Kevin Pelton, Killing It

There’s no doubt that I’ve been a fan of Kevin Pelton’s work over the years. But recently he’s written a bunch of articles that would be of interest to this site. The first is Knick related, as Pelton looked at New York’s recent success.

The most surprising change is in terms of the Knicks’ pace. The coach once known for his “:07 Seconds or Less” philosophy is now practicing something more akin to “:15 Seconds or Less.” Through the end of November, New York was playing at the league’s third-fastest pace. Since then, the Knicks have been more deliberate than the average team, playing old-fashioned track meets only against running teams like Indiana and Phoenix. D’Antoni slowed things down when the Suns traded for Shaquille O’Neal, but even that adjustment was nowhere near this extreme.

Almost as much as the fast pace, poor rebounding–especially on the offensive glass–had been a D’Antoni trademark, and New York was no exception early this season. Only the Golden State Warriors have rebounded fewer of their own misses than the Knicks in November (21.4 percent). Since the end of that month, New York is up to a 25.3 percent offensive rebound rate, which is within shouting distance of league average. The Knicks are rebounding better on the defensive end too, making use of a big starting lineup (6’8″ Wilson Chandler, once groomed for the Shawn Marion role in D’Antoni’s lineup, is now nominally the two-guard) that assists anchor David Lee on the glass by committee.

The changes reflect a level of flexibility from D’Antoni that is probably surprising even to his admirers (count me in that category). In his inside account of the 2005-06 Suns that gave D’Antoni’s style its name, :07 Seconds or Less, author Jack McCallum shows the coach regularly reacting to trouble by going ever smaller and searching for more offense. While that mentality was appropriate for D’Antoni’s Phoenix team, it wasn’t working for the Knicks, so he has instead gone the other way by moving non-shooter Jared Jeffries into the starting lineup in the name of improved defense and more length.

In back to back articles Pelton inspects the D-League, first producing statistical translations, then applying his methods to find gems in the rough. He describes the 6-7 undersized power forward and aptly named Diamon Simpson as DeJuan Blair without the efficient scoring, while tabbing 6-11 Greg Stiemsma a late bloomer. Pelton also goes down the laundry list of team needs and lists players that would suite the bill. He also gives a shot out to the D-League blog on Draft Express, where I unearthed this article on Morris Almond. Draft Express calls Almond the D-League’s best prospect, but adds a side note to the talented scorer:

The biggest concern about Almond from an NBA perspective is what he will be able to contribute when he’s not scoring, as he ranks amongst the worst passers in the league, and watching him play, is clearly always looking for his own shot. Data from Synergy Sports Technology also suggests Almond isn’t nearly as good of a scorer coming off screens as he is spotting up, and this could limit his effectiveness in a role as a 3-point shooter in the NBA.

The Knicks 2010 Over/Under

This year I decided to have some fun and invite some NBA writers to participate in a little soothsaying. I proposed some possible scenarios via Over/Under and asked them to look into their crystal-ball and divine the outcome to these events. This year I got a good mix of people including: Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus, J.E. Skeets of Ball Don’t Lie, Tom Ziller of Sactown Royalty, Howard Beck of the New York Times, Tommy Dee from the Knicks Blog, NBA analyst Gabe Farkas, in addition to some of KnickerBlogger’s own writing staff (Robert “The Animal” Silverman, Thomas B., Owen, Michael Zannettis, Kevin McElroy, Brian Cronin, and myself).

The Youngsters

Gallo 3 point shooting percentage: 40%
My Pick: Under
Gallinari shot 44% last year, but due to the limited number of minutes he played this could be a fluke. Most of our participants see him faring well from behind the arc this year.

Gallo

Jordan Hill minutes played: 1100.5
My Pick: Under
For Hill to go over, he would only need to average 13.5 minutes a game, which doesn’t seem like much. However the Knicks have a lot of depth on the front court, and Hill has looked unimpressive in the preseason. If he starts racking up DNPs, it’s not likely he’ll make this number. Only Pelton, Ziller, and Farkas see him getting this much playing time this year.

Hill

Toney Douglas True Shooting Percentage: 50%
My Pick: Under
The league average for True Shooting Percentage is 54%, so this should be an easily attainable goal for most NBA players. Our panel was split, but leaned towards the under.

