On the eve of a rare home-and-home with the Knicks, I traded a few emails with Dan Litvin from The Knicks FanBlog, one of the co-writers of the We’ll Always Have Linsanity: Strange Takes on the Greatest Season in Knicks History available on Amazon.
Dan Litvin: Much to the chagrin of much of the Knicks’ fanbase, I’ve made the case that the Knicks are probably better off without JR Smith. The last few games notwithstanding, he’s basically been a volume shooter who has shoot exceptionally poor – and hasn’t made up the difference at the foul line. There have been about 1.5 players per season since 1990 who shoot at least 15 times but make less than 41% of their shots (I chose these criteria because those were JR’s recent figures). Usually the teams they play for are bad. Since every team has only a finite number of possessions, it isn’t hard to intuit why its best not to devote a large percentage of them to someone who won’t make a lot of them.
I was surprised to see that Rudy Gay matches these criteria, and Tom Haberstroh recently explained the Grizzlies’ great play since the trade essentially as addition-by-subtraction [Insider]. I know the Raptors started out strong after the Gay trade, but have since struggled. What are your thoughts on volume scorers?
Sam Holako: I appreciate volume scorers not named Ben Gordon; I respect their fearless nature. While you have a guy who’s willing to put the team on his back and try to make something out of nothing, you more often then not get a guy who kills the flow of the offense and pops an off-balance, one legged jumper with a defender up on him. When the Raptors traded for Rudy Gay, a deal I support 100%, that’s all we heard, and continue to hear about especially with the Grizzlies improved play after his departure (which doesn’t take into account all aspects of the Grizzlies dynamic if you ask me). The guy takes a lot of bad shots, but he hits a lot of tough, necessary ones to keep the Raptors in the game.
In fact, he’s had two game winners since coming over. So yes, while he’s been here he’s taken a lot of brutal shots, but DeRozan now has more space to operate, Lowry has another option on the wing, Amir and Jonas have a bit more space to make moves in the paint, and the Raptors have a guy who can fill up some seats and sell some jerseys. I do agree with you on J.R. Smith though, he doesn’t make a lot of sense considering the roster you have assembled and pace you play at; I’d rather pay a JJ Reddick more money.
Let me flip it back to you with the following thought: the difference between a 40% and 50% shooter who pops 15 a night is a shot and a half a game; let’s call it 3 points. You’re telling me there’s no way a coach can manage that?
DL: I guess I think it depends on the player. George Karl couldn’t manage JR Smith, they wore on each other, and they went their separate ways. The Woodson/Smith dynamic seems to work though, because Woodson’s idea of managing JR is to let him do whatever he wants (though in fairness, he encourages him to take it to the rack, and JR only sometimes listens).
I appreciate your point that the difference between 40% and 50% on 15 shots is 1.5 makes, but that’s not the end of the story, to me anyway. I think if a guy is shooting 40% he has no business shooting 15 times. If he’s shooting 50% he should shoot as much as possible. If JR shot 8 times instead of 15 and the remaining 7 shots were distributed amongst more efficient players, I think I’d be a lot happier with him.
SH: Assuming that there are more efficient players on the court at the time those 8 shots are being taken. The bigger issue for me is the coaches ability to control said chucker to play within the flow of the offense. It surprises me that Woodson has shot a long leash on JR.
DL: On that basis I think we’ve found a little common ground. Shall we move onto another topic?
I’m curious what your thoughts are on Landry Fields. As a rookie on the Knicks most fans thought he was a revelation. But after the ‘Melo trade he looked more like a system player and fans were basically done with him. First, what’s your opinion on how he’s played? Second, I think it’s generally known that the Raptors only signed him to a 3-year $21 million contract in order to prevent him from agreeing to a sign and trade deal that would have sent him and other pieces to the Suns for Steve Nash. Obviously the Raptors wanted Nash for themselves. This was a huge gamble. Worth it?
SH: No, not worth it. Not even close. He’s had injury issues to start the year, and now doesn’t have much use with Gay in the lineup. He’s a system player like you said, an expensive one at that, and given the new CBA, his cap hold is ridiculous for a team that didn’t even come close to a playoff spot (and may not again next season without some pretty big changes). I like Landry’s game, and he was huge for my fantasy team during his rookie season (3s and rebounds, baby!), but he’s playing like a guy who should be getting paid half of what he’s making. His signing is symptomatic of a larger issue in the Raptors management in that they made a ridiculous gamble to get Nash; who also would have been a disastrous signing for this team. How seriously did you guys consider matching the qualifying offer? I need this information…
DL: I think I can tell you with 100% confidence that the Knicks gave zero thought to matching that offer. I think they were done with Fields. Maybe they would have bought him back for a million or two but $7 million was a non-starter. I knew the Raptors wanted Nash very badly but I was surprised they wanted him THAT badly. Most fans found this very humorous.
SH: Not so humorous when you consider this team also gave Bargnani a 5m/$50m, DeRozan a 4/$38m, and Linas Effing Kleiza a 4/$20m. That’s $130m for those three and Fields for those who are counting.
Let’s not forget the first and second round picks that were freely discarded like they would rot if they weren’t thrown into bad trades. Sorry for the tangent, once those gates open up, it’s hard to keep stuff bottled.
DL: Look, you’re talking to a fan of a team that once owed Jared Jeffries, Eddy Curry, Malik Rose and Jerome James a combined $27.5 million, which is (one of the things) that astounds me so much about their decision to let Lin go, if it really was a decision based on money, as they claim (I have my doubts).
SH: I realized how futile my plea was as soon as I hit send… Stevie Franchise must have hurt the worst; you poor bastards.
I still don’t get not matching for Lin; it’s not like the money was spent wisely. I mean Felton and Kidd have played well, but to give up on a young promising point guard over spite is ridiculous.
DL: Yea. I mean I like Felton and Kidd but Kidd was already falling over a cliff statistically before the Knicks gave him a 3 year contract at age 38. The Knicks have already struggled at point guard this year and that’s likely to continue unless they sign another vet minimum free agent point guard who blows up, or if they draft one this summer. The most likely path for the Knicks in the medium term is stagnation until most of their contracts expire by 2015.
What about the Raps? I think we’ve touched on some of the depressing aspects of their situation, but what is the most promising thing the Raptors have going for them, and what do the Knicks have to watch out for from their division rival in the coming years?
SH: For all the brutal free agents and trades, the Raptors have drafted pretty well the last two years. Jonas Valancuinas and Terrence Ross are a couple nice young pieces who have us very excited; Jonas especially. He rolls to the rim aggressively, plays tough on defense and is a general beast. He is still raw offensively, and can get into foul trouble, but that can be worked out with some coaching and practice; maybe even a visit to Olajuwon. He’s had some injury issues so far this year, but they aren’t serious long-term ones to get us concerned. Aside from that, with DeRozan, Gay and Lowry, and the impressive improvement by Amir Johnson, there are some really nice pieces here to make some moves. All that needs to be done is to amnesty Kleiza, trade Bargnani and sign a low post presence (I’d support trading Bargnani and parts to LA for Gasol) to compliment our perimeter play, and we could be a 6th seed in the East.
DL: Thanks, buddy. Good luck.