Statistical Analysis. Humor. Knicks.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Knicks Roster Analysis – Small Forwards

So I’m back today with my look at the Knicks’ small forwards. If you haven’t read my point guard analysis, that’s probably worth reading before this post so that you understand what I’m doing here.

Tim Thomas

Year    MPG   PPG   RPG  APG   TS%  Reb%  Pass   Off   Def  Win%  WARP  Value  Salary
01-02 26.9 11.7 4.1 1.4 .522 8.7 0.12 90.0 90.9 .455 2.3
02-03 29.5 13.3 4.9 1.3 .527 9.6 0.07 89.8 90.6 .479 3.9
03-04 31.7 14.7 4.8 1.9 .534 8.8 0.19 90.0 90.0 .487 3.8 $4.229 $12.90

As you may or may not have noticed, my fellow guest blogger David wasn’t a huge fan of Tim Thomas’ acquisition. I’ve got to say I was more than a little puzzled by the move. Trading Keith Van Horn wasn’t the worst idea in the world. I tend to think Van Horn gets a bad rap from many people, but he’s a poor defender, horribly inconsistent, and as out of place in the paint as Wayne Brady at Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles. So, if you were going to trade him, you’d think you’d acquire someone who was entirely different, right? Wrong.

As I noted in my post-deadline Transaction Analysis, Thomas was Van Horn’s most comparable player in the NBA as of the trade, and vice versa. If you look up the definition of irony in the dictionary, you get the Van Horn-Thomas trade.

In my book, Van Horn’s the better player, but there are some things in Thomas’ favor. He’s a better athlete, which has been a key point of emphasis during the Isiah Thomas era, and he has the advantage of not having teamed with Marbury in New Jersey (and the resulting possible bad blood).

Overall, I would describe Thomas as an “adequate starter”. With him in the lineup, small forward isn’t a position the Knicks really need to be aggressively looking to upgrade, but they also aren’t set for the next decade at the position.

Looking at his numbers, Thomas is a better offensive player than I realized. His efficiency isn’t that bad (league average true shooting percentage, for reference, was 51.6%), and he does put points on the board. Thomas is also improving on offense, though it’s not readily apparent from the numbers I’ve listed; just maintaining the same Offensive Rating is improving, because it’s gone down league-wide from 90.4 to 89.9 to 89.2 over the last three years.

Unfortunately, Thomas is an absolutely horrid defender. John Hollinger rated the Bucks 28th in defending starting small forwards last season, and this year (per 82games.com) opposing small forwards shot an adjusted 49.2% against the Bucks as of the trade (I’m recycling an argument here — sorry), as compared to a league-wide 46.9%.

Thomas’ rebounding is also nothing special for a small forward. Small forwards are generally around 10% of available rebounds in terms of rebound percentage; Thomas has been below 9% two of the last three years.

Shandon Anderson

Year    MPG   PPG   RPG  APG   TS%  Reb%  Pass   Off   Def  Win%  WARP  Value  Salary
01-02 19.5 5.0 3.0 0.9 .489 9.0 0.09 87.3 90.9 .380 -0.7
02-03 21.1 8.4 3.1 1.1 .553 8.6 0.10 89.7 90.0 .484 3.0
03-04 24.7 7.9 2.8 1.5 .500 6.5 0.20 87.5 89.6 .399 0.0 $1.268 $7.300

Someday, when historians look back on the great mysteries of the 21st century, they will be confronted with the popularity of reality television, how George W. Bush became president, and Anderson’s 2002-03 season. In three years in New York, Anderson has shot 39.9%, 46.2%, and 42.2% from the field. From three-point range, he’s shot 27.7%, 37.1%, and 28.1%. Which of those numbers are not like the others?

Having a season that was about as good as possible, post-Utah, Anderson was still only a solid backup. Last year was a more typical year, and Anderson was right at my estimate of replacement level. His efficiency was poor, he started rebounding like a guard, and he’s only an okay defender.

