Celtics All In With KG Deal

The Boston Celtics have acquired their second All Star since the season ended. According to a few sources, Minnesota has agreed to send Kevin Garnett to Boston. The players included aren’t official yet, but it’s possible that Al Jefferson, Gerald Green, and a piece of paper with Theo Ratliff’s signature on it will be included. Other possibilities include Sebastian Telfair and Ryan Gomes. Earlier this year, the Celtics traded the #5 overall pick to Seattle for Ray Allen. It’s clear that Danny Ainge is cashing in his chips in an effort to win now. Ainge failed to (re-)build a winner around Paul Pierce, trying to combine failed draft picks (Troy Bell, Dahntay Jones, Delonte West, Tony Allen) with overpriced veterans (Theo Ratliff, Gary Payton, Michael Olowokandi, Ricky Davis). So instead Danny Ainge has gone “Flip That House” on the Celtics roster, and have instantly upgraded at 2 positions.

As a Knick fan I’m a bit disappointed that Garnett, a top notch NBA superstar, will be playing against New York for a division rival. In a way I wonder why Isiah couldn’t match or top the deal, since we should have more talent than the 24-win Celtics. You seriously have to wonder how much Ainge and McHale’s Boston ties helped to solidify this deal, because you think a few teams (Chicago, Detroit, Toronto) could have matched this offer as well.

However just because Boston has the most potent trio East of the Mississippi, doesn’t guarantee them a spot in the Finals. Garnett, Allen, and Pierce are all on the wrong side of 30, and they missed 66 games combined last year. The one problem with this deal is that it leaves Boston with few pieces left to surround this talent. While top flight talent is one criteria for building an NBA powerhouse, one thing that separates the good teams from the championship level teams is depth. That said there’s just too much talent with these three players for this not to work. As long as all three stay healthy, they can make a serious postseason run. Now that Danny Ainge is all in & his friend just passed him the ace he needed, Ainge needs to finish the job & surround this trio with quality role players for it to work. But at least for him, the hard part is done.

Knicks 2007 Report Card (A to Z): David Lee

KnickerBlogger Despite standing only 6’9″, David Lee’s main strength is his rebounding. He combines excellent positioning, exceptional timing, good leaping ability, and a desire to capture missed shots on both ends of the floor. Not only is Lee the best rebounder on his team, but he’s one of the best in the NBA. Among players that logged 1000 or more minutes in 2007, Lee finished 5th in per minute rebounding. Compared to the other hyalophiles, Lee committed the fewest fouls and scored the most points.

Per 40 Minutes Height Tm OREB DREB TREB PF PTS
Reggie Evans 6’8″ DEN 5.5 10.8 16.3 5.1 11.5
Dikembe Mutombo 7’2″ HOU 5.1 10.1 15.1 4.8 7.1
Tyson Chandler 7’1″ NOK 5.1 9.3 14.3 3.9 10.9
Jeff Foster 6’11” IND 5.8 8.2 14 4.6 7.4
David Lee 6’9″ NYK 4.5 9.4 13.9 3.6 14.4

Not just a one trick pony, Lee is also adept at running the floor and strong at finishing around the hoop. A natural lefty, David Lee is ambidextrous which allows him to score with either hand. Although he doesn’t possess the extra wide body that Curry or Sweetney has, Lee isn’t slender, and can shield the ball with his body. Lee shot a robust 60% eFG from the field, and is such a good free throw shooter (81.6%) that he ranked third on the team in free throw shooting percentage. As a bonus, Lee doesn’t dominate the ball on offense. The Knicks don’t need to run any plays for him, as he’s able to produce his own offense by his rebounding and his ability to move well without the ball.

Although Lee is slightly undersized at power forward, his defense is passable. He has good footwork and is strong enough to not get bowled over against other post players. Additionally Lee can play the small forward or center spots, albeit in short stints depending on the matchup. If Lee were 2 inches taller he probably would excel as a shot blocker, but he is only able to alter shots of smaller players. Among the Knick forwards/centers Lee committed the fewest per minute fouls, which allows him to stay on the court for long periods of time. According to 82games, the Knicks were 2.5 points per 100 possessions better on defense with Lee on the court. Even if that number comes from his outstanding rebounding, he clearly doesn’t hinder the team with his defense.

In 2007, the Knicks record was 26-32 (.449) with David Lee and 7-17 (.291) without him. In the three games after the suspensions from the Denver fight, Lee averaged 13 points and an incredible 17.7 rebounds. Last year he led the Knicks in 4 important categories (eFG%, TS%, OREB/40, and DREB/40) and had the highest PER on the team. Quietly he was New York’s most valuable player.

