Statistical Analysis. Humor. Knicks.

Monday, November 24, 2014

KnickerBlogger Has No Heart

The good news about leaving a comment on my blog is that I may write a whole column on it. The bad news is when I disagree with your premise. The other day I wrote this little tidbit after the Knicks lost to the Nets:

I usually scoff at the notion that the Knicks needed more players with heart (I believe talent trumps all), but this team has me nearly converted.

To which a Knick fan named “Ted” commented with:

Ya “talent trumps all” that’s why the Trail-Blazers won so many titles in the 90s and the Lakers beat the Pistons last year. Regardlessly (sic), talent is not what the Knicks lack; defense and heart are what’s missing. Give me a Riley or Van Gundy team that’s going to work there (sic) asses off and hold the opponent to 80 points over this…crap any day.

One definition of talent is “a person or group of people having such ability”. In my definition of talent, playing defense is certainly included. Tim Thomas is big and athletic, but is not an able defender (or rebounder). You can be talented in one area and unskilled in another. Is Ben Wallace talented? In regards to rebounding and interior defense, absolutely. In regards to dribbling or shooting, absolutely not.

Obviously the Knicks’ defense, which is ranked 27th, is something that both Ted & I agree needs improvement. However Ted also states that the team needs more heart. The human heart typically weighs about 300 grams, but I’m unable to find any web pages that list the size of NBA player’s hearts. While they do list the total height and weight of each player, no web page has it broken down into individual body parts. In theory getting more oxygen to the body’s cells could improve the Knicks athletically, but I’m not sure if such a procedure is feasible. I’m not a doctor, but left ventricular hypertrophy seems to be more of an affliction than a blessing.

Seriously though, I’m not big on building a team around intangibles like heart or leadership or veteran presence. Let’s look at the teams that Ted says lost because they were heartless.

Year
Exp Win%
Opp
oExp Win%
1990
70%
DET
70%
1991
76%
LAL
72%
1992
72%
CHI
80%
1999
69%
SAS
78%
2000
72%
LAL
78%

I chose the 5 best Blazer squads of the 90s, and the opposing team that bounced them out of the playoffs. The only one of these Portland teams that lost to an inferior club were the 1991 Blazers, but it’s not improbable that they would lose a 7 game series. The Lakers were a strong team in their own right and had the best player on the court in Magic Johnson (25.1 PER 4th overall). Of the four other Blazer teams that made the list, two faced the #1 defensive team that year (Pistons & Spurs) and the other two played against vastly superior teams (Bulls & Lakers).

If you ignore the evidence that shows the Blazers were the lesser team and attribute their losses to a lack of heart, then that wouldn’t explain why a few players from these teams won titles in other cities. Did Clyde Drexler suddenly gain “heart” when he played alongside Hakeem Olajuwon and won a championship in Houston, or was it that the Rockets were a more talented team? Did Scottie Pippen lose the “heart” he had while playing with Jordan in Chicago, or were the Blazers just not good enough to win in ’99 & ’00? The Detroit Pistons wouldn’t have dominated like they did last year without Rasheed Wallace, but was the big addition his “heart” or his ability?

Take the same logic and apply it to Ted’s other heartless team, last year’s Lakers. The difference between the 2004 Lakers and the threepeaters was not heart, or leadership, or desire, but rather a decline in play. Shaq from 2001-2003 averaged an astounding 30 PER. That’s so good, the average would be in the top 15 seasons of all time. However in 2004 it dropped to a mere 24, which wouldn’t crack the top 100. Add to O’Neal’s deteriorating production the Lakers’ inability to adequately replace an injured Karl Malone coupled with the Pistons’ off the chart defense, and the reason is clear why Los Angeles lost.

If given the choice between blaming these losses on something measurable like performance or something intangible like heart, I’ll take the former every time. There is just no proof that heart leads to winning nor is there any way to measure it, either on a team or an individual level. Hence why I say “talent trumps all.” If your team needs defense, get someone that can clamp down on his opponent, or can control the paint. If you need offense grab some sharp shooters or post scorers. Getting guys that can do both is even better. Build a team that can score and defend, and don’t worry about where their heart is.

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