Six Pack: A Look at the Knicks’ Retooled Roster
HOOPSWORLD’s Senior NBA Analyst Tommy Beer takes you through his most recent musings on the National Basketball Association in this latest installment of the NBA Six Pack… This week, we focus on New York, in a very Knicks-centric Six Pack
1. Marcus Camby Returns to Gotham
Despite having the NBA’s best defensive player in Tyson Chandler, the 2011-2012 Knicks occasionally struggled getting stops over the second half of the season. In particular, NY’s interior defense was badly exposed whenever Chandler went to the bench for a quick rest, or was prematurely sidelined due to foul trouble.
In addition, rebounding was an issue for New York last season as well. The Knicks averaged just 41.7 rebounds per game, which landed them in the bottom third of the league.
Enter Marcus Camby…
Despite his advanced age (38), Camby remains one of the NBA’s elite rebounders and is still a solid shot blocker and paint protector. Consider this: Dwight Howard finished second the NBA in Rebound Rate last season, behind only one player – Marcus Camby. In fact, Camby has led the NBA in Rebound Rate each of the past three seasons. Despite seeing reduced playing time in the latter stages of his career, Marcus has been remarkably efficient. Since the start of the 2010-11 season, Camby has averaged 14.1 rebounds, 2.2 blocks and 1.1 steals Per-36 minutes.
Adding a productive and defensive-minded backup center was high on the Knicks to-do list this summer, and they checked that box when they completed a sign-and-trade for Camby, which was officially announced on Wednesday. (The Knicks shipped out Toney Douglas, center Jerome Jordan, forward Josh Harrellson and second-round picks in 2014 and 2015, and $2 million in cash)
Some Knicks fans voiced displeasure over the trade, worried that New York was giving up to much for an aging backup big man. However, the players and the picks the Knicks gave up are relatively inconsequential. Douglas was a liability on both ends of the floor last season; Jorts was a pleasant surprise, but certainly possessed a limited upside; Jerome Jordan looked absolutely lost, and worse seemed somewhat disinterested in his limited playing time. However, the fact that the Knicks had to fork over $2 million in cash may come back to bite them. Under the parameters of the new CBA, teams can only include a total of $3 million in any/all trades made during each fiscal year. The Knicks now have just $1 million left to sweeten the pot in any trades made the rest of this season.
Nonetheless, the sign-and-trade was necessary in order to preserve the mini-mid-level exception, which NY later used to land Jason Kidd (which will be discussed below).
Moreover, as detailed above, it was imperative to find a legit big man to back up Chandler. Not only to bolster the defense, but also to get more rest for Tyson. During his championship season in Dallas, Chandler averaged less than 28 minutes per game. Last season in New York, Chandler played over 33 minutes a night. That’s too much of a burden on the Knicks best big man. On a similar note, reducing Amar’e Stoudemire’s workload is imperative as well. Amar’e played over 36 mpg during his first year in New York, and his body has been a mess ever since. Camby is versatile enough to slide in at either the center or power forward spot. How about Head Coach Mike Woodson occasionally utilizing a lineup featuring Camby and Chandler on the floor together? That makes for an imposing front line.
With both Camby and Chandler on the squad, the Knicks are the only team in the league with multiple Defensive Player of the Year award winners on the same roster.
Lastly, in defense of the sign-and-trade, teams always have to pay a premium for quality centers. The Knicks roster is not yet complete, but it is certainly far easier for an NBA GM to add a shooter or a wing defender than a legit big man.
2. Jason Kidd: Winner.
Jason Kidd played his first playoff game following the 1996-1997 season. And he has participated in the NBA’s postseason tournament each and every single season since. Yes, for 16 straight years, the team J Kidd played for, qualified for the playoffs Coincidence? Probably not.
Coach Mike Woodson is legendary for his love of veterans, and in Kidd he now has one of the smartest and savviest playmakers on the planet on his team. Statically, Kidd’s resume speaks for itself. He ranks second in NBA history in total assists (11,842) and total steals (2,559), third in three pointers (1,874) and eighth in assists per game (9.0). He is a five-time All-NBA First-Team selection and was named to the NBA’s All-Defensive First Team four times. Not bad for a backup point guard.
Nevertheless, Kidd will turn 40 years of age next March, and has clearly lost a step or two. That said, he can certainly still contribute to a winning basketball team. Just 13 months ago, Kidd was helping direct the Mavericks to an NBA Championship. Jason led the entire NBA in postseason assists during the 2011 postseason.
