Monday, December 13, 2010

Two Questions

1. What are the basketball fans on this site thinking about Amare Stoudemire and the Knicks now? The general consensus about a month ago seemed to be that he wasn't the type of player that could turn a franchise around, and therefore shouldn't be surprised that they weren't a better team early on. There were questions about whether or not he was a Top 10 type player. Bandi told us that nothing else mattered besides the fact that Amare wasn't the type of player you could build a championship team around, without offering any specific reasoning as to why this is so.

Since then, Amare has lead the Knicks to 13 wins in their last 14 games, has scored 30 or more for a franchise record 8 straight games, and is 3rd in the NBA in scoring. There are a handful of players - and we all know who they are - around the league who could have had this type of impact on this organization so far, but they all would have had a tough time having more. Not on the court, not to this point anyway. In addition to his statistical contributions, he is showing a combination of leadership and clutch (24 in the second half today, 18 in the 4th quarter on the road in New Orleans last Friday, both in wins), all at once that only the really special players have.

The Knicks, while much improved, don't have enough around Amare yet and haven't done it long enough to be considered championship contenders. But over what is now more than 25% of the season Amare would be right there in the MVP vote. If that's not someone you can build a championship team around, I'm not sure what is. Especially because "building around" in the NBA these days usually means putting 2-3 high quality players on the same roster (Kobe/Gasol, Pierce/Allen/Garnett). Amare has certainly proven he can be part of one of those kinds of tandems, and then some. If it seems like I'm gushing, that's because I am, this has been one of the better individual runs that has serious W/L column implications in the NBA in the last few years. This is a team that hasn't won more than 39 games in 9 seasons, and now they're on pace for 52 in large part thanks to his performance. So everyone who liked to (rightfully) point out how absolutely terrible the Knicks have been for so long now has to tip their cap to a player who was good enough to turn something that terrible around. Right?

2. If the Red Sox were willing to spend $142 million on Carl Crawford, why weren't they willing to spend $120 million on a better player in Matt Holliday last winter? I understand that there could be a lot of reasons for this, including strategy and financial situation. But I still think it's a question worth contemplating. Carl Crawford is a very good player, but the only reason everyone got as pumped up about him as they did this winter was because he was the best position player on the market, and because he looked good compared to Jayson Werth. Matt Holliday, by contrast, is good compared to anyone in any winter recently. He is a career .317/.388/.543 player; Crawford .296/.337/.444. I understand that Crawford brings a ton of speed, but Holliday is no slouch athletically, and with that in mind there is no amount of speed advantage that could make up for the difference between a career .931 and .781 OPS (135 vs. 107 OPS+).

We're talking about building around above, and Holliday is someone you can build a lineup around, and certainly can be part of a major 1-2 punch in the middle of most any order. Crawford is more of a super-complementary player offensively, someone who is going to supplement traditional offensive power, but isn't going to carry a lineup. Now, if you were going to tell me that you already had your two middle of the order bats and wanted a different kind of player, and Crawford was the one getting $120 and Holliday $142, okay. That's a really nice alternative in an instance where you want to save $22 million. But since they were the same age when they hit free agency, Holliday was cheaper, and at the time the Sox didn't have two middle of the order bats, it's a tough sell. Obviously there was no way for the Sox to predict what markets were going to end up materializing for both players, and again things can and probably have changed since last offseason, which is understandable. But in hindsight, Holliday would have been the better play. Crawford/Gonzalez/Youkilis is going to be a scary 2/3/4. Holliday/Gonzalez/Youkilis would have been an even scarier 3/4/5.

14 comments:

the gm said...

1. .500. I'm happy for you. Up Irish one time.

2. The answer should be pretty clear: The Red Sox ultimately have no plan, or if they do have a plan, it got F'ed up royally in the last two years. Was it really anticipated that Lars Anderson was going to be the next Kevin Maas? Did they really think 46 would be as soft as he is? Probably not. They also probably thought "run prevention" was a successful business model - and so did we. A lot of people picked the Run Prevention Mariners to win the division.

I think, however, what nobody anticipated was how vilified this ownership group became, literally in the course of four months. The Kerry Wood/luxury tax was the beginning and, yeah, I've already talked about that. But do you think the big picture guy, Theo Epstein, was at all interested in paying big bucks for either of the guys they invested in? I think their business model of not signing guys to years (including Holliday, Crawford, Werth if it came to that, or almost anyone would have held strong until Gonzalez became available after 2011.

