Five years ago the New York Knicks -- led by Isiah Thomas -- acquired Eddy Curry from the Chicago Bulls. In announcing this move, Isiah offered the following assessment: "I think he's one of the most talented big men in our league. Guys like him only come along every 15 or 20 years. As he continues maturing, he has a chance to be great."
Two years later, Curry appeared to fulfill this vision by averaging 19.5 points per game. Such a performance led people in New York to wonder why Curry wasn't named to the All-Star game in 2007.
Since 2006-07, though, such sentiments have vanished. Across the past three years, Curry has only played 69 games (and only 10 across the past two years). And now, Jeff Pearlman of Sports Illustrated has labeled Curry the "biggest dog this city (New York) has ever seen."
It's not that Pearlman doesn't think Curry is a capable player. As Pearlman notes: "All things being equal, Curry is an NBA All-Star. He's big, he's strong, he can dominate offensively in the paint." What bothers Pearlman is not the production Curry has offered in the past, but rather the inability of Curry to even take the floor today.
Whether or not Curry is actually "dogging it" is not something I can comment upon. For all I know (and as far as Pearlman knows), Curry is legitimately injured. What I think Knicks fans should be saying is that "thankfully Curry is dogging it."
Why should the fans be thankful? Yes, Curry can score. And scoring is what drives player evaluations in the NBA. In other words, scoring is the primary determinant of how many minutes a player is allowed to play, the size of a free agent's salary, and who wins post season awards.
A player's scoring totals, though, are not the best barometer of a player's production of wins. Wins in the NBA are primarily determined by scoring efficiently and getting and keeping possession of the ball (i.e. rebounds, steals, and turnovers).
When we look at all the numbers, it is clear -- as the following table illustrates -- that Curry is a capable scorer. He not only is good at taking shots, he is also very efficient. So we should not be surprised that people think Curry has played like an All-Star in the past.
Unfortunately, once we get past scoring we see that Curry's game has consistently had serious problems. With the Chicago Bulls he was below average with respect to rebounds, blocked shots, assists, and steals. He also had a problem with turnovers and personal fouls. In other words, if doesn't involve scoring, Curry seemed to have a problem.
We should note that from Curry's perspective, these problems were not that big of an issue. Curry signed a $60 million contract before coming to New York (something to remember as David Stern claims that there is no way some owners can avoid losing money). So if Isiah thought these problems were important, he wouldn't have agreed to acquire Curry and pay him this money.
And so we shouldn't be surprised that when Curry came to the Knicks, the story stayed essentially the same. Again, Curry was able to score. But with respect to most other aspects of the game, Curry was below average.
One can take all of these numbers and calculate how many wins a player produces (or Wins Produced). Again, wins are produced when a player scores efficiently, rebounds, and avoid turnovers (other stuff also matters, but these are the primary factors). Although Curry can score, his inability to rebound coupled with a propensity to commit turnovers results in a player whose overall production of wins hovers very close to zero.
In his last three seasons with the Chicago Bulls, Curry played 5,533 minutes and produced -0.2 wins. So his WP48, or Wins Produced per 48 minutes, was -0.002. Once again, before Curry signed his $60 million contract in 2005 it was already clear that he was not a productive NBA player.
With the Knicks this lack of production continued. Across his first two seasons in the Big Apple, Curry played 4,718 minutes and produced 0.6 wins. So his WP48 in New York -- when people in New York were thinking the words "Eddy Curry" and "All-Star" went together -- was only 0.006 (average WP48 is 0.100).
Ultimately Curry never played in an All-Star game. And his lack of production was part of the reason he also never played in an NBA playoff game.
And now people are upset that Curry isn't playing. Although Curry may or may not be trying his hardest now, one suspects that in the more than 11,000 minutes he has logged in the NBA, Curry did put forward some effort. After all, it does take some effort to average 19.5 points per game. But when Curry did take the floor and try, his inability to rebound and avoid turnovers more than offset his ability to score.
So given Curry's inability to produce, maybe he is helping the team most by "dogging it." The fact Curry is unavailable has forced the Knicks to turn elsewhere. Currently the player sitting at the top of the team's depth chart is Ronny Turiaf.
Across the past two seasons, Turiaf has produced 3.0 wins and posted a 0.056 WP48. Again, average WP48 is 0.100, so Turiaf is below average. But his three wins actually eclipses everything Curry did for the Bulls and Knicks in his entire career. So although Turiaf doesn't help much, he does at least help some.
So should fans of the Knicks be disappointed? Well, the team's best center is Ronny Turiaf. And that can't cause someone to leap for joy. But fans shouldn't think if Eddy Curry was healthy and motivated that somehow he would be helping this team win games. Curry has played enough NBA basketball for us to know he is not a potential All-Star that has disappointed. He simply was not -- and probably never will be -- a very productive NBA player.