Coaching Change Not Always The Cure

This morning the Knicks, who dropped 9 of their last 10, announced that their coach Lenny Wilkens (1332-1155, 54%) would step down. For the time being, New York will replace the winningest coach in history with the coach having the highest win percentage. Herb Williams (1-0, 100%) may give Knick fans some hope that he can turn the season around, but do midseason coaching changes work?

I looked back over the last 5 seasons and checked every team that made a midseason coaching change:

YEAR	TEAM	W	L	Net W%	Team W%
2000 PHO 13 7 0% 65%
2004 NJN 22 20 10% 57%
2001 SEA 6 9 17% 54%
2000 DET 28 30 10% 51%
2004 NYK 15 24 16% 48%
2002 PHO 25 26 -14% 44%
2004 BOS 22 24 -9% 44%
2001 BOS 12 22 15% 44%
2003 ATL 11 16 3% 43%
2004 PHI 21 31 0% 40%
2002 NYK 10 9 -21% 37%
2000 WAS 14 30 8% 35%
2004 PHO 8 13 -4% 35%
2003 VAN 0 8 38% 34%
2003 LAC 19 39 1% 33%
2002 DEN 9 17 -2% 33%
2004 CHI 4 10 -1% 28%
2000 VAN 4 18 12% 27%
2002 GSW 8 15 -13% 26%
2004 ORL 1 10 19% 26%
2002 CHI 4 21 15% 26%
2000 GSW 6 21 1% 23%
2003 CLE 8 34 3% 21%
2000 LAC 11 34 -14% 18%

The wins and losses are the team’s record under the first coach. The next column (Net W%) is the gain the team made under the new coach. So if you look at the first team, the 2000 Suns played exactly the same after Danny Ainge decided being a family guy was more important than being a coach. The last column (Team W%) is the team’s winning percentage at the end of the year.

Based on the other teams that have made coaching changes, the statistical probability for a Knick turnaround is lukewarm. Overall those teams were 281-488 before the coaching change and 448-748 under new management. For those that aren’t scoring at home, that’s 37% with the first coach, and a nearly identical 38% with the replacement. Although 14 of 24 teams improved by changing skippers mid-sail, their average record was a disappointing 30-52. Looking at the teams which most resemble the Knicks (winning percentage from 39% to 49%) isn’t optimistic either. Those teams averaged 38 wins on the season. A bit lower than the expectations New Yorkers had in October.

Intuitively the teams that improved most were the worst: the 0-8 Grizzlies, the 1-10 Magic, the 4-21 Bulls, and the 4-18 Grizzlies. But not all the top gainers were lovable losers. The 2001 Sonics were 6-9 when they gave Paul Westphal a Tony LaRussa-esque quick hook. Westphal’s early removal was due to a personality clash with Gary Payton, and under the defensive minded McMillan Seattle would finish with a record of 44-38. Another squad giving inspiration to the 2005 Knicks are the 2004 Knicks. Don Chaney was on line ready to buy New York a second straight lottery ticket, when he was replaced with Lenny Wilkens. Wilkens went 23-19, and gave the Knicks their first playoff appearance in 2 years.

No one can say how the rest of the season plays out for Herb’s Knicks. There is no question that New York’s downfall has been their defense. For New York to get back to their winning ways, there are two questions that must be answered. The first question is: has the Knicks inability to play defense the players’ or the coach’s fault? Secondly if better coaching can make New York better at protecting their basket, does Herb Williams have the ability to get this type of effort out of his players? One thing is for certain, a coaching change alone isn’t the panacea that will instantly fix a team’s woes.

Yin & Yang

No team better represents the Yin & the Yang in the NBA than the Memphis Grizzlies. Their logo is a bear, shaded dark on one side and light on the other. The team has gone from one extreme to the other. From Vancouver to Memphis. Canada to America. Caesar to Czar. Last year’s surprise to this year’s dissapointment. A balanced team as opposed to being driven by one or two stars.

