Statistical Analysis. Humor. Knicks.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

A Finicky Old Sports Car

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first installment of a four part examination of what happened after the Knicks’ 18-5 start, during which they were beating opponents by an average of over seven points a game, and whether or not the Knicks can return (in varying degrees) to their early-season form.)

If you’re a casual NBA fan looking for a slightly more original way of getting Knick fans worked up these days, something more pertinent to this iteration of the Knicks than James Dolan, Jeremy Lin, or the Carmelo Anthony trade, you have a couple options. The first is to make some sort of joke about their age. For example, you might make reference to some early 21st century All-Star Game. The second way is to make reference to the Knicks’ 18-5 start or perhaps more effectively, their 22-21 record since that start.

The reason this question is inciteful (yes, with a C, as in likely to incite a riot) is because of how much rides on the answer. If the last three months are more representative of the Knicks than the first six weeks, then, due to the team’s cap situation, fans will have to accept that their team will almost undoubtedly be mediocre until the 2015/16 season at earliest. If, on the other hand, the Knicks are in some sort of mid-season stasis, healing up for a postseason burst, then there is hope, and there’s nothing more important to fans than the a belief that their team has a chance.

Well, let’s open this can of worms. Cover your ears. Hide yo’ kids, hide yo’ wife.

Take a look at the Knicks’ five most used lineups during their healthiest period of the season, from when Iman Shumpert returned on January 17th through March 3rd, when Anthony got hurt:

 Lineup MP    OffRtg   DefRtg   NetRtg  
Felton, Kidd, Shumpert, Anthony , Chandler 128 93.1 99.6 -6.5
Felton, Smith, Anthony, Stoudemire, Chandler    102 112 111.8 0.2
Felton, Kidd, Smith, Anthony, Chandler 87 112 88.7 23.3
Felton, Shumpert,  Smith,  Anthony, Chandler 41 101.7 97.6 4.1
Prigioni, Smith, Novak, Anthony, Stoudemire 30 89 127.7 -38.7

See that highlighted lineup? It’s the very same one that made New York dominant early on, and it’s just as effective now as it was then. Its net rating in the first six weeks of the season was 23.8, almost exactly the same as it was in this recent, far less win-filled span. That net rating is comparable to those of the best lineups for pretty much any team but the Heat.

Now, to assist you in your flight off of Cloud Nine, consider the net rating of all the other lineups. If lineup #3 is Atlas, then those other four lineups are quartiles of Planet Earth. In other words, as this article will go to great lengths to illustrate, our bench (and I’m considering J.R. Smith and Kidd de facto starters) is now a joke.

Across this entire season, the second best lineup the Knicks have that’s in the top five of minutes played together has a net rating that is more than 20 points worse than their best lineup. There is only one other team that is even close to having such a dynamic: the Wizards, who have a net rating of 24.0 with Beal, Hilario, Okafor, Wall and Webster.  Their next best lineup, with Temple replacing Beal, has a net rating of -0.1. Similar to New York, injuries have often prevented that lineup from playing, and also similar, both teams draw their improvement from replacing a terrible perimeter shooter with a very good one, but more importantly, both teams’ issues are that none of their other players can replace their top five with any level of competence.

The Knicks are like a finicky old Jaguar, the kind where if you don’t prime the accelerator twice, it won’t start, where if you don’t transition the clutch at the perfect rate, you stall, but if you do everything just right, the ride is a dream. Think about the 10/11 Mavs. If J.R. Smith is Jason Terry, then its a flaming hot J.J. Barea that New York most dearly misses.

While we have never had a great sixth best player (with the exception of Stoudemire, who has sometimes been great — more on that in a later section), early on when Ronnie Brewer was on fire, we had some other solid groups. Our initial starting lineup — Felton/Kidd/Brewer/Anthony/Chandler — clocked in through December 15th with more minutes together than any other lineup and had a very nice net rating of 10.8. After that though, that lineup utterly imploded, its offensive rating plummeting to 68.1 and its defensive rating jumping to 116.

The thing is, Brewer was making threes at nearly double the rate he had in previous seasons. Not only that, but that entire lineup was fool’s gold. We have all heard about how hot the Knicks were from distance early in the season, but the hot shooting was particularly outlandish given the players the Knicks were starting.

