TrueHoop: Kurt Thomas

Why Stoudemire's return could hurt Knicks

January, 1, 2013
By Ryan Feldman
ESPN Stats & Information
Steve Mitchell/US PresswireAmar’e Stoudemire has not played in a game yet this season.
Amar'e Stoudemire is expected to make his season debut tonight for the New York Knicks. Normally, having a former All-Star return to the lineup is a good thing, but Knicks fans might want to temper their expectations about Stoudemire’s return.

The Knicks were nearly nine points worse per 48 minutes with Stoudemire on the court last season. They were significantly worse on both ends of the court with Amar'e. The biggest difference came in the turnover department, where the Knicks committed one more turnover and forced three fewer turnovers per 48 minutes with him on the floor.


Their four worst defensive lineups (in terms of points allowed per 48 minutes) that played at least 15 minutes together last season included Stoudemire. The worst lineup also included Mike Bibby, Tyson Chandler, Iman Shumpert and Bill Walker, and was outscored 42-29 in 16 minutes. That also happened to be the Knicks' worst lineup overall (in terms of plus-minus per 48 minutes).

Overall, Stoudemire was a part of the Knicks' three worst lineups.

The Knicks have often been exposed defending isolation plays this season. They've allowed the most isolation points in the league.

Amar'e isn't known as a one-on-one defensive stopper. Last season, he ranked 120th in points per isolation play allowed of the 184 players to defend at least 50 isolation plays.


One area in which the Knicks are struggling this season is rebounding. They're the 6th-worst rebounding team, grabbing just 48 percent of available boards. They've only outrebounded eight of their 30 opponents -- only the Boston Celtics have outrebounded fewer opponents (6) this season.

Conventional wisdom would suggest that Stoudemire -- a 6-foot-11 athletic power forward who averages nearly nine boards per game for his career -- will help the Knicks in the rebounding department.

But that may not be the case.

Stoudemire only made the Knicks a slightly better rebounding team when he was on the court last season, as they grabbed 50.4 percent of available rebounds when he was on the court compared to 49.5 percent when he was on the bench.

Last season, Amar'e grabbed 13.7 percent of available rebounds, an improvement from the 2010-11 season. This season, the Knicks have added assets like Kurt Thomas, Marcus Camby and Rasheed Wallace that have helped on the glass. Each of them, along with Chandler, have a rebound percentage higher than 13.7 this season.

With Chandler, Thomas, Camby and Wallace (when healthy) all sharing frontcourt minutes, Stoudemire's presence may not help the Knicks much on the glass.

Different offensive game plan

The aspect in which the Knicks really change with Amar'e is their shot selection. When he was on the court last season, 50 percent of the Knicks' shot attempts came in the paint and only 22 percent of their attempts were 3-pointers. But when Stoudemire was off the court, only 42 percent of their shot attempts came in the paint and 35 percent of their attempts were from beyond the arc.

That trend has continued this season without Stoudemire, as 35 percent of their attempts are 3-pointers and only 38 percent of their shots are in the paint.

Adding Amar’e to the rotation could disrupt a Knicks offense that currently ranks second in offensive efficiency and is on pace to be the Knicks’ most efficient offense in the last 40 seasons.

NBA's twilight players in a zone, Friday

January, 14, 2011
By ESPN Stats & Info
This was a night on which a few of the NBA’s elder statesmen, those in the twilight of impressive careers, brought back memories of some of their better days.
Tracy McGrady
Tracy McGrady scored a season-high 22 points for the Detroit Pistons in their 101-95 win over the Toronto Raptors. It was only the second time this season that McGrady reached the 20-point mark, the first time he did so against the Raptors (the team with which he debuted) since December, 2007.

Shaquille O’Neal was 10-for-12 from the field, finishing with 23 points and five blocked shots, as the Boston Celtics downed the Charlotte Bobcats, 99-94. It’s the first 20-point, five-block game for O’Neal since the 2004-05 season.
Shaquille O'Neal

There was a time when such games were a regular occurrence.

A check of shows that this was O’Neal’s 110th career game hitting both of those plateaus. Next among active players is Tim Duncan with 74.

