Well I was floored when I saw this come over the wire on Sunday. Are the Knicks really trading for Andrea Bargnani, the much maligned former first overall pick who averages less rebounds a game than Eddy Curry did (5.2-4.8)? Yes, yes they did. The players given up, Marcus Camby and Steve Novak, won’t be terribly missed but the Knicks continue to give up tomorrow in hopes of winning today by trading three draft picks, including a first rounder in 2016, to the Raptors in the deal. What really happened here? Let’s see.
For starters the Knicks are clearly overreacting to the playoffs. After having the third best offense in the regular season (111.1 offensive rating) better than the likes of the San Antonio Spurs and Denver Nuggets, the Knicks went into the playoffs and struggled to score a bit. Now most of the blame has been put on JR Smith’s cold streak, and he deserves some but people are forgetting that the Knicks played against the first and the seventh best defenses in the NBA (Indiana and Boston respectively) and their first round opponent, Boston, had the second best defense in the NBA when Kevin Garnett was on the floor. Doesn’t it seem like playing against the best and at large portions of the series the second best defenses in the league would hinder scoring a bit? Shouldn’t 82 games mean more than 13, eight of which saw your two top scorers go into a slump that would make them fit very nicely into a Yankees lineup in October? The Knicks seem to disagree since by default Andrea Bargnani’s strong suit is offense.
Bargnani last year only played 35 games and has only played 66 games in the last two years. So his supporter(s) (It was hard to find any Toronto fans sad to see him go on twitter and comment sections. Some implored the Raptors to speed up the process before the Knicks realized who they were getting) may point to injury as an excuse but many NBA players play through and come back from injury so these numbers can’t be completely dismissed. After coming into the NBA and having many saying he could be an excellent center who can stretch the floor, the Raptors had to move Bargnani to power forward when they realized he just wasn’t going to play defense. Last year if you were a power forward and played against Bargnani your per 48 minutes were 21 and and 11.5 and if you were a center you put up 19 and 15. Basically no matter who you were if you played 35 minutes against Bargnani you would flirt with a double-double. This is partly because Bargnani’s rebounding rate last year (7.6) was lower than Rajon Rondo’s (8.8) and partly because he just let’s people score on offense, or at least that’s what it looks like.
Bargnani, at the four, had a PER of 13.6, the average is 15, and as a center it was 7. Yes, the name of the theoretical baby of George Costanza and his late fiancée Susan was the PER of Andrea Bargnani at center. Remember, offense is his strong suit. Bargnani’s offensive rating this year by the way, was 94, fifteen points lower than his defensive rating of 109. Last year Bargnani shot 40% from the field and 31% from three. Despite being enormous, the former first overall pick shoots 44% from the field and 36% from three. If he were a guard it would be a little more understandable but he’s not, he is seven feet tall. This is who the Knicks traded three draft picks, including a first rounder for.
Earlier in the year I wrote about how the Knicks best offensive lineups came with three shooters, Carmelo Anthony, and Tyson Chandler. Considering the Knicks played these types of lineups most often and had an elite offense to show for it, I think it’s safe to say it was a good idea. This trade suggests that either Stoudemire will start, sliding Anthony to the three, or Bargnani will start and do the same. If the Knicks bring both off the bench and try to play both together they may be better off just leaving them on offense and going 3-on-5 on defense, allowing those two to cherry pick. If Anthony slides back to the three, the far more efficient scorer we saw for long stretches of last season may revert back to his old ways in Denver. Anthony’s PER this year, 24.8 was by far the best of his career. This is because he played mostly at the 4 in a smaller lineup, giving him more space to attack the basket and leaving bigger and slower defenders at his mercy. Why the Knicks would want to risk ruining these lineups is beyond me.
The last part I don’t get is the draft picks. The Knicks traded their 2016 first round draft pick (and we can only assume not 2015 because the NBA prevents owners from trading away first rounder two years in a row). This means that the lone upside of this deal, the 2015 cap space is potentially negated. If the Knicks let three of the four big contracts coming off the books in 2015 (Bargnani, Anthony, Chandler, and Stoudemire. The only realistic one to stay is Anthony but with the Knicks you never know) in an attempt to rebuild while staying somewhat competitive, their 2016 draft pick, a potentially very valuable commodity will be with Toronto or Denver. Denver has the right to swap picks that year but that team changes its roster enough that it would be foolish to guess if that would have been bad or a non-factor. The bottom line is, a team that still has no idea that building through the draft is a must has traded another first round pick and two second round ones.
All in all I don’t get what the Knicks were attempting to do with this trade. The team seems to me to be heading towards becoming the new Hawks. With Derrick Rose, Danny Granger, and Rajon Rondo all missing the playoffs, this was the Knicks year to confront the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals except the Knicks won six total playoff games. Obviously many different things can happen between now and next May and the Knicks could be right at the top of the division but with moves like this, especially after the Nets big deal, it seems awfully hard to get back there.