The Architect of Your Misery

Fellow Citizens of Knick:

The influence of our Great Leader is wide, but I have found safety from his agents in the small town of Tallahassee, Florida, five hundred miles from the nearest Dolan stronghold of Miami, where the watchful eye of Great Leader’s right hand man, Isiah Thomas, is everywhere.

I write to you today from exile, but also in solidarity, in faith that as impotent as the truth may seem right now, it is still important, more important than anything. As Buddha once said, “Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.”

Since Mike D’Antoni first had success with his fast-paced offense, people have done all they could to tear him down.  They criticized the defense of his team although it was always in the top two-thirds of the league. They criticized his offense, claiming his success was only a product of Steve Nash’s offensive genius.

Never mind that before the Anthony trade he coached the 4th youngest team in the league to a winning record, that the Knicks managed 33 wins in D’Antoni’s first season, ten more than the Isiah-led team of the previous year, despite the fact that their top three scorers were all gone (or “gone” in the case of Eddy Curry), replaced only by Al Harrington and a cameo from Tim Thomas, that his Suns teams had a winning record in the playoffs and went the Western Conference Finals in two of his four years.

Great Leader at Mike D'Antoni's "resignation" press conference

“Why?” I know that word is right on your collective tongue, comrades. You are thinking, “Why tear him down?” The answer is that those who lack imagination, and they are legion, will fight tooth and claw to maintain the status quo. They do so because they rightfully fear that in a world where conventional wisdom is useless, they will be left in the dirt.

Here is a simplified list of the major moves that have occurred in Dolan’s tenure, before the Anthony trade. Draft picks are substituted for the players they became.

  1. Isiah Thomas as President of Basketball Operations
  2. Antonio McDyess for Marcus Camby and Nene
  3. Stephon Marbury for Antonio McDyess and Gordon Hayward
  4. Jamal Crawford at seven years and $56 million for spare parts
  5. Eddy Curry at six years and $60 million for Joakim Noah and LaMarcus Aldridge
  6. Steve Francis for Trevor Ariza
  7. Zach Randolph for Steve Francis and Channing Frye
  8. Jerome James and Jared Jeffries at five years and $30 million each

These don’t even include the assets that our ally Donnie Walsh gave up to escape from some of these terrible contracts.

The moves here range from lateral to absolute disasters. Again, comrades, you may be feeling that stone of a word weighing on your tongues: “Why?” We all have our currencies. Some desire to earn respect, others desire freedom, and others money. What currency does a dictator desire? It’s not money, for Great Leader could be far richer were he to have put decisions into wiser hands.

No, dictators are narcissistic, and so their currency is reality. They want to control the narrative, and they want to center themselves in that narrative.  Most of these Dolan-endorsed moves involved the acquisition of a player who has appeared in leaderboards, who makes SportsCenter, who can draw people’s attention. Each of these moves gave Dolan a chance to plant his flag at the source of a “New Knick Direction.”

Great Leader's Childhood
Great Leader's childhood

Were the Knicks to be “a story” without a trademark decision of our Great Leader as the starting point, regardless of how “Linsanely” exciting that story might be, regardless of how much money it might earn, is a loss of the only currency that Great Leader values, and he will use his girth and might to sabotage it. He will restore the narrative so that he is the seed.

Early propaganda from the Dolan regime, courtesy of the Smithsonian Institute

Were Great Leader to have allowed Mike D’Antoni to stay on as commander of the team and moved stubborn Anthony, the story would have been about Donnie Walsh autonomously shepherding the team back to competitiveness, about Mike D’Antoni trusting the young Lin, about Lin himself rising to stardom. The acquisition of Carmelo Anthony, which Great Leader was solely responsible for, would have been forever-remembered as a failure.

You see, for Mr. Dolan, control is far more important than success, for if his word and plan is final, the people have no choice but to lay all faith in him. He is infallible, for all other possibilities are fantasies – only the most idealistic put hope into what can never be – and all failures are the fault of changeable parts. Linking D’Antoni’s struggles to his lame duck status or a roster that seemed designed to undercut his authority and style of play would be just as sensible as being angry about the sun rising.

Logic and reason, too, are the enemy of Great Leader, as they are the tools through which idealists steel their faith, while the self-centered and destructive are his greatest allies. Any success that doesn’t travel the avenues of Great Leader’s “wisdom” cannot be tolerated. Mr. D’Antoni, who faithfully insisted on his system, saw past the conventional wisdom of big scoring individual players. His “resignation” is only a continuation of a trend that began when Great Leader’s father consigned the state of Knick to his hapless son.

