Step 1. Conclusion – Step 2: Look At The Facts

Bad writing is when an author writes an article with a biased conclusion before looking at any of the facts. The worst misuse of statistics is cherry picking ones that support your point, while ignoring any facts that reject your hypothesis.

Enter ESPN.com columnist Frank Hughes, and his article “These moves aren’t so smooth.” Now I’m not such a Knick fan that I would let my fandom get in the way of an objective and intelligent argument. However luckily for me, Hughes’ article was neither of these. Hughes sets the tone with the first line:

“With all due respect to my esteemed colleague and compadre Chad Ford: What the heck is Isiah thinking?”

The first time I read this I said to myself “Great!” I like to hear opposing opinions. Sometimes it’s good to have a devil’s advocate, because it keeps you in check. If you can’t defend your ideas and theories, then maybe they aren’t as valid as you think. Even better, sometimes you’ll learn something that’s contrary to your current beliefs, and change the way you think. Unfortunately the article had little chance of swaying any rational person. Read on:

“If, in fact, Isiah signs Erick Dampier to go with a sign-and-trade deal for Jamal Crawford that essentially eliminates any future flexibility he may have had, well, in my mind that is figuratively putting the cement shoes — why has Nike not made a pair of those yet? — on the Knicks and throwing them in the East River on a frigid January day.”

Organized crime references to describe a New York sports team? Nothing says bad writing like a tired, drawn out metaphor. Memo to Mr. Hughes: the Knicks have been in salary cap hell for years now. Even without Crawford & Dampier’s contracts, they will be over the cap until at least the summer of 2007. This is his only valid point in the entire article. Being over the cap gives you less flexibility than being under the cap. However being over the cap & being willing to take on more contracts doesn’t make you inflexible. Consider this: if the Knicks are so inflexible, then how come they only have 3 players remaining from the pre-Isiah era? And Zeke hasn’t been with the team for a whole year yet! That sounds pretty darn flexible to me.

Looking at the Knicks roster, they still have some valuable trading chips. Sweetney is valuable for his contract as much as his promising ability. I’d imagine a few teams are interested in Kurt Thomas and Nazr Mohammed. If the Knicks don’t trade them this year, next summer they have a ton of expiring contracts to deal in Penny Hardaway ($15.8M), Tim Thomas ($14M), Nazr Mohammed ($5.5M), and Moochie Norris ($4.2M with a team option – an option that no sane team would be dumb enough to activate). That’s almost an entire salary cap in expiring contracts, enough to make any money strapped GM start drooling. The year after, they have about $35M in expiring contracts in Allan Houston, Shandon Anderson, & Jerome Williams (team option).

So what is Hughes “proof” of Isiah’s poorly thought out plan:

“Yes, I agree, some of the Knicks’ pieces certainly look good, to go with Stephon Marbury and Allan Houston. But now more than ever I am a big believer in chemistry, and when you really get right down to it, the collection of players Isiah has assembled has really accomplished very little in their respective careers, and they have had plenty of time to do it.”

Did you catch that? Chemistry = career accomplishments. What type of chemistry I’m not exactly sure about. Is it locker room chemistry? On the court chemistry? Molecular chemistry? He just doesn’t specify the type. Of course what does he use to measure career accomplishments?

Number of playoff games played.

That’s right it’s the old ring argument (Player A is better than Player B, because he’s won more championships). This kind of thinking is just not well thought out, because winning a playoff game or championship is a team effort, not an individual one. Last year, the following players didn’t play in the playoffs: Vince Carter, Tracey McGrady, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Gilbert Arenas, LeBron James, Carlos Boozer, and Allen Iverson. I didn’t even bother to include any players from the West. Players that did have playoff experience were such superstars as: Dana Barros, Vin Baker, DerMarr Johnson, Shammond Williams, Daniel Santiago, and Wang ZhiZhi. I don’t know about you, but if I were making a team, I’d overlook playoff experience, and go with the first group.

Let’s see he continues with this line of thought, and if you think I’m paraphrasing to make my point, read the article & be the judge for yourself. (Bolding is not in the original article, but added by me.)

