This is what it is supposed to feel like

This Knick victory, 151-146 over the Detroit Pistons, is the kind of game that the Knicks have been striving for – a win against a good team where the Knicks never felt like they were outclassed. It never felt like it was a shock that they were in the game. It felt natural. This is what we all want to see – not necessarily a win (although wins are great), but just the feeling of “It is not a surprise if the Knicks beat these guys.”

It’s a good feeling. I hope it continues.

As for the game, WOW, what a game! It’s amazing how the suspensions really have alerted Zeke to the idea that, hey, what do you know? The Knicks three best players all happen to be forwards and/or centers…maybe they should be on the court more often!! As KB has pointed out before (or was it Dave? Oh well, one of those two fellas…hehe), one of the best things about the suspensions is that Thomas literally CANNOT go to a three-guard lineup anymore, because he doesn’t have the manpower for it, and as a result, the Knicks end up having a BETTER lineup because of it!

Jared Jeffries steps back into the starting lineup, although Thomas’ explanation for it was kinda creepy, “I don’t want a guy penalized and lose his starting spot for protecting a teammate in a fight,” Thomas said, “You can’t punish them for that.” It’s not like the guy missed four games because he took a bullet for Mardy Collins. Weird. Anyhow, it is a bit of a shame, as David Lee once again looked awesome when he was on the court (although he was getting burned on the glass just as much as Frye, Curry and Jeffries – the Knicks are a good rebounding team with this lineup, but they were just flatout SMOKED on the glass by Detroit. It was embarrassing, really).

Marbury was amazing, especially making all three free throws. I really loved his game. John Hollinger recently wrote about “presents” for each of the league’s bad teams, and his “present” for the Knicks was to play Marbury less. I really disagree with him on that point. His position seemed to be that, since Marbury had a lower PER than the other Knick guards, the other guards should play over him. That sounds reasonable enough, but that’s like saying that, since Channing Frye had a lower PER than Malik Rose in the beginning of the season, Rose should play over Frye. Marbury should not be playing as poorly as his PER has been for this season, and I think these past few games have shown him coming into form again. Although, with Francis getting healthier, I can’t be the only one who is scared about what his return means to the team.

Jamal Crawford – wow, isn’t he so much cooler when he is taking 16-18 foot jumpers? And with the Knicks down four, who else was astonished that he drove for the hoop and the harm? I know I sure was – but it was pretty unbelievably awesome. Almost as awesome as him passing to Frye for the game-tying bucket.

Speaking of Frye, it sure is good to have the good Frye back again. But man, is it REALLY that much harder to hit a 22-foot jumper instead of a 20-foot jumper? If he could add the three to his repertoire…wow, look out!

Curry looked pretty good, as well. And how awesome was it to see him make the free throw to put them up one in the third OT?

I remember being really pissed off that the Pistons kept getting the ball into Rip (who was freaking unbelievable tonight) and Billups’ hands for free throws, but I felt pretty silly when Billups then missed one…hehe.

Anyhow, great win, and while the Knicks still need to play some better defense, this current lineup has been a real revelation, and it is almost getting to the point where I would not be surprised if you told me “Knicks over Suns” early Saturday morning.

Okay, I guess we’re not really THERE yet…but it looks like they’re on the way.

P.S. How sad is it that I’m scoreboard watching in late December? And is it sadder when the team I’m scoreboard watching is all of 13-16?

More Knick Defense

Although the pundits, and even some of the players, have focused on the brawl’s aftermath as the catalyst for the team’s recent surge I want to focus on the team’s defensive improvements over the past few games. I suppose, if anything, the brawl may have marked the team’s symbolic “rock bottom,” that moment many recovering substance abusers point to as the catharsis that precedes real change.

In a recent post KB points out that the Knicks have been an atrocious defensive team. Without question this is true. The Knicks routinely hang their heads and jettison any pretense of defensive intensity when struggling offensively or once an opponent knocks down a couple of contested shots. Still, the Knicks show flashes of being at least a decent defensive team. They are 8-2 this season, including their three most recent wins (over Utah, Charlotte, and Chicago) and their two most impressive wins (back to back wins over Miami and Washington in November), when holding their opponent to under 46% eFG shooting. In the other 18 games they are a ghastly 4-15, yielding an embarrassing 53.7 eFG from the floor.

The difference between the “good” Knicks, who defend, and the “bad” Knicks, who don’t is almost exclusively effort. The Knicks don’t have a real shot-blocker that can erase poor perimeter defense. In order for the Knicks to turn in a solid defensive performance everyone must defend. The dramatic endings involved in two of the past three games have obscured the three best defensive efforts of the season, and possibly of the the past two seasons when considering the diminished bench. (Something else that has been obscured has been the seamless return of the “old” Channing Frye. I’ll leave that for another post but welcome back Channing.) The Knicks held Utah to 40.6% eFG shooting, Charlotte to 45.3%, including two overtime periods, and a surging Chicago team to 42.7%. Those three teams shoot, respectively, 50.9%, 45.6%, and 49.8% eFG on the season. The Chicago effort was especially impressive considering that the Knicks played the Bulls in back-to-back games roughly one month ago, giving up 48.2% eFG shooting in both games. In the interim New York has (hopefully) hit rock bottom while the Bulls have managed to right their ship. So to hold Chicago in the low 40’s is a good all around effort considering how well they have played in December.