Still, both Kidd and the Knicks understand that a 39-year old can’t be expected to play starters minutes much longer, and Kidd is a near perfect fit for what the Knicks need at this stage of the game. Yes, there were younger PGs available on the open market (Raymond Felton, Ramon Sessions, etc.), but would those players have been truly content coming off the bench and playing 20-25 minutes a night? There is something to be said for chemistry and role players embracing their roles. More importantly, it appears as though New York’s matching of Jeremy Lin’s offer sheet is but a mere formality and Kidd projects as the seemingly ideal mentor for a young man learning to play PG on the NBA level.
For instance, Kidd has started 146 playoff games in his career; Lin has started a mere 25 regular season contests. In fact, Kidd has more triple-doubles (107), than Lin has NBA appearances (64).
Lin played some combo guard in college and off the ball at times during his stint with Golden State as well. He posted an impressive assist rate during the Linsanity craze, but he is more of a scoring PG. The Knicks are hopeful Jason can help Jeremy learn to see the entire floor and find open teammates on a more consistent basis. New York is obviously heavily invested in Lin, so bringing in one of the game’s greatest point guards as a mentor certainly makes a lot of sense.
Per Howard Beck of the New York Times, Kidd said Thursday he was looking forward to his new role with the Knicks — mentoring Jeremy Lin and coming off the bench to provide timely offense.
“To have a chance to mentor a very good player in Jeremy and be able to share my secrets with him is exciting,” Kidd said at a news conference, in which he and Marcus Camby were introduced by General Manager Glen Grunwald. “I hope he can take it to another level.”
And in the Knicks offense, Kidd will likely frequently find himself open from beyond the arc. Dismissed as a below-average jump-shooter early in his career (who doesn’t remember the “Ason Kidd” jokes), Kidd honed his craft and developed into a reliable three-point catch-and-make shooter. Since 2007, Kidd has knocked down 38.4% of three-point attempts (In contract, his teammate Dirk Nowitzki has shot just 37.6 from distance over that same stretch). As a matter of fact, Kidd has nailed more three-pointers than Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Kevin Durant combined.
3. Linsanity Lives On in NYC
It is being reported that Jeremy Lin will sign the Rockets offer sheet on Friday, at which point the Knicks will have three days to match it. As I have detailed in depth in this space multiple times, the Knicks are fully expected to match the offer and retain Lin.
There are multiple reasons, both on and off the floor, for keeping Linsanity alive inside MSG. From a marketing perspective, it’s a true no-brainer. Lin was a veritable cash cow for the organization. From jersey sales, to increased TV ratings, to ticket sales – Lin made millions upon millions for owner James Dolan and the entire franchise. And from a sheer monetary perspective, the Rockets could have offered a contract worth $40 million guaranteed over four seasons. However, only the first three years are guaranteed on the offer sheet Lin is set to sign, with a team option on the fourth and final season. The annual payouts will be $5.0 million the first year, $5.2 million the second year, and $9.3 million both the third and fourth years, with only the third season guaranteed. All told, only $19.5 million would be guaranteed. The total potential value of the contract would be $28.8 million, if the team elected to exercise the team option for the 2015-2016 season. Considering some of the deals that have been signed this summer, that actually represents a fair value considering everything Lin brings to the table.
But holding onto Lin also make a lot of sense strictly from and X’s and O’s perspective as well. Point guard is undeniably a position of need for the Knicks. Remember, Toney Douglas started in the Knicks season opener back in December; and Mike Bibby started at PG in Game 5 versus Miami.
Lin saved the Knicks season when he exploded onto the scene in February, averaging a mind-boggling 18.2 points, 7.7 assists, 3.7 rebounds, and 2 steals in 25 starts, before a knee injury sidelined him.
Can Lin come close to replicating the numbers he posted last season? The first step will be proving he is healthy and the knee injury is no longer an issue. Then comes proving to the naysayers that “Linsanity” wasn’t just a fad, and that he is here to stay. With a mentor like Jason Kidd to both back him up and assist in his development, his chances have likely improved.
4. Novak’s Back
Of course Linsanity dominated the headlines last season, but Jeremy Lin wasn’t the only waiver-wire sensation Glen Grunwald plucked off the trash heap last winter.
Back on December 19th 2011, the San Antonio Spurs waived journeyman forward Steve Novak. Novak has played for three different teams over the previous 18 months, and had yet to establish himself as legitimate NBA commodity. On December 21st, after being spurned by Shawne Williams (who had accepted more money to play for the New Jersey Nets), Grunwald “settled” for Novak as a replacement.
