Five Reasons the Knicks Should Stand Pat at the Trade Deadline

[If you came here looking for Part 2 of “Five Stats The NBA Should Keep“, I apologize. KnickerBlogger.Net’s Official Trade Deadline Specialist, David Crockett, had an opinion that he urgently needed to share with everyone before the trade deadline. If pre-emptive scheduling angers you, David is an Assistant Professor of Marketing at the University of South Carolina, and can be reached at dcrockett17@yahoo.com

Tomorrow Part 2 will be here, and that gives me extra time to speel cehck it.]

1. The Knicks have taken the crucial first step ? admitting it?s time to rebuild ? in their journey toward wholeness. But they could undo this progress with a foolish trade.

Of course any rebuilding will likely include some trades. Should the right move come along then by all means Isiah should make it happen. Unfortunately the right move rarely comes along for rebuilding teams at the trade deadline; particularly for capped out teams reduced to exchanging bad contracts.

Isiah has had to learn the hard way that although the NBA?s beautiful people can add a little makeup to cover up barely noticeable blemishes the league?s butt-ugly must take the time to work on their personalities. The Knicks are about as butt-ugly as it gets in the NBA. A little makeup here or there might not hurt but it isn?t gonna solve the problem.

2. Few if any great moves are out there

Q: If you find that you?ve dug yourself into a hole what is the first thing you must do to get yourself out of it?

A: Stop digging.

The Knicks must avoid taking on any more bad contracts. Most of the players widely rumored to be on the move (e.g., Baron Davis, Donyell Marshall, Jalen Rose, Chris Webber, Peja Stojakovic, Keith Van Horn, Michael Redd) simply aren?t what the Knicks need. They are either too old, too expensive, slowed by injury, or D ? all of the above. The Knicks need a shot-blocking, rebounding center, but who is desperate to get rid of such players? The Knicks need a defense-first backup point but cannot offer much in return without taking on a bad contract.

The answer to that question again: stop digging.

3. Roster-wrecking makes player assessment so much more difficult

This season, fairly or unfairly, is a referendum on the wisdom of building a team around Stephon Marbury. (If you have not seen this write up on Marbury in the New York Times (registration required) it?s pretty interesting and more balanced than is typical.) If management is committed to building around Marbury it must answer two questions about him based on his play the rest of this season.

First, can he lead? That is, what will he do to keep this team from disintegrating as the losses mount? How is he aiding in the development of Crawford, Ariza, and Sweetney? Second, will he commit to playing defense? The more roster fluctuation there is the more difficult it will be for management to truly make this assessment. Of course Marbury isn?t the only player for whom the stakes are high for the rest of this season. The informal ?no trade clauses? Isiah has attached to Sweetney and Ariza will no doubt expire this summer unless they continue to improve.

Having said that, I would like to see Isiah make a move to improve the end of the bench. With New York fading rapidly from Chicago?s rearview mirror I?d like to re-visit the possibility of re-acquiring Frank Williams to play the backup role he played last season. Brewer and Sundov for Chicago?s Williams and Jared Reiner seems a workable swap of 11th and 12th men. (Of the four only Brewer averages over 10 mpg.)

4. What the Knicks can offer in trade will have more value this summer.

Other than Kurt Thomas, the Knicks basically have contracts due to expire at the end of next season to offer in trade. I was hoping that Tim Thomas would play well enough this season to be a useful rental for a contender with an expiring contract after next season at the deadline. But alas, he?s having the worst season of his career and for all practical purposes cannot be traded. By contrast Kurt Thomas?s trade value may be as high right now as it will ever be. Still, Isiah is likely better off peddling his wares this off-season.

5. Draft position

I believe ? or at least I am sincerely hoping ? that the team?s slight momentum heading into the All-Star break foreshadows good things to come. Though the Knicks are clearly no longer serious contenders for the playoffs I do not think the team should be diving for ping-pong balls.

Still, it appears that Isiah already has an eye toward the June draft. The best centers in the upcoming draft appear to be Andrew Bogut, the Aussie who plays for Utah, and Brazilian Tiago Splitter. Both will likely be off the board in the top five picks. The Knicks, at their current pace, are looking at a pick in the 6-10 area. However this draft appears to be packed to the gills with players who could contribute immediately at backup point guard. Some of the defense-oriented guards (e.g., Deron Williams of Illinois and Mardy Collins of Temple) are likely to be available outside the top ten.

