K-Dawg Tearing It Up

Bravo to Kelly Dwyer for these gems:

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2007/writers/kelly_dwyer/04/30/inside.nba/index.html

I love watching Dallas’ Jason Terry and Golden State’s Baron Davis go at it, especially while taking into context their respective career arcs. Both were drafted in 1999, with Davis going to a ready-made playoff contender in Charlotte that had hopped up the lottery. By his second season, he was starting on a conference semifinalist. Terry, meanwhile, had to toil away in relative obscurity with the Atlanta Hawks, earning an unfair label of a wild chucker on a bad team. The Hawks stunk, but it was Davis that boasted the chucker instincts, while Terry honed his craft with a more subdued screen-and-roll attack with whatever defensively challenged power forward the Hawks brought in that year.

Now they’re going back and forth in the midst of an ultra-exciting first round matchup between the Warriors and Mavericks, and I have to wonder if Terry’s regressed a little. The stats are there (almost 20 points a game), but his shooting percentage is down, and he was killing Dallas in Game 4 with his inability to get Dirk Nowitzki the ball. Nowitzki deserves plenty of blame for not being more aggressive, and he is being zoned away from easy looks for most of the game, but Terry has to find ways to lob him the rock with the 6-7 Mickael Pietrus guarding the Maverick All-Star. Dallas is done if he doesn’t.

AND

It isn’t first-time playoff jitters, or shot-happy point guards, or a lack of energy — the real reason Toronto’s Chris Bosh is having an up-and-down postseason is the defensive play of New Jersey’s Jason Collins. Bosh is averaging just under 18 points per game on 43 percent shooting, down from a regular season that saw him throw in 22.6 points per game while making half his shots. Though Bosh has had his moments during Toronto’s first-round series, Collins’ athletic defense, exemplary footwork and exquisite timing has kept the Raptor big man from taking over.

Collins continues to be underrated. We’re not saying he should be playing 30 minutes a night; his pathetic offense and poor rebounding can hurt a team in the long run. But he’s as good a defensive player as this league boasts. The idea that he garnered zero Defensive Player of the Year votes (or, one less than Kobe Bryant), that hurts.

AND

A recent trend you shouldn’t pay much attention to: commentators pointing to field goal defense allowed as a way of gauging defensive aptitude.

Now, it certainly helps a team’s defensive case if it holds the opponent to a certain mark from the floor, but it’s far from an end-all stat. For instance, Chicago led the NBA in field goal percentage allowed during the 2005 and 2006 seasons, but were those Bulls teams the best defensive team in the NBA? Hardly. Scott Skiles’ team sent its opponents to the free throw line at an alarming rate, and its rash of turnovers on the other end allowed for several extra possessions per game in which the opponents could throw in a bucket or six. Neither of these realities can be accounted for when pointing to field goal percentage defense.

At the end of the day, just go with points allowed, adjusted for pace, as your end-all. Ironically, Chicago led the NBA in that stat in 2006-07, despite finishing second to the Houston Rockets for the lead in field goal percentage defense. The difference this season? More calls going in Chicago’s favor, and less chance for the opponents to alter the score from the line.

AND there’s more. He starts the article talking about Kirilenko, using 82games, and what team would benefit most from getting him (and no it’s not the Knicks). Think about it for a second before you read the article. Which team would most benefit from AK-47? Dwyer hits on a few other things, including the Bowen-AI-‘Melo relationship, Jason Kidd’s series, Antonio Daniels and Rich Kelley.

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2007/writers/kelly_dwyer/04/30/inside.nba/index.html

Would you want Telfair on the Knicks?

Apparently, Sebastian Telfair’s career with the Boston Celtics is over, and Telfair’s career is in some serious jeopardy. That being said, certainly SOME team out there will give him another chance.

The question is – should it be the Knicks?

