Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Fix Los Angeles, and other uniform wishes for 2014

The Bucks' alternate and the Lakers' home uni
Here are some hoped-for changes, mostly in the uniform world, for 2014. Little consideration was given to how likely these changes are.

Promote your alternate, Milwaukee

The Milwaukee Bucks’ wonderful alternate uniform highlights how mediocre their primaries are. Fixing that seems simple: scrap the primaries and replace them with a green and a white uniform in the style of their alternate. Or even use the exact red alternate as the new road uniform.

Get the overhauls right

As mentioned in last week’s post, there’s concern that the Charlotte Hornets will have “aggressive”, and therefore likely unattractive, uniforms when they are released before the 2014-15 season. Hopefully that’s not the case and they let the distinctive teal and purple combo do most of the work for the uniform.

Portland could potentially have new uniforms in 2015 and Toronto’s overhaul should come into effect for 2015-16. We probably won’t see any of those changes in 2014, but let’s hope that any developments heard in 2014 on that front are positive. Fingers crossed that headlines like “Don’t expect big changes to Blazers’ wardrobe” and “Raptors to keep primary logo” appear in 2014. 

Limit the looks

Too many uniforms are worn by teams over a season, whether it’s due to special-event uniforms or multiple alternates. It’d be nice for teams to embrace having just one alternate, if they must have an alternate at all. Also, the NBA doing away with special-event unis like those for Christmas Day would be welcomed.

Tweak the Lakers and Clippers

Many teams could use a slight alteration to their uniforms. But the two LA teams are particularly noteworthy because smallish changes would produce significant improvements.

The Lakers need to draw major inspiration from their ‘80s and ‘90s uniform and ditch the jersey side panels and fix their collar.

The Clippers should depart from all the extraneous gunk on their uniforms – look at the sides and the collar – and embrace a classic look. All that really requires, in addition to the clean collar and sides, is a number font change.  

Floor improvements

The oversized midcourt logo is popular, but hopefully that changes next year. Too often teams are opting for an excessively large logo or word mark when a more Boston Celtics-sized one would be superior.

There are too many solid-colour keyways: having contrasting sides is generally a superior look.

A move away from the multi-coloured wood look in 2014 would also be appreciated.  

Friday, 27 December 2013

Assessing Toronto's discomforting division lead

Image courtesy of Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press.
"We have far more focus on the road than we do at home, and that is a concern," said Dwane Casey, immediately after the Raptors' recent overtime collapse at home to Charlotte.

That buzzer-beating defeat dropped Toronto to 9-14, with a subpar .333 winning percentage at the Air Canada Centre. Although not welcomed by the team's head coach, this steady mediocrity appeared to have fit neatly with GM Masai Ujiri's desire to overhaul the roster and start afresh.

The slip in the standings, however, preceded a pair of plucky victories on a three-game Southwestern swing. An overtime triumph in Dallas combined with blotting Oklahoma City's 13-0 home record copy book allowed the team to "ascend" to the apex of the historically awful Atlantic Division. These performances formed part of a 5-3 stretch since December 8, following the decision to ship costly wingman Rudy Gay to Sacramento for an assortment of expiring contracts and basketball debris (Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson, John Salmons, and Chuck Hayes).

At first glance, Ujiri's two-pronged reset -- by removing the cap-clogging deals and offensive inefficiencies of Andrea Bargnani and Rudy Gay -- signalled a clear intent to reshape the rotation and prioritise ping-pong balls. Yet the exodus of Gay's 18.6 FGA per game has re-allocated a high volume of used-possessions, with early signs of success. Amir Johnson, for example, has relished Rudy's absence by converting 67.1% of his post-trade field goal attempts and generating a +12.1 per 100 possessions. Meanwhile second-year guard Terrence Ross, the immediate candidate to claim the departed Gay's minutes, has drilled 44.2% of his long range attempts en route to 13.2 points per outing.

Despite a losing record and being beneath the expected Pythagorean win-loss ratio of 13-13, Toronto's overall point differential sits at just -4. This has been padded handsomely by a +21 stretch over the eight games since the seven-player transaction, per NBA.com stats. Symbolic of the mismatched collection of roster-fillers -- and the team's not-so-subtle intention to continue to trade its veteran players -- DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry have logged an average of 38 and 37 minutes per game, respectively, in this window.

The Raptors' willingness to move the remaining vestiges of the Bryan Colangelo era has been in the public forum since (at least) November 1, when ESPN.com's Marc Stein detailed that "Anyone but [Jonas] Valanciunas," is available in trade conversations. The "anyone but" list likely now includes the aforementioned Amir Johnson, whose continued stellar play has seen his value in league circles rise incrementally. Nevertheless, the front office's predetermined philosophical outlook and the team's unexpected status as division leaders has created an intriguing juxtaposition. If the postseason were to begin tomorrow, Toronto would be destined for a top-four seed and home-court advantage in the first-round, something the city has not been treated to since 2007.

Thus, the organisation is left in somewhat of a precarious position. The Atlantic Division, with an aggregate record of 49-70 and a point differential of -577 on the season, may just be atrocious enough that the Raptors could reshuffle their pieces and still earn a playoff berth. Moving Gay has done nothing but make the team better as a whole, and while shipping DeRozan and/or Lowry for future assets may move the needle in the lottery direction, there are no guarantees that it wholly eliminates the team from postseason contention. With Rajon Rondo yet to register a minute of playing time for the Celtics in 2013-14, the Nets' Brook Lopez recently ruled out for the entire season with a broken foot, Philadelphia having failed to win a game in regulation after November 8, and the Knicks playing persistently repugnant basketball, Toronto is situated atop the division standings by near-default. There doesn't appear to be another non-Raptors transaction or organisational shake-up capable of altering the landscape of the Atlantic on the horizon, either.

The Raptors place 15th in the league for +/- per 100 possessions through 26 games at -0.2, and are on the fringes of the NBA's top ten for their defense. Dwane Casey's squad have a Defensive Rating of 101.9, tied with Houston for 10th spot in the rankings. The primary problems for this team, though, emanate from the other side of the ball. So long as DeMar DeRozan continues to source 32.2% of his scoring from the midrange area with a usage rate of 26.6%, the team will carry a limited offensive ceiling. DeRozan is also firing an average of 3.5 trebles per contest, while only connecting on 31.9% of his deep attempts. To further the Raptors' identity quandary, the 6"7 slasher has played well enough to help sustain the team's level of competitiveness, but is perhaps not performing to the extent that his value is skyrocketing in the minds of opposing scouts.