Five Stats the NBA Should Keep (Part I)

1. Double Team Assists (DTA)
Shaq gets the ball in the low post, so the opposition sends an extra player to defend him. O’Neal passes it out to Wade who is met by a rotating defender. Wade passes it to a wide open Eddie Jones, who drains the jumper without any defensive pressure. Eddie gets the points, Wade gets the assist, and Shaq gets a warm fuzzy feeling knowing he helped his teammates score.

Obviously Eddie Jones wouldn’t have had 10 feet of real estate to get his shot off if not for the double team Shaq draws. So let’s give the big guy a little recognition. Credit a double team assist (DTA) to any player who causes a defensive breakdown that directly allows another teammate to score. Don’t count it for plays in where the DTA recipient actually gets an assist. For example if Shaq gets doubled and passes to a cutting Wade who hits a layup, Shaq gets an assist. No need for a DTA. Being able to draw double teams, whether it be due to a post up game or driving ability, is an important aspect of offense. Let’s give credit where it is due.

2. Charges Taken (CT)
On the defensive end, Kobe Bryant strips the other team, and heads up the court for a 3 on 2 Lakers fast break. Bryant passes the ball to a cutting Odom for an easy hoop. The only impediment is Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward. The former Seminole quarterback, stands perfectly still outside of the paint, and takes a hit from Lamar. The ball goes in, but the referees whistle the play off. Offensive charging. The score is wiped off the board, the Rockets get the ball, and Ward gets nothing but a few black & blues.

It’s a crime that the NBA doesn’t already keep this stat. With the carwreck of players that needs to be cleaned up under the hoop after a charge, the scorekeepers have plenty of time to jot it down. Forcing an opponent to commit an offensive foul is better than a blocked shot. Some blocked shots go out of bounds, while others are recovered by the offense. On the other hand, a charge always causes a change in possession.

3. Possessions saved (PS)
The Suns are in town, and Nash launches a three pointer. Amare and Nazr battle for the rebound, but it gets tipped toward the baseline. Jerome Williams speeds towards the ball. Launching himself into the row of photographers, the “Junk Yard Dog” tips the ball back inbounds to a teammate. Acknowledging Williams’ effort, the Garden crowd errupts into barking that seems more suitable for the Westminster dog show.

While possessions saved (PS) isn’t a number you’d want to build your team around, not all stats have to be earth shattering. Let JYD get some tangible recognition for his hustle. Credit a player with a possession saved (PS) when he directs a loose ball back to a teammate and his momentum causes him to have two feet land out of bounds. The worst this stat can do is get a few more players to dive for loose balls, which is usually an exciting play. If possessions saved is too blas?, “hustle points” will do. It’s the kind of stat that kids can identify with, and if you’ve been to an NBA game lately, you know how much the NBA likes to appeal to children.


Tune in tomorrow for Part 2.

All Star Game MVP Odds

EAST
G *Allen Iverson
G *LeBron James
F *Grant Hill
F *Vince Carter
C *Shaquille O’Neal
F Antawn Jamison
F Ben Wallace
G Dwyane Wade
G Gilbert Arenas
F Jermaine O’Neal
F Paul Pierce
C Zydrunas Ilgauskas
Shaq – None of the West’s centers other than Yao matchup physically against the Big Diesel. Working against Shaq is his jovial nature. Usually the Big Diesel works better with a little motivation, but everything is coming up roses for Shaq. His team is thriving after the Laker’s divorce, and he just won his second ASG MVP last year.
MVP Probability: Low

Allen Iverson – The recognition he earned as the 2001 All Star MVP game helped him win the MVP on the season. Iverson’s “street cred” and Mighty Mouse style gives him loads of respect among the players. Remember Shaq saying he was one of the 5 best players of all time? As the starting PG, AI will have the ball in his hands and can control the game.
MVP Probability: High

