Don’t Expect Rajon Rondo to be a Knick

Earlier this week, Frank Isola of the Daily News reported that the Knicks are going after Celtics assist lord Rajon Rondo. While the reports sound very convincing, we can only have wet dreams about this trade, because let’s face it: The trade is not going to happen.

Realistically, the Knicks have squat to trade away for Rondo, with Iman Shumpert being the key piece in the trade offer itself. Shump is being posted as trade bait yet another time. Last year, he was thrown around in rumors for Jared Dudley and J.J Redick, but neither deal came to fruition. Just recently, he was also mentioned in two other trade rumors, centering around Greivis Vasquez of the Sacramento Kings and Kenneth Faried of the Denver Nuggets, but they were erased into obscurity soon after being brought up. There were also reports that swirled around yesterday from the Daily News that Shump had a secret knee surgery last summer, much similar to the one that J.R Smith had around the same time. Bearing the taciturn knee surgery in mind, Shump’s trade value has now plummeted, so trading away an injury prone player (you could say Shump is at this point after that surgery) in return for Rondo, that was injured last year sounds like something the Knicks would totally do.

The words “asset” and “youth” are incognizant to the Knicks front office. They believe that there is nothing to trade away besides gargantuan contracts and what little youth they have? Amare Stoudemire has a massive contract and has been shopped repeatedly on the market. Shockingly, no takers! Danny Ainge and the Celtics front office said they would consider taking his hefty contract (I don’t know why) only under one condition: The Knicks would have to take back Gerald Wallace and Courtney Lee in return (ah, I see why now).

Both Wallace and Lee wouldn’t be bad additions to the Knicks. Crash can still play decent defense, and Lee is a personal favorite of mine because of his three point shooting stroke. However, they have bad contracts. They combine for nearly 50 million dollars and run through 2016, a year longer than Stoudemire. Obviously this would cut into the Knicks 2015 cap space that will be used to chase free agents. Also, Metta World Peace and Wallace are relatively similar players and Lee would also add yet another shooting guard to the depth chart. The move doesn’t really make sense.

Instead of making a desperation trade, the Knicks could just wait until Stoudemire’s contract is off the books, along with Tyson Chandler’s deal, and chase an upper echelon free agent in 2015, i.e. Kevin Love. The logical thing to do is to wait it out, but this is the Knicks we’re talking about. It’s likely they’ll make a trade just to make one, thus solidifying – in their mind – good standing with Carmelo Anthony. However, the piece that comes back in a deal likely won’t be Rondo. The Knicks don’t have the pieces and the Celtics aren’t going to just trade him away. Ultimately, there isn’t an obvious trade to be made. That should worry Knicks fans, as they’ll likely sell their only young asset for pennies on the dollar.

Chris Smith Makes the Team: Business as Usual

Friday morning, the Knicks announced who would occupy the final three spots of their 2013 opening day roster. Unsurprisingly, guard Toure Murray and center Cole Aldrich made the team, and both deservingly so. While he can’t score a lick, Aldrich gives the Knicks a much needed third center who can give them ten decent minutes when needed. Though the team has a plethora of point guards, Murray was easily the best of these fringe roster players during the pre-season. The final roster spot however, is one that has generated a lot of controversy in Knicks-land.

Chris Smith is the brother of JR Smith. He also plays basketball, point guard to be specific, though he’s shown no signs to be good at it. Now, it’s not uncommon for siblings of NBA players to get summer league or pre-season tryouts. LeBron’s arranged for that before, Kobe has done it, and many others have as well. There’s nothing wrong with giving Smith a chance to prove himself in summer league and pre-season. But from what we’ve seen, Chris Smith isn’t an NBA player. In the pre-season, he played fewer minutes than anybody on the team. His 20 minutes played was four fewer than Chris Douglas-Roberts, who was cut and was never really a serious candidate to be a Knick. I think it’s fairly obvious that Coach Woodson knows that Smith isn’t an NBA player, so why is he on the team?

Well, for starters, Jeremy Tyler got injured. While I’m skeptical of what Tyler can actually contribute to the team this season, I think he clearly was a guy they wanted to keep. He’s raw offensively and doesn’t comprehend defense at all, but he’s athletic as hell and has good size for a big at 6’10 250 lbs.  I feel pretty comfortable in believing that Tyler would’ve had Chris Smith’s spot on the team if he was able to stay healthy. There’s a belief among those who cover the team that Smith will eventually be cut when Tyler is ready to play. I also subscribe to that belief, and from that standpoint the Knicks keeping Smith doesn’t seem as bad. But it is.

Kenyon Martin is already injured, and may not be ready to go by next Wednesday. Stoudemire is trying to work his way back, but nobody knows what he can give the team and when he’ll be able to give it to them. Even with Aldrich, the Knicks are short on big men. It hasn’t been announced whether Bargnani (welp) will start (double-welp) alongside Chandler, or if Woodson will put his thinking cap on and play Anthony at power-forward. If Bargnani does end up starting, and Woodson plans to play bigger lineups, we’ll likely see the Italian playing 25-30 minutes a night (triple-welp). If Martin and Stoudemire are unable to go, then Aldrich becomes your one big off the bench. He’s a guy you can get away with playing ten minutes a game if you have to, but you don’t want him to be playing significant minutes by design. Rather than Smith, who likely will never even be active, the Knicks should’ve kept Ike Diogu for the time being until Tyler is healthy – assuming the plan is to eventually bring back Tyler and cut Smith.

