Charles Oakley Banned From MSG, James Dolan Not Banned from MSG

Here is the sum total of everything James Dolan has ever achieved in his life:

Not that such an inconsequential existence would slow the man. He was born into incredible wealth and, because somebody had to inherit all of it when his father died, he finds himself still fabulously wealthy. So he owns the New York Knicks, not because he ever did a goddamned thing to deserve it, but because parents decided to have him.

Dolan assumes that the world owes him respect by virtue of his birth’s happenstance. This probably tends works in his world. There are plenty of shameless suck-ups willing to offer seemingly endless praise to those who have money and Dolan has no doubt surrounded himself with precisely these types of people. Lampreys are generally considered unwelcome parasites; to Dolan’s, they are evidence of the world’s rightness.

But not everybody considers the merest possession of inherited wealth to be evidence of a person’s inherent goodness. One such person is Charles Oakley. Have you heard of Charles Oakley?

Here he is in a preseason game – a preseason game – throwing punches:

Here he is breaking Paul Mokeski’s nose after being fouled:

Here is his throwing a Sam Perkins off of the court after Perkins attempted to intentionally foul him:

It is tempting to look at these videos and draw a conclusion: that Charles Oakley is the NBA’s version of an NHL enforcer. But Oakley is more complicated than that. He was the 9th overall pick in a halfway decent draft. He played in the NBA for 19 seasons. He scored 12,000+ points and grabbed 12,000+ rebounds. The list of NBA players who finished their careers with 12,000+ in both categories is a slight one, and even though Oakley finishes near the bottom of it, there is simply no denying that the man could play the game.

Oakley is a man who spent 10 years playing for the New York Knicks. That is – *quickly does the math* – more than half of his career at Madison Square Garden. He did so at a time when basketball, by virtue of its rules, allowed for a more violent, aggressive version of the game to be played, and because the Knicks perennially lacked the game’s best players (Patrick Ewing was great, but he wasn’t Michael Jordan or Hakeem Olajuwon), they found that the next best thing was dragging the game down into the gutter. Which the team did. Constantly.

Everybody else might have hated the Knicks for it, but the fans loved it, and why not? The team’s ugly, brutal basketball got them as close to a return to a championship as anything had, before or since. Oakley was a big part of that and remains beloved to this day.

But he will forever be the man he was: one who backs down to nobody and nothing. This includes the aforementioned James Dolan, a man whose family once signed contracts with Oakley, and a man whom Oakley loathes, which is just so weird what with how hard-working people usually love the spoiled children of fantastically wealthy families.

Which brings us to last Wednesday. Oakley wanted to see the Knicks play, and apparently got himself a ticket that was not only near the court, but several rows back from Dolan himself. If you’re imagining that things ended up going well, there is some bad news. And some more bad news. And some very funny bad news. And some more bad news. (That Dolan would have the temerity to suggest that Oakley has a drinking problem is, uhhh, rich, all things considered.)

The remarkable thing about all of this is that the Knicks organization (under Dolan’s orders) apparently believes that it can turn the team’s fans against Oakley. “Yes, we banned a player that you love,” the team seems to be saying, “But once we tell you all about the bad things he said to our beloved owner, surely that will have you siding with us!” That only works when teams give their fans anything to believe in, but for the second decade in a row, the Knicks are positively terrible, at 23-33 in a terrible Eastern Conference, ranked 12th out 15 teams, and seemingly getting worse by the day. Adding insult to injury is this year’s team being saddled with incomprehensible contracts, as well as an ongoing dispute with its best player, as well as a steadfast refusal to embrace the team’s future, and a GM whose primary hobby is creating bonfires, so when all of that gets coupled with attacking a beloved legend, this ends up happening:

There is absolutely no way that Knicks fans are going to side with Dolan on this. Frankly, Oakley could have Mokeski’d Dolan’s nose in front of the crowd and not lost their favor. And yet, Dolan continues to comically insist on doubling down, and doubling down, and doubling down. This weekend’s double-down – that former Knicks not named Oakley still love Dolan – was understood immediately be yet another attempt to save face with fans who would rather never see him again.

Even the New York Post, a publication that usually loves to worship at the altars of people like Dolan, knows the score. Here’s a write-up describing Dolan in its second paragraph:

In an attempt to show his strong relationships with Knicks alumni in the wake of the Charles Oakley ban, a desperate Dolan sat between the mercurial Sprewell — with whom he formerly feuded — and Bernard King during Sunday’s 94-90 matinee stunner over the Spurs at the Garden.

Here is an obvious piece of advice for a billionaire who is incapable of listening: Dolan needs to just take the loss already. Doing so shouldn’t even be that hard for Dolan. The team is 595-783 since he took over.