O’Neal and McGrady have each won two scoring titles, but of late the two haven’t done much scoring. In fact, Friday was the first time in nearly two full years that both players reached 20 points on the same night. Elias tells us that the last time that happened was January 26, 2009.

Kurt Thomas
Not to be outdone by the scorers was Chicago Bulls forward Kurt Thomas, who pulled down a season-best 18 rebounds. It was the most rebounds Thomas had in a game since November 30, 2007 and was tied for the sixth-highest total of his career.

These three players were in their primes the last time that the Dallas Mavericks were in a funk as bad as the one they’re in right now. The night's other big story was that Dallas dropped its third straight game by double digits, losing to the San Antonio Spurs, 101-89. The Elias Sports Bureau tells us the last time they lost three straight by at least 10 points was from November 20-24, 1999.

Brooks launches Rockets again

January, 10, 2011
By ESPN Stats & Info
Houston Rockets point guard Aaron Brooks was in the right place for his first start since returning from an ankle injury. After coming off the bench for eight games, Brooks netted 24 points in a 108-102 road win over the Boston Celtics, which snapped the Rockets five-game losing streak.

Aaron Brooks
It was the third straight win for Houston in Boston and in all three games, Brooks had a big performance.

On January 7, 2009, Brooks scored 19 points in 37 minutes off the bench in an 89-85 win over the Celtics. On April 2, 2010, he scored 30 points and had nine assists in a 119-114 overtime win in Boston. Brooks was clutch that night, hitting a game-tying three-pointer with nine seconds remaining.

Brooks was good in this one too -- 8-for-15 from the field and 5-for-8 from 3-point range. He had been 5-for-24 from behind the arc in his previous six games. Brooks entered the game shooting 36 percent on the road this season. But Boston felt just like home to him.

The Celtics, by the way, are now 12-0 at home against Eastern Conference teams, 4-3 at home against the Western Conference.

Elsewhere, Derrick Rose’s 29 points gave him six straight games with at least 20 points against the Detroit Pistons, whom the Chicago Bulls beat, 95-82 -- their 10th straight win against Detroit. A check with the Elias Sports Bureau shows that the last Bulls player with six straight 20-point games vs Detroit was Michael Jordan, who had a seven-game streak from February 1992 to April 1995.

Two players from these games provided an illuminating contrast in plus-minus. Chicago center Kurt Thomas played 30 minutes in the Bulls’ win over the Pistons, not scoring a point. But the Bulls outscored the Pistons by 24 points with Thomas on the floor. This was a contrast to recent efforts by Thomas, who recorded a negative plus-minus rating in each of his previous four games.

In Boston, Marquis Daniels gave the Celtics a lift off the bench with 19 points (on 7-for-8 shooting) in just 24 minutes. But the Celtics outscored the Rockets by only one point with him in the game. Meanwhile, Rockets forward Jared Jeffries didn’t score in his 12 minutes, but the Rockets had a 15-point edge on the Celtics during his minutes.

Tony Parker Answers

April, 21, 2009

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

It wasn't that Tony Parker had a bad outing in Game One. He poured in 24 points and dished out eight assists. Graydon Gordian of 48 Minutes of Hell wrote that, Saturday, Parker appeared "indecisive and unfocused ... and struggled to score when faced with the busy hands and busy feet of J.J Barea." Parker isn't a prototypical shoot-first point guard, but in order to exert influence over the game, he needs to know he can score. Saturday, that confidence wasn't there or, at least, it wasn't evident.