While Diogu is a fringe NBA player himself, the position he plays is a more valuable one to the Knicks. They’re insanely thin on the front line and need bodies. Diogu showed great effort in the pre-season. He’s not really good, but at least he tries hard and gets to commit six fouls like everybody else. I don’t think any of these 15th spot guys we’re talking about have much upside as rotation players, though I do think Smith was by far the least useful of the Knicks camp bodies. The most Lin-ish or Copeland-ish of these guys, in terms of potentially making contributions, is Murray. I don’t see Diogu or Smith or even Tyler having more than replacement level upside this season.

I think what ultimately happens is that Woodson starts Carmelo at the four. The Knicks are too thin to be starting two big men, in my opinion. They play the two point-guard lineup to start games and bring in Bargnani off the bench. Aldrich plays 8-12 minutes a game, assuming Martin and Stoudemire cannot go. And Martin being hurt really does hurt the team. They need him to be that defensive center who plays next to Stoudemire or Bargnani. Right now, that guy is probably Aldrich. And yeah, he’s big and strong, but he’s not half the defender that Chandler or Martin are.

Toure Murray intrigues me. He’s a hard nosed defensive guard and the fans love him. I caught glimpses of the summer league, and by glimpses I mean the one game that Iman Shumpert played, and he wasn’t overly impressive to me. He’s been more impressive in pre-season and he was definitely deserving of making the roster. The problem for him is that the Knicks are very good at the guard positions. Felton, Prigioni and Udrih are all significantly better options at point guard and Shumpert, JR Smith and Tim Hardaway Jr will all see rotation minutes at shooting guard. It’s hard to find consistent minutes for Murray. However, the Knicks have been no stranger to the injury bug over the last few seasons. At some point I think we do see Murray in action, but I don’t think it’ll be by design.

The Knicks have always done business in a shady, bizarre manner. They mirror the style of their owner, in that regard. This Smith situation feels shady to me. And let me preface all this by saying that I really do feel sorry for Chris Smith. Yes, he makes an NBA roster and the guaranteed money that comes along with it. But this cloud of controversy will be hanging over his head at what should be a joyous time for him and the Smith family. This feels so illegitimate, and I’m sure he feels the same way after playing just 20 minutes in the pre-season. Clearly there are other factors are work here, the most likely being some sort of back-room agreement between JR Smith’s agency team and the Knicks front office.

I’ve seen Knicks fans on twitter say “Well, they’re a package deal. It’s business.” No. It’s not business. Look at every other NBA roster. How many D-League level NBA players are on rosters solely based on the presence of a family member on said roster. I’ll save you the work; the answer is zero. This is not something that happens regularly, if ever. I certainly can’t remember another situation like this. Again, D-League, summer league, pre-season roster, yes this happens. But a regular season roster? No way. This isn’t business as usual, it’s Knicks business as usual.

And Knicks business as usual is almost always bad business. Where politics trumps logic. Where hard work loses out to sibling association. This is wrong. I feel bad for Chris Smith, but I feel worse for Ike Diogu, who should’ve made the team. Or the other camp tryouts who now realize they didn’t even really have a shot because JR’s brother was going to be gifted a spot. In the end, will this end up biting the Knicks? Maybe, maybe not. The lack of big man depth may hurt, but Smith himself won’t ever see game action and likely won’t be on the team come January 1st, but that isn’t the point. With the Knicks, results are never the point. And that’s the problem.

5 Rookies To Watch

The 2013 NBA Draft class was dubbed by pundits as being a “weak” class. Whether that’s true remains to be seen, but I believe there are definitely intriguing first-year players worth watching. Here are five rookies that I’m especially excited to watch:

1. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope:

You down with KCP? Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is on this list for good reason. Yes, partially because of his fantastic name, but also because of his silky smooth jump shot.

I go bonkers whenever there is a shooting guard in the draft labeled as a hybrid with the attributes “athletic freak” and “natural shooter”. Those are my favorite kinds of players besides bruising centers that can crash the glass. KCP falls under that shooting guard hybrid category. If you ask anyone that watched Georgia basketball last year, they’ll tell you how KCP carried the team. He posted an offensive rating of 115.7, along with 3.9 offensive win shares and 6.3 total win shares. Get this: Caldwell-Pope led the team with his 3.9 offensive win shares while the second highest OWS on the team belonged to Vincent Williams at 0.5. Crazy, right?

The Pistons shooting guard position is up in the air. KCP has been going up against inefficient chucker Rodney Stuckey in training camp. After Stuckey’s atrociously bad 2012-13 season – Stuckey posted a dreadful .505 TS% and a PER of just 13 –  it would make a lot of sense for Caldwell-Pope to start at shooting guard. Not only does the upside effect come into play for KCP, but he’d provide Detroit with some much needed floor spacing. With a Smith-Monroe-Drummond front court, the Pistons will need as much outside shooting as it can get from the guard spots. Stuckey is also on an expiring contract, so there is no long term commitment if Detroit wants to go in a different direction. If he starts, he could get off to another horrible start like last season (32-102 shooting in his first ten games of 2012-13) which would also open up a door for Caldwell-Pope.

