Welcome to the NBA, Michael Sweetney

There is a wait so long
You’ll never wait so long
Here comes your man

— “Here Comes Your Man”
Pixies

The official stats say Michael Sweetney has played 25 games so far this year. I’m here to tell you they’re off by 24. #50 for the Knicks, has played his first NBA game. Before you call Dr. Phil and ask him to examine my noggin, let me explain.

In a previous column, I said this about Sweetney:

The Knicks rookie PF looks skilled, but lost at times especially on defense. I expect that if the Knicks are patient enough to give him playing time, this befuddled play will disappear…

I also wrote about Sweetney on Raptorblog.com :

Sweetney is undersized vertically, but a bit wide in the midsection with a long wing span. He’s a bit timid, and gets lost on the defensive end. He’s every bit the wide-eyed rookie, but with Wilkens slowly giving him minutes he’s looking more and more comfortable on the court. Due to his lack of minutes, there isn’t much to say about him other than he can rebound, and he makes a great looking inside shot every few weeks or so.

Previously, Sweetney never looked comfortable on the court. If you watched him the whole game, you’d see him make mental mistakes. He looked uncomfortable on defense, always switching a little bit late, and sometimes looking around for his guy. On offense, he seemed to never get into the swing of things. His main asset seemed to be getting defensive rebounds.

Last night we saw a different Michael Sweetney. Sometimes during a game I’ll take notes, because it’s hard to remember all the subtleties that occur. To recap Sweetney’s night, I didn’t have to pick up my pen. The images were burnt into my memory. Maybe not all of them, but enough anyway.

Early on he received a pass in the post on the right blocks. He spun to his right, gave a head fake, and hit an easy layup over a fooled defender. A few plays after that Marbury was double teamed off of Sweetney’s pick, and kicked the ball out to Sweetney for an easy 12 footer. It’s the first time that I can remember Sweetney hitting an inside and an outside shot in the same game.

The rookie would show his quickness, with a steal near midcourt. With no one between him and the basket, only a Celtic flagrant foul would prevent him from scoring. Later in the game, he out rebounded Paul Pierce on the offensive glass for an easy lay in.

Sweetney just loooked comfortable out there. If you had never seen a Knicks game before you wouldn’t have been able to pick out who the rookie was. Even his mistakes weren’t entirely his fault. One was a bad cross court pass while being double teamed. It wasn’t all Sweetney’s fault, since the the Knicks didn’t get open to give him any other target. On another fast break, Sweetney received the ball from Shandon Anderson on the wing, and passed it back quickly, but it was Anderson that couldn’t handle the pass. In the second half, Sweetney was rejected attempting a dunk by a trio of Celtics. However, he calmly got the rebound under their rim, and went up again, this time banking the layup off the backboard. At that point, he looked like a veteran that had seen it all.

I’m sorry if you came here to read about some esoteric stat. They’ll be no Dean Oliver’s Off. Rtg. No John Hollinger’s PER. No “Joe’s” linear weight performance. On a night, where the Knicks lost on a missed last second shot, I’ll be happy to write about their first round draft pick’s fabulous performance.

AFG%

The world has turned and left me here
Just where I was before you appeared
And in your place an empty space
Has filled the void behind my face

— “The World Has Turned And Left Me Here”
Weezer

I find it interesting that Paul Pierce is the only player in the league to currently lead his team in points, rebounds, and assists. There are a few people that lead their team in two stats, Shaq, Garnett, etc., but no one leads in the “big three.” Usually stats like this are meaningless, but it means in a sense that the Celtics don’t have stability at three positions, center, power forward, and point guard. Usually PGs lead their teams in assists, and Cs or PFs lead their teams in rebounds, because that is the nature of their positions.