KnickerBlogger’s Grade: A

2008 Outlook: Despite Lee’s outstanding sophomore season, there are a few questions that 2008 will bring:

1. Was 2007 a fluke?
Too often have we seen young players have a fantastic year, only to fall down to earth never to reach that level of play again. Hopes may be high for Lee to continue to progress, and one only needs to look at Lee’s draftmate Channing Frye to see how far a young player can slide from a single season. On the positive side, Lee’s pertinent stats are nearly identical from his rookie year, with one exception: his defensive rebounding. Lee grabbed 2.6 DREB/40 more in 2007, which is more likely due to his switch to power forward (from small forward under Brown) and Curry’s increase in minutes (Curry is a poor rebounder).

2. How will the injury affect Lee?
Of all the questions, this one is the most concerning. Lee’s injury seems to have been misdiagnosed, his return date kept sliding, and he made a token appearance hobbling at the end of the season. Since Lee uses his jumping ability to secure a lot of his rebounds, suffering an ankle injury should cause some concern. It’s probable that he missed the summer league because he’s still not 100%, although there were reports that he was working out with the team. Watching him early in the pre-season should give fans a good indication if this injury is behind him or not.

3. How much will he play?
Prior to draft night it seemed that David Lee would have a bright future in New York. He only had Channing Frye, Malik Rose, Jerome James, and Randolph Morris to compete with for the starting spot in the Knick’s lineup. Considering that group of talent, Lee should have been a lock to start in 2008. That all changed when Isiah Thomas acquired Zach Randolph on draft day. Now Knick fans are wondering if David Lee will see enough court time this year. Consider that last year Curry and Randolph averaged a little over 35 minutes a game each. If the duo play the same amount of minutes, and David Lee backs up both players, it only means he’ll play about 25 minutes a game, less than the 30 he played last year.

But the problem with that logic is that the Knicks can’t just use only three players for two spots all year. There’ll be times that they’ll need a defensive presence in the paint, so they may have to look to Rose, James, Morris, or Cato (considering any of these players are on the roster come November). While Lee can play small forward for short stretches, there’ll be nights that the matchup will make it impossible. Additionally small forward seems to be the Knicks’ deepest position, so Lee may have a hard time finding minutes there either. My ideal situation, while still being realistic, would be for Isiah to occasionally use Lee as a small forward in a big lineup to force other teams out of their comfort zone, slightly cut back on Curry and Randolph’s minutes, be open minded in the fourth quarter and use Lee down the stretch especially when Zach or Eddy are having an off night.

4. Can he generate more offense?
With Isiah’s offense centered on the low post play of Eddy Curry, and now Zach Randolph, it becomes important for all the Knicks on the floor to knock down an open jumper. Unfortunately Lee hits only 29% of his jump shots according to 82games.com. His shot looks awkward, and maybe part of it is due to being left handed. Nonetheless it appears as if he doesn’t square his shoulders to the hoop. Often relying on others to score, his usage is very low and his per minute scoring is only tied for 7th on the team. While Lee is plenty valuable without a jump shot, for him to go from being a very good complimentary player to an All Star will require a bit more scoring volume. A 15 footer would go a long way in Lee’s development.

Dave Crockett

Lee’s career has been one I have followed with some interest since seeing him in listed as a McDonald’s HS All-American in 2001. I suspect most Knickerblogger readers are not familiar with the St. Louis metro area, which is where I spent my high school years some 20+ years ago. Lee’s high school, Chaminade College Prep, suffice it to say is not to be mistaken for the prototypical high school sports powerhouse. (Back in my day Chaminade actually ran a single-wing offense in football.) So when this mop-topped, rosy-cheeked lad won the McDonald’s slam dunk contest I was, to say the least, intrigued. Unfortunately for Lee he virtually never had a play run for him at Florida until his senior season, overlapping as he did with trigger-happy guards Anthony Roberson and Matt Walsh. Fortunately for Knicks fans Lee learned how to be uber-productive without the ball in his hands. His long arms, timing, and knack for positioning virtually ensure that he will always be a quality rebounder.

The key for Lee going forward will be developing a 15-18 foot jump shot. If he never improves in that area he still promises to be an exceptionally useful complimentary player, along the lines of A.C. Green–the player to whom he compares most favorably at the same age. But if he can improve his ball-handling and his shot–a feat that may require reconstructing that ugly looking thing–I see Lee’s peak years comparing favorably to those of Larry Nance or Horace Grant (i.e., very good, though probably not Hall of Fame).

Putting a damper on some of the superlatives though, I do have my concerns about Lee’s injury. I am still not completely certain of the final diagnosis. Its description in the press even now remains somewhat murky. My initial thinking was that Lee suffered a “high ankle sprain,” an injury commonly suffered by football players. That’s generally a 6-8 week injury. But, it remains unclear if Lee is back to 100% even now.

As for Lee’s minutes this upcoming season, I suspect that after pulling Lee–clearly his most desired asset–off the market Thomas plans to play him. My best guess is that he will be part of a rotation that sees him log some minutes at SF while the lion’s share will come at backup PF when Zach Randolph slides down to C. My sincere hope is that we have seen the last meaningful minutes for Malik Rose and Jerome James, who combined to be on the floor for over a quarter of the team’s minutes in ’06-07.

