Leitch’s Knicks

Will Leitch, of Deadspin fame, wrote in New York Magazine how the Knicks can survive the next 18 months. In the article he offers 6 steps the team should take:

1. Don’t match a multiyear offer for Nate Robinson.
2. Don’t sign David Lee unless the market forces you. If it does, trade him.
3. Call Eddy Curry to make sure he’s on the treadmill.
4. Draft Stephen Curry.
5. Trade for Tracy McGrady.
6. Stay patient.

So what would the team’s roster look like if they followed Leitch’s advice? Well let’s assume that the Knicks don’t resign Nate Robinson and allows him to leave as a free agent. And let’s also assume that another team is willing to sign David Lee to a large deal ($10M). According to Leitch, the Knicks should resign him, but then look to trade the young power forward. But what could New York get in return for Lee?

One option could be trading Lee to the Bulls for Tyrus Thomas. There are rumors that Chicago has been shopping their young forward around. To make the salaries match, Tim Thomas $6.5M expiring contract would need to be added to the deal. Tyrus is scheduled to make $6.2M in 2011 which means the Knicks would save about $4M in the swap.

The most controversial piece of Leitch’s plan is trading for Tracy McGrady. In light of the Rockets success without him, it’s possible that they would look to move their superstar. Leitch suggests Hughes and Mobley could do the trick. For Houston, losing McGrady could be addition by subtraction, and they would also gain about $7.5M because Mobley’s insurance would pay 80% of his salary. Personally I think it would take more to get T-Mac, but for argument’s sake let’s assume the deal would go through. So where does that leave the Knicks?

2010 ROSTER
PG: Duhon/S.Curry
SG: Chandler/S.Curry
SF: McGrady/Gallinari
PF: Tyrus/Harrington/Tim Thomas/
C: E.Curry/Jeffries/Sene

2011 ROSTER
PG: S.Curry
SG: Chandler
SF: Gallinari
PF: Tyrus
C: E.Curry/Jeffries

Leitch’s 2010 Knicks will be more weak at the guard position than the 2009 version. After trading Jamal Crawford and Mardy Collins, exiling Stephon Marbury, and wasting a courtside seat on Anthony Roberson, last year’s team was starving for guards. Replacing Nate Robinson with Stephen Curry would make the position less stable for the Knicks. Robinson was a candidate for 6th man of the year, and it’s unknown if Curry can handle the point guard duties at the NBA level. An injury to Duhon would be disastrous for the team.

As for T-Mac, he has been in a steady decline over the last few seasons, isn’t very efficient even when healthy, and will be coming off a serious injury. The Knicks have a poor track record with former All Stars coming off knee injuries (McDyess, Houston). With McGrady, New York would take a major hit in shooting efficiency as T-Mac hasn’t posted a TS% above 53% in 7 seasons. The team would be losing their 1st and 4th most efficient scorers (Lee 59.0% TS%, Robinson 54.9%). Tyrus Thomas, albeit an athletic shotblocker that the Knicks sorely need, doesn’t help in this area either (52.5% TS% last year, 51.5% career).

As for the 2011 roster, New York would only have 5 players under contract. With Lee and Robinson gone, they would have about $9M more to spend in free agency. That could mean the team would have enough room for two major free agents, however the cupboard would be more bare. The core of the team would be filled with unproven players like Gallinari, Chandler, Tyrus Thomas, and Stephen Curry. The lack of depth could hamper their efforts to lure one or more top free agents.

There are situations where the Knicks could lose both Lee & Robinson and still be successful, but I think the team needs to tread carefully. I don’t think it’s a good idea to let Robinson leave without receiving something in return, even if they draft Curry. The two can co-exist, even if it’s just long enough until the Knicks can move Robinson mid-season. If Nate does leave, the team needs to grab another point guard, preferably one that will develop into the 2011 starter.

Moving Lee to save cap space isn’t a bad idea, but getting the right player(s) is pivotal. Lee is an above average player, the kind that you could insert into just about any team and quietly gain results. And he’s just entering his prime years. Maybe the Knicks could address their needs at guard and center by swapping Lee for Milicic/Conley. Milicic would help out with the center rotation (and blocking shots) in 2010 and have his contract expire that summer. While Conley would only cost the team $4.9M in 2011, and provide them a better long term solution at point guard.