In their first match-up the Knicks soundly beat Memphis. New York’s best scorer, Stephon Marbury had 26 points on highly efficient scoring (75% eFG). Michael Sweetney was the Knicks second best player that night, nailing 5-10 and pulling down 5 offensive boards. The win was their third in a row, and put them 2 games over .500. Yin.

Away from the friendly confines between 7th & 8th avenues, the Knicks started off the game down 10-0. Marbury, the Knicks leading scorer on the season, had only 9 points. His 21% eFG underscored an all around bad shooting night (38%) for the orange & blue. Sweetney missed all 5 of his attempts. Definately Yang.

The Knicks did crawl back to 47-49 by halftime, and took the lead in the third (Yin). It was New York’s reserves that mounted the comeback, (Yin) but they couldn’t sustain their play (Yang). Just as quickly the Knicks were down by 13 at the start of the 4th quarter (Yang).

This time the Knicks are on a 3 game losing streak, and have to hope for a win against a struggling Hornets. New Orleans is off to a great start in trying to earn as many ping pong balls as they can in the next NBA lottery. They just traded old-but-serviceable PG Armstrong to the Mavs for young-and-uhhh-well-traveled Dan Dickau. If the Hornets are serious about getting Nemanja Aleksandrov, they’ll give Dickau the starter’s role right away. The ex-Bulldog is on his 4th team in only 2 years, and hopes one day to follow the path that the multi-uniformed Rick Brunson has set forth.

One final note, I’m putting together a collection for the family of Latrell Sprewell. The fiery ex-Knick, who has seen more extremes of Yin & Yang than most, earned a one game suspension for using profanities against a female heckler. Latrell asked for more money in the offseason to help feed his family. By my calculations that means he’s out $176,371.95, and I hate to see anyone go hungry.

Knicks Roster Analysis – Centers

It’s time to conclude the Knicks roster with the center position. 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.

Nazr Mohammed

Year    MPG   PPG   RPG  APG   TS%  Reb%  Pass   Off   Def  Win%  WARP  Value  Salary
01-02 26.4 9.7 7.9 0.4 .490 17.2 0.00 87.8 90.9 .452 2.4
02-03 12.8 4.6 3.7 0.2 .452 16.4 0.00 86.2 90.0 .426 0.2
03-04 20.1 7.4 5.9 0.5 .542 16.8 0.01 87.9 89.2 .508 3.6 $4.308 $5.250

Both Dave and I have discussed our opinion that going from Keith Van Horn to Tim Thomas was a downgrade for the Knicks at small forward. Still, four and a half months later, that deal looks good, because the Knicks did well to pick up Mohammed from Atlanta along with Thomas. Mohammed’s season statistics were very good, and he was even better with the Knicks, averaging 9.1 points and 7.7 rebounds per game and shooting an incredible 56.3% from the field.

I don’t know if it was KnickerBlogger or someone else, but I’ve read a comparison between Mohammed turning it on in New York and what he did after being traded mid-season to the Hawks in 2001. Then, Mohammed went from a non-factor in Philadelphia to averaging 12.3 points and 7.7 rebounds per game as a starter in Atlanta. That’s what got Mohammed his current five-year, $25 million contract, as he became a free agent that summer. I was rooting for the Sonics to sign Mohammed in their quest for a center way back when, continuing a pro-Mohammed trend; I also wanted the Sonics to draft him instead of Vladimir Stepania way back in 1998. (Score two for me.)

The question is, can Mohammed keep up his performance from last season? My answer is probably not. Mohammed is 26, so we would expect him to be nearing his peak, but he also had never shot better than 47.7% in a season before last year’s 52.1%. And, while he was plagued by injuries in 2002-03, he shot just 42.1% from the field that season. My research indicates that players — even young ones — who take that kind of a leap in two-point shooting tend to give much of it back the next year. In Mohammed’s case, that decline is tempered by the fact that his “real” shooting percentage before this season was closer to 47% or so, but I’d be mildly surprised if Mohammed shot better than 50% next year.