Brian Cronin – Yeah, the injury problem is my only concern about Lee. It’s not like Lee just developed all these skills out of nowhere. He was basically the same player in his sophomore year as in his rookie year – only more so. ;)

But I’ve seen way too many NBA players get similar injuries to Lee and just have their distinctive abilities, if not ruined, at least diminished for quite awhile. So I am certainly hoping that Lee will recover nicely.

I am not too worried about minutes, really, because, as Dave mentions, if Zeke isn’t going to trade him, I gotta figure it is because he actually plans on using him. I, too, think he will see most of his minutes at the SF position.

As for the grade, come on, could it be any grade BUT an A? Dude was a legitimate contender for the All-Star team in his second season!!

The Devil is in the Details… But So is Salvation

At his July 24th presser, a reporter asked Stern about the conspicuous absence of words like “alleged” from his references to indicted ex-official Tim Donaghy. He replied that Donaghy’s council is in the process of negotiating a plea, clearly implying that Donaghy has admitted to betting on NBA games. So, to paraphrase the great American journalist Kent Brockman, the time has come for finger-pointing in the “zebragate” betting scandal. Ken Berger put it best in his Newsday blog (scroll to July 19th entry). No matter how big this story becomes, remember that it happened right under the noses of the league, the sportswriters, and the Vegas oddsmakers, who never removed a Donaghy-officiated game from the board.

And you know what? None of us should really be all that surprised or even particularly outraged. Of course the astonished cries of “will somebody please think of the children!?” have already started pouring in from the four corners of the ESPN “campus” in Bristol and its many satellites.

Details released about Donaghy’s propensity to reach the “over” have made many go “hmm” now that they already know the outcome. We know that Donaghy hit the “over” by calling a lot of fouls. However, he did not call the most fouls and was below the median on technical fouls despite his reputation as a no-nonsense guy. So I’ve seen nothing presented publicly–yet–that should have set off “the rogue ref alert” prior to Donaghy’s name being coughed up in an FBI investigation. Details are now emerging that make it clear Donaghy was no angel in his personal life. I have already heard the vulture’s cackling that his lone-wolf character, and any or all of his run-ins with neighbors, his postal carrier, or Joey Crawford should have tipped the league off. In a league with Ron Artest as well as Eddie Griffin in its recent employ, if any of these things register even barely on the NBA’s personal dysfunction scale it’s a much more sensitive scale than I’d have given it credit for being. Stern apparently did bring Donaghy in for tea, biscotti, and a chat about being a good citizen, acting on allegations that Donaghy gambled in Atlantic City casinos. He found nothing actionable. To any of you who have ever been at all close to a serious addict of any kind this should come as no surprise. It looks like the league did what it could while still affording Donaghy some semblance of due process. This stuff will be important to remember in the coming days as the “outrage” peddlers cobble together disparate bits of data, and with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, start calling for sacrificial lambs at the league office.

So, as zebragate continues to unfold the two most important questions to consider (in the absence of new information that implicates anyone other than Donaghy) are these:

1. What did Donaghy do precisely: shave points or fix games?

The difference between the two is subtle but important. So precision is key. Not surprisingly, that distinction has been all but completely ignored on TV and radio, at least up until the time I started writing this blog entry. Point-shaving involves manipulating the composite score or the scoring margin of a game, but may not necessarily involve favoring team A to beat team B. That is, an official could call fouls on both teams sufficient to inflate the composite score, or could call enough fouls on the heavily-favored team A to allow team B to cover the spread. Game-fixing on the other hand involves pre-determining that team A will beat team B. An official might call enough fouls on team B, or perhaps team B’s star player, to put it at a disadvantage severe enough to lose. All things equal, point-shaving is far easier than game-fixing without drawing suspicion. Thus it is likely of greater interest to the house. (Bookies need the game to at least appear as if it is on the level to keep the people gambling. Otherwise what they will have is boxing, or at least the circus that currently passes for boxing.)

If it is eventually revealed that Donaghy shaved points, and did so alone, then I suspect this scandal too shall pass in time. In truth, for an official shaving points is probably no tougher than cheating a bit on his or her taxes. The league cannot do much more than it already does to prevent it short of wiretapping, a position I heard Skip Bayless advocate on ESPN’s First and 10 show. (If there is a proto-fascist position to be taken on a sports issue Bayless is your man. You can set your watch by him.) The threat of federal prosecution is the only serious deterrent to shaving or fixing. So although zebragate is ugly and may get uglier it’s not quite the “sky is falling” scenario we have seen, heard, and read about over the past few days from sports journalists whose lust for outrage and penchant for hyperbole know no bounds. Having said that, the true doomsday scenario gets triggered if Donaghy a) admits to outright game-fixing, b) is revealed to have done such, or c) pleas down in a way that makes him look guilty of game-fixing. Again, one need only look at boxing’s flea-ridden, rotting carcass to see how even the appearance of staged outcomes can suck the life out of a sport. Although it is too soon to rule out the doomsday scenario Martin Johnson’s recent piece at the Sun cites empirical research that suggests it is highly unlikely.