Looking more closely into Great Leader’s legacy, we see the two figures he forged the closest relationships with: Isiah Thomas and Stephon Marbury. It makes perfect sense for our Little General to trust these men, for they are unprincipled and thus  easy to control. Marbury once said, “I’m a max player. Don’t get mad at me, because I’m telling you what’s real. One plus one is two, all day long, and it’s never gonna change. And that’s factorial.” As long as he collected his check, this was not a man that Dolan had to worry would stand against him. He was an ideal confederate in Dolan’s plot.

Thomas too seemingly went out of his way to prove his lack of principles and soon found a place within Great Leader’s cavernous chest. First, it was the Anucha Browne-Sanders sexual harassment suit, in response to which Great Leader only pulled Thomas closer. When the pressure mounted on Thomas, he fed to the wolves the players that he and Dolan had brought in and touted as the franchise’s salvation. No doubt these dual betrayals brought considerable joy to Great Leader, for when United Basketball Nations Secretary General Stern forced Dolan to dismiss him, Dolan insisted that Isiah remain as a consultant to the team. Great Leader continues to this day to call him, “a very good friend.”

Walsh may have ushered in a brief period of pragmatism and progress, but Dolan couldn’t help but meddle again, and this move followed the same Devil’s logic that all the previous ones had. Youth and salary flexibility were jettisoned in favor of an overrated high-scoring player, the scoop of ice cream on top being that this fellow had alienated his teammates and had confirmed in forcing his way off the Nuggets that his real objective was to be in the spotlight and make lots of cash; winning basketball games was secondary. This was a man after Dolan’s heart. The resignation of Walsh the usurper was icing on the cake. When Anthony later sabotaged his coach, he was surely inducted into the inner-circle of the Cablevision empire. That smile of Anthony’s that has received so much attention of late? It is not unlike the one Isiah Thomas often wore as he explained away the Knicks’ failures.

His reputation at stake, he may finally be exerting himself on the court, but if the Knicks make the playoffs and the pressure fades, would it be any surprise for him to return to complacency? Perhaps this experience has taught him some humility, in which case he deserves acknowledgement, but we cannot forget what was sacrificed. We cannot lose sight of the bigger picture.

Dolan and his confederates meet at an undisclosed location -- Illustration by Bruce Koplow, songwriter for JD and the Straight Shot

Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “All things are subject to interpretation. Whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth.” That quote may well adorn the office that Dolan spends his days in, deep in the pits of Madison Square Garden.

The violence of Great Leader and his cabal for ignorance can only control the perception of what is true, not truth itself. Their unreality serves only to preserve their power over the hearts of the citizenry, and to further the suffering of the masses. Take solace, fellow citizens, in the undying power of truth. You may not live to see a Knicks championship, but history will reveal the architect of your misery.

The Last of the Melo-hicans

Once upon a time, in the midst of Melo hysteria, this blog seemed like the sole bastion of reason. Mike Kurylo argued on more than one occasion that we should temper our expectations, that while Melo could improve the team, whether he would and just how much he would was an open question (1, 2). I don’t bring this up just to stir up poop. I do it to point out the irony of the phase shift that is already beginning to occur. By the end of this season, KnickerBlogger’s constituency may contain some of the last of the Melo-hicans.

For evidence, just look at this extremely unscientific poll that the Knicks posted (and later pulled) through Facebook. I guess they didn’t realize that by default Facebook polls allow you to add your own response. How about this Onion article, or this jersey, both highly circulated around the spheres of the web? There is plenty of “real analysis” (idle speculation?) on the subject of Anthony potentially disrupting the Knicks’ offense. Deservedly or not, the kettle is heating up.

“Are you Linsane?” you might ask. “Or to be more accurate, are you not Linsane? Because I am! We’re in for a second half tear. The Melo hate will be dead in a month.” That may well be the case, but I’m trying very hard to not be Linsane here because as it seemed every player at All-Star Weekend pointed out, Jeremy Lin is a great story. It’s easy to get caught up in a story, for it to consume you for it to make you forget reality. The reality is that even during this recent win streak (which, by the way, does not even match the win streak we had last year), the Knicks weren’t that great. They won a lot of close games, and they played a lot of bad teams.

So far this season, the Knicks have had the second easiest schedule. Pythagorean wins, a formula that predicts wins and losses based on points scored and allowed, adjusted for strength of schedule, predicts the Knicks to end the season with a record of 31-35, potentially missing the playoffs.

Even if you only look at games since Lin’s emergence, the trusty formula predicts that they will finish the season 34-32, likely making the playoffs only to meet their doom against Miami or Chicago.