  1. “[Marbury]’s been in the league now for eight seasons. Ten. [Editor’s note: I don’t know why this sentence “Ten.” is there or what it means, but I left it in so you get the exact feel of the article.] You know how many playoff games he has been in in that span? Eighteen. And he’s never been out of the first round…
  2. Tim Thomas has been in the league nine years, playing a grand total of 33 playoff games
  3. Kurt Thomas, signed at sizable dollars through 2008-09, has 48 career playoff games in nine years with career postseason averages of 6.5 points and 5.8 rebounds
  4. “Since he left Orlando in 1999, Penny Hardaway has played in a grand total of 18 playoffs games. By comparison, his sophomore season in Orlando, he played in 21 postseason games…
  5. Nazr Mohammed … has played seven playoff games and has never advanced past the first round. He has career averages of 6.7 points and 5.3 rebounds…
  6. Allan Houston is the biggest conundrum because he clearly is talented. He also clearly is frustrating, going into long spells of quietude during a season and seemingly disappearing at important junctures…

What’s interesting is how he changes the facts he uses from one person to the next when the stats don’t support his point of view. To bash Tim Thomas & Marbury, he shows how few playoff games they’ve played. However, unfortunately for Frank, counting playoff appearances doesn’t necessarily work with his third choice: Kurt Thomas. Kurt’s seen enough playoff action with the Knicks, including going to the Finals in ’99. So he drags up Kurt’s poor playoff statistics. Of course he doesn’t mention that those numbers are heavily weighted when Kurt was a backup (only 22 minutes per game, not the 31+ we’ve been accustom to over the last 3 years.) In his playoff experiences as a starter, Kurt’s averaged 13.6PPG & 11.4REB, which is conveniently ignored. Also ignored are Marbury’s playoff numbers: 19.4PPG, 6.7AST, and 1.6STL.

For Penny Hardaway, not only does he eliminate his early playoff success with the Magic, but uses it against him. In essence splitting Penny’s career in two. What gives him the right to do that? Did Penny’s “chemistry” change after he left Orlando? BTW since Hughes doesn’t mention it, Penny’s career playoff numbers since he left Orlando – 19 games (not the 18 he falsely reported), 17.1PPG, 5.4AST, and 1.7 STL.

For each of the first five guys, he’s mentioned the number of playoff games they’ve played in over their career and when it suits him, their playoff statistics. But eventually he has to mention Allan Houston. H20 has played in 63 playoff games, averaging 40 minutes, 19.3 PPG, and a 48.7% eFG%. If Hughes wants to be an impartial and forthcoming writer he can mention these numbers, and say that Houston is the only player on the Knicks with playoff experience. Surely admitting that the Knicks have one playoff tested starter won’t blow his whole argument out of the water. So does Frank take the high road?

“Allan Houston is the biggest conundrum because he clearly is talented. He also clearly is frustrating, going into long spells of quietude during a season and seemingly disappearing at important junctures.”

I have to give Frank some credit, if you’re going to write bullshit, you might as well use big words like conundrum, quietude, and junctures.

I won’t even bother to go over the rest of the article. It’s more of the same – choose a player & pick only the numbers that make your claim look good. The flaws are obvious in this piece, beginning to end. If Hughes want to criticize Isiah’s moves, then there are many logical arguments that would make sense. This is a lesson to all aspiring writers out there. If you are having trouble writing an article because the facts don’t support your point, then maybe your initial hypothesis was wrong in the first place.

Basketball Authors Wanted

Recently I had plenty of free time due to a solo business trip. In case you’ve never been on one, a solo business trip is akin to being put in jail. Without your wife, your friends, and the comforts of home, you just try to find ways of killing time.

I never knew that going to the book store can be an activity on it’s own. Near to where I was staying was a large book store. On the two nights I visited, the place was jumping. Seriously for a book store, I couldn’t believe how many people were there. There were solo book readers, friends sharing passages in their respective magazines, and groups meeting in the cafe. It was a disco for the literate and sober.

With nothing to do other than browse their large selection, I spent a good amount of time in the sports section. There were about 10 baseball books I would have happily purchased. The selection was large and diverse when it came to baseball. You could get books on baseball statistical analysis, books on the history of baseball, books on the physics of baseball, and biographical books ranging from players, to managers, to umpires. I could name about 5 more categories, but I’ll spare you from the Benjamin Buford Blue impersonation.

