The New Amar’e Stoudemire

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second installment of a four part examination of what has gone wrong since the Knicks’ 18-5 start—a stretch in which they were beating teams 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. You can read part one here and part two here.)

Let’s be happy. Remember that time, a little over two years ago, when it looked like Stoudemire would lead the Knicks to their best season in a decade?

Okay, now let’s be depressed. Think of  Stoudemire’s 2011-12 season. Think of a fire extinguisher.

Happy again: What about the post game that Stoudemire added?

And sad once more: Remember that time Stoudemire had two knee surgeries in one season? Oh wait. That’s now.

It’s hard to keep track of how I’m supposed to feel about Amar’e as his time here has included about a decade’s worth of drama. If it turns out that these are the death throes of his career, however, then this article is pointless. Barring a medical retirement. we will be saddled with his contract until 2015, end of story. No sense crying over spilled milk even if that milk cost you $100 million dollars, right? Well, $100 million may deserve a little pouting.

Before pouting though, let’s operate under the assumption that when Stoudemire returns, he will play as he did in the time before this most recent surgery and that he will be able to sustain that play for 25-30 minutes a night across most of an NBA season. Optimistic maybe, but within the realm of possibility.

We’re aiming to build a team that can come close to sustaining the dominance of its top lineup, so let’s start with the same chart we used as a jumping off point in the article on Shumpert:

One of the most interesting things to me about this chart is that, while we attributed much of his decline last year to the lack of a penetrating guard, Stoudemire doesn’t appear dependent on Felton. Weird, huh? Instead, it turns out that Stoudemire plays better with Kidd, the guy who takes almost 80% of his shots from behind the three point line.

Trivia time!

Q: Who has assisted on the most Stoudemire field goals this season?

You answered: Raymond Felton

<harsh buzzing sound>

Wanna try again? No, you don’t because unless you’re a particularly astute observer, you will be wrong. It’s not Carmelo Anthony. It’s not Kidd or Pablo. The correct answer is J.R. Smith, who has assisted on 26 Stoudemire field goals this season.

The question was a little disingenuous as Felton hurt his hand just as Stoudemire returned to the floor, missing 10 of the 29 games Stoudemire has played this season. When you adjust for the minutes they’ve been on the floor together, Felton surges ahead, but not by much, and regardless, Smith’s connection with Stoudemire is still brand spanking new. J.R. Smith assisted on a TOTAL of five Stoudemire baskets last year.

Why does this matter? Smith has taken up the slack as a dribble-drive passer when Felton is not on the floor or when the first pick and roll fails, and that has been crucial to Stoudemire’s success. You might think thanks to his improved post game that Stoudemire is being used less often in pick and roll. That’s incorrect. Likely thanks to Smith’s newfound chemistry with STAT, Stoudemire has seen a 5% increase in his usage as a roll man while maintaining his always-stellar pick and roll efficiency.

As far as Stoudemire’s post play goes, on the surface, it appears that it is more of a replacement than an upgrade. No longer able to use his quickness to race past defenders and still shooting almost 10% lower from midrange than in his best season, Stoudemire has used his new post game to get lots of shots near the rim while maintaining a usage percentage and shooting efficiency near those of his best years.

This explains a couple of mysteries in regard to Stoudemire’s play this season:

First, it explains the Kidd connection. Kidd’s timing and court vision allow him to set Stoudemire up deep in the post. Kidd may not directly assist many of Stoudemire’s baskets, but you can bet that he earns a number of hockey assists off Stoudemire’s post play.

Second, it explains why, unlike last year when the two were awful together, Stoudemire’s offense suffers the most when he’s not playing with Tyson Chandler. The primary challenge for pick and roll play is completing a pass into the roll man, and with Chandler off the ball, there is far less space in the middle for that pass to be completed. This was likely the explanation for STAT and Chandler’s struggles last year. However, far more important to getting a player good post position are good screens, something at which Chandler excels.

The best way then to describe Stoudemire’s adaptation is that he has made himself a whole lot more like Anthony, a player who can score without an athletic guard. This sounds pretty good given that this team is built to play off of Mr. Melo. But we don’t necessarily need two Anthonys, especially if they don’t come BOGO. Mr. Melo will be on the floor for 36 minutes a game at least, even more if Mr. Potato Head doesn’t get a hold of himself.

Overall, how you feel about STAT depends on what you’re looking at. If you focus on the Knicks’ other bench players, Stoudemire appears a breath of fresh air in his ability to replace Felton, Anthony and Smith in our best lineup without damaging (and sometimes increasing) its production.

But you also have every right to pout: Amar’e Stoudemire makes about $3.5 million less than J.R. Smith, Jason Kidd, Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton do combined, and yet even after reworking his offensive game, the team performs worse if he replaces any of them. The only time he does help the team significantly is when our other max contract is on the bench. Maybe last year the issue was with Tyson and Amar’e, but like a game of musical chairs, this year its Amar’e/Anthony that are the odd duo out.

Unlike last year, however, when it was the offense that collapsed with Stoudemire and Chandler together, this year with Melo and STAT it’s the defense. Opponents have a TS% of 59% including 40% from three when Anthony and Stoudemire are together. The Synergy numbers add more support to the notion that Melo and Stoudemire are the culprits: Anthony allows his man to score 1.03 PPP, 240th in the league, and Amar’e plays like D’Antoni is still coaching him (jab fully intended) when he has to close out, allowing an even worse 1.08 PPP on spot ups. When one of them replaces a guard in our lineup, he has to guard a perimeter player, and perimeter players do a lot more spotting up.

And don’t even bother with the idea of Stoudemire at center. With our guards lacking the ability to contain penetrators and Stoudemire’s persistent defensive lapses, our defense goes right to the pooper there too. For one example, you can scroll to the chart at the top and look at our defense when STAT replaces Chandler. Want another? The most common Stoudemire-at-center lineup includes Anthony, Novak, Prigioni and Smith. That lineup has a DRtg of 126.2, a number only a dung beetle could love.

