season, the team is likely to search for his replacement in the offseason through the draft or free agency. A name that is gaining momentum at Senior Bowl practices is Ohio State tackle Mike Adams.
At 6-7, 323 pounds, Adams has the size to be an NFL right tackle and while his height creates some issues with footwork and bending at the waist much like Nate Solder last season, Solder had a productive rookie year with the Patriots filling in for Sebastian Vollmer.
Adams has been impressive so far this offseason, as seen in the following reports by Draft Insider's Tony Pauline from Senior Bowl practices Monday and Tuesday:
Mon: Wow….Wow….Wow…. Adams was slow at the start but once he got his feet underneath him he was completely dominant. There’s so much to like about his game; he’s big, strong, fluid and moves incredibly well. For the most part once he got his hands on the defender it was game over.Adams is playing himself into the first round and could make an instant impact along a Jets offensive line that regressed in both run and pass blocking this season. Mark Sanchez needs all the help he can get in a make-or-break season and Adams could give help give him more confidence in an offensive line that he seemed not to trust as the season wore on.
Tues: Overall not as good as yesterday but still a solid performance from Adams. He looked real good moving on his feet and showed the ability to quickly and easily get out to the second level and control linebackers when asked to block in motion.
The need for a pass rusher may be first on the list for the Jets but with Courtney Upshaw being rumored to go in the top 15 or even the top 10, there isn't another 3-4 outside linebacker without some serious bust potential that early in round one. If Upshaw isn't on the board, Adams could become a serious consideration for the Jets by the time April rolls around.
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
With the official retirement of great Yankee catcher Jorge Posada, questions have been swirling about whether he's a legitimate candidate for the Hall of Fame. While Posada's credentials are far from first-ballot worthy, there really is no reason he shouldn't be a Hall of Famer.
Baseball is a game of statistics. Always has been, always will be. There are 13 catchers currently in the Hall of Fame and if Posada was to be enshrined, here's how his career stats would stack up against the others.
.273 batting average (10th out of 14)
.374 on-base percentage (5th)
.474 slugging percentage (7th)
1,664 hits (8th)
275 home runs (5th)
1,065 runs batted in (7th)
900 runs (8th)
Those numbers don't even count the most important one: World Series rings. Posada has five, regardless of how little a part he played in the 1996 championship team. Only Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey, fellow great Yankee catchers, have more.
Posada's numbers compare very favorably with the rest of the Hall of Fame catching crowd, but some may say that those numbers are skewed because he played in the "Steroid Era." Meanwhile, Posada has never been linked to any performance-enhancing drugs. Not once. Even with a .338 average, 20 home runs and 90 RBI in his age-36 season.
Since Posada played on loaded teams as a Yankee and in a time marred by performing-enhancing drugs, many will look to those facts as reason to exclude Posada from the Hall of Fame. But when you look at all of the reasons to induct him, you see a much more convincing argument than any against his legacy.
Posada deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. I just wonder if he'll ever actually make it.
Saturday, January 21, 2012
Tonight's game between New York and Denver will be a tale of two teams trending in very different directions right now. The Knicks have lost five straight games to drop to 6-9 and sadly still hold the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Nuggets, on the other hand, have won three straight and five of six on their way to the second-best record in the Western Conference; and they're doing it with a former Knick as one of their key players.
Danilo Gallinari was the major piece of the trade that sent Carmelo Anthony to New York in early 2011 and anybody who knows me knows I was a huge Gallinari fan. I saw a future All-Star and, sure enough, the Italian is tenth among Western forwards in All-Star voting.
It can be argued that he's better than multiple players ahead of him (Odom, World Peace and Duncan) which places him squarely in the running for a spot on the team based on his performance this season. He may not make it, but there could also be more growth in his game in the years to come.
The Knicks also traded Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Anthony Randolph and Timofey Mozgov in the deal while receiving Chauncey Billups and Corey Brewer in return, but only Mozgov hasn't changed addresses since the trade. The important piece is Felton, who left Denver for Portland after battling Ty Lawson for minutes.