Let’s reconsider the evidence. Stoudemire’s season has been an unmitigated disaster.  Whether it’s his redundancy with Chandler on offense or his diminished athleticism, there is little indication (beyond Stoudemire’s word) that we will ever see the Stoudemire of 2010, let alone the dominating force STAT was in Phoenix. Statistics call him an average player right now, but stats have a difficult time measuring a guy’s defense, and that is the area Stoudemire struggles most. It’s a big problem when you have an average player who makes three times the average salary.

The evidence against Anthony is murkier, but even if he does return as a strong contributor, the Knicks would have to be great in order to move up to the 6th seed, and a sixth seed would likely require 36 wins at minimum (Hollinger predicts it will take 38 wins) and thus a 19-12 close. With the Knicks rough remaining schedule, even you optimists must admit that escaping a first round matchup with Miami or Chicago is at best a 50/50 proposition.

Getting back to stories though, with the Jeremy Lin story quaking in our hearts, we can’t help but believe that this team is heading for great things. If those great things do not happen – if, for example, we finish the season just above .500 and are out of the playoffs in five games – many will respond like children who receive disappointing Christmas gifts. They will lash out, and when they do, it will not be at the logical target. It will be at the easiest target.

What would make this situation especially unique is how all the normal scapegoats – the guys who pay the price when a team disappoints – are very difficult to blame.

The first man on the firing line is generally the coach, but D’Antoni is no longer such an easy target. Lin has often praised his coach, and many have speculated that a big reason for Lin’s emergence is D’Antoni’s system. These factors make it difficult to imagine D’Antoni as the fall guy.

The next part of the equation is the relative infancy of the Miami Heat model that the Knicks have followed. Normally, teams in possession of stars have spare parts and draft picks that they can move. However, due to our finagling for cap room and the assets we gave up in the Denver trade, we have little in the way of spare parts. Shumpert and Fields have some value, but their tiny contracts make it difficult to match salaries, as does Fields’ close relationship with Lin.

That leaves our two stars, which puts the Knicks in really rare air if you think about it. I can’t think of another time when a player who was top 20 in the league in terms of name recognition, was in or near his prime, and did not request the trade himself, was on the block.

Stoudemire, with his uninsured contract and his major struggles at both ends of the floor, seems like the easiest target, and Philadelphia inquired about him early this season. It’s unlikely, however, that a Stoudemire trade would net anything more than, say, Brand and Evan Turner or something similar. It’s hard to sell such a move as an upgrade.

Then there’s Anthony. We were 9-15 when Anthony got hurt, 1-2 since his return, and 8-1 in between. The easiest storyline with regard to the Knicks, if they do not “gel” into a top team, will be that Anthony is overrated and/or a poor fit.

The elephant in the room is the Knicks’ poor performance to open the season. That’s the primary factor that makes the lampooning of Anthony a reality and the trading of Anthony a possibility. We lost a lot of games to a lot of really bad teams. Most logical arguments suggest that, while Anthony hasn’t been the what the frothing masses expected, nor has his play justified the pieces the Knicks gave up for him, he also is not the primary cause of the Knicks’ struggles. I’m not even saying trading Anthony would hurt the Knicks, just that making him out to be the cause of all our troubles is both illogical and likely. If you think the Knicks organization is above acting rashly, you must be new to this franchise, because the last decade has been full of such kneejerk decisions.

2012 Game Preview: Knicks @ Raptors

The “Quick Reaction” format premiered the last time we met the Raptors. It was in NYC, a five point loss, and in it, Mike Kurylo poetically promised us that:

  1. It’s
  2. not
  3. time
  4. to
  5. panic.

Thomas B.’s response was,

If I may quote the esteemed galactic Senator Jar Jar Binks:

“Monsters out there, leaking in here. Weesa all sinking and no power. Whena yousa thinking we are in trouble?”

 

For a time, Jar Jar and Thomas B.’s concerns proved prescient. The Knicks went on to lose twelve of their next eighteen contests. Then, a New Hope was born. Jeremy Lin, California-raised and Harvard-trained, emerged as a leader for an injury-riddled Knicks team. Leaving behind the safety of Dagobah, which is located right next to Renaldo Balkman, Lin rushed out to the court to rescue his compatriots from falling to the dark side (i.e. the Nets).

Now respected as a leader on the team, Lin followed up the Nets victory with stellar (interstellar?) performances against Utah and Washington. Against Los Angeles, despite repeated attempts by the Lakers to slice off his left hand (as well as other parts of his body), Lin and the Knicks prevailed. In icy Minnesota, Lin struggled to finish near the rim. He was blocked four times and regularly bullied by the brutish duo of Kevin Love and Nikola “Ricola” Pekovic. He appeared to be “running on fumes.” Still, the team managed to steal a win on the back of some amazing fourth quarter defense and some bad turnovers by Ricky Rubio.