To close, I know this statement is completely unoriginal, but it’s hard for me to argue with: The major inhibitor to Stoudemire and Anthony being anything more than competent together, especially now that the Knicks aren’t reliant on the crutch of Anthony as a pick and roll ball handler (another likely cause of their decent play together last year), is the similarities of their weaknesses and strengths. Stoudemire can replace the production of some of the Knicks’ role players, and that’s something the Knicks sorely need, but his potential to be anything approaching a max player in the concept of the post-Anthony-trade Knicks, even after two years, is still very hard to decipher. How management could go two years without accepting this reality is simply dumbfounding, especially given the liability of Stoudemire’s surgically repaired knees, but it is what it is, and maybe it’s enough, if some other things fall their way, for New York to make themselves a dark horse title contender before that 2015 deadline.

Next time: What Can New York Do to Maximize Its Title Chances?

On Iman Shumpert’s Current Level of Production

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second installment of a four part examination of what has gone wrong since the Knicks’ 18-5 start—a stretch in which they were beating teams 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. You can find part one here.)

Despite the universal love that the fan base has for our 2nd year combo guard, I come to bury Iman, not to praise him. How much Iman Shumpert can and hopefully will improve as he continues to recover from last year’s horrific knee injury and hopefully, to grow as a player, remains an open question (and one for another day). Alas, as of this writing, he is far and away the biggest reason for the Knicks’ struggles.

If you look closely at the other four lineups posted in part one of this series, you may have been surprised by the fact that replacing Smith with Shumpert in our best lineup resulted in a net rating drop of nearly 30 points. Let’s take a closer look at what happens when Shumpert is substituted for anyone else in the grouping of Felton, Kidd, Smith, Anthony and Chandler (again looking at games from January 17th-March 3rd). In this chart, for the sake of clarity,  defensive rating is represented inversely so as to make it comparable to ORtg. In other words, a higher DRtg change in this chart indicates that the defense improved.

Shumpert is wrecking every lineup when he’s combined with our best players. Even if we limit our examination to recent games—let’s say March 3rd and beyond—Shumpert is still averaging a +/- per 48 of -15.4 and a net rating of -14.3. The next worst rotation player who has been healthy these last three weeks? That would be Jason Kidd, coming in with a net rating of 1.1 and a +/- of -1.8 per 48. The interesting thing is, Shumpert’s shooting was way up during that span: He shot 43.8% from the field and 45.5% from distance. Still, he remained the vinegar to this team’s oil.

If we go back to my automotive analogy, cars only work with the right parts. If the Knicks are a car—a team that runs well not because of the quality of its parts necessarily but more because of how those parts work together—then perhaps Shumpert is just the wrong part. He’s the truck nuts on a minivan or the loJack strapped to a 1988 Geo Metro. In other words, maybe Shumpert is being used incorrectly or improperly, or maybe there just isn’t a place for him in the style of the Knicks need to play in order to succeed.

So what exactly is happening when Shumpert enters the fray? Take a look at the substitution pattern that is kindest to Shumpert, the one where he replaces Kidd and joins our de facto starters on the floor. Remember, these units include Felton, Smith, Anthony and Chandler. The only difference is that in one, Kidd is the fifth man, while in the other, it’s Shumpert.

*Opponents’ points in the paint per 48 minutes

**Team Average (as well as other stats) are drawn only from that same span of games: 1/17-3/3.

The two data points that jump out, at least on the offensive end, are FTA rate and the 3FGM %AST; both indicate how critical wings that, once they receive a pass, are able to immediately find the flaw in a defense and/or connect with a teammate who can exploit it are to New York’s offensive agenda. Kidd isn’t drawing more fouls than Shumpert nor is he making more open threes. In fact, his shooting during this period was atrocious—23% from the three point line and 32% overall. What he is allowing the Knicks to do is use the space that defenses give when they double Anthony or collapse on a pick and roll, resulting in rhythm threes and advantageous drives from Anthony and Smith.

In short, Shumpert seems to be making bad decisions with the basketball and this year’s Knick model, built to play a more cerebral, half court style, needs guards that make great ones.

Right now, Shumpert just doesn’t have that ability (not many players do), but most talented guards who don’t have great vision (like J.R. Smith) make up for it with the ability to create plays for themselves. Here, Shumpert struggles just as badly. Once he steps inside the three point line, his offense collapses. From midrange, he shoots 33%; he’s at 15% in the paint, and a shockingly bad 36.7% in the restricted area. Those numbers have improved recently, but rather than thanks to improving health, I have another theory as to why—a theory that will be easier to understand after I make the following uncomfortable comparison.

There are some striking similarities between Shump and a post-Melo trade Landry Fields before the latter developed a bit of an off the dribble game/excess tinkering totally discombobulated his jump shot.  At a USG rate of 16.6%, Shumpert outpaces Fields’ rookie rate of 13.5% but he is mostly wasting those extra possessions and would be far more effective at this juncture of his career if he restricted his looks to the open spot ups that once were Fields’ bread and butter. Take a look:

(The Fields numbers are before/after instead of on/off because the absence of Felton after the trade would likely confound Fields’ numbers with Anthony on the bench.)