Monday night, there was nothing tentative about Parker's game. He went 9 for 11 from the field in the first quarter, and finished with 38 points in a game with only 90 possessions. With the help of some well-executed high screens from Tim Duncan and Kurt Thomas, Parker confounded Dallas' defense all night, no matter what the Mavs threw at him defensively:

Dallas Runs Under the Screen
[1st Quarter, 10:14; 1st Quarter, 5:43; 1st Quarter, 4:48; 3rd Quarter, 7:35] Parker hits his two-point jumpers at a 42.2 percent clip -- not terrible, but not Jason Terry's 49.2 percent mark either -- so it's not a surprise that Dallas chooses to run under picks, and challenge Parker to shoot. It happens twice during Parker's seven-field-goals-in-nine-possessions explosion. The first comes after a rub-handoff on the right side with Tim Duncan, after which Duncan gives Parker a screen. The second instance, Parker gets an elbow screen from Tim Duncan. Both Dallas defenders -- first Jason Terry, then Jason Kidd -- opt to run underneath, and both times, Parker has all kinds of space from about 20-feet to set and fire. Both shots are good.

Parker has always maintained a high field-goal percentage, but he did it primarily by finishing at the basket at an astonishingly high rate for a point guard. It took him a while to establish a consistent mid-range game. When his jumper is falling -- as is true for most point guards off the screen and roll -- this is a defensive tack that's tough to maintain.  

Dallas Traps
[1st Quarter, 2:15] With a point guard as capable as Parker, there are no hard-and-fast rules at defending the ball screen. Running a trap isn't a bad way to go, but if Parker can split it, the floor effectively becomes a 5-on-3 game -- one the Spurs won't lose. Parker converts his final field goal of the first period when Kurt Thomas steps out to the arc to give Parker a high screen. Dirk Nowitzki blitzes past the screen, but not high or hard enough. Meanwhile, Terry has every intention of joining Nowitzki on the trap, but Thomas takes him out of the play. By the time Terry squeezes over Thomas, Parker is already in the box -- but that's only Part One of the play.

Part Two comes as he reaches Dallas' help on the back line. As he makes his approach to the left side of the rim, Parker shows the ball to Brandon Bass, which disarms the defender. Parker then protects himself from any recovery by flying to the other side of the basket for a reverse lay-in.

No matter how he's defended, Parker demonstrates a remarkable ability to make strong moves to the basket, yet still have the body control to change direction as necessity dictates. 

Dallas Switches
[1st Quarter, 6:18; 1st Quarter, 4:11; 1st Quarter, 2:50; 3rd Quarter, 11:30; 3rd Quarter, 6:20] This generally isn't a good strategy to employ against Parker, unless the thought is that a big man like Erick Dampier can slow Parker's path to the basket once Parker reaches the paint. On both Duncan screens, Dampier drops back to the edge of the lane, yielding Parker a little space. The first time Parker sees the switch, he takes advantage of the space by pulling up and nailing an 18-foot jumper. The second and fourth time, he attacks Dampier off the dribble, breezing past him along the baseline for the layup as his original man locks and trails ... less lock, more trail. 

The Mavs never look more disoriented than they do on the third switch. This is the instance when Nowitzki gets crossed up and has his back to the play. At first, Nowitzki shows nicely, but as he goes to recover, he pancakes Terry. This gives Parker a clear path to the hole, and he goes in for the layup untouched.

Just as defenses will throw different looks at an offensive player, Parker does a masterful job of mixing up his offensive repertoire to keep the defense off-balanced. Having just seen Parker drain a jumper in open space, Dampier meets Parker much higher the second time around -- and Parker makes him pay the price by beating him off the dribble.

Dallas in the Zone

[2nd Quarter, 1:13; 2nd Quarter, 0:43] The zone, in large part, is designed to stymie guys like Tony Parker from penetrating, but Parker caps off his incredible first half by shredding the Mavs' zone on consecutive possessions in the final 90 seconds. The Spurs stay with the Parker/Thomas high pick-and-roll. They get into the first one quickly. With the Dallas bigs remaining on the back line, Parker has only one man to worry about up high (Jason Terry), and Thomas promptly takes him out with the pick. Kidd tries to help from the top weak side, but Parker is too quick. Howard is manning the ball side down low, but he has to account for Bruce Bowen in the left corner, so he's slow to leave. By the time Howard arrives, Parker is already to the rim.

The second zone-buster essentially functions like a "run under" set. Parker gets his pick from Thomas. Howard, who picked up Parker in the early offense, dares Parker to shoot, and the bigs are all zoned up, waiting down low. Parker shoots, Parker scores.

