Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Around the Internets in Eighty Minutes

1)If we were ever going to sneak-attack China it seems like Friday might be a good idea since they'll all be watching Yao and Yi

2)The NY Times shows that Pennington to Coles on the sideline is just as interesting as what's on the field

3)Do the Knicks really have a chance? Um, not according to the folks surveyed by NY Magazine

Charles Oakley says, “Stay in School”

Or, how a lack education may be keeping the Knicks from winning:

At one point during Sunday night’s home opener against the T-Wolves, Eddy Curry turned to David Lee in the moments immediately following another uncontested Craig Smith lay-up and just threw his hands in the air as he stood their in the paint. The look on his face was one of resigned confusion.

As I was reminiscing about watching Craig Smith terrorize similarly weak zone-defenses while he was at Boston College it dawned on me why the Knicks might be so horrendous playing anything other than a straight man-to-man (which they’re still not exactly great at): Few of these guys ever went to college for more than a season or two. Virtually everyone on the roster was eying the NBA draft from the moment they accepted their high school diploma. And, their coach had done the same thing. Maybe this is why they are so undisciplined. Maybe this is why they can’t seem to sustain effort or focus over the course of a game, let alone over the course of a season.

I started wondering whether this sort of team composition was in line with the rest of the league and how it might compare with those teams that have won championships the past few years. Has a winning team been built largely without players who played much basketball in college? How flawed is the construction of this Knicks team? Nature? Or nurture?

Coincidentally (or perhaps not…), as I set about calculating the average number of collegiate years for players who played on the past few NBA championship teams I noticed that the numbers I was coming up with were on a four-point scale just the same way that grade point average is commonly displayed. Therefore, next to each team’s average years spent in college you will see the letter grade that would accompany an equivalent GPA. Not surprisingly, the grades meted out in this manner reflect quite accurately the dominance of each given team.

(NOTE: Including the foreign-born players was not actually as tricky as it seems. Most of these guys were pros for several years before they debuted and made it through their rigorous National training programs. I have counted their professional experience to be equivalent to college ball.)

2007 San Antonio Spurs:
Bruce Bowen / 4 years at Cal State Fullerton
Tim Duncan / 4 years at Wake Forest
Francisco Elson / 2 years at Kilgore (Texas) Junior College and 2 years at Cal
Michael Finley / 4 years at Wisconsin
Tony Parker / attended the National Institute for Sports and Physical Education (INSEP) in Paris and played for the French Junior and Senior National team before debuting in the US in ’01-’02.
Robert Horry / 4 years at Alabama
Manu Ginobli / made professional debut in 1995; played for the Argentinean National team since 1998 and was MVP of the Italian League in ‘01 and ‘02 before coming stateside.
Brent Barry / 4 years at Oregon State
Fabricio Uberto / played professional in Europe from ‘98 to ‘05 before becoming the oldest rookie in the Spurs’ history
Beno Udrih / played first professionally in 1999 in Slovenia and played for Macabi Tel Aviv in Israel before moving on to the Russian and Italian leagues before signing with the Spurs in 2004.
Matt Bonner / 4 years at Florida
Jacques Vaughn / 4 years at Kansas

Average years spent in college: 4.0 (A+)

2006 Miami Heat
Gary Payton / 4 years at Oregon State
Dwyane Wade / 2 years at Marquette
Udonis Haslem / 4 years at Florida
Antoine Walker / 2 years at Kentucky
Shaq / 3 years at LSU
Jason Williams / 3 years at Florida
Alonzo Mourning / 4 years at Georgetown
James Posey / 3 years at Xavier
Jason Kapano / 4 years at UCLA
Michael Doleac / 4 years at Utah
Shandon Anderson / 4 years at Georgia
Derek Anderson / 4 years at Kentucky

Average years spent in college: 3.4 (B+)

2005 San Antonio Spurs
Bruce Bowen / 4 years at Cal State Fullerton
Tim Duncan / 4 years at Wake Forest
Nazr Mohammed / 3 years at Kentucky
Tony Parker / attended the National Institute for Sports and Physical Education (INSEP) in Paris and played for the French Junior and Senior National team before debuting in the US in ’01-’02.
Robert Horry / 4 years at Alabama
Manu Ginobli / made professional debut in 1995; played for the Argentinean National team since 1998 and was MVP of the Italian League in ’01 and ’02 before coming stateside.
Brent Barry / 4 years at Oregon State
Tony Massenburg / 4 years at Maryland
Beno Udrih / played first professionally in 1999 in Slovenia and played for Macabi Tel Aviv in Israel before moving on to the Russian and Italian leagues before signing with the Spurs in 2004.
Rasho Nesterovic / He was voted the MVP of the European Under-22 Championship in 1996 and played professionally in Italy before coming to the US.
Glenn Robinson / 3 years at Purdue
Devin Brown / 4 years at University of Texas, San Antonio