FGM %UAST %PTS off TOs TS% @Rim FG% AST% net rating
Shumpert w/o Anthony 27.3% 25.8% 51.6% 46.2% 12% -3.2
Shumpert w/ Anthony 35.9% 15.0% 44.4% 35.1% 20.6% -9.9
10/11 Fields pre-Anthony 28.8% 21.2% 61.5% 70.1% 8.5% 3.1
10/11 Fields post-Anthony 30.8% 17.7% 56.4% 63.6% 9% -1.4

Fields was often criticized after the trade for his inability to do anything other than shoot open threes. The cuts off ball movement and timely rebounding dropped dramatically as the offense pivoted to accommodate Melo’s skill set. While Shumpert appears to have a better handle, better passing skills than that iteration of Landry and (when healthy) is the superior athlete, the difference between the two is more one of will than skill. Shumpert is more willing to attempt to make plays/force the issue when necessary as illustrated by the jump he experiences in AST% with Anthony. But, when he puts his head down and bulls rim-ward on such ill-advised playmaking forays, Shumpert struggles a lot. By comparison, when given the opportunity, Fieds would usually kick the ball back to another player. Unfortunately, these clock-killing decisions likely had nearly as bad an impact on the Knicks’ offense as Shumpert’s low percentage drives.

The improvements for each at the rim without Anthony are easy to explain: these are more often than not assisted shots, shots where each catches the ball with very little to do to get a quality shot, or they are points off the break, as illustrated by the points off turnover increases.

When a player can neither see the floor well nor create off the dribble against set defenses, that player tends to struggle in an Anthony-led offense, one based on intelligence, patience, and execution more than the single-attack oriented, perimeter and pick and roll oriented offenses that the Knicks tilt towards while Anthony rests. These latter offenses more often create opportunities off the first pass, allowing players like Fields and Shumpert to simply catch passes and then shoot.

If you aren’t convinced (or are just looking for a reason to get more depressed) consider this fact: The Knicks’ current starting lineup shoots only 25% from three. Substitute in Smith, (again, just looking at games after Shumpert returned) and the Knicks’ three point percentage jumps to 42% despite the fact that, in that some period, none of the players in that lineup are shooting better than 36%. It’s relatively simple. Smith’s presence creates open shots and Shumpert’s doesn’t.

Without Señor Carmelo Isolacíon Anthony on the floor, the Knicks offense becomes less systematic (less like a machine, such as a car), and more free flowing, and that sort of offense is one Shumpert can much more ably contribute to.

Shumpert is not a point guard. We became all-too aware of this fun fact early last season. This year, the ridiculous -90.1 plunge to the team’s net rating when he replaces Felton only reinforces that notion. That said, he can be a valuable player if he’s used correctly. The question is, is it worth it to the Knicks to cater to the needs of one player (Shumpert) or would they be sacrificing more than they gained? We’ll save that question for a future installment, however.

Then, of course, there’s the defense—the thing we all love about Shumpert. Well, it’s not showing up in the stats. As our graph indicates, there’s only one lineup in which Shumpert helps the defense and that lineup (the four guard lineup with Shumpert replacing Anthony) and this unit has only played six minutes together all season. It seems that while Shumpert may still be a good man defender, his team defense still isn’t up to snuff, especially when he’s toiling among fellow Knickerbockers that lack athleticism/speed and, as such, is deeply reliant on smart rotations to maintain defensive integrity. Look at the Bockers’ opponents’ three point percentage when Shump’s on the floor versus when Kidd is present. Yes, the Shumpert lineup is better than the overall Knick average, but that number is dramatically inflated by Stoudemire’s presence (or lack thereof). That 12% drop when Shumpert plays makes it tough to argue that he is rotating and closing out with any degree of success.

This clearly isn’t Shumpert’s year.  If the Knicks have any hope of making it their year (which one could easily argue they shouldn’t), they need to dramatically reevaluate how they’re using their sole young player.

Up next: Amar’e Stoudemire…

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.

