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Sunday, December 21, 2014

A Defensive Trend

In case you aren’t a regular reader of my blog, I’ve been following a distressing trend since the Knicks’ season started. So far defense has been a big issue for New York. The Knicks have allowed their opponents the second highest FG% in the league. However field goal percentage is a bit flawed, and I like to use something more meaningful called eFG% (sometimes called aFG%).

If you want to know exactly how to figure out effective shooting percentage (eFG%), I did a little write up at the end of this article. It’s more accurate than FG%, because eFG% takes into account the extra point a three pointer brings. Peja Stojakovic connected on 48% of his shots last year, but since he hit a lot of threes (with great accuracy I might add), his eFG% of 57% better represents his shooting ability. Good enough for second best in the NBA. Players that don’t hit any treys have the same eFG% as their FG%. Shaq had a FG% of 58%, but since he doesn’t attempt any shots from beyond the arc (thank goodness), his eFG% is also 58%. Effective FG% is gaining mainstream popularity, and you can find it on ESPN’s stat page or 82games.com.

Getting back to the Knicks’ woes, their opponents have been shooting the lights out with a 52.6% eFG%. That’s a whooping 12% better than the league average (47.1%). Only the Hawks & Nuggets are worse, while teams like the Hornets, Bulls, and Sixers rank just above the Knicks. Those aren’t a group of teams you want to be associated with defensively. Right now when teams are facing the Knicks, they’re getting a better look at the rim than the Tidy Bowl Man.

It’s fair to say that 5 games is too small a sample size to make a huge deal over. However consider this: not once this season have the Knicks’ held their opponent’s eFG% under the league average. Three of their opponents shot over 50%, with the Celtics a shade under 60%. When teams that were below average shooters last year (Clippers & Sixers) are having good shooting nights against New York, it’s time to raise the red flag.

What’s interesting is last year the Knicks contested shots very well, allowing an eFG% of only 46.1%. So what happened in a year? The roster overhaul could be the answer as the Knicks no longer have defensive minded players like Deke, Frank Williams, Shanderson and Charlie Ward. Easily 4 of the Knick starters are not thought of as above average defenders, and the 5th, Kurt Thomas, is not a shot blocking big man. Actually the entire roster is void of either a shot blocker or a “defensive stopper”.

This defensive weakness coincides with another Knick sore spot, depth at center. Nazr Mohammed is poor on the defensive end, and isn’t reliable on a day-to-day basis. Against the Clippers he only played 12 minutes, because he forced himself to the bench with constant foul trouble. His strength is on the offensive end of the court, as witnessed by his 11 offensive rebound effort against the Pacers. The Knicks would benefit by having a center that could disrupt the other team’s offense, a ying to Mohammed’s yang. Marbury, Crawford, and whoever is the PF (Thomas or Sweetney) are good enough offensively to carry a millstone at center. The Knicks won’t be able to get a guy like Theo Ratliff without giving up something big in return, but there are cheaper alternatives out there. Shot blocking machine Dan Gadzuric is loosing minutes to Zaza “Gabor” Pachulia, and would have a cheaper price tag considering Milwaukee’s depth at center.

One final thought, eFG% isn’t a complete measure of defense, but is a vital component. Dean Oliver, standing on the shoulders of great basketball minds like the legendary Dean Smith, discovered that shooting at a higher percentage than your opponent is the best single factor that correlates with winning. The founder of the Journal of Basketball Studies states that out shooting your opponent is more important than out rebounding them, getting to the free throw line more often, or winning the turnover edge. The Knicks early season only seems to confirm this, because the better shooting team has won every single game. Hopefully the Knicks can break this trend either by acquiring some good defenders, running better defensive schemes, or just giving a better effort on the court with the current personnel.



A little bit about eFG%

Traditional FG% is calculated by:

(FGM)/FGA

Field Goals Made is simply the number of 2 pointers made (2PM) plus the number of 3 pointers made (3PM). So rewriting the equation becomes:

(2PM + 3PM)/FGA

It’s clear to see that FG% assumes that 3 point shots are equal to their 2 point counterparts. Taking into account the points gained by making a trey, (3/2=1.5) eFG% is simple to understand when you put it’s equations next to FG%’s:

FG% = (2PM + 3PM) / FGA
eFG% = (2PM + 1.5*3PM) / FGA

eFG% gives 3 pointers made an extra 50% bonus because the points scored on a 3 pointer is 50% greater. A simpler way to write eFG% is:

eFG% = (FGM + 3PM/2)/FGA.

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