Seven Seconds or Mess: Webisode 18

I know it’s been a while, KB, but the 7SoM is back. If you’re curious about where I’ve been just read the first paragraph here.

I’ve missed the opportunity to break down the collapse of the team’s playoff hunt but the issues that caused it are the same issues I’ve tried to lay out on tape all season. So with the remaining schedule I’ll be pointing out some of the negative aspects of the Knicks’ key players.

First up is David Lee whose shortcomings on the defensive end have been on display in previous episodes. In episode 18, I show his unwillingness to rotate to players getting into the lane opting to stick with Dwight Howard instead. Well with Howard finishing with 29 points on 12-18 shooting and 14 rebounds (four offensive), Lee’s decision didn’t make a difference.

(Click HQ.)

Now this isn’t something that we don’t already know about Lee but the layups by Hedo Turkoglu and Courtney Lee were part of Orlando’s fourth quarter comeback and just reinforces the fact that the Knicks need a defensive presence inside. And on a night when the Magic shot an uncharacteristically poor 7-25 from three point territory, they were able to get into the paint and score with ease.

So how do you feel about Lee’s defense?

Haven’t the Knicks Improved?

Earlier today, the Pro Basketball News featured an article on the Knicks on their front page. It was entitled “Same old New York” and claimed that “a closer look reveals that the Knicks aren’t any better in their first year under Mike D’Antoni than they were in their first under Isiah Thomas.” Intrigued, I copied the text of the article to my blackberry to read on the train ride in. Unfortunately during the trip I was so upset by the writing that I started making notes on the back of a magazine to write this blog about it.

The author, David Friedman, talks about the Knicks hot start and recent cool down. He shows D’Antoni’s current win percentage to be similar to Isiah’s first year, which I thought was odd since it’s more relevant to use the previous season. However I let it slide because Friedman promised to use “several key statistics” to prove his point.

The Knicks have improved from 21st in scoring last season (96.9 ppg) to fourth this season (105.6 ppg) but they have dropped from 22nd in points allowed (103.5 ppg) to 28th (108.2 ppg) and their point differential of -2.6 ppg ranks in the bottom third of the league (22nd), only a few spots better than last season (-6.6 ppg, 25th). The Knicks were last in field-goal percentage differential last season (-.036) and they are last again this season (-.038). Although Lee has emerged as a nightly double-double threat, the Knicks have markedly declined overall on the boards, dropping from 18th in rebounding differential (-.1) to 27th (-3.9). A team that consistently gets out-shot and out-rebounded obviously has no realistic chance to be successful, no matter how many points it scores or how many players post career high individual numbers.

Long time KnickerBlogger readers will know that Friedman’s choice of per game stats is a poor choice of rating a team’s ability. By using per possession stats, we can see that the Knicks are currently 15th & 23rd on offense and defense respectively. This is a clear improvement from last year’s team which was 23rd on offense and 29th on defense. It’s true that the rebounding has slipped, although the Knicks are better on the defensive glass. Although it’s not true that the team is worse off in shooting percentage. Using eFG we can see that last year the team had a shooting differential of -4.3%, which has risen to -1.9% under D’Antoni.

The author moves from talking about the Knicks to an overall indictment of D’Antoni’s style of play. He accuses the coach of “neglecting the defensive end of the court” (something that was refuted by Kevin Pelton earlier this year) and launches into a defense wins championships attack on D’Antoni. His proof is that the “[Chicago Bulls] consistently rebounded and defended well… en route to the 1996 championship the Bulls won seven of the eight playoff games in which Jordan shot .440 or worse from the field.” It’s true that those Bulls teams played great defense, but let’s not forget that they were fueled by their offense. Of their 6 championship teams, Chicago was ranked #1 on offense 4 times and #1 on defense only once. In the two years they didn’t win (without Jordan) the team still was strong defensively (2nd & 6th) but couldn’t muster the offense to sustain a playoff run (10th & 14th). As for Friedman’s example, in those 8 games Jordan averaged 25.9 pts, 9 fta, and 1.4 3pm. Hardly an offensive hardship for the team.