As commenter “Hudson River” points out, the downsides are:

He is another Shoot first point guard, but he can?t shoot. He doesn?t get along with Stephon at all. He could very well practice on the practice team, but whose minutes would he take? Not Marbury or Collins or even Steve Francis.

The upsides, of course, is that he is 21 years old and has a crap load of “talent.”

He can’t be expecting much money right now, can he? The Knicks could probably get it done without using their whole mid-level exemption.

But is it worth it?

I am not sure, but it’s definitely an interesting new wrinkle to the Knicks’ offseason.

Small Ball, Smaller Ball

The hot basketball story of the playoffs is how the Golden State Warriors used a ?small ball? strategy to upset the host Dallas Mavericks in game one of their opening round playoff match-up. Golden State?s head coach, Don Nelson, sought to maul Dallas with the superior quickness of a smaller, more versatile line-up that could switch defensive assignments at will, effectively sticking Dirk Nowitzki with a body wherever he turned.

The Warriors started a point guard, three shooting guards, and a combo forward at ?center.? Their tallest starter was 6?9?. Small, right? Sure, except Dallas wasn?t much bigger. They came out with two point guards, two small forwards, and a power forward as their ?center.? It?s not like the Warriors were mites among giants. They were undersized at exactly one position: Al Harrington giving up three inches to Nowitzki. This wasn?t a case of just the Warriors going small?the entire game was small.

Between DeSagana Diop and Erick Dampier, Dallas employed professional centers for only 18 minutes of game time. The Warriors used their own professional center, Andris Biedrens for 8 minutes. Nelson is said to have done this because he wanted to exploit match-ups, but it?s a more curious move than publicly imagined when you considering the facts. If anything, center was the one position that Dallas this season had trouble defending, allowing opposing pivot men a healthy 16.9 PER against them. No other position fared better than average against Dallas. If you looked at the numbers and wanted to attack Dallas, you would have thought to start Biedrins?not to mention the fact that the giant Lithuanian had a monster game against them when Golden St. interrupted their winning streak.

Therefore, what makes the Warrior?s strategy of replacing Biedrens with a guard is that it goes away from what’s already been successful. Yet, it worked. Now it’s up to Dallas to adjust. One wonders if Dallas goes with a big line-up in game two if they’ll actually be solving their match-up problems. They might be forcing Nelson’s hand into putting Biedrens back into the line-up. Considering the facts, this might not lead to the outcome Dallas desires.

Four Factors and Five-Man Units

Knickerblogger.net will be in full playoff mode until the 2007 champion is crowned. But before we let go of the Knicks’ forgettable season I wanted to take a brief look back through the window of five-man units. Because Thomas? played a lot of people a fairly high number of minutes I thought it would be worthwhile to look at how they fared on Dean Oliver?s four factors with help from our good friends at 82games.com. I?ll look at offense today and defense later.

I thought looking at five-man units might be particularly interesting for NY because so many different units played significant minutes. We generally expect starters to play the lion?s share and other units to play comparatively fewer minutes. That is, minutes tend to have a skewed distribution. Of course some teams play their reserves more than others but the top minute-getting units play a lot of minutes together. For example Chicago?s top unit played 618 minutes, Detroit?607, Cleveland?467, New Jersey?460, and Toronto?321. Miami?s opening night starting five (Williams-Wade-Kapono-Haslem-Mourning) played fewer than 160 minutes because of injuries, but its top unit (Williams-Jones-Posey-Haslem-O’Neal) still played 301 minutes. By contrast, New York?s top unit played only 192 minutes together.

Unfortunately, the raw data needed to calculate all four factors directly are not available by five-man unit. Shooting is available directly. I can also use net turnover percentage and net free-throw attempts to create a ?quick and dirty? picture of turnovers and free throws. I must leave rebounding out of this analysis however, because the available data doesn?t break it out into its offensive and defensive components.

Before getting to the factors, let?s take a quick look at the best and worst five-man units based solely on plus-minus (+/-).

