2006-12-08 / Sports

New York Knicks First Quarter Report Card

By John J. Buro

The grades are in at Knick U. and, given that New York is 7-13 and no Ds or Fs were handed out, it could only be determined that the letters were altered. Except that twenty games only provide a sampling of a player's performance, and should not be deemed anything more than that. By the next set of twenty, fans should have a much stronger idea of where this team is actually going -and, if Isiah Thomas will be going with them. Herewith, are the preliminary grades:

A+ DAVID LEE -Clearly, the team's most consistent player over the first twenty-one games. Makes 63% of his field goal attempts and 82% of his free throws.... Averages 10.6 points and 8.9 rebounds in 26.4 minutes. Has eight double-doubles, the first six of which were as a reserve. Nearly tallied his first triple-double on November 24 at Boston, adding a career-high eight assists. He remains a symbol for anyone who achieves success through diligence. Gets the 'plus' grade because, win or lose, he faces the press with dignity.

A QUENTIN RICHARDSON- Soft-spoken leader, who averages 14.3 points and 7.1 boards in 34 minutes and hits 41% of his treys. Scored a season-high 31 points against the Memphis Grizzlies in triple-overtime thriller on Opening Night. Effective defender who is usually assigned to the opponent's top perimeter threat.

A- JAMAL CRAWFORD-Fearless scorer who, on several occasions, has carried the offense. Averages 15.6 points in slightly more than 33 minutes. Already has 11 games of 18 points or better, including a team-high 37, which was set during the free-throw fiasco against the Celtics on November 18. Would be starting in any other backcourt but Thomas has invested $32.3 million in Stephon Marbury and Steve Francis.

B+ EDDY CURRY-On more than one occasion, Thomas had longed to see the center's 'manliness' shine through; comment was an obvious reference to his often no-show play, in spite of intimidating physical presence [6'11", 285]. After notching 20-point efforts in the second and third games of the season, he went ten games without one. Now, finally beginning to pay dividends. At press time, he is on a string of seven 20+ games. He has attained double-doubles in three of those, and has five overall. Average has ballooned to 16.6 [from 12.8] since Thanksgiving. Celebrated 24th birthday this week, and has already completed five NBA seasons.

B- RENALDO BALKMAN-The majority of fans, which booed his selection at No. 20 on Draft Night, have begun to change their tune. Highly energetic role player has emerged as a fan favorite. Has provided 3.6 points and 3.3 rebounds in 12 minutes, as Thomas slowly breaks him in. Scored a career-high 18 points on November 15 vs. Washington, and added a double-double ten days later against Chicago.

B- NATE ROBINSON-The reigning Slam Dunk champion. A lot of heart in a 5'9" frame. Posterized Yao Ming, the Houston Rockets' 7'6" center, by cleanly blocking his shot from in close [Robinson committed a foul on the way down, but it wasn't called]. Good role player, who averages 9.1 points in a shade over 20 minutes. Had tallied in double digits in eight of first nine, but only once in last nine.

C STEVE FRANCIS-The career 18.7 scorer has only amassed that many four times in 17 appearances. Still not totally connected with Marbury on the court. Will put up good numbers one night, then disappear. Was 'The Franchise' in Houston; just another multi-millionaire on the Knicks' $140 inflated payroll.

C CHANNING FRYE-Excellent rookie season now forgotten in wake of slow start. Averages five points per game less than last year with virtually same amount of playing time. Only one 20+ point game. Will be out another one to three weeks with sprained left ankle. May lose the starting job to Lee by the time he returns.

C- STEPHON MARBURY-The most difficult Knick to grade. Professes to be a part of Thomas' system, yet remains a martyr when anything goes wrong. Last season's trade for Francis has crippled his game. Had only scored in double-digits once in eight contests before string four consecutive 'teen' games awakened him.

C- MALIK ROSE -$6.5 million for 2.3 points and 2.1 rebounds per game. This, truly, is a wonderful country.

INCKELVIN CATO -Was initially signed to spell Eddy Curry, as Jerome James' right foot worsened. Highlight of season was being activated to play against Yao.

INCMARDY COLLINS -The No. 29 pick was just expected to watch. Some expectations do come true.

INCJEROME JAMES-Missed the entire preseason and the first nine games with plantar fasciitis [tendonitis] in his size 22 foot. Has yet to play this month.

INCJARED JEFFRIES-Broke left wrist in the first half of first pre-season game. Defensive stopper expected to return within the next week.

B ISIAH THOMAS-Has gotten the most from a depleted squad. To this point, all three free agent signings have been disastrous, as Cato and Jeffries, along with James [in 2005] have spent far more time in dress clothes than athletic gear. Knows how to coach, but has faced insurmountable odds at every turn. Raised in a Chicago ghetto; is a survivor in every sense of the word.

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