The Celts have won their past five games. The most impressive is the last one against Minnesota, 80 to 77. As far as I can tell from the box scores, they won despite shooting a lower percentage and having less rebounds. So how did they win? First Boston attempted twice as many three pointers (24 to 12). This lowered their FG%, but increased their adjusted field goal attempts. {Definition: Adjusted FG Percentage = [(PTS – FTM)/(FGA*2)}

Adjusted field goal percentage (AFG%) compensates 3 point shooters for their poor FG%. A FG% of 45% isnt very good for a guy that works primarily in the paint, but is a pretty good percentage for someone that lives beyond the arc. Field goal percentage is a little bit outdated in the modern age due to the added reward of the three point shot. It’s good for players that both don’t shoot any treys. FG% can’t even be used to compare two players that shot some three pointers, unless their ratio of three pointers to two pointers are close.

For example, let’s say player A attempts six layups and hits two. His FG% is 33% (2-6), and he’s scored 4 points. Now player B attempts six three pointers and hits two. Player B’s FG% is still 33%, but this time he’s scored 6 points. Player A’s AFG% is (4-0)/(6*2) or 4/12 or 33%. Player B’s AFG% is (6-0)/(6*2) which is 6/12 or 50%.

AFG% is one of the few “advanced” stats ESPN has on their main stat page. Here’s a quick rundown of the top 25 in this stat:

NAME	................. GP	PPG	FGM	FGA	FG%	PPS*	AFG%
1 S. O'Neal, LAL.....	47	22	8.2	14	0.587	1.57	0.587
2 P. Stojakovic, SAC	61	25.4	8.4	17.6	0.479	1.44	0.567
3 Mark Blount, BOS...	64	9.3	3.8	6.9	0.55	1.33	0.55
4 James Posey, MEM...	63	12.7	4.3	9	0.473	1.42	0.545
5 Yao Ming HOU.......	62	17.5	6.5	12.1	0.539	1.44	0.539
6 D. Marshall, CHI/TOR	63	15.4	6	12.7	0.474	1.21	0.534
7 Nene Hilario, DEN...	59	11.4	4.2	7.8	0.531	1.45	0.531
8 Sam Cassell, MIN....	62	20.6	8	16	0.497	1.29	0.529
9 Erick Dampier, GSW	61	12	4.6	8.8	0.522	1.36	0.522
10 Mike Bibby, SAC....	62	18.4	6.3	14.1	0.451	1.31	0.522
11 A. Jamison, DAL....	62	14.2	5.8	11.2	0.514	1.27	0.52
12 Brad Miller, SAC...	55	15.2	5.6	10.9	0.513	1.4	0.52
13 Steve Nash, DAL....	58	14.6	5	10.9	0.459	1.34	0.519
14 Carlos Boozer, CLE	56	14.9	6.1	11.8	0.517	1.27	0.517
15 Elton Brand, LAC...	49	20.7	7.2	14	0.515	1.47	0.515
16 Jim Jackson, HOU...	61	12.3	4.6	10.9	0.419	1.13	0.512
17 Mike Dunleavy, GSW	54	11.9	4.4	9.9	0.441	1.2	0.51
18 M. Finley, DAL.....	57	19.2	7.3	16.2	0.447	1.18	0.51
19 Kerry Kittles, NJN	62	13.2	5.3	11.7	0.457	1.13	0.51
20 Bobby Jackson, SAC	49	13.9	5.3	12	0.442	1.16	0.509
21 R. Jefferson, NJN	62	17.4	6.4	13	0.491	1.34	0.508
22 Tim Thomas, MIL/NYK	52	14.3	5.4	12	0.455	1.19	0.502
23 K. Van Horn, MIL/NYK	56	16.7	5.9	13.2	0.45	1.27	0.502
24 Gary Payton, LAL...	62	14.8	6	12.7	0.475	1.17	0.501
25 D. Armstrong, NOR	63	10.7	3.8	9.3	0.409	1.15	0.501

It’s no shock to see Shaq and Peja at the top two spots, despite doing it in radically different ways. Shaq has done it without any three pointers, Peja on the other hand shoots his fair share of threes. The biggest benefactor of this is Jim Jackson of Houston. Despite a low FG% (42%), almost half of his shots were for three, and he hits them with a good enough percentage to warrant a spot among the top 25. Even more interesting is Tim Thomas and Keith Van Horn occupying adjacent spots. By the way the column next to AFG%, PPS, is points per shot. This factors in points from free throws as well. Boston’s Mark Blount is #3, but he scores only 9 PPG.