Pelicans Win! Knicks Lose Twice! Basketball!

Last night’s Pelicans-Knicks matchup – overshadowed by far bigger sporting events – was nightmarish for three reasons. One, it featured Anthony Davis’s big night being cut short. Two, it featured the Knicks collectively refusing to get the ball to its best player. Three, the absence of the player perceived as the Knicks’ weakest link, Derrick Rose, wasn’t the problem.

Let’s do this!

Anthony Davis Has Big Night Cut Short

This website exists for many reasons – basketball is great! – but one of them is celebrating players who absolutely go off. So when those players are cut-off midstream (as Klay Thompson was after getting to 60 through three quarters), this website recoils in horror. Players going off is cool.

Davis posted his second-straight Anthony Davis last night (his seventh of the season), and in only 29 minutes, he had put up 40pts/18rbs. The game at that point wasn’t particularly close, so he might have only gotten a few more minutes of run, so maybe he posts a 45/23. But New York’s Kyle O’Quinn, having already spent his time on the floor getting abused by Davis, responded with something between a hard foul and an outright cheapshot. The hit sent Davis clattering into the first row, ending his night prematurely. The foul is here:

Whether or not it was dirty is really beside the point. But O’Quinn and the Knicks, who already play borderline unwatchable basketball, took the only interesting part of the game out of it, robbing viewers of the opportunity to see Davis finish his spectacular night.

The Knicks Freeze Out Kristaps Porzingis

One of the Knicks ongoing subplots has been the rise of Kristaps Porzingis. That dude is the team’s future, and by most accounts, he should be its present too. But with bigger names on the team still demanding their slice of the pie – Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose apparently sacrifice shots for no man – Porzingis has constantly had to play third-fiddle.

It’s tempting to reduce the situation to shot attempts. The Knicks are better when Porzingis shoots more; the team is worse when he doesn’t. It seems obvious then that Jeff Hornacek’s dry-erase board should be nothing more than a tally-board of Porzingis’s shot attempts, and whenever that number isn’t high enough, he calls in plays like, “Get Porzingis the goddamned ball so he can shoot it!” and “I swear to god if Porzingis doesn’t shoot it this time, you’re all getting benched!”

Instead, he oversaw a scenario in which two players shot the ball more than Porzingis did. The first one of those players is obvious: Carmelo Anthony. He’s the team’s workhorse, its best-paid player, its alleged everything, even at 32 with his best years almost certainly behind him. But the second of those players is not obvious: Brandon Jennings.

Jennings took 14 shots last night, one more than Porzingis, and it should be noted that he was shooting better than the Latvian. Porzingis only managed 9 points on a paltry 3/13 from the field. He was having an off-night. But Jennings is a bench-player who only got the start because Derrick Rose (we will get to this) disappeared before the game began. As a result, Jennings picked up the spot-start, and apparently concluded almost immediately that he should shoot the ball at least as often as the team’s future. That’s a wild conclusion to draw!

Derrick Rose Disappears

But Jennings was only in there because of Rose. The league’s former-MVP had literally disappeared prior to tip-off, after apparently absconding home to Chicago for reasons that remain unclear. (Update: He claims he was with family.) Critics are predictably furious and the Knicks, in as Knicksian a fashion as is possible, has been fined and reprimanded, which is precisely the thing to do when players disappear just before tip-off. But this tempest in a teapot is missing the bigger point: Rose* isn’t the player he used to be.

He clearly thinks otherwise. He is shooting as much as ever but his assists are down. He is plainly desperate to recapture whatever it was that he had before his knees turned into paper mache, even if that means refusing to get the ball to the Latvian that it ought to be going to. All of this makes a certain sort of sense in the modern NBA. Rose’s shelf life is remarkably limited, and is even moreso after his injuries. His obligation is to maximize his earning potential in the very small window he has for doing so.

But the Knicks obligation is, presumably, not to enable Rose’s wildass delusions of grandeur. Somebody somewhere has to intervene with him to declare that enough is enough when it comes to his voluminous offense and its underwhelming return. He is being paid at least in part to distribute the ball, and if he continues refusing to do so, the team has to deal with that for its own future.

Derrick Rose Isn’t Falling For Your Trickery Kristaps Prozingis

The New York Knicks’ Derrick Rose scored 26 points in a loss to the Atlanta Hawks yesterday. As long as those 26 points aren’t contextualized, it would appear as though Rose had himself a good night, the kind of thing that sometimes happens despite the loss.