Last season, the Knicks went on a winning streak to start the 2006 calendar year, injecting a little hope into the Knick faithful; hope that was quickly dashed. Antonio Davis warned at the time that the wins were “fool’s gold,” based almost exclusively on a run of hot-shooting. If anything is heartening about the past three wins it is that the Knicks are doing it on D, all while missing some of their better defensive players in Jared Jeffries, Quentin Richardson, and Nate Robinson.

Oh, and one last thing. Happy Holidays

Hubie On The Fight/Foul/Isiah

Fantastic link here (courtesy of TrueHoop.com)

http://www.nj.com/newslogs/nets/index.ssf?/mtlogs/njo_netsblast/archives/2006_12.html#217824

Just a taste (but there is plenty of good stuff here)

Now, we have all been in a few games during the season ? I always say there are five you cannot do anything about. You can?t help your team tonight, and they?ll lose by 30; or you might win by 30, and can?t screw it up. Five games a year, okay? All you?re doing is exhausting yourself and giving yourself agida by worrying about it. All you have to know is if you?re in the business for a while, the pendulum always swings, and your opportunity (for payback) will come ? if that?s what you want.

Reverse Pythagoras

Yesterday I spoke about two teams that were outperforming their expected win percentage, and either needed to address some issues or look towards a bleaker second half. In today’s installment, I’m going to look at the other end of the spectrum, or teams that are underperforming with respect to their expected win percentage.

The New Jersey Nets boast the East’s best trio of Jason Kidd, Richard Jefferson, and Vince Carter. While all three have suffered through injuries in their past, the three have been relatively healthy this season, as only Jefferson has missed a handful of games. However the Nets’ savings in bandages haven’t translated into wins on the court. New Jersey is a disappointing 10-14 so far this year. The Nets were suppose to be one of the key teams in a weak East, but at this point they aren’t even winning the dreadful Atlantic. There’s good news for Brooklynites with houses on the Jersey shore: the Nets aren’t all that bad. According to their expected win percentage, the Nets are underperforming and should be a few games ahead of Boston, not a half game behind. Although a .506 expected win percentage isn’t anything to write home about, only 3 other Eastern Conference teams have a better point differential. That should translate into home field for at least the first round.

Like the Nets another Eastern team that had high hopes in the preseason isn’t performing up to par. Although the Bulls rebounded from headband-gate to a decent 14-10 start, Chicago’s expected win percentage puts them at the top of the East. With the addition of Ben Wallace, the previously strong Bulls’ defense is becoming one of the league’s best. Currently their 102.8 defensive efficiency (pts allowed per 100 possessions) is 3rd overall in the league. Meanwhile the foursome of Gordon, Deng, Nocioni, and Hinrich coupled with Ben’s rebounding is making the Bulls respectable on offense. Chicago has an offensive efficiency of 108.3, good enough for 10th in the league.

If these two teams are playing the way they are now, they should see some improvement in the coming weeks. The Nets would be Atlantic champs, and the Bulls would vie for supremacy in the Eastern Conference.


A quick note on tonight?s Charlotte-Knicks game.

I commented two nights ago:

“Did anyone else go ballistic when the game was tied in regulation, and Crawford pulls up for a 3? That drives me absolutely nuts, and Jamal does it all the time. You need 1 point. Move in 6 feet & take the 18 footer! Or drive & try to draw a foul. A three point shot is about the worst shot you can take in that situation.”

So what does Jamal do in the closing seconds of regulation with the game tied? Take a foot on the line 2 pointer. Again there is no attempt to drive & draw a foul. There is even no attempt to work for a better shot (there was 21 seconds on the clock), nor is anyone else involved in the play. Crawford just takes the time off the clock, does a crossover or two and jacks it up.

In overtime the Knicks have the ball in the final seconds with the game tied. Isiah draws up a play, of which I’m not privy to. The execution of said play? Marbury dribbles the ball until about 5 seconds are left. Curry(?) comes up for a pick, but it gets blown up. Marbury in desperation passes it up to Crawford who takes an awful shot.

If I recall correctly, someone (82games?, apbrmetrics?) did a study on plays after timeouts and showed that they are usually more efficient than normal plays. So despite the other coach bringing in his best defensive players, the ability to design an offensive play is too powerful a tool to overcome. So how come the Knicks seem to be deficient in this area? Can they hire someone to draw up a play?

If David Lee doesn’t tip that ball in…

Thank you, Trent Tucker

As it turned out, the only way to keep Jamal Crawford from hoisting up a long distance, period-ending jumper was to have a rule that specifically says you canNOT shoot the ball.

And thankfully for the Knicks, that’s just what happened.

It’s still only the Bobcats, but two wins in a row are two wins in a row.

I’ll take what I can get.