Toronto have thus far confronted the sixth-toughest basketball calendar, with a Strength of Schedule (SOS) mark of .520, according to ESPN's Hollinger statistics. In the context of their winning aspirations, the Raptors begin a home-and-home matchup with New York tonight, while preparing for road tussles with Chicago, Miami, and Indiana in the next ten days.

As the trade deadline approaches and the Raptors push through a raft of Eastern Conference bouts, one can only hope that the black clouds will be removed from above the listless play of the Atlantic Division outfits.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

New Hornets logos aggressive but harmless

The Hornets' new primary logo
The logos and word mark for next season’s Charlotte Hornets are unfortunately modern but acceptable nonetheless.

The colours of the primary logo, even the grey, look sharp. The generically-aggressive demeanour of the hornet is a negative and the basketball for his body seems forced.

The word mark takes up too much room on the logo and obscures the hornet too much. It’s reminiscent of the New England Patriots' word mark and the Minnesota Vikings' number font. It looks like it’ll age quickly.

The C-shaped hornet secondary is similar to the Atlanta Hawks alternate. A simplified version of the primary probably would’ve been superior.

The modernized Hugo secondary looks good. It would’ve been better, though, had they retained Hugo dribbling a basketball and kept his stripes. Hopefully next season’s Hornets don’t do away with stripes on the jersey trim too. The 'H' on the updated Hugo’s body also looks a bit off.

The ‘C’ alternate is likeably simple and, along with the Hugo secondary, is the best part of the new Hornets look. It’ll also provide the Hornets with a link to their Bobcats days.

The other four logos are unimpressive, but they might only be used in rare or specific instances, anyway.

These logos and word mark, along with the press release to announce them, suggest that the new uniforms could suffer from trying to be fearsome.

The release referred to the hornet in the primary logo as “aggressive-looking” and “ready to attack”.

“We developed a logo that physically depicted the characteristics and DNA of the type of team we want on the court, as well as those of hornets and the city of Charlotte,” said Bobcats Sports and Entertainment President and COO Fred Whitfield.

That kind of talk suggests that flawed uniforms – the unis are expected to be released in the summer – could follow. Scoop collars, coloured waistbands and restraint aren’t synonymous with aggression.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Christmas Day uniforms more than unsightly

The 2013 NBA Christmas Day uniforms are concerning for more than their ugliness. They’re representative of more importance being placed on difference than attractiveness and tradition.

The ten uniforms feature a trio of gimmicks: the jerseys are sleeved, there are logos instead of word marks and numbers on the jersey front, and the logos are metallic. This consistent approach should result in all ten teams looking unfortunately loud.

The sleeves and hockey-style jersey fronts are wacky but would probably be acceptable if they were the extent of the riskiness. Alas, the awful metallic look brings the uniforms right down.

The prominence of silver means team colours are being forsaken for a look that isn’t even particularly Christmassy. If you’re going to wear colours that aren’t your own, there should be a good reason and the substitution colours should be relevant. That’s not the case here.

There’s no reason why teams playing on Christmas should be wearing special uniforms. The All-Star game – a special occasion that calls for new uniforms each year – provides enough opportunity for the NBA to release funky unis to be worn in a high-profile setting.

That’s where the real concern lies. The Christmas gear is an example of the NBA not having enough respect for limiting the number of uniforms and placing too much importance on doing uniforms differently. The look and existence of the Christmas unis makes it clear that teams looking traditionally good – which means not wearing disposable uniforms – isn’t a high-enough priority. 

With attractiveness and tradition being undervalued, the resistance to advertisements on uniforms is compromised. The door to zany and unattractive innovations and teams wearing six unis during the regular season is opened, too.

It mightn’t seem like a big deal because these are just one-off uniforms. But the fact that one-off uniforms exist for such an occasion is part of the problem.   

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

A look at basketball use in logos

The Bucks' logo from 1968-93
Basketballs are an overly-common feature of NBA team logos.

There’s nothing wrong with the idea, but the basketball appears to be an uninspired throw-in in too many logos.

Equipment is also a common feature of MLB logos, but is less popular with NFL and NHL logos.

Basketballs are a tempting element to include given how they can easily fit a logo. A basketball is simple and recognizable, works big or small and is easy to interact with for mascots in the logo. Baseballs are similar.

Just because a basketball's easy to include doesn’t mean it should be included. It has to add something.

The argument that a basketball in the logo makes it clear the team plays basketball seems like a poor excuse.

There are instances of a basketball doing more than letting the uninitiated know what sport the team plays. Here are some examples of a basketball benefitting a logo.

Milwaukee Bucks, 1968-93

The pose and expression of the buck, the sweater and the spin marks surrounding the ball are all top-notch. The buck’s carefree confidence is uncommon among mascots on NBA logos nowadays.   

Seattle SuperSonics, 1975-95

An example of a basketball working as a logo outline. The semi-circle shape and colours help a lot, as does Seattle having something to make its skyline distinctive.

Utah Jazz, 1979-96

The word mark is fantastic, and UTAH fits nicely above JAZZ. The colours also work well. But the centrepiece and strongest element is the basketball note: it’s relevant, simple and appealing.

Washington Wizards, 2011-present

The wizard isn’t just holding the ball. It looks as though he’s got it hovering over his finger, or he’s just released a finger roll. The colours and the W formed by his beard are other highlights. The second basketball, the crescent-shaped one, is unnecessary.

Anaheim Amigos, 1967/68 (ABA)

It’s not a great logo given the word mark is just ok and the colours are bland. But the hat on a basketball is likeable, even if the ball itself looks poor. 

Improved perimeter play has sparked the Spurs' solid D

Spurs guard Tony Parker checking Golden State wingman Harrison Barnes.
If you don't know, now you know: the Spurs sit 2nd in the league's Defensive Rating rankings. San Antonio trails only it's Saturday opponents -- the Indiana Pacers -- for it's ball-stopping prowess.

With Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter manning the paint, it's almost expected that the team should boast a defensive unit good enough for a top ten standing. The notion that a Duncan-Splitter combo will strangle the interior slashes of the opponent is not a new one. In sixty games of sharing the floor in 2012-13, the pair (when measured as a two-man lineup) restricted opposing FG% to 41.4%, and generated a handsome Defensive Rating of 92.7. An unquestionably elite performance. Given the tall timber's penchant for roaming in the restricted area, then, what is required to propel the team as a whole to the next echelon of defensive dominance?