Getting back to the story, the Celtics’ edge in three point shots gave Boston a slight edge, but it wasn’t the only edge. They had a slight edge in turnovers, and went to the charity stripe 8 more times. It doesn’t sound like much, and it wasn’t. They only won by 3 points.

Putbacks

I say why on earth do you revolve around me
Aren?t you aware of the gravity

— Another Satellite
XTC

Since some of you may not have thought to check this blog on a weekend, I’ll make today’s entry short. This way you can catch up on Saturday’s column on Lenny Wilkens (right below this one). I’d like to take a quick look at some previous entries. A few days ago I talked about the Knicks’ chances to win their upcoming games. Well they’ve won all three, despite being statistical underdogs in two of them. In case you were wondering, the chance that they would win all three was only 11%. Now some of you may be dying to email me and tell me that I was wrong to give the Knicks such poor odds. However, 11% isn’t as impossible to overcome as you would think. It’s about the same odds as flipping three coins and getting three heads. Not that bad when you put it in that light.

By the way I’ve checked out the Knicks’ updated chances versus the next two teams. Before they had a 64.9% chance to beat Boston at home, and a 38.2% chance away in Philly. Now that the Knicks and Celtics have won a few games, and the Sixers lost a few, the probabilities are different. New York has almost the same chance against Boston (65.5%) and slightly improved odds against Philly (40.6%). The Knicks have a 27% chance of winning both games. This is a little better than the odds you would get with flipping two coins and getting both heads.

That’s twice where I’ve compared the Knicks’ probability of winning to the flipping of a coin. That makes sense when both teams have similar records. Intuitively, they should have slightly better odds against their next two opponents than a coin flip, since their record is slightly better.



In a few of my previous posts, I’ve talked about fouls. Well if there were an official stat for this blog, it might be the personal foul. In one of these entries, I said in recap of a game:

Nazr Mohammad only scored 2 points because he was in foul trouble all night. If you didn’t watch the game, you would know this by looking at the box score. When someone who would probably play 25-30 minutes, plays only 14 and has 4 fouls in that span, you can conclude that they had foul trouble.

Well unfortunately yesterday’s game was not televised anywhere. Actually I’m sure if I had a satellite dish it would have been on some channel, but there’s a few huge buildings between my roof and their satellite.

In any case I didn’t get to watch the game, but I did listen to it on the radio for a little bit, before getting bored and leaving the house. It’s not the same listening to the radio, because I don’t always trust the announcers’ judgements. Later in the day, I checked the box score to see all of the Knick starters perform well, except for one: Kurt Thomas. His time was limited to 22 minutes due to 5 fouls. Obviously his low minute total was due to his foul trouble. He scored 4 points, and had 8 rebounds. Thinking back I remember the radio announcers saying two things about Kurt. Early in the game they said that Kurt was off to a good start. Later in the second quarter they said he had just received his third foul, which sent him back to the bench, only a few minutes after coming off the bench.

Nazr Mohammed is a good rebounder on both ends of the floor, and a good low post scorer. Kurt Thomas is their best low post defender, gets to the defensive glass, and has a decent outside shot. The Knicks are a much better team with them on the court instead of Mutombo, Harrington, and Sweetney. It’s as simple as when Mohammed and K.Thomas get into foul trouble, which limits their minutes, the Knicks are a weaker team. That’s why it’s so important for these two to keep out of foul trouble.