Kn___s 80, Clippers 93

New York Knicks 80 Final

Recap | Box Score

93 Los Angeles Clippers
Kenyon Martin, PF 28 MIN | 2-6 FG | 0-1 FT | 9 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 4 PTS | 0Martin, likely recalling his time with the Clippers last year, did a lot of fouling tonight. On most nights, that would be a bad idea, but with the terrible free throw shooting of LAC’s bigs, the fouls were a big part of why New York was able to keep this game from getting ugly. His +/- showed it too: he and Novak were the only Knicks not in the negatives. Martin deserves credit, too, for fighting on the boards, especially given how small the Knicks went for most of the game.
Kurt Thomas, PF 17 MIN | 1-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | -8For a moment it seemed like Kurt was going to join Chandler, Stoudemire, and Melo on our collection of guys with injured knees (can we get a group shot of them playing wheelchair basketball?). Fortunately, you don’t need knees when you never jump. Kurt was the featured player in the Knicks offense early on, more because LA didn’t bother to cover him than by Knick plans. He mostly missed, but Like K-Mart, he did his fair share of fouling, keeping the game ugly and putting the Clippers’ terrible free throwers on the line.
Iman Shumpert, SF 17 MIN | 2-6 FG | 1-2 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 5 PTS | -6After an uneventful first half, Shumpert played only seven minutes in the second. What I noticed most was the difference between he and Matt Barnes on both ends of the floor. The two have similar roles as defense-oriented, low usage players, but Barnes’ help defense, length, and ability to finish off the bounce make him so much more valuable than this iteration of Shumpert. Yes, we’ve seen a bit of a renaissance in Shumpert’s last few games, and yes, Shumpert is still recovering from the knee injury, but I guess what I’m saying is why don’t we have a Matt Barnes? He’s playing for the minimum and much better than most of our damned bench.
Chris Copeland, SF 26 MIN | 5-11 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 13 PTS | -11Jeff Van Gundy captured Copeland perfectly. After Cope swished a three, Van Gundy described his jump shot as “effortless”, and then just as Van Gundy was about to turn the reigns back to Breen, Chris dawdled into the passing lane, leaving the Knicks playing 4 on 5. “His defense is effortless too,” Van Gundy added. Yup. Woodson gave Copeland copious minutes tonight, and at first it worked out pretty well, but Copeland’s weakness seems to be his inability to get a step on defenders. If he catches the ball in good scoring position, he tends to make something happen, but he’s too slow to beat guys off the dribble. What’s worse, he doesn’t realize that shortcoming, which tonight led to a number of Carmelo-esque ball stopping with far worse results. With regard to the other end of the floor, as much as the 3/4 from distance, I will remember Copeland stumbling indifferently into Billups TWICE, the second time fouling him on a three attempt. I will remember him watching his defended 20-footer clang off the rim as his man, Blake Griffin, jogged upcourt for a dunk. You should remember those too. Copeland is not a solution against any team with a brain.
Raymond Felton, PG 41 MIN | 7-15 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 9 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 16 PTS | -4Felton started off terribly (-20 early in the 3rd quarter), but, combined with Kidd, did a good job of keeping the Knicks just close enough that Jeff Van Gundy only had to pull out one of his time-killing, inane rule change ideas — that banked free throws should be treated the same as airballed free throws. Felton’s nine assists were almost all for high value shots — five threes and two layups. Now that I’ve said some nice things, on to the mean: I think Felton’s new nickname should be t-rex. If his arms weren’t so damn short, he would be so much better. Those two blocks that Deandre Jordan had on him? If Felton could have just gotten a little more extension, they would have been scores. Speaking of layups — all those strange-angled shots at the rim that Felton misses would be much easier if he had the extra torque and control that longer arms would provide.
Steve Novak, SF 16 MIN | 3-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 9 PTS | +9Novak had a holy game, representing the trinity in numerous ways: three threes, two of which were from about 33 feet away for nine points (3*3!). He should have played more, but then like Copeland, he’s best as a surprise attack type player. Defenses adjust quickly to his limited game and shut him down when he’s out there for too long.
Marcus Camby, C 22 MIN | 0-6 FG | 1-2 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 1 PTS | -16Camby played his most minutes of the season today. He successfully took and missed six shots. His offensive game is kind of like Jared Jeffries’ in slow motion — the same level of awkwardness, but rather than rushed and panicked tosses towards the rim, Camby seems to slowly contort his body and lean in strange directions before shooting. Pretty disappointing game for Camby on the defense as well, only four rebounds and no blocks.
Jason Kidd, PG 25 MIN | 4-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 11 PTS | -9Kidd showed up big time for about two minutes to hit three consecutive threes to staunch the bleeding from the dunkathon Blake Griffin was putting on at the other end of hte floor. Definitely one of Kidd’s better games in the last three months.
Pablo Prigioni, PG 12 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | -1Lots of fouls for Pablo too and a pretty good +/-. I can’t say I noticed much in terms of his actual play though that deserves mention other than just how awkward he looks whenever he takes a shot off the dribble. Another night when the second best PP in the Atlantic didn’t get into the game until the 4th.
J.R. Smith, SG 36 MIN | 4-20 FG | 8-9 FT | 6 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 17 PTS | -19At least J.R. flamed out in a game that the Knicks likely weren’t winning anyway. Of the four field goals Smith made, three were assisted and the other was a driving dunk. The sixteen misses were mostly difficult shots off the dribble or relatively open threes, but can you blame him? Who else was going to shoot with this roster? Anyway, he deserves credit for wrestling his way into the paint on numerous occasions, drawing nine free throws.
Tyson Chandler, C DNP STRAINED NECK MIN | FG | FT | REB | AST | STL | BLK | TO | PTS | Tyson, you have a strained neck, too? Shit.
Mike WoodsonCredit Mike 2.0 for the fouling strategy, sending Griffin and Jordan to the line nine times for a net total of zero points. That and the low turnovers are what kept this game from getting out of hand. Credit him as well for being flexible with his lineups later in the game. He finally gave Copeland some extended run, allowing him to play through a lot of stupidity on the defensive end. Perhaps recognizing how few effective isolation players LA has, he also went with his three guard lineup, which worked about as well as any other. Likely as a result, the Knicks were outrebounded four the fifth consecutive game, three times by double digits. More evidence that Stoudemire was making an impact on the boards. Nonetheless, I’d rather have a coach that experiments and fails than one who sticks to a strategy that is proven to fail.

Four Things We Saw

  1. Before tonight, our 2001-02 frontcourt of Camby and Kurt Thomas had only played together for six minutes this season. It made me happy to see them out there together tonight. If you squinted, you could even imagine Chris Copeland’s dreadlocks as Sprewell’s cornrows, Iman Shumpert’s flattop as Allan Houston’s, Raymond Felton as Charlie Ward after a visit to Super Panda Buffet. Heck, we even had a four point play from J.R. in honor of Larry Johnson.
  2. Lately, the Knicks’ games look like a microcosm for their season. They start off unsustainably hot and jump out to a nice lead only to fall back to Earth — just like they started the season hot only to revert to the .500 team we’ve known for 2+ seasons now. They were up eight early tonight and Thursday vs. Portland only to relinquish their leads before halftime.
  3. Yeah, the game was close at times, but I never really had the sense the Knicks were in the game. Instead, it felt more like the Clippers didn’t have the heart to euthanize the dying old dog that is the New York Knicks. Once the Clippers took the lead at 16-15, the Knicks never retook it, and each time they got close, the Clips seemed to push the lead back to double digits with ease. Still, in a game where I imagine most fans had given up hope of a win before tipoff, you have to respect this ragtag squad for not following suit. They kept the game respectable, forcing the Clippers to play their starters the whole night.
  4. If the Nets beat Atlanta at home tonight, the two New York teams will be tied for the lead in the Atlantic with Brooklyn having what is probably a slightly easier remaining schedule (NY has more home games but a harder and more compact schedule). Boston, Atlanta and Chicago are only 2.5 games back. That said, if I’m Woodson, my focus is getting healthy. The Knicks are probably not going to fall below the Bucks, and finishing eighth is the only truly disastrous regular season outcome. What would be disastrous is if the Knicks push for a higher seed only to enter the playoffs beat up and worn out, only to repeat the last two seasons’ first round flameouts. Hopefully, for once, Woodson is able to see the big picture.