It starts with a collective commitment from the rest of the roster. A little tinkering to the rotation and a couple of new faces don't hurt, either. Last season, San Antonio were proud owners of a number of key defensive indicators that the majority of NBA teams would kill to achieve. Whether it was keeping Opp. FG% to 42.9% in their 58 wins, placing third in the Association for defensive rebound percentage at 74.9% (behind only Golden State and Houston), or fourth for opposition True Shooting %'s at a paltry 51.6% (courtesy of HoopData.com). Recently, "Pounding The Rock" paid homage to the Spurs' propensity to defy and withstand the hallmarks of opposing offenses, and detailed the growing reputation of Danny Green as a "3-and-D" wingman. But what about Tony Parker -- far from being regarded as a defensive menace -- and the removal of 22 minutes of Gary Neal from the nightly lineup?*

Sure, offseason manoeuvring and substituting the likes of Marco Belinelli and Jeff Ayres in to replace Neal and DeJuan Blair may seem minor and inconsequential to the casual onlooker. Not quite. It is actually difficult to adequately describe just how much of a defensive albatross Gary Neal was for San Antonio, in 2013 especially. Neal was one of the team's chief defensive liabilities, mustering an individual Defensive Rating of 101.4 over his 68 regular season appearances. Spurs fans will remember Neal's rise from obscurity and his role as a streaky shooter (with a clutch performance or two along the way). Don't let that distract you from his identity as the definition of a one-way player, though. Look, Belinelli himself is not exactly a brick wall on the defensive end. Nonetheless, it's worth looking at how the team has fared when the Italian gunslinger has been plugged in alongside rotation bigs. For example, through seventeen games together, the Splitter-Belinelli tandem has earned a Defensive Rating of 81.5. We're crippled by the reality of a small sample size here, but this mark is currently the Spurs' best of any combo that has logged greater than 100 minutes together on the season. It's a figure that's overwhelmingly weighted by the stature of Splitter and is certain to balloon back out toward a more reflective and sustainable number. Belinelli, however, has (thus far) given honest, near league-average D and has avoided the sieve-like play that proved costly for the team with Neal on the floor.

Stepping away from the team's bench help for a second, if we know that three of the Spurs' five starters can more than hold their own when called upon on D, where do Parker and Danny Green stand as a backcourt playing heavy minutes? According to basketball-reference.com, Tony Parker managed 2.3 Defensive Win Shares (defined as "an estimated number of wins contributed by a player due to his defense") in 2012-13, roughly middle of the pack on the San Antonio roster. So far this season, the Parker-Green unit has been a stingy one, helping to hold the opposition to 40.4% on field goal attempts, while Tony Parker ranks 11th in the league for individual defensive efficiency (of players who have played a minimum of 10 games, and average at least 20 minutes per outing). Even if a lot of these glittery numbers snap back to reality -- in one way or another -- the progress of Parker on the other side of the ball deserves recognition. It's the one component of his game that has always been the critic's choice: accountability and consistency on D. As much as anything, this is a Point Guard-driven league, and Tony has amassed these numbers having already battled Ty Lawson, John Wall, Russell Westbrook, and Kyrie Irving, to name a few. Meanwhile Green, who is frustratingly prone to the occasional defensive lapse or gamble, still comes in at fourth in the NBA's individual defensive rankings.

Key factors help to comprise these measures: the quality of opponents, the makeup of the Spurs' units on the floor, injuries, personnel etc. Yet, we're nearly a quarter of the way through the 82-game grind. There is enough available evidence to support the incremental improvement of Parker's defensive efforts. He has boosted his own Defensive Rating from 97.6 this past year to 92.2 through seventeen early-season bouts. Expect Parker's individual stats to gravitate and regress closer towards those of last season, but if he can continue his recent output on the perimeter, he -- and San Antonio as a team -- will be richly rewarded for his sustained advances.

* Neal also registered an average of nearly nineteen minutes per contest in the postseason for the Spurs in 2012-13.

Statistics used are from NBA.com/stats, unless otherwise specified.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

The case for coloured socks

The Lakers with striped socks
Adding sleeves to jerseys is one way to give NBA uniforms more room for creativity. It mightn’t be the best way.

There’s not much to an NBA uniform; it’s generally a singlet and shorts. There are no helmets or caps, no long-sleeved shirts or pants, no gloves, no stirrups and no belts.

Of course, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The Knicks’ road blues don’t look like they’re missing anything, for example, and the Celtics’ home whites aren’t begging for a green cap.

But having more to work with could theoretically lead to a better uniform. While it mightn’t be the motivation behind them, the new sleeved jerseys give teams more space for originality and differentiation.

The sleeves can house player numbers, for example, as will be done with the Christmas Day jerseys. They also give room for stripes, a patch or an alternate logo.

But sleeves still feel unnatural and too unnecessary to be justified. A better option for adding more to a uniform could be socks.

Teams used to wear long socks with team-coloured stripes. While a return to those socks could be a good look, it’s likely a little too farfetched to expect all NBA players to wear knee-highs.

Regarding farfetched: if the NBA were really interested in altering its approach to socks, it would have done something by now. But still, the idea of sock changes is worth considering.

Instead of the old style, teams could wear regular-length – or knee-high for those so inclined – coloured socks. Picture Golden State wearing yellow socks or New Orleans with red ones with their respective blue road uniforms.

Dallas could have a star on their socks. The Nuggets could use their crossed picks alternate logo and the Jazz could put their basketball note logo on theirs.

Washington could go with red, white and blue stripes.

There are of course potential problems. For it to best work, particularly with logos, the NBA logo would have to be removed from the visible part of the sock, something that seems particularly unlikely for the league to embrace. Plus the good work of striped socks could be undone by a player scrunching them down while playing.

It’d be mildly risky and it’s certainly unnecessary. With headbands and shooting sleeves commonplace, adding coloured socks to the mix could be overkill.

