The Brooklyn Brawler.
Join Date: Jul 2007
Re: insider preview?
Just because the Ringling Brothers aren't in town doesn't mean you can't see a circus at Madison Square Garden. While on the court the Knicks actually resembled a professional basketball team for large stretches of the season, off it they were more screwed up than ever.
AP Photo/Darron Cummings
Isiah and the Knicks had their share of ugly moments in '06-07.
In the wake of the disastrous tenure of Larry Brown a season earlier, team president Isiah Thomas moved down to the sidelines and tried to clean up the rubble. However, he didn't make it through a third of the season before becoming embroiled in controversy. In late December his suspicious comments to Denver's Carmelo Anthony just before teammate J.R. Smith was clubbed by Mardy Collins had some wondering if he ordered a "code red," and he was fortunate to avoid suspension. Regardless of Thomas' guilt or innocence, the indefensible actions of Collins and Nate Robinson set off a fight that got both players lengthy suspensions.
More weirdness enveloped the team as the season went on. Steve Francis was ready to be bought out with an alleged bad knee, one that magically healed once Jamal Crawford was pronounced out for the season. Channing Frye regressed badly from a promising rookie season while his backup, David Lee, exploded onto the scene to be the Knicks' most effective player; yet Thomas never appeared to consider changing the lineup. And behind the scenes, a sexual harassment lawsuit against Thomas and the Knicks caused continued embarrassment that lasted through the offseason.
Then there were the strange goings-on with the team's injuries. Crawford was thought to just have a sore ankle and kept playing on it, then found out weeks later it was a stress fracture and he was done for the season. Similarly, Lee was diagnosed with a sprained ankle and listed as day-to-day; then got a second opinion and found out he had a deep bone bruise that would keep him out the rest of the season.
But the one that took the cake was the contract extension team owner James Dolan proudly announced for Thomas -- a reward for leading the Knicks to a 28-35 record through 63 games. Apparently Dolan was beaming because New York momentarily had possession of the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race; the fact that the Knicks were seven games under .500 with the league's highest payroll didn't appear to be on his radar. At least it gave us the quip of the year, when amidst all the handshakes and smiles our Chad Ford noted that the only thing missing was a "mission accomplished" banner.
Dolan and Thomas' moment in the sun was brief, however, as a rash of late-season injuries left the Knicks well out of the money at 33-49. Lee, Crawford and Quentin Richardson all missed the stretch run, losses which even New York's deep bench couldn't handle.
But the main problem wasn't injuries, it was the same organizational blunders that have plagued this team for half a decade. Start with the decision to give the full midlevel exception to swingman Jared Jeffries, who was a misfit in the Knicks' system and badly needs to relocate to a running, trapping team like he played for in Washington.
Then there were the early-season buyouts for Maurice Taylor and Jalen Rose. Though neither player had value on the court, their expiring contracts could have been used to acquire Allen Iverson or Pau Gasol later in the year. Instead they were set free early on for reasons that never have been made clear.
So in the end Thomas never used Rose, after trading for him in the middle of 2005-06 and getting a first-round pick from the Raptors. Factoring in Rose's salary and the luxury tax, Thomas paid close to $30 million for the 21st pick in the first round; the going rate for picks in that range is $3 million. Leave it to the Knicks to pay 10 times the market value for an asset.
Through it all, Isiah kept smiling and saying the Knicks were making progress. Run-of-the-mill optimists see the glass as half full ... this guy sees the Amazon. At least this time he had a few reasons to back up his outlook. Lee emerged as a force on the glass, especially offensively, making him the perfect antidote to the guards' dribble blindness. Curry had a big season as well, learning to stay out foul trouble long enough for his scoring prowess in the post to be a factor. And Thomas continued his strong drafting, getting huge production off the bench from Renaldo Balkman.
Most Possessions Ending In TOs: 2006-07
New York 18.1
League average 16.4
Offensively, Isiah slowed the Knicks down and focused on pounding the ball into Curry, making New York one of the league's most extreme offensive teams. The Knicks were at the very top or the very bottom in several categories as a result of their offensive strategy -- all those dump-ins produced an incredibly high rate of free throws (fourth in the league in free-throw attempts per field goal attempt), for instance, and the Knicks' overpowering frontcourt provided the league's second best offensive rebound rate.
Unfortunately, those pluses were offset by an equally high rate of turnovers. New York had the league's second-worst turnover rate, giving it away on 18.1 percent of its possessions, and that was why the team only ranked 17th in offensive efficiency despite good numbers in other facets. New York led the league in this category a season earlier, but this time they can't blame it on Larry Brown. Instead, three factors contributed to the rash of turnovers. First was the fact that nobody except Crawford could throw an entry pass -- an absurd number of attempts to feed Curry down low ended with a deflection. Second was Curry himself -- blissfully unaware of double-teams and prone to running over defenders planted in front of him, he had one of the worst turnover ratios in basketball.
But the other factor was the roster itself. Thomas has focused his offense on feeding the frontcourt, but hasn't acquired the perimeter players to provide enough spacing to make it work. The Knicks weren't a good 3-point shooting team, making 34.6 percent of their tries last season, so opposing defenses felt free to send extra defenders to slap at the ball in the post. If New York got rid of the slashers and picked up a couple deep shooters to really complement Curry's game, it could help both the 3-point percentage and the turnover problem.
Fewest Opp. Poss. Ending In TOs: 2006-07
New York 14.5
New Orleans/Oklahoma City 14.6
L.A. Clippers 14.8
League average 16.4
Improving the defense is another key task. While Curry was the focal point of the Knicks' offense, he was often the focal point of the opponent's too. New York was a terrible defensive team, ranking 25th in defensive efficiency, and the frontcourt was a big reason -- opponents either ran Curry ragged on high pick-and-rolls or mercilessly beat on Frye in the low post.
Those two and Lee also failed to protect the basket -- the Knicks were 29th in blocks, sending back only 3.96 percent of opponents' attempts. Moreover, New York was vulnerable to the 3-pointer (37.6 percent, ranking 28th in the league), another classic sign of a team whose big guys aren't getting it done on D.
Finally, turnovers were as big a problem for the defense as they were for the offense. The Knicks were the league's worst team at forcing turnovers, creating miscues on just 14.5 percent of opponent possessions (see chart), so between offense and defense New York had the worst turnover disadvantage in basketball. Turnovers alone put the Knicks at nearly a four-point-per-game disadvantage to its opponents -- a massive hole to try digging out of in the other phases of the game.