Combined, through December 15th the Knicks’ early-season starting lineup shot a truly absurd 44% from three. Only four players in the entire league shoot better than that right now.

Part of this was surely due to the incredulity with which opponents must have approached the lineup’s shooting. Not a single player in that lineup had been even average from distance the previous season. “Is this some alternate universe where logic doesn’t work the same as in the world from which we came?”  the collective consciousness of Knick opponents must have been wondering. “Let’s see. Let’s let Ronnie Brewer take few more of those broken looking jumpers.”

Time revealed that, rather than a dimensional shift, it was only a coincidence. A lot of guys going through hot streaks at the same time. As soon as Brewer’s shooting fell off, opponents were able to ignore him in their rotations, allowing for more effective double teams on Anthony and better closeouts on the players who could actually shoot. With no one besides Anthony in that lineup capable of punishing a hard closeout (unlike, say, J.R. Smith), the Knicks’ offense fell apart. Brewer was quickly benched and then a couple months later was quietly escorted to the Dust Bowl.

Is this irreparable? We’ll get there, but first we have to look more closely at the two most problematic pieces for New York.

A factoid to lead you into the next installment: Of the seven lineups to have played winning basketball in our healthy period (at least those with meaningful minutes together), J.R. Smith is represented in all of them and Iman Shumpert comes in last among Knick rotation players, appearing in only one.

46 comments on “A Finicky Old Sports Car

  1. danvt

    Nice job, Max. It gets to the heart of the matter minus the histrionics. What about Rasheed? Didn’t his contributions make a big difference in the early going with defense and floor spacing + a few big buckets? Also, I thought Novak’s plus / minus’s were always strong. Does his defense basically cancel out his benefit?

  2. max fisher-cohen Post author

    Thanks, danvt.

    Novak, Stoudemire and Prigioni are all worthy of discussion (and are discussed in later sections) in that there are times when they are helpful and times when they are terrible. I hadn’t included Wallace since I don’t see him playing again for the Knicks, but maybe I’ll add a paragraph on him.

  3. danvt

    max fisher-cohen: maybe I’ll add a paragraph on him.

    He just looked so darned effective. It might be one of the untold stories of the season. He looked great in the post on both offense and defense. Maybe a healthy Rasheed keeps the K’s from dropping off so badly after the first five. Or maybe you can debunk that.

    I guess ultimately the Knicks strategy with their veteran bench has been a failure. Especially considering JR really isn’t really a bench player. But I guess it’s easier to improve the bench than it is to improve the starters, so if Chandler / Anthony can anchor that type of effective line-up there may be hope in the next couple of years (or months?).

  4. GHenman

    Excellent piece. I was wondering how the Melo, Chandler, Novak, Smith, Felton lineup has done, if it has been used. This would be my starting lineup.

  5. max fisher-cohen Post author

    @GHenman

    You can look at all the Knicks’ lineups here on the NBA’s relatively new and really awesome stats site. It looks like your lineup is 4th from the top. Overall, it’s really hard to find good Knick lineups that don’t have Jason Kidd in them. His presence seems to help the team pretty much across the board (even during this period of awful shooting), most notably in rebounding and passing.

  6. jon abbey

    I think the best combo will end up being Chandler, Martin, Melo, Smith and either Kidd or Felton. if nothing else, Martin gives us a legit sixth player and I still have a bit of hope for Shumpie for this season.

  7. jon abbey

    I love the history that Melo/Martin/JR and Martin/Kidd have, you can see it on the court even in their limited minutes together so far. if it’s a matchup where we can somehow avoid the opposing PG from killing us, I’d love to see a Kidd/Smith/Melo/Martin/Chandler lineup down the stretch of big games.

  8. d-mar

    2 questions:

    – What exactly is the point of a home and home?

    – Why are Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley doing commentary on college basketball, which they know almost nothing about?

