Yesterday I pinpointed the Knicks’ main defensive weakness: letting their opponents shoot at a high percentage. Looking deeper into the numbers reveals a more complete picture of where the Knicks are defensively. At the end of yesterday’s article I referenced the work of Dean Smith and Dean Oliver each of which I’m going to touch on today.
Dean Smith understood that per game averages has a major flaw. Each team plays by a different pace, and therefore some teams will have more opportunities to score per game than others. For example, last year the Pacers only scored 91.4 points per game which was a lowly 20th best in the league. However Indiana’s offense wasn’t below average, it’s just that the Pacers preferred a slow pace to enhance their defensive style. Compare them to the Suns, who ranked above average (11th) in points per game thanks to their up-tempo game. Coach Smith would say that scoring 20 PPG for the Pacers is worth more than scoring 20 PPG for the Suns, because you would have more opportunities to score as a Sun, than a Pacer.
To make up for the inequality of pace, the Hall of Fame coach used possession based statistics to evaluate his team in his 30+ years of coaching. A possession is when your team ceased having control of the ball, either by scoring a field goal, a free throw, or by turning the ball over. It’s approximated by FGA + TO + .44*FTA – OREB. (Notice that offensive rebounds doesn’t create another possession, since the other team never got control of the ball).
Using possessions we can find a team’s offensive efficiency, or points scored per 100 possessions. Going back to our example above, Indy was 8th overall, scoring 106 points per 100 possessions. Meanwhile Phoenix had an offensive efficiency of 103 which ranked them 20th overall.
Getting back to the Knicks, they have a defensive efficiency of 104, which ranks them 23rd overall. Dean Oliver says that defense can be summed up by 4 main components: shooting percentage, turnovers, rebounding, and free throws. RealGM fans might be familiar with this, as Kevin Broom talked about these four factors in his article last week.
Yesterday I showed that New York is one of the worst teams in opponent shooting percentage (28th), but that is only one factor. New York has two major strengths so far this year. They are second overall in turnovers forcing 19 per 100 possessions. A good example of this would have been the Knick-Sixer game, where the Knicks had 15 steals from 7 different players. Leading the charge are newcomers Jamal Crawford and Trevor Ariza, but the rest of the Knicks are helping as well. Six players are averaging at least 1.5 steals per 40 minutes. The other New York strength is their defensive rebounding, where they rank second in the NBA. Opponents only get their missed shot 24% of the time against New York.
Not all the news is good, and one area that continues to be a problem for the Knicks is giving up free points to their opponents. This year they are 21st in free throws per field goal ratio. Although on the positive side, this is an improvement over last year when they were an awful 27th. Slight improvement can be attributed to getting rid of Othella Harrington and a major decline by Kurt Thomas. Of the top minutes getters, Nazr Mohammed, Trevor Ariza and Tim Thomas are hurting the Knicks the most.
Clearly New York could improve their defense by addressing their weaknesses at shooting percentage and at the free throw line. Yesterday I said the Knicks could use a shot blocking big man, and today I’ll suggest they could use a good perimeter defender as well. It’s a shame that they lost Frank Williams, who was a fantastic defender. His play in the playoff series against the Jason Kidd was memorable. I’d like to see the Knicks get a good defensive PG/SG for 8-12 minutes a game (read: Moochie’s minutes). Playing along Marbury, Crawford, or Penny that “defensive stopper” could handle the tougher offensive assignment of the night.