The Knicks are 20-22 since trading for Anthony, while the Nuggets are 28-12 after ridding themselves of a player many view as selfish. Part of the Knicks struggles have come from their lack of a true point guard, as Billups was amnestied to make room for Tyson Chandler. This is where Felton comes in.
While Chandler has helped the team improve their defense, a simple task considering how bad it was last season, the loss of Billups has destroyed the Knicks' offensive efficiency (they're currently ranked 24th despite having two big-time scorers). Would the Knicks be better off with Felton and Gallinari than they would with Anthony?
The short-term answer is absolutely yes. That answer, however, assumes Chandler still would have come to New York if Anthony wasn't on the team. That can't be assured, as part of the reason to team up Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire in New York was to attract free agents to the Big Apple.
The long-term answer depends on Gallinari's continued development. While he may never be on the same level as Anthony as a scorer, Gallinari competes harder on defense and doesn't rely on isolation to create scoring opportunities like Anthony, which destroys the Knicks' offensive rhythm.
If Gallinari becomes close to the player Anthony is, which I believe is entirely possible, the Knicks will have lost this trade in both the short and long run. They would have cost themselves depth and point guard play during Anthony's prime and a player more than four years younger than him for the long haul.
It's still way too early to judge the Knicks' 2011 roster purge and there are too many variables to make a truly educated guess on what the team would look like with Felton and Gallinari instead of Anthony. However, it's painstakingly obvious to all Knicks fans that they miss both Felton and Billups and, with all apologies to Baron Davis and Iman Shumpert, an answer doesn't seem to be coming soon.
I like Shumpert but he will never be a true point guard; once he becomes more consistent with his jump shot, he can be an ideal two-guard. Davis is old and has issues with motivation; considering the Knicks' current struggles, he may not be interested in playing particularly hard upon his return.
Knicks fans may still wish they had Felton and Gallinari rather than Anthony but assuming Chandler wouldn't have signed without Anthony on board, it's still a tough sell that the trade wasn't the right move (unless you think Anthony would have signed as a free agent). Regardless of right or wrong, this team is extremely difficult to watch right now and I'm not sure I see that changing until Steve Nash becomes a Knick, if he does.
Thursday, January 12, 2012
When Amar'e Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert returned last Wednesday against the Bobcats, the Knicks thought their early-season problems on both offense and defense would be solved. After all, Stoudemire was sixth in the NBA in scoring last season and Shumpert's 6-10 wingspan makes him a defensive nightmare.
A home loss and 118 points allowed later, Knicks fans were left wondering how good their team really was on the defensive end. Shumpert and Stoudemire helped the Knicks score 110 points on offense but after allowing one of the lowest-scoring teams in the league to easily top 100 points, there were questions galore.
The Knicks were 2-4 and coming off consecutive home losses to Toronto and Charlotte. They have since turned the young season around with four straight victories including an impressive 85-79 victory last night against Philadelphia, the best team in the NBA so far according to power rankings from ESPN's John Hollinger.
While nobody believes the 76ers are THAT good or the Knicks are THAT bad (24th in those rankings before Wednesday, 19th after), it was still a good sign to see New York shut down one of the league's best two-way teams with a great mix of veterans like Andre Iguodala and Elton Brand and youth like Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner.
Skeptics will say that Philadelphia was playing their final game of a back-to-back-to-back and was tired, but the 76ers were playing with great energy down the stretch and seemed to have their legs. The one thing they didn't have was starting center Spencer Hawes, which likely contributed more to the loss than the third game in a row.
The Knicks allowed 99.2 points per game in their first six games compared to just 85.5 in their past four. Tyson Chandler was brought in to help this team's defense but he has played in every game this season and the team has had mixed results. The real key to this team's defensive success is Shumpert.
Since the rookie guard was elevated to the starting lineup in place of Toney Douglas, the Knicks have allowed just 82 points per game in three wins. While Chandler is great at protecting the basket, Douglas' struggles containing opposing point guards early led to serious issues with help defense and rotations, something Chandler himself can't overcome as one player.