The Raps are nowhere near the team that Wolves or Lakers are. They are a terrible team on offense (third worst in the league) and below average on defense. They are also missing (arguably) their best player in Andrea Bargnani (who, by the way, is no longer “Il Mago.” Instead, he is “Flipper.”). The Raptors were near a .500 team before Bargnani went down, but since then they are 5-11. They are not bad at the level of the Wizards, Nets, Hornets, or Bobcats, but they are not very good. Still, there is a lot to be excited about in this game.

Here are some things I’ll be thinking about as I watch:

1) What puns can we make that combine the names of Amaré Stoudemire and Jeremy Lin? This will be a real test of Lin’s ability to adapt and read the defense. These last five games, it seems like nine times out of ten the Knicks started with a Chandler/Lin pick and roll. Now, on that same play Lin will have Amaré Stoudemire as a passing option. How will he involve Amaré? Furthermore, how often will we see Amaré as the roll man? Amaré, is not as big a target as Chandler, but his abilities around the rim are much more diverse, especially if you get him the ball at the right moment. He has a variety of flip shots that he is really consistent with from up to five feet out, and he has the agility to make a the catch on the pick and roll and slip past defenders. This seems like it might make Lin’s life easier, but that will only be the case if Lin can quickly adjust to Amaré’s unique skills.

2) How will Toronto defend Lin? We saw him doubled and even triple teams these last few games, but that often happened with Jared Jeffries on the floor. How will Amaré’s presence influence the defense against Lin?

3) D’Antoni has often remarked that one of the reasons Lin didn’t stand out to him when he tried out in 2010 was that he couldn’t finish at the rim. He had some difficulties with this in the second half of the Minnesota game. Perhaps this was due to fatigue, but there’s also the chance that he simply found a good rhythm for a few games. Toronto doesn’t have great bigs, and Calderon is a defensive sieve. This should mean buckets galore for Lin…

4) Who will take the shots? Lin’s usage rate so far has been 31.5%, just shy of Carmelo’s 32.7%. With Stoudemire back on the floor, will Lin become more of a distributor?

5) How will the defense look? The last five games, the Knicks have allowed opponents a FG% of 42.5% and a three-point percentage of 26.8%. On the season, they allow opponents to shoot 44.6% from the field and  37.1% from distance. As much as Lin has helped, this increased defensive intensity is just as much a part of the win streak. Calderon, Barbosa and James Johnson are threats from distance, and Amaré is notoriously bad at rotating out to shooters.

That’s all I have for now, Knicks fans. Enjoy the game, and may the force be with you.

The Daily Lin: The Future of the Nation of D’Anmelarélinson

There has been lots of talk of the regrets that previous GMs must be having now that Lin appears to be for real, yo. “How could a guy like this go undrafted?”

“How could he have been waived by all thirty-six teams, including the Anchorage Yetis?”

“Fire all the GMs!”

Maybe the appropriate place to start answering this question is by looking at Lin’s numbers this season and last:

Season Minutes Played Points/36 Assists/36 AST% TS% USG% Steals/36 Turnovers/36
2010-11 284 9.6 5.3 20.5% 45.8% 15.7% 4.2 2.3
2011-12 171 22.5 8.7 47.2% 61.3% 29.3% 1.7 4.0

That is quite the transformation. Perhaps you’re thinking that he spent last year in a cocoon, and now we’re seeing the beautiful butterfly spread its wings. I have another thought though.

Let me start by painting you a word-picture. Jeremy Lin is on the Lakers (don’t worry – we’re just imagining). He dribbles the ball up the court, and sees a scowling Kobe Bryant thrust his shoulder back into Thabo Sefolosha as he fights for position in the high post. He raises his hand up, calling for the ball, and Jeremy Lin begins to drop the ball into Kobe, but wait, what’s this? Westbrook drops off of Lin as he starts to pass, blocking the angle. Jeremy eyes the basket from 23 feet out, but then feels Kobe’s eyes burning on his cheeks, and so he reverses the ball, and after some screen action, Kobe receives the pass and begins to back Thabo down.

Except there are more problems. OKC doubles Kobe, and their defense rotates so that Lin is open on the weak side. Kobe now has two options: swing the ball to Lin so he can miss a three (or dribble in and take a low value long two), or he can do what Kobe do and jack up a shot with two defenders draped over him.

The Laker version of Jeremy Lin looks very similar to the Warrior version of Lin, and the reason why is because what these last three games have revealed is that he has two plus skills:

  1. Reading the defense
  2. Slashing to the rim

Those skills are only valuable when you have the ball in your hands, and it takes a great leap of faith for a coach to send an undrafted rookie out in the game and give him the green light to to attack. If you look at Lin’s shot selection last year in Golden State, 64% of his attempts were jump shots. He had a putrid eFG% of 29.3% on those shots. Lin was not creating when he was in Golden State. In the few minutes Keith Smart spared him last year, he likely told him to get the ball to a more established player. Most of his few field goal attempts likely came on kick outs, and if we’ve seen one notable flaw in Lin’s game, it’s that he cannot shoot. Not only is this pattern evidenced in Lin’s shot selection, it is clear from his meek 15.7% usage rate and much lower turnover rate.