The Best and Worst Five-Man Units

The 3 best:

# Minutes rank Unit Minutes +/-  
1 13 Robinson Francis Collins Rose Curry 58 33
2 5 Marbury Crawford Lee Frye Curry 137 26
3 20 Robinson Crawford Q-Rich Lee Frye 34 14

The 3 worst:

# Minutes rank Unit Minutes +/-
18 12 Marbury Crawford Q-Rich Curry James 62 -30
19 4 Marbury Crawford Jeffries Frye Curry 142 -38
20 3 Marbury Crawford Q-Rich Frye Curry 162 -68

Some of the heaviest-minute units were just awful. The Marbury Crawford Q-Rich Frye Curry unit was undeniably terrible, outscored by 68 points in 162 minutes, roughly -20 points per 48. Swapping in Jeffries for Q-Rich ?improves? this unit to just plain bad. But note, swapping David Lee into this unit for Q-Rich or Jeffries makes a substantial improvement. In comparable minutes Lee’s presence is the difference between the unit ranking 19th or 20th in +/- or fifth. He appears to really click with Marbury, Crawford, Frye, and Curry. His impact is not nearly as striking with any other mix of players. (Lee also plays on NY’s top minute-getting unit?Marbury Crawford Q-Rich Lee Curry?which ended up only -2 on the season.) Another interesting feature of these two tables is the surprisingly good +/- of the unit that ended the season: Robinson Francis Collins Rose and Curry.

The Four err… Three Factors

Top 5 shooting units:

# Minutes rank (minutes played) Unit Eff FG (eFG) Close%
1 10 (67) Marbury Crawford Jeffries Lee Curry 0.614 52
2 13 (58) Robinson Francis Collins Rose Curry 0.604 59
3 9 (78) Robinson Crawford Lee Q-Rich Curry 0.59 46
4 14 (54) Marbury Crawford Q-Rich Rose Curry 0.58 48
5 15 (47) Robinson Crawford Balkman Lee Curry 0.561 55

It is probably no surprise that the five best shooting units all include Eddy Curry. However it may surprise that only two of the best shooting units include Stephon Marbury while three include Nate Robinson. The little man quietly had himself a nice sophomore season?well maybe ?quietly? isn?t the right word, but you get where I?m going. For all the people trying to run him out of town for his immaturity, consider that Robinson was fairly efficient (39% 3-pt shooter, 55.3% TS) and one of the least turnover prone players on the roster despite some of his shenanigans.

Perhaps the most unpleasant surprise here is that none of the team?s top five units in minutes was among its five best shooting. Channing Frye?s sophomore-season-to-forget is certainly one culprit, though not the only one.

Marbury-Crawford-Q-Rich-Lee-Curry (.503 eFG/192 min)
Marbury-Francis-Q-Rich-Frye-Curry (.506 eFG /162 min)
Marbury-Crawford-Q-Rich-Frye-Curry (.460 eFG /162 min)
Marbury-Crawford-Jeffries-Frye-Curry (.519 eFG /142 min)
Marbury-Crawford-Lee-Frye-Curry (.509 eFG /137 min)

Top 5 turnover units:

# Minutes rank (minutes played) Unit Net TO% +/-
1 20 Robinson Crawford Q-Rich Lee Frye 5 14
2 11 Marbury Crawford Q-Rich Lee Frye 4 -7
3 18 Marbury Crawford Q-Rich Jeffries Curry 3 2
4 15 Robinson Crawford Balkman Lee Curry 2 8
5 6 Marbury Francis Jeffries Frye Curry 1 -17

Turnovers have plagued this team like it is stuck inside some sort of biblical curse plague dome. The table shows the only five units that managed to create more turnovers than they lost. I feel reasonably confident that none of these units created many turnovers but rather were better than others at taking care of the ball. Note again that only one of these units was in the top 10 in minutes played.

