Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Midseason Hoops Review (Bringing The Garden Back Two At A Time)

Pretty incredible that we are just shy of the midway point in both the NBA and college basketball seasons. Seems like we just got started. Looking back at the first half of both seasons from a New York perspective, what's also incredible is just how similar the falls and rises of the city's two primary teams - The Knicks and St. John's University Men's Basketball - have been. About a decade ago, both teams checked out after prolonged stretches of mostly success. With the exception of one playoff appearance for The Knicks and one NCAA Tournament appearance for St. John's, the better part of the last ten years have been a combination of losing and off the court embarrassments. Not a good mix for the organization, the school, or their fans.

Now, for whatever reason both teams have come storming back in the same year in similar fashion. The beginning of each season was marked by ups and downs, as the Knicks searched to adjust to new players and SJU searched to adjust to new coaches. Then in clicked, and both teams went on extended runs of winning, winning games few expected them to because they were games they hadn't won consistently for a long time. That was followed by a period of wondering what both teams really were, nice comeback stories on nice streaks that were nothing more than pretenders, or teams that could legitimately mix it up. These teams 2010-2011 revivals have been so similar that they answered that question on back to back nights, with signature wins against #13 Georgetown and the team in the NBA with the best record, the San Antonio Spurs. I have been to St. John's games and have not yet been to a Knicks game, but I don't need to in order to know just how much the Garden is rocking again. It's just as palpable on TV as it is to be their live for SJU games. New York City, the greatest basketball city in the world, is excited for basketball again in a big way thanks to these two teams and that's a beautiful thing.

Where these two teams go in the 2nd half is not necessarily going to be as similar as their 1st half revivals. Not in a good or bad way, just a different way primarily based on differences between the pro and college games (most notably that the Big East league schedule is more difficult than the NBA schedule - it's sort of like playing 10 of the top 15 teams in the NBA on repeat).

For the Knicks, if everyone stays healthy they should cruise to a playoff spot. The way the East is shaping up there are six really good teams (Boston, New York, Chicago, Miami, Orlando, and Atlanta) and nobody else is even close. There's a lot of season left but those 7/8 seeds in the East could be NFC West ugly. They are without Gallinari for a few weeks, and while that is a tough loss (Gallo had been playing great) during a very difficult part of their schedule, (A) it could have been a lot, a lot worse of an injury, and (B) it has forced D'Antoni to do something he publicly stated he needed to do, which was lengthen the rotation. He could not continue to play Stoudemire, Felton, Chandler, and Gallinari the minutes he was playing them all season. He had started to do this before Gallo went down but this is forcing him to really explore who is going to provide significant depth minutes the rest of the way.

As long as Gallinari comes back as expected and everyone else is able to stay on the floor, the Knicks will have a chance to play playoff basketball. What they do once they get there is primarily dependent upon Felton, Chandler, and Gallinari. Amare has become one of those special players that can get there every night in terms of providing an elite performance on a consistent basis as only the superstars do. What they need beyond that is to have two of the aforementioned three running with Amare every game. They have been doing a good job of getting one every night. When they get two is when they can play with anyone, as we saw last night against the Spurs. Without Gallinari altogether, Chandler and Felton were so out of their minds that the Knicks scored the most points that a team had scored against the Spurs in a regular season game in something like 10 years, causing Popovich to pull his starters with 3 minutes to go in the game. How often do you see that in an NBA game? That's how good the Knicks can be. They aren't there on a night to night basis against the NBA's elite yet, but they can get close enough to really be a tough out come playoff time.

The road to the NCAA Tournament will not be as easy for The Johnnies as the road to the playoffs should be for the Knicks. Before I go any further, I'd like to point out how thrilled I am just to be able to have a serious conversation about SJU having a legitimate chance to get to the NCAA's, let alone them actually getting there. But now that we've accomplished that, I obviously want them to get in very badly. This group of 10 seniors deserves it, they've dedicated themselves to the program for four years that saw a good amount of losing in the first three. It would also be a great building block for the outstanding recruiting class coming in next year, not to mention to continuing the momentum and buzz that recruiting class created for the program this past fall.