By contrast, Lin’s 29.3% USG% this year is 11th in the league, just after Derrick Rose. It is higher than Amaré Stoudemire’s (26.8%). Combined, Lin’s USG% and AST% is 76.5%, so when he’s playing, Lin either shoots, turns the ball over, or assists on more than three-quarters of the Knicks’ possessions. That’s higher than Westbrook, Rose, and Paul, and slightly lower than the offense-starved Nets’ Deron Williams.

In addition, Lin’s skills are particularly well suited to D’Antoni’s offense. As we have seen from our point guard play this year and even from Chauncey Billups last year, the pick and roll is easy to run but hard to have consistent success with. This is because the passing angles and driving lanes change on every play. One time down, Lin might have a window to pass to Chandler as soon as he rolls to the basket. The next time down, he might have to cut diagonally towards the paint to get that angle, another he might have to hesitate at a certain spot and wait for the angle to develop. This doesn’t even take into account potential passes to perimeter players. There are a ton of decisions to make in a very short period of time, and if you miss your window to make a play, the defense will recover, and you will either have to reset, or you will end up with a low percentage shot.

So to answer the question, “Why has Lin been so successful?” it is mostly because D’Antoni’s system emphasizes Lin’s specific skillset and almost entirely hides his weaknesses. Seven Seconds or Less puts its point guard in the control room. With a good roll man, it will almost always yield an opportunity for a high percentage shot, and if the point guard can sniff it out, things will go great. This should be no mystery to people. Remember that guy Steve Nash? He was supremely talented passer, but back in 2003 no one would have guessed that he would one day be a two-time MVP. Consider his numbers from his last four years in Dallas and his first four in Phoenix.

team Assists/36 TS%
Dallas 8.3 59.2%
Phoenix 11.5 63.4%

Those are some HUGE jumps for a guy who – 29 years old when he moved to sunny Phoenix – was supposed to be entering his twilight years. I don’t mean to say Lin is the new Nash, but they share those two critical skills.

Unfortunately, the one major difference between Lin and Nash is that Lin can’t shoot. One thing we have some reason to be concerned about here is what happens when Anthony and Stoudemire return? You have to remember that playing Jeremy Lin heavy minutes makes this team even more dependent on Seven Seconds or Less because as an off ball player, he is a huge liability. The isolation, a play which has been dreadfully ineffective for New York so far this year, will be even more useless. Will Anthony continue his solid team play, or will he revert to his old ways?

Maybe the best comparison here is the 2007-08 Celtics. A second year guard has emerged as a great playmaker, but will the newly-united stars share their spotlight with him for the benefit of the team? Their choices will decide the future of the nation of  D’Anmelarélinson.

Clyde & Tommy, An APBRmetrics Sci-Fi Tale (Part II)

Part II, The Script

When the final horn echoes through the arena, Tommy Heinsohn only allows himself thirty seconds to savor the moment. He counts the seconds down, just as he’d counted down from 4.1 seconds to 0.6 seconds moments earlier, and in that time, the exponentiality of the curve of his smile grows larger and larger. This is a measured act, and when he is through, he nods, stands, and makes his way towards Walt Clyde Frazier. As he touches the shoulder of Frazier’s taupe polyester suit, there is a flash of light, and again the two find themselves sitting at that same pub.

“You know, Walt, that man, what was his name? Woody? It seemed like he was trying to get under our skin the other night, with that talk about how we got here.”

“Yes,” Clyde says distractedly. Something has caught his interest. He slides off his stool and makes his way towards a dark corner of the bar. Seated at a square table are four large black men, each wearing an orange headband and an orange and blue jersey with the number seven knit to the back. All four of them have pints of some dark brew in front of them, and each’s nose hangs less than a centimeter above the rim of his glass. The quartet is motionless except for the occasional slowly drawn breath or clenching and unclenching of fist.

“Carmelo?” Clyde says.

“Yeah?” one of the men says. Another sighs loudly. A third slouches back into his chair and rests an arm over its back. The last shakes his head then takes his headband off his head and flicks it towards a bar stool. It’s a perfect shot; the headband catches the backrest of the stool and hangs there. The other three Carmelos take their headbands off and follow suit until all four headbands hang on the corner of the barstool.

Heinsohn shows up just in time to offer sarcastic applause.