LeBron James – Twenty years ago Ralph Sampson won the All Star MVP in his second season, so it wouldn’t be surprising if James pulled it off in his sophomore year. LeBron’s affable personality will keep him from a Jordan-esque lock out. However at 19 years, the other players may figure that he’s got plenty of time to get his accolade, and not share the ball with the boy king.
MVP Probability: Medium

Grant Hill – Wouldn’t that be a nice story?
MVP Probability: Low

Dwayne Wade – Similar to LeBron, but James doesn’t have to live under Wade’s shadow. Dwayne has one edge that LeBron doesn’t. If Shaq is in a charitable mood, he might be willing to play the two man game with Wade to aid his teammate win the MVP.
MVP Probability: Medium

Jermaine O’Neal – After a disastrous season, it would be a nice gesture from the rest of the players to feed J.O. the ball. He should get plenty of minutes. The West has 6 power forwards, and other than Ben Wallace, the East doesn’t have another PF to match up against a bigger team. I know the All Star Game is a veritable points orgy, but how long can the East stay with Hill & Carter guarding Duncan and Garnett?
MVP Probability: Low

WEST
G *Kobe Bryant
G *Tracy McGrady
F *Kevin Garnett
F *Tim Duncan
C *Yao Ming
F Amar? Stoudemire
F Dirk Nowitzki
F Manu Ginobili
F Rashard Lewis
G Ray Allen
F Shawn Marion
G Steve Nash

Kobe Bryant – After driving Phil & Shaq away and turning the Lakers from championship contenders to a .500 team, no one has more to prove. Other than Nash, there isn’t another PG on the team. Bryant will have the ball enough to be as greedy as he wants.
MVP Probability: Medium

Yao Ming – Even among NBA All Stars, the 7-5 Yao sticks out.
MVP Probability: Medium

Steve Nash & Dirk Nowitzki – Both are MVP candidates, whose teams are performing better than expected. The difference between the two is there are about 5 forward/centers on the West, while Nash is the only true point guard.
Nash: MVP Probability: High
Dirk: MVP Probability: Low

Tracy McGrady & K.G – The anti-Nash & Dirk. Both aren’t MVP candidates, whose teams are worse than expected. However both are too talented to be ignored.
MVP Probability: Low


The MVP is tied to whichever team wins. If the East wins, I think Iverson is most likely to take the award. With little defense being played, AI should have an easier time getting to the hoop. If the West wins, Nash only needs double digit assists to take the award. The way I see it, it’s a point guard’s year.

Stats & The Straight Dope

If there is anything I enjoy most, it’s setting people straight when they’ve been misinformed. So let’s remove any doubt from the following facts:

* Man Walked on the Moon
* Dinosaurs Walked the Earth (the first two are for Carl Everett)
* Sylvia Browne has no special powers (unless you think convincing people you have special powers is a special power)
* Billy Beane did not write Moneyball
* Eventually there will be a Nuns Gone Wild (link rated PG)

But what about per minute stats in the NBA? What can they tell us about a player? Doing a quick search on the net reveals some diverse opinions.

NBAmaster:
But more importantly, per minute stats are a very bad way of assessing a players ability… Per minute stats have made players like Fizer, Lee Nailon, Tskitivilli, R.White and many more look like the could put up MVP numbers if we converted their stats to 48 mpg. What you need to ask yourself is if those teams really have such an awesome player WHY ISN’T HE GETTING MORE MINUTES? The answer is because he isn’t that good and his limited PT and small sample, usually in garbage time, makes him look better than he is…

Kevin Pelton:
NBA statistical analyst John Hollinger wrote in this year’s edition of his Pro Basketball Forecast series, “It’s a pretty simple concept, but one that has largely escaped most NBA front offices: The idea that what a player does on a per-minute basis is far more important than his per-game stats.”

n:
per minute stats def(inately) don’t stay level with changes in minutes…there are guys whose stats per minute would go down with moe minutes. there are also guys whose numbers per minute go up with moe minutes…though in general it’s still a useful measurement.

And two more from the same thread:
S:
those per 48 minute stats are ridiculous and pretty meaningless. I’ve never seen anyone use those except with (Oster)Tag.