The Next 5 Games

There was something I really wanted to show you
But I just can’t find it

— “Can’t Find It”
Smoking Popes

I was reading the newspaper this morning (online of course), and one of the lines caught my eyes:

SOFT SCHEDULE: All of the Knicks’ next five games are against teams with losing records.

The sentence implies that the Knicks will be at an advantage their next few games, since they are playing “bad” teams. But is this really true? There is a well known formula that you can use to try to predict who will win a certain matchup. According to Dean Oliver:

In a 0.500 league, i.e., where all we have are the overall records and no information about home court advantage, etc.:

Win%A_B = [Win%A*(1-Win%B)]/[Win%A*(1-Win%B)+(1-Win%A)*Win%B],

where Win%A_B is the chance that A will beat B, Win%A is A’s winning percentage against the league, and Win%B is B’s winning percentage against the league.

So I took the Knicks next 5 opponents, and plugged their records into a spreadsheet. Using the above equation, I was able to figure out what the Knicks’ chances are to win each game (KN_w%).

Knicks Opponent	W	L	Pct	KN_w%
 Philadelphia	24	36	.400	.527
 Toronto Raps	25	34	.424	.503
 Washington	19	39	.328	.604
 Boston Celts	26	36	.419	.507
 Philadelphia	24	36	.400	.527

According to this equation, the Knicks have about an even chance at beating the Raptors and the Celtics. They have slightly better odds against the Sixers (twice), and pretty good odds against the Wizards. In fact according to this, the Knicks should be favorites in 3 of the five games, and at least even in the other two. However, a keen eye might notice that this equation doesn’t care who is at home or away. If teams do better at home, wouldn’t we want to take account of this?

The answer is yes. Since I already had the NBA standings in my spreadsheet, I decided to calculate the home records for whole league. The home team in the NBA this year wins 64% of the time. That seems to be a huge advantage, so can’t we account for this in our matchup equation? Luckily someone already thought of this as well. Back to Dean’s web page:

For example, if Team A is the home court team and Win%H is the percentage of times the home team wins, we have

Win%A_B = [Win%A*(1-Win%B)*Win%H]/[Win%A*(1-Win%B)*Win%H+(1-Win%A)* Win%B*(1-Win%H)]

So recalculating:

H?	Knicks Opponent	W	L	Pct	KN_w%	KN_w%lgw
H	 Philadelphia	24	36	.400	.527	.667
A	 Toronto Raps	25	34	.424	.503	.360
A	 Washington	19	39	.328	.604	.459
H	 Boston	Celts	26	36	.419	.507	.649
A	 Philadelphia	24	36	.400	.527	.382
Home teams in bold

Now things have radically changed. The Knicks are substantial favorites in their two home games against the Sixers and the Celts. They are underdogs against the other three teams, and substantially more against the Raptors and Sixers. What’s especially noteworthy is that they play the Sixers twice. Against Philly, they go from being a 67% team at home to a 38% team on the road. Also in a neutral site, they are most likely to beat Washington, but accounting for home court advantage, they are no longer the favorite.

Of course these are just percentages. The Knicks could win all 5 games (1 in 37 chance), or they could loose all 5 (1 in 40 chance). Going back to the newspaper quote, you might expect the Knicks to win 3 or 4 of their next 5 games, but in reality they’re expected to only win 2 or 3.

On a final note, this equation doesn’t take into account many factors. The two most important I can think of are injuries, and whether the records used are indicative of a team’s true strength. For example this Knick team is radically different from the one that started 2-8. Let’s say with the additions of Marbury, Hardaway, Nazr, Tim Thomas, and Lenny Wilkens the Knicks are better than their record. If they were let’s say a .500 team, things would change even more. The Knicks would become heavy favorites at home against Philly (73%) and Boston (71%), slight favorites away against Washington (53%), and slight underdogs against Philly (45%) and Toronto (43%).