Currently Lee and Robinson are New York’s two best young players, so the team would be worse in 2010 without the pair. But more importantly moving them without getting solid prospects in return could really hurt the Knicks in 2011 as well.

Cleveland Down 3 to 1

With the Cavaliers down 3 to 1 to the Orlando Magic, now seems like a good time to look at the numbers to see what’s going on.

TEAM GAME PTS POSS OE eFG TO OREB FT
ORL 1.0 107.0 89.9 119.0 60.9 14.5 17.8 15.4
CLE 1.0 106.0 93.6 113.2 53.4 8.5 19.0 13.6
TEAM GAME PTS POSS OE eFG TO OREB FT
ORL 2.0 95.0 87.2 108.9 54.9 13.8 14.6 23.9
CLE 2.0 96.0 93.2 103.0 48.7 15.0 18.2 27.3
TEAM GAME PTS POSS OE eFG TO OREB FT
CLE 3.0 89.0 96.3 92.4 40.4 15.6 20.4 33.3
ORL 3.0 99.0 90.5 109.4 47.6 14.4 15.4 61.9
TEAM GAME PTS POSS OE eFG TO OREB FT
CLE 4.0 114.0 108.7 104.8 48.3 12.9 13.0 34.5
ORL 4.0 116.0 99.0 117.1 60.6 15.1 8.3 23.8
TEAM GAME PTS POSS OE eFG TO OREB FT
ORL TOT 417.0 366.4 113.8 56.5 14.5 14.0 29.8
CLE TOT 405.0 392.1 103.3 47.9 13.0 17.5 27.0

The overwhelming factor in this series is the discrepancy in shooting percentage. The Magic have won the eFG battle in every game, and for those familiar with four factor analysis know that shooting is by far the important element. And just like in the Nuggets/Lakers game you have to be really good to overcome such a deficit. Cleveland’s only victory (game 2) coincided with the smallest difference in shooting (-6.2% eFG), and they were superior in rebounding and free throws.

The Magic’s eFG during the season was 52.0%, and they’re averaging a more robust 56.5% against Cleveland. Meanwhile they are holding the Cavs to 47.9%. In fact Cleveland has only bested their regular season average of 51.9% once (Game 1). So Orlando is getting it done on both ends of the floor. If Cleveland is looking for a scapegoat, they can point the finger at their backcourt. Mo Williams is shooting a paltry 36.6% (23-71, 6 3PM), while Delonte West’s eFG is a mediocre 48.9% (20-46, 5 3PM). LeBron James (55% eFG, 56-110, 9 3PM) will need more help from the pair if he’s going to dig his team out of a 3-1 hole.

Pre-Draft Camp Mock and Draft Thoughts Part II: L-O-T-T-O!

If you haven’t already done so take a look at Part I, done prior to the lottery.

Now that the ping pong balls have bounced, leaving our beloved Knickerbockers no better or worse off than they’d have been just based on record, I’ll re-work the lottery picks and post the remainder of this first round mock.

1. LA Clippers – Blake Griffin, PF, Oklahoma: If Mike Dunleavy’s recent declaration of undying love for Blake Griffin is true then he’ll probably trade players to clear room for his new beloved. If it’s not true then the #1 pick may represent a rare opportunity to clean up a roster that is a mess, possibly in one fell swoop. (Previously: Ricky Rubio)

2. Memphis – Ricky Rubio, PG, Spain: Choosing Rubio has its advantages, regardless of whether he wants to play in Memphis. His rights become an asset for the asset-starved Grizz. Even though Memphis should do this, no player in this draft generates more ambivalence for me than Rubio. The talent is evident, but there are lots of reasons it may not work out for the team that drafts him. (Previously: Demar DeRozan)

3. Oklahoma City – Hasheem Thabeet, C, UConn: Thabeet may be a one-trick pony but his trick is precisely what OKC needs. He’s a defensive anchor, with a decent shot at becoming a more athletic Mutombo. The downside is that he will probably never be even an average offensive player. But, in this draft there’s something to be said for being fairly certain of a player’s “floor”. (Previously: Brandon Jennings)

4. Sacramento – Brandon Jennings, PG, Italy: Sactown will most likely take the best PG left on the board. I suspect Rubio would prefer Sactown over Memphis, and perhaps a deal can be struck. (Previously: Blake Griffin)