The Remainders
Some of Parker's prettiest baskets come in transition [1st Quarter, 9:38; 2nd Quarter, 2:26] and, of course, the third quarter buzzer-beater in isolation against Josh Howard. With the possible of exception of these three field goals, the rest of Parker's buckets come on set plays. This isn't to say that Parker doesn't improvise in the halfcourt, but he dispels any notion that structured offenses stifle creativity. Parker is dynamic and efficeint, stylish and methodical.

Kurt Thomas is the newest San Antonio Spur, in a deal for Brent Barry, Francisco Elson, and a first-round pick.

In some corners, that package had been rumored to be headed to Sacramento, instead of Seattle.

Respected Sacramento Bee writer Sam Amick reported hearing talk about Artest-to-San Antonio much of today. But, clearly, that turned out to be false.

So, where would such an idea come from? Why would anyone leak such a story?

There are a bunch of possibilities. Maybe it really was close to happening. Maybe it was some kind of miscommunication.

Or maybe, just maybe, it's a Sacramento ploy to make Ron Artest seem like a hot property. Amick is one of several saying that the Kings are trying to convince the Nuggets to sweeten their offer for Artest with Linas Kleiza -- and a Spurs team eager for Artest might have pushed that process along.

Robert Horry, Amare Stoudemire, and Boris Diaw are all suspended for Game 5. It's a total downer for basketball fans everywhere, and it truly seems to reward the Spurs for a ridiculous foul.

But it's not hard to understand, when you consider how we got here.

The league has had grave PR trouble at various times in the past (mostly because there's some racist seeming notion on the part of ticket-buying fans that when basketball players do things that other athletes also do, like fight, or party, they're in dire need of taming). When that trouble gets serious enough, it really hurts the bottom line, and nowhere does it say that leagues like the NBA will never have real financial trouble. With some bad decisions, it can happen. Ask the NHL.

One of the bigger NBA PR problems of recent years was fighting (oddly, a feature in hockey, but whatever) which used to happen quite often. So the league took some serious -- even draconian -- steps to prevent it. One of those anti-mayhem rules was that no NBA player should ever leave the bench during an altercation, and if they do, they are instantly suspended, with, essentially, no questions asked.

There were some growing pains as everyone got used to the rule, including a dreadful year when the Knicks lost a shot at a title because of it. The urge to join the fight, and to protect teammates, can be strong. The rule has snared venerable stars like Reggie Miller and Charles Barkley. But eventually, just about everyone caught on.

And, in part because of that rule, the NBA no longer has a chronic fighting problem. It worked. This rule helps many dozens time a year, when little sparks fly on the court and don't become big fires -- because the few players on the court can't muster the energy to make that kind of trouble alone. And, the three referees on the court can typically keep a lid on two pissed off players. Twelve rushing in to help the two -- that's much tougher.

At the same time, the league is always trying to dispel the notion that everything is subjective, and they hold all the power to arbitrarily decide this or that. Even though that's true in these cases, the league, largely in response to fan criticism, has tried to make clear and enforceable rules where possible. The get-suspended-if-you-leave-the-bench-rule is one of the clearest and most enforceable. You don't want to be suspended? You stay on the bench. Are there any players who don't know that?

Every rule has counterexamples that make it look bad. Speeding laws seem necessary, but does the government really not want police cars, ambulances, and the cars of women in labor to speed? And many of us like leash laws. But how about those frisbee dogs that perform at halftime sometimes -- they're surely breaking the law almost everywhere they perform.

The Suns are the counterexample to the bench-clearing rule. It can suck to be a counterexample.

And yes, sure, you break those rules sometimes, when there's a really compelling argument. But what is the compelling argument here?

I guess the one that has all of us motivated is: because it means so much and because what they did was so harmless. All true, but that's an impossible standard to maintain consistently in the future. Who wants to decide who's harmless and who isn't? Who wants to say which games are really important next time?