Then the soccer thing happened. Henry and Lucchino, realizing that they were losing the Red Sox' fan base bigtime, decided it was necessary in terms of brand preservation to pay twice (although he is only signed through the 2011 season, fact) for Adrian Gonzalez and pay for an inferior player to Holliday. When Anderson crapped the bed, I think everyone was on board with signing Gonzalez when he became a free agent AFTER the 2011 season. The years 2010 and 2011 were to be bridge years, and everyone would have to deal with it.

Trading for Gonzalez sounded like calling an audible on the 2011 bridge year. Signing Crawford just cemented the notion. Inspired by panic? In my eyes, absolutely. But it certainly made the team better.

Anonymous said...

PF

Agree I with DV that the Sox 'plan' changes with the weather. That's obviously a huge part of why they went after Crawford this year but not Holliday last year. But I think there are two other reasons as well. First, the Sox know that Crawford plays well in big spots and in the AL East. Holliday's stint in the AL (granted it was short and in a huge ballpark) was unimpressive. I bet that scared some people away. More importantly though, is that Holliday was really leaning toward staying in St. Louis and certainly wasn't being heavily pursued by the Yankees. The Sox were terrified that Crawford was going to New York. The signing not only made them better, but prevented the Yankees from getting better, too.

As for Amare Stoudamire I'm really impressed with him. I never thought he was a franchise guy. He's proven me and many others wrong. All the MVP hype that he's getting is well deserved.

That said, it's important to note that the Knicks have had a very favorable schedule of late. Granted they would have lost many of those games in years past and taking care of business against bad teams is the hallmark of a quality team, still, I think they've played two winning teams in that stretch and split with them. The next 6-8 games with Boston, Miami (twice), Orlando, Chicago, and OKC should be a nice barometer. If the Knicks go 4-2 in those six games you have to start feeling really good about where they are headed.

--the Gunn

TimC said...

Just adding onto the Gunn's point, I took a peek at the standings and saw a who's who of lottery bound teams that the Knicks have played over this stretch. A couple of good wins in there against Denver and NO but NO is not particularly stout on the inside defensively and Denver has to deal with Carmelo and the whole New York trade/FA situation. Good matchups, I think. I see the Knicks as like the Bucs in the NFL this year- a good team on the upswing being led by a guy (Freeman, I suppose) that many did not tip to be as successful as he has been this season. Like the Bucs, I expect the Knicks to win against poor teams and stumble against the better ones. Who knows, though, maybe I'll be singing a different tune after these next few games.

Ross Kaplan said...

1). I'm a Knicks fan gotta stay true yes I do yeah I'm down with the orange and the blue, GO NY GO NY GO!
I am absolutely jumping back on the Knicks bandwagon.

2). I'm not going to address whether Crawford is better than Holliday, because I just don't care enough about it, but this kind of has to do it with it anyway.

At this point I feel like I'm rooting against Lee signing with NY. I have absolutely no facts to back me up, but I just have a gut feeling that he's going to be a disaster for whichever team he ends up with. I give him 2-3 good, but unspectacular years followed by 4-5 injury plagued/crappy years. 7 years is way too many for any player in their 30s nevertheless a pitcher where long term contracts almost never work out well in the end.

Patrick said...

gm -

good points, especially on how difficult it would have been to anticipate the way the fans turned.

gunn -

i can't imagine that 400 plate appearances over 93 games in oakland of .286/.378/.454 baseball really impacted anybody. that's a massive park and i'm sure adjusting to the way the ball flies differently away from coors is difficult for anybody the first time, no matter what park they go to. we know that it's statistically proven that AL pitching is very different from NL pitching, and this has to be a legitimate concern in any evaluation. they face weaker lineups. but hitters face the same type of pitchers no matter which league they are in. if you are talking more about the pressure point of coming from a less scrutinized NL west to the AL east i think that has some merit, but nothing about that would be proven from his time in oakland anyway, as the AL west isn't a pressure cooker either. we've really never heard anything about holliday being a fragile guy, and the fact that he has 6 home runs in 14 career playoff games - albeit a small sample - is so impressive that it's probably further evidence that he has a little toughness to him. if he came to fenway as a righty with that kind of pop, there is little doubt in my mind that he would have raked. but no matter how likely, the fact that crawford is proven is always comforting. that said, sometimes it's worth taking the risk - for less money no less - to go after the better but less proven player.

fair point on the yankees, and i could see why the sox would be concerned. the yankees were never really in, so it's funny how each of these teams just drive up the price for the other. very good point on holliday not being on the yankees radar making him less significant for the sox, but at the same time the sox have to worry more about what players are best for them separate from the yankees. which i'm sure they do. but i wouldn't let the yankees get in the way of a difference like the one from holliday to crawford.

