[Today's article comes from David Crockett. Dr. Crockett is the lead researcher of optimism at KnickerBlogger.Net industries.]
As poorly as the Knicks have played in spots they really aren?t quite as bad as they look.
In all seriousness, this team should be a bit better than its current 8-21 record (as of January 4th) based on its Pythagorean formula, which projects wins and losses based the two most direct determinants of winning (i.e., how much you score and how much you give up). If I?ve calculated it correctly the Knicks should have between 13 or 14 wins rather than their current 8. [KB's Note: There are different ways to calculate expected win% using points for/against. David has chosen: g*pf^2.37/(pf^2.37+pa^2.37), while the stat page uses (G*(PTS^14/(PTS^14 + oPTS^14)) which has the Knicks at 10 expected wins.] The difference between actual and projected wins is often referred to as ?luck,? or perhaps more precisely the difference is in little things less directly related to winning than scoring or defense. Often, whether those little things go in your favor can be pretty random. (A good example from football is recovering fumbled balls. Jumping on a lose football is pretty much a 50-50 proposition but it can have a huge impact on winning or losing a game. Over time it evens out but it at a given moment it can really hurt or really help.)
Of course ?coulda, shoulda, woulda? is the sad lullaby of losers. Still, it is hard to deny that in addition to a number of completely self-inflicted wounds the Knicks have also been genuinely unlucky in the early part of the season. They?ve played a ton of road games against a killer schedule.
What can the Knicks build on in the New Year?
The Schedule Gets Kinder. Through November and December the Knicks spent a lot of time on the road. In those two months the team had only four sets of consecutive home dates. One negative impact of playing so much on the road is lost practice time spent traveling. January will mark the first month where the Knicks will play the majority of their games at home. They will have four sets of consecutive home dates in January alone. Apart from the crowd noise, the home cooking, and all that jazz, Larry Brown will have the opportunity to practice and teach which should pay some dividends in the spring.
Of course the cynic in me responds that with all the time the fans at MSG spend booing them the road may not be so bad for the Knicks. Certainly, the Knicks will be dogs in most of their home dates going forward. Still, for a young team trying to find itself home is probably the best place to be.
The Four Factors (Offense). Any longtime reader of Knickerblogger.net knows that KB?s stat page allows the reader to sort teams by Dean Oliver?s four factors most closely associated with winning (i.e., shooting, turnovers, rebounding, and free throws). Offensively, in two of those areas (rebounding and getting to the free throw line) the Knicks are among the best in the league. Conversely, the Knicks are the highest turnover team in the NBA and in the bottom five in eFG%.
As I alluded to in September (see Question #2) the question of style/tempo would be an interesting one for Larry Brown. Fortunately, he has allowed the Knicks to play the seventh quickest pace in the league at 92.6 possessions per game (Phoenix is 1st at 95.6). Given the makeup of the roster I believe this is the right call. Unfortunately, at this point the Knicks aren?t any more efficient now (103.2) than they were last season (103). But, one could change the framing of that statement and argue that the current Knicks have managed to match the offensive output of last year?s version despite only intermittent production from an out-of-shape and hobbled Curry, an unstable rotation filled with rookie starters, and perhaps most importantly with a knack for getting to the free throw line. So going forward one reason to suspect that the offensive efficiency will improve is that Curry is getting closer to game shape. One reason to suspect that the Knicks will cut down on turnovers is that the rotation is beginning to stabilize. Also, adding David Lee to the starting lineup, even out of position at small forward, brings better ball handling and passing to the frontcourt than Quentin Richardson or Trevor Ariza.
The Four Factors (Defense). Interestingly, the Knicks are also good in two of the four areas on defense. First, the positive. This Knick team forces turnovers. At just over 17 per game the Knicks are 6th in forcing turnovers in the league. It?s easy to overlook this aspect of their game since they give all those back plus some. Also, they currently rank 12th in defensive rebounding (where only 1.1 offensive rebounds allowed per game separates them from #5 San Antonio). The Knicks do a very good job of limiting their opponent?s second shots. Now, the not so good. The Knicks are among the worst in the league at eFG defense, allowing over 50% eFG. Thus, not surprisingly the Knicks are among the most charitable teams in the league sending opponents to the FT line almost 29 times per 100 FGAs.
How can the Knicks improve on defense? Well, for starters they could stop turning the ball over on offense so doggone much. Cutting down on easy baskets won?t turn them into the 2004 Pistons but it could, even with no other improvements, move them out of the bottom quarter of bad eFG defense teams. A quick look at 82games.com appears to confirm this. The Knicks allow by far the largest percentage of opponent?s shots early in the clock (37% of opponent shots come at 0-10 seconds) and yield the highest eFG (55%) on those attempts. This is most likely the accumulated impact of turnovers and poor transition defense.
Let?s hope for all our sakes that the Knicks have resolved in the New Year to be smarter with the ball, to get back on D, and keep getting to the line. If so, 2006 may be a happy year indeed.