Even at that level, Mohammed still has a lot of value. He’s one of the league’s best rebounders, pulling down around 17% of available rebounds over the last three seasons. Mohammed’s defense is a little tougher to rate. His on-court/off-court ratings aren’t of a ton of use because he was playing opposite two of the NBA’s better defensive centers in Dikembe Mutombo and Theo Ratliff. In New York, Mohammed’s position defense rated as horrendous, but he was great in Atlanta, allowing just 41.8% effective field goal shooting. I rate Mohammed as a below-average defender for a center because he doesn’t block a ton of shots.

Overall, Mohammed is of similar value to Thomas, barring him continuing to play at the level he enjoyed after the trade. He’s certainly an acceptable starter, but unlikely to ever rank amongst the NBA’s best at the center position. Mohammed’s number one comp is a good one, last year’s Brian Skinner. Like Mohammed, Skinner a year ago was coming off of a shooting season (55.0%) he was unlikely to repeat. In fact, he didn’t, shooting 49.7%, but that and his defense/rebounding was still good enough to make him a useful starter.

Dikembe Mutombo

Year    MPG   PPG   RPG  APG   TS%  Reb%  Pass   Off   Def  Win%  WARP  Value  Salary
01-02 36.3 11.5 10.8 1.0 .574 16.8 0.02 89.5 88.9 .543 8.7
02-03 21.4 5.8 6.4 0.8 .445 17.0 0.04 85.8 88.8 .454 0.6
03-04 23.0 5.6 6.7 0.4 .523 16.9 0.01 86.8 87.3 .520 3.8 $4.461 $4.496

The opposite side of the issue with two-point percentage is illustrated by Mutombo. In 2001-02, he had one of his best offensive seasons, shooting 50.1% from the field. Then he went to New Jersey and shot 37.4%. Even with his age, it was obvious Mutombo wasn’t that bad, and he was one of the three guys I specifically mentioned as likely to see a two-point percentage rebound prior to last season. (The others were Jeff Foster, who I also nailed, and Chucky Atkins, whom I did not.) Lo and behold, Mutombo bounced all the way back to 47.8%, and while he wasn’t quite as effective as he was in 2001-02, he was still a very productive player indeed.

Through February, that is. Shortly after Mohammed’s arrival, Mutombo lost his staring job, and a little after that, he had abdominal surgery that kept him out about a month. Mutombo’s field-goal percentage, above 50% the first three months of the season, sank to the 30s in February and stayed down there in April. It’s tough for me to say whether that was because he was already injured, because he just ran out of gas, or what.

If you make the leap of faith that Mutombo’s age is what the NBA reports, he turned 38 last Friday. Few NBA players, of course, hit that age, but most of them are in the Mutombo mold. 17 of the 59 NBA players to play at the age of 37 before last season were at least one standard deviation above average in terms of height, which about corresponds to 6-11 or 7-feet. Height, as they say, never ages, and while Mutombo has a harder time getting around, he remains as good of a rebounder and shot-blocker as he has been in recent years (down from his Defensive Player of the Year prime, but still very good indeed). On the other hand, 82games.com has Mutombo rated as only a slightly positive influence on the Knicks’ overall defense.

The two things that could trip up Mutombo are injuries and a desire not to hang around too long. It’s not a stretch to believe that he could play a late-model Robert Parish role as a third center until he was in his mid-40s, but that may not be Mutombo’s choice. On the other front, Mutombo also suffered torn ligaments in his wrist that cost him 56 games in 2002-03, but he hasn’t had the knee/back injuries that really prove problematic for most older players.

Mutombo remains a solid option for 15-20 minutes a night off the bench. Whether the Knicks accept him in that role remains to be seen, but Mutombo will surely find employment somewhere next season.

Cezary Trybanski

Year    MPG   PPG   RPG  APG   TS%  Reb%  Pass   Off   Def  Win%  WARP  Value  Salary
Year MPG PPG RPG APG TS% Reb% Pass Off Def Win% WARP Value Salary
02-03 5.7 0.9 0.9 0.1 .287 9.2 0.00 80.8 90.2 .162 -0.4
03-04 2.1 0.1 0.1 0.0 .102 3.8 0.00 73.7 87.4 .000 -0.1 $2.047 $1.760

Do you think other GMs gossip about Trybanski on the phone to make themselves feel better because, hey, even Jerry West makes mistakes? Trybanski was one of West’s first signings after joining the Memphis Grizzlies organization, and while he didn’t get a lot of money, he’s been only slightly more useful to an NBA team over the last two years than you would have been.

