Ask KnickerBlogger

With the offseason summer lull and a bad hard drive sapping KB’s creative energy, I’m opening it up to my readers. Email me with your questions, and I’ll run an ESPN-ish chat session. Choose any topic you wish. The time/date will depend on how quick I get questions in.

** Update **
08/29/05 – 6:30pm: 3 Questions in. Maybe I’ll set a date when I get in 10?
08/30/05 – 6:45pm: Up to 4 now. One note – I’ll keep your email address private, and won’t print your full name unless you’re world famous. Also for all those that have web pages, I’ll add a link to your page. Good for those that have asked me to add their url to my links (I will come up with a links page one day – honest!)
8/31/05 – 7:00pm: Just 5 questions. A few more and I’ll officially announce the date.

Nominee: Worst NBA Article of 2005

(Thanks to TrueHoop for the link. While Henry & I might disagree on Stephon Marbury’s worth, his site is easily one of the best places on the web to keep up with everything going on in the NBA.)

In case you haven’t noticed, I haven’t really written much this summer. It’s not that I needed some rest from a long NBA season. Nor is there something going on with my life that requires I take an extended break from one of my favorite pastimes. It’s just that there’s really nothing to write about. OK so maybe there are a few things going on in the league, but I have no interest in speculating where Shareef Abdur-Rahim lands or what Michael Jordan’s friends do on a golf course. While I’m not a professional writer, I take pride with what goes on my site, and try to put up the best material with the limited time my free time affords.

On the other hand, not being a paid writer may have its advantages. For example, I don’t have a boss (editor, manager, CEO or whatever) suggesting that I write about a certain topic. Nor am I obligated to write when the creative juices aren’t flowing in order to feed my family (which is a tad bit smaller than the Sprewell clan). I can only imagine that one of those two scenarios is what led Charley Rosen to write this piece on the most overrated players in history, instead of it being of his own volition.

Rosen starts his piece of with: “The numbers are misleading, and so is the hype. The truth is that too many ‘good’ players are wrongly celebrated as being all-time greats. To set the record straight, here’s an alphabetical list of the most overrated NBA players ever.” The only thing that would make me cringe more than that first sentence, would be to hear that they’re turning Diff’rent Strokes into a movie. It’s not as much that Rosen brushes away any statistical analysis, but rather that he puts it on the same level as “hype”. Real statistical analysis starts by asking a question and using the information available to answer it. Hype is emotional excitement that occurs after the fact, and is the antithesis of numerical analysis. Even the terms “overrated” and “underrated” lack any kind of validity. Whether someone is overrated or underrated relies heavily on the individual’s opinion. For example, if you thought that Shaq was going to be twice as good as Wilt Chamberlain, then he was overrated. Ironically, the same player can be underrated by some and overrated by others (Steve Nash comes to mind).

Some of the players that made Rosen’s list of most overrated of all time are Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, David Robinson, and Patrick Ewing. Throw in Bird & Laettner, and you have the entire front court of the original Dream Team. Charles Barkley, who starts off the list, is called a “a chronic underachiever” by Rosen. Yes, the same Barkley who, despite being at least an inch shorter than his listed 6’6 and gave up nearly half a foot to his competition, made the All Star Team 11 times at power forward. Meanwhile, according to Charley, Karl Malone will only make the Hall of Fame because of two reasons “John Stockton and longevity.” Going by that logic, had the Jazz taken Terry Catledge with the 13th pick instead, maybe he would have been a two time MVP and the #2 man on the all time points scored list.

Of David Robinson, Rosen says “This guy was a cream puff. He could come from the weak-side to block shots, but he couldn’t guard his own man. He could rebound, but rarely in a crowd. He could score, but only on foul-line jumpers, or only if a defender bought a head fake after he drove his left hand into the middle. He couldn’t pass or handle. He couldn’t stand his ground in the paint.” The “cream puff” was All-Defensive 8 times, and ranks 6th all time in blocked shots. Since Robinson’s rookie year, only 12 other players have had more rebounds per minute. He won the Defensive Player of the Year, led the league in free throws 3 straight years, and won an MVP, all before Tim Duncan arrived.

However it’s Rosen’s inclusion of Ewing that really got my goat. If you thought that coming out of Georgetown that Ewing was going to be the next Kareem, then yeah he was overrated. But look at what Rosen has to say about him: “Had he played out of the spotlight in someplace like Orlando or Salt Lake City, Ewing would be remembered as a jump-shooting center who worked hard. Period.”

My friends, Sam Perkins was a jump-shooting center who worked hard. While it’s true that Ewing could bury the jumper, he was more than just an overachieving outside threat. Ewing frequently scored from the paint, something that his 50.5 eFG% and 1.11 PSA will atest to.

Rosen continues: “In truth, he couldn’t handle, pass, move laterally, and do anything worthwhile when an important game was on the line. Moreover, his dim apprehension of what the game was all about precluded any thoughts of being unselfish. Except for the early days of the Mets and the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York sports fans rarely hitch their devotion to a loser like Ewing.”