I also added in the +/- numbers for those units. Two of them still managed to be badly outscored despite holding onto the ball better than opponents. The worst unit on net turnover percentage was Robinson Collins Jeffries Frye Curry unit (-13 TO%). There appears to be no truth to the rumor that these players will petition David Stern to bring back the composite ball.

Top 5 free-throw units:

# Minutes rank (minutes played) Unit Net FT Attempts
1 5 (137) Marbury Crawford Lee Frye Curry 53
2 2 (162) Marbury Francis Q-Rich Frye Curry 35
3 7 (93) Marbury Q-Rich Jeffries Frye Curry 29
4 1 (192) Marbury Crawford Q-Rich Lee Curry 28
5 8 (88) Marbury Francis Q-Rich Lee Curry 27

Overall, we know the Knicks are good at getting to the free throw line. They rank seventh in FTAs per FG. For five-man units only net free-throw attempts is available. The Marbury Crawford Lee Frye Curry unit has a whopping 53-attempt advantage. That?s more than a 2.5 more attempts per minute. New York?s top 15 units all take more free-throws than their opponents. Last season only their top 11 units took more free throws.

2007 Playoff Predictions: Round 1

[UPDATE: http://myespn.go.com/blogs/truehoop/0-23-101/Introducing-TrueHoop-s-2007-Stat-Geek-Smackdown.html
and
http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/playoffs2007/news/story?page=Smackdown07]

I was asked by Henry Abbott of TrueHoop to join an NBA playoff prediction contest against other number crunching analysts. I figure I have a head up on the competition, being that I used to run the blogger’s bracket. Nonetheless I took to the task seriously, using as much information as possible. Not only do I take into account numbers from my own stat page, but I also looked back at 16 years of playoff data to come up with my predictions. And wherever needed, I asked my 7 day old daughter to assist (yes yours truly became a father last weekend — and like a true Knick fan, KB2.0 already hates the Nets).

This was my submission to Henry, so I apologize if it appears elsewhere and you accidentally read it twice. Wish me luck as I go against some of the NBA’s best statistical gurus.

Dallas in 4
The Warriors have 2 main strengths: forcing turnovers and good shooting. Unfortunately for them, those strengths don’t match up well against the Mavericks. Dallas is good at keeping the ball and holding their opponents to a low field goal percentage. Nellie’s poor rebounding team will be their undoing, as the Mavs are the most well rounded rebounding playoff team in the West.

Phoenix in 6
While it’s possible that Kobe Bryant will have a scoring explosion, the Lakers are awful on defense. And guess which team lead the NBA in offensive efficiency? Effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%), which adjusts for three point shots, is the best measure of a team’s shooting prowess. And Phoenix’s 55.1% eFG is 3 points higher than the NBA’s second best shooting team. Despite the disparity, the Suns energetic offense and the Kobe-Raja matchup should make this one of the most entertaining series.

San Antonio in 6
The Spurs have the league’s best point differential in the league. This is important because point differential corresponds better in year to year winning than wins and losses. So if you’re a Spurs fan, this bodes well for next year’s performance as well. Why haven’t I given any analysis for this series? There have been 11 non-strike playoff seasons since a #1 or a #2 seed lost in the first round. Even if it were going to happen this year, this isn’t the series anyway.

Houston in 7
These complementary teams should have a close series that goes 6 or 7 games. Utah’s main weakness is sending opponents to the free throw line (30th in FT/FG), but that’s a weakness that Houston won’t exploit on offense (26th in FT/FG). Meanwhile the Rockets have the 3rd best defensive efficiency, but they are evenly matched by the league’s 3rd best offensive efficiency. Instead the game will be won on the other end of the floor, where the Rockets average offense (14th) faces off against a sub par Jazz defense (19th).

Detroit in 4
The Pistons do one thing better than anyone else in the league: keep the ball. Detroit is first in the NBA in turnovers per possession. Unfortunately for Mickey Mouse and his neighbors, Orlando is the NBA’s worst team in holding onto the ball. Detroit won all 4 games during the regular season (with the turnover advantage in 3 of those 4), and I see the same thing happening in the playoffs.