Average years spent in college: 3.75 (A)

2004 Detroit Pistons*
Richard Hamilton / 3 years at UConn
Chauncey Billups / 2 years at Colorado
Tayshaun Prince / 4 years at Kentucky
Rasheed Wallace / 2 years at UNC
Ben Wallace / 4 years at Virginia Union
Elden Campbell / 4 years at Clemson
Lindsey Hunter / 4 years at Jackson State
Corliss Williamson / 4 years at Arkansas
Mehmet Okur / played five professional seasons in Europe before sailing over the sea
Darvin Ham / 4 years at Texas Tech
Mike James / 4 years at Duquesne

Average years spent in college: 3.5 years (A-)
*Coached by Larry Brown, who got his start coaching in college

And, now introducing your 2007-2008 New York Knicks:
Stephon Marbury / 1 year at Georgia Tech
Jamal Crawford / 1 year at Michigan
Quentin Richardson / 2 years at DePaul
Zach Randolph / 1 year at Michigan State
Eddy Curry / 0 years of college
David Lee / 4 years at Florida
Nate Robinson / 3 years at Washington
Renaldo Balkman / 3 years at South Carolina
Fred Jones / 4 years at Oregon
Wilson Chandler / 2 years at DePaul
Mardy Collins / 4 years at Temple
Malik Rose / 4 years at Drexel
Jerome James / 3 years at Florida A&M
Randolph Morris / 3 years at Kentucky

Average years spent in college: 2.5 (C)
Average years spent in college by players who have appeared in game thus far: 2.1 (C-)
(Percentage of those years that belong to Fred Jones: 21%)
Average years spent in college by players in the starting lineup: 1 (D)


So, it seems that perhaps the Knicks look so bad playing zone defense because they don’t know how to play it. This is a C student team with D student starters. Unlike the previous four championship teams, who had a combined zero American-born players with less than 2 years of college basketball experience, the Knicks have four key contributors with either 1 or zero years of college hoops. The only players that will see regular playing time and have at least 3 years of college experience are David Lee, Nate Robinson and Renaldo Balkman. These are the spirited, hustle guys but these are not the orchestrators, these are not the men upon whose shoulders this team must climb the standings. Still, these three players comprise the second unit, the unit that has been on the floor during the few positive stretches this team has put together in the first two games.

Meanwhile, the central figures of Marbury and Curry (I’m leaving Randolph out for the time being) considered themselves the finished project by their high school graduations. That is nonsensical. With the talent and size that such players have there is no way that they really learn how to play the game at the high school level. They are bigger, faster and stronger than most everyone else and just dominate. Scoring at will against high school kids does not necessarily equate to knowing how to play the game. There was a time that Kwame Brown dominated high school kids.

But Brown passed on college and gave up the chance to develop his considerable natural gifts. Now, I don’t want to tar and feather Marbury and Curry with the same brush that should be used on Brown but both Knicks are clearly lacking something and whatever this evasive quality is it has kept them from reaching their potential. After all, potential isn’t success no matter what Isiah tries to tell you.

And, when it comes to transforming high school potential to NBA success the catalyst has historically been 3 to 4 years of running suicide sprints with bricks in each hand and playing close games night after night from the start of a collegiate conference season through a conference tourney and into the Big Dance or the NIT.

Perhaps someone in the Knicks front office should make the connection between the energy and sustained interest that players like Lee and Balkman bring over the course of an entire game and the fact that they played college ball over the course of several seasons. They played in tough games. They made runs deep into tournaments. They were drilled in the fundamentals and taught not to take plays off. They were taught that a season is a marathon and every possession counts. They had coaches who had absolute authority over them and insisted that they learn to play the game a certain way: the “right” way that Larry Brown was always talking about.

If you have to learn how to win just like you have to learn calculus then perhaps there is a simple reason why so many players on the Knicks never learned.

For all of the noise kicked up about double standards in colleges and the existence of football factories in the SEC and their basketball equivalent in the ACC there is one thing that gets lost in the shuffle from an NBA perspective. Even if these young men are not learning anything of academic merit in their athletes-only General Studies classes they are still learning how to play basketball every day in practice. They are majoring in basketball. They are learning the necessary skills to prepare them for their chosen profession. In this case those skills are the pick-and-roll and the proper way to set a screen. In the same way that English majors aren’t asked to take statistics classes basketball players shouldn’t be looked down upon for not worrying about English literature. The Princeton offense is their Proust.

And based upon the level of education that seems synonymous with winning in the NBA recently, someone needs to send the Knicks the CliffsNotes before it is too late. Oh, and that person should probably fire Isiah while they’re up*.

*The full-length to-do list for fixing this team and making the playoffs is still on the way. I wanted to see a couple of games in person before recommending that anyone lose their jobs. In any case, I should be ready to make such proclamations after tonight’s game versus Denver.