2. How did Donaghy do his thing?

I hope the details don’t get lost in all the inevitable hoopla. Whenever an important story breaks in the sports media first I worry that the details will simply be cut out by editors whose dedication to simple narratives about simpler times, before whatever is the perversion du jour, when players played for the love of the game, would be the envy of any old-school Soviet propagandist. Mob ties and bookies make for sexy copy, but as a serious NBA fan I’m far more interested in how an official managed to consistently rate as very good-to-outstanding yet is about to cop a plea on point-shaving (and possibly game-fixing) charges. Had Donaghy not been outed by what looks to be maybe old high school buddies he would have qualified to officiate third-round playoff games based on performance. We will likely not hear from Donaghy, but I’d love to hear from retired officials about how he might have shaved points while maintaining a profile that never set off alarm bells in New York, or in Vegas for that matter.

The devil will be in those details but just maybe the league’s salvation will be there too if it can uncover areas ripe for abuse and set up systems to monitor them. What sorts of things did Donaghy call and for what purpose? Did he “set the tone” early by calling a couple nickel-and-dime fouls to see if his colleagues will follow his lead? In games struggling to reach the over did he focus on players with foul-prone reputations? Did he call more fouls outside his area? Did he call a succession of defensive 3-seconds calls to open up the lane or did he focus on calling particular types of fouls (e.g., handchecking)? Did he make certain to put good free-throw shooters on the line to beat the spread and poor free-throw shooters otherwise? Did other officials dispute his calls? Or is this really a case where you could conceivably call a foul on every play in the NBA?

Knicks 2007 Report Card (A to Z): Jared Jeffries

KnickerBlogger: Normally when you begin to work at a new company, you want to start off well. Usually you’ll have a fresh haircut & choose something nicer from your wardrobe. You’ll act a little more polite and reserved than you would normally be. And you’ll do a lot of unnecessary smiling. That’s because first impressions are crucial in forging long lasting relationships. Give people the wrong impression off the bat, and you’re not likely to ever win them over. So a little note to Jared Jeffries: don’t expect to run for mayor of New York City anytime soon.

The Knicks signed Jeffries to a 5 year mid-level exception deal last summer, and it seemed to be a decent idea. It was no secret that the New York roster leaned heavily towards offense, and so getting a defensive minded player should have tipped the balance in the other direction. Jeffries started off the 2007 season on the injured list with a fractured wrist, and missed the first month and a half. When the swingman returned, he seemed uncomfortable on the court with his new teammates. Although he recorded his first double digit scoring output in his second game of the season, he would go another 18 games before repeating that feat. In fact Jeffries went the last 2 months of the season without scoring 10 or more points in a game, despite having logged 30 or more minutes in 11 of those games.

As far as I can tell Jeffries only has one method of scoring, a low post move where he uses his 6-11 height advantage on a baby hook shot. Sadly he doesn’t shoot well from outside, and doesn’t finish well around the basket. Give Jeffries the ball under the hoop with no defender in sight and he may not make the shot. Not since Charles Smith have I had so much anxiety watching someone attempt a layup. He does rebound well on the offensive end (3.4 OREB/40), but oddly enough that skill doesn’t translate on the defensive end (3.9 DREB/40).

Since New York basketball history is steeped in strong defensive teams, Knick fans are usually astute enough to overlook a player’s offensive deficiencies if they make up for it on the other end of the court. To the eye, Jeffries is not a lock down defender like Bruce Bowen, Ron Artest, or Raja Bell. Nor does he have superior shot blocking ability like Andrei Kirilenko or Josh Smith. He has a reputation as a solid but unspectacular defender. Unfortunately the statistics don’t back it up. 82games shows the Knicks to have been 3.1 points worse per 100 possessions on defense with Jeffries on the floor. When he’s on the floor, the opposing SF’s PER is an astounding 20.1. That is he makes Luke Walton look like Josh Howard. New York finished 24th in team defensive efficiency, up from 26th the year before, so obviously Jeffries didn’t make much of an impact.

KnickerBlogger’s Grade: F

2007-08 Outlook: New Yorkers can hope for 2 things next year with regards to Jared Jeffries. First is that Jeffries ups his game on both ends of the court. I’m at a loss in exactly what areas he could improve. I suppose being able to hit a layup and bringing more intensity on defense would be easy areas, but is this really attainable? Jeffries could benefit from becoming an unforgiving meaner player (Bruce Bowen), without being crazy (Ron Artest). But is it really likely for a player (or a human) to go through such a psychological change? Maybe a full preseason with the team will allow him to settle in more, but probably not enough to make a major difference.