Back to it not being easy, SJU has an absolutely vicious schedule. They are currently projected to have the #1 strength of schedule in the country at season's end. That's what a Big East Conference schedule and out of conference games against St. Mary's, Duke, UCLA, Arizona St., Northwestern, and Davidson will do. While it is helpful come selection time to have such a strong schedule, you still have to play reasonably well against that schedule. Starting with Georgetown this past Monday, The Johnnies have eight consecutive games against ranked teams to close out January. They are 1-0, and how they navigate these next seven games will go a long way to determining their NCAA chances. If they could go 3-4 or better, moving from 10-3 overall (3-0 Big East) to 13-7 overall (6-3 Big East), I'd be excited about that. 13 wins with 10 games to play, plus at least one Big East Tournament game. With their SOS, 20 should definitely get them in, and 19 should give them a good shot, so they'd need 6-7 more wins. Especially if they can get to 10-8 in the Big East, which seems to be a de facto record established by the selection committee to get in out of this conference. That makes this Saturday's road matchup with Notre Dame of incredible importance. ND is a team SJU could potentially be grouped with as of similar caliber in competing for tourney spots, and those are always big head to heads to win. Further, getting to 4-0 in conference would give them an incredible cushion in a tough conference, allowing them to go 6-8 the rest of the way and still get to 10 conference wins. Finally, they'd be 3-0 on the road in conference, meaning 8 home games to 6 road games left in conference. Notre Dame is a good team, #15 in the nation, and a very tough place to win on the road. But if they can pull it off Saturday night it starts to set things up bigtime.

Good 1st half, the first good half of a season for both of these teams in a long time. Hopefully there is more to come in the 2nd half. Let's Go Red Storm, and Let's Go Knicks.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Pat,

Have seen the knicks play a few times now (watched some of the Knicks/Spurs game on the NBA channel, which is great because you get to see teams around the league play) and they definitely have some pieces in place. I really like Chandler and Fields as complimentary pieces to Amare, and obviously Felton has had a great year. Galinari will get better too I think.

One real question is do they try to put together a trade for Carmelo, since some of these guys actually have some value now and you might be able to realistically get a deal done. I think it's really tempting to let this season play out and then see if you can sign Carmelo after the season. If you could get him but keep all these guys there as well, then the Knicks could do some very serious damage for a long time. How do you see that playing out?

Really hoping St. Johns can get it done for you as I know you've had a tough stretch. Also hoping my buddy Al Davis doesn't ruin the raiders progress by totally f-ing up the head coaching situation in Oakland. Hugh Jackson (offensive coordinator for Oakland for those that don't know) more than doubled their point total this year and moved the Raiders to sixth in the league in points per game. He really needs to be the head coach to replace Cable. I think he'd bring the discipline and offensive creativity this team needs to take the next step.

Lastly, a few months back, I eviscerated (sp?) TimC on this blog for predicting that the Kansas City Chiefs would win the AFC west, using some of the harsher and stronger language I have used on this space since the vaunted 50 comment "Who has a better offense, the Detriot Tigers or NY Yankees" debate with PF which I believe occured prior to the 2008 baseball season (That was a blogging bloodbath and the last time PF and I really went at it before he realized I was just trying to make him mad).

Well, the Chiefs did win the AFC west, so I have to take my medicine- you were right TimC.

bandi

the gm at work said...

Pat,

I heard on TV commercials that if it lasts longer than four hours, you should call your doctor.

Considering the SJU game ended at roughly 9:30 Monday night and you finished this post at roughly 7:30 Wednesday night, we're talking about 46 hours. Please call your doctor.

Patrick said...

bandi -

obviously the carmelo question has existed pretty much since right after free agency was settled last summer. and i think a lot of the answer now is seen by looking at the evolution of answers since the question was first posed. with curry and whatever sort of draft pick situation they'd have to give up both consistent givens, it went from DEFINITELY give up two of fields/chandler/gallinari, to ONLY wanting to give one of them, to MAYBE not wanting to give any of them at all. the reason for this progression is obviously that all three of them continue to get better and show how critical they are to this team's success. when you consider that they should only continue to get better (will is 23, gallo and fields are 22), as well as how much the nba is about depth and balance in terms of complementary pieces, and you really have to wonder if they shouldn't just wait until this summer and take their chances. carmelo is one of the best players in the nba, so on the flip side it's tough to let giving up one of them stop you (certainly you wouldn't give up two at this point). but just the fact that you have to think about it shows you how vital these guys have become. to answer your question, i think the knicks are leaning towards waiting. what they are doing this season makes them a much more attractive destination for any free agent, and they should be one of the more appealing suitors amongst the teams seriously in on carmelo. then, with all of the pieces from this year, you have a likely upper echelon team and potential championship contender. of course it should be noted that amare is the one who had the stones to make bringing the knicks back his challenge, and is doing the dirty work right now to make these conversations possible.

doesn't davis typically hire offensive coaches? that would be a good sign for your boy the OC getting the job given his success this year. if that's your choice, i trust it's a good one. as someone who is very much an observer of the raiders from the outside, what would be attractive about that kind of hire for me is its familiarity and low-key nature. someone who knows the players and has had success, and won't cause a big hoopla when hired. that way the focus remains on business and winning and not some sort of media sideshow.

dv -

i'm going to be chipper about that win monday night until the start of the notre dame game saturday night. it's been a long, long time since the johnnies had a win that was that meaningful (they've beaten good teams during this down period, but it rarely meant much), and i'm going to enjoy every second of it.