Socks are, however, more of an essential part of an NBA wardrobe than sleeves. Making them team-specific could be a subtler but superior choice than the sleeve option for giving teams more material to make their own.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Anthony Davis, the "Leap," and the Peculiar Pelicans

Image courtesy of Derick E. Hingle/USA Today.
There is a fundamental set of expectations that are attached to the honour of being a number one overall pick. Anthony Davis, 2012 recipient of that label, is coping just fine with the weight of heavy scrutiny. Individually, his play in the 2014 season has been something to behold. Davis, fronting the freshly rebranded New Orleans Pelicans, is presently placed 2nd in the league's PER rankings, behind only LeBron James. League average for the Player Efficiency Rating measurement rests at 15.00, and through fourteen outings, the Kentucky product owns a figure of 28.35. Affixed firmly in the melange of one of the NBA's more obscurely-assembled rosters, he has been a near-solitary source of stellar play, and led the Pelicans' push to the fringes of the Western Conference playoff picture. Entering the season, Davis was considered a very reasonable candidate to make the "Leap" to the next echelon of performance, and inch closer to his ceiling as an elite player in this league.

Viewed as a gangly defensive pest with a raw offensive repertoire coming out of college, it is Davis' showcases of scoring and low-post manoeuvres that have come as the most pleasant surprises. Among those were a monster 32pt, 12 rebound, six block display in a win over the Lakers, and a 29 and 15 game in a Salt Lake City defeat. Furthermore, he's getting to the line six times per game, and drilling 85.1% of his chances - becoming somewhat of an anti-Dwight Howard at the charity stripe. This proficiency at the free throw line, and his ability to reduce his turnover count to just 1.4 per showing, is certain to please the New Orleans administration. The offense isn't all sunshine and rainbows, however, as the sharp uptick in minutes, added attention, and occasionally odd shot choice have caused a mild decline in his scoring efficiency (shooting 49.7% to this point). Understandably, the second year man is finding the majority of his points in the restricted area, scoring at a 64.6% rate (62 of 96) in that region, and struggling when he has attempted to expand his range. Although he may not be relied upon as a lethal outside shooter, developing the midrange game and fine-tuning his planted jump shot is clearly next on the offensive agenda. The below graphic depicts Davis' difficulties (granted, in only a limited sample size) when forced further and further away from the comforts of the interior. 

A brief overview of Davis' shot locations, in blocks of eight feet, per NBA.com/stats.
The Pelicans' prized big man is shooting 22 of 76, or 28.9%, on standard jump shots, overwhelmingly capitalising on dunks, flips, and tips, while weaving scattered hooks from the block into his arsenal. Ideally, an injury-free rotation with plentiful minutes for Holiday, Gordon, and Anderson, (plus bench contributions from the likes of Anthony Morrow and Tyreke Evans), would neatly balance the floor, and afford Anthony Davis slightly more breathing room from 15 feet and below. His usage rate is 21.7, slightly less than that of Tim Duncan, and narrowly missing out on the top ten for qualified power forwards. One would anticipate that this figure is at least a little skewed, and that the return of Ryan Anderson (who has now been active for five games), ought to level it out. Notwithstanding an aesthetically appetising scoring volume and a couple of tidy additions to the move set, Davis' devastation and dominance has transpired on the defensive end.

Indiana behemoth Roy Hibbert edges out New Orleans' unibrowed phenomenon by 0.07 for league-leading status in the blocks per game department, with the Pelicans' #23 deflecting 3.86 shots per game, on average. In addition to this, Davis is bunkering down in the paint at a level good enough for top five in the NBA (of eligible big men boasting steady minutes), minimising the conversion of opposing teams' shots at the rim to 42.5%. He is also inhaling rebounds in contested situations at a click superior to that of prolific glass-eaters such as Kevin Love and Dwight Howard, claiming boards in 45.3% of these cases, according to publicly available player tracking information. Assessing how he fares in a variety of front court tandems, though, carries certain value. It is perhaps most prudent to focus on the period in which Anderson has factored in - albeit a very limited one - due to the reality that NOLA were exposing the likes of Lou Amundson, Jeff Withey, and Greg Stiemsma to disproportionate minutes with the stretch four-man absent. Once again, the 2014 window of evidence is minute, but in terms of strategy, the proof is in the pudding: the Anderson-Davis duo is scoring at a handsome number, but is ultimately conceding 102.5 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com numbers. On the season last year, over a 61 game span, the twosome's defensive reality was even more daunting, giving away 113.0 points by the same measurement. With this in mind, it becomes easier to understand why an Omer Asik-Ryan Anderson exchange has swiftly grown into one of the Internet's favourite imaginary trades. The thought of regularly aligning Anthony Davis with a true ball-stopping, intimidating low-post body must leave the other 29 teams shuddering. Alas, the Pelicans appear keen to latch their bills onto Anderson's canny and bountiful game, trusting their ability to plug the holes of the remaining minutes holes with one-sided, stopgap bigs.

The early season demonstrations of Davis have contributed to frequent player comps in the public domain, most notably with some seeing a resemblance between him and a youthful Kevin Garnett. High praise, no doubt, and reflective of the way in which Anthony Davis has captivated the attention of the NBA universe in this relatively young campaign. Unfortunately for New Orleans, their roster isn't comprised of thirteen Anthony Davis', and they are currently staring at a sub-.500 record, with a bevy of balancing issues. Of foremost concern for the Pelicans franchise would be the fact that their 6-8 mark comes after a 25th placing in the "Strength of Schedule" standings (ranking at .473), meaning that there's an inevitable uphill stretch from here. For the casual observer and those seen as strictly Davis admirers, though, it might just be best to heed the advice of Tony Montana from here on out, and look at the Pelican fly.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

The San Antonio Spurs and the Art of Subtle Stability

Image courtesy of Nathaniel E. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images.
The Spurs are 13-1, leading the Western Conference, riding an eye-popping, pace-setting 11 game winning streak, and yet, this is not news. Fourteen games into the regular season marathon, the silver and black hold a 93% winning ratio. Whilst some have sought to assess and scrutinise the legitimacy of the Trail Blazers' wildly hot stretch (and rightfully so), San Antonio continues it's excellence of execution in this, Tim Duncan's 17th season, stereotypically unnoticed and absent from public fandom and consciousness. Duncan, participant in a total of 1192 regular season bouts and 211 postseason showings, has featured in twelve of the team's 14 games thus far, and remains the centrepiece of the ever-reliable San Antonio locomotive. "The Big Fundamental" logged a cumbersome 2,813 minutes across standard and playoff contests last year, and is certain to have his court time intricately managed and carefully placed, yet again. It is almost as if basketball enthusiasts have become so blissfully accustomed to the recurring success of the franchise from the Southwest of Texas that it casually seeps through the everyday clutter of talking heads, and acquiesces to a status of lesser importance.

