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%).

LA Clippers 96, New York 94

I had it, and I lost it,
Now you’ve got to
help me get it back again

— “Lost It”
The Hippos

Yesterday I had the good fortune of watching the Knicks play again. But what if you actually had a life & were doing something else last night other than watching the game? How would you learn about the game?

I imagine most people would pickup a paper, or if you?re reading this probably go online to read a recap of the game. ESPN?s recap spends a lot of time on what happened in the last few minutes to win or loose a game, but they usually don?t mention what happened in the rest of the game. Sure they?ll tell you how many points a certain player scored, and any spectacular plays that happened early on. But most likely it?s the last few minutes that they?ll concentrate on. I like to look at the box score to get a fuller picture of how the team played.

The Knicks outscored the Clippers in 3 of the 4 quarters, but it was Los Angeles? big first quarter that was the deciding factor. The Knicks had a slight edge in FG%, FT%, and turnovers. The rebounding edge went to the Clippers who had 3 more offensive boards, but maybe the biggest statistical advantage was the three point shots. L.A. hit 6 of 17, while the Knicks were only 2-11, a paltry percentage. I can recall from watching the game that at least twice the Clippers had an uncontested three point shot due to a poor defensive rotation.

Both teams attempted lots of free throws. Looking at the NBA team stats, teams average between 19 and 28 FTA per game, and shoot an average of 66%-80%. This night, the teams would both exceed the maximums in each. The Knicks hit 30 of 33 free throws (91%), and the Clips were 24 of 29 (83%). You can verify that both teams are generous with sending their opponents to the charity stripe (without accounting for pace).

Looking over the individual efforts, Marbury scored 28 points in 45 minutes. That means he sat out for only 3 minutes. I looked to see how much the Knick backup PGs played, and ?lo & behold at the bottom there are two DNP-CD?s next to Norris and Frank Williams? names. Most likely, Penny played the point while Stephon was resting. Not a good sign for Frank Williams? fans.

Tim Thomas was next in scoring with 22 points in 39 minutes. Other than hitting all of his free throws, the rest of his stat sheet was unspectacular with 4 boards, 2 assists, only 1 turnover (good for the amount of minutes he played) and 5 fouls (not so good).

Kurt Thomas had 4 fouls in only 16 minutes, Tim Thomas had 5, Othella had 4, and Sweetney had 3 minutes. In the ?why didn?t they get more minutes? department, I would nominate the Knicks? starting centers of the two games before. Nazr Mohammed seemed to have a good night. After his poor outing yesterday, he had 12 rebounds with 5 on the offensive end, in only 23 minutes. Mutombo had 3 offensive boards in 13 minutes. Statistically, the Knicks might have been better giving Harrington?s minutes to Nazr or Deke (by having Kurt Thomas at the 4 instead of the 5). Harrington had a horrible statistical night, 6 points, 4 fouls, and only 3 boards in 25 minutes.

On the other end of the box score, Richardson, Brand, and Maggette combined for more than half of their teams? points (58), rebounds (22), free throws (15/18), and blocks (3). Richardson and Jaric hit all of the Clips 6 treys. Simmons and Wilcox provided some spark off the bench with 21 points and 12 rebounds.

From the box score I would think that the teams were pretty evenly matched. The only differences that stick out are the 4 more three pointers, and the 3 more offensive rebounds. It was a game that could have gone either way, and since I witnessed it, I know this was certainly true.

Suns 113, Knicks 95

It is time
It is time for
It is time for stormy weather

–“Stormy Weather”
The Pixies

Even though you can analyze basketball fairly well with statistics, there is much to basketball that doesn’t show up in the stat sheet. On the same note those that watch the game without a good understanding of the stats will not be getting the whole picture either. If you watched a game, you wouldn’t know if someone shot 42% (10/24) or 50% (12/24), unless you kept track. The difference is only 2 shots out of 24, but someone who shoots 50% consistently would be one of the league leaders, whereas a 42% shooter would be at the other end of the spectrum.

Unfortunately last night’s game coincided with the funniest show on tv, so I did miss a good 20 minutes or so. The game wasn’t a close match, so I really didn’t feel like I missed much. I wanted to concentrate on the Knicks that I haven’t seen much of, namely Nazr Mohammed, Tim Thomas, and rookie Michael Sweetney, who has moved up the depth charts recently. I know what they do statistically, but I wanted to learn how they compiled their numbers.

