Early Results Suggest Improvement
Although the season is still young, perhaps enough games have passed (11 of 82, or 13.4%) for us to get a handle on some of the emerging trends for the Knicks? ongoing 06-07 campaign, and in particular to see how things compare to last season?s trainwreck. Some have suspected (or outright accused) Larry Brown of deliberately veering the 05-06 Titaknicks headlong into disaster, and so it bears investigating how the undoubtedly earnest bailing efforts of captain Isiah are proceeding thus far, with essentially the same cast and crew as the last go-around.
Preseason proclamations from Thomas indicated that the Knicks would resort to a more up-tempo style this season, under the hood of a seemingly complicated hybrid offense dubbed ?The Quick.? At least as regards overall pace, such claims have thus far been more shtick than quick. The Knicks? pace factor is indeed slightly higher?91.8 possessions per game this season, versus 90.8 last season. However, this slight uptick in pace is more readily attributable to faster league-wide play than anything the Knicks are doing in particular. (Remember, pace is a function of both how fast you play and how fast your opponent plays.) Both last season and so far this season, New York is playing at almost exactly the league average pace (90.6 poss/g in 05-06, 91.8 poss/g in 06-07). A drop in offensive rebounding prowess (see below) may also be contributing to the Knicks? slightly faster pace thus far.
The Knicks are playing quicker on the level of individual possessions as well, taking 42% of their shots within the first 10 seconds of the shot clock, compared to 35% under Larry Brown?s more deliberate offensive attack. It?s difficult to judge this increase relative to league-wide trends, however, as 82games.com does not provide stats for league-wide shot clock usage.
Last season the Knicks ranked 25th in offensive efficiency, posting a paltry 103.7 points per 100 possessions. At times it seemed as if every possession was a mortal struggle to score (even the ones not involving Malik Rose). Subjectively, the Knicks? offense seems more free-flowing this season (though too often dominated by one-on-one play), and the numbers back up this impression, as the Knicks currently stand at 107.1 points per 100 possessions, good for 13th in the league.
A closer look at the four factors shows that last season, NY was excellent at offensive rebounding (4th in oreb%) and getting to the line (1st in FT/FGA), but that these considerable strengths were completely overshadowed by below average shooting (22nd in eFG%) and unspeakably awful ballhandling (30th in TO per 100 possessions at 19.5, a full 1.4 more TO/100poss than 29th placed Boston). This season, without Brown?s constant harping about playing the right way, New York is no longer great at offensive rebounding (16th) or getting to the charity stripe (11th), and has only slightly improved its shooting (48.8 eFG%, good for 14th in the league, vs. 48.1 eFG% last season). Nonetheless, the offense has been significantly better due primarily to significantly better ball handling?so far, the Knicks have shaved off 2.3 TO per 100 possessions from their 19.5 mark last season, making them an average ballhandling club rather than a rock-bottom one.
Brown?s regime was supposed to have marked an infusion of defensive-minded play, but the Knicks struggled on D, giving up 111.3 points per 100 possessions (26th overall). They were below average at all of the defensive 4 factors except for their merely average defensive rebounding prowess. Isiah?s Knicks are actually stingier defenders thus far than Larry?s Knicks, surrendering 107.9 points per 100 possessions (22nd). The improvement in D appears to be driven entirely by opponent eFG%, where the Knicks currently give up 48.6% (15th) rather than 51.1% (22nd); the numbers for the remaining 3 defensive factors are comparable to last season?s, with average defensive rebounding and below-average performance in terms of forcing turnovers and keeping opponents off of the free throw line.
On balance, this year?s Knicks are thus far an impressive 3.4 points per 100 possessions better on both ends of the court than last year?s squad, making their net efficiency (-0.8 points per 100 possessions) resemble that of a .500 team. Perhaps a team performing within the vicinity of .500 ball is nothing to get excited about, but it’s nonetheless a steep improvement over a team contending for the #1 lottery pick (like last year?s team, which posted a hair-raising net efficiency of -7.6 points per 100 possessions).
So although all is not roses in MSG?s hallowed boobird halls just yet, the early results point to a team that might be mildly, rather than wildly, disappointing over the course of the full season. Of course, there is still ample room for the team to breathtakingly overshoot or undershoot these tentatively drawn out early trends.