“Carmelo,” Clyde says again, “there were ten of you before. Where did the other six go?”

The slouching Carmelo looks up from the table and makes eye contact with Clyde. He offers a pitiable smile. “Yeah, I had it going,” he says.

Clyde nudges Heinsohn, who is now standing at his elbow. Heinsohn grumbles. Clyde nudges him again. He whispers into Heinsohn’s ear, “I know it’s in your head; say what you know must be said.”

“What my dear friend Clyde wants me to tell you is that your game score in game one was 3.8. Tonight it was 38.3. I’m going to give you a Tommy point for your game tonight. Don’t, ah, don’t spend it all in one place.”

“He’s right, ‘Melo. Your game score was higher than Chris Paul’s, and his team beat the greatest of them all,” Clyde says. “That puts you 37th all time for a playoff game game score. Guess how many of the players above you on that list lost their game.”

One Carmelo says to the table, “I don’t remember Clyde being such a nerd.” This comment seems to cheer up all the Carmelos. They share a laugh. Perhaps due to Clyde’s unchanged expression, those widened eyes, a side-effect of The Event, one of the Carmelo Anthony’s says, “I dunno, Clyde. How many?”

“Three,” Tommy says.

There is a commotion at the door. A small black man enters the pub carrying and large rectangular object wrapped in a plastic bag. The object is larger than his entire upper body, so large that it covers his face all the way up to his black and brown plastic frame glasses. He wears a jersey as well. It is a bright orange and blue, and on its back are the letters F-I-E-L-D-S.

The words, “PER of -4.5,” come out of Heinsohn’s mouth.

“O-Rating of 23,” Clyde says, then covers his mouth.

“Win Score of -0.132,” Heinsohn says, louder this time. He begins to walk towards the man. As he walks, however, a voice comes from the bar. It is Woody in his tuxedo.

“Oh hey, Spike, how is the movie going?” Woody says.

“It’s going fine,” Spike says, heaving the object up onto the bar. He looks to Heinsohn and Clyde and says, “It’s not my best work, but at least it’s paying for those court-side seats.”

“You’re here for these two, I’m guessing.” Woody says, gesturing towards our heroes. “The boss had me write it down. He said you’d be here at midnight on the dot, and here you are, and if I had a watch I’ll bet it would say midnight on the dot.”

“That’s right, Woody. You are exactly right. Clyde, Tommy, come here. I want to show you something.”

Clyde and Heinsohn walk up next to Spike, and Spike says, “I have pleasantries that I’d like to share with one of you, and unpleasantries that I’d like to share with the other, but there’s no time for that now. I have to show you something.” Spike yanks the plastic bag from the object, revealing an ancient looking book. Clyde and Heinsohn lean over and read the title: “Playoffs: Boston Versus New York, a screenplay by DJS.”

“This,” Spike says, “Is a very powerful book.”

“It smells funny, and like money,” Clyde says.

“It does smell funny,” Spike says, “and it can make people act funny too. At least that’s what people say. Some say it predicts the future, others say it is defined by the future, that the words on the page change to fit whatever future is going to come.”

“Well,” Clyde says, “Why don’t you just read it and see if what’s in it comes true?”

Spike smiles. “Well,” he says, “as you can see, it’s pretty long, and the writing, to be honest, it’s pretty terrible and confusing, so what I’m trying to say is that whenever I try to read it, I fall asleep, so you two, I saw you here, and I thought, ‘Well maybe these two will have better luck than I have had reading this big boring book,’ and that’s why I called you over here.”

Clyde raises his hand towards the book. “May I?” he says.

“Wait,” Woody says, “Hold on a second. Weren’t you telling me something the other day about needing some secret pass–”

“That’s it,” Heinsohn says, cutting off Woody. “I’ve had enough of the mumbo jumbo here,” he says, and he reaches for the book, and as he touches it, a blue-gray vortex forms, and in 3.2 milliseconds Clyde and Tommy shrink away to nothing. They reappear on a bench in the largest park in the largest city of the largest constitutional republic on this planet. Neither can avoid the sense of this city’s gravity, that the weight and will of it will have some bearing on the event soon to take place at its very heart.

Clyde & Tommy, An APBRmetrics Sci-Fi Tale (Part I)

Part I, The Event.

It was fifty-five degrees in Boston that night, but inside Corporate Sponsor Garden it was much warmer, and that wasn’t just because the thermostat was set at seventy degrees. No, there had been a geological Event at the arena, two teams tectonically grinding against one another for forty-eight minutes.