Stockton2Malone:
I don’t think that proves much at all, per 48 minute stats are meaningless.

According to the general public, per minute stats are bad way of assessing a player’s ability, but are more important than per-game stats. They are a useful measurement that changes with a player’s minutes, and are ridiculous and meaningless. Hmmmm, you’d probably get closer to consensus asking one of those riddles that has no real answer like “which ice cream flavor is the tastiest?” or “how do you determine a college football champion without a playoff system?”

Some of these opinions on per minute stats are a bit surprising considering that a study was published on the topic more than 3 years ago. In the 2002 Pro Basketball Prospectus John Hollinger asked and answered the question “Do players do better with more minutes?” For every Washington player, Hollinger looked at each game and separated the stats on whether or not he played more than 15 minutes. He found that when players played more than 15 minutes, they performed significantly better than when they played less. To check his work, he used a control group of 10 random players, and each one of those improved significantly as well.

The knock on Hollinger’s study is the small sample size, containing less than 25 guys from only one season. Enter Justin Kubatko, the site administrator of the NBA’s best historical stat page www.basketball-reference.com. Earlier this week Justin decided to re-examine the theory using a bigger sample size. Taking players from 1978-2004, he identified 465 that played at least a half season and saw a 50% increase in minutes the year after. Three out of four players saw an increase in their numbers as they gained more minutes, although the average increase was small (+1.5 PER).

Two independent studies have shown that NBA players get better when they get more minutes. A conservative interpretation is that per-minute numbers are universal regardless of playing time. So if a player averages 18 points per 40 minutes, he’ll do about that regardless of how many minutes he plays. A more liberal summary would say that underused players will see an improvement in their per-minute numbers if given more court time. A player that only averages 20 minutes a game is likely to be a little bit better if given 35. So the straight dope is per minute stats are a fantastic way to evaluate NBA players. And dinosaurs existed.

Sweetney, Kurt Thomas, and Feedback

A few weeks ago, I added a link for comments to my webpage to get some feedback from my readers. I really wasn’t sure what to expect. At that time I was blogging in a vacuum, only getting feedback by email, and for the most part people won’t email you unless:

* You really really pissed them off.
* They really really agree with you.
* They want you to link to their blog/fan page/message board/scalper site.
* They want to sell you all-natural pills that will make your breasts bigger.

The first two are always welcome, the third is tolerated, and as for the last, I have no desire to look like Robert Paulson from Fight Club. Since adding the ability for my visitors to interact with myself and each other, I’ve received a lot of good comments like this one:

Jim K. wrote:
I dunno, this season I haven’t been as impressed with Sweetney as I was his rookie session. He plays with enthusiasm (or is it reckless abandon?) and puts up some nice stats (although his rebounding per minute is down from last year), but his defense seems nonexistent to me. As the Knicks are so bad, I guess he should get more minutes, but I don’t see Sweetney being a more than a 20 minute a night guy…I think Ariza has more of a case, just cuz Tim Thomas is so erratic, but Kurt Thomas is probably the Knicks most reliable vet, knows how to run the plays and actually defends his man in a reasonable fashion. Maybe shift Kurt back to center, start Sweetney, have Mohammed come off the bench, and hope Thomas has the energy to cover Sweetney’s defensive mistakes?

If you’re a regular here, you know I don’t hold Kurt Thomas’ defense in high esteem. The way I see it, Crazy Eyes’ good defensive ability is by reputation only. Thomas is at his best when defending in the post, but even then he’s not going to intimidate and shutdown his man. As for the rest of his defensive game, Kurt is just awful at stopping PFs that can operate from outside, nor does he bail his teammates out with great shot blocking ability.

As for Mike Sweetney, defense is one area where he has improved from last year, but that’s just a nice way to say he doesn’t get lost on switched assignments as often as he used to. He’s similar to Thomas, in that he’s not a great defender in any area. In Sweetney’s defense (no pun intended), he’s usually undersized in his matchup (more on this later). If Kurt Thomas was a current or former All Defensive Team member, I wouldn’t be upset with the frontcourt rotation. However, Thomas is not good enough defensively to warrant keeping a much better offensive player in Sweetney on the bench for 30 minutes a game.