This season, it seems, has been no different. The insignia of the team's offensive output has, in a more recent context, proven to be remarkable spacing, copious amounts of shooters, and the usage of Tony Parker's penchant for slashing as the instigator for fluid, intelligent passing. It's early, to be sure, but the Spurs currently rank 4th in the league for assists per game, and 61.7% of the team's converted field goals directly result from teammate setups. Historically, San Antonio have found a way to implement solid, accomplished, bit-part, veteran contributors into their polished schemes, whether it be Robert Horry, Brent Barry, Glenn Robinson, Michael Finley, Fabricio Oberto, Boris Diaw, Stephen Jackson, Matt Bonner, or any other member of the Spurs' assorted casts who honed in on a regular role. Perhaps the 2013-14 version of this concept will be Italian guard Marco Belinelli, formerly of the Chicago Bulls. Of course, these names arrived in San Antonio with differing resumes and achieved varying levels of success once competing in a Spurs uniform, nevertheless, there is enough of a track record to trust in the managerial ingenuity of this front office. These complimentary pieces have allowed Popovich's men to take advantage of the roster's balance and flexibility, and experiment with new structures on both sides of the ball. 

The Spurs stand at 7-0 on their home floor, with a hearty net-rating of +15.0, and a handy pace of 96.92 possessions per 48 minutes, according to NBA.com statistics. These healthy numbers are reflective of the regenerated offense that vaulted the team to a 61-win, #1 seed season in 2010-11, followed by a Conference Finals placing in the 2012 season, and earned them an NBA Finals berth this past June. This season, San Antonio have registered a number of double-digit victories, including a pummelling of a Cleveland outfit in utter disarray just three days ago, and a 31pt romp of New York at Madison Square Garden. The win over the Cavaliers, according to Alex Kennedy of HoopsWorld.com, is the 37th time that the team has amassed that margin of victory (min. 30pts) in the Tim Duncan era. Kennedy noted that this is equivalent to eight more of those wins than any other NBA franchise in that window. It is comprehensive routs of this nature that create the luxury of resting key, ageing players for the Spurs, the significance of which simply cannot be overstated. 

Distinct from the offensive prowess of Duncan's squad, the tangible defensive presence of Tiago Splitter, forever lurking in the paint, is not to be dismissed. Analysis of San Antonio's two-man lineup figures highlight that Splitter, in almost any pairing (even with reserve guard Patty Mills), is able to heavily deteriorate the conversation rate of opposition scoring attempts. Measured on a per 100 possessions basis, Splitter (thus far), when paired with any of Mills, Manu Ginobili, Marco Belinelli, Boris Diaw, Kawhi Leonard, or Tony Parker, assists in restricting the opponent's field goal percentage below a meagre 41%. Splitter's role as a stalwart in the post is a primary factor behind the limiting of Tim Duncan's minutes to a career-low 27.3 per game. The sturdiness contributed by Splitter, in congruence with the creativity and unconventional play of bench bigs Boris Diaw and Matt Bonner, gift the Spurs the chance to rest their 37 year old future Hall-of-Famer extensively, and rely on guard-heavy units that look to compensate for the loss of Duncan's multifaceted offensive production. Behind all of this, clearly, is a conscientious strategy to pick spots on the floor, utilise the corner three as a predominant weapon, and maximise the value of good, well-balanced shot selection.
San Antonio's shot distribution chart through fourteen regular season games.
The above diagram illustrates the offensive decision-making of the Spurs to date, amplifying explicit points of emphasis. The shades of blue (ascending from below to above league average) portray how the team fares when compared to the remaining 29 squads, with the left baseline/block semi-circular region and three-fifths of the available three-point territories obviously favoured. Conversely, they appear to hold a deliberate aversion to the top-of-the-key region, hesitating to launch "long twos", widely acknowledged as some of the (statistically) least efficient spots to fire from. It is not difficult to fathom how this team has developed into an unequivocal offensive juggernaut, artfully whisking together heady play with above-average shooting capabilities. As a collective, San Antonio is nailing an average of eight threes per game, at a scary rate of 40.5%, in addition to owning quality percentages both at the line, and from the field. Tony Parker, perennially an undersized problem-maker in the paint for opposition teams, is leading the league in field goal percentage on drives (of players averaging at least 30mpg), netting an absurd 67.9% of his driving tries, per SportsVU player tracking data. Moreover, three of the Spurs' regular backcourt rotation (Parker, Danny Green, and Patty Mills) feature in the top ten in the NBA in average speed traveled (measured in miles per hour), ranging between 4.6 and 4.8mph, helping the team to counterbalance the low-post play of Duncan with a host of speedy, tempo-pushing guards. This is an offense unparalleled in its diversity and complexity, regularly punishing subpar opposing defenses and assaulting the basket from an assemblage of angles.

With this, and the spectacular defensive impact of the Splitter-Duncan combination (Splitter stifles the interior, limiting opposition FG% at the rim to 32.8% - good for league-leading status of those playing 20+ minutes and regularly contesting shots), San Antonio is set. In an odd way, having considered all of the above, it is unsurprising that the win-loss ratio is 13-1 to this point - indirectly feeding into the absence of popular attention. The ideal, perfectly scripted scenario would be a top two seed in the West, with a healthy core entering the postseason. Evidently, it is health - and not consistency of performance - that will persist as the overwhelming concern. To the basketball junkie, it is tough not to appreciate the unique beauty and unmatched dependability of the San Antonio Spurs.

Hornets colour scheme might not work

The Charlotte Bobcats announced on Sunday the colours they’ll wear next season as the Hornets. Purple and teal are the primary colours, while grey, black and light blue are the secondaries.

It’s unsurprising news. The franchise is reinstating the Hornets nickname in Charlotte, so it figures they’d reinstate the corresponding primary colours, too. Plus, the original Hornets colours are distinctive and popular.

The original Hornets while in Charlotte never abandoned or deemphasised purple or teal. Other teams that had used one of those colours did move away from them, such as the Toronto Raptors, Memphis Grizzlies, Arizona Diamondbacks, Miami Marlins and Anaheim Ducks. Perhaps the Charlotte Hornets would have too had they stayed in town beyond 2002. But they didn’t, so that probably adds to purple and teal being a special combo in Charlotte. It wasn’t just a fad.

Even if it seemed inevitable, bringing back purple and teal is probably a good move.