You can excuse Friedman for using archaic stats, but what’s not excusable is how he cherry picks the facts to support his argument. He specifically picks Isiah’s first season to compare with D’Antoni, because the numbers are much closer (.402 to .406) than comparing D’Antoni’s improvement over last year (.280 to .406). You have to wonder if he spelled out ‘fourth’ because saying the team improved from 21st to 4th is easier to process visually. And take for example his paragraph on the Knicks where Friedman ignores one key piece of evidence: point differential. By using points per game, he shows that the Knicks have improved by 4 points over last year (from -6.6 to -2.6). However this significant change is swept under the rug with “[it’s] only a few spots better than last season.” You get the feeling that Freidman made up his mind long before he checked the stats out. As a statistical sports blogger, I get a lot of readers new to the field that have a general distrust of numbers. Statistically dishonest articles like Freidman’s helps to reinforce this skepticism, and are a disservice to all sports writers.

Knicks Signed Courtney Sims

Thanks to TDM from the forums for the heads up. New York has let Cheikh Samb’s 10 day contract expire, and has signed Courtney Sims instead. Sims brings a different skill set to the team. DraftExpress praised his hands (“his touch is absolutely terrific”) and said he was more refined scorer than the other D-League big men due to his ability to create his own shot. Unfortunately his defense is suspect.

Defensively, Sims still has plenty of room for improvement, as he gave up position far too easily in the paint and also did a poor job for the most part rotating to meet slashers in the paint. He has the length to contest shots, but does not have very good awareness on this end of the floor, probably lacking some toughness as well as strength. Considering what his role would be in the NBA, this is definitely an issue if he’s to see quality minutes as a rotation player. He seems to lose his focus quite easily, especially when a bad call goes against him—leading him to completely lose his composure.

I took the time to compile his full D-League stats, and they show him to be a more well rounded player than Samb. The 22pts/36 sticks out the most, especially when accompanied by the high efficiency. The rebounding is adequate, and the blocked shots are above par. It’ll be interesting to see how that translates to the NBA level. Of course the biggest obstacle is D’Antoni who holds the keys to Sims’ minutes. Hopefully we’ll see a little more of Sims than his last two NBA teams (4 games, 13 mintues) to get a better understanding of his skillset.

33.5 13.8 61% 6.7 74% 3.5 6.8 10.3 1.4 0.5 1.8 2.6 3.4 22.0 66%

From insidehoops:

The New York Knickerbockers President of Basketball Operations Donnie Walsh announced today that free agent center Courtney Sims has been signed to a 10-day contract. Sims, a member of the Iowa Energy, became the 16th Call-Up of the 2008-09 NBA Development League season.

Sims, 6-11, 245-pounds, was undrafted out of the University of Michigan and has played a total of 13 minutes in four NBA games with Indiana and Phoenix over the last two seasons. The Roslindale, MA-native was signed as a free agent by Indiana on Oct. 2, 2007 and played in three games last season with the Pacers before being waived on Dec. 19, 2007. Sims spent the remainder of the 2007-08 season and the beginning of this 2008-09 campaign with the NBA Development League’s Iowa Energy. He signed two 10-day contracts with the Phoenix Suns beginning on Jan. 20, 2009 and appeared in one game for the Suns this season.

Cheikh Samb’s 10-day contract had expired and the club elected not to re-sign him. The Knicks roster stands at 14 players.

To comment on this article, please use this Courtney Sims forum topic.

Wanted: Orlando’s Broadcast of 3/21/09’s Game

The wrote a wrap up of yesterday’s Knicks-Magic game that included some four factor analysis. But apparently they’re not the only ones covering the Magic that are using advanced stats. This morning I received this in my inbox:


I thought you’d like to know that Magic color commentator Matt Guokas mentioned your site tonight when discussing advanced stats. I’m not sure if you’ve ever heard a Magic telecast, but Guokas and play-by-play man David Steele have a reasonably sophisticated knowledge of advanced stats. They’re the only guys I know who refer to pace, offensive efficiency, and defensive efficiency.