While I won’t lie and say that Ewing was a fantastic passer and never turned the ball over, the author is clearly cherry picking abilities here. Notice he used the same attributes of not being able to dribble or pass for both Robinson and Ewing. That’s because most centers aren’t known for their ability to run the point. In fact, Patrick’s per 48 minute points (29.3 to 29.2), turnovers (4.2 to 4.0), free throws made (6.4 to 5.9), offensive rebounds (3.3 to 4.4), eFG%( 50.4 to 51.2), and PSA (1.11 to 1.11) are comparable to another contemporary left off the list, Hakeem Olajuwon. Rosen uses a technique he must have learned at the Daily Oklahoman writing school, lowering himself to insulting Ewing by describing him as selfish, dim, and a loser.

Ewing never won any MVP awards, nor did he ever win a championship. However he was the centerpiece on two of the top 5 defensive teams of all times (according to Dean Oliver). During his prime, Ewing had 10 straight seasons where he missed 5 or less games and over that decade, the second highest minute getters on his teams each year were: Gerald Wilkins, Johnny Newman, (an aging) Kiki Vandeweghe, John Starks, Anthony Mason, and Allan Houston (for one year). If #33 was a loser, it was more because of his colleagues than himself. In fact Ewing might have had that championship ring, if not for one of his teammates missing 16 shots one June night. If Patrick was selfish he might have blasted Starks for the game 7 Finals loss. He might have whined about the Knicks never giving him a decent second option on offense. He might have forced his team to trade him, as so many athletes looking at their own best interests do. Instead he stayed for 15 seasons, only asking to leave after the Garden crowd not so politely asked him first.

No matter how you feel about Ewing, you have to admit that my assessment of the man was a bit more fair. So why did Rosen feel the need to do such a hack job on him, and a dozen NBA greats? Maybe it’s the summer heat, or the pressure of paying that air-conditioner burdened electric bill. Charley’s article comes almost a year after Frank Hughes’ stinker of 2004, which makes me glad that I take a little time off in the summer.

Miami Heat 2006 Poll

Continuing with the summer of polls, I ask my readers this question:

Where will Miami’s offense rank next year?

Last year Miami was ranked 2nd overall with an offensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions) of 108.2. So far this offseason, they’ve acquired Antoine Walker, Jason Williams, James Posey, and NBDLer Earl Barron. On the minus side, Miami has lost Eddie Jones, Rasual Butler, and Qyntel Woods.

Marbury Poll

Ahhh I’m really enjoying using this polling feature. So the next question to my readers is regarding Stephon Marbury. Marbury has averaged a whooping 38.7 minutes per game over his career. The last 5 seasons have looked like this:

38.2
38.9
40.0
40.2
40.0

Assuming that he doesn’t get traded before the season starts, how many minutes will he average in a Knick uniform & why?

A New Defensive Outlook

One subject I’ve seen addressed time and time again in the comments section is how to measure defensive ability. The topic arises shortly after I mention the three letters ‘P’, ‘E’, and ‘R’, which stand for John Hollinger’s Player Efficiency Rating. While Hollinger has done a great job in the first steps toward getting a player’s ability down into a single number, PER does a poor job in measuring a player’s total defensive contribution. Although it does account for blocks & steals, I think most of my readers are knowledgeable enough to know that this isn’t the best measurement of defensive ability. Bruce Bowen is the poster-child for PER’s failure. A uni-dimension offensive player (“go stand in the corner and only shoot if you’re wide open”) Bowen’s PER is usually among the league’s worst. However the Spurs’ guard-forward is considered among one of the best defenders at his spot, which some think overshadows his offensive liability.

This defensive conundrum is not necissarily caused by the game itself. While basketball does pose a challenge in assigning individual blame and credit, I’d argue that the primary fault is not the game, but rather how it’s being recorded on the stat sheet. In the Wizards/Bulls playoff series this last year, the NBA didn’t need to hire a host of experts to get better defensive stats. In fact they didn’t hire anyone. Kevin Broom, from the comfort of his own living room or maybe local bar, developed a simple method similar to keeping a regular box score, but on the defensive end. (BTW aspiring writers – if you want to get an article published in SportsIllustrated, that’s the way to go.). Since Roland Beech opened up 82games.com, there has been an increase in data available to the public to help come up with more information on a player’s defense.

This brings me to Dan Rosenbaum. APBRmetric members and 82games.com readers might recognize the name. Although the economics professor might be best known for his work on the monetary side of the NBA, he’s come up with something interesting: defensive ratings . Dan isn’t revealing his exact equation yet, but he’s come up with a defensive metric using 82games.com’s data. He’s only given rankings on a few players, and initial results pass the “laugh test.” The method seems to favor neither shot blockers nor man to man defenders, as both Ben Wallace and Jason Collins are in the top 5 of centers. I have to agree with Collins’ selection, because just like Bruce Bowen someone with a 9PER doesn’t get 30 minutes a game without being good on the other end of the floor. Rosenbaum’s part I is a teaser, just givng us the best & worst big men, and leaving out his exact method. Hopefully with the next installment, we’ll get all the rest of the positions, and maybe the whole list.

Oh and welcome to the blogosphere, Dan. :-)