Thursday, February 23, 2012

Should the Jets Go After Mike Wallace?

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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

Preaching Patience With the Knicks

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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?

New Faces

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.

Defensive Issues

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: Good or Bad Fit in New York?

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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

Jeremy Lin Just Won't Quit

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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

Randy Moss: Should the Jets Consider Signing Him?

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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

Fantasy Basketball Starts/Sits: Week of Feb. 13

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Start ‘Em

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.

Sit ‘Em

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: Is He For Real?

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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.