Record: 17-24 (.415 winning percentage); 2GB of eight playoff spot (Milwaukee, which already owns the tiebreaker)
Last season's record after 41 games: 13-28 (.317 pct); four game improvement.
Projected finish: 34-48 (would be most wins since 39-43 record in 2003-04)
President: Donnie Walsh
Grade: B -- Cleared $27M in cap space for 2010 with a pair of trades on Nov. 21, which sandbagged what was an impressive start to the season but made a bold statement to the rest of the NBA that the Knicks were going to be major players in the free agency sweepstakes. But has yet to replace Cuttino Mobley and continues to pay Stephon Marbury not to play instead of negotiating a buyout. The decision to draft Danilo Gallinari had been a negative until recently. It will be interesting to see if Walsh is active before the Feb. 19 trade deadline. Eddy Curry's contract is the next big one that needs to be moved. Doesn't help that Curry hasn't been healthy enough to play.
Coach: Mike D'Antoni
Grade: B+ -- Sure they're seven games under .500, but how many other coaches would be able to squeeze wins out of this make-shift collection of players? D'Antoni loses points for how he handled the Marbury situation after training camp, but also gets credit for making the stand and taking full control of the locker room in the process. His system makes players better, period. Exhibit A is Chris Duhon. Exhibit B is David Lee. And D'Antoni has quickly disproved the notion that he doesn't care about defense. Perhaps with this team he's learned he has to rely on defense in order to survive.
PG Chris Duhon
Grade: A+ -- No one on the roster came into this season with more pressure on him, especially with the Marbury situation unresolved when training camp opened. Duhon, a backup in Chicago last season, not only proved he could be a starter in the NBA, but is proving he can be a very reliable floor general and leader. Arguably the most important player on the team right now.
PF/C David Lee
Grade: A -- Has turned around a situation where he was expected to be traded by the deadline to now being considered a lock to be re-signed. Continues to surprise Walsh and the coaching staff with his development and abilities on offense. Mid-range jumper went from being a weakness to a strength. Also starting to live up to his blue-collar status by battling centers night-in and night-out while still putting up daily double-doubles. Could he get All-Star consideration? Name some other forwards in the East who are more deserving.
SF/PF Wilson Chandler
Grade: B- -- Second-year player has had flashes of brilliance and yet also disappears just as quickly. Streaky shooter who still needs to develop his awareness so to keep the ball moving on offense. Above-average defender who willingly will challenge on the post. Want to see more consistency out of him, as well as more emotion. Still learning, but Isiah Thomas did well with this pick. Plenty to work with.
PG/SG Nate Robinson
Grade: C -- True to his personality, his season has been all over the place. Some nights he is a dynamo that brings relentless energy and a lethal shooting touch. But for most of the past three weeks his shot has betrayed him and it caused the rest of his game to go south, as well until a bounce-back game against the Suns in Game 41. A lot is riding on this second half for him as far as his future in New York goes, because the Knicks may decide they need a more traditional backup point guard rather than re-sign him to be an erratic, undersized combo guard. But he can be extremely valuable as the first guard off the bench when his game is right. Has to find his identity and stick with it.
SF/PF Al Harrington
Grade: C -- Like Nate, his game has been alarmingly erratic. Harrington is a gunner in the truest sense, which is what makes him so dangerous for both an opponent and his own team. When he's on, Harrington can be that unconscious hot, when everything goes in. But when he's not, he doesn't know how to stop himself from shooting and his penchant for one-on-one play brings any offensive flow to a grinding halt. D'Antoni found the best place for him is off the bench and, to Harrington's credit, he has accepted the role and still provides a great deal of scoring.
SG/SF Quentin Richardson
Grade: C -- Clearly not the offensive player he was earlier in his career and his three-point prowess isn't there every night (he was 0 for 5 against the Suns from downtown). His body also doesn't fit the NBA prototype for a 2 or 3 spot player, but Richardson does use his strength to his advantage and is a smart player. He's not the stopper her used to be, either. But Richardson has been an important player for D'Antoni because of his leadership ability and the respect he has in the locker room. You can't underestimate the importance of this element from a coaching standpoint.
F/C Jared Jeffries
Grade: C -- Might have finally found a niche as a defensive specialist who, at 6-10, can defend point guards and avoid mismatches when switching on a screen. His work against Rajon Rondo, Chris Paul, Derrick Rose and Steve Nash recently has been effective. Jeffries has spent a great deal of time on his shooting, but opponents still know you can double off him and he won't beat you, so he remains a liability on offense. But at least he has found a role and is having some success with it.
F/C Tim Thomas
Grade: C -- Capable of providing an offensive lift off the bench, whether it is with his shooting or his passing and also can be an above-average defender. However, as has been the case throughout his career, not always motivated and focused on playing. D'Antoni knows what he has in Thomas and uses him appropriately. The main thing is he will be an expiring contract next season and with the motivation to earn another contract it could be a good thing for the Knicks.
PF/C Malik Rose
Grade: D -- His playing time quickly evaporated and it was tough on the respected veteran, who doesn't have the game or body type needed for D'Antoni's system. But you can bet he keeps himself ready to check in at a moment's notice. His expiring contract might have some value before the trade deadline, but it is more likely the Knicks would prefer to have his money melt off the salary cap rather than add another contract in exchange for his. And if the Knicks are in a playoff push later in the season, his experience and poise will be valuable as an influence on the younger players in the locker room and on the bench.
SG Anthony Roberson
Grade: D -- Not his fault the Knicks signed him to a guaranteed contract for this season after just two summer league practices. Roberson has a sweet stroke but what you see in practice rarely translates into the game. His defense is also a trouble spot, especially getting through screens and keeping guards in front of him.
C Jerome James
Grade: D -- Say this about big 'Rome: for once he showed up healthy and in relatively decent shape, considering his awful conditioning in his previous three training camps with the Knicks. He had no chance of getting on the court in D'Antoni's system, but James did get a pair of appearances and had some fun with them. His season is over after an Achilles tendon rupture and he's likely done as a Knick.
C Eddy Curry
Grade: F -- Showed up barely in shape, then got sick in training camp and never recovered. Knee issues are a direct result of his weight, which is definitely over the 300-pound mark at this point. The Knicks would prefer to move him and Curry would be better off playing in a more traditional system, but until he gets into shape he isn't going anywhere.
SF/PF Danilo Gallinari
Grade: INC -- He's only played in five games and two of them (the first two of the season) were hardly a good look at his skills. But in the games he has played since returning to the lineup, Gallo showed more than anything an "it" factor that some players seem to possess, even as precocious rookies. Gallianri plays with confidence and awareness and, even with a goofy gait and heavy feet, looks like he belongs out there. But we'll need to see more before we can give an accurate grade.
Overall assessment:
Health is always a critical issue. D'Antoni right now is going with his largest rotation of the season (nine) and seems comfortable with it. If Curry ever does make it back before the deadline you can bet they'll get him on the court as often as possible to showcase his low-post ability. If Lee and Duhon continue to mesmerize defenses with the high PNR and shooters such as Robinson, Richardson, Harrington, Thomas and Gallinari can hit those perimeter shots, the Knicks have a chance to stay in the playoff hunt. But the debate still rages on: what would be more valuable to this franchise? An eighth seed and invitation to be a first-round doormat for Cleveland or Boston? Or the chance at another lottery pick, which you won't have in 2010 and hope you don't have for a long time after that?
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