Rose did not have himself a good night. He had precisely the opposite. It took him 28 shots to get his 26 points. He only made 9 of those attempts. To contextualize that properly, players have attempted 28+ shots 27 times this season. Rose’s point total (26) is the lowest by 5 points; Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook each got 31 points, which isn’t great, but which is better than 26 points on 28 shots. Just last week, this website spent significant time extolling the virtues of DeMarcus Cousins, who also shot the ball 28 times, but who got 55 points for his efforts. Cousins, in other words, more than doubled Rose’s output. (And in a win too, if somebody’s into that sort of thing.)

A further exploration reveals that of Rose’s many, many misses, only 2 were from beyond the arc, meaning that Rose shot 9/26 from closer to the basket than from farther away from it. It is impossible to put into words how bad this is, especially considering the closeness of the team’s eventual loss.

It is perhaps worth noting that (hopefully) Rose shot the ball so much because the team’s only other scorer – Carmelo Anthony – had gotten himself ejected after tangling with Thabo Sefolosha. This left the Knicks low on gunners and Rose saw this as a predictable opportunity to up his own (already high) output. It didn’t work but what else could Rose have possibly done?

It isn’t like Rose plays for the Brooklyn Nets across town. If he did, he could have simply routinely gotten the ball into the hands of that team’s sizeable future. The Nets, after all, are the ones with the ones who have corralled the 7’3” Latvian unicorn, Kristaps Porzingis. He’s a guy with a practically undefendable turnaround jumper, a ferocious follow-up game, and a steadfast refusal to backdown. He’s precisely the kind of guy that makes the most sense to routinely get to the ball to, given how difficult he is to defend, and how effective he can be when he gets his offense going. In his second season, Porzingis has seen his shooting improve while going from 14 to 20 points per night and owing to his young age – he’s only 21 – the sky is the limit for Brooklyn.

Part of what makes Porzingis so appealing is his trickery, none greater than having convinced the world – from the Brooklyn Nets to the New York Knicks to the league – that he is actually a New York Knick even though he definitely isn’t. From wearing the uniform in games, to appearing on the team’s website, to being booed by the team’s fans when the team (didn’t) draft him, Porzingis has made every imaginable attempt to convince the world that he actually plays for the Knickerbockers, but Derrick Rose knows better. He knows that Porzingis couldn’t possibly be a Knick, and that’s why Rose, in a game where the Knicks desperately needed more scoring owing to Anthony’s ejection, continued his own assault on the basket (well, near the basket) without getting the ball to Porzingis – who was having a considerably better, if still not great, night – instead.

Or at least, that’s the only explanation that makes any sort of sense at all, what with for Rose having shot the ball 28 times while making practically none of them, while Porzingis only got 17 attempts of which he made 7, scoring a total of 24 points. Want to do some fun math? Rose scored .92 pts per attempt. Porzingis scored 1.41 pts per attempt. So obviously Rose needed to shoot much, much more. Because no matter how many times he’s told, Rose knows that Porzingis is an impostor send to sabotage the Knicks, and that sort of subterfuge is not happening on his watch.

So that’s Derrick Rose everybody: the Inspector Clouseau of the NBA.

The Knicks Show A Fleeting Sign Of Life

The New York Knicks won their ninth game last night, putting the team at 6-3 in its last nine games, pushing their overall season record to 9-9, putting the team on a pace to finish 41-41, and making last year’s disastrous 32-50 campaign a distant memory.

Maybe.

Under the occasionally maligned Jeff Hornacek – who was a good coach when his Suns won 48 games but missed the playoffs, and then who wasn’t a good coach after his Suns won 39 games and then only 14 games after having been gutted by management – the Knicks have seemingly figured out that the organization’s best hope is getting the ball to the Kristaps Porzingis. He’s a 7’3” Latvian that Kevin Durant has described as a unicorn, (thus continuing Durant’s long tradition of being terrible at nicknames). Porzingis is paired with Carmelo Anthony and they are surrounded by players who are…well, who were once…good: Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah. There is also Brandon Jennings, who can be reliably counted on to shoot the ball a lot, even if they are not going in.

Here’s the thing – Porzingis is better this year. He’s averaging more minutes (28.4 to 33.9) and more points (14.3 to 21.4) and more shot attempts (12.3 to 16.1) and better shooting from the floor (.421 to .491) and better shooting from deep (.333 to .408) and better effective field goal percentage (.467 to .564) and a better player efficiency rating (17.7 to 22). When coupled with his ongoing development of a seemingly unstoppable move, there is every imaginable reason to believe that Porzingis will be the Knicks for a decade to come.