Anonymous said...

Pat,

I must grudglingly give Amare some credit for being the one to go to NY first. There's no doubt he's helped turn the team around so far this year. After the Spurs game, Chandler mentioned that Amare's really helped open things up for their outside shooters and obviously he's scoring a lot.

Speaking of NBA, tough stretch for the Mavs, losing Dirk for a few games but then also losing Caron Butler for the year. Before losing Butler, they had the look of a team that could come out of the West. That sounds ridiculous, but I think the West might be a little down this year from where they've been in the past, and I saw the Mavs on TV a few times and they really were playing well together. Tyson Chandler has been a big addition inside. You had Dirk putting in 24 a night. Butler was scoring 14 a game but really provided that rugged Paul Pierce type of mid range scorer. Deshawn Stevensen doesn't give them much, but Kidd is playing OK and hitting 40% of his threes and was running the team well.

Then off the bench you had Jason Terry, Marion, and Barea just wreaking havoc on opposing teams second lines and Brendan Haywood being a good backup for Chandler. That's not a bad nine man NBA rotation.

The butler injury just Fs everything up and is really dissappointing.

Ross Kaplan said...

What Pat won't tell you all is that he just jumped on the Knicks and St. John's bandwagon. For years on this blog he never talked about his "beloved" professional and college basketball teams, but now just off big upset wins by both teams, young Patrick feels the need to pretend he was always a passionate fan of these teams.

There is nothing wrong with bandwagon jumping, I am guilty of that very crime having searched endlessly for the cassette tapes I got from Moddell's during the 95 playoff run so I can blare out my car window the meliflluous sounds of GO NY GO NY GO! or the always classic I'm a Knicks fan gotta stay true yes I do yeah I'm down with the orange and the blue! But unlike young Patrick I will own up to my bandwagon jumping. I can hopefully he will man up and do the same.

Up Yankees
Up Knicks
Up White Mules
Up Owls (Brandeis University mascot)

TimC said...

Wow! What a week for me in this space, looks like I am the front-runner for 'HYD Baseball Commenter' 2011 MVP at this stage. Thanks, Bandi, for the shout-out, and we'll ignore my Titans prediction for the sake of my ego.

One benefit of the Gallinari injury is that we do not have to hear the PA announcer say his name every time he dribbles. PF, what teams do you want to see the Knicks lineup against in the playoffs? As in, who is a good matchup? Who is not? Also, I am intrigued about this ten-deep senior class; seems like a good springboard for ongoing success, as you said.

DV, solid comment there, I'll have to borrow that one in the future, and I'm sure the potency of the joke will only grow with age.

Back to the Knicks, I think a Melo trade should be done if possible, even for two of those three, because of how impossible it is in the NBA to find that championship piece. I understand how good those guys have been and that there might be some attachment as those players have fueled a wonderful NYC hoop revival. But the trade is a must to winning NBA titles. One thing that works to the Knicks' advantage is that they run a relatively quirky system through D'Antoni and this will allow them more opportunities to find value in the draft, FA, and trade market because they value certain skills far more than other NBA clubs. They can essentially follow the '04 Sox route of taking a handful of established 'name' stars that would fit anywhere and then fill the holes around them by using the advantage of understanding value to sign players. Unlike the Sox, as long as the Knicks run and gun they can take advantage of this value for as long as the system exists at the role/support player level because the traits they want will be nearly unique to the team. Of course, no matter what the system, superstars are superstars, and if an NBA team can get one, they MUST do it, even if it involves losing two good chips in the process.

Patrick said...

bandi -

losing butler is a tough break, he is a winning piece no question. but with the depth you listed - and i agree that's really quality depth - they still have enough to mix it up in a western conference that, while good, doesn't appear to be the dominant force it has been the last few years. jason kidd's transformation has been pretty incredible. from an uptempo playmaker who really couldn't shoot into more of a facilitator who you can't leave alone on the perimeter. will be interesting to see how the mavs respond to losing butler when dirk gets back.