Douglas

Lottery Pick Centers

Darko Milicic total points on the season: Eddy Curry total points on the season
My Pick: Over
Once these two were among the hottest prospects in the draft, now they’re barely able to find court time on a 30-something win team. Darko scores much less per minute, but I guess that’s the point.

Darko and Curry. Two halves of a great center don’t make a whole.

— Mike Zannettis

Darko

UFOs (or I’ll Believe It When I See it)

Jared Jeffries 3 pointers attempted per 36 minutes: 1.5
My Pick: Over
Another split decision by the group. I decided to go with 3 pointers attempted, because that’ll mean a fundamental shift in the way Jeffries plays on offense. And D’Antoni does allow players to shoot threes, even if they can’t hit them.

I think Jared Jeffries will easily exceed 1.5 3 pointers attempted per 36 minutes–if he is healthy– in this offense. The better question is will he have more than 0.5 makes per 36 minutes. I don’t think he can do that without downloading a cheat code, and last I checked there is no slot for a Game Genie on JJ’s shooting hand.

— Thomas B.

Jeffries

(Smells Like) Team Spirit

Number of Knicks traded during the 2010 season: 0.5
My Pick: Under
Kevin Pelton is the lone dissenter. I wonder who’ll be gone?

Trade

Number of Wins From March 1 – April 14th: 9.5
My Pick: Under
The end of the schedule is just brutal.

I ran the numbers on the Knicks’ last 24 games based on SCHOENE’s projections for them and their opponents, factoring in home-court advantage. The final estimate? 9.6 wins. Nice job on the over/under, then.

–Kevin Pelton

Wins

Defensive efficiency: 110.8
My Pick: Under
This is the team’s mark from last year, so the question is technically whether the Knicks defense will improve. Again Pelton is the only one to break from the pack.

DE

Playoff Spots Earned: 0.5
My Pick: Under
Only 5 of 13 picked New York to make the playoffs. The measure of a true optimist.

Although watching [some of the] pre-season games is enough to make one fondly recall even the dark days of Bob Thornton, Jammin’ James Bailey, Ron Cavenall and Chris McNealy, I (gulp) think these ‘Bockers are going to surprise. I’ve got no stat-based or even vaguely logical reason to believe so other than the fact that the conventional wisdom seems to be that this year’s Knicks model is gonna stink real bad. Maybe it’s my nature as a contrarian, but to me, “Conventional Wisdom”‘s as much of an oxymoron as “Jumbo Shrimp” or “Military Intelligence”. I.e. since the ESPN gang/the beat writers are all in agreement, I’m going to go the other way.

In short, playoffs or bust, baybee!

— Robert Silverman

Playoffs

The Free Agents

Number of additional games Nate Robinson plays as a Knick in his career: 82.5
My Pick: Over
To go over, Nate would have to resign with the Knicks. The Magic 8-Ball says “Outlook not so good.”
Nate

David Lee’s Annual Salary in 2011: $7.5M
My Pick: Under
Lots of people went over, but perhaps this is a trick question. He can still average nearly $10M with a 10% raise over 6 years starting at $7.5M. Of course not every contract increases that way, but it’s possible.

Whether or not you agree with it, Lee is a HOT commodity.

— Gabe Farkas

Lee

Reviewing the 2010 Basketball Prospectus

I’ve been writing about the NBA for over 5 few years now, and I don’t think my disdain for writers using the same old cliches in lieu of true analysis has been hidden. This is especially true for articles on the Knicks, a team I’ve covered closely in that time span. A few years ago the best place for top notch basketball analysis was the Basketball Prospectus, the brainchild of John Hollinger. But after signing with ESPN, Hollinger moved his team and player analysis to ESPN’s Insider. Although I’m far from a luddite and Hollinger’s eye was just as sharp, it just wasn’t the same at it’s new location. Perhaps it’s heresy for a blogger to say, but there’s something to be said for reading things outside of a web page.

Well this year the Basketball Prospectus is back, written by Bradford Doolittle, Kevin Pelton, and the rest of the BP crew. Not only is this year’s addition similar to its predecessors in that they cover every team and player, but there are plenty of additions. SCHOENE, their similarity system, not only comes up with comparable players based on historical data but extends this data to the team level as well. Additionally the player stat section is enhanced with lots of new metrics. Each player has their own skill rating in key areas (rebounding, passing, hands, etc.), salary data is included, and per minute stats are replaced by percentage based stats.