With Shumpert now defending the point, opposing point guards haven't been able to penetrate the interior of the Knicks' defense anywhere near as well. Chandler hasn't been forced to help as often and as a result, New York's defensive rotations have been much smoother and teams have had less success around the basket.
The Knicks still switch on a few too many screens which can lead to serious mismatches, but Shumpert's height and length allows him to get a hand in the face of taller shooters and hold his own in post defense when forced to switch. His lightning-quick hands present a mismatch of their own against taller players less accustomed to handling the ball.
The combination of Shumpert's perimeter defense and and Chandler's ability to protect the paint has been the biggest boon to the Knicks defensively and with both now starting, the Knicks are tougher defensively from the outset. Shumpert would ranked third in the NBA with 2.2 steals per game if he hadn't missed four games and Chandler is 13th in blocked shots.
For all the heat the Knicks' brass took for taking the relatively unknown Shumpert in the draft and signing Chandler at the expense of Chauncey Billups (and potentially Chris Paul), these two have infused defensive life into a team that previously had none.
With two new defensive stalwarts, a weak Atlantic Division and two of the league's best scorers in Carmelo Anthony and Stoudemire, the Knicks all of a sudden look like a legitimate threat for the third seed in the Eastern Conference after many speculated they could struggle to make the playoffs after starting 2-4. What a difference a week makes.
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Nobody questioned Greg McElroy's comments last week about the "corrupt mindset" and "selfish individuals" within the New York Jets locker room. The only thing that was in question was whether he had the right to say it.
Right or wrong, McElroy hit the nail on the head and Manish Mehta's article in the New York Daily News proves it. The Jets who criticized Mark Sanchez under the cloak of anonymity are the definition of selfish.
Some of the things said in the article may be true, such as, "'We have to bring in another quarterback that will make him work at practice,' said one player. 'He’s lazy and content because he knows he’s not going to be benched.'”
Without a credential for Jets practices, I know nothing of Sanchez's work ethic. However, it's hard to disagree that the team needs to bring in a quarterback that is actually a threat to Sanchez's job; something Mark Brunell never was. It will only be a positive for Sanchez's development.
What's easy to disagree with is the way some of Sanchez's teammates went about criticizing him. If you have something to say, so be it, but don't hide behind your comments. That's gutless and cowardly, as Nick Mangold tweeted this morning:
"@nickmangold: This (story) by @TheJetsStream is false. If "unnamed sources" want to attack Mark, man up and put your name to it #JETS"Right on, Nick, right on. If people want to talk about a lack of leadership on the Jets, maybe they should look again at the team's All-Pro center. He's more deserving of the captaincy than either Sanchez or Santonio Holmes were this season.
An unnamed source in Mehta's report also said the organization coddles Sanchez and that his "lack of mental toughness" is apparent because he unfollowed all the Jets beat writers on Twitter. Really? What kind of a joke is that?
If I was quarterbacking the Jets, I wouldn't want to log onto my Twitter account and see nothing but people screaming for my job. It's hard to blame Sanchez for unfollowing the writers but hey, cowards will look for any way to legitimize the hypocrisy of anonymously bashing their quarterback in the media.
It's obvious that this Jets team has a lot of issues and frankly, I'm not sure how they're going to get past them. For Sanchez to come under fire from the media is one thing but when your teammates attack you as well, there are big-time issues.
There is a three-step solution to this problem. The first thing that needs to happen is Rex Ryan holding a public press conference to say that this anonymous finger-pointing won't be tolerated. Ryan has always been a talker but now that's seeping through to this team; he needs to set a standard that only he gets to speak out.
Ryan has also had his name attached to each and every one of his brash comments and he puts the blame on himself when the Jets lose. This self-accountability is what the Jets players should emulate in Ryan, not his unabashed talk. Ryan may need to tone it down a bit as well; his words aren't helping the team fly under the radar like they did in his first two seasons.