The other thing that Knick fans can hope for is that Jeffries & Balkman switch minutes. Last year Jeffries averaged 24 minutes, while Balkman averaged only 16. Balkman is nearly a superior player in every aspect, save for the one post up move. So it would make sense for Renaldo to be ahead in the depth chart at small forward. Balkman had a fabulous summer league, some would say better than league MVP & teammate Nate Robinson, so it’s entirely possible that Renaldo could enter 2007 as the starting SF for the Knicks. Hopefully Isiah the coach won’t try to help Isiah the GM by trying to make Jeffries appealing to other teams by playing him more often than Balkman.

Brian Maniscalco: Unfortunately, I don’t think there is much reason to expect better things from Jeffries. Most of his per minute numbers in his first Knick season were on a par with what he did in Washington– shooting, rebounding, assisting, stealing, blocking. Only a couple of things changed appreciably, and on these stats we might expect Jeffries to return to previous levels. So look for his FT% to increase from his Chris Dudley-esque 46% in 07 to something closer to 60%, which is more at his career average. There is also some hope that his turnover rate might drop a bit. In his prior 3 seasons in Washington he averaged 14.2 turnovers per 100 possessions, but as a Knick that number ballooned up to 16.8, which is approaching Eddy Curry territory. The only thing keeping the rise in turnovers per possesion showing up in Jeffries’ turnovers per minute was, mercifully, a drop in usage rate. Nonetheless, for a player who brings nothing to the table offensively, it’s inexcusable to be turning it over on such a high fraction of his touches.

It’s also somewhat curious that Jeffries did not have a good defensive +/- since his numbers were consistently solid in Washington. Over the last 3 seasons the Wizards were 4.6, 4.4, and 4.0 points per 100 possessions better on defense with Jeffries. So why the sudden dip in his defensive +/- as a Knick? Given the consistency of his box score stats across both teams, I’m more inclined to believe that the change in defensive +/- is due to the change in context rather than a change in Jeffries’ qualities as an individual defender. For instance, it’s possible that playing with a strong interior defender like Brendan Haywood rather than a weak one like Eddy Curry helped out his defensive +/-. It’s also possible that the players logging SF minutes while Jeffries sat on the bench (principally Richardson and Balkman) were just much better defenders than the subs Jeffries had on Washington. Indeed, the Knicks were 9.2 points per 100 possessions better on defense with Balkman on the floor (which is comparable to Bowen’s defensive +/- for the Spurs in 07), which could have driven down Jeffries’ defensive +/- if he didn’t play a lot of minutes with Balkman. So it’s really hard to say if Jeffries was as ineffectual on D for the Knicks as his +/- makes him look.

But the bottom line is that Jeffries does not bring a whole lot to the table, and the negatives far outweigh the positives. The numbers suggest that Jeffries has been a good, solid defender but they are not consistent with him being a great defender. Unfortunately, no team has the luxury of giving a solid defender a prominent role when that player hurts them on offense as much as Jeffries does. Even a defensive juggernaut like Bruce Bowen chips in by keeping his turnovers low and providing a 3 point threat. Jeffries does rebound well offensively, but that’s it. He can’t shoot well from anywhere on the court, including the free throw line, and he commits turnovers at an absurdly high rate for a player whom no one– neither his teammates nor opposing defenses– considers an offensive threat. Every minute Jeffries spends on the floor in place of Balkman is a minute where the Knicks are shooting themselves in the foot. I give Jeffries’ 2006/07 effort a D because of his lapse in FT% and turnover rate relative to prior seasons. But the acquisition of Jeffries for the full MLE deserves an F-.

Trading David Lee for Kobe Bryant Straight-Up: Shrewd Sabermetrics or Laugh Test Flunkie?

In Basketball on Paper, Dean Oliver devoted an entire chapter to comparing the individual rating systems of several NBA analysts. He argued something that I, and most people who do informed analysis, subscribe to: Any system of statistical analysis cannot only be internally consistent, but must also pass the “laugh test.” A statistical model can be built elegantly and beautifully and pass many confidence intervals within its own logical parameters, but if it’s results are absurd, then there’s obviously a need to return to the proverbial drawing board. Oliver thought of the “laugh test” as a litmus. It’s a very broad, absolutely basic determinant of whether a statistic is logical or not. If your rating system projects the best players with the best numbers, then it’s probably onto something. On the other hand, if your rating system argues that Jerome James is a better center than vintage Shaquille O’Neal, then you better recheck your assumptions.

While no single computation can perfectly encompass the entire contribution of a basketball player, John Hollinger developed a system to sum up a player’s boxscore contribution and express them in one number. Player Efficiency Rating (PER) is a sophisticated equation that goes so far as to adjust for the yearly value of possession and the pace a team plays. In Hollinger’s analogy, PER serves as a way of considering players from different positions, allowing an “apples to oranges” comparison. But while PER is a handy little number, what it doesn’t do is convert statistical efficiency into actual wins. That’s where Dave Berri’s Wages of Win (WoW) steps in. WoW takes the same boxscore statistics that PER uses and converts it to a formula that measures how many wins a player produces. This metric can evaluate a player’s total contribution over the course of a season and break it down per minute. Like PER, WoW serves as a way to summarize a player’s contribution in one number.