The principal viewing will not be on the two-guard position due to Brandon Jennings, Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond being in the starting lineup. But with the Pistons “Big Three” on the floor (I hate using that term, but here goes it), KCP would be a viable perimeter threat. In his final year at Georgia, KCP hit 37% of his threes, establishing himself as a perfect off-the-dribble option and won the SEC Player of The Year honor. If he starts, then there would actually be floor spacing! The Pistons SB Nation blog Detroit Bad Boys made a great case for KCP starting at shooting guard.

As a matter of fact, Brandon Jennings is out for three weeks with a wisdom tooth fracture – which reminds me of a horrible root canal I had – and Rodney Stuckey broke his thumb in a car door. Will Bynum is more of a point guard, being just a 26% career three point shooter, and Chauncey Billups is very old. Billups could be in line to start, but I would bet that Caldwell-Pope takes his minutes by seasons end.

You down with KCP…he knows you…and me.

2. C.J McCollum:

Everyone should love C.J McCollum. He’s the epitome of a “student of the game.” During last year’s playoffs he would tweet smart basketball tweets and would interact with fans on a daily basis. Just before the draft, Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose did a segment for Grantland entitled “The Full NBA Job Interview,” in which they interviewed top draft prospects about their NBA paths. In my eyes, McCollum’s interview was the best one. His extroverted personality blends very well with his immense appetite for the game. It’s incredibly hard not to like him.

McCollum made Las Vegas Summer League  watchable for me. Summer League hoops is usually something I really could care less about. One night, there was nothing on TV. I flipped to NBATV, where they were rebroadcasting a Suns-Blazers game. It was early in the game, and I was thinking about turning it off. But here’s McCollum bumbling and stumbling (Clyde Frazier homages!) with the ball, trying to regain his balance. McCollum regains his balance like he was a gymnast by doing And-1 Mixtape Tour-esque moves. He drives to the baseline, and drains a floater that Raymond Felton has been trying so desperately to nail consistently for his entire career. Thanks to that moment of awesomeness, I watched the rest of the game. The Blazers ended up losing 92-84, but I didn’t care about the end result; I just cared about McCollum. He scored 22 points.

Unfortunately, McCollum broke a metatarsal in his left foot, causing him to have surgery. The injury was deja vu all over again for him, as he had the same exact injury while playing at Lehigh. The injury shelved him for the rest of his fourth and final season at Lehigh. What sucks is that McCollum was turning heads early in the process with his fantastic Summer League – he averaged 21 points in five games. He’s out indefinitely, meaning that he’ll probably miss the season opener and the first couple to few weeks of the regular season.

3. Victor Oladipo:

On top of Jason Maxiell’s elite post defending (haha just kidding, his post defense is horrible) and Arron Afflalo’s underrated play, Magic fans will be looking forward to Victor Oladipo’s freakishly athletic skillset. I too am excited about Oladipo’s athletic ability. In the draft, this was the main talking point used when discussing the second overall pick. If you watched Indiana play at all this season, you have an idea of what we’re talking about here.

The step taken between Oladipo’s sophomore and junior years are mind-blowing. His FG% went from 47% to 59%, his 3P% went from an abysmal 20% to 44%, and he raised his scoring totals from 10.8 up to 13.6 PPG. His draft stock went from bottom-of-the-table material to top 3 lottery pick in a span of two seasons.

Magic coach Jacque Vaughn has reportedly contemplated about playing the Indiana wunderkind at point guard. The proposed experiment makes no sense whatsoever. Court vision is the most rudimentary skill to have in a point guard and Oladipo doesn’t have it. Just thinking about the idea gives me the chills. Speaking of players being played out of position, this reminds me of when Iman Shumpert was inserted as a point guard in this year’s Summer League, prompting James Dolan to demand his trading from the team, and in his rookie year. This is a horrible idea and heads should roll in Orlando if Oladipo’s talents are wasted at point guard.

Magic fans’ only hopes are Oladipo and Arron Afflalo this upcoming season. I’m happy for you, Magic fans, but at the same time you have Jason Maxiell, Ronnie Price and E’Twaun Moore. Sorry about that.

4. Isaiah Canaan:

Ever since Steve Prohm took over the Murray St. head coaching position in 2011, the basketball program’s resurgence has been swift. The Racers have been transformed into an NCAA tournament contender. In Prohm’s inaugural coaching season, he coached the Racers to a 23-0 start and later to a 31-2 overall record while going 15-1 in the Ohio Valley Conference. They eventually lost in the Round of 32 against Marquette.

There’s one particular salient individual that assisted Prohm to that 31-2 pinnacle; rookie PG Isaiah Canaan, now of the Houston Rockets. The Knicks were considering drafting him with their 24th pick, but passed. Canaan fell to the early second round, which is weird to me because he was the centerpiece of Murray State’s offense. Without him at the helm, the Racers were hapless without their master general.