Secondly, the Jets need to bring in a competent veteran that can still play, but also work with Sanchez like Mark Brunell attempted to do. Competition fuels desire and success and without it, Sanchez may be doomed to repeat his mistakes of the past few seasons. A full offseason may also benefit the young quarterback, a luxury he was not afforded in preparing for 2011 after the lockout.
The third and final step? Sanchez himself needs to step up next season and put all these issues to rest with his play on the field. He claimed recently that the recent criticism didn't bother him, but that was when it was the media talking. How will he handle his own teammates doubting him?
Sanchez will come into next season with a new coaching staff and a proverbial fresh start from the handcuffing ways of Brian Schottenheimer. If he can't quiet the media critics and selfish locker-room cowards, their doubts will be legitimized and this team will crumble on his and Ryan's watch.
Maybe this motivation is just what Sanchez needs to get his up-and-down career back on track. Or maybe it will be his eventual downfall as an NFL starter. Only time will tell.
Tuesday, January 10, 2012
The Jets have many needs to address heading into next season. Their three major areas of needs are an upgrade to their pass rush, a safety adept at man coverage and help for Mark Sanchez on the offensive side of the football.
With bowl season concluding after Alabama's 21-0 domination of previously unbeaten LSU, it's time to take at look at some of the players the Jets should target with the 16th overall pick in April. (Hint: I waited until after the BCS Championship for a reason)
1. Courtney Upshaw (DE/OLB - Alabama)
The defensive MVP of last night's title game, Upshaw was an absolute beast in all facets of the game. He played well against the run and put pressure on LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson, showing off the complete NFL skill set that makes him a first-round prospect.
Upshaw is strong at the point in run support, fast up the field and disciplined enough not to overpursue plays moving away from him. At 6-2, 265 pounds, Upshaw would be a perfect fit at outside linebacker in the Jets' 3-4 and instantly become the team's best pass rusher. This is the perfect storm of when talent meets a need.
2. Mark Barron (S - Alabama)
This would be more of a need pick for the Jets than anything, as their safeties were terrible in coverage this season. There will be better players on the board at 16 and usually I'm a proponent of drafting the best available player that also fills a need, but there are a few reasons to take Barron.
The Alabama safety is tough against the run, but needs to work on his pursuit angles and has a tendency to overrun plays at times. At 6-2, 220 pounds, Barron would be the Jets biggest safety and would provide immediate help against opposing tight ends, New York's only real weakness in coverage this season.
He would also make Jim Leonhard exponentially more effective, as Leonhard's best days with the Ravens came alongside future Hall of Famer Ed Reed. The Jets' veteran safety is coming off two season-ending injuries and should come at a nice discount; pairing him with Barron would essentially represent an upgrade at two positions with just one pick.
3. Trent Richardson (RB - Alabama)
Three straight players from the Crimson Tide? I must be an Alabama fan. The truth is that I'm not but the SEC is the closest conference to the NFL that you're going to find; most of the talent coming out of the SEC translates well to the professional level.
The first two players on this list address two of the Jets' three needs, while Richardson would provide Mark Sanchez with major help in the running game. Shonn Greene is serviceable but will never be better than average; he lost a step this past season and won't get it back anytime soon.
I honestly don't believe Richardson will be available at this point, as he's the best running back prospect since Darren McFadden in 2008 and deserves to be a top-10 pick (C.J. Spiller was, after all). If he falls past Cleveland and Tampa Bay in the top five, however, there are no other teams in the top 15 who need a running back unless Seattle doesn't resign Marshawn Lynch.
A competitive team that needs a running back like the Packers or Patriots could move into the top 15 to take Richardson but if he's on the board when the Jets draft, they need to at least take a look at him. They have plenty of holes and can get by with Greene, but Richardson would definitely be the best player available and take a lot of pressure off Sanchez in a make-or-break season.