5. Washington – Jordan Hill, PF, Arizona: The Wiz is the team I think most likely to deal its pick. If they keep it they’ll be looking for depth that could help in a pinch, but with some upside. Hill is a lot like Chris Wilcox. (Previously: Hasheem Thabeet)

6. Minnesota – Tyreke Evans, G, Memphis: I think Minny opts for the highest upside player on the board regardless of position. It could be Evans, depending on workouts. It could also be Hill, Jennings, DeRozan, or Lawson. Almost literally nothing they do would surprise me, which I hope they interpret as a challenge. (Previously: Evans)

7. Golden State – James Harden, G, Arizona State: I’ve loved to watch this kid play since he was a junior in high school. To me he’s the 6’5″ Paul Pierce. Other mocks have him higher right now, but I expect that on draft night he’ll slide in between 5 and 8. (Previously: Jordan Hill)

8. New York – Ty Lawson, G, UNC: I almost pulled the trigger on Lawson in the previous version. Now that I think Nate Robinson most likely will be signed-and-traded this July, Lawson becomes a better fit. He used to be just a fly-down-the floor guard (and frankly, there is something to be said for that) but his screen roll game has really evolved. I expect him to shine in workouts. He may be this year’s Westbrook–an already well-regarded player who vaults up the board based on superior workouts. Oh, and I really hope Walsh can find a 2nd round pick this year. This draft has some potentially very useful role players. (Previously: James Harden)

9. Toronto – Stephen Curry, G, Davidson: Is it possible to NOT love Steph Curry’s game? He fits Toronto like a glove, even down to his weaknesses (i.e., lateral quickness, overall athleticism, defense). He’s also the right kid to play outside the lower 48. This is a makes-too-much-sense-NOT-to-happen move if Curry is available. (Previously: Stephen Curry)

10. Milwaukee – Dejaun Blair, PF/C, Pittsburgh: Blair’s rebounding and long arms may get him to the top ten. (Previously: Ty Lawson)

11. New Jersey – Demar DeRozan, SF, USC: I think DeRozan is the biggest gamble this draft. It’s just not clear if he’s really good at anything yet. Add to that, he may be leaving town one step ahead of the sheriff with allegations of payola hanging over Tim Floyd at USC. Having said that, I’d honestly be a bit surprised if someone doesn’t pull the trigger on him earlier. (Previously: Jeff Teague)

12. Charlotte – Gerald Henderson, SG, Duke: With Larry Brown making personnel decisions, there is simply no way to anticipate what he’ll do. What I can probably write down is “scrappy, hard-nosed defender with a high basketball IQ” and just wait to fill in the name. I like Henderson as a solid sixth man who plays both ends. (Previously: Gerald Henderson)

13. Indiana – Jrue Holiday, G, UCLA: Holiday was probably among the most shocked when Darren Collison return to UCLA for his senior season. That moved Holiday to SG, where he struggled playing limited minutes out of position for a team with a style that doesn’t exactly fit his strengths. I’m not an “everyone should play one year!” guy, but Holiday should go back to school for another year. He’d definitely move to PG this year and could vault himself into the top 5 of next year’s draft. He may yet do so in this draft based on workouts, but the new format doesn’t allow as many chances for teams to see players as in the past. As of this writing he hasn’t hired an agent, but everything I have read suggests that he’s in the draft to stay. (Previously: Earl Clark)

14. Phoenix – Johnny Flynn, PG, Syracuse: The rumor mill says that Phoenix likes him. We’ll take that as a baseline pick. (Previously: Johnny Flynn)

15. Detroit – Earl Clark, F, Louisville: I am not a fan of Clark’s offensive game, particularly shot selection, but he’s a good defender. (Previously: Wayne Ellington)

Once we get out of the lottery, beauty will be in the eye of the beholder. I expect trades galore and one or two “who the hell is that guy!?” selections as well.

16. Chicago – Jeff Teague, G, Wake Forest: Teague is an undersized SG, a high-usage player both years at Wake but improved his TS% from 59% to 62% almost exclusively by getting to the line. He looks like Ben Gordon with a clue.