The Rockets investing in Canaan with their lone second round pick was a very smart decision. I penned him as the biggest steal of this year’s draft. Grabbing a 21.8 PPG scorer and .211 WS/40 point guard that late in the draft is impressive. Although Canaan will be the third point guard behind 2012-13 D-League graduate Patrick Beverley, the future is still bright for him. He’ll certainly be around.

5. Reggie Bullock:

Reggie Bullock was the guy that the majority of Knick fans wanted to draft. Why? Because he replicated the Knicks offense from last year: As Blind Melon said, “Three is a magic number.” Shoot threes, bomb threes, make threes, chuck threes; everything is about the number three. Essentially, Bullock’s role at North Carolina was to stand on the perimeter, or run around curl screen, and knock down the open perimeter shot. He shot 43% from downtown in his final season at Chapel Hill, and shot almost 39% lifetime. The Knicks drafted Tim Hardaway Jr. and Bullock went the selection after. His final season was his best, partially helped by his teammates Kendall Marshall, Tyler Zeller and Harrison Barnes all declaring for the NBA draft the year before. He was picking up much of the responsibility that those three left over, a very hefty bulk.. No matter what team was going to draft Bullock, any team was going to get a bang for their buck in a good “3 and D” wing.

Bullock may not get major playing time, due to the Clippers acquiring Jared Dudley and JJ Redick in the off-season, but he can be that full-time three point specialist in the future. He could become a Danny Green type player in the future. Bullock is currently the fourth shooting guard on the depth chart behind Jamal Crawford, Dudley, Redick, and Willie Green.

I’m talking about all of this offense relentlessly. It must mean Bullock is a subpar defender, right? Nope. In fact, he’s a pretty good defender. You can place him under the “3-and-D winger” category along with the likes of Shane Battier and Kawhi Leonard. A “3-and-D” type player is a very special player to have. Players like that are very valuable to a team. In this day in age, the three point shot is incredibly valuable to a team’s offense. Bullock is an example of what the analytics crowd adores. He posted a scorching .625 TS% his junior year at North Carolina and is good defender. Bullock is a new age role player and should fit in quite nicely in Los Angeles.

A Few Initial Thoughts On the Knicks Schedule

A few of the notable games:

  • The Knicks start the season October 30th at MSG versus the Bucks. Big picture, the first game doesn’t really matter all that much. It’s nice to win, but it’s not like the season is over for a team if it loses it’s first game. While there’s been a bit of negative backlash among the fan base about starting the season against a blah team like Milwaukee, I actually like the first matchup. Marquee opening night matchups are awesome, unless your team loses the game. It’s likely now that the Knicks start the year 1-0, and I’m totally fine with that.
  • They play Milwaukee, at Chicago, Minnesota, at Charlotte, Charlotte in their first five games. At the worst, the Knicks should be 3-2 through this first handful of games. People have tweeted me saying “4-1!” but they forget that a healthy Minnesota team makes for a very worthy opponent.
  • First Knicks-Nets matchup is December 5th at Barclays Center. It’s a Thursday night game, meaning it’ll be on TNT.
  • On Christmas Day, New York welcomes Oklahoma City to Madison Square Garden. I think this is a crappy Christmas day matchup. Of course both teams should be good, but I’d rather have seen the Knicks square off against an Eastern Conference rival like Brooklyn or Chicago. Oklahoma City should’ve played one of the other real elite teams like Miami or San Antonio.
  • After the OKC Christmas day game, New York plays a home-and-home vs Toronto. There’s a Bargnani joke in here somewhere. Those games also end this calendar year.
  • I always love seeing Felton get torched Steph Curry play, so naturally I’m excited for the Feb 28 Knicks-Warriors matchup at MSG, as well as March 30 at Oracle.
  • In April, the Knicks play Brooklyn twice, Chicago once and Miami once. Given how close the records of seeds 2-5 in the Eastern Conference project to be, these should be incredibly important games for New York.

I’m going to go get a cheeseburger now. Goodbye!