  9. Juany8

    The sad part of the season is that it hasn’t just been injuries to the old guys that have hurt the Knicks. You could have expected that Kidd, Thomas, Wallace, and Camby would be injured or declining, but Ronnie Brewer dropped off the map, Felton missed a bunch of time, Amar’e got reinjured after coming back with a monster offensive game, Melo’s missed a bunch of games, Chandler is still out right now and he’s been inconsistent throughout the year…. It’s a bit of a bummer.

  10. johnlocke

    Game thread???? That Prigs Hail Mary and then steal leading to the Melo 3 was a thing of beauty

  11. yellowboy90

    Too many Tos and missed jumpers from Melo but other than that D has been good and everyone else is ballin. I love attack-JR.

  12. d-mar

    Anyone notice that since K-Mart started playing for NY our defensive intensity has returned?

    That’s about as timely an acquisition as you could make.

  13. BigBlueAL

    Ugly finish to this game. Knicks turned an easy win into a fight to the end which lead to Melo and Felton playing 43 mins and KMart playing 36 mins(!!) in the first of a back-to-back. Hopefully the Raptors are disinterested tomorrow night and tank the game lol.

    Also some awful, awful, awful FT shooting down the stretch by the Knicks.

  14. d-mar

    I know Georgetown losing is going to bust a lot of brackets, but on the bright side it gives us one more game to look at the FGC coach’s smoking hot supermodel wife.

  15. Z-man

    1. Who the hell is Alan Anderson?
    2. What the hell happened on that fast break?
    3. What the hell was up with that foul by K-Mart?
    4. What the hell was up with the FT shooting?

  16. Brian Cronin

    My apologies for no game thread, folks! I was at an event with my wife. Sounds like an ugly win, but any win without more players getting injured is a good win!

  17. ruruland

    Brian Cronin:
    My apologies for no game thread, folks! I was at an event with my wife. Sounds like an ugly win, but any win without more players getting injured is a good win!

    Meh, they had a big lead, sort of lost focus a bit, Toronto got really hot, Melo made a bunch of big shots down the stretch.

    It was ugly at times, but I don’t really think it means much.

  18. yellowboy90

    max fisher-cohen:
    I live on the Gulf in Florida, and I don’t even know where FGCU is.

    I do too and didn’t either for a long time. It’s near Ft. Myers. IDK why but I never think of the down south part of the Gulf. Maybe its a panhandle thing.

  19. ruruland

    yellowboy90: I do too and didn’t either for a long time. It’s near Ft. Myers. IDK why but I never think of the down south part of the Gulf. Maybe its a panhandle thing.

    My mother teaches there. It’s actually a nice little area.

  20. ruruland

    Brian Cronin:
    Is she super pumped about the win?

    First college basketball game she’s watched in probably five years. I’m not quite sure she understands how big of an upset it was.

  21. BigBlueAL

    Florida Gulf Coast did beat Miami early in the season (granted UM was w/o Durand Scott and Reggie Johnson).

  22. ruruland

    jon abbey:
    KENYON MARTIN IS A MAN AND A HALF.

    that is all.

    He’s never run this much screen and roll. Not really close imo. There’s a chance his efficiency could really go up in this kind of offense similar to what Chandler’s did once he started playing a bunch of pnr with Paul.

  23. lavor postell

    ruruland: He’s never run this much screen and roll. Not really close imo. There’s a chance his efficiency could really go up in this kind of offense similar to what Chandler’s did once he started playing a bunch of pnr with Paul.

    Even back in his Jersey days with Kidd?

    Martin is bringing a lot right now. If we can get Tyson back ready to be the defensive game changer he was last year and at the beginning of this campaign things will look much brighter.

  24. ruruland

    lavor postell: Even back in his Jersey days with Kidd?

    Martin is bringing a lot right now.If we can get Tyson back ready to be the defensive game changer he was last year and at the beginning of this campaign things will look much brighter.

    Kidd was never really a pnr guy though and that was before the game emphasized high pnr like it does now.

    Martin used to kind of be one of the Nets go to guys with post-ups.

  25. lavor postell

    I’d really like to see us kick the Raptors ass tomorrow night. Unfortunately they will continue to benefit from the absence of Rudy Gay. What an amazingly bad offensive player he is. Can Alan Andersen not light it up at the Garden tomorrow? That would be fantastic.

Comments are closed.