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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Knicks Might Be Pretty Good, Say Numbers

Last night was many things: exhilarating, exciting, transcendant, illuminating…and also, the Knicks won! The shellacking the Knicks gave the Magic can only be described as a beat down.  The fact that the Magic are a very good team, widely discussed as being one of the teams most capable of defeating the Bulls or the Heat in a playoff series, made the win that much sweeter. That the Knicks could beat them so thoroughly despite missing two starters (and the primary backup to one of those starters) is impressive, and a little shocking. But the numbers are beginning to suggest that may be the only reason last night’s win was surprising. (Admittedly, my scientific method in approaching whether last night’s win was surprising is a little inexact, since the following numbers contain data from last night. Yet the evidence is worth considering.)

The Knicks win record is now above .500 for the first time since Friday, January 13th. At 26-25, the Knicks winning percentage sits at a robust .510,  a number any Knicks fan would have been happy with when the record was, oh, 18-24 for example. However, by ESPN’s Pythagorean Expectation Model (where Hollinger uses 16.5 for the exponent, for all you Pythagorean nerds) the Knicks have substantially underperformed. With a scoring differential of +2.71, the Knicks have outscored their opponents so thoroughly that their estimated Win/Loss is 31-20, or five full games better than where they actually stand. With a 31-20 record, the Knicks would currently be sitting at 4th place in the Eastern Conference, just behind the Magic for 3rd, and winning the Atlantic Division with a .614 winning percentage. Given that context, wins against teams like the Bulls, Heat, or Magic would be much less surprising.

Next is another helpful Hollinger tool: his NBA Power Rankings, which weights performances in recent games more heavily than those from the start of the season. After last night’s game, the Knicks sit, incredibly, in 6th place, behind only the Bulls, Heat, Thunder, Spurs, and 76ers, and ahead of teams such as the Lakers, Magic, Pacers, Clippers, Hawks, and Mavericks. Helping the Knicks in this area: while their SOS on the season is quite low, with opponents winning only .477 of their games, their recent games have been against teams averaging a winning percentage of .535, and the Knicks have done quite well during that stretch.

With fifteen games remaining, the Knicks face contests against the Celtics, Heat, Bulls (x2), and the Magic once again. Yet if the Knicks win one or more of these games, don’t be too surprised. Furthermore, if others raise questions about the Knicks ability to beat elite teams (both in in the playoffs and in the regular season) point to the Knicks defense, ranked 5th in the league in efficiency, as cause for belief. While the numbers so far put the Knicks below teams like the Bulls and the Heat, they also demonstrate that the gap isn’t as large as the team’s record suggests.

32 comments on “Knicks Might Be Pretty Good, Say Numbers

  1. Caleb

    Nice roundup. Funny how the ball bounces, if the Knicks had been 3 wins better under MDA would he have gotten fired? Would they have ramped it up like they have? Ho knows, ancient history now.

    I am not really surprised by the way they’re playing – it was the crapfest we saw the first 2/3 of the year that was surprising. They had a .500 team coming in, and added Chandler and Lin.

  2. Die_Hard_Knick_Fan

    Here is what I see for the remainder of the season:

    @ATL – L
    Vs. CLE – W
    @IND – W
    @ORL – L
    Vs. CHI – W
    @CHI – L
    @MIL – W
    Vs. WAS – W
    Vs. MIA – L
    Vs. BOS – W
    @NJ – W
    @CLE – W
    @ATL – W
    Vs. LAC – L
    @CHA – W

    That would give them a 36 – 30 end of season record and a spot in the Playoffs. Any thoughts?

  3. DS

    Why the win in Indiana? If we’re assuming past performance determines future results, then the Knicks are 2-0 against Orlando. Why not 3-0?

  4. TheRant

    Die_Hard_Knick_Fan: That would give them a 36 – 30 end of season record and a spot in the Playoffs. Any thoughts?

    I think part of the reason we watch sports is that we really have no way to know what might happen. Same reason people in elevators talk about the weather. After all, who could have predicted Linsanity, or the departure of Coach Pringles after Linsanity?

    So these “prediction” exercises are a bit out there.

    I predict that 1999 will repeat itself. Including Kobe Bryant getting fed up with Mike Brown, nearly choking him to death, then being suspended by the NBA. After that, and a deep heart-to-heart with James Dolan, Kobe will come on board our playoff roster as a new 2 guard (making the roster deadline just in time). This time we beat the Spurs in six games.

  5. thenamestsam

    @2, I think it’s misleading to think about them in terms of penciling in a win or a loss for each game because they’re really all probabilities, so I’ll list them that way. The # is my (definitely rounded) expected probability of a win in each game.