Now, let’s ask PER who were the most productive basketball players on the planet this past season. PER picks these as its starting five:

1. Dwyane Wade SG 29.2
2. Dirk Nowitzki PF 27.9
3. Yao Ming C 26.7
4. Tim Duncan C 26.4
5. Kobe Bryant SG 26.3

Nothing to laugh at here. In fact, it’s a pretty amazing team. Wade is the best player, slightly ahead of Dirk, who is just a bit ahead of Ming, Duncan, and Bryant, who are in a dead heat for third best. If you were starting a basketball team and were given first pick at any player in the NBA you couldn’t go wrong by picking any of these five players. They’re the best of the best. Granted, PER isn’t intended to be the final word on basketball performance, but it is a good starting point for figuring out relative worth. Would you trade your 15 PER performer for a 29 PER man? Almost certainly. Of course you’d take into account team composition, need, age, defense, contract terms, but all else being equal, you’d be doing your team a service by having the greater PER over the lesser. And if the PER was almost twice greater, like say Dwyane Wade over Jamal Crawford, well, then there’s really no thinking involved. Of course you’d rather have Wade. It’s a no-brainer. In fact, by this measure, you’d rather have Wade than any single player on the Knicks current roster.

Now, WoW gets to pick its own top five. Note that in order to compare WoW to PER we’re using Wins Produced per 48 Minutes (WP/48), since these are both rate stats:

1. David Lee PF .403
2. Jason Kidd PG .403
3. Marcus Camby C .371
4. Shawn Marion F .370
5. Carlos Boozer PF .351

Look at that again. David Lee led the NBA in wins produced rate. Um…really. So according to this sophisticated, statistical model, the most productive professional basketball player on the planet is David Lee. The best. On. The. Planet. Let me say that being a die-hard Knicks fan, I will be the first to argue that Lee is an All-Star caliber forward. He’s cool, he’s great. He’s an out-of-the-box rebounding, ambidextrous-finishing, no-look passing, efficiency machine. He’s awesome! It’s just that, you know, he really doesn’t create much offense. He’s more of a great glue guy than a centerpiece. And that’s why he’s not exactly a superstar.

Now, I really love the guy. Don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t trade our man for the world. Oh, wait. Yes. Yes, I would. I’d trade David Lee in a heartbeat. For Tim Duncan. Or Yao Ming. Or Dwyane Wade. Or Kobe Bryant. Or Dirk Nowitzki. Or Lebron James. Or Amare Stoudemire. Or…OK, you get the point. I’d trade him for at least a dozen players who aren’t just All-Stars, they’re legitimate championship-level franchise cornerstones. Yet, right there in plain black and white, Wages of Win’s assumptions fail Oliver’s “laugh test.” WoW argues that Lee is the best player in the entire league, and that’s ridiculous.

WoW makes a very big deal about bucking conventional wisdom. And sure enough, statistical analysts are the ones who’re supposed to be bucking said conventional wisdom. At the Wages of Wins Journal, Berri argues that “perceptions of performance in basketball do not match the player’s actual impact on wins” because “less than 15% of wins in the NBA are explained by payroll.” However payroll isn’t a good measuring stick of perception due to the complexities of a closed system like NBA free agency. There are a host of factors on why a player may be overpaid from the talent available to the desperation of the team involved. In other words conventional wisdom thinks Rashard Lewis is overpaid at $126M, too.

So although conventional wisdom has a tendency to be wrong in some areas, figuring out sport superstars is not one of its weaknesses. There usually is a consensus on the league’s best players from both statistical analysis and conventional wisdom. The cream of the crop in the NFL are Peyton Manning, LaDanian Tomlinson, and Larry Johnson whether you go by the numbers or eyes. In MLB it would be Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard, Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Alex Rodriguez, and Johan Santana. At the top of the ladder of player evaluation, conventional wisdom is pretty much dead on.

According to WoW, David Lee (.403) is a far more productive player than Kobe Bryant (.242). Since teams with more productive players win more games than other teams, then Lee is better for your basketball team than Bryant. But why stop there? The Knicks could trade Renaldo Balkman (.272) straight up for Dwyane Wade (.255) and lose productivity. That’s right. WoW is arguing that if a Lee for Kobe, and a Balkman for Wade trade went through, then the Knicks would be a worse team for it. They’re arguing that Bryant and Wade, at the cost of our two young, talented forwards will hurt the Knicks’ productivity. You’ve got to be kidding me.