On the other hand, almost all the books in the basketball section fell into one of three categories:

  • Books by college coaches
  • Books by outrageous players (Barkley, Rodman, Dawkins)
  • Books on coaching basketball

I’m not too keen on college basketball. Certainly I like watching March Madness, but given the option I would rather read a book on the pros. Books written by outlandish attention-craving players don’t really do it for me either. For those that are ready to point out that statistical books about basketball exist, I already own Basketball on Paper and all the Prospectii. There was a single book on the history of the NBA, which I purchased but is more of a businessman’s book than fan’s. There just aren’t many basketball books that interest me.

The last book on basketball that I’ve read is The Jordan Rules, by Sam Smith. Despite of what you think of Smith, the book is an interesting read. It was published more than a decade ago, so it was fascinating to see what things were like back then. I wonder how many kids today are unaware that there was a time when Jordan’s leadership was questioned. Years ago Michael had spent 6 seasons as one of the best players in the league, but without a lot of playoff success. His inability to win a championship had columnists labeling him as a selfish player. Six championship rings later, no one would dare question his Airness in such a matter. However the book is about the Bulls’ first championship run, before his greatness was bronzed.

Unless you were a member of the 90-91 Bulls, you won’t be able to verify the book’s authenticity. Whether or not the stories are true, it’s certainly an entertaining page turner, as Sam is good at creating the mood of the team. Often times we don’t know anything about a player other than what they do on the court. In my experiences, I’ve seen that often a person’s on court demeanor is different from his off court one. Nice guys can step onto the floor and become the meanest SOBs you’ve ever met. Quiet guys turn into field generals. Funny guys loose their sunny disposition. Guys that would cross town to give you the shirt off their back won’t bother to chase a loose ball.

Sam Smith goes into the locker room to let you know what everyone is like off the court. It’s just like any work place, with conflicts left and right. The bench guys want more time. Pippen wants more money. Phil Jackson uses Bill Cartwright as the team’s pincushion in a complicated psychological ploy to motivate the team. Grant is fighting off losing his job to a younger player. Everybody wants the ball more. Everyone is jealous of Krause’s obsession with the unknown Toni Kukoc.

Jordan is the central figure in the book, but he’s a solitary mysterious figure. Michael is the genius that suffers no fools. He criticizes the GM frequently. He blames his teammates when the team looses. Seemingly his only concerns are his golf game, playing poker, the scoring title and winning a championship. The Jordan Rules refer not to the Pistons’ defensive rules that kept Jordan in check, but rather how the rules are changed for Michael off the court due to his fantastic ability on the court. It’s these Jordan Rules that help separate him from the rest of the team.

Unfortunately Smith’s book is the only one I’ve been able to find that illustrates the NBA in such an entertaining manner. I can’t even begin to count how many baseball books that I’ve read in my lifetime (25? 50? maybe 100?). Unfortunately the hoops section of any bookstore is far behind their hardball bretheren. There is no basketball version of the American classic Ball Four. Nothing as indepth as the Bill James’ Hoops Historical Abstracts would be. No Physics of Basketball to tell me why some shots go around the world before dropping. No Big Book Of Basketball Lineups to pass the time with franchise tidbits. Nothing as funny for hardwood lovers as Nice Guys Finish Last. The NBA is still 75 years behind MLB, so maybe this generation of youngsters that fill the playground courts will be tomorrow’s authors of great basketball literature.

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.

Knicks Roster Analysis – Point Guards

Hi, I’m Kevin Pelton. At the risk of going all Lionel Hutz on you, you may remember me from such columns as “Page 23” at Hoopsworld.com and such contests as KnickerBlogger’s 2004 Bloggers Bracket. Over the last couple of months, his KBness and I have shared some e-mails and AIM conversations, and I was flattered when he asked me to do a little guest blogging during his vacation. After giving him some crap about vacationing on the best day of the NBA year, I gladly agreed and offered to give an outsider’s take on the Knicks. I’m basically thinking of this as my chance to do one chapter’s worth of a Pro Basketball Prospectus-style annual.