    @ATL – .6
    Vs. CLE – .9
    @IND – .5
    @ORL – .4
    Vs. CHI – .4
    @CHI – .2
    @MIL – .7
    Vs. WAS – .9
    Vs. MIA – .4
    Vs. BOS – .6
    @NJ – .8
    @CLE – .8
    @ATL – .6
    Vs. LAC – .7
    @CHA – .8

    That’s 9.3 wins total, so I’d say I expect them to get to 35 or 36 wins total, right about where you are. That’s also what Hollinger has in his playoff odds report, so it seems like a reasonable number. The next few games is a really important stretch in my opinion. 3 road games against middle of the pack east playoff teams, 1 layup at home and 1 toughie at home. 5-0 or 4-1 will give us a real chance to catch Philadelphia. 3-2 or worse will make it very hard unless they completely fall apart.

  6. DS

    art vandelay: nteresting – our buddy David Boies who represented NBPA after they dissolved the union may have committed a major gaffe in representing the wife of former Dodgers´ owner McCourt:

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304177104577309971562323542.html?mod=ITP_pageone_1

    Art – good article! I have been reading KB for about 5 years and I worked for Mr. Boies for 2.5 and I can say that none of us are in a position to question his intelligence! :)

  7. Nick C.

    I’m having a hard time coming up with any last second or losses on the magnitude of the Linsanity Toronto and Minnesota games beyond the Boston game and the OT loss to Denver. It’s a nice article and all but they have about three other sub 5 point losses so I never really know what to make about the phytagorean inequality.

  8. DS

    art vandelay: Interesting – our buddy David Boies who represented NBPA after they dissolved the union may have committed a major gaffe in representing the wife of former Dodgers´ owner McCourt:

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304177104577309971562323542.html?mod=ITP_pageone_1

    Also Art, (again thanks for sharing), can this really be considered a gaffe? Should someone have known to keep equity rather than accept a buyout? Should someone have known the appraisals would be so far off from the sales? I’m not asking rhetorically, I honestly don’t know.

  9. jon abbey

    DS:
    Why the win in Indiana?If we’re assuming past performance determines future results, then the Knicks are 2-0 against Orlando. Why not 3-0?

    they’re 1-1 against Orlando, both games in NY and the last one will be in ORL. IND and ORL are both going to come at us hard next week after the recent beatings, those games will be tough.

  10. JLam

    Yes still unpredictable where the Knicks finish I must say that at this rate the last week in April will be exciting to watch.

  11. Brian Cronin

    While you’re almost certainly correct, Jon, it really doesn’t speak well about Orlando that they couldn’t get themselves up for last night’s game. I mean, the Knicks came into the game as one of the hottest teams in the NBA and the Magic were like, “Whatever.” It is like they just gave up at the first sign of adversity. It reminds me of some of the mid-2000′s Knick teams where, if the three-pointers weren’t dropping early on in the game, they basically just gave up.

  12. ephus

    On the Dodger Divorce, I do not think that Boies can be blamed for the decision to cash out for $131 million.

    1. There was real litigaton risk in upholding the ruling that the post-nuptial agreement did not exclude Jamie’s claim to the Dodgers. I read the decision and I recall thinking that it was well-reasoned, but it was far from a slam dunk.

    2. The range of expected values for the Dodgers was well below $2 billion. When making a decision like this, you have to rely upon the estimates that you receive from your experts.

    3. The marginal value of the first $131 million to Jamie is enormous — compared to the marginal value of the next $131 million. She is going to be able to live out the rest of her life in complete luxury. Without the settlement, there was a risk that she would have had to return to an upper middle class lifestyle.

    4. There was a synergistic effect between the settlement and the value of the Dodgers. As long as the dispute was ongoing, it would have been extremely difficult to effectively auction off the team.

    I consider Boies’ ability to get a $131 million settlement in a case where the other side started with a signed document that they claimed released his client’s rights to anything to be a major victory, not a defeat.

  13. Jafa

    Good article John. I just hope we can win our division. However, Philadelphia isn’t falling as badly as I want (5-5 in their last 10) and Boston keeps eking out wins (7-3 in their last 10). Otherwise, we are the 7th or 8th seed and facing Chicago or Miami to start the playoffs.

  14. jon abbey

    Brian Cronin:
    While you’re almost certainly correct, Jon, it really doesn’t speak well about Orlando that they couldn’t get themselves up for last night’s game. I mean, the Knicks came into the game as one of the hottest teams in the NBA and the Magic were like, “Whatever.” It is like they just gave up at the first sign of adversity. It reminds me of some of the mid-2000?s Knick teams where, if the three-pointers weren’t dropping early on in the game, they basically just gave up.

    to be fair, the games now aren’t especially meaningful for them, and NY is making even teams like Milwaukee and the Sixers who are desperate for wins look bad these days.