Cleveland in 5
With Arenas and Butler injured, you can put the Wizards on the hibachi.

Toronto in 6
This series will be a litmus test for the term “playoff experience.” The Nets trio of Kidd, Jefferson, and Carter has appeared in 184 post season games in their career. Meanwhile Toronto’s sextet of Bosh, Parker, Ford, Bargnani, Garbajosa, and Peterson has only played in 18. But clich?s aside, the Raptors are clearly the better team here. Finally Canada gets justice for Vince Carter dogging it in his final season up north.

Miami in 6
Everything statistically points to Chicago over Miami. The Bulls have a fantastic point differential, and Miami is one Dwayne Wade crash to the floor from dipping their toes in the sand. But the Bulls point differential is misleading (in my opinion) due to an inordinate amount of blow out victories. And Miami’s injury filled regular season may not be a true example of their strength. Here’s a stat that pushed me over the edge: Shaq’s team has beaten a better team in 5 of the last 6 playoffs.

KnickerBlogger’s Anti-Tank Idea

The NBA’s dirty little secret is out, and everyone knows that teams are intentionally losing games down the stretch. Franchises that have been eliminated from the playoffs and held on to their pick (sorry Knick fans) can reward themselves by losing games down the stretch. And I can’t say I blame them. Athletes are trained from day 1 that winning is the ultimate goal (right Herm?) and a lot of players will resort to just about any means that accomplishes that goal. I’m sure Knick fans aren’t outraged when Malik Rose gets a handful of jersey when he performs his “pull the chair out from under the guy” routine. While an illegal move, if he can get away with it, Rose would be foolish not to keep it in his repertoire. The same goes for the league’s franchises. Would Milwaukee or Memphis or Boston be doing their team a disservice by trying to win down the stretch, when they can put an inferior lineup on the floor? Yes, as long as they can get away with it.

There has been some discussion in the media about possible solutions. One idea, which I think Mike Wilbon of PTI fame has been touting, would be to give all non-playoff teams an equal chance at the lottery (or the “one team one envelope” rule). The downside to this solution is that teams that really need help may not get it, which is antithetical to the draft’s purpose. Imagine if the Clippers or Pacers landed that #1 overall pick this year, while Boston or Memphis sat at #14. A team could finish in last place for 3 straight seasons, and would only have a 51% of getting one top 3 pick (for those scoring with a calculator at home that equation is 1-[11/14]^3). Not only would this solution cause an imbalance in the league, but it would give conspiracy theorists something else to harp on. To this day there are people convinced that Patrick Ewing to the Knicks was an NBA orchestrated event.

Bill Simmons has proposed a tournament where the top 6 teams in each conference are guaranteed playoff spots, and everyone else plays for those last remaining playoffs spots. It’s an interesting concept, but it’s just as easy to circumvent. No one in their right mind would think that if Boston or Memphis won a mini-tournament, they could go on and take the Pistons or Mavs in 7. So this doesn’t really address the problem. Why would a team risk losing a franchise player like Durant or Oden in order to have the privilege of getting spanked by the first or second seed? Teams will be tanking games in the tournament just as they would if it were a regular season game. In fact they would only have to purposely lose one game with this method.

Other solutions include handing out fines to teams that tank, shortening the season, and eliminating the lottery altogether. David Stern’s office could fine teams that are throwing games, but this would be a hard rule to enforce. Often teams have players fake injuries, and disproving something like knee tendinitis would be impossible (right Steve?). And an eliminated team could say they’re trying to give extra playing time to their end of bench guys. Shortening the season would take revenue from both the players and owners, so that option is out the window. And removing the lottery would just exacerbate the problem. In fact that’s what the lottery was created for in the first place, so that teams wouldn’t tank down the stretch.