Tim Thomas hurt his arm on the first play of the game. He would stay in the game for a few minutes, and have the most exciting play of the night for the Knicks. It started when Marbury stole the ball & headed up court with the closest Sun right behind in hot pursuit. Knowing he couldn’t have made the basket with a defender in tow, near the basket Marbury made a nice behind the back backwards pass to the trailing Thomas. Thomas followed with an athletic dunk. In my head I imagined Van Horn on that play. Keith would have missed the lay-up, but get the offensive board and get fouled on the ensuing shot. It was a prime example of the “athleticism” everyone had been talking about. Thomas would leave the game shortly after due to the elbow injury, and not return.

My focus drifted to Nazr Mohammed. I want to see what kind of offensive skills he has. A PF can average 10 PPG, but you can’t tell from the stat sheet whether he scores primarily by jump shots, posting up, or from offensive rebounds. Nazr did appear to like to work from the post. His first attempt was a post up fadeaway, but he started so far from the paint, it fell way short of the hoop. The next time he was posting up closer to the hoop, and spun into the paint. He missed again, but the move looked pretty good. His only points of the night were the results of a great pass by Marbury under the hoop for an easy dunk. He also had a nice pass out of a double team in the post to a wide open Kurt Thomas.

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. However if you just looked at the stat sheet, you wouldn’t know that Nazr committed a stupid foul on McDyess. With less than 5 seconds left in the half Mohammed committed a reach in foul under the hoop, which sent the former Knick McDyess to the foul line. It was no surprise to me that Mohammed was in foul trouble. Looking at his per 48 minutes, Mohammed averages 5.8 personal fouls. That?s almost as high as team leader Othella Harrington (7.3), and the same as Kurt Thomas. The next current Knicks on the list are Sweetney (4.6) and Mutombo (4.5).

Seeing Michael Sweetney next to Jahidi was the only other highlight for me. They are both large men. At one point White was driving to the hoop, put up a shot and on the way down crashed into a stationary Sweetney. Instead of following the shot, my eyes followed White?s trajectory. I was surprised that Sweetney was not only able to hold his ground, but he repelled the massive White. 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 as it did with another New Yorker, who was wide eyed early in his career.

Moochie Norris, although not on my list to watch, made a name for himself on my notepad. He embarrassed himself last twice last night. In the first half while bringing the ball up, Kurt Thomas was wide open on the far side waiving his arms frantically asking for the ball. By the time Moochie woke up from his daydream and passed Thomas the ball, the defense collapsed on Kurt, forcing him to take a bad shot. The second bungle was without the ball. Norris freed himself on a screen, but as the ball was passed to him, he tripped on his own feet, and fell flat onto the court. Why Norris gets any time ahead of Frank Williams is a column for another day.

The Knicks were lit up last night by the inside presence of the Suns. It seems that the last few games teams have figured out how weak the Knicks are up the middle, and have been exploiting this. Jahidi White, who is averaging 4.7 PPG this year, tore up the Knicks. He looked like Shaq on the offensive glass, pulling down 5 offensive boards in only 15 minutes. Amare Stoudemire posterized Deke with a dunk, then to add insult to injury, rejected him at the other end. It was that kind of night.

The Best & Worst Offenses & Defenses

I dragged this lake looking for corpses
Dusted for prints, pried up the floorboards
Pieces of planes and black box recorders
Don’t lie

— “Private Eye”
Alkaline Trio

If you wanted to know quickly which teams had the best & worst offense & defense in the league, you might go to ESPN.com NBA stats page. You can click on the team-by-team comparison link and you’d see which teams have scored and given up the most points. You can sort the teams by a few different stats, and for this example you might use points scored per game and opponents points scored per game. So according to this you might conclude the best NBA offenses are:

Rank	Type	Pts
1	SAC	104.6
2	DAL	103.3
3	SEA	97.8
4	LAL	97.6
5	MIL	97.1
6	DEN	97
7	MEM	97
8	LAC	96.5
9	MIN	95.5
10	ORL	94.9
11	BOS	94.6
12	GS	94.4
13	PHO	93.6
14	CLE	92
15	POR	92
16	NO	91.9
17	NYK	91
18	NJ	90.7
19	WAS	90.6
20	SAS	90.1
21	IND	89.8
22	ATL	89.7
23	CHI	89.6
24	PHI	89.6
25	DET	89.6
26	UTA	88.9
27	HOU	88.3
28	MIA	88
29	TOR	84.9

And the best defenses:

Rank	Type	Pts
1	SAS	83.9
2	IND	84.9
3	HOU	85.1
4	NJ	86.5
5	DET	87
6	TOR	87.3
7	MIA	89.4
8	MIN	90
9	UTA	90.6
10	PHI	91.2
11	NO	91.8
12	NYK	92.6
13	POR	93.6
14	LAL	94
15	MEM	94.4
16	GS	95.2
17	ATL	95.2
18	DEN	95.3
19	CLE	95.3
20	MIL	95.4
21	CHI	95.7
22	WAS	96.2
23	BOS	96.6
24	PHO	97.2
25	SAC	97.3
26	SEA	98.8
27	LAC	98.8
28	DAL	99.8
29	ORL	100.7

But if you’ve ever seen an NBA game, you know some teams’ offenses are faster than others. This is because some teams like to run down the shot clock because they want to slow the tempo, where others like to take the first or second available open shot, because their offense is good enough to get an efficient shot off quickly. A team like Dallas or Sacramento would have more chances to score than let’s say Miami or Toronto. So the team that scores the most points in a game may not have the best offense in the league, because they simply might have the fastest offense in the league.

Well some smart people have already thought about this. They said, maybe instead of looking at how many points are scored per game, we should see how many points are scored per possession (or 100 possessions). Unfortunately the people at ESPN have never thought to ask this question, or at least have not thought it important enough to put it on their stat page. Luckily the good people at 82games.com have. You can’t sort the teams all nice like the ESPN page, and they don’t even have a page where all the teams are displayed. They only have the information by team pages. But with some patience, a good spreadsheet program, and 10 minutes of free time, you can do some quick analysis yourself.

So here we are, the best offenses in the NBA, by points per 100 possessions (pPts):

Rank	Type	Pts	Poss	pPts	OldRank	DRANK
1	SAC	104.6	91	114	1	+0
2	DAL	103.3	91	112	2	+0
3	SEA	97.8	89	109	3	+0
4	MIN	95.5	87	109	9	+5
5	LAL	97.6	90	108	4	-1
6	MIL	97.1	90	107	5	-1
7	MEM	97	90	107	6	-1
8	LAC	96.5	90	107	8	+0
9	POR	92	86	107	14	+5
10	DEN	97	91	106	7	-3
11	ORL	94.9	89	106	10	-1
12	GS	94.4	89	106	12	+0
13	NO	91.9	88	104	16	+3
14	IND	89.8	86	104	21	+7
15	UTA	88.9	85	104	26	+11
16	BOS	94.6	91	103	11	-5
17	PHO	93.6	91	103	13	-4
18	NJ	90.7	88	103	18	+0
19	SAS	90.1	87	103	20	+1
20	DET	89.6	86	103	23	+3
21	HOU	88.3	85	103	27	+6
22	MIA	88	85	103	28	+6
23	CLE	92	90	102	15	-8
24	NYK	91	89	102	17	-7
25	PHI	89.6	87	102	24	-1
26	WAS	90.6	90	100	19	-7
27	ATL	89.7	90	99	22	-5
28	CHI	89.6	90	99	25	-3
29	TOR	84.9	85	99	29	+0

The first team that jumps into the top 5, that wasn’t there before, is the Timberwolves at #4. Even though they only score 95.5 points a game, they would score 109 points if given 100 possessions. They just play at a slow pace of only 87 offensive possessions per game. (The average pace is 88.4 possessions/game). Portland also jumps into the top 10, while Utah & Indy move into the middle from the bottom 10. The big losers are Cleveland, Washington, and my own beloved Knicks, who drop to 6th worst.