  15. Brian Cronin

    Yeah, I also think it is unfair to rip Boies for the settlement. You can only judge people on what would have been the reasonable turn of events when they make their decisions. Like when the Yankees gave the DIamondbacks a list of prospects in the Randy Johnson trade and said, “Pick two” and the Diamondbacks passed up Robinson Cano on the list. Was it a mistake because Cano later developed into one of the best players in baseball? Or was it reasonable to skip him because he had not yet shown his superior skills? I think the latter makes a lot more sense, just like Boies’ decision here.

  16. art vandelay

    DS: Also Art, (again thanks for sharing), can this really be considered a gaffe? Should someone have known to keep equity rather than accept a buyout? Should someone have known the appraisals would be so far off from the sales? I’m not asking rhetorically, I honestly don’t know.

    No, you are absolutely right…it really was not a gaffe at all…the title was misleading…I think from his position over a year ago and given what the world economy looked like and credit markets, it probably was sensible to lock in the over $100 Millbo for his client…additionally, my sense (and this is speculation on my part) is that after years of being wrangled in litigation over her divorce, she probably requested they close the settlement as soon as possible rather than wait out the sale of the Dodgers.

  17. ephus

    Brian Cronin:
    While you’re almost certainly correct, Jon, it really doesn’t speak well about Orlando that they couldn’t get themselves up for last night’s game. I mean, the Knicks came into the game as one of the hottest teams in the NBA and the Magic were like, “Whatever.” It is like they just gave up at the first sign of adversity. It reminds me of some of the mid-2000?s Knick teams where, if the three-pointers weren’t dropping early on in the game, they basically just gave up.

    The issue pretty clearly was with Dwight Howard and Hedu. Howard was not involved in the offense early, and then he gave a lethargic performance at the defensive end. Hedu could not handle ‘Melo on the defensive end, and he evaporated on offense. I think that this might just be an extremely good match-up for the Knicks.

  18. villainx

    For folks who know this stuff, was the defensive scheme against Orlando similar to what Chicago did in their rout? Or is it different? Or mostly Orlando taking a night off?

    Looks like the Magic were in it from what I saw in the 1st. And had to step out during the run.

    I guess the only other thing is that Boozer supposedly put up a great line, so seems like an active scoring PF is an Orlando vulnerability.

  19. jon abbey

    ephus: I think that this might just be an extremely good match-up for the Knicks.

    I wouldn’t project too much from one game, NY has been leaving three point shooters open a lot and ORL can feast on that if they’re on.

    also, something I’m not sure if anyone brought up here, but the Posting and Toasting recap noted that ORL started the third quarter in a zone, which NY quickly destroyed (2 threes from Melo, Fields cutting down the lane) and ORL quickly abandoned. that was very nice to see.

  20. bob cook

    Wow, what a win. Here are some negatives, tho. Anyone seen Landry’s shot? It’s been appearing on milk cartons cause it’s sure not home. I can’t believe that a smart Stanford boy can’t learn to shoot; especially since he unlearned it. Maybe Jeffries was coaching him. Well David Lee found a shot so Landry will. The rest of his game is fine. And what’s up with Harrelson missing soft little layups? Hey, you’re a 6′ 11″ bruiser. Go up there and slam it; hurt somebody.

    And I close with this comment. Who would have thought last year that it would be said that we are “desparately missing Jeffries?” I love it that he’s become a key piece of the puzzle. Great guy; hard workier.

  21. Caleb

    If there’s an anti-Orlando formula, it’s having a big, tough defensive center who can slow down Howard and keep him from dominating the boards. That’s how the Celtics did it, and why Atlanta has had the advantage over the Magic (Kendrick Perkins et al, Jason Collins + Pachulia/Horford). The Knicks are in good shape on this front.

    The other thing is that Orlando is just not that good – their defense has slipped out of the top 10 this year, and Anderson/Nelson are good but not scary as #2 and 3 options. And the bench – yikes.

  22. JK47

    The Knicks’ 3P% allowed has been improving of late. They now rank 22nd in 3P% allowed after ranking near the bottom of the league for much of the season. In the Woodson-coached games their 3P% allowed looks like this:

    ORL .346
    MIL. 250
    DET .316
    TOR .077
    PHI .471 (oops)
    TOR .154
    IND .211
    IND .421
    POR .294

    Pretty solid.

  23. Brian Cronin

    also, something I’m not sure if anyone brought up here, but the Posting and Toasting recap noted that ORL started the third quarter in a zone, which NY quickly destroyed (2 threes from Melo, Fields cutting down the lane) and ORL quickly abandoned. that was very nice to see.