Knicks 99, Sixers 93

Philadelphia 76ers 93 FinalRecap | Box Score 99 New York Knicks
Carmelo Anthony, SF 40 MIN | 6-18 FG | 16-18 FT | 7 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 5 TO | 29 PTS | -14Another day, another 40+ minute game, but at least this one was a win.Anthony looked really good tonight in spite of the fact that his perimeter shot still wasn’t working. He was super-aggressive and made quick decisions on his post-ups, spinning and winning and grinning his way to 18 free throw attempts. This aggression led to a number of turnovers and Sixer run-outs, but overall, Anthony played did about the best he could to help the team win.

The oddity of Anthony’s box score numbers is that he was -14 on the game. However, this can largely be attributed to the fact that Anthony played most of his minutes with Shumpert and Kidd, who continued their awful play, rather than J.R. Smith and Amar’e Stoudemire, who were the MVPs of this game.

The one boneheaded decision by Anthony was his decision to slap Spencer Hawes in the back of the head after he Hawes had blocked him. Not only did it bring back memories of the famous “Carmelo slap and run” (I didn’t make up that name; google suggested I add the “and run” to the end of my search for “carmelo anthony slap”), but it also led to Tyson Chandler picking up his tenth tech of the season, only six short of a suspension.

Tyson Chandler, C 35 MIN | 2-2 FG | 1-3 FT | 12 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 3 BLK | 2 TO | 5 PTS | +14Chandler took only two shots in 35 minutes as the Sixer defense repeatedly ignored Shumpert and Kidd in order to prevent Chandler from catching any lobs. In fact, both of Chandler’s field goals were put back dunks. He didn’t take a single shot within the offense.The difference between Chandler and Stoudemire’s offenses was put on display tonight, as Stoudemire’s ability and willingness to find shot opportunities off catches outside the restricted area resulted in a huge scoring night for him, whereas Chandler passed out on most of his paint catches.

Still, Chandler played some tough defense, blocking three shots (including a man-sized block of a Hawes hook shot early on), and his four offensive rebounds led to six points — what ended up being the margin of the game.

Jason Kidd, PG 26 MIN | 1-7 FG | 1-2 FT | 9 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 3 PTS | -9He also only had one basket, a wide open layup on a nearly botched four on two, in seven tries. His other six attempts were all threes, and most of them weren’t very close (although not as far of as some of Felton’s tries). He does deserve kudos for nearly making a three late in the game, on an attempt wherein he probably could have blown one of his trademark kisses to the rim before shooting. He also had nine rebounds, so that’s good, I guess.There’s really not much more to say about Kidd. At least he took the shots the SIxers were giving him, unlike on some other nights. The guy is old, and after a renaissance of a couple years over in Dallas, he’s been in decline for years, so while it’s fair to be disappointed with his shooting, it’s not really fair to be surprised.

It might be time for Kidd to spend some time away from basketball and over on Clyde’s island in St. Croix. Maybe then he can play in the playoffs as he did in the first month of the season.

Raymond Felton, PG 36 MIN | 6-15 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 4 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 14 PTS | -9Raymond was slightly better than he has been of late. He took the ball in the paint and finished relatively well, especially early on, and he took care of the ball. Like Kidd, he took the perimeter shots the defense gave him, and also like Kidd (although not as bad), he missed the bulk of them. He would have had several more assists if only Kidd and Shumpert made their open shots.In the end, the Sixer defense (what there was of it) marginalized Felton by taking away the pick and roll, going under most screens and cluttering the paint, forcing the Knicks to rely on Carmelo post ups, off of which Felton is just not a great option due to his ho-hum perimeter game.
Iman Shumpert, PG 13 MIN | 1-5 FG | 1-1 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 4 PTS | 0This was Shumpert’s 16th game of the season, and the Knicks are now 2-5 in games where he’s played over 20 minutes, and 7-2 in games where he’s played under 20.Iman hasn’t been Iman on either end of the floor but especially on offense. Yes, he had a nice play, forcing a Holiday turnover early in the first, but he was also beaten backdoor by Jrue on at least two occasions. On offense, the Sixers mostly acted as though he wasn’t there, and Iman seemed to agree with them.

My take on Iman is that he’s maybe going through a bit of an identity crisis here. He’s made his living as a defensive player, and because of his stellar defense, coaches have been able to forgive his freewheeling (the nice way of putting it) offense. His defense is still good, but it’s not at the level it was last year. He can’t hang his hat on it, so to speak, and so he’s left to wonder who he is as a basketball player, and that self-doubt only compounds the problems. (/armchair psychology)

It’s time for Shumpert to go to the bench. Not only will it take pressure off of him, but after last summer, when the Knicks offseason signings (and non signings) made it clear that it was now or never for a championship run, now is just not the time to be trying to develop a guy who is coming back from an injury from which it can take years to fully recover. Add to that that a bench role would take some pressure off in terms of media attention and level of compettition, so it might be a quicker path to recovery.

Amar’e Stoudemire, PF 22 MIN | 9-10 FG | 4-6 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 22 PTS | +1022 points in 22 minutes on 9-10 shooting. I know you can read those stats just above this text, but I thought you should read them again. Stoudemire was huge tonight, and for once, the +/- numbers, which haven’t been so kind to Stoudemire this season, bare it out. Stoudemire was +10 on the game, second only to Chandler among those who played over 20 minutes. If you exclude the minutes he shared the floor with Anthony and just look at those during which he was the primary option on offense, Stoudemire was +20 in only EIGHT MINUTES!!!”That’s sick!” you’re saying under your breath right now, and I agree with you.

Yes, the Sixers were slow on defense having played in Philly one night earlier, and yes, they also saved Thaddeus Young, who gave Stoudemire a lot of trouble last year, to defend Anthony (god knows why since he seemed to bite on every Anthony head fake), but this was a magical night for STAT nonetheless.