But more importantly is that the analysis is spot on, and from my perspective they nailed the Knicks. They correctly identified Wilson Chandler as “an exceptional athlete” who needs to “draw more fouls going forward”, and astutely pointed out that the hiring of D’Antoni was “not just bringing in a proven winner, [but] a style, a brand.” There’s tons of great information about the whole league, including articles on fantasy advice, trends, the economy and microfracture surgery.

The 2009-10 Basketball Prospectus is available from their web site, in either PDF or paper format.

Knicks 2010 Season Preview Part 1

With the 2010 season nearly upon us, it’s time to go into season preview mode. We’re going to kick it off with a look at the players in a 4 part series, followed by more Knickly goodness. We’re going to run right up to the start of the season (save for a weekend breather). So here we go…

Chris Duhon – Point Guard

What the Numbers Say
Pre All-Star game: 12.5 ppg, 8.0 apg, 3.4 rpg.
Post All-Star game: 8.6 ppg, 5.6 apg, 2.1 rpg.

What the Team Says
“Donnie was exploring everything, which he should,” D’Antoni said. “But there was never any doubt Chris would be the point guard.”

What the Player Says
“He (Obama) talks the whole time. He’s never quiet…can’t guard me!’ Just random talk,” Duhon replied. “He knows the game. He’s like a point guard out there, and so he’s always telling guys where to go, what to do, very vocal.” Who won? “Oh, I won – he may be running for president, but I’m not going to let him win, not going to take it easy on him. I don’t take it easy on anyone.”

What My Gut Says
There really isn’t one facet to his game that one can identify as his strength (save possibly his Vulcan mind meld with DLee on the pick and roll). Seriously, what does he actually do well? He’s an average on the ball defender, average shooter, below average finisher, average passer, and average floor general. But like the numbers show, he was playing solid ball before his 2nd half collapse (possibly due to playing close to 40 mpg in the 1st half, or possibly due to his rumored proclivity for nocturnal activities and whatnot) And, he is tight with the POTUS, so he’s got that going for him, which is nice.

Nate Robinson – Combo Guard/Freak Show

What the Numbers Say
Per 36 minutes, in 08’-09’ Nate was the best rebounder under 6 feet in the history of the NBA (4.7 rebs/36).

What the Team Says
“That’s why he [Robinson] got a one-year contract,” D’Antoni said of the exuberance that often gets the better of Robinson on the court. “That’s why we won 32 games…As soon as we get it and he gets it, then we’ll win, get in the playoffs and guys will find homes…”

What the Player Says
Here’s a sampling of Nate’s finer tweets. They’re pure absurdist poetry gold:

“I wish they spelled seattle like this Ceattle that would be sick, and spell tacoma like this Wackcoma lol inside joke for @theyknwwhotheyR”

“If u could have any famous person make u a peanut butter and jelly sandwich who would it be? Me Stacy Dash all day lol”

“August Ruah might be one of the best movies I’ve ever watched, and I watch hella movies!!!”

“If I was in the movie harry potter I would rep tweepndorph”

“I got a snickers commercial 4 yall, super man and kryptonate R walk n down da street watch n a old lady at the park dunking, so I steal the Ball from the old lady jump over her as iam in the air superman fly’s outta no where I throw the oop he dunks on her, superman and Kryptonate a freak of natchew !!! LoL”

What My Gut Says
Oh lawdy. I think Nate’s the bee’s knee. Mainly because, even though I can barely jump over a phone book, he invites all us 5’9″ guys to dream our dreamy dreams of being able to dunk a basketball. What can one say that hasn’t already been said ad nauseum? He’s an unreal athlete. He’s got a Napoleon complex. He’s immature. He’s underrated. He’s overrated. He’s a “Call of Duty” addict. He’s the real-life Cal Naughton Jr. to Will “Shake n’ Bake” Ferrell. More so than the dunks or the whirling dervish-type drives to the hoop, it’s his bounding and astounding that blows me away, as is evidenced by the above stats. Will he “mature” (aka average 3 steals/game)? Will he stop getting on the refs for every single call?

Toney Douglas – Combo Guard

What the Numbers Say

Translated Stats: 0.392 Win% | 0.491 TS% | 21.5 Usage | 5.7 Reb% | 0.40 Pass

Randy Foye (97.2); Keith Bogans (96.7); Courtney Alexander (95.2); Chris Quinn (94.9); Morris Peterson (94.1)

Douglas comes out as similar to shooting guards as point guards, but he’s not an exceptional scorer at the NBA level and he’s already 23. Pass.