Anyway, during tonight’s telecast, Steele playfully asked Guokas the source of one statistic he used (it sounded like Steele believed Guokas made it up) and Guokas said something to the effect of, “I have several.” When Steele pressed further, Guokas said something like, “One of the places I visit is KnickerBlogger. They have all the defensive and offensive efficiencies, pace, effective field goal percentage, all that stuff.” Unfortunately, I do not have an exact transcript of what he said, but I do know that KnickerBlogger was the only site he mentioned, and he specifically named those four stats as things one can find on KnickerBlogger.

So congratulations, Mike. You’ve hit the big-time, at least in Orlando’s TV market.
“Ben Q. Rock”

I’d love to hear exactly what Matt said, so if anyone has a broadcast of the game from Orlando’s side in any format drop me an email (there’s a link at the top of this post). I’d love to get my hands on it.

Oh and if you’re reading this Matt, feel free to drop me a line as well. We can chat about stats.

Knicks Should Concede Season

New York’s Wednesday’s loss against the Nets was especially tough. The team had gone on a mini-3 game win streak before dropping one to powerhouse Cleveland, and beating the Nets at home would have helped them get back on the playoff track. Instead they suffered a disheartening 115-89 defeat. At halftime the Knicks were only down by 11, but New Jersey expanded the lead slowly over the third quarter and the game slipped away from the Knicks. With under 4 minutes remaining and the win out of his grasp, Coach D’Antoni conceded the victory and brought in reserves Samb, Wilcox, and Nichols.

Looking at the standings New York is 3 games out of the 8th seed with 15 to play. But they would also have to leapfrog 4 other teams to accomplish that goal. Exactly one month ago New York’s chances to make the playoffs were 8.9%, but today it stands at a only 1.7%. Just to give a visual of how small those odds are, if we round them up to 2% the Knicks chances of making the playoffs it looks like this:


Unfortunately the Knicks’ standings in the lottery haven’t improved much either. Back in February their chances of getting the overall pick was 1.3%, and today Basketball-Reference has them at 1.4%. While the playoff push was the right thing for D’Antoni to do, it seems that the time to get the 8th seed has come and gone. Much like the Nets game, the Knicks should concede the rest of the season and use the remaining 15 games to prepare for next year. One way is to allow Nate Robinson to be the starting point guard (which may have already occurred). Another is to give minutes to Wilcox, Curry (if healthy), Samb, and Nichols in order to better understand how they may help the team. For Wilcox and Curry getting court time might allow them to gain D’Antoni’s trust. For the latter two, getting minutes would help the front office determine if they are worthy of a roster spot.

And in the interim, playing the reserves would increase New York’s standings in the June draft. While the only team that they might realistically pass is Indiana (who is 1 game away from the Knicks), it’s just as important for New York to not allow any of the teams ahead of them to improve their draft day position. The Bucks, Bobcats, and Nets are all within 2 games of the Knicks. From any perspective the worst scenario would be New York passing all those teams in the standings without making the playoffs. If D’Antoni shifts his main focus from winning individual games to developing the end of his bench, New York would probably avoid such a undesirable fate.

Knicks 116 Pistons 111 (OT)

I actually got to watch the game live last night. That’s a tall order for someone who has a 2 year old child and an expecting wife. I didn’t watch the whole game, just the second half. During the fourth quarter when the Knicks had made the game close, I had turned to my wife and said I miss the Knicks being good. Maybe I’m nostalgic for the old days, but it seemed like when the Knicks were winning the city was a more exciting place. Even though they won, I felt something missing because for the most part it was a meaningless game.

Oh I know the playoffs are still a possibility, but a remote one. New York has to leapfrog 5 teams to get to the last playoff spot. Even if the Knicks make the playoffs, all they will have earned is a first round kick in the ass. Don’t get me wrong, at the end of the season I’d be happy if the Knicks make the playoffs. But there is a part of me that is saying I’ll regret that a year from now if the team missed out on a good young player because they drafted later than they should have.