Steve Novak, SF 19 MIN | 1-2 FG | 1-1 FT | 6 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 4 PTS | +20Steve Novak played the most non-blowout minutes since early January.Steve Novak only took two shots in those minutes.

Steve Novak had the highest +/- on the team.

Yeah, he rode Stoudemire’s coattails, but you could also argue a big part of Stoudemire’s huge night was the fact that with Novak as his running mate, the paint was overflowing with red and white. Teams have to guard Novak, which is more than can be said for several other players in the Knick rotation.

Pablo Prigioni, PG 13 MIN | 1-4 FG | 2-2 FT | 1 REB | 5 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 4 PTS | +13Prigioni’s was serviceable tonight. The Holiday matchup kept his minutes down, but he and Stoudemire continued to exhibit the chemistry that we first saw in the preseason. He too couldn’t make a shot, except for the one where he was sort of cowboy kicking to his left and tossed it towards the basket as the shot clock was expiring. That was nice.
J.R. Smith, SG 36 MIN | 5-12 FG | 1-2 FT | 6 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 14 PTS | +5Smith saved this game. His stats don’t suggest a wonderful performance, but the three consecutive fourth quarter threes stymied a Sixer run and just about sealed the victory. What was more remarkable about Smith’s performance though was the energy he played with on defense.Smith stopped a layup by Jeremy Pargo with a chase down block; his ball pressure and then deflection on Evans early in the fourth led to a Knick runout and kept the lead in double digits; and his offensive rebound after the Sixers had cut it to five with a minute left, were all huge plays that could not have happened if not for J.R. playing in turbo mode for most of the not.

Smith’s early season defense was a huge part of the team’s early run. He’s one of the only players the Knicks have who can cover ground quickly, making him crucial if the Knicks ever hope to control penetration (something they didn’t do all that well tonight, but still).

Kenyon Martin, PF DNP COACH’S DECISION MIN | FG | FT | REB | AST | STL | BLK | TO | PTS | I enjoyed watching Kenyon laugh as Spencer Hawes and Tyson Chandler went after each other.
Mike WoodsonWhy did Woodson take Stoudemire out after his fifth foul? He was dominating, and odds were he wasn’t going to get back in the game anyway (he didn’t). Just a thoughtless decision that could have cost the Knicks the game. Also, again, Anthony plays 40+ minutes. If he’d kept STAT in for two more minutes, the Knicks quite possibly would have been up twenty, and Melo would have played 32 minutes instead of 40.This game didn’t offer Woodson too many chances to mess things up, but Woodson is just a bad in-game coach. In fact, he’s a bad between game coach, too, but that’s for an entire article. He seems pretty good at motivating guys, but he has no ability to think outside the box.

Five Things We Saw

  1. Spiro Dedes, who has a beautiful voice and a lovely goattee, took the shoving match between Chandler and Hawes as a chance to blah blah blah for about ten minutes about how Chandler’s decision showed the Knicks had fight and toughness and were going to turn things around. Blah. Blech.The Knicks are a saucy team. Especially recently, they seem to cherish the opportunity for the sideshow garbage, whining to officials, talking trash to other players… Some guys know how to use this stuff as motivation, but outside of Sheed, who can trash talk all he wants in my book, the Knicks’ trash talk often seems born out of bogus machismo. It’s not a game wherein they’re trying to play the officials for calls or get into their opponents’ heads. For them, their manly pridefulness is more important than winning basketball games, and when it’s challenged, their focus shifts to defending it rather than defending the rim or taking smart shots. Rather than winning. Maybe they choose that that path because it’s easier to win a barking match (or at least to feel as though you’ve won) than to win a basketball game.So Spiro, I respectfully disagree with you and your goattee. The Knicks could use some training at the Tim Duncan school of basketball. You win these fights by unsubscribing from them and leaving your opponent feeling helpless and childish.
  2. For a game between two of the slower paced teams in the league, this sure was a fast paced game. My quick and probably incorrect calculation puts the pace at 106, about sixteen possessions faster than the Knicks and Sixers average. It seemed to work to New York’s advantage, too. When they were scoring well, it seemed to usually come off a miss and a push, with the team getting it to Stoudemire or Melo for a quick score before the Philly defense could set.This may have only been effective due to the Sixers’ tired legs, but it’s worth exploring given how challenging scoring has been for New York against the better defensive teams.
  3. This win was nice as it broke the losing streak, and there were certainly some positive signs, but to put it in context, the Knicks were home. They were playing a team on the second night of a home/away back to back. They were playing a team that had lost four in a row and was nine games under .500. They only won by six points. If this was November, we would have called this win ominous.
  4. The Knicks continue to give up easy shots in the paint at an alarming rate. The Sixers had 36 FGAs in the paint. The Knicks were simply fortunate that they only made 44% on those shots, a number that is completely unsustainable, especially against better offenses. We also continued to see open threes, but again Philly mostly failed to capitalize. There were streaks were the Knick D truly was stifling, especially late in the 3rd and early in the 4th, but that can be said of just about any team. The sum total of your performance is what matters.
  5. Tonight’s game was not unlike the Knicks performance over the last couple months. They had streaks of great play, but they did not play consistently, and with a team made up of so many role players — guy’s with no ability to freelance on a broken play or cover for a bad rotation — execution is critical to the team’s success. However, unlike the past couple weeks, at least tonight’s game was a win. Maybe that psychological boost will lead them to extend the good play across more than 5-10 minute stretches. Also, hopefully Kidd gets his shot back, because without that, this team will never be more than just above average.

Superstar Power Play

I have written before about how the NBA holds an unfair amount of power in comparison to the Players’ Association. Strict tampering rules, the collective bargaining agreement, and the NBA’s monopoly as the premiere professional basketball league give the NBA a technical advantage, and the brevity of the average players’ career along with many players’ immaturity in handling their finances gives the league a financial one.