So what’s a league to do? Here is a fool proof solution: set the lottery order earlier in the season, like at the All Star Game. In other words take a snapshot of the standings at the the All Star break and use that as a basis for the lottery. Obviously only the teams that fail to make the playoffs will participate in the lottery. The only teams that this might give an advantage to are teams like the Sixers who have a good second half. But then again, that’s what we want bad teams to do, win games down the stretch (and Philly was trying to rebuild with the Iverson trade). No team is going to start the season losing, because attendance is linked to winning percentage. And also they might have a Cinderella team in the making (2005 Sonics, I’m looking at you), which would net them profit due to a playoff series (7 games series means that both teams get at least 2 home games).

Below is a chart with the lottery team’s All Star Game ranking (ASG), and their end of season ranking (EOS).

ASG Rank EOS Rank Team
11 20 Indiana Pacers
16 24 Minnesota Timberwolves
17 17 Los Angeles Clippers
18 18 New Orleans Hornets
21 22 New York Knicks
22 21 Sacramento Kings
23 25 Portland Trail Blazers
24 27 Atlanta Hawks
25 26 Seattle SuperSonics
26 23 Charlotte Bobcats
27 28 Milwaukee Bucks
28 19 Philadelphia 76ers
29 30 Memphis Grizzlies
30 29 Boston Celtics

The Glory of Schadenfreude

Besides one (fairly major) thing, tonight’s game really didn’t matter much to the Knicks. They do not own their draft pick, so it really doesn’t’ matter to them where they finish. However, it DOES matter to us fans, because, come on, you don’t want the Bulls to get a high draft pick, just due to schadenfreude – the joy of seeing them NOT happy.

Tonight, in beating Charlotte on an Eddy Curry tip-in of a Malik Rose miss, the Knicks tied Charlotte’s record of 33-49.

After the Knicks’ win, the Bulls lost to the Nets, locking the Bulls into the 5th spot in the playoffs, and picking 23rd in the draft (and if the Knicks pick this year is, in fact, protected only before 24 – that is especially cool – that is the fairly major thing, guaranteeing that the Knicks GET a draft pick this year).

Minnesota tanked, and both Portland and Sacramento lost (Portland against the playoff bound Golden State Warriors – which should be an interesting first round series – Nelson against the Mavericks), so the Knicks will be ranked, at the LOWEST, eighth. They are currently tied for eighth with Sacramento and Charlotte. There will be a tie-breaker that will determine if the Knicks are ranked 8th or 9th or 10th, but the thing most of us I presume are worried about are the Knicks’ chances of gaining one of the top three picks in the lottery.

The way the lottery works, there are 1000 possible number combinations for the top three picks. The team with the worst record gets 250 of those combinations. The second-worst record gets 199 and the third-worst gets 159. Those three teams combine for a 60.5% chance of getting the top three picks.

When there is a tie in the standings, each of the teams that are tied get the average of the possible combinations for their spot. For instance, if two teams are tied for 6th, you would take the average of the combinations for the 6th spot and the 7th spot, which would be 53 (63 and 43).

The Knicks are tied for 8th with Charlotte and Sacramento, meaning they will split the combinations for the 8th, 9th and 10th spots. So they have a three-way split of 56. As that does not go evenly into three, there will be a coin-flip to determine which team gets one less combination than the other two. As Jon Abbey so rightly pointed out, that means the Knicks will most likely have 19 combinations out of 1000.

So they will have a 19 out of 1000 ( 1.9% chance) of getting the first pick, about a 2.3% chance of getting the second pick and about a 3.0% chance of getting the third pick.

Compare that with the 63 combinations the Knicks would have received if they had lost (6.3% for the first pick, about 7.0% for the second pick and about 8.0% for the third pick) and Minnesota and Portland had won, and you can see why tonight was, for the first time in awhile, a pretty good night for the Knicks.

And not a great night for the Bulls.

Ahhh…lovely schadenfreude.