The primary uniforms of the original Hornets in the first half of the 1990s showed that purple and teal can work well when the rest of the uniform is restrained. That means no side panels and a fairly basic word mark and fonts.

The purple alternate they wore in the mid-‘90s looked sharp. A similar alternate for the new Hornets could work well.

The secondary colours of the scheme for the new Hornets are, unlike the primaries, a reason for concern.

Road uniforms of the original Hornets
The grey, black and light blue could be subtle enough to not be an issue, or some of the colours mightn’t appear on the uniforms at all.

But it’s also possible that they’ll be too prominent, clashing with the purple and teal and robbing the unis of the restraint that’d suit them.

Piping up the side of the uniform, like what the Bobcats have worn, would be one way for these secondary colours to be utilised to the detriment of the unis.

Remember the negative trajectory of the Bobcats franchise uniform-wise, too. Their initial uniforms in 2004 were pretty good considering they had few classic elements. Their gear then got blander until arriving at their current unfortunate set, replete with forced light blue, a “CATS” word mark and busy sides. The franchise isn’t in the habit of making their uniforms better.

The return of purple and teal could be a good thing, but there’s plenty of room for error.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Trail Blazers uniforms can withstand changes

The Blazers' road uniform
The Portland Trail Blazers are considering uniform changes for 2015-16, according to Blazer’s Edge. Contemplation of whether their current set requires tinkering seems appropriate, then.

To put it briefly, no changes are necessary. In fact, the Blazers have one of the best home and road sets in the league and are proof that good basic uniform elements can withstand alterations.

Their current home and road set breathes rare air: it’s interesting while staying understated and attractive.

The scoop collar looks great and, as their red alternate’s unflattering collar proves, is a significant factor is these uniforms’ success.

On that red alternate: it’s ok, but using the stripes from the homes and roads would be an upgrade on those tapered ones and removing the logo from the neckline and ‘rip city’ from the shorts would be an improvement, too. The "Rip City" alternates, meanwhile, are a hindrance to the Blazers' set.

Back to their current home and road set. The diagonal stripes on the jersey and vertical ones down the left of the shorts are a simple but appealing element, boosted by the Blazers’ colour scheme. The clean right side of the uniform is a nice, anti-clutter move.

The fonts for the word mark, player’s name and number are acceptably plain so as not to take away from the rest of the uniform elements.

All that written, a tweak or two is not to be feared. The Blazers have shown that.

The word mark and number font had drop shadow from 1991-2002. There also wasn’t a silver stripe then, just red and white. The word mark on both the homes and roads used to be red and in lowercase. And for a long stretch they went with a coloured waistband.

So the impressive uniforms we see today are the product of some slight modernisations.

If the Blazers maintain their colour scheme and designations and keep the scoop collar and the diagonal stripes, it’d be hard for any adjustments to render their set unattractive.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

In the Garden of Uncertainty

Fading away: Just like the hightop, gone is the Knicks brass' confidence in Iman Shumpert.
How much can one honestly say about the reeling, bizarre New York Knicks organisation? The traveling sideshow that is the Knicks took yet another wild spin into trademark insanity Wednesday, with the news that J.R. Smith will start in place of Pablo Prigioni in Atlanta, the swirling rumours of Mike Woodson and the front office's dissatisfaction with Iman Shumpert, and subsequent trade whispers. Firstly, Smith. The cartoon-esque saga that has been his last six months - whether it was his playoff meltdown and elbow to Jason Terryhis odd contract negotiations that changed in length and dollars (significantly), his not-so-subtly masked offseason knee surgery, his five game suspension for a violation of the league's anti-drugs policy, the unbalanced addition of his sibling (Chris Smith) to the roster, or his awful return game which saw him net 5pts on 1-9 shooting in a 31pt home loss - rolled on uninterrupted again today, as he steps in to start just his second game in 117 showings for the Knicks. Smith, ever the controversial figure, seemingly has the support of Mike Woodson, and will confirm what had apparently been brewing in the summer months by starting tonight's road game against the Hawks. Shumpert retains his position, for now, as it is the efficient Pablo Prigioni - who, by contrast, does not have the enduring adoration of Woodson - set to step aside. Of course, never mind the fact that across eight games in April of last season the Felton-Prigioni-Shumpert-Anthony four man unit managed a net rating of 18.8 and a true shooting percentage of 63.8%. Moreover, since being inserted as a regular starter on March 18, Prigioni assisted the Knicks on a 16-1 stretch over the month of March and April, including 13 straight victories. The decision to tinker the lineup prior to Wednesday's matchup represents the fourth experimented starting unit in only eight total games. In other words (even with Tyson Chandler's untimely injury), the word 'stability' has not been synonymous with the 2013-14 Knickerbockers thus far.

Timing and justification notwithstanding, J.R. Smith will seek to recapture the level of play that earned him the honour of being the NBA's premier bench performer, as the 2012-13 Sixth Man of the Year. In his 'contract year', Smith registered 18.1 points per contest whilst connecting twice from downtown per game, frequently amassing starter-quantity minutes (33.5mpg). His 5.5 long range hoists per game, however, were second only to league-leading scorer Carmelo Anthony, who attempted six per outing. After a smoking opening to his team's first round series, Smith crumbled in the wake of his league-imposed suspension, only managing 33.1% field goal shooting and 16.1 points per 36mins. Clearly, the majority of Smith's NBA successes have surfaced in a role where he is asked to deliver sharp, immediate offensive spark and can be withdrawn with little consequence, rather than as a proverbial second banana. The reliability of J.R. Smith as a #2 offensive option remains in serious doubt, and if that is underlining the thinking of his placement in the starting five, then the Knicks' officials may be startled by the outcomes. Apparently, the re-emergence of Smith from injury and suspension, the drafting of the walking trebuchet Tim Hardaway Jr. in the first round, and the inking of wily guard Beno Udrih to complement the roster's guard depth have deemed perimeter defender and chief young asset Iman Shumpert expendable. 