Certainly, Trybanski hasn’t played enough minutes for us to be certain of his abilities, but he’s been amazingly bad when he has gotten on the court, posting a negative winning percentage last season. Logically, that’s silly, but that’s what happens when you fail to make a field goal all year. Trybanski’s lack of playing time is a form of evidence in and of itself; while we can’t say for certain he can’t play, there’s also no evidence since he came to the United States that he can play. Since I believe that players are bad until proven good, I’m not giving Trybanski much chance to salvage his career. Trybanski will also turn 25 by the start of next season, so he doesn’t have a ton of youth on his side.

According to New York Times, Trybanski will play for the Knicks’ summer-league team, and he may have to show something over the summer to stand a good chance to even make the roster this fall.

I should note about the value listed above that the value system I’m using gives players credit for about $2 million in value just for being a warm body, the NBA equivalent of getting an 800 just for signing your name on the SATs.

That concludes my position-by-position look at the Knicks roster. On Friday or possibly Saturday, I’ll get up my general take on the Knicks and the direction I’d pursue this summer and beyond.

Kevin Pelton writes “Page 23” for Hoopsworld.com on a semi-regular basis. He can be reached at kpelton@hoopsworld.com.

East Coast vs West Coast

[Note: No rappers were hurt in the writing of this blog.]

If you’re a long time reader, you already know I picked the East to win it all. In fact I was the only one out of the 8 participants in my playoff bracket contest to choose an East team. At the time I didn’t do a whole lot of analysis to see if the top East team is really as good as their left coast counterparts. So the question I have for this entry is: Does the East have a chance to win the NBA Championship?

First let’s look at the top East teams: Indiana, Detroit, & NJ. What I did is look at how they fared against all the West playoff teams. This way I can see if there is some kind of disparity between the top teams in the East & West. Let’s start with defending Eastern champs, and my current least favorite team, the Nets. New Jersey was pitiful against the West’s best (no rhyme intended), going 5-11. The Nets were 3-5 at home, and 2-6 on the road. They were swept (2 games series) by the Spurs, Grizzlies, Lakers, and Mavs, and raised the broom once against Denver. One excuse could be that the Nets had a lot of injuries during the regular season. However this isn’t enough evidence to overturn 5 years of Western dominance in this case. At this point the Nets don’t look like a contender. You would only need the Nets to be .500 or better, since they are playing against the best, not the whole league.

Let’s look at the team that will play (and hopefully beat) the Nets, the Detroit Pistons. Detroit did fairly well against the Pacifickers (no that didn’t pass my spellchecker), with a repsectable 8-8. The were swept by two of the better teams, the Spurs and the T-Wolves. However they did a little dusting (2-0) against the weaker Memphis & the Nuggets. At home they were an encouraging 6-2, but were reversibly bad on the road at 2-6.

As for my hopefuls (now that the boys in orange & blue are hitting the links), the Pacers did very well at 9-7. They were 6-2 at home, and a little better that the other two Eastern hopefuls 3-5 on the road. They didn’t beat the Kings in their two games, but swept Dallas and Denver. That’s right if you were paying attention, the Nuggets got swept by all 3 of these teams.

Not coincidentally, all three of the Eastern teams are very good defensively, with only the Spurs (#1) being better. Unfortunately only the Pacers have an offense ranking in the top half (#8). This is encouraging for fans that want to see a close Finals. I really think it will be an evenly fought contest this year, and if the Pacers do make it, I think they have a very good chance of winning the championship.