The rest, as they say, is history… Novak went on to break numerous single-season franchise records for both three-point accuracy and proficiency. Williams, on the other hand, was a colossal bust for the Nets, shooting under 29% from the floor and being benched, before breaking his left foot, which sidelined him for the season.
Novak absolutely thrived in a Knickerbocker uniform, emerging as the best long-range shooter in the entire league in the second half of the season. Over the final 35 games last season, Steve Novak shot 48.5% from 3PT. As a point of comparssion, over that same stretch, NY’s starting shooting guard Landry Fields shot 48.1% from the free-throw line.
Whenever he was on the floor, almost always camped out behind the three-point arc, Novak put immense fear into opposing defenses. He is essentially a one-trick pony, but that one trick was undeniably effective.
The Knicks inked Novak to a four-year, $15 million contract, which is probably overpaying him a bit, but New York was already way over the salary cap. And because of the court ruling which allowed the Knicks to maintain his “Bird Rights,” the signing of Novak did NOT impact Grunwald’s ability to use the mini-MLE. The only real impact was to Jimmy Dolan’s wallet, both via the salary itself and the corresponding luxury tax hit.
However, it should be noted that Novak was locked up by the Miami HEAT’s stifling defense in their first round matchup with New York in April. Novak was held scoreless in two of the Knicks four losses and connected on just four three-pointers in the entire series. Novak told reporters on Thursday that his offseason will be focused on putting the ball on the floor more often, and Woodson has gone on the record stating that he’ll focus on new ways to use Novak in the offense.
5. J.R. Smith Returns at a Discount
Of the many moves the Knicks made this summer, re-signing J.R. Smith at the bargain basement price of $2.8 million for the 2012-2013 season might very well prove to the best “bang-for-the-buck” contract they wrapped up this month.
There are undeniable flaws in Smith’s game, principally shot selection on the court and immaturity off the floor. However, at under $3 million, the upside outweighs the potential drawbacks. Smith likely could have garnered more money had he hit the open market, but showed loyalty to his hometown team.
Smith is the first to admit he struggled a bit during his short stint as a Knick last season, shooting just 40.7% from the floor and 34.7% from three-point territory. Over his five previous NBA seasons, Smith had shot over 38% from distance and nearly 44% from the field. Safe to assume J.R.’s percentages should creep back to a higher ground next season.
In addition, the Knicks shooting guard situations remains up in the air, as Iman Shumpert rehabs from a torn ACL (return date tentatively sounding like January) and New York has yet to decide whether or not they will match the offer sheet from the Raptors that Landry Fields has signed. If New York does not match and Fields ends up north of the border, Smith may start and see a significant increase in playing time. (As an aside, to help put Smith’s $2.8 million contract in context, he’ll be making less than half of Landry Fields $6.3 MM annual salary). While J.R. is probably best suited to come off the bench, Smith may be primed to prove he is a solid NBA starter. His career Per-36 minutes averages are surely encouraging: 18.2 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 3.0 assists.
6. Prognosis for a Retooled Roster
With Kidd officially signing for the mini-MLE on Thursday, New York’s only means of adding additional pieces now is via the veteran’s minimum, unless they can complete a sign and trade with Dan Gadzuric’s non-guaranteed contract ($1.4MM). With the market drying up a bit, Grunwald may be able to snag another valuable contributor, likely at off-guard or small forward, for the vet’s min.
Either way, the Knicks have already significantly bolstered their bench and Grunwald and the rest of the front office deserves kudos for brining in Camby and Kidd, while also retaining all their important pieces. (Obviously, they benefited from the somewhat shocking court decision which allowed NY to re-sign Novak and Lin without dipping into the mid-level exception).
That fact that we are wrapping up this column and are now mentioning Carmelo Anthony’s name for the first time, speaks to the depth this roster now boasts. Bench play, which was a major weakness last season, could actually become a strength in 2012-2013. Assuming the starting lineup looks like this consists of Lin, Smith, Melo, Amar’e and Chandler; then the first three players off the bench would be: Camby, Kidd, and Novak. Once Iman Shumpert returns, that is a solid nine man rotation. (Grunwald also signed Argentina PG Pablo Prigioni to a one year deal. He likely settle in as a 3rd string PG)
With a full training camp under Mike Woodson, the team will enter the 2012-2013 campaign with lofty expectations. Can they meet, or even exceed, those expectations? Stay tuned…