And make no mistake, “Sweet ‘N Low” is the better offensive player. Jim noticed Kurt sets up the offense better, as Sweetney has regressed in running the pick & roll. It seems like he gets whistled for an illegal pick every other time the Knicks run it with him. But take a look at the per 40 minute stats below:

NAME....  PTS.  eFG%  PSA  REB.  OREB  BLK  TO.  PF. 
K.Thomas  12.5  47%   1.0  11.0  2.2  1.1  1.4  4.1
Sweetney  18.0  52%   1.2  10.9  4.0  1.2  3.2  5.7

Just as Jim said, Kurt Thomas is the more reliable of the two. He turns the ball over and fouls less frequently, but Sweetney has him flat out beat offensively. He’s an excellent offensive rebounder (OREB), shoots at a higher percentage (eFG%), gets to the line more often (PSA), and can take a heavier load of the offense (PTS/40). In tonight’s game against the Bucks, when Sweetney was in the post, he was getting double & triple teamed, but he still ended up with 18 points and 9 boards in only 22 minutes. Kurt had 16 & 10, but in double the time. Given those minutes, Sweetney would have put up some eye-popping numbers.

If I think Mike Sweetney is worth 30 minutes a night, and Jim thinks he’s worth 20, then maybe his solution of starting him along side Kurt Thomas is a good compromise. In fact I would prefer Jim’s solution to have Kurt play the five, because when they’re on the court together, Mike usually covers the opposing team’s center. According to 82games.com, Sweetney plays center 80% of his time, and rarely if ever is on the court at the same time as center Nazr Mohammed. This is a far cry from last year, where he played more than half his time at the four. Maybe Jim’s observation of Sweetney’s decline in play this year is due to the 6’8″ power forward being forced into duty against taller players?

Unlike the NHL, I’d agree to a compromise under one last condition. Kurt Thomas is averaging 37 minutes per game, 5 more than he did each of the last two years. Take 5 of those minutes & give it to Sweetney at PF along the first team offense. In tonight’s game, Milwaukee continuously double teamed “Big Mike”, because he played with the second unit of Norris, Hardaway, Jerome Williams, and Kurt Thomas. With no other inside presence and 3 bricklayers on the outside, the Bucks sent squadron after squadron into the post. With those extra minutes and the other team forced to respect the Knicks that can actually score, I’d like to see what Sweetney can do against the power forwards of the league.

John Hollinger to Join ESPN!

If they keep this up, ESPN is going to have to change their name to ESPMN. The “M” would stand for Moneyball, for the controversial book that chronicled the stat-centric Oakland Athletics front office. Today Moneyball is synonymous with any type of sports statistical analysis. For years Rob Neyer has been the main attraction of ESPN’s statistical writers. The former Bill James assistant is sabermetrics’ most popular author, bringing objective analysis of baseball to a main stream audience on a regular basis. Already having baseball’s best number-crunching author, ESPN is building a Moneyball monopoly by signing Neyer’s basketball’s equivalent.

It has been learned by KnickerBlogger.Net that John Hollinger will soon be writing for ESPN.com Insider. Hollinger made a name for himself when he created a web page, www.alleyoop.com, for his thoughtful sports analysis. His groundbreaking work didn’t go unnoticed for long, and John would eventually write for CNNSI.com and the New York Sun.

However, Hollinger might best be known for authoring the annual Pro Basketball Prospectus/Forecast books. Largely if not entirely a solo project, he fills the pages with analysis on every NBA player, while interspersing his own unique studies. John avoids the monotony or writing about such a number heavy topic with his humor. He circumvents using complex terms or stats where common language can succinctly get the same point across. For example, his entire analysis on guard Bimbo Coles who ceased being useful years ago: “Please, let this be the end.”

The unofficial announcement was made on Friday by fellow hoops author Dean Oliver on APBRmetrics, the main forum for basketball statistical discussion. To date there hasn’t been an official word on the move. Odds are Hollinger’s columns won’t appear on ESPN.com rival CNNSI.com, and it’s still unknown if he’ll still be writing for the New York Sun. What is known is that ESPN.com’s Insider members can now enjoy fantastic writing in two sports.