17. Philadelphia – Chase Budinger, SG/SF, Arizona: I posted a fairly extensive take on him at Arizona Desert Swarm. At this point in the draft he’s a bargain as a 6th or 7th man. It’s also worth noting that Philadelphia currently puts absolute blechhh! on the floor at SG.

18. Minnesota – BJ Mullens, C, Ohio State: This would be a reasonable gamble on size, athleticism, and potential in the high teens.

19. Atlanta – Terrance Williams, SG/SF, Louisville: Like his Cardinal counterpart, Williams brings much more to the floor in defense and other areas unrelated to scoring. For its part Atlanta doesn’t need another mouth to feed on offense. Williams could bring back a little of what they miss since Josh Childress left for Greece.

20. Utah – Sam Young, SF, Pittsburgh: He plays a similar game to Matt Harpring; a little jump shot and a lot of bruises.

21. New Orleans – Marcus Thornton, SG, LSU: I’m not a huge fan of Thorton as a playmaker, where he was often miscast in college. As the new (better) Janero Pargo I like him a lot better.

22. Dallas – James Johnson, F, Wake Forest: I think the Mavs take the most athletic front court player they can find at 22.

23. Sacramento – Tyler Hansborough, PF, North Carolina: Hansborough isn’t a first or even second option in the NBA, but he will rebound, run the floor, get to the line, and should be a decent pick and pop player. DraftExpress’ comparison to Luis Scola sounds about right.

24. Portland – Jermaine Taylor, SG, Central Florida: What Portland needs is a slashing small forward to better compliment Roy, but they won’t get one unless they trade. They’ll probably end up moving this pick, but if not Taylor is a player that could develop into the kind of slasher they need.

25. Oklahoma City – Darren Collison, PG, UCLA: He would join former backcourt mate Westbrook, and projects to a very solid backup PG.

26. Chicago – DaJaun Summers, SF, Georgetown: Gamble on upside.

27. Memphis – Wayne Ellington, SG, UNC

28. Minnesota – Eric Maynor, G, VCU

29. LA Lakers – Jodie Meeks, G, Kentucky

30. Cleveland – Gani Lawal, PF, Georgia Tech

Note: Austin Daye would definitely be in the first round, but right now I am unsure about whether he’ll return to Gonzaga. I hope he does. I love his game. He just needs to put on some muscle.

Lakers, Nuggets, and Four Factors

Last night I was unable to watch Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals. Although the best way to analyze a game is to watch it and then compare the visual with the statistical results, sometimes that isn’t possible. For instance nobody watches all 1,312 regular season games, so everyone tends to rely on statistics to fill in the blanks. Of course it’s important to know which stats to use to best understand the action. When looking at the team level, there’s nothing better than the four factors. So I decided to calculate them for last night’s game.

TEAM | PTS | POSS |   OE  |  eFG |  TO  | OREB |  FT
DEN  | 106 | 94.9 | 111.7 | 48.7 | 14.8 | 27.5 | 36.7
LAL  | 103 | 95.5 | 107.8 | 49.4 | 16.7 | 25.5 | 35.1

I don’t know the exact number, but I recall crunching the numbers over the course of the season and found that in a majority (around 90%) of NBA games, the team that has the advantage in eFG ends up winning. So it was a bit surprising that the Lakers lost despite the shooting edge. This is likely due to Denver shooting almost as well (less than 1% difference) and winning all the other categories. The Nuggets turned the ball over slightly less, hit the boards better, and did slightly better from the free throw line.

Looking at the play-by-play illustrates how this minor advantage gave the Nuggets the win. With 5 minutes to go the score was tied at 95, but down the stretch Denver won in offensive rebounds (1 vs. 0) and free throws (7-8 vs. 3-6) while staying even in turnovers (2 vs. 2). While some games are won with the dramatic shot, sometimes it’s the little things that propels a team to victory.

If I Ruled the (NBA) World…

So, if David Stern…

david-stern

let me be the next NBA commissioner here’s what I’d do…

Well actually, before I start changing anything let me say a few words about what is right and what is wrong with the league.

The NBA’s big picture is actually pretty good, all things considered (even if rumors persist about owners gearing up for a lockout).

What’s Right About the NBA?

1. The Product. Right now I’d say that the NBA offers the best on-field product, followed by MLB, with the NFL running a somewhat distant third among the three major sports leagues. That may surprise some given the NFL’s popularity, but that’s another post for another day. Suffice it to say that the top-to-bottom quality in the NBA right now compares favorably to any time since the late 80s and appears to be bringing the viewers back.