Stu Jackson, as reported by the AP, addressed the various "Get Out of Jail Free" cards people like me were trying to give the Suns:

  • The "Amare Stoudemire was checking into the game" theory: "I've not seen a player report in quite that way," Jackson said.
  • The "Tim Duncan and Bruce Bowen were on the court in the second quarter when Francisco Elson and James Jones got tangled up" theory: "Both players got up," Jackson said. "There was no altercation, and they ran down to the other end of the court."

Is he wrong on either count?

Similarly, is Horry's punishment too light? You really can't say that it is. It just wasn't that terrible of a foul -- it was actually pretty similar to Baron Davis's elbow to Derek Fisher. (Actually, Davis's may have been worse, because the NBA has a rule that an elbow to the head is an automatic suspension.) Horry's punishment is more or less in step with the way other similar suspensions have been made in the past and most of us tend to agree with that "let them play" approach. I don't see too many people livid that Baron Davis is lacing up his sneakers right now.

Long before this series began, over the course of years, the NBA had, with its actions, sent the message to players that physical play and even the occasional dirty tricks would be more or less taken in stride. But bench-clearing brawls were never acceptable, and would be squashed long before they had a chance to begin. With that in mind, Stu Jackson's announcement was, I suppose, pretty predictable.

The downside of those two consistent trends in disciplining is that it would seem to create a dirty playoff tactic: wait until there are some valuable players on the bench, then send in some bozo to deck the other team's star, just to see if you can tempt good players onto the court.

I'm sure all this hurts like crazy if you're pulling for the Suns. The rules have monkeyed with your dreams. I'm not happy about it either.

But now there's only one thing to do: suck it up and win anyway. It really could happen, and it would make the Suns America's team.

(The one thing that I really have pangs of regret about here? The Suns have not gotten anything useful out of the last few drafts, even giving up picks for cash as a cost-saving move, when reasonably good players were available. Be great to be able to roll the dice with twenty minutes from a promising young whipper-snapper in a game like this.)

It'll be tough, but everything is tough when you are dead set on winning an NBA championship.

Time to step up, Leandro Barbosa, James Jones, Raja Bell, and especially Shawn Marion. No more hesitating on the jumper, Kurt Thomas. Time to wow us all again, Steve Nash. And maybe we'll even have a Jalen Rose or a Marcus Banks sighting.

Let's do this. And if Phoenix does manage the heroics in Game 5? Then in Game 6, Boris Diaw and Amare Stoudemire return rested and motivated.

UPDATE: ESPN's Chris Sheridan (Insider) finds this ruling insane:

The 15-minute conference call with Jackson was one of the most contentious I have ever been on, with Jackson even acknowledging that if the leave-the-bench rule needs to be revisited, then the league office would be wide open to revisiting it. Jackson said the ruling to suspend Diaw and Stoudemire for a game each (and Robert Horry for two games) was ultimately commissioner David Stern's, but that Stern had accepted his recommendation.

The league office has historically enforced this rule rigidly, though Jackson would not speak to exactly which precedents he considered before imposing the suspensions.

But just because a rule was enforced with a lack of common sense in the past does not mean it must be enforced unreasonably in perpetuity.

I absolutely think we need to start a smart and open-minded discussion about how the rules should change to prevent these kinds of absurd situations. It should change, no doubt, soon. I'm interested in hearing ideas about how.

A TrueHoop reader emailed a great point -- by this logic, if James Jones had noticed that Duncan and Bowen had wandered on the court in the second quarter, he should have immediately decked Francisco Elson. There's your altercation. Mr. Commissioner! Presumably Jones, Duncan, and Bowen would h
ave all been suspended for Game 5 -- a big win for Phoenix.

Makes no sense.

But just ditching a long-term, iron-clad rule in one instance, without any special reason? (This rule almost always seems absurd when it is enforced. That's nothing new. Players who run on the court and throw punches can be suspended for the punches. Players who are suspended just for this rule have always done, essentially, nothing, except break this rule.) I can't understand how this case is different from all the others that have preceded it. If you believe in rules, this is the decision you have to live with.

What happens if there's another brawl in this series, and some San Antonio players leave the bench? Do they get the special "these are important games" waiver too?

The fix to whatever problem is going on now should be permanent and long-term, not a one-off.