Frank Isola of the NY Daily News reports that New York have put the feelers out and tested the waters in relation to Iman Shumpert's trade currency, engaging in preliminary discussions with Denver. The news is not altogether surprising, yet it stands as indicative of the organisation's hasty, remarkably shortsighted strategising. As a result of age, contractual status/salary cap hit, injury, and team roles, Shumpert is undoubtedly the sole asset of any substantial worth in the trade market that the Knicks can lay claim to. Isola notes that the front office, absorbing the blows of Chandler's extended absence, is attempting to conjure a solution to its barren front court situation. Shumpert, attached to a rookie-scale deal, comes at the very modest price of $1.7M for this season and $2.7M next, only serving to heighten his value in trade conversations. If the reports are even vaguely true, and New York is gauging the possibilities of a Shumpert-big man exchange - Isola mentions Denver's Kenneth Faried as a candidate - one ominous truth appears to be eluding the team's officials. In (hypothetically) disposing of Iman Shumpert, the Knicks will have a grand total of zero quality, NBA-capable wing defenders under the age of 34, leaving an already-dire defensive circumstance to be hammered by a weakened, shallow rotation. The unquestionably positive defensive influence of the third-year man was made clear for all to witness and appreciate in the 2013 Playoffs, with his on/off-court differentials a reminder of this. In twelve postseason matchups, the Knicks' net rating with Shumpert on the floor was 7.6, while when he headed to the bench, it was a mere -3.3. Realisitcally, New York will have great difficulty discovering that level of defensive efficiency in any bigs available in Shumpert-centred discussions, nor will they be able to plug in above-average, short-term replacements from the free agent pool in the aftermath of any possible trade. 

Amidst all of this chaos and disorganisation, one thing becomes clearer as each game passes - the Knicks are tightly lodged with a small-ball, floor-spacing, undersized roster, sewn to a coach who is, fundamentally, an advocate of slow-it-down, front court focused, post up play. Woodson, in the face of all forms of cheery outcomes for his 'Prigionian' (new word) lineups, will do anything to escape the unwanted condition of a guard-heavy roster, almost to the point of sheer stubbornness. Having said that, with Chandler sidelined, the Knicks' coach is inherently handicapped and will be left to continue to start Andrea Bargnani - owner of an underwhelming -16.6 on/off-court differential - at centre

The storylines of Smith, Shumpert, and Woodson himself, are not likely to dissipate any time soon. Frank Isola of the Daily News seems determined with his take that Shumpert will be discarded via trade, sooner or later, and if Chandler's stint in a suit and knee brace is extended in the slightest, expect the Knicks to reshuffle their collection of bigs. 

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

A look back at graphics on uniforms

The Pistons during the horse logo days
There’s a distinct lack of graphics on NBA uniforms these days. That’s probably a good thing. Here are some examples of teams employing graphics on their unis, something of a trend in the ‘90s that yielded some unflattering results.

Atlanta Hawks, 1995-1999

The home and road versions vary in quality. The home whites look pretty good, although the lettering isn’t all that clear. The roads suffer from the unflattering colour fade effect.

Detroit Pistons, 1995-2001

The horse fits with the lettering and on the jersey nicely, but would probably look better without the flames. The set as a whole is unattractive, particularly those numbers.

Milwaukee Bucks alternate, 1995-1999

The shadowy effect, interference with the jersey lettering and the colours are the biggest issues here. The fact the buck is different to the one in their logo at the time is a negative, too.

Philadelphia 76ers, 1991-1994

The 76ers with multi-coloured stars
This could’ve looked good had they made all the colours solid instead of faded. The result is a kind of metallic, computer-generated look.

Phoenix Suns, 1992-2000

An example of graphic success. The angle and colouring work, as do the sun streaks and spikes. The basketball is the weakest element, but it’s acceptable.

Toronto Raptors, 1995-1999

The raptor looks good and is taken from their logo, but that graphic makes an already busy uniform  with pinstripes, shorts logos and nameplate spikes  even busier.

Utah Jazz, 1996-2004

This set suffers from fade and colour problems, particularly the road unis. The set would’ve looked pretty good had they used just a mountain outline on the roads and cleaned up the lettering.

Employing graphics could be worthwhile today if teams avoided the fade effect and colouring issues that damaged some of the uniforms mentioned and used relevant and clean graphics. Atlanta, for example, could go with the hawk from their logo underneath clean lettering with the number in the top corner of the jersey.

It’s far riskier than a traditional approach, but it’s a way for teams to have an attractive and different look.

Friday, 8 November 2013

November Pain: Where to now for the languishing New York Knicks?

New York centre Tyson Chandler wincing after his collision injury.
Sitting uncomfortably at 1-3, with recent home losses to Minnesota and Charlotte, there is increasing reason for cautious concern about the trajectory of the 2013-14 season for the New York Knicks. The team's play has been well below par, exhibiting an unsettled rotation, an untidy offense, and an incredibly shabby defensive scheme. With Carmelo Anthony labouring to discover his offensive arsenal, currently shooting 37.1% from the field, and the supporting cast failing to manage anything even vaguely resembling transition defense, the Knicks have hopelessly dwindled to the despondence of a below-average start to the season. Harshly, the issues that have plagued New York's November performances were intensified on Wednesday morning, with reports that the team's defensive anchor, and best performer so far, Tyson Chandler, will be out for approximately 4-6 weeks. As mentioned in Wednesday's recap of the Knicks' home loss to Charlotte, Chandler collided with guard Kemba Walker, was helped off the floor and did not return at any stage of the game. Together with Iman Shumpert and Metta World Peace, Chandler has been one of very few Knickerbockers thus far to display honest consistency in his level of play.

Undoubtedly, this news is a crippling blow to a franchise already dealing with an untimely front office reshuffle, the ongoing suspension of guard J.R. Smiththe fading health and contributions of Amar'e Stoudemire (the $45M man), and the aforementioned losing start. Chandler essentially rescued the team in the lone victory (over Milwaukee) of the '13-14 campaign, as they almost disposed of a 25pt advantage, and has truly been the rock of an otherwise jittery, drama-ridden situation. Moreover, head coach Mike Woodson has battled to find a blend with the roster, not able to smoothly integrate new pieces Andrea Bargnani, Beno Udrih, and Tim Hardway Jr. with the desired effectiveness. It is extremely early in the NBA regular season marathon, to be sure, yet the numbers do not look favourably upon New York. Small sample size aside, the team presently sits in the bottom five in the league for points, rebounds, and assists per game, while the per minute breakdowns of defensive efficiency and player's on/off court differentials can make for scary reading. Recently, Woodson has steadfastly stuck with his 'big' lineup (featuring an Anthony-Bargnani-Chandler frontline), despite the questionable outcomes and murky ball-stopping efforts that have resulted. According to NBA.com stats (measuring per 48mins), when Andrea Bargnani is on the floor, the Knicks hold a +/- of -21.8, and when he heads to the bench, the team fares at +13.3. This is a negative discrepancy not even remotely matched by any of the Italian's teammates, and - to say the least - does not auger well for Woodson's suggestion that he will adjust to Chandler's extended absence by shifting Bargnani to the five spot.