Andrea Bargnani Roundtable

1. What are the Knicks getting in Andrea Bargnani?
  • Taylor Armosino (@tarmosino): A 7-footer that hasn’t shot well in three seasons, can’t defend or rebound, and is injury prone. Statistics aren’t a skill, rather the result of a skill, but the numbers on Bargnani are scary bad. There’s no denying that he has the ability to shoot from three, but he hasn’t been good at it for a while now. Since shooting 40.9% from three in 2008-2009, his three point percentage has rapidly declined, topping off at 29.6% and 30.9% each of the past two seasons. If he isn’t able to be an above-average shooter, he’s a minus-minus (or minus x2) player. He can’t rebound a lick, can’t defend a lick and takes tough shots.
  • John Gunther (@EmbraceAnalytix): A restoration project and a lot of questions. The hope is that the Knicks are getting the floor spacing, scoring big man that Bargnani was from 2008 through 2011. A volume scorer to help ease the burden off Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith (if he returns). In reality, that Bargnani has not really existed the past two seasons. He averaged 21.4 PPG in 2010-11 while shooting 34.5% from 3P with a 44.4% 3FG%.  But his long distance shooting has plummeted consistently since he shot 40.9% in ’08-09, down all the way to 29.6% and 30.9% the past two seasons. Accordingly, his eFG% has come down as well. As his efficiency has decreased and his scoring tapered off, he suddenly became the bane Raptors fans existence so much so that Bryan Colangelo was publicly shopping him at the trade deadline. All this has left the Knicks to acquire Bargnani as a “fixer-upper.” Is he still a “floor spacer” despite his noticeable drop off in 3P%? Could a change of scenery bring him back to his previous self? Is his previous self (scoring yes, but Bargnani has consistently rebounded at a historically low rate for a 7 footer) even the type of player the Knicks really need? Time will tell.
  • Brandon Rushie (@Ayo_Rush): The optimist in me says we’ve just added a 7-footer with a pretty set shot who can contribute in the pick and pop and can draw rim protectors away from the paint. His presence will generally improve spacing for a team that loves to stretch the floor and shoot the three. Andrea clearly crumbled trying to shoulder the weight of being “the guy” in Toronto, but in New York he’d be a 2nd/3rd option, and probably playing no more than 20-22 minutes a game. The wary Knick fan in me is disgusted at the fact we just gave up three picks to get rid of two bad contracts, and received a disappointing one-way player who was reportedly on the verge of being amnestied. He’s an atrocious rebounder for his size and a sub-par defender, compounding two of our biggest weaknesses, and comes with durability concerns – having only played 66 games over the past two seasons.
  • John Dorn (@JSDorn6): The Knicks are getting something they already have too many of: a one-way player. Sure, they needed a big. But they needed a big that can help on the glass and that can defend. Bargnani, in 7 seasons, hasn’t proven that he can do either. He’s an offensive center whose offensive game isn’t good enough to justify that label. Spot-up three shooters didn’t last in Woodson’s system last year, and there’s no reason to believe they will any time soon. Overall, Bargnani is a decent scorer, who scores in ways the Knicks don’t need.
  • James Griffo: (@J_Griff): To be exact, the Knicks are getting a stretch-four/stretch five floor spacer in Bargnani. But something that is very important in a stretch-four/stretch five is that the player is capable of hitting perimeter and mid-range jumpers, hence the rudimentary floor spacing skill, which is something Bargnani can’t do. He’s an average-to-mediocre-to-subpar shooter. Combine that with also being a poor rebounder and injury-plagued for the past two seasons.
2. Who won this trade?
  • Armosino: The team that plays in Canada. From a player standpoint, the trade was probably a wash. Camby and Novak were minor role players at best, and the Knicks get back a project that still has potential to be a positive contributor. What puzzles me is why the Knicks, negotiating from a point of leverage, had to give up any picks at all, much less a first round pick. Everyone covering the Raptors is a) happy Bargnani is gone and b) shocked they got draft picks for him. This was a guy who was probably going to be amnestied because he was horrible and had a huge contract. New York did Toronto a favor by simply taking him off their hands. Why they had to throw in picks is beyond me, and really is a fireable offense by Glen Grundwald. In today’s NBA, teams should only give up first round picks to either move up in the draft or acquire a superstar. Bargnani is certainly not a superstar and they didn’t move up in the draft obviously. This was a very puzzling and disappointing trade from New York’s standpoint.
  • Gunther: Raptors. In some cases trades do not have a winner or a loser, but work out well (or poorly) for both teams involved. There is still an outside chance that both teams will come out winners depending on how Bargnani plays in NY, but the Raptors are already undoubtedly in the win column. Masai Ujiri (yes, of Melo trade fame) pulled off a coup that no one expected; actually getting a 1st round pick in return for Bargnani. The deal itself is really just an exchange of bad contracts, and without the picks being exchanged would have likely been a wash.  But since there were picks exchanged, and all 3 of them went to Toronto, its pretty clear Ujiri accomplished more than anyone expected he would have.
  • Rushie: It appears the Grunwald is making this move with 2015 in mind; Novak was the only player on the roster who’s contract extended into 2015 (Felton has a player option in 2015/2016), and now with his contract off the books, we’ll be looking at a sizable amount of spending money come that off-season. Considering Melo doesn’t opt out, it could be a legitimate chance to pair another big name alongside him. As great as that is though, the Raptors just got a trio of picks, including a first for their equivalent of Amare Stoudemire. Anyone who knows me understands that I am vehemently against trading away picks; its the cheapest was to add young rotation players, an asset you’d think a team in the position of New York would covet. However,if management is able to stand pat and see this supposed plan through, then in the long run they may be the victors. Dolan isn’t known for his patience, though.