Patrick said...

gunn/timc/ross -

i don't think any of us are under any disillusions about what the knicks schedule has been like, and how much tougher it is about to get through the beginning of february. it gets talked about all the time down here. but i think the sticking point here is 13-1. if they had gone 9-5 or even 10-4 against this competition, good performances on their face but not as impressive given the competition, we aren't having this conversation. but this is the knicks, and as the gunn pointed out they would have previously lost some of these games because they WERE one of these teams. they haven't done well against an easy part of their schedule, they've dominated it, and that is the reason it's noteworthy. they went 2-1 against .500 or better teams over the stretch, and you can only play your schedule the way it's given to you the best you can.

i also don't think most are under any disillusions about what this team is compared in the bigger scheme. 13-1 is just to point out that they've improved so much - mostly due to amare - not that they are amongst the nba's elite. this team is still a player away from a contender, and for the time being is probably just on the outside of the top 10, maybe the 11th or 12th most talented team in the nba, middle of the playoff picture in the east. which is awesome if you're a knicks fan, nothing special otherwise. 6 of their last 7 games to close out this month are absolutely brutal, and i would not be even a little bit surprised if they went 1-6 or 2-5. if you gave me 3-4 right now i'd sign before you could blink, but i don't think that's realistic, especially because i'm sure the big boys in the east will be quick to want to tell the knicks they aren't there yet. with that said, the pieces are now in place. if they get that player, and pair him with amare, the way felton is playing and with the support pieces they have to put around these guys, they'll have something. we talk about "plan", this team now has a direction and structure. if they land carmelo, they'll be right there with anybody in the nba.

Anonymous said...

Hmm...let's see here. Bandi makes comment. Pat goes off on Bandi in a post after his player has success in a very small sample size... Well, some people just don't learn their lesson.

The Knicks really need to get both Carmelo and another significant piece in to really become a championship threat. We'll see if that happens. I'm rooting for you. It would be good to have the Knicks as a relevant team again.

In the meantime, if we want to start giving out trophies for winning streaks in November and December, we'd have to take a look at the Mavs as well.

Anonymous said...

By the way Pat, for the record, this is when you win the argument- when the Knicks win an NBA championship with Amare being one of the top two players on the team.

If that happens I will gladly say I'm wrong. I really don't see that happening. And I'm certainly not going to get into an argument with you after the knicks play well over a month stretch.

Patrick said...

well that's a really strong position for you to take jon. you win if the knicks don't win a championship, for all of the reasons that a team could fall short of a championship, because despite those things, it somehow proves that amare isn't the kind of player you can build a championship around. because, of course, there has never been a situation in sport's history where there has been a player that is very capable of building a championship team around but due to other things (lack of supporting talent, injuries, OTHER TEAMS BEING BETTER) that player never wins a championship. so if the knicks don't win, that's all the evidence we need that amare is not this kind of player.

i win if everything that has to go right for the knicks to win a championship happens.

as i pointed out when we first had this discussion, going just by this standard there are about 5 players in the nba that we know can have championship teams built around them. this is silly. i think through some really hard critical thinking we can probably determine there are other guys that haven't yet - and some of them probably will never - win a championship that are still in this caliber of player. i don't think this argument is about winning and losing so much as it is making a determination about what kind of player one is. for example, i don't think i'm going out on a limb by saying kevin durant and chris paul are players most reasonable people - and more importantly GM's - would agree are the type that championships could get built around based on everything they've done in their career to date. i would add amare to that group, and would have long before he was a free agent. if you disagree, that's fine. but i don't think establishing winning a championship as the only way of determining which players are of this caliber is particularly useful.

Anonymous said...

Pat,

We live in a results driven world first of all. Not sure if you recognize that but thought I would check.

Second, you can always speculate about what might have been, but I dont know what is a better test of whether or not a player can be a cornerstone of a championship level team, than to build a team around him and see if he can win. If Amare never wins a championship, then he's not a championship level player. It just is really funny to me that you write this really strong post about Amare can be the cornerstone of a championship team. And then I say if he wins ill say your right. And now you are backtracking already. Make up your mind.