(Pre-draft number crunching via The Basketball Prospectus/Kevin Pelton)

What the Team Says
“He’s a lot better than I thought. He might have ran out of steam at the end of the week, and I judged him on that not being ready. Give him credit though. I showed him things he had to work on and he did.” – Mike D’Antoni

What the Player Says
“We just out here having fun and do what Toney Douglas do” — Toney Douglas

What My Gut Says
Though the Pre-season/summer league offers a relatively small sample to judge from, my digestive track says he’s Chris Childs 2.0 (which is not necessarily a bad thing) – a tough, solid defender at PG. Not the greatest floor general/court vision. Streaky shooter from deep. If as the stats suggest, he could be similar to Randy Foye, I’d be tickled. And he has a swell t-shirt commemorating his penchant for addressing himself in the 3rd person.

Haven’t the Knicks Improved?

Earlier today, the Pro Basketball News featured an article on the Knicks on their front page. It was entitled “Same old New York” and claimed that “a closer look reveals that the Knicks aren’t any better in their first year under Mike D’Antoni than they were in their first under Isiah Thomas.” Intrigued, I copied the text of the article to my blackberry to read on the train ride in. Unfortunately during the trip I was so upset by the writing that I started making notes on the back of a magazine to write this blog about it.

The author, David Friedman, talks about the Knicks hot start and recent cool down. He shows D’Antoni’s current win percentage to be similar to Isiah’s first year, which I thought was odd since it’s more relevant to use the previous season. However I let it slide because Friedman promised to use “several key statistics” to prove his point.

The Knicks have improved from 21st in scoring last season (96.9 ppg) to fourth this season (105.6 ppg) but they have dropped from 22nd in points allowed (103.5 ppg) to 28th (108.2 ppg) and their point differential of -2.6 ppg ranks in the bottom third of the league (22nd), only a few spots better than last season (-6.6 ppg, 25th). The Knicks were last in field-goal percentage differential last season (-.036) and they are last again this season (-.038). Although Lee has emerged as a nightly double-double threat, the Knicks have markedly declined overall on the boards, dropping from 18th in rebounding differential (-.1) to 27th (-3.9). A team that consistently gets out-shot and out-rebounded obviously has no realistic chance to be successful, no matter how many points it scores or how many players post career high individual numbers.

Long time KnickerBlogger readers will know that Friedman’s choice of per game stats is a poor choice of rating a team’s ability. By using per possession stats, we can see that the Knicks are currently 15th & 23rd on offense and defense respectively. This is a clear improvement from last year’s team which was 23rd on offense and 29th on defense. It’s true that the rebounding has slipped, although the Knicks are better on the defensive glass. Although it’s not true that the team is worse off in shooting percentage. Using eFG we can see that last year the team had a shooting differential of -4.3%, which has risen to -1.9% under D’Antoni.

The author moves from talking about the Knicks to an overall indictment of D’Antoni’s style of play. He accuses the coach of “neglecting the defensive end of the court” (something that was refuted by Kevin Pelton earlier this year) and launches into a defense wins championships attack on D’Antoni. His proof is that the “[Chicago Bulls] consistently rebounded and defended well… en route to the 1996 championship the Bulls won seven of the eight playoff games in which Jordan shot .440 or worse from the field.” It’s true that those Bulls teams played great defense, but let’s not forget that they were fueled by their offense. Of their 6 championship teams, Chicago was ranked #1 on offense 4 times and #1 on defense only once. In the two years they didn’t win (without Jordan) the team still was strong defensively (2nd & 6th) but couldn’t muster the offense to sustain a playoff run (10th & 14th). As for Friedman’s example, in those 8 games Jordan averaged 25.9 pts, 9 fta, and 1.4 3pm. Hardly an offensive hardship for the team.