2. Competitive Balance. One of David Stern’s wisest decisions was to listen patiently to calls to change the existing playoff structure to a seed-by-record format, and then stick with the one we have. Stern took the long view, that competitive balance is dynamic and rarely more than a couple of drafts and free agent moves away from equilibrium. Playoff schemes from a couple years ago that tacitly assumed Western Conference hegemony would last forever already seem outdated.

Overall the league’s fundamentals are solid but beneath the surface there are issues that could become major impediments to success should they go unresolved.

So, What’s Wrong with the NBA?

As commissioner, I’d focus my efforts on what I see as the league’s two major problems under my purview.

1. Executive Talent. The biggest long- and short-term problem for the NBA is a serious shortage of executive talent. As I said in a 2007 post:

If I could play David Stern…, rather than tinker with playoff formats I’d look to find ways to replenish the pool of talented executives entering the league.

I would stake my legacy on creating a system to find and develop new executive talent both for the league office and the teams. Despite being light years ahead of MLB and the NFL in its hiring practices, NBA hiring is still pretty cliquish and that is a primary reason so many franchises remain stuck in mediocrity or worse. Teams just keep turning over the same set of guys and a few of their proteges. Although the number of truly wretched GMs in the league has dwindled, a lot of older executives need replacing–or will soon.

I would start an “Executive in Residence” style program, taking a number of top aspiring young executives into residence at the league office where they’d spend up to three years learning the NBA–not just one franchise. Their training would include working on leaguewide issues in the NBA, the WNBA, and the NBA Developmental League.

Residents’ salaries could be paid from a pool all teams pay into. Upon completion residents would be eligible to interview with franchises. Owners would not be required to interview or hire from the program, but all would need to participate (read: pay). In the immediate economic climate the costs might be prohibitive, but the key would be getting buy-in on a 3-5 year planning horizon. I suspect many owners would jump at the chance to hire young executives with a verifiable skill set, whom they may have already worked with at the league office. This might not be a cure all, but it would undeniably produce some talent, and there’s no reason it can’t be done.

2. The Lottery. As much as anything, the lottery’s perception problem undermines its legitimate purpose of replenishing franchises with talent. At the heart of the perception problem is a very uneven distribution of incoming talent, both from year to year and even within the same draft. Little can be done about that. However the current system exacerbates the problem by counting losses (rather than measuring performance), which gives one bad team a disproportionate lottery advantage over another similarly bad team.

I would reduce the lottery advantage for bad teams without completely evening the odds across all non-playoff teams, thereby lowering incentives to tank. Specifically, I’d split the 14 lottery teams into two groups clustered by performance and even the lottery odds within each group. The lottery would consist of one group of at least five “bad” teams and one group of “near playoff” teams. That should limit incentives to tank among the worst teams. The playoff hunt should limit the other teams’ incentives to tank.

2009 Draft Lottery

On Tuesday night the NBA will hold the lottery to set the order of the draft. With the 8th pick, the Knicks have a 2.8% chance of winning the top overall pick, and a 10% chance of being in the top 10. Wikipedia does a good job breaking down their odds. while ESPN features a lottery+mock draft simulator. For fun I counted how many times I would need to click for the Knicks to get into the top 3. New York got the #1 overall pick on my 9th try.

Seed Chances 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th 8th 9th 10th 11th 12th 13th 14th
1 250 .250 .215 .178 .357
2 199 .199 .188 .171 .319 .123
3 156 .156 .157 .156 .226 .265 .040
4 119 .119 .126 .133 .099 .351 .160 .012
5 88 .088 .097 .107 .261 .360 .084 .004
6 63 .063 .071 .081 .439 .305 .040 .001
7 43 .043 .049 .058 .599 .232 .018 .000
8 28 .028 .033 .039 .724 .168 .008 .000
9 17 .017 .020 .024 .813 .122 .004 .000
10 11 .011 .013 .016 .870 .089 .002 .000
11 8 .008 .009 .012 .907 .063 .001 .000
12 7 .007 .008 .010 .935 .039 .000
13 6 .006 .007 .009 .960 .018
14 5 .005 .006 .007 .982