Further downside: Anderson was a complete and total disaster in the playoffs, shooting 25.9% from the field and averaging 4.3 points per game as Allan Houston’s replacement in the starting lineup. That probably should have been the last strike against Anderson’s Knicks career. Dave mentions a buyout, and it’s tough to see this relationship ending in any other fashion. Between Trevor Ariza and potentially Dermarr Johnson, the Knicks have a pair of young options at small forward who could be better than Anderson next season — Johnson was, by my metrics, last year — and could get better. Anderson, at age 30, could have another fluke season, but real improvement is not coming.

If I was Anderson, I’d try to beg my way back to Utah or to some team like Sacramento, New Jersey, or Washington that uses a highly motion-based offense. 2002-03 aside, Anderson’s been best when asked to slash and move without the ball, not stand around and be a catch and shoot player from three-point range. In the right situation, Anderson can still have some value. That situation just isn’t the Knicks.

Dermarr Johnson

Year    MPG   PPG   RPG  APG   TS%  Reb%  Pass   Off   Def  Win%  WARP  Value  Salary
01-02 24.0 8.4 3.4 1.1 .513 8.2 0.09 88.8 90.0 .443 1.5
03-04 13.6 5.4 1.9 0.5 .511 7.9 0.05 88.6 89.6 .437 0.2 $2.203 UFA

I hadn’t taken much of a look at Johnson statistically this season, other than KnickerBlogger’s periodic updates in this space. Comparing his performance last year with how he did before his serious injuries, the similarity is rather evident. Actually, as with Thomas, similar offensive numbers indicate improvement, and that’s true of Johnson as well.

Based on these numbers, it appears Johnson’s injury didn’t set him back at all. However, he did lose two seasons of development. Johnson’s 01-02 numbers were impressive for a player who hadn’t quite yet turned 22. Now, with Johnson having turned 24 last month, his potential isn’t nearly so great.

Also, while Johnson was a pretty well regarded defender in Atlanta, the numbers at 82games indicate he was just awful on the defensive end last season. Not only did he make the Knicks 9.3 points per 100 possessions worse on defense, he got torched by opposing shooting guards and small forwards. The former averaged a ridiculous 31.4 points per 48 minutes when Johnson was at the position.

That matches what the good folks at KnicksOnline.com had to say recently about Johnson: “Dermarr Johnson is really something on offense but he has nothing on defense.”

I don’t know that I’d say that Johnson is “really something” on offense; he looks pretty good compared to Anderson every year besides 2002-03, but 18.9 points per 48 minutes at an efficiency slightly below league average is nothing to hang your hat on.

Again, we’ll run the similarity scores on Johnson to try to get a read on where he’s going. It’s interesting to note that the defining characteristic of Johnson in this regard is a great “Shoot” rating, based on his 36.1% three-point shooting and 90.3% free-throw shooting last year. So we get a lot of one-dimensional shooters, like Joe Hassett and Tracy Murray. It’s also “interesting” to note that a pair of Knicks teammates, Allan Houston (as a rookie in Detroit) and Anderson (circa 1997, the Utah days), show up amongst Johnson’s 20 most comparable players.

In terms of drawing conclusions, I want to temper my initial reaction based on my knowledge that there’s a reason I haven’t heard of the guys on the list who weren’t successful; If I pay attention only to the players I know, I’ll overestimate Anderson. The first three players on the list — Paul Thompson, Linton Townes, and Rodney Buford — hardly inspire confidence. Further down, however, are guys like Houston, Terry Teagle, and another Knicks shooting guard, John Starks, all of whom went on to solid careers or better.

Ultimately, I think Johnson is worth a longer look next season to see if he can make dramatic strides in his second season after the injury, and I’d rather have him on the roster than Anderson, all things considered, but Ariza may pass him in the Knicks’ plans at small forward.

Kevin Pelton writes “Page 23″ for Hoopsworld.com on a semi-regular basis. He can be reached at kpelton@hoopsworld.com. Check back Monday for his analysis of the Knicks’ power forwards.

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