As KB said in introducing the guest bloggers, I’m a Sonics fan, but I’ve followed the Knicks more closely than the average NBA team the last couple of years. I guess it’s the contrarian in me that makes me feel a certain kinship with a group of guys roundly criticized as underpaid. I championed the Knicks as a playoff team in my preview this year, repeatedly insisting they were better than the Celtics. Lo and behold, I nailed the C’s record and was one game off on the Knicks. Just forget the fact that both teams remade their rosters during the season.

Before we start examining the players in detail, some technical notes about the statistics I’ll be using in the statistical summary:
TS% – true shooting percentage, the best measure of offensive efficiency (PTS/(2*FGA + .88*FTA))
Reb% – percentage of estimated available rebounds grabbed
Pass – 50 * ((AST/MIN)^2)*(AST/TO)

The other measures are all derived from my possession-based rating system, which creates an imaginary team composed of four average players and the player in question. Off and Def are this team’s offense and defense ratings, Win% its winning percentage, and WARP the wins the player is worth over a replacement-level player.

Value is derived from a slightly adjusted WARP formula and uses the Marginal $/Marginal Win concept I’ve adapted to basketball from the late Doug Pappas. I only have this for last season. Salary is the player’s 2004-05 salary (from Hoopshype.com).

Without further ado. ?

Stephon Marbury

Year    MPG   PPG   RPG  APG   TS%  Reb%  Pass   Off   Def  Win%  WARP  Value  Salary
01-02 38.9 20.4 3.2 8.1 .519 4.7 5.12 93.1 91.1 .547 9.7
02-03 40.0 22.3 3.2 8.1 .520 4.6 5.06 93.4 89.9 .592 13.0
03-04 40.2 20.2 3.2 8.9 .519 4.6 7.05 93.0 89.2 .601 13.6 $11.48 $14.63

I spent the summer of 2002 “covering” the Suns for News@Hoopsworld, and the process made me a Marbury fan. That summer, Marbury was feeling the full wrath of the comparison between him and the player he was traded for, Jason Kidd. Marbury was fairly blamed for a foolish DUI, but the blame for the teams’ performance was unjustified, as it usually is. Kidd is a better player, but he’s also been the best point guard in the NBA over the last three years. It wasn’t Marbury’s decision to effectively trade Clifford Robinson for Bo Outlaw, just as Kidd didn’t draft Richard Jefferson or magically heal Kerry Kittles.

Statistically, Marbury is one of the league’s most devastating offensive forces. It’s my belief that players who are good at more than one thing don’t get as much credit for those skills as do one-dimensional players, and Marbury might be exhibit A in that argument. Last year, Marbury posted an identical assist/turnover ratio to Kidd’s and handed out only slightly less assists per minute, but anyone suggesting that they were in the same league in terms of passing would be laughed off the ‘net.

With the Knicks, Marbury drifted slightly more to the true point guard side of things, sacrificing a point per game for an assist per game, a trade-off I imagine Lenny Wilkens was happy to see him make. It’s not inconceivable that Marbury could lead the NBA in assists next season.

The concern is that Marbury gives it all back at the defensive end of the court. Hey, look, here’s a quote that says just that!

“Marbury’s one of the top 10 players on offense,” Wayne Winston, half the brains behind WINVAL, told the Washington Times. “Everybody thinks this guy is a great player. But when he’s on defense, he gives it all back.”

Indeed, per 82games.com, the Knicks were 6.7 points per 100 possessions better on offense with Marbury in the game, 5.6 points per 100 possessions worse on defense.

But is that right? Plus-minus numbers, particularly the adjusted kind WINVAL uses, are valuable, but they’re not the complete story on defense. John Hollinger reported in last year’s Prospectus that the Suns ranked fourth in defending starting point guards, and 82games.com also reports that Marbury held opposing point guards in check.

Marbury’s other big weakness is that sometimes he tries to do too much. The playoffs were the quintessential example of that; the image of Marbury forcing it time and time again in desperation against the Nets will be hard to forget (and not just because I picked the Knicks to pull the upset). Marbury put up 23 shots a game over the last three games of that series. He’s been at his best when paired with a strong power forward along the lines of Kevin Garnett and Amar? Stoudemire — and the Knicks might just have someone like that on their roster.