  • Dorn:  You have to say Toronto “won” the deal. They shed a player they haven’t wanted in a long time, for one. Also, they received Steve Novak, who can be a serviceable offensive player–but that barely has anything to do with them “winning.” Masai Uriji ditched not only an albatross contract, but a player who isn’t very good , but he also got back draft picks. One second rounder could have been sufficient. Maybe two. But they netted a first as well. A first round pick. One of the first 30 picks in the draft. I’m rambling because I still can’t wrap my mind around it. It’s a no-brainer. Bargnani can go onto be a serviceable Knick, and it would still wouldn’t justify trading a first round pick.
  • Griffo:  To say that the Knicks won this trade is like saying “FIRE!” in a crowded movie theater when there’s actually no fire, but there are some that argue the Knicks won this trade (somehow). The people that argue for the Bargnani trade may bring up Marcus Camby’s uselessness due to injury from last year as a key point in their argument, which is very true, but the fact that Steve Novak, who has shot above 40% from beyond the arc in his two seasons with the Knicks, compared to Bargs .309 and .296 3P%’s from the last two seasons, is hilarious. Not to mention that Novak is a slightly crappier rebounder than Bargs, with a 5.4 TRB% compared to Bargs 7.6 TRB%. The Knicks are totally contradicting their concept of “win now.” Wait until Bargs gets injured with the training staff we have.
3. Do the cap implications of this outweigh giving up a first round pick?
  • Armosino: If it came down to choosing between more cap space in 2015 and a late first round pick, I could see the argument in going with the cap space. However, there was literally no good reason to throw in a pick to get this trade done. The Knicks were operating with leverage, taking a horrible player off a team desperate to move him. They could’ve, and should’ve, had both the pick and the cap space.
  • Gunther: No. You could argue that the cap savings in 2014-15 is one the shrewd move here by the Knicks, but that would be discounting the fact that Bargnani was a potential amnesty candidate, and the Knicks just gave up 3 picks (including a 1st) for the right to pay him $22M over 2 years. You simply cannot give up assets, which picks are (especially under the new CBA), for someone that every team around the league determines to be a liability from a cap standpoint. Additionally, if we take Blake Griffin’s Kia back to 2010 and the Tracy McGrady trade, you will remember that the Knicks paid the price of a 1st rd pick for the Rockets to take on the contract of Jared Jeffries. The cost of the 1st rd pick in this instance? $6.88M in cap space. Steve Novak’s salary in 2015-16 is $3.75M. There are countless other examples where greater cap space has brought back less than the 3 picks the Knicks just gave up in order to both take on Bargnani’s contract and shed Novak’s salary in 2015-16. Regardless of whether Denver has the right to swap the 1st rounder, the value is not made up in the cap space alone.
  • Rushie: Again, what we do with that cap space will determine if this was a smart move or not, but as of today, the Knicks got fleeced by Ujiri. For a second time.
  • Dorn: They absolutely don’t. The Knicks are saving themselves $4 million in salary two years down the line, and paid the price of 3 future picks. Picks (basically FREE talent) that would have ushered in the next era of the franchise, seeing that the team’s books are being wiped clean after 2015. Now, sure, they’re free of Novak’s $4 mil in two seasons. But they’re also free of any sort of cheap, young help that could come in to be part of the future.
  • Griffo: Eh, no. Let’s take the time machine to 2015. Melo, Amare, Tyson, Shump, among the rest of the team, is coming off the books that year (except Felton, who has a player option in 2015-16). Draft picks are incredibly valuable, even if a team makes a terrible selection after the fact. Every draft pick will have a boom-or-bust outcome, no matter what the circumstance. I guess the terms “draft pick” and “future” makes the Knicks front office gag. If the Knicks won’t be able to retain at least one of their big three that offseason, then that’s where the traded away picks would’ve came in handy, helping them to stockpile assets. On the bright side, the summer of 2015 will provide an ample amount of cap space, along with having the ability to offer a max contract, so trading away Steve Novak is beneficial for financial reasons, because he’s due cash for his final two years on his deal. If the Nuggets are nice enough to swap their 2016 first rounder as well, then woo-hoo! And, thankfully, the second rounders that are being dealt away are very low picks, so that’s good, for the most part.
4. How does this crowded front court fit together? Does this mean the end of Melo at the 4?
  • Armosino: It looks that way. Unless they plan to stash Bargnani at the end of the bench and use him only when Stoudemire gets injured, it’s hard to see how this fits together with Melo at power forward. I can see the rationale offensively of pairing Bargnani next to Anthony and Chandler. The Knicks can continue to run their small-ball style, just with a bigger lineup. Unfortunately, they have to play defense. Rather than adding defensive pieces to compensate for Anthony, Stoudemire, and Felton, the Knicks added another horrid defensive player. Moving Anthony to the 3 takes him from below average to putrid on that end of the floor, without anything other than Chandler to cover up his deficiency. Offensively, they can fit Bargnani in, but they’re going to get killed defensively.