Unbeknownst to one another, our heroes, Walter “Clyde” Frazier and Thomas William Heinsohn, both emerge from the magmatic arena at precisely 9:48pm. Also unbeknownst to the pair is the fact that the energy from The Event has unlocked a mysterious force, and that force will be the reason why neither Heinsohn nor Frazier will have any recollection of the events that take place between 9:52 and 10:25pm. It will be the reason the two regain awareness at each others’ side, sitting at the bar of a certain famous pub… A pub where everybody knows your name.

Here they sit: A lemon-lime soda bubbles below Clyde’s goateed chin. His slow-blinking eyes and peaked complexion lend to our impression of him as a man contemplating a matter of grave importance. Tom wears the downturned smirk that a man saves for only those days when the his own will and the will of the universe are most in agreement. He toys with the condensation on his tumbler glass, in which a golden liquid and several cubes of ice rest.

“There are 35 milliliters of alcohol in this glass,” Heinsohn says. “I have no idea why I know that, but I know.”

“That is correct,” Clyde responds. “Our bartender has been generous to you. That is 1.16 ounces. It is 0.00029 barrels. It is 0.00032 Carmelo Anthonys. I too feel confused by my mathematical prowess.” He leans back in his chair, withdrawing from the conversation.

Tom doesn’t seem to notice this gesture. He goes on: “You know Ray-jawn – that was just ridiculous, ridiculous! – for those New York bums to think they could get away with disrespecting him like that, and he punished them for it–” Tom winces, stops. He reaches to the back of his head and begins to rub, then his hand turns to a fist, gripping what little hair he has left, and in a monotone voice, his eyes wide, he completes the sentence: “by putting up a true shooting percentage of 33.4%. That is 0.7 points per shot if you round. If the entire team had shot like him, they would have scored 61.6 points.”

Numbers make sense?

As Heinsohn finishes speaking, Clyde’s hand shoots to the back of his head, his eyes glowering in pain. He says, “This pain… it’s insane! What’s happening to my brain?” Then he pauses, and in a monotone similar to Heinsohn’s, says, “On average this season, Rondo shoots 41% on two point jumpshots. If he had used every Celtic possession in which they didn’t turn the ball over and shot the ball at his average, the Celtics still would have only scored 72 points.”

The conversation between the two robot-voiced men drones on. Frazier says something about how Paul Pierce has played in 64 playoff games since the big three became the big three, and in only four of those games has he consumed near as many possessions as Anthony with near as poor results. Heinsohn responds by citing Anthony’s play against Pierce since the big three came to be: in four of the eight games, he’s finished with five fouls and overall has had a 51% true shooting percentage.

At this point, a man in a tuxedo materializes behind the bar. “Mr. Heinsohn, Mr. Frazier, I’m Woody.” He smiles and shifts his shoulder. “I’m not used to wearing these clown suits, but the boss said I had to, it being a special occasion and all.”

“What’s so special?” Clyde says.

“Aw, nothing,” Woody replies, shrugging. “Not feeling like yourselves tonight, are you?” He whips his hands out in front of him, producing a two cigars, and props them in the lips of Clyde and Heinsohn. He snaps his fingers, then opens his hands, revealing a flame hovering above each palm. Clyde and Heinsohn lean in and light their cigars.

“Well,” Heinsohn says, “I do feel a bit off kilter. But I put the feeling down to indigestion. It’s hard to digest the numbers here… The only Knick lineup to outscore the Celtics with Garnett on the floor featured Shawne Williams and Landry Fields, and the two only played 28 minutes combined.”

“Yeah,” Clyde says, “But I just thought it was because my head was still swimming after D’Antoni used a staggering fourteen different lineups last night! And on that last play! We need to score, and we’re stuck with Jared Jeffries and Ronny Turiaf on the floor!”

Nothing rhymes with percentage.

Woody smiles at the pair. “Yes,” he says, “everything is going as planned. You two will report back here after game two, and we will continue our little conversation. Until then, sayonara.” He then turns to leave, but a few strides in, turns back. “I almost forgot,” he says, and he opens the tuxedo jacket and removes two shot glasses with a silvery liquid in them and sets them on the bar. “Take these,” he says, “and food for thought — do either of you remember how you got here tonight?”

Clyde and Heinsohn examine the liquid, and when the look back up, Woody has disappeared. “Well,” Clyde says, “bottoms up.” The two drink their drinks, and when they set their glasses down, the bar goes dark; the din of drunken conversations fades and then is gone. A few moments later, the sun peeks through the high windows of the basement pub, and the distant cooing of pigeons reaches the ears of our two heroes.

“Astounding,” Clyde says, as he slips his fur coat on and heads for the exit.

Heinsohn strides up beside him. “Confounding,” he adds.

“Rebounding,” the two say as one.

“You said it, Clyde,” Heinsohn says, and he begins to recite the rebounding percentages of all the major players of the night. “That’s where your boys lost the game.”