However, there is one person, with the help of perhaps the most powerful agency in the NBA, who appears to be fighting back, at least for a handful of the league’s superstars. Henry Abbott, founder of TrueHoop, has written extensively about William Wesley, AKA Worldwide Wes. According to power agent David Falk, Wesley is “one of the two or three most powerful people in the sport.” That comes from an article written five years ago, back before in-depth reports (i.e. reports that had teeth) about Wesley mysteriously petered out. One can only assume that he has risen in the ranks since drawing players such as Carmelo Anthony (and La La Vasquez), Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and Chris Paul to his friends at Creative Artists Agency.

Some view Wesley as an underhanded negotiator, a guy who for years had no official relationship with players, agents or teams, allowing him to escape NCAA and NBA tampering restrictions and do “favors” for NCAA programs, teams, and agents by developing private “friendships” with burgeoning stars and guiding them to his cohorts. Others, such as Henry Abbott, the one journalist who has actually had an on the record interview with Wesley, believe him to be pure in intention. According to Abbott, Wesley knows that one of the players’ big shortfalls in terms of their earnings is their youth and immaturity, and so Wesley treats them like family, helping them accept the challenge of developing their potential while using his connections to build a team around them that can help them succeed both on and off the court. Family, though, has certain darker connotations. The Tattaglia family, for example.

The Miami Heat, a team with six players represented by CAA, seems to confirm both of these angles. On the one hand, the 2012 playoffs featured a Lebron James who for the first time seemed to escape the self-consciousness and egotism that plagued his early career and play to his maximum potential. Perhaps James has Wesley and the team Wes put around James to thank for this newfound mentality.

Likewise, one could point towards the shady way the team was assembled, with James, Wade and Bosh flirting with other teams for months leading up to and into the free agency period of 2010. Some might call their debutante-esque behavior part of CAA’s power play. The Bulls, Clippers, Heat, Wolves, Nets, Knicks, Thunder, Kings and Wizards all, either by coincidence or through years of planning, arranged to all be at least within arm’s length of the cap space necessary to offer a maximum contract. Rather than harmless flirtation, some might describe Bosh, Wade and James’ dalliances instead as a hostage situation with CAA holding the gun. What wouldn’t a team do for Lebron James? And with rumors swirling that two or three of CAA’s free agent-to-be stars hoped to join up, the temptation had to be huge for teams to coddle CAA in any way they could.

Now that we’ve all lived through “The Decision” and its aftermath, Melodrama, and whatever puns you want to make about Chris Paul’s trade/free agency sagas, what is important to know about CAA and its influence on the League?

1) Four of their five top-paid clients have been traded in the last three years. The only un-traded player is Dwyane Wade, and we all know why he didn’t go anywhere.

2) They have only been involved in representing athletes for six years, making the fact that they are the fourth largest representer of NBA players rather remarkable.

3) They started out as and remain primarily in the business of representing entertainers. These entertainers include people like Drew Barrymore and Robert Downey Jr. along with many ESPN personalities such as Chris Broussard, Michael Wilbon and Jim Rome. They also represent Madison Square Garden.  While other agencies represent media figures in addition to athletes, none come close to CAA in their specific concentration of on and off court power players in the NBA.

These are the details that arouse conspiracy theorists.

But in the end this all may not be worth calling a conspiracy. Reality might be the better term as CAA doesn’t need to make demands of the press in order to encourage the kind of stories they desire. The real transactions in sports are built around access. Imagine how much more traffic KnickerBlogger would get if we KnickerBloggers had Carmelo Anthony’s private cell number, or were connected with Amar’e Stoudemire on Skype. Access = information = traffic = money. Ever wonder why Stephen A. Smith, whose career was on the downswing, knew about Lebron, Bosh and Wade’s plans more than a week before any other journalist? Perhaps it’s because he’s made nice with CAA. And he has reaped the benefits with exclusive interviews with the biggest NBA stars. Such a formula, again, is not groundbreaking, but CAA wields more chips than we’ve seen anyone else hold in the NBA and so, as with any corporate interactions, they hold more influence.

Likewise, if you accept the reality that agencies are going to influence the league in a way proportionate to their power, and you know that according to the New York Post, less than one month ago, Jeremy Lin refused to sign with CAA, you start to understand why journalists would look for ways to trash Lin (playing into CAA’s desires, looking to earn more access), and why word might somehow sneak into Dolan’s office that CAA preferred to see Lin go.

There is no hard evidence, but a few things make the Knicks’ behavior in free agency appear shady. The first is their refusal to tender anything more than Lin’s $1.24 million qualifying offer, excusing such a choice with a (reasonable at the time) claim that they would match any offer. The second is their seemingly immediate decision to pursue other guards. Felton seemed confident he was joining New York as early as July 4th and Kidd officially signed one day later. Why pay two point guards $20 million when you’re “sure” you’ll sign a third for $25 million?

The answer seems to be that the Knicks never intended to sign Lin, choosing instead to play to the interests of Creative Artists Agency.

Now comes the part where your interests will decide where you stand. CAA has a brief but impressive track record of aiding in the assembly of championship level teams for their superstars. The reason why doesn’t even have to be selfless. Their goal is to build an international brand for their players, the type of recognition-level that will leave those stars with sponsorship income like Jordan, whose name still sells $200 sneakers nine years after he retired and fourteen after his last championship. On the one hand, this seems like a “most people win” situation. The fans get to watch juggernaut teams battle for titles, and the players and league both benefit from the increased coverage of the league. Lastly, with the guidance of Wesley, the players get guidance without an agenda, which might help them grow into mature adults (instead of narcissists like Dwight Howard).

