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Vegas Summer League: Balkman is the next...?
by Roland Beech, Founder nbatop.com

Also see:
- Day 1: Bargnani debuts
- Day 2: Aldridge vs O'Bryant

LAS VEGAS, NV - Day three of the summer league was another five game special, but I focused my attention most squarely on the nightcap where the New York Knicks faced the Amare Stoudemire led Phoenix Suns. The key player to watch? Renaldo Balkman, the Knicks' controversial first round draft pick.

When David Stern announced that New York had selected Balkman with the 20th pick, a resounding chorus of boos broke out as the feisty audience let their feelings be known. Notable players such as Rajon Rondo, Marcus Williams and Josh Boone were selected immediately after Balkman, all of whom had typically been expected to go higher than Balkman in mock drafts, with many people expecting Renaldo to be an early second round pick at best.

So the question is, did Isiah Thomas make a clever move in bucking some of the conventional wisdom, or was it a bit of a reach? Some have called Balkman the next Ron Artest, which would certainly justify Thomas' faith in him if true.

First off, the official line
 Balkman 27 3-4 2-2 4 1 2 1 1 3 8

So, on a traditional box score level you'd say he did a bit of everything, including some efficient shooting. Ah, but that's not the 82games way...let's add some more detail into the mix. I should mention that my charting of his play disagrees slightly with the official scorer's take.

First up my unofficial plus/minus card (Suns won the game 89-70)

Q1: 10 mins, -10
Q2: 4:30 mins, -6
Q3: 8:08 mins, +2
Q4: 4:13 mins, -4
Total: -18

The Knicks didn't have tremendous success then when Balkman was on the court, but since he was matched up with the Suns starters for much of the time, he didn't have the easiest setup perhaps. However he was playing in arguably a more legitimate NBA lineup since the Knicks started Frye, Lee, Nate Robinson, Balkman and fellow first rounder Mardy Collins. Overall then, the plus/minus scorecard isn't pretty for Renaldo in this game.

Let's move on to his offensive touches. Now first I should note that Balkman spent most of the time on offense hanging out near the baseline, and as the Knicks roster included NBA veterans like Channing Frye, Nate Robinson, and David Lee, there were seemingly few plays run for Renaldo. He did serve as the primary inbounder for offensive sideouts however.

BALKMAN Offensive touches
# of
End in
 Three-Point 8 50% 13%  two PF drawn
 Mid-range 8 88% 75%  2-3 FG (dunk, layup), 2-4 FT, 1 T/O, 1 Assisted Missed Shot
 In the Paint 3 33% 100%  1-2 FG (dunk, missed tip), 1 Assist (layup)
 Total 19 63% 53%  3-5 FG, 2-4 FT, 1 T/O, Assist Passes 1-2 FG

A couple of notes -- the Tip Shot miss, as with many tips, is a questionable play, especially given his tip of the ball on the offensive glass didn't exactly get too close to going in the basket! Finally on a fastbreak play in the first quarter I had him drawing a foul and missing the free throws.

Anyway, a few things jump out:

  • Balkman's touches per minute and possession usage are low for a summer league game
  • He dribbles the ball on most touches (63% -- compare that say to Bargnani's debut of 39%)
  • He gets into the paint at a high rate, particularly when fed the ball in a midrange starting zone.
  • Also, while not explicitly shown in the table above, all of his offensive activity came in the paint! He took no outside shots, and both shooting fouls drawn occurred in the paint as well. Even his one assist came when he was in the high paint area.
Without a single outside shot than, it's hard to say whether he has the capability to knock them down on the jumper or if he is strictly a slasher type performer. The fact that his three-point range touches led almost always to uneventful passes to a teammate, while his midrange touches (generally on the baseline) led to immediate forays to the hoop suggests he may indeed not have tremendous confidence at this point in taking the jump shot.

All told then the first impression was of a player who on offense will let the game come to him, won't demand the ball, and will generally drive at the first opportunity on his infrequent touches.

His ability to finish was nicely on display with two dunks (one explosive) and a layup, as well as a missed reverse layup. He has then the makings of a low-usage, high efficiency shooter. That may fit very well on New York given he will likely be playing alongside Marbury, Francis, Nate Robinson, Crawford, Curry and other Knicks' players with free shooting tendencies.

Ah, but of course if people are comparing him to Artest it must be because of his defensive abilities.

BALKMAN on Defense
 Initial/Switch defender 5 2-2 1 1 4
 Help defender 4 1-2 2-2 1 1 4
 Fastbreak defender 2 * 1-2 1 1
 Total 11 3-4 3-4 1 1 3 11

One of his switch defense moments was guarding Amare Stoudemire on the baseline, which after a fake got him in the air was an easy layup. On one of the fast break plays he went for a steal and missed, after which the ball handler dished out an assist for two points, so arguably Balkman should be charged for something there too.

The numbers add up to look a little less than tremendous (basically a wash with his own efficient offense) and twice he was faked into the air for baskets. The steal though was spectacular, coming when he was defending an inbounds and deflected the ball up whereupon he jumped and grabbed it. Generally though he didn't seem to have much of a presence on defense, and as with his offense was content to let the game come to him rather than be a force all over the court.

The next Ron Artest? No, I don't think so, not even a poor man's Artest. For one thing Balkman doesn't seem to have the same build -- Artest is a rock with that genuine boxer's son toughness, whereas Renaldo is lean and lithe at this point, albeit with seemingly long arms. In addition Artest is much more active, on each end of the floor and on the glass.

No, if anything the player who came to mind visually as a comparison, was ex-Knick Latrell Sprewell. The similarity evaporates quickly when you look at the college stats -- Sprewell scored 17 points a game in his last year in college, Balkman under 10, and the jump shooting, free throw shooting, and passing all seem to be areas of glaring differences. Both players though came with defensive reputations and were drafted in the latter part of the first round to some degree of surprise.

The Verdict: I can't fault a guy for being efficient on offense in limited chances and defering to his more experienced teammates, but I was a little surprised there was not more energy on display. Nevertheless as he acclimates to the NBA, he may well prove to be worth more than the typical #20 selection.

[Update: through three summer league games, Balkman is averaging 8 pts, 5 rebs, 1 stl, 1.3 blks...on 64% FG shooting, with good foul drawing but lousy 54% FT shooting.]

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