2004 Bloggers Bracket

Welcome to the KnickerBlogger 2004 Bloggers Bracket. First prize is Blog bragging rights for the year, and I’ve assembled a cast of the best bloggers around the country to participate. The rules are simple, you get a point for every correct team that you pick. In the unlikely event of a tie, tiebreakers will be taken by closest to the final score of the final game. All entries were sent to me before the first game was played on Saturday. First let’s meet the contestants:

Jon Hollinger – Jon’s blog says it all: “The Basketball Page for Thinking Fans.” Mr. Hollinger offers intelligent analysis with his “From the Baseline” blog at alleyoop.com. These days he’s moved on to real publishing, authoring the all encompasing Basketball Prospectus. The third edition covering the 2005 season is scheduled to be released in October, and I already have mine on order.

Kevin Pelton – Kevin fits the mold of Moneyball: logical, young, open-minded, and intelligent. He’ll use statistics to get a better understanding of any player or team. Whether it’s trying to understand how good Okafor might become, or if Gilbert Arenas is worth $7M. You’ll never know what topic he’s going to jump into at his Page23 blog.

Ron HitleyHornets247 has one of the most prolific blog writers. Ron’s articles are long, but he keeps the pace up with lots of quick tidbits. Check him out for the playoffs, since he’s likely to have something written something about every team.

Michael Avalone – The first page I’m going to in the morning is Michael Avalone’s Knicks Clicks. He’s got all the latest news about the Knicks, and I mean ALL the news. Like a young Dekembe Mutombo, nothing gets past him.

Scott Carefoot – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Scott is the best blogger out there. Scott isn’t ultra popular up north because of his cute little image before every post. Just read this post, which is maybe the best blog post I’ve ever read.

Tim KrausTim is my new best friend, thanks to my lucky picks in the NCAA pool. Always watching from the End of the Bench, Tim has the whole NBA covered, including those who cover the NBA.

Matt Bernhardt – The lowly Bulls don’t deserve such a good blogger. Although their lowly stature has supplied Matt with enough things to critique, Matt doesn’t stick to the Windy city, and comments on things outside of the game, including the plight of the college athlete, Mark Cuban’s weblog, etc.

Now on to the Picks:

BLOG:	Jon	Kevin	Ron	Michael	Scott	Tim	Matt	Me
EAST FIRST ROUND
E1v8 IND IND IND IND IND IND IND IND
E2v7 NJ NY NJ NJ NJ NJ NJ NJ
E3v6 DET DET DET DET DET DET DET DET
E4v5 MIA MIA NO MIA MIA NO NO MIA
WEST FIRST ROUND
W1v8 MIN MIN MIN MIN MIN MIN MIN MIN
W2v7 LAL LAL LAL LAL LAL LAL LAL LAL
W3v6 SAS SAS SAS SAS MEM MEM SAS SAS
W4v5 DAL DAL SAC DAL DAL SAC SAC SAC
SECOND ROUND
E2-1 IND IND IND IND IND IND IND IND
E2-2 DET DET DET DET DET DET DET DET
W2-1 MIN MIN MIN MIN MIN MIN SAC MIN
W2-2 SAS LAL LAL LAL LAL LAL SAS SAS
FINALS
EAST DET DET IND IND DET DET DET IND
WEST SAS LAL LAL LAL LAL LAL SAS MIN
CHAMP SAS LAL LAL LAL LAL LAL SAS IND
Score 82-78 89-80 87-81 110-95 93-86 90-75 90-82 91-84

In the East it looks like Indy, the Nets, and the Pistons are locks for the second round. Only Kevin has an upset here, by taking the Knicks. This is surpising, since both Knick bloggers have the Nets winning (us wimps!). Miami is a slight favorite over the Hornets. You have to give it to Ron, who is a much better fan of his home team than I am.

In the West, there is little room for upset where Minnesota and the Lakers are concerned. Scott and Tim both have the Grizzlies taking the Spurs out.

Everyone has the Pacers and Pistons fighting for the East. While the West, according to my fine panel, has Minnesota meeting either the Lakers or Spurs. The one dessenter being the Bulls Blog who choose the Kings to knock off the T-Wolves.