I think the defense requires a slight downgrade to the numbers I get for Marbury, but he’s still certainly amongst the top five point guards in the NBA and likely amongst its top 20 players. At $14 million-plus next year and for many years to come, he’s somewhat overpaid, but he gives the Knicks a star player they haven’t had since Patrick Ewing, and the price paid for him in the trade with Phoenix was worth it.

Moochie Norris

Year    MPG   PPG   RPG  APG   TS%  Reb%  Pass   Off   Def  Win%  WARP  Value  Salary
01-02 27.4 8.1 3.0 4.9 .471 6.3 4.14 89.7 91.1 .463 2.9
02-03 16.8 4.4 1.9 2.4 .470 6.7 2.32 88.4 89.7 .468 2.0
03-04 12.8 3.5 1.0 1.8 .471 4.5 1.93 87.7 88.4 .454 0.9 $2.528 $3.850

Since I’m only going back three years, Norris’ last good year doesn’t show up. The last three years, Norris has barely been adequate for a backup point guard, and last year he was even worse than that after seeing his passing and rebounding numbers tank. If there’s good news, it’s that Norris did pick up his performance after joining the Knicks in a trade for Clarence Weatherspoon, pushing his field-goal percentage from a dreadful 31.0% to 40.8%.

Most point guards come out better offensively than defensively by my system, which makes sense. With scoring and passing, most of their contributions come on the offensive end of the court. But Norris hasn’t been an efficient scorer in the last three years and has only been a good passer one of those years.

As a price for unloading Weatherspoon’s larger contract, Norris isn’t that bad, but the Knicks shouldn’t feel particularly compelled to play him, and if he’s still in the rotation next fall, that’s not a good sign.

Frank Williams

Year    MPG   PPG   RPG  APG   TS%  Reb%  Pass   Off   Def  Win%  WARP  Value  Salary
02-03 8.0 1.3 0.9 1.6 .393 6.3 4.15 86.1 90.3 .372 -0.1
03-04 12.8 3.9 0.9 2.2 .478 4.3 2.76 88.1 89.5 .432 0.5 $2.216 $0.957

Williams has just recently been discussed here, so I’m not sure entirely how much I have to add for the discussion. Unlike Dave, I wasn’t a particularly big fan of Williams in college. I recall thinking of him as an underachiever (I also abhorred Illinois teammate Brian Cook), and scoffing when people got excited about his summer-league play before his rookie seasons.

After a couple of NBA seasons, however, I have to agree with Dave that the Knicks need to keep Williams and give him more action. Offensively, Williams and Norris were similar players last season, and neither was very good. The first place there’s a difference between the two of them is that while Norris will be 31 this summer and is on the downside of his NBA career, while Williams turned 24 this season and has plenty of room to grow.

The second difference is defense. I hadn’t really investigated Williams’ defense very much before this, but there’s little question statistically that it’s fantastic. Williams’ on-court/off-court comparison is the reverse of Marbury’s – 5.7 points per 100 possessions better on defense (and also 1.4 points per 100 possessions better on offense). Williams’ individual defense also looks great; he limited opposing point guards and shooting guards both to a microscopic 10.1 PER.

Sadly, I’m going to copy Hollinger again by using my similarity scores to assess the future prospects of the Knicks’ youngsters. Williams’ closest age-24 comparable is Jeff McInnis, at the time playing limited minutes as a backup in Washington. It would take a couple of years, but McInnis eventually developed into an adequate starter. The next four names on the list — Morlon Wiley, Anthony Goldwire, Dan Dickau, and someone named Lowes Moore — aren’t as encouraging, but next after that is Scott Skiles and Sam Cassell also lurks in the top ten. So there’s some breakout potential there.

KnickerBlogger correctly points out that there won’t be a ton of minutes for Williams next season if Allan Houston is back, but what about the possibility of just cutting bait on Anfernee Hardaway? Hardaway isn’t a bad player by any stretch of the imagination, but he’s not a part of the Knicks’ future and Williams could be. I think Williams is plenty thick enough to play 20-25 minutes behind Marbury and Houston as a third guard in a three-guard rotation and that would really help the Knicks’ perimeter defense.

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