As the Knicks GM, would I pull the trigger on a Lee for Bryant deal? Is there even a debate? Who wouldn’t? Oh, right, WoW wouldn’t. WoW doesn’t even think it’s close. We can all disagree on which player is the very best (or the most productive), but WoW’s results are “laughable.” Dave Berri has criticized PER in the past, but before people can begin to take WoW as seriously as a tool for evaluating player performance as PER, it’s obviously going to have to address what caused this terrible absurdity in its rating process.

The Real Sports Story is the Gambling

We are now officially in the NBA’s dog days, that period where the marquee free agents have all signed but training camps are still weeks away. So I thought it’d be interesting to take a weekend break from our regularly scheduled basketball banter to attend to the unfolding dogfighting allegations against Michael Vick. And so I could spend some time with 666 casino, I yearned to try the latest released casino games since the last month.

Knicks fans may recall Qyntel Woods, who came to the team after essentially being run out of Portland following his involvement in dogfighting and subsequent plea to misdemeanor animal cruelty charges. The difference between Woods’ situation and Vick’s indictment is not a trivial one. It lies in the scale and scope of the alleged enterprises. If you are so inclined you can download the federal indictment against Vick (a/k/a “Ookie”) along with three other defendants (Adobe Acrobat Reader required).

Now I’m no animal enthusiast. I’ve never owned a pet, not even as a child. But animal bloodsports, whether it’s dogs, cocks, or even bullfights, seem incredibly cruel to me. Putting aside that they are violations of federal and most states’ laws, they just aren’t my cup of tea no matter how acceptable they are in a given local culture. Still, my personal distaste for bloodsports isn’t the point of this blog entry.

What I find noteworthy about the Vick indictment is its potential to create a major gash in the NFL’s seemingly impregnable brand. I continue to marvel at how the NFL has managed to escape the steroid/HGH witch hunt that beset baseball despite having a much longer history of steroid abuse and far stronger circumstantial grounds for half-cocked speculation. Shawne Merriman went to the Pro Bowl the same year he was suspended for steroid use with media backlash barely comparable (maybe even less) to that aimed at the likes of Gary Matthews, Jr.

What may make Vick’s case stick to the heretofore Teflon NFL shield this time however is the presence of the word “gambling” in his indictment. This isn’t a case of boorish behavior (a la Stephen Jackson’s, Pac Man Jones’, and Tank Johnson’s nightclub escapades). This isn’t Nate Newton making a midnight run in a van filled to the windows with weed. This is not even the embarrassing number of NFL players, like Jamal Lewis or former Tampa Bay placekicker Donald Iguebuike, indicted for their direct involvement in serious drug deals while playing. (Note: Lewis was convicted on lesser charges while Iguebuike was acquitted.)

In the Vick case gambling is the sports story–not dogfighting. The dogfighting is a story about cruelty, in my opinion. Not surprisingly, the dogfighting has been the A-plot thus far in a slow news summer. That’s quite likely to change over time, especially now that the enterprise operating on Vick’s property has been shut down. Player involvement in illegal gambling has always been a special kind of no-no in pro and college sports in a way that other kinds of crimes are not for one big obvious reason. Illegal gambling attracts organized crime–real organized crime. It has never mattered to sports leagues since the Black Sox whether a player is taking action in his own sport or other sports. Gambling attracts the kinds of criminals that potentially compromise players and ultimately threaten the integrity of their play. I should note, no one is speculating that Vick is consorting with the Sopranos or the Goodfellas. Rather, the indictment says that he and his co-defendants are freelancers who set up their own little tax-exempt dogfighting slice of Vegas in suburban Atlanta.

In fact once I saw the size of the Vick compound I immediately speculated that gambling attracted the feds to this case, animal cruelty notwithstanding. Dogfighting may be senseless macho cruelty aimed at animals but it’s also a growing national spectacle where wagers are routine. CBSNews.com reports champion dogs netting upwards of $100,000 in winnings for their owners. The Vick indictment puts the typical pot in each fight at about $2000–$1000 for each side. But some of the pots from these regional events allegedly went into the tens of thousands, suggesting that real money is being wagered. That kind of money draws shoeflies.

The Vick indictment explicitly charges him and the other defendants with gambling, in violation of both Virginia and U.S. statutes. Of course I have no idea about Vick’s involvement in this matter beyond his ownership of the property. It’s not my place to sit in judgment of him or the other defendants; nor do I feel any compulsion to do so. Yet, the specter of one of the league’s five or six most marketable assets engaged in a shady underground criminal enterprise must bewilder the new commissioner and Falcon’s owner Arthur Blank. I’m not suggesting the NFL is going to fold up its tent even if Vick is convicted but at minimum this is going to be very, very costly to the Falcons and to the league in the short term.