Math Soup for the Soul: Possibilities for Eastern Conference Playoff Seeding

These days, the comment section of Knickerblogger is filled with exchanges like this:

“Good god. The Knicks are a combined 1-4 against teams below .500 since the Carmelo Anthony trade! Our defense looks like swiss cheese carved into the shape of a matador!”

“Oh please. They are 6-2 against teams OVER .500. Which group do you think we’ll be playing against in the playoffs?”

For better or for worse, KnickerBloggeristas are married to Carmelo Anthony, and that commitment has understandably made a lot of folks anxious. I figure, what better way to get control of our emotions than to turn to the numbers? The cold hard numbers.

Let’s start with some pie charts showing how tough the various Eastern Conference playoff teams’ schedules are. I sorted teams by win percentage and placed them in categories (bottom third, middle third, top third) and then compared those categories against teams’ remaining schedules.

mmmm basketball pie charts...

So, as you can see, the Knicks’ schedule looks a whole lot easier on the surface than Atlanta’s or Philadelphia’s. Let’s look a little closer:

Winnables is now a word!

What we see here are some reasonable best case and worst case scenarios for each team. I categorize “winnables” as games vs. the bottom 2/3s of the league, and “gimmes” as games vs. the bottom 1/3 of the league. A lot of this was already clear: Orlando is pretty much locked in at the 4 seed. Miami has a distinct chance of moving up to the 2 seed.

There also are, however, some interesting things to note:

1) Philadelphia’s chances of moving up revolve around a worst case finish for New York and a best case finish for itself.
2) Chicago, despite being only a half game ahead of Boston, is much safer from Miami.
3) And… The fifth seed is still well within reach for New York.

Let’s look closer by ditching those crudely cut categories and use something fancy. Pythagorean Wins is a formula based on a team’s scoring differential, and is known to be more accurate in predicting wins than even wins when looking between seasons. It predicts based on the Knicks’ performance pre-tonight that they should be 34-32 (their exact record). Looking through about a half dozen teams, I’d estimate that it is about 1-2 games off on average, except in Texas. Texas teams for some reason don’t rhyme well with its equation, as the Spurs are supposed to be seven games worse than they are.

Anyway, I applied BR’s formula in reverse. I took the average score of games already played between teams that will play in this final month and applied them to the formula. Wanting all factors included, I also adjusted for the proportion of home games vs. road games (.12 game bonus) and the number of back to backs (.15 game bonus) played and played against. Finally, I gave teams that play end-of-season against a team that is likely to rest its starters (games vs. any of the top three seeds) a .25 game bonus.

Words, lines, numbers, and colors.

As you can see, things look less rosy for New York in this model. However the scores applied to this formula were from the old Knicks, in the pre-Melozoic era. The new Knicks may be better or worse than their predecessors.

One factor that these stats don’t weigh is individual match-ups, for instance the Celtics have beaten Atlanta by an average of 17.5 points in their two games so far this season. They have won their games against their other two possible playoff opponents by an average of 0.7 points (Philadelphia) and 3 points (Knicks). Additionally an older team, Boston may be happy to rest starters in their back to back games. In order for them to get a more favorable match-up against the Hawks, the Knicks will have to move up. And with two games left against New York, Boston will have a say on the Knicks position. Interestingly, Miami has two games left against Atlanta. If they go all out for the win, they risk helping Boston get a more favorable first round team.

There’s one last thing I want to show you all before we bag and tag this one – something for the pragmatists, cynics, and optimists alike. Here’s what Pythagorean Wins has to say (adjusted for strength of schedule) about the number of wins this Knicks team would get in a full season based on their performance in the games listed.

48 wins makes me mellow.

So now go ahead you optimists. Post that comment: “Jordan Bulls, we’re coming for your 72 wins! After we get acquainted with Larry O’Brien this year of course.”

And you cynics: “I hope the Rockets enjoy our lottery pick next year. I’m through with this joke of a franchise. I’ll be watching the Knuggets.”

And finally, ye’ steady pragmatists: “48 wins. That’s just what I posted three weeks ago. Big surprise. Excuse me, but I have a date with a regression analysis that has curves in some very interesting places, if you know what I mean.”

Ah but wait! What’s this? This huge bowl of math soup is doing something to my stomach! It’s giving me a gut… feeling. A gut feeling. Yes, that’s it. And as we all know, gut feelings are the most reliable form of statistical analysis. My gut is saying:

#1 Chicago vs. #8 New Jersey (Haha Utah, you should have traded us Deron. Lottery pick = gone)
#2 Miami vs. #7 Philadelphia
#3 Boston vs. #6 Atlanta
#4 Orlando vs. #5 New York