Hornacek and the Knicks are catching on too. When Porzingis is one of the top two shooters on the team, the Knicks are 7-4. When his attempts come in at third or worse, the Knicks are 2-5. To put that in a starker perspective, the team started out 3-6, with Porzingis averaging 13.8 shots per night. Since then, the Knicks have gone 6-3, with Porzingis averaging 18.2 shots per night. Simply put, the Knicks would seem to be better when Porzingis is doing more. Those roughly five additional shots should be coming from somewhere, but the Knicks volume shooters – including Anthony (understandably) and Rose (outrageously) – have continued firing it up. The team has also only barely picked up its shooting in that time, having gone from 87.6 nightly shots in their first nine games to 90.8 nightly shots during its second nine games.

It helps mightily that these the schedule has softened considerably. When the Knicks started 3-6, the team was playing teams whose current record is 93-61. In their last nine, when the Knicks are 6-3, the team is playing teams whose combined record is 66-91. That’s a big swing.

But hey, the Knicks were awful last season, and showed no consistent ability to take advantage of weak spots in its own schedule. The team is currently taking care of business against the teams it needs to be beating – including withstanding a monstrous outing from Karl-Anthony Towns – and it is doing so by getting Porzingis (much) more involved in the team’s offense. The team is likely years away from being seriously competitive with the league’s greatest, but any improvement is cause for celebration, and especially if it involves a player seemingly destined for greater heights.*

*Barring injury. Knock on wood.

Kristaps Porzingis Hints At The Future

Kristaps Porzingis went for 35 points last night. His contribution led the Knicks, both in scoring, and to a 105-102 victory over the Detroit Pistons. Neither of those things matter though. Leading the Knicks in scoring is a middling achievement, owing mostly to the fact that the team’s roster is not good, and beating the Pistons is equally underwhelming, owing to that team not having its fullest possible roster.

What does matter are Porzingis’s finishes here:

A list of the most dominating moves in NBA history will almost certainly be topped by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s unguardable sky-hook, Michael Jordan’s fadeaway, and Dirk Nowitzki’s wrong-footed fadeaway. As Jordan emphasizes in this clip, the fadeaway’s goal is space. Each move starts, generally, with a player’s back to the basket, followed by some degree of turn, followed by the shot itself, all while keeping the ball as far as possible from a defender’s reach, the idea being that if a player can keep the defender away while still shooting in exactly the way that he both wants and has practiced, the shot will have the best chance of going in. It should then not be surprising to find Jabbar, Jordan, and Nowitzki are, perhaps not surprisingly, ranked 1, 4, and 6 in all-time scoring.

The thing about a reliable move – and particularly these three – is that they tend to replace explosive athleticism with rote repetition. All three of these guys could execute their moves over and over and over and seemingly unaffected by the passage of time. In other words, it isn’t by accident that all three of these players continued to contribute well into what are generally basketball’s golden years. Jabbar played until he was 42, Jordan until he was 40, and Nowitzki is still hauling himself up and down the court at age 38.

Which brings us back to Porzingis and the clip embedded above. Nothing about this post should be construed as a direct comparison between Porzingis and any of the three players listed above. Those three each achieved at a stratospheric level that Porzingis cannot even begin to currently imagine. But what we should begin to imagine is the possibility that, as a 21-year-old who is only in his second season of playing in the NBA, is beginning to develop a shot that would be – like the three mentioned above – virtually unguardable.

And here it is where it is worth noting that while Jabbar and Nowitzki were each seven-footers (7’2” and 7’0”, respectively), Porzingis is 7’3”, currently the tallest player getting run in the NBA. This means that the separation he is getting for this particular shot – one that he has only occasionally messed around with thus far in his career – is advantaged not merely by the move itself, but by his size relative to his defender’s. In other words, he will have an easier time creating that space because it will be virtually impossible for another defender to match his size. Look at the clip again – both defenders are right in his face, but nowhere near the ball. For a second example, look at his finish below:

Or better yet, try going here and pausing the video at 2:42. His defender is right with him and yet absolutely nowhere near the ball when it is being released. Then remember that this is Porzingis’s shot in its relative infancy. He is not as strong, as coordinated, and as savvy as he potentially will be.

There is no sense in pretending that a thousand different things might happen to derail Porzingis’s career. Perhaps the biggest fear, especially owing to his size, is the ever-present fear of injury, especially to his feet. One need to barely do any thinking at all to come up with a laundry list of great NBA big men who never quite delivered on their potential thanks to bodies that betrayed them. But – and this is a big, huge but – if Porzingis stays healthy, and if he keeps developing that particular move, the league had better look out, as the best defenders in the world have never shown an ability to consistently stop a shot like that.