Woodson, ever the opponent of 'small ball' philosophy, figures to (primarily due to pure depth issues, more than anything else) escalate Beno Udrih's role in the rotation by slotting him in undersized, three-guard lineups. Udrih, the crafty veteran point guard who joined the Knicks in the summer, has only played sporadic, mostly garbage time minutes to this point. Nevertheless, inserting Udrih and adding more creativity to the lineups will not be able to distract from Woodson's #1 issue - a paper-thin front court depth chart. Despite revealing a 'platoon' style rotation plan for the team's backup big men prior to the season, with the intention of alternating games for Kenyon Martin and Amar'e Stoudemire (both of whom are under minute limits), Tyson Chandler's injury and the genuine lack of options have dictated that Woodson throw that idea out the window, at least in the intermediate. Stoudemire, who looked sluggish at best on Tuesday, at this point of his drifting career is a walking injury risk and question mark, whilst Martin (who was averaging 24mpg toward the tail end of last season) has also been heavily hampered by an ailing body. Beyond the sidelined Chandler, the unreliable Bargnani, and the plight of the injury saddled duo, the roster outlook for New York's contracted big men is very, very grim. The Knicks wrapped up their training camp by cutting journeymen bigs Ike Diogu and Josh Powell, discarding the guaranteed contract of (recovering from injury) Jeremy Tyler and, in a shameless display of nepotism, elected to retain guard Chris Smith, who is conveniently related to offseason re-signing J.R. Smith. Only the Knicks could immerse themselves in such a ludicrous, absurd sequence of managerial decisions; it is a pattern that has been synonymous with the franchise for a decade. Indicative of the team's circus-like, scattergun, irrational, reactionary decision-making were reports that the man at the helm, owner James Dolan, boiled over to the extent that he wishes to banish the cheerleading ensemble (Knicks City Dancers) altogether.

Barring a surprise trade with the scarce available assets, or an impending stopgap signing to sure up the situation, New York will move forward with what it has - Bargnani, Martin, and Stoudemire - and almost certainly welcome former lottery pick Cole Aldrich, inactive until this point, into the rotationSince being selected 11th overall in 2009 and traded immediately to Oklahoma City, Aldrich has bounced around the Association, ultimately unable to nestle into a permanent NBA home. To say it would be remiss to expect Aldrich's inclusion to resolve any of the problems created by Chandler's injury would be a gross understatement. As currently constructed, New York are assuring themselves of persisting difficulties on defense (particularly in terms of the low-post and without Chandler's hallmark weak side help), and in the rebounding department. Harvey Araton, of the New York Times, very recently raised the theoretical solution of signing veteran centre Jason Collins to provide some aid to the Knicks' abundance of roster balancing quandaries. Collins, 35, steadily earned a reputation for his ability to offer toughness, defensive post presence, rebounding in limited minutes, and developed a (somewhat exaggerated) folklore identity as one player capable of shutting down Dwight Howard. As Araton hints at, however, there are hovering concerns that New York would not neglect the chance to sign Jason Collins for his on-court prowess (or lack thereof), but rather due to the attention expected to be received for inking the NBA's first openly-gay, active player. In 38 appearances last season for the Boston Celtics and the Washington Wizards, Collins managed roughly 10 minutes per game and continued to consolidate his status as an unflashy, workman-like player. The Knicks' official position on the unsigned big man remains to be seen, and though it appears an unlikely scenario, it does not change their foreboding frontline reality.

Given the likelihood of increased minutes for the Anthony-Bargnani combination, it is worth considering the on-court products of the pairing in the limited outings to date. Neither player is known for his defensive capability, and this is explicitly evident in the details (assessed on a per 100 possessions basis) of their floor-sharing, with a -24.5 differential across the first four games. The ghastly defensive numbers could be somewhat ignored or covered up to an extent if the offensively-oriented combo were able to outgun opponents at the opposite end, only that they are shooting an unsustainable 43.0% from the field when playing alongside one another, also per NBA.com stats. Factoring in the inflexibility of the roster and the nature of the team in flux/panic mode, we can expect Anthony and Bargnani to feature in lineups with guard trios, and adjacent to fellow gunslinging forward, Metta World Peace. Assuredly, the Knicks' brass will anticipate a sizeable uptick in Carmelo Anthony's offensive efficiency and scoring volume, and hold out hope that a renewed role will allow the rangy Italian to cushion himself into a comfortable routine both offensively, and in the context of his place on the roster. Bargnani, officially listed at 7"0, has accumulated a mere eight total rebounds on the season, and found himself with an average of only 3 rebound opportunities (deemed to be within 3.5ft of the ball), according to publicly available SportsVU tracking data. Furthermore, he has found himself in a position to defend at the rim on 6 total occasions over four games, highlighting his penchant for floating aimlessly on the perimeter on both ends of the floor.

Of course, some of the unwanted trends through the Knicks' first handful of games will be addressed, and the team will look to iron out a lot of the kinks of their faulting offense, nonetheless, the long-term outlook is not especially flattering for the franchise. Burdened by injury, weighty salaries, and a dearth of true future assets and draft picks, New York - unless miraculously freed from the shackles of its own roster - seems destined to be lodged in the quagmire of the lower Eastern Conference playoff seeds. As Grantland's Zach Lowe reinforces, the Knicks have emphatically hitched their future and their basketball identity solely to the production of Anthony, a strategy that could well leave them in search of a restart button in seasons to come. There is still hope for the team to reach the postseason in 2013-14, notwithstanding Chandler's likely non-participation in 20 to 25 games, but just how far the face of the franchise can drag them is not yet certain.

In the immediate setting, however, Mike Woodson (with a warming seat of his own) will reshuffle the deck, experiment, and look to fill the chasmal void left behind by Tyson Chandler with bit-part contributions by role players and undersized, stretch four-men. Next on the schedule is a road game in Charlotte, and Woodson will have to comprise a working defensive strategy swiftly and with conviction, as the Knicks will host Tim Duncan's Spurs and Dwight Howard's Rockets in the next seven days.

If nothing else, the course and development of the remainder of New York's season is certain to provide an array of endless intrigue, and melodrama.