  • Gunther: Offensively I think they can fit. Even if the Knicks go with Tyson-Bargnani-Melo frontcourt either to start or in stretches, it won’t be much different than when Novak played alongside Tyson and Melo. In theory, Bargnani would still be able to create that all important space and allow Melo to operate on the block and create for himself and others. This isn’t as bad a fit as say, Amar’e at the 4 in this lineup. Defensively, however, I am concerned. The choice is either have Melo chase around opposing 3s (bad), or sacrifice rebounding and defense by having Melo or Amar’e play PF with Bargs at C (worse?). Neither of those options are optimal. So, Melo may see his minutes at the 4 decrease this season, but I think this move says more about where the team thinks Amar’e is right now than about them writing off Melo playing the PF position. Management is putting no eggs in the Amar’e basket. Maybe it’s just wishful thinking (I like Melo at the 4), but further evidence to suggest that they will play Melo at least some at the 4 is in the drafting of Tim Hardaway, Jr and the continued courtship of the likes of Francisco Garcia, Matt Barnes, and Carlos Delfino in free agency.
  • Rushie: I believe so. While Andrea isn’t exactly in a position to demand starting minutes, a healthy Amare will almost surely start, but I expect him to begin the season with a minutes restriction. That will probably lead to him splitting his playing time with Andrea at the 4, and Melo moving back to the 3. I think the best combination would be a Melo/Andrea/Tyson frontcourt: Melo on the right block, Chandler roaming the middle as usual, and Andrea setting picks at the top of the key, drawing a big out of the paint and looking for the pick and pop.
  • Dorn:  You have to think that this is the end of small-ball for the Knicks. I can’t see Stoudemire and Bargnani both settling for a bench role. At the same time, there’s no way the team could get away with those two playing simultaneously on the second unit. Nobody really knows how this is all going to fit. You’d think either Amar’e or Andrea would be shipped out before the season, but they may be the two most un-tradeable players in the league.
  • Griffo: Just looking at the projected starting five for next year, that 18th ranked defense from last season is going to plummet all the way down to the gallows of hell, into the abyss, a dungeon that’s filled with fire, brimstone and skeletons. At least Tyson Chandler is still there. But when Mike Woodson has to adjust his rotations in-game, there will be a unit of great disaster – featuring Felton, Melo, Bargs and Amare. It seems like that Woodson’s genius Melo-at-the-4 will be on a respirator, for now. Maybe Melo at the three might work with Bargs on the floor, but that means if Melo-iso is going to occur, he won’t get a ton of spacing like he did at the 4. So, it’ll be interesting to see how Mike Woodson deals with that conflict.
5. Does this significantly move the needle in either direction?
  • Armosino: It has the potential to, and not in a good way. If the Knicks do in fact move Anthony back to small forward, their defense could implode at a level they cannot overcome. Bargnani won’t be a 30 minute a game player (I hope) so I don’t want to overstate what his impact will be. I think he’ll actually probably shoot the ball well in this offense with Anthony and Chandler directing most the focus of the offense. I’m not worried about the Knicks scoring, I’m worried about their 17th ranked defense getting even worse.
  • Gunther: It all depends on Bargnani. In all likelihood it doesn’t move the needle. But if Bargnani is as bad as he was last season and this acquisition leads them to play more traditional lineups w/ one PG and Melo at the 3, then it will definitely move the needle in the negative direction. If Bargnani can improve with the change of scenery, then there is a chance the trade will help the Knicks by adding another scoring option and another big that, while he doesn’t do some of the things traditional bigs do, can frustrate rival bigs like Noah and Hibbert by drawing them out of the paint. Is Bargnani alone going to be enough to topple Miami and the rest of the East? Of course not, but since the team was desperate for more scoring it could help them keep pace with the Nets, Bulls, and Pacers if Bargnani can perform to his potential. But given the recent evidence, I’m not banking on Bargnani being the best that he can be, so it is likely the team just threw away a couple of picks while not totally mortgage the future by also compromising cap space. The Knicks keep treading water while the Heat raise banners.
  • Rushie: No. They didn’t necessarily get worse; Camby battled injuries all season and fell out of favor with Woodson. Novak stopped being a focal point after the departure of MDA and Lin, and it was pretty clear that Woodson himself had no idea how to incorporate him into the offense. Both were signed to terrible contracts that are no longer on the books. However, the Knicks finished last year as the best 3-point shooting team in the NBA, not to mention one of the top overall offenses in the league. Their biggest needs after draft night were a point guard, rebounding, and defense. Andrea addresses none of those. Even if he bounces back and becomes a more efficient shooter, it’ll be hard to stomach watching a possible frontline of Melo, Amare, and Andrea attempting to defend. It’s even plausible that Chandler’s struggles to stay healthy stem from the fact that the Knicks ask him to do so much defensively. Our inability to defend, especially on the perimeter, leads to him being asked to clean up everyone else’s messes far more often than not. This personnel change certainly doesn’t give him any help. A friend of mine even joked with me that we essentially traded for a “7-foot Novak with a worse contract”. All we can do is hope for the best.
  • Dorn: No, they’re not getting any better. Bargnani isn’t good. They’re also not getting a whole lot worse, since Novak was more or less a non-factor by season’s end and Camby barely stepped on the court. I’d say they’re getting slightly worse, only because Melo-at-the-4 is most likely dead, and there was no real reason to stray from that.
  • Griffo: I’ll end this on a positive note. Bargnani is only 27 years old, not old enough to be considered a washed-up first overall pick, although, it sure seems like he is. Only time will tell to see if he can turn back the clock to 2009-10, and if the future draft picks that were given away in this deal will pan out. Hopefully this trade can move in the right direction. I’m trying to be optimistic, but as of now, I’m still puking bile from this trade.