4. Alshon Jeffery (WR - South Carolina)
It seem unlikely the Jets will get their hands on one of the top three tackles available in the draft and all the others seem like reaches at 16. Since helping Mark Sanchez is the goal if their defensive targets are off the board, how about a 6-4 wide receiver to replace the 6-5 Plaxico Burress and haul in the high passes that have become a staple of Sanchez's early seasons.
Notre Dame's Michael Floyd could also be on the board for the Jets but I like Jeffery more, as he was able to put up decent numbers this season despite issues at quarterback, a la Larry Fitzgerald. Neither Jeffery or Floyd can be as good as Fitzgerald, but the Jets need a downfield target and Jeffery's yards per catch for this three-year career stands at 16.6 despite lacking sprinter speed, compared to 13.6 for Floyd.
New York may shy away from Jeffery after his ejection from South Carolina's bowl game against Nebraska a few weeks ago since they already have one receiver with character issues. Floyd has had off-the-field issues in the past as well and while the Jets will likely address the receiver position in free agency or after round one, Jeffery is a solid pick if the three guys ahead of him are gone.
5. Dont'a Hightower (ILB - Alabama)
Back to Nick Saban's team we go and rightfully so; that Crimson Tide defense could go down as one of the best ever in college football and produce four or five first-round picks in April's draft. Unlike Arizona State underclassman Vontaze Burfict, Hightower has not yet declared but seems likely to after winning the national title.
Both linebackers have the potential to dominate against the run, but Burfict comes with a few character issues that Hightower doesn't. In a Jets locker room that was called "selfish" by third-string quarterback Greg McElroy (also an Alabama product), that could break any ties between Burfict and Hightower.
Hightower would add needed speed to the Jets defense and replace Bart Scott, who seems all but gone after slowing down significantly this season and flipping off reporters the day after New York lost their season finale to Miami. Come draft time, it seems likely the Jets will be saying, "Roll Tide!"
Honorable Mention: Whitney Mercilus (DE/OLB - Illinois), Melvin Ingram (DE/OLB - South Carolina), Vontaze Burfict (ILB - Arizona State), Michael Floyd (WR - Notre Dame), Vinny Curry (DE/OLB - Marshall)
Wednesday, January 4, 2012
After scoring 106 points in their season-opening win against the Celtics, the Knicks have scored 85 points or less in three of their last four games. They played each of these games without rookie Iman Shumpert and the last two without Amar'e Stoudemire.
With the exception of their 114-point outburst against the Kings, who are always allergic to defense, the Knicks have been unable to find a consistent scorer alongside Carmelo Anthony, the only member of the team to score in double digits more than three times so far this season.
Both Stoudemire and Shumpert practiced fully on Tuesday and look primed to return tonight against the Bobcats. The Knicks desperately need Stoudemire's presence as a second scorer and as the team's primary option when Anthony needs a breather.
Shumpert's return may get less publicity than Stoudemire's but it's just as important, as the Knicks need a guard with the ability to create his own shot. If there's anything they've learned about Toney Douglas and Landry Fields through five games this season, it's that they can't.
Shumpert has come a long way from draft night, when countless Knicks fans (myself included) said, "Who?" when his name was called. Those same fans, like myself, likely fell in love with Shumpert's aggressive, fearless nature during the preseason and if they didn't then, they did against Boston.
Getting both players back will do wonders for the Knicks offense as they are arguably the team's second and third-best scorers, but their defense should improve as well with Shumpert's long arms spanning the perimeter. Douglas, a player known for his defense in the past, has struggled on both ends of the court this season.
Stoudemire may not be much more than below-average as an on-ball defender and average in help defense, but his presence will allow impressive second-round rookie Josh Harrellson to move back to the bench and push Jerome Jordan out of the rotation. Harrellson's ability to defend without fouling has been impressive, but he's not a starter.
As much as the Knicks have struggled this season, we've only seen them play once at full strength. That was on Christmas Day, when the off-season excitement carried over in a nice victory over the Celtics, whether Paul Pierce played or not.
With the returns of Stoudemire and Shumpert on the horizon, the Knicks should once again be able to score in bunches and bring back the excitement many fans had for this team just a few weeks ago.