Now for the defenses:

Rank	Type	Pts	Poss	pPts	OldRank	Diff
1	SAS	83.9	87	96	1	+0
2	IND	84.9	86	98	2	+0
3	NJ	86.5	88	98	4	+1
4	HOU	85.1	85	100	3	-1
5	DET	87	86	100	5	+0
6	TOR	87.3	85	102	6	+0
7	MIN	90	88	102	8	+1
8	LAL	94	90	103	14	+6
9	PHI	91.2	87	104	10	+1
10	NO	91.8	87	104	11	+1
11	NYK	92.6	89	104	12	+1
12	MEM	94.4	90	104	15	+3
13	DEN	95.3	91	104	18	+5
14	MIA	89.4	85	105	7	-7
15	MIL	95.4	90	105	20	+5
16	UTA	90.6	85	106	9	-7
17	GS	95.2	89	106	16	-1
18	ATL	95.2	89	106	17	-1
19	CLE	95.3	89	106	19	+0
20	CHI	95.7	90	106	21	+1
21	WAS	96.2	90	106	22	+1
22	BOS	96.6	91	106	23	+1
23	SAC	97.3	91	106	25	+2
24	PHO	97.2	90	107	24	+0
25	POR	93.6	86	109	13	-12
26	DAL	99.8	91	109	28	+2
27	SEA	98.8	89	110	26	-1
28	LAC	98.8	90	110	27	-1
29	ORL	100.7	89	112	29	+0

Not much difference here among the top teams. The Lakers move into the top 10. Meanwhile Miami and Utah drop out of the top 10 into the middle of the pack, while Portland takes the biggest dip to the 5th worst defense in the league.

Unfortunately it’s hard to judge the Knicks current team using these tools. The team has experienced a large turnover in their roster. These stats are for the Knicks over the entire year, which includes players like Van Horn, Charlie Ward, as well as Marbury and Penny Hardaway. However we can use it to learn a bit about tonight’s opponents, the Kings. The Kings are the team’s top scoring offense both by points per game, and by points per possession. Their 91 possessions/game tell you that they have one of the league’s fastest paced offense. Their defense is lacking, 7th worst in the league.

So then you might ask, if they have a great offense and a poor defense, shouldn’t they be an average team? Not necessarily. If anything they might be a little bit better, since their Pythagorean expected wins says they should have about 1 or 2 more wins, based on their points for/against. However, you can look at the offensive numbers above, and realize that they are a LOT better offensively than most teams. The difference between them and the #5 Lakers, is 6 points (per hundred possessions). This is the same difference between the #5 Lakers and #23 Cleveland.

So the Kings’ offense is very good, which is why they have the best record in the league.

DON’T LET’S START

Don’t let’s start
This is the worst part
Could believe for all the world
That you’re my precious little girl
But don’t let’s start
I’ve got a weak heart

They Might Be Giants

What a day to start a Knicks blog. In case you decided to do something else last night other than watch the game yesterday (lucky choice), you might not understand why. I can attest to you first handed that the Knicks played a half-hearted effort for 3 quarters last night. I wish I could say anything about the fourth quarter, but I switched to another game half way through. They scored 11 after the first quarter, 28 at the half. It was that kind of night. Thank goodness I don’t believe in omens or anything of that sort, or this might turn out to be the worst blog ever.

This is the Knicks team that we’ll see for the rest of the year, since the trade deadline has passed. Only 5 of the 12 players that played last night were on the team at the start of the year. It’ll be 6 when Houston comes back from injury. For the most part, I really like what Isaiah Thomas has done with this team since his arrival. This is a team that won 37 games last year, and 30 the year before. Scott Layden had assembled a bunch of overpriced bench players, that seemingly had zero value and couldn’t be dealt. Over the summer Knick fans had hope again, when Layden drafted 3 young players with promise. It should have been a good sign when for once the Knick fans at the draft were cheering for the players that were drafted instead of their usual “Fi-re Lay-den!”

However things went sour quickly, as two of the rookies were burried on the I.R., and the third was so low on the depth chart that he played a whole 44 minutes (garbage minutes) before heading to the I.R. in December to join his draftmates. The team was in the worst sort of disarray, they were losing games and not developing their rookies. You can’t blame Dolan for firing Layden at that point.

Since then Isaiah, has taken over the reigns. If the NBA was a western movie, Isaiah would have been the cowboy who stops the gallooping horses from taking the carriage off the cliff. He cut rookie Slavko