When it comes to the overall champion, I am the only one to choose an East team, taking the Pacers to win it all. Also I’m the only one that thinks Minnesota will make it that far. 5 of the 8 contestants think the Lakers are going all the way, with 2 picking the Spurs.

I’m not that surprised that no one wants to pick the East to win, but I thought the T-Wolves would get a little more respect. It seems that the majority of people think the winner of the Lakers/Spurs series in round 2 will decide the championship. I think the T-Wolves have a little advantage against the winner, since the team they will face in the second round will have a weak defense (SAC/DAL), and this series is less likely to be physical or go the full 7 games than the LAL/SAS series.

Good Luck Contestants!

Playoff Odds 04/05/04

Curious at how the seeds to the playoffs might turn out, I got a little ambitious. It all started from something I learned a while back. That is you can calculate the probability of a team winning a game if you know: the home team’s record at home, the road’s team record away, and the league’s home win %. I used this little formula in a previous column to talk about the Knicks’ chances to win their 5 next games.

I decided to see how far I could take this. So I inserted all the home/road records of every team in the league into a spreadsheet. Then I put in the remaining schedule for the entire league. I determined probability of the winner of each game using this formula. Based on these odds & using Excel’s random number generator, I played out the rest of the season 1000 times.

The East:

Team	Ewins	EW%	Seed1	Seed2	Seed3	Seed4	Seed5	Seed6	Seed7	Seed8	Miss


IND 59.9 .730 1.00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00
DET 54 .658 .00 .00 1.00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00
NJN 48.5 .591 .00 1.00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00
MIL 42 .512 .00 .00 .00 .77 .19 .04 .00 .00 .00
MIA 40.9 .499 .00 .00 .00 .17 .58 .23 .02 .00 .00
NOR 40.1 .489 .00 .00 .00 .05 .22 .62 .09 .01 .00
NYK 38.3 .467 .00 .00 .00 .00 .01 .09 .66 .24 .00
BOS 37.5 .457 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .02 .22 .70 .05
CLE 34.8 .424 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .01 .03 .96
PHI 34.1 .416 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .01 .99
TOR 32.2 .393 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 1.00
ATL 27.3 .333 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 1.00
WAS 25.6 .312 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 1.00
CHI 23.8 .290 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 1.00
ORL 20.3 .247 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 1.00
[Ewins = Expected # of wins, EW% = Expected winning percentage]In the East, the top 3 seeds are already set in stone. Indiana, New Jersey and Detroit will be the top 3. New Jersey clinches the #2 spot, due to winning the weak Atlantic. Milwaukee has a 77% chance of taking the 4th seed (a.k.a. the last home field spot for the first round), followed by Miami (17%), and New Orleans (5%). More good news for Bucks’ fans, they won’t likely have worse than a 5th seed (4%). Miami can fall as far as the 7th seed, but even that is a small (2%) chance.

Speaking of that 7th seed (we know Penny Hardaway isn’t anymore), the Knicks appear to be the favorites here, with a 66% probability of facing the Nets in the first round. After the events of this weekend, that should prove to be a most interesting matchup. Boston might win the 7th seed, and the Hornets have a 9% chance of falling that far as well. If either Cleveland (4%) or Philly (1%) makes the playoffs, it’ll be at the expense of the Celtics.

The West:

TEAM	Ewins	EW%	Seed1	Seed2	Seed3	Seed4	Seed5	Seed6	Seed7	Seed8	Miss


SAC 56.73 .692 .55 .02 .31 .10 .02 .00 .00 .00 .00
LAL 56.23 .686 .25 .18 .45 .10 .02 .00 .00 .00 .00
MIN 55.69 .679 .12 .41 .11 .36 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00
SAS 55.53 .677 .07 .39 .13 .41 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00
MEM 52.55 .641 .00 .00 .00 .03 .77 .20 .00 .00 .00
DAL 51.41 .627 .00 .00 .00 .00 .20 .80 .00 .00 .00
HOU 44.77 .546 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .90 .07 .03
UTA 42.6 .520 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .03 .43 .54
POR 42.43 .517 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .04 .32 .64
DEN 42.09 .513 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .03 .18 .79
GSW 37.09 .452 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 1.00
SEA 36.93 .450 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 1.00
LAC 28.94 .353 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 1.00
PHO 27.83 .339 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 1.00
The West isn’t as simple. Four teams are vying for the #1 seed. Just looking at the expected wins column, and there is little to separate them (barely more than one win). The Kings are the favorites, but at 55% are hardly locks for the top spot. If you add in the Lakers’ 25%, there is an 80% chance that the Pacific will have the top seed.