timc -

i was firmly in your camp, all the way through the winning streak against mostly bottom half teams, up until 3 or so weeks ago when the knicks moved into the tougher part of their schedule. when you see these teams night in and night out you realize just how deep virtually all of them except miami are (and they are a unique situation, obviously). so i now worry that making the trade for melo if it includes two of those players turns the knicks into miami lite. a top three in amare/melo/felton that can go toe to toe with any top three in the nba besides miami, but lacking complementary pieces. i understand that in making the deal you are looking towards the future, and that is obviously that is the appeal. you take amare and carmelo and spend the next year or two trying to build a group around them than can create a window of championship contention. you allude to how this might be easier for the knicks given d'antoni's system. however, tying his system and the importance of these particular players together, d'antoni really seems to be realizing how his system needs to be altered to put some emphasis on defense and controlling the defensive glass if it wants to beat the best teams consistently. this was obviously the shortcoming in phoenix. the knicks are not seeing the results consistently in terms of points allowed - they are still near the bottom of the league. but they are using their length to force tough shots and turnovers and turning that into offense. they are doing this because after felton the rest of their first five runs 6-7, 6-8, 6-10, 6-10, all with athleticism. they bring similar length and athleticism off the bench through the rest of their rotation, with the exception of douglas, who is a point guard anyway, and also has supreme defensive ability having been acc defensive player of the year at florida state.

this might all seem like small potatoes compared to getting carmelo. but understand that i say this with the idea in mind that the knicks have a really good chance to get carmelo this summer. i know there is more uncertainty, but i'm borderline willing to take that risk to get carmelo AND already have all of the pieces in place as opposed to being guaranteed carmelo and then having to start over in terms of building pieces. combine that with the question - which i meant to include in my initial comment regarding the evolution of how much knicks fans are generally willing to give up - of how much better can these guys get? fields is a rookie already showing incredible promise as a do it all role player, and i don't think it would be a surprise to see gallinari and/or chandler develop into all-star caliber players at some point with their size, versatility, and ability to score the basketball in a variety of ways. so these aren't exactly your run of the mill "put them around championship pieces" type complementary players. they really might be a lot more than that. and that is what makes this decision so tough. again, if they had no shot to get carmelo this summer, then we aren't having this conversation. then you have to do it now. but since they do, it's very tempting, as bandi initially said, to try to keep all of these guys and add carmelo to the mix. i understand you are saying you have to guarantee yourself a player like carmelo when you have the chance, but sometimes you have to roll the dice too.

TimC said...

Those are all good points, PF, and I agree that the 'role' players in place now are a bit more than the word implies. Having seen them, truly, for the first time a month ago against Boston, I was more surprised than impressed because of my low expectations. I think the latter is soon to come, though.

The only issue is, even if these guys do come through, are the Knicks an NBA title contender? You might think so, you might not, and if the answer is yes, I think you sit and wait. But, if it isn't, the downside is that a no-Melo Knicks team with this core intact goes the way of some of those recent Houston teams- good enough to play anyone, never good enough to win everything. And that's a very dangerous trap in the NBA, particularly with the labor issues and the restrictive nature of contract movement. The only way to go up if you get caught in that 'very good' rut is to backwards, and that is a very painful process.

On the other hand, getting Melo guarantees that going backward is at least a manageable process. If they lose a guy or two in the trade and the players remaining do not develop, they still have Melo to build around. Look at the Colts this year, with Manning, or the Pats in '06, with Brady. Those poor teams should have regressed but the greatness at the key position of QB kept them alive. In the NBA, the superstar is the QB and I think getting that kind of insurance for the next seven years is worth a youngster or two. I suppose it comes down to how much risk the team is willing to take on losing Melo, especially if 'Brooklyn' is a real possibility.

Patrick said...

no doubt, timc. this is certainly not a cut and dry issue, and you can make a good argument in both directions. and we haven't even considered all of the angles. for example, to your question about the knicks being a title contender, clearly they are not right now. but considering their youth - their starters are 28, 26, 23, 22, and 22, a young core if i ever saw one - can the develop into one in a year or two? this may sound a little far fetched now, but i'm pretty sure the knicks being this good by just adding amare and felton seemed pretty far fetched to most people about 3 months ago. related, does their youth, and the fact that they should be able to stay together for a few years, mitigate the risk of not getting melo - and thus promote the idea of going after him this offseason and not giving up pieces in a trade - because if they don't get him they have a year or two to find another superstar piece to put alongside amare, all the while letting these complementary pieces continue to develop? i think this is also very possible. and this is only two other possible considerations. there are a lot of moving pieces here, and it only becomes moreso by the day given the way the knicks and these players are playing. this has become a surprisingly critical decision-making time for this organization's immediate future, and i'd like to point out how thrilled i am just to be having this conversation. i also don't think there is necessarily a "wrong" answer, mostly because of their youth (which really can't be understated, they have to be one of the younger teams experiencing moderate or better success in the league). but it is likely that one option is better than the other, so it will be interesting to see how they decide to proceed and how that decision plays out.