    That was the game right there. They began the second half with, “Okay, let’s give this a shot!” Then what you describe happened and they just folded like a pile of laundry.

  24. jon abbey

    JK47:
    The Knicks’ 3P% allowed has been improving of late.They now rank 22nd in 3P% allowed after ranking near the bottom of the league for much of the season.In the Woodson-coached games their 3P% allowed looks like this:

    ORL .346
    MIL. 250
    DET .316
    TOR .077
    PHI .471 (oops)
    TOR .154
    IND .211
    IND .421
    POR .294

    Pretty solid.

    but I think they’ve been at least a bit lucky, there have been a lot of wide wide open ones that the opponents have just missed.

  25. art vandelay

    JK47: The Knicks’ 3P% allowed has been improving of late. They now rank 22nd in 3P% allowed after ranking near the bottom of the league for much of the season. In the Woodson-coached games their 3P% allowed looks like this:ORL .346MIL. 250DET .316TOR .077PHI .471 (oops)TOR .154IND .211IND .421POR .294Pretty solid.

    Even that nearly 35% 3-point % is skewed a bit high by the fact that we were up 40 points, put in scrubs, stopped trying defensively and Redick hit a bunch of wide open 3´s after the game was WAY out of reach last night.

  26. gregor.samsa

    Pythagorean expectation was invented for baseball and really doesn’t make much sense for other sports, particularly basketball, where “the game was closer than the score indicates” (or the opposite) is one of the more common post-game utterances.

    Baseball is remarkable in its consistency, regardless of game situation, and can therefore more appropriately be viewed as essentially one, long game, as the Pythagorean expectation does. The only things that really change in the 8th inning of a blowout vs. a tight game are: reduced running game, slight decrease in the quality of relief pitching and some situational hitting.

    In basketball, the end of a blowout is wildly different than the end of a tight game, so to treat scoring equally and then draw conclusions based on cumulative output is silly. There is no baseball equivalent to the 12th guy on the bench coming in to heave up 6 consecutive 3s to end a game, or, more importantly, to the precipitous drop in intensity. If the Heat were determined to set a record for 40 point wins (and enjoy the resultant, staggering Pythagorean expectation) does anyone doubt that they could do so?

    I think basketball statistical analysis is best summed up by the following from the article above:

    “Next is another helpful Hollinger tool: his NBA power rankings … After last night’s game, the Knicks sit, incredibly, in 6th place, behind only the Bulls, Heat, Thunder, Spurs, and 76ers, and ahead of teams such as the Lakers, Magic, Pacers, Clippers, Hawks, and Mavericks.”

    Really…that says it all.

  27. Brian Cronin

    By the way, I was using Herb Williams as an example just from a vague memory that he took over in a similar scenario and failed, but after checking my facts, I saw that the comparison was really kind of eerie. Lenny Wilkins’ Knicks disappointed in 2004-05 since they did not seem to have an awful team (and had just made the playoffs for the first time in a couple of years). Their record was actually at 16-13 at one point. Then they were at 17-17 when they went on a 5 game losing streak and Wilkins was fired (which is eerily similar to 18-18 and then a six-game losing streak and then D’Antoni fired). Williams took over and instead of turning things around like Woodson did, things just got even worse. The losing streak lasted two more games. Then there was another five-game losing streak and then, finally, after some decent play made the playoffs at least a theoretical possibility (they were one game back of the Nets at the time, and the Nets ended up making the playoffs and even finishing over .500!), they then lost 9 straight to wrap up a terrible season. Yet somehow not terrible enough to get anything higher than the #8 pick.

    Man, Knick history sucks.

  28. Brian Cronin

    Only one Eastern contender played tonight, and of course they won. Stupid Indy! Just fall apart already!

    By the way, I saw a headline just now on ESPN where Nash says he’d consider the Heat next season. Nash is amazing, of course (amazing), but isn’t that one of the very few teams where he’d have a bit of a limited impact?

    What contending team out there do you folks think Nash would most benefit next season? Remember, he can’t play a ton of minutes, so that has to be a factor (that, and Miami’s overall goodness, is likely why they appeal to him – that he wouldn’t have to play a lot of minutes in Miami – so I get why they’re appealing for him, I just don’t see him having as big of an impact for them as he would for other teams).

  29. jon abbey

    he’d be pretty damn helpful on the Knicks, if we count as contenders. let him and Lin split time, it’ll keep them both healthier.

  30. Brian Cronin

    he’d be pretty damn helpful on the Knicks, if we count as contenders. let him and Lin split time, it’ll keep them both healthier.

    Oh yeah, he’d be great here, but the Knicks can’t even offer him the mini-MLE.

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