And it's not like I have no evidence in my corner. Look at him in Phoenix. He played with a multiple mvp winner and has no championship to show for it. You tell me.

Patrick said...

i mean i'm not backtracking. obviously if amare wins that is a totally dispositive way of proving that he, or anyone, is a championship player. i guess i'm drawing a distinction between "championship player" and guys we identify as talented enough that it is reasonable to attempt to build a championship around them. in the extreme example, i don't think karl malone and john stockton can be viewed as guys you couldn't build a championship team around because they couldn't get past jordan. that's really my point. i'm not saying this to say this example proves amare is that type of player, i'm just saying i think this analysis should exist.

what i'm really interested in is your initial comment. something along the lines of "all you really need to know is that amare stoudemire is not the kind of player you can build a championship team around." maybe it would be helpful for you to explain why that is. put this season to date aside. by all accounts amare is very safely one of the 15 best players in the nba across the last few seasons, and is 28 years old. if that kind of guy can't be someone that you can look at and say "i think he can be one of two important pieces i can build a championship around" than who can you do so with besides the top 5-6 guys and those that have already won championships? when there are 30 teams ostensibly "trying" to win a championship, it seems ridiculous to limit the caliber of player who is worthy of building around by as much as you need to to exclude a player of amare's caliber. and i would say the same thing if you were trying to make this argument about other similar players not on the knicks (carmelo, howard, deron williams - to name a few players on varying levels of impact). so i guess my question is, would you? are you saying all of those players aren't reasonable to build around if they never win a championship?

Anonymous said...

Pat,

Theoretically, you could "build" a championship team around a lot of players if you just kept adding other talented players to the mix.

When I'm talking about building around a player I'm talking about him being the go to guy that you run your offense through and give the ball to down the stretch of games to close the game out. It also helps if you can impact the game in more than one way, but I'll get back to that in a minute.

With Amare, I'm not suggesting that he hasn't played extremely well over the last month. But when I think about a championship level guy I think about a guy that's not only going to play well in the regular season, but is also going to be that guy that comes up with the clutch baskets in the playoffs and wills his team to win. I think that's a fair description of a "championship level player." I think you could look at a guy like Deron Williams and think "you know what, he could take over a playoff game and even a series and will his team to win."

You look at a guy like Kobe or Tim Duncan or Shaq or any other great player that won a champioship in the 2000s and you saw those types of performaces. You can point to the Pistons team that won a ring and say they were different. I would say they were an abberation that doesn't happen very often and weren't built around a specific player.

I don't see Amare in that same light as those elite guys. Maybe I'm wrong, we'll see.

To go back to one thing I mentioned earlier, I really like Amare's offensive game. He's extremely athletic, and I like that he's added the mid range jumper. But scoring is all he does really well. He rarely makes a impact in any other area. Again, I'm not saying there haven't been exceptions to this statement in the last 14 games, but I've seen enough of Amare in his career to form this opinion.

You look at other guys like Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Dwight Howard (who scored 39 the other night), Lebron James and others, and they can impact the game in multiple areas. Even someone like Paul Pierce is a pretty good defender and rebounder for a guard.

That's not something Amare has done in his career. He's just not a complete player like a lot of the other guys, which is why I hesitate to say you could build a team around him. And it's not just Amare- I would say the same thing about Nowitzki, or Joe Johnson or Rudy Gay or Kevin Durant (for now) or any number of other guys that can put the ball in the basket but aren't going to control a playoff series and get their team over the hump.

Lastly, you haven't addressed the Phoenix Suns years, when Amare played with a lot of good players like Nash and Marion and others and couldn't win a championship.

You also haven't addressed the fact the west is better than the east (this is like Amare going to the national league and lowering his ERA).

Sorry for the rambling comment. Have a good night

Anonymous said...

Pat,

Theoretically, you could "build" a championship team around a lot of players if you just kept adding other talented players to the mix.

When I'm talking about building around a player I'm talking about him being the go to guy that you run your offense through and give the ball to down the stretch of games to close the game out. It also helps if you can impact the game in more than one way, but I'll get back to that in a minute.

With Amare, I'm not suggesting that he hasn't played extremely well over the last month. But when I think about a championship level guy I think about a guy that's not only going to play well in the regular season, but is also going to be that guy that comes up with the clutch baskets in the playoffs and wills his team to win. I think that's a fair description of a "championship level player." I think you could look at a guy like Deron Williams and think "you know what, he could take over a playoff game and even a series and will his team to win."

