Thursday, November 4, 2010

It's A Block Party

Get the EPMD cassette tapes and D batteries for the boom box. Get me that lighter fluid so I can fire up the grill. Start defrosting some Topps hamburger patties and get some mayonnaise to make some cole slaw. Because the Knicks are having a block party over at Madison Square Garden.

Through three games of the 2010-2011 NBA season, the Knicks have blocked 25 shots. Say what? That's right, your new New York Knickerbockers are averaging 8.3 rejections per game thus far. And while I don't need someone from Basketball-Reference to to tell me that this is a statistically meaningless sample size, I'm still optimistic that perhaps this isn't an early-season mirage. Or an asbestos-induced hallucination.

Last year, the Knicks had the second fewest blocked shots of any NBA club with just 372. During the 2008-2009 campaign, the Knicks blocked the fewest shots, having returned only 204 shots to sender. This was 104 fewer than the second-to-last team in blocks. In 2007-2008, the Knicks were also last in blocks with 213, putting them 93 behind the the 29th-ranked Timberwolves.

The last respectable showing in blocks for the club was during the 2006-2007 season when the Knicks finished with the 11th-highest tally at 406. Paced by Renaldo Blockman's 42 rejections, the Knicks had three players with 40 or more blocks - Balkman, Channing Frye (42) and Eddy Curry (40). Jared Jeffries added 30 more and even David Lee chimed in with 23.

Ah, remember the Halcyon Day of that '06-07 season? No. Well allow me to remind you: On Saturday March 3rd, the Knicks beat the Hawks at Atlanta in overtime, 104-100. Stephon Marbury finished the night with 38 points, 9 assists, 5 rebounds, 5 steals and a blocked shot (which was, in case you're wondering, the team's only rejection of the night). Even recently-acquired redundancy Steve Francis played 41 minutes after Quentin Richardson was sidelined by his balky back. The triumph lifted the Knicks' record to 28-33, and pulled them within a game of the eighth playoff spot. A few days later, Knicks owner James Dolan would extend Isiah Thomas' contract for showing "significant and evident progress." The team would, of course, finish the season on a 5-16 skid and miss the playoffs. The rest, as they say, is history. And sexual harassment.

In the years since, blocked shots have become as rare as winning streaks 'round these parts. And, while this year's Knicks have yet to put together a winning streak they have been racking up the rejections. Offseason acquisition Ronny Turiaf has eight blocks already. Amar'e has 4 and Russian import Timofey Mozgov has a pair. But, most impressively, Wilson Chandler has kept 9 shots from reaching the rim in just three games. While his athleticism was never to be questioned, Chandler seems to have improved his court awareness and dedication on the defensive end. Perhaps it's increased confidence telling him that he can make more plays or perhaps it's anger about coming off the bench that is fueling him to make more plays. Either way, he ranks behind only Dwight Howard and Josh Smith in blocks per game so far.

Again, I'm well aware that we're just talking about three games. But for someone who grew up rooting for defense-first teams, it's got me excited. Stalwart defense and blocked shots in particular always seemed to me the mark of a proud team. From an emotional standpoint, blocks are the defensive equivalent of dunks. Fans and players alike get a charge out of them. After all, who doesn't love a block party?