In the big picture, that seems like a fair deal, but then there’s the smaller picture: the game itself. What is it about games that makes us hold them so close to us, to scream at televisions, to write 2,000 word articles? My feeling has always been that it’s about the rules. There is the cliché, “It’s complicated.” That “it”? It stands for life. Life is rife with complicated decisions, choices whose implications are a mystery to us when we make them and often remain so long afterwards. A game, however, is simple. Your goal is to use the rules as a guide to win. In basketball, that means scoring more points, and scoring more points is always good. That fact that rules simplify the difference good and bad, in my opinion, is a critical piece of what makes people hold games so close to themselves.

The problem is, CAA isn’t playing by the rules. It’s making things complicated. Now, you may be thinking “but free agency is different from the game.” Well, for many fans, such as myself and the millions of fantasy sport players out there, and the millions of fans who plug trades into ESPN’s trade machine when they are feeling hopeless about their team, the process of building a team is as much a game as the game itself. It’s a huge part of the thrill, the thing that keeps fans’ chins up when they are stuck rooting for teams like last year’s Bobcats… or the Knicks from 2002-2010.

What happens if CAA continues to grow more powerful – and likely will as the more they earn for their players, the more players will be drawn to them – is that player movement becomes a sham. The entire process of building a team gets moved from a matter of working the cap and drafting wisely – playing by the rules – to a series of underhanded deals that only a tiny handful of people are privy to.

This all leaves me feeling very conflicted. On the one hand, it feels right for an organization with real muscle to be working on behalf of the players, but on the other, I feel disenchanted. I wish that this power struggle could have been resolved at the negotiating table, that the team-building element of the game is something more than a fantasy.

What leaves me most conflicted, however, is the thought that CAA and Wesley have played the Knicks. After all, every time someone succeeds in making a power play, someone else gets played. Yes, the Cavs and Raptors were the obvious losers in 2010, but what rewards, exactly, have the Knicks reaped by acquiring Anthony, playing nice with Eddy Curry and keeping ties with Isiah Thomas (whose major draft flub was selecting Balkman and Collins, both CAA clients)? With the team Walsh constructed, we were headed for a first round exit, and these last two years have looked the same. Perhaps this year will be better, but will it be thanks to CAA? The only deal I can think of that could be considered a clear winner is J.R. Smith’s frugal contract – not exactly a mind boggling benefit considering the sacrifices.

No, in my opinion, the jig should have been up for CAA and its relationship with New York as soon as Lebron James and company went to Miami. CAA played its biggest chips right there, and as soon as that happened, the Knicks should have given up on the CAA dream. Walsh, in fact, seemed intent on doing this, signing Stoudemire (not a CAA client), waiving Curry, and playing hardball in negotiations for Carmelo Anthony. If CAA’s desires for Anthony (or, indeed, Anthony’s own desires) was to be on a contender, why wouldn’t he join the Knicks as a free agent, just as the Heat’s stars did? James and Bosh’s coyness about their future seemed tailored to keep their teams from trading them, allowing them to jump to Miami without bankrupting them of assets. Why wouldn’t Anthony play things the same way?

I certainly can’t answer these questions, but they cast doubt on Abbott’s lovey-dovey storyline. Maybe we’ve learned a little something though: that it’s conceivable that Dolan really did do all this for money, that those sponsorship deals CAA negotiates for him are worth more to MSG than Lin. Then again, perhaps we’ve come full circle and all this hullabaloo is really just a result of a stupid and arrogant owner who cannot conceive of the fact that anyone would dare take advantage of him.

Without access, however, none of us will ever know for sure.

The Turtle-Knicks

Aesop taught us when we were very small that the slow and steady tortoise can beat the hare. Have the Knicks been slow and steady in their improvement, or did they, like the hare, wait around, give only partial effort for half the season, assuming that all the other NBA teams were wearing half-shells?

Many point to the firing of D’Antoni as the moment when the Knicks woke up and began to run for their lives. However, if you take a look at the chart below, you can see that this year’s team should be called the Turtle-Knicks, for they have slowly and steadily improved throughout the year. Each game, their adjusted margin of victory has improved by 0.24 points, and that trend has been pretty steady throughout the season.

What the chart shows is the Knicks’ margin of victory in each game, adjusted for both difficulty of opponent and whether the game was home or away (strange observation: the Knicks outscore opponents by a ridiculous 8.7 fewer points when on the road). Bizarrely, in spite of the series of injuries this team has suffered through, those injuries (color coded onto the chart) seem to have far less of an impact than we might expect.

What else can we take from this? It seems that the firing of D’Antoni did scare some of the Knicks to life, as the Knicks had five straight games where they performed above the trendline, which indicates how we could have expected the Knicks to perform each game.

Likewise, Linsanity was real. Even after adjustments, six of the seven games the Knicks won during their seven game streak were above the trendline.  That six game streak was the longest streak of over-the-trendline games the Knicks have had this season. Their worst streak? The four games before the close loss to Chicago, after which D’Antoni resigned.

Some other information I gleaned from the data:

1)   The Knicks before D’Antoni resigned improved by an average of 0.13 points/game. However, if you exclude the games after Linsanity, when Anthony admitted to dogging it, they improved by an average of 0.3 points/game.

2)   The Woodson Knicks are trending downward by 0.6 points/game. However, if you exclude the Portland blowout, they are only trending downward by 0.2 points/game.

3)   The most stable period for the Knicks was during Linsanity as well. You’ll note that the chart knives up and down far less violently during that win-streak.

4)   Stoudemire and Anthony were a part of most of all the losing streaks. Both of the longer win streaks occurred with either Anthony or Stoudemire missing some games.

With so much roster instability, it’s hard to predict how this information will affect our playoff performance. You could argue that our consistency in spite of injuries shows the Knicks’ great depth. You could also argue that it is indicative of the frailty of the marriage between Stoudemire and Anthony. Either way, it’s nice to see that the players likely did not nap through half the season, and instead were slowly working their way into shape, learning the defense, and learning how to play together.