What’s This We Hear About Iman Shumpert Playing Point Guard?

As the focus around New York Knicks basketball is quickly shifting from a disappointing 2013 to “now what?” in 2014, let us take a breather from the Knick-less NBA Conference Finals to discuss our promising young friend, Iman Shumpert, and his future. Late last week, ESPN New York’s Jared Zwerling tweeted that the team could be using Shumpert at point guard some next season, and he’ll be working to improve his skills there this summer.

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With one or both of Pablo Prigioni and Jason Kidd possibly walking away from New York before next year, the Knicks definitely have a need at the point guard position behind Raymond Felton. After watching Shumpert used almost exclusively as a wing in 2013, Zwerling’s tweets came as a bit of a shock. But the news isn’t completely out of nowhere.

You may have forgotten, and good for you if you did, but it was our 21-year-old Shump who temporarily saved the Knicks’ Toney-Douglas-poisoned point guard position in the extremely panicky pre-Linsanity days of 2012.  It was exceptionally cool beans at the time, because we were all used to Toney Douglas’ beans, which got all stiff and turnover-prone once the shot clock hit 20. But it was short-lived because, well, Shump really isn’t a point guard.

Let’s start with the good. In one-and-a-half NBA years, Shumpert has shown he’s a good passer, which, you know, is a good point-guard thing. Here’s a small playlist of moments from our friend’s short incumbency at the point in ’12, primarily feeding big guys in the post through traffic. (Here’s a bigger playlist of our friend Shump rapping rap songs. Both make me happy.)

It’s also worth noting that each and every one of the above defenses were absolutely brutal, but you can see some playmaking ability is there.

Some more good point-guard things Shump brings to the table is defense. He’s really good at that, which THANK GOD BECAUSE THE REST OF THE TEAM HAS NO IDEA WHAT THE F—sorry. Anyway, Shumpert can and has thrown the proverbial CLAMPS on opposing ball-handlers. So him playing the 1 would make things much more convenient, since he occasionally cross-matches onto the opposing point guard anyway.

The Knicks’ point gig is unique in that in addition to being on the dishing end of drive-and-kicks (more on that in a sec), 1s are often catch-and-shoot three options as well. With Carmelo Anthony often drawing multiple defenders in the post, the Knicks’ lead scorer is usually able to kick to open shooters for three opportunities. Felton, Kidd, and Prigioni all benefited from this at times in 2012-13, and Shump’s recent prosperity from beyond the arc leads you to believe that he could fair similarly.

Now to the bad, which is sad to talk about because Shump’s our friend. The truth is that he doesn’t really do many things well that point guards need to do well. He’s indecisive when he’s in charge of things, which kind of makes sense since he’s still 22, but it’s not a trait you want from the quarterback of your offense. He got away with a lot of the shakiness in 2013 since he was primarily stashed away in the corners and relied on as a spot-up three-point shooter, which worked out just fine. But there were moments that hesitations on simple open looks costed the Knicks points.

As a point man though, our friend would need to improve his handle, because that’s another weakness in his game right now. Nobody needs him to suddenly morph into a tall-haired Kyrie Irving (although that’d be welcomed) but we’d need some improvement if Shump is going to be the one dribbling most of the time—which made me feel uneasy just typing out.

We know that our friend loves to do cool slam dunks—and sometimes get taunting technicals for mean mugging Kevin Garnett afterward—but sadly that’s more of the dessert than the meat and potatoes. The main course of Shump attempts at the rim are missed dunks and layups, which are bad from every position but inexcusable from your 1—opposing defenses ideally have to respect the drive, leading to other outside opportunities.

According to NBA.com, Shumpert shot below 42 percent from inside five feet last season, which definitely isn’t good. In fact, his field-goal percentage from inside the restricted area was identical to his clip from the left corner. At this point it doesn’t seem like Shumpert is a strong enough finisher to run significant time at the point, but that could very well change with some offseason reps and general NBA experience.

When Shumpert was first drafted, I personally thought he would be a good combo guard that couldn’t really shoot but might be an option at point guard. Two years later, our friend has developed a sweet three-point stroke, but hasn’t exactly shown much to prove that he can run an offense. That’s alright though, because it looks like he could be on track to become one of basketball’s best 3/D wings, which was certainly a weird plot twist but we’re all rolling with it.

Shumpert has holes in his game, which, again, he’s 22. Most of his weaknesses align with skills specific to point guards. So if this all means that Shump is going to work to improve his flaws, then it seems to make sense. If Shumpert improves his awareness, handles, and finishing ability–his weak points andcritical point guard attributes–then it sounds to me like he can run some point. But based off Mike Woodson’s 2012-13 tendencies, Shumpert’s game is best suited at a wing as a scoring threat, while two ball-moving point guards share the backcourt.

As of right now, Shump is obviously not well equipped to run the offense on a team that’s supposed to contend for a title—which is probably why Knicks Twitter had a mini-meltdown when Zwerling tweeted his tweets. But I think the general idea here is for Shump to become a better, more complete basketball player first, and whatever new capabilities (e.g. playing some point) he brings with those improvements makes everybody happy.

Keep shumpin’, Shump. You became a 40-percent three-point shooter this year, which seemed about as likely as me becoming one. So if you say you’re gonna be a point guard now too, I don’t feel all that comfortable doubting you.

*Shump walks away*