I enjoyed watching yesterday’s game tremendously, but I couldn’t help to think what if it were a playoff game? For nearly a decade I’ve watched the NBA playoffs, but mostly from the perspective of a third party. Watching the NBA playoffs is like watching that show that your girlfriend likes. You get into it because you’re forced to watch it, and you eventually find something to relate to. But in the end it’s still not what you’d prefer to watch. The emotion you have for that show lasts only as long as your relationship with her. And deep inside you know that as your watching it.

On an odd note, I ran into Martin Johnson (formerly of the NY Sun, now of the Root) at the bar last night. Considering the number of times I go out, that’s a rare occurrence. I spoke with him about the Knicks and 2010, and we made a friendly wager. If the Knicks sign LeBron James, Johnson will agree to write a column for KnickerBlogger. If not I owe him a couple of beers. I feel like this is one of those PTI bets where the option is the favorite vs. the field. Of course it’s better to have the field, because it’s rare for one option to happen over the many. There will be a few teams opening their pockets to James, and New York might not be considered the favorite over his current team Cleveland. But I figured the bet was well worth it.

Why Nate Must Play

The most obvious reason is that Chris Duhon is killing us. Whether you think he was due to plummet back to earth following his hot-shooting start or you think he was ground to the nub by unsustainable usage, the fact is that when Duhon is turning the ball over he usually doesn’t do enough in other categories to offset that. And wow is he turning the ball over. According to his 22.4 turnover % after 61 games is well above his career average of 18.3%. In fairness, he is delivering a career high assist % of 29, though it is not as far off from his career average (27.1) as his turnovers. Moreover, teams appear to have figured out that Duhon has trouble finishing at the rim with his ailing back. Consequently, it has become more difficult to feed David Lee on the screen roll as teams play the passing lanes. Whatever his other faults, Nate Robinson has a) never been turnover prone, b) has put up decent assist numbers, and c) has been a better than average shooter throughout his career. According to the Knickerblogger stat page Robinson’s 18.4 assist rate compares favorably to other combo guards like Mo Williams (19) and Brandon Roy (18.8).

As the season moves into its “let’s pretend we are still playing meaningful games” phase, we know a lot about what the Knicks are and what they are not. If a playoff run is forthcoming it probably won’t be because Chris Duhon shoots his way out of his current slump. It will be because D’Antoni is playing his best players the lion’s share of the minutes. That’s kinda what I thought we would be getting from D’Antoni. However, he’s been slower than I would have expected to make a commitment to Nate. Duhon, with his 57.6 TS% on the year, way above his career mark, has been better than anyone had a right to expect. So it’s hard to fault D’Antoni too much for riding with him. However, given Duhon’s inability to finish at the rim due to his ailing back I have every reason to expect his slump to continue. He may get hot again from the three point line, but his current shooting slump feels a lot like regression to the mean. To D’Antoni’s credit, Nate has been a big part of his end-of-game group for a while. Even without considering the off-season, the time has come for Nate Robinson to take an even bigger share of Duhon’s minutes regardless of who starts.

I suppose you cannot create an entry about Nate Robinson without addressing the maturity issue. My intuition is to say that it’s a problem, if exaggerated at times. Some people are naturally put off by Nate’s showmanship. I happen to not be one of them but recognize that your mileage may vary. One thing most observers would agree on, I think, is that Nate is too easily distracted by nonsense that gets him out of sync. In Nate’s defense (somewhat), he takes a good bit of post-whistle contact in games I watch, especially from big men when he goes to the rim. Whether intentionally designed to bait him, this sort of thing too easily succeeds in shifting Nate’s focus to a running confrontation between he and some player, some fan, or worse, between he and the officials. It’s easy to exaggerate the impact that sort of thing has on a given game, but its effects can be corrosive because it moves his focus away from where it should be–on the next play. Nate’s got to work on that.