Pythagoras Strikes Back

Maybe the most famous non-traditional stat is Bill James’ Pythagorean theorem or expected win percentage. James looked at how runs scored/allowed related to win percentage, and found that you can better approximate how a team will perform year to year by looking at runs scored/allowed than their actual win percentage. By using a team’s expected win percentage, you can identify teams that have been “lucky” or “unlucky” by looking at how their actual win percentage differs from the expected win percentage.

At the top of the lucky pile are two darkhorse contenders on the 2007 season. The Utah Jazz have been a pleasant surprise with the West’s second best record. Unfortunately for Mormons & uranium miners alike, the Jazz’s expected win percentage says the team is no better than 5th. Utah has been fabulous on offense, sporting the league’s 2nd ranked defense behind efficient shooting (51.2% eFG 5th) and strong glasswork (32.6% oREB% 1st). However the Jazz have been merely 21st on defense. They’re the worst team in the league in allowing opponents free points (33.0 FT/FG 30th), which should come to no surprise to those with Jerry Sloan posters on their walls. The Jazz have ranked no better than 25th in that category in the last 7 years, and have finished last or next to last in 5 of those seasons. Talk about the no-layup rule.

Just like Utah in the West, Orlando is an unexpected playoff candidate sitting in second in the Eastern standings. However like the Utah Jazz, Orlando doesn’t have the point differential to make one think that they’re likely to stay there. The Magic are 16-10, despite being outscored by 5 points on the season. Unlike Utah who is having problems on the defensive end, Orlando isn’t getting it done on the offensive end. The Magic are dead last in the league in turnovers (19.5 TO% 30th), and their young star is the main culprit. Dwight Howard averages 3.8 turnovers per 40 minutes, and ranks 10th in John Hollinger’s turnover ratio. Howard isn’t the only problem, as Hill, Nelson, Arroyo, Milicic, and Bogans all average 3.0 turn/40 or more. Combined, the only Magic tricks these players are performing is the old “let’s make our possessions disappear.” That particular trick seems to have been mastered by the ’77 Nuggets (21.4 TO%) who was coached by Larry Brown. Maybe Brown being awoken in the middle of the night by repeated nightmares of that offense throwing the ball out of bounds traumatized Larry and sent him on a 25 year journey to get basketball teams to “play the right way”? Who knows?

While their poor expected win percentage doesn’t doom either of these teams, it does help expose a flaw in each of them. As the season goes on expect one of two things to happen. Either these teams will find a way to address these issues, or their actual win percentage will start to match their expected win percentage.

The Secret To The Knicks Success

There have been a few different theories as to what has made the Knicks successful (or unsuccessful) this year. Early on it seemed that Eddy Curry & Channing Frye’s slumps were keeping New York down. But recently Curry had an offensive rejuvenation. Eddy scored 20 points or more in 11 straight games. Unfortunately that wasn’t the answer as the Knicks only won 5 of those 11 games. In the preseason there was talk about the New York backcourt of Marbury and Francis. However Francis has missed a handful of games and neither has been a major cog in the Knicks offense. Then of course there is the Madison Square Garden curse. The Knicks inexplicably play poorly at home, but the problem is perplexing since they play much better on the road. So if the Knicks’ problem isn’t due to a lack of offensive production from Eddy Curry, the pairing of Marbury & Francis in the backcourt, or some hometown curse, then what is the Knicks’ problem?

The answer is simple. Defense.

The problem hasn’t been the Knicks offense, as New York ranks 16th in the league. While the middle of the road offense isn’t fabulous, it is when compared to the defense. The Knicks are 26th on defense, among the dregs of the league like the Sixers, Wizards, Blazers, and Bucks. Just look at the halftime scores of the Knick opponents over the last 6 games (not including tonight’s Utah game) : 67, 64, 41, 61, 56, and 66. New York won only 2 of those games, the two with the lowest scores at the half. If that’s not enough to convince you (and it shouldn’t) then take these numbers. In games that the Knicks have kept the opposing team under an efficiency of 108.9, the Knicks are 8-3. When they allow their opponents a better offensive night, their record sinks to 1-12.

Tonight against the Jazz it looked like it was going to be another one of those nights. Utah had 34 points in the 1st quarter, and looked to be on their way to another Madison Square Garden laugher. However the Knicks kept the Jazz to just 10 points in the 2nd quarter, and 17 in the 3rd. Although they needed overtime to dispatch of the Jazz, it was a far cry from the 20 point second half deficit that they’ve been accustomed to. Due to the suspensions of Nate Robinson and Mardy Collins and the injuries to Steve Francis and Quentin Richardson, the Knicks were down to only 2 guards. New York frequently went with a big lineup, one with strong defensive players. Balkman saw 31 minutes, and although he only had 7 points, he chipped in with 15 rebounds. Renaldo’s bigger contribution was giving Utah fits defensively on the perimeter, disrupting the Jazz offense, and had 2 blocked shots. Similarly Cato played 16 minutes with only 2 points, but he had 4 blocked shots. Even Frye made a crucial block in the fourth quarter.

The Knicks have suffered a blow with the loss of nearly half their team. However with this win over Utah, maybe they’ve found a formula for success. New York shouldn?t be so concerned with their offensive situation, and instead concentrate on their defense.