You look at a guy like Kobe or Tim Duncan or Shaq or any other great player that won a champioship in the 2000s and you saw those types of performaces. You can point to the Pistons team that won a ring and say they were different. I would say they were an abberation that doesn't happen very often and weren't built around a specific player.

I don't see Amare in that same light as those elite guys. Maybe I'm wrong, we'll see.

To go back to one thing I mentioned earlier, I really like Amare's offensive game. He's extremely athletic, and I like that he's added the mid range jumper. But scoring is all he does really well. He rarely makes a impact in any other area. Again, I'm not saying there haven't been exceptions to this statement in the last 14 games, but I've seen enough of Amare in his career to form this opinion.

You look at other guys like Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Dwight Howard (who scored 39 the other night), Lebron James and others, and they can impact the game in multiple areas. Even someone like Paul Pierce is a pretty good defender and rebounder for a guard.

That's not something Amare has done in his career. He's just not a complete player like a lot of the other guys, which is why I hesitate to say you could build a team around him. And it's not just Amare- I would say the same thing about Nowitzki, or Joe Johnson or Rudy Gay or Kevin Durant (for now) or any number of other guys that can put the ball in the basket but aren't going to control a playoff series and get their team over the hump.

Lastly, you haven't addressed the Phoenix Suns years, when Amare played with a lot of good players like Nash and Marion and others and couldn't win a championship.

You also haven't addressed the fact the west is better than the east (this is like Amare going to the national league and lowering his ERA).

Sorry for the rambling comment. Have a good night

Patrick said...

thanks for the clarification, that makes a lot of sense. i don't necessarily agree, but i see where you're coming from. i had previously thought you were equating championship players only to those who win a championship. while that is true in the literal sense of the word, i don't think that captures the essence of what we are talking about, and it seems like we agree on that.

regarding amare specifically, i think we have a player that has evolved. he started off as a guy who relied mostly on his incredible athleticism and steve nash made a lot of what he did look easy. but i think we are seeing now that it is possible being with someone like nash, who did most of the playmaking, may have actually inhibited amare's total game and what he can do for others. i think the perception of amare as a player with elite contributions in only limited areas is really just from what we are used to initially.

especially now that we see him for the first time away from nash and phoenix. he's proving to be someone who is not only talented enough, but balanced enough and smart enough that you can legitimately run an offense through him. i'm not sure how much you've watched of the knicks this year, but he frees up his teammates due to attention he draws both with and without the ball at a high level. he's now scoring the ball anywhere on the court inside 17 feet, both off the dribble and off the catch, with his back to the basket and facing up. he's able to go buy big men with 2/3 like athleticism and finish on them with 4/5 type power. he's an incredibly efficient player as a career 54% shooter, something i value highly. he's also around the top 10 most years in rebounding. he also changes games on a regular basis with his athleticism on both sides of the floor, defending at a much higher level than he was advertised. as i said in a prior comments section, it's really hard to ask for much more from a power forward.

i'll the first to admit i didn't know amare was this good prior to this season. and i think part of that is that he is playing the best basketball of his career. which is why i mention evolving and that maybe he is even better being "the man" as opposed to playing off nash in phoenix. it's somewhat counterintuitive based on the type of player nash is, but based on what we've seen so far it's hard to not come to a different conclusion. i think importantly, before this season you would have grouped amare in with guys like bosh and boozer. it's pretty clear that he's better than those guys (think they'd be having this kind of impact on the knicks?), and i don't think it's out of the question that he's the best power forward in the nba right now. to me, that's the kind of guy you can absolutely build around. he had two second halves/4th quarters just in the last week against good new orleans and and denver teams where he did exactly what you are talking about, controlling and taking over games. the only place i've really seen amare get negative treatment is in this space, and i guess i bring it up again as i'm kind of interested as to why that is. most people seem pretty high on him, especially in light of what he's doing now. have to think he's a legit mvp candidate at this very early juncture in the season.

regarding the suns, it goes back to what i said above. he's clearly gotten better, and maybe he wasn't totally maximized there. obviously there is the consideration that they had some really good teams there, and didn't get it done for whatever reason. maybe that says something about amare, but not necessarily.

regarding the west vs. the east, fair points, and i think goes into the general weak schedule discussion. it's likely we'll see at least a slight regression as the schedule gets tougher here in the coming days and weeks.

good debate, enjoyed this.