Statistical Analysis. Humor. Knicks.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Coaching Change Not Always The Cure

This morning the Knicks, who dropped 9 of their last 10, announced that their coach Lenny Wilkens (1332-1155, 54%) would step down. For the time being, New York will replace the winningest coach in history with the coach having the highest win percentage. Herb Williams (1-0, 100%) may give Knick fans some hope that he can turn the season around, but do midseason coaching changes work?

I looked back over the last 5 seasons and checked every team that made a midseason coaching change:

YEAR	TEAM	W	L	Net W%	Team W%
2000 PHO 13 7 0% 65%
2004 NJN 22 20 10% 57%
2001 SEA 6 9 17% 54%
2000 DET 28 30 10% 51%
2004 NYK 15 24 16% 48%
2002 PHO 25 26 -14% 44%
2004 BOS 22 24 -9% 44%
2001 BOS 12 22 15% 44%
2003 ATL 11 16 3% 43%
2004 PHI 21 31 0% 40%
2002 NYK 10 9 -21% 37%
2000 WAS 14 30 8% 35%
2004 PHO 8 13 -4% 35%
2003 VAN 0 8 38% 34%
2003 LAC 19 39 1% 33%
2002 DEN 9 17 -2% 33%
2004 CHI 4 10 -1% 28%
2000 VAN 4 18 12% 27%
2002 GSW 8 15 -13% 26%
2004 ORL 1 10 19% 26%
2002 CHI 4 21 15% 26%
2000 GSW 6 21 1% 23%
2003 CLE 8 34 3% 21%
2000 LAC 11 34 -14% 18%

The wins and losses are the team’s record under the first coach. The next column (Net W%) is the gain the team made under the new coach. So if you look at the first team, the 2000 Suns played exactly the same after Danny Ainge decided being a family guy was more important than being a coach. The last column (Team W%) is the team’s winning percentage at the end of the year.

Based on the other teams that have made coaching changes, the statistical probability for a Knick turnaround is lukewarm. Overall those teams were 281-488 before the coaching change and 448-748 under new management. For those that aren’t scoring at home, that’s 37% with the first coach, and a nearly identical 38% with the replacement. Although 14 of 24 teams improved by changing skippers mid-sail, their average record was a disappointing 30-52. Looking at the teams which most resemble the Knicks (winning percentage from 39% to 49%) isn’t optimistic either. Those teams averaged 38 wins on the season. A bit lower than the expectations New Yorkers had in October.

Intuitively the teams that improved most were the worst: the 0-8 Grizzlies, the 1-10 Magic, the 4-21 Bulls, and the 4-18 Grizzlies. But not all the top gainers were lovable losers. The 2001 Sonics were 6-9 when they gave Paul Westphal a Tony LaRussa-esque quick hook. Westphal’s early removal was due to a personality clash with Gary Payton, and under the defensive minded McMillan Seattle would finish with a record of 44-38. Another squad giving inspiration to the 2005 Knicks are the 2004 Knicks. Don Chaney was on line ready to buy New York a second straight lottery ticket, when he was replaced with Lenny Wilkens. Wilkens went 23-19, and gave the Knicks their first playoff appearance in 2 years.

No one can say how the rest of the season plays out for Herb’s Knicks. There is no question that New York’s downfall has been their defense. For New York to get back to their winning ways, there are two questions that must be answered. The first question is: has the Knicks inability to play defense the players’ or the coach’s fault? Secondly if better coaching can make New York better at protecting their basket, does Herb Williams have the ability to get this type of effort out of his players? One thing is for certain, a coaching change alone isn’t the panacea that will instantly fix a team’s woes.

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