There is an interesting irony in all this. Player involvement in gambling has always been a no-no but the NFL’s emergence as the newest bully on the sports block has been fueled in large part by gambling. “The Shield” is by far the most gambler-friendly of the big three leagues, and unabashedly so. The league is not at all shy about Vegas betting lines, where these are virtually never mentioned on official league-sponsored NBA or MLB telecasts. The league’s frequent and detailed injury status reports to the public are about gambling, not goodwill. Even way back in the old days, in 2003 B.D.–that’s Before DirecTV–a BusinessWeek article reported that the annual action on the NFL in Vegas was $560 million, roughly 12% of league revenue, and that’s just on legal bets. If anything the DirecTV contract inflated the Vegas action by bringing more teams into the living rooms of sports’ most… ahem… loyal fans. Now, perhaps the most potent challenge to the NFL brand’s newfound front-runner status comes in the form of a dogfighting scandal that is likely to turn into a gambling scandal.

Wait. On second thought, maybe that’s not ironic at all.

Knicks 2007 Report Card (A to Z): Jerome James

KnickerBlogger: At the time of Jerome James’ signing, I kept some quotes from RealGM’s Knick message board, because they were quite optimistic. Unfortunately RealGM has decided to scrub their message board of anything over a certain age, so I can’t link to these quotes, nor can I attribute them to the original author. I can’t take credit for the wisdom of the quotes, but I can take credit for the title in bold for each of them.

There’s a Nazr Thomas?

Certainly James is as good as Nazr and Kurt Thomas.

Jerome James has a jump shot from 7 feet away? or Is “size” an SAT word?

James has the sice and strength to hold down the middle for us and he’s shown great ability in the playoffs (when it matters the most). Let’s give his 7 footer a shot before we bash Isiah, please.

Better than Wilt too, although I’m pretty sure the stats don’t back that up either.

James is also better than Hunter, even if the stats don’t back that up.

I guess another roommate could help pay the rent.

Please live with Jerome James- He will get more rebounds he played along side with Evans and Fortson- he will only get more rebounds. He will get more minutes which will produce into more rebounds!

And if he doesn’t?

If James plays to the potential he showed in the playoffs, he’s a good choice.
I restate what I just said: Centers tend to be overpaid. All James has to do is clog the lane, body up on defense, and rebound. The Knicks will be fine.

Paging Red Holzman

I still think, though, that James will play like he did in the playoffs with the right coach for the Knicks.

F this quote!

F the stats, F how much we paid him. How about the fact that IT saw something in James that he thinks is worth bringing him to NY!!

It’s hard to look historically back on the Jerome James signing and see any positives. With one good playoff series, after 5 years of mediocre play, James could have hung a sign on his head that said “someone will overpay me.” And the Knicks did. It’s not the worst move that Isiah Thomas has done, but consider that the James signing had two negative aspects. The first was the loss of Jackie Butler. James’ contract made Butler expendable. And although Butler languished at the end of the Spurs bench, remember that he’s still only 22 years old and is $18M cheaper than James. Butler was recently acquired by Houston, to backup Yao Ming and the undying zombie known as Dikembe Mutombo.

Second is that James’ signing hurt the Knicks on the court this year. James’ worst trait as a ‘defensive specialist’ was his awful foul rate. James committed 11 fouls for 40 minutes – nearly double the next Knick (Malik Rose) and nearly triple that of fourth string center Kelvin Cato (4.2 PF/40). That ratio is so bad, that given the opportunity Jerome James would foul out of a game in 22 minutes. I’m convinced that Cato would have been a better solution for the Knicks (again at a fraction of the cost). While neither Cato nor James could score, Cato was much better on defense. You could judge them by point differential (the Knicks were 10.2 points per 100 possession better with Cato on the court, versus 6.9 for James) or traditional stats (4.2 to 2.2 BLK/40, 1.3 to 0.9 STL/40, 13.1 to 9.7 REB/40). Although the Knicks were desperate for defense, Isiah could have found a better solution than playing Jerome James.

KnickerBlogger’s Grade: F

2008 Outlook: Two things will keep James a Knick for another year. The first being James’ contract, the second being the lack of defense from the rest of the team. Isiah Thomas was so desperate for defensive help that he inserted James into starting lineup for a stretch this year. Just because James started, didn’t mean he’d get a lot of playing time. Frequently he would head to the bench after 2 fouls and never come back into the game. With 17 players under contract, there is a possibility that Jerome James will get cut, but something tells me Isiah likes his moxie, and James will see some court time in 2008.

Dave Crockett

I’ll tell you what bothered me most about the James signing. Basketball defense begins on the perimeter; the objective of good defensive teams is to keep the offense from getting the ball to high percentage areas. Defense in “the paint” is vital but is unlikely to matter much if the offense is getting easy shots. Until he signed Jared Jeffries and drafted Renaldo Balkman it wasn’t clear that Thomas paid much attention to his perimeter defense. Thomas didn’t just overpay for what he thought he was getting in James he was wrong for thinking it in the first place, especially considering his ability to find cheap defensive specialists in the bargain bin (e.g., Kelvin Cato). I actually count “Big Snacks” as Thomas’ worst move. It was not his most expensive or most destructive but it was his most wreckless. It was the equivalent of looking both ways and still walking out in front of traffic.