Minnesota (12%) and the Spurs (7%) can still land the top spot. However since there is an 80% chance that the Pacific gets the #1 seed, then that means there is the same probability that these two teams will have the #2 seed. The Timberwolves (41%) have a slight edge over the Spurs (39%) here. There is the tiniest chance (2%) that the Lakers or Kings will slip to the 5th spot, and in that scenario, the Grizzlies would grab the last home field spot (#4).

There are 6 teams that can avoid the lottery. Actually Dallas and Memphis have guaranteed them no worse than the 6th spot. The Rockets only have a 3% probability of missing the playoffs, and will likely get the 7th seed. That leaves Utah (46%), Portland (36%), and the Nuggets (21%) to fight for the final spot (although technically any of them can be as high as #7). It’d be nice to see the Nuggets win that 8th seed, and hopefully critics won’t blame only him for not being able to get out of the first round, like they do to Kevin Garnett.

Grizzlies Get Defensive

Man I was mean but I?m changing my scene
And I?m doing the best that I can.
I admit it?s getting better
A little better all the time

— “Getting Better”
The Beatles

Tonight’s opponent is the Memphis Grizzlies. A team that finished 28-54 (.341) last year. Dallas finished in first place in their division last year. This year is a different story. Memphis at 44-26 is tied with Dallas in the standings for the 5th seed. This can only further solidify Jerry West’s genius as a GM. In case you didn’t know, West was the GM of the Lakers from 1982 to 2000. Not only did he help to shape the Lakers in the 80s, but he was the one to bring Shaq & Kobe to the Los Angeles.

So how did Memphis improve so much? My best guess is they turned it up on the defensive end. Last year Memphis’ points per 100 possessions were 97.6 for, and 100.7 against. This year the offense is a little worse at 96.4, but the defense is an impressive 93.9! That’s an almost 7 point turn around. The biggest difference in the team stats department is lowering the opposing team’s eFG% (effective FG%, aka adjusted FG%, aka accounting for treys in FG%) in jump shots. (As opposed to dunks, tips & close – you really have to look at the graphs on 82games.com). Last year they allowed .434 eFG% from jump shots, and this year it’s down to .401.

The largest changes roster-wise is the addition of Posey & Wells, a full season from Mike Miller, and 20 minutes a game from Bo Outlaw. Other than Outlaw, I’m really not familiar enough with the players to comment on their defensive prowess. With Outlaw, you can just look at his stats and tell he’s a defensive specialist. Why else would someone that scores 6 points in 25 minutes stay in the league for 12 years? Funny thing is I can recall Outlaw playing for teams like the Suns and the Magic, because he’s one guy that always gets your attention on the court. He’s a freakishly athletic player, with seemingly little basketball skills on the offensive side. Kind of like Dennis Rodman minus the circus show.

I can’t believe that Bo Outlaw is a good enough defender to account for all of this difference. The assumption doesn’t have to be that Posey, Wells & Miller are great defensive players, but rather they’re probably better than the guys that they replaced, namely Gooden, Giricek, and Person. Of course there could be other factors as well, such as coaching, defensive schemes, improvement in the players that were there, voodoo dolls, etc.

The Knicks’ prospects against a good defensive team is not promising. They are 15-28 against teams that rank among top 19 teams in points against, and 18-10 against the bottom 10 teams. They are also 6-15 against the best 10 teams in def eFG%. In other words they struggle against good defensive teams & eat up the bad ones. Now before Knicks’ fan can go into despair these are stats for the entire year, and the team has changed much since then. Also remember that the Knicks are home tonight, which evens things out considerably.