You can excuse Friedman for using archaic stats, but what’s not excusable is how he cherry picks the facts to support his argument. He specifically picks Isiah’s first season to compare with D’Antoni, because the numbers are much closer (.402 to .406) than comparing D’Antoni’s improvement over last year (.280 to .406). You have to wonder if he spelled out ‘fourth’ because saying the team improved from 21st to 4th is easier to process visually. And take for example his paragraph on the Knicks where Friedman ignores one key piece of evidence: point differential. By using points per game, he shows that the Knicks have improved by 4 points over last year (from -6.6 to -2.6). However this significant change is swept under the rug with “[it’s] only a few spots better than last season.” You get the feeling that Freidman made up his mind long before he checked the stats out. As a statistical sports blogger, I get a lot of readers new to the field that have a general distrust of numbers. Statistically dishonest articles like Freidman’s helps to reinforce this skepticism, and are a disservice to all sports writers.

East Missed Out On Lee

Henry Abbott and Kevin Pelton made an interesting note about yesterday’s All Star game.

Had a chance to trade emails with Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus during the live blog of the All-Star Game. Kevin rightfully pointed out that naming Mo Williams to replace Chris Bosh was the primary reason the East got mauled inside.

The choice of Williams meant the East entered the game with only two legitimate bigs — Dwight Howard and Kevin Garnett, both of whom were starters. As a result, Rashard Lewis was forced to assume the center spot for long stretches of the game. Lewis has always been a bit challenged defending the post at the PF position, and he certainly doesn’t have the strength or the ability to absorb a beating against opposing 5s. But that’s exactly what he was charged with doing as the backup center on the Eastern squad, and the results were disastrous for the East.

Points in the Paint? West 96, East 58.

Glass? West 51, East 38.

Shaquille O’Neal: 17 points, 8-9 FGs in 11 minutes.

Watching the game I felt the same. It seemed as if the West had free reign in the paint and on the boards. While the East had an edge in aggregate offensive rebounds 13 to 12, the number is skewed by the fact that the East had more opportunities. The East had 59 chances for an offensive rebound, and the West only had 49.

A few weeks ago I advocated for David Lee on the All Star team, but outside of this site I was a minority. When Chris Bosh was injured, he was replaced by Maurice Williams. This substitution was justified from a political standpoint, as Williams is a top performer on one of the league’s best teams.

However from a tactical standpoint, this was a mistake. The East was left with only two players who were capable of playing center: Howard and Garnett. In All Star Games coaches tend to go deep into their benches, meaning that teams need to have plentiful reserves to field a normal five. Without a third center, the West dominated the inside and laughed their way to an easy victory. The knock against Lee is that he was a product of D’Antoni’s system, and excels only because of the style the Knicks play: a fast paced, no defense, guard emphasized game. Of course this is same environment as the All Star Game, so it makes sense that Lee would have excelled there as well. One only has to look back at the 2007 Rookies-Sophomore game for proof.

In the end it doesn’t really matter if the East won or lost. And no one will look back and call Williams’ selection over Lee as the NBA’s worst All Star crime this year (Iverson voted in as a starter was). Ultimately the important thing to learn from this is that players shouldn’t be judged in a vacuum. Different players will have different value depending on the environment. Perhaps in a general sense, Maurice Williams or Rashard Lewis are more deserving of an All Star berth than David Lee. But in last night’s context Lee would have been a better fit.

Odds & Ends

  • Via TrueHoop, Childress talks about how things other than scoring matter over in Europe. Mainly how scoring is less important. Henry Abbott sums up the matter nicely:

    If it really is true — that little things that win games are more valued in Europe — then that confirms just about every negative stereotype of American basketball development. And it fits perfectly with the message from just about every new-breed statistical expert: That scoring is overvalued here, at the expense of other things that are hugely important but less obvious.

  • We’ll see how true this is, but the Post is talking about Marbury starting tonight against the Celtics. Of course they’re not sure where he’ll start. Anyone else get the feeling he’s like Costanza in the episode he keeps leaving things in women’s houses to get them used to him so they’ll feel more comfortable dating him? [To the tune of by Mennen] Marrrrrr-bury.

    It would make the most sense to start Marbury at shooting guard, replacing the struggling Jamal Crawford, who was 1 of 6 for four points. Or he could conceivably replace Quentin Richardson in a three-guard offense. D’Antoni has started a Chris Duhon-Crawford backcourt through the first five preseason games and feels it may be time to experiment with just two exhibition games left.

  • Ever wonder what Trevor Ariza is doing these days?
  • A blog that praises it’s GM? Could it ever happen here?
  • Kevin Pelton’s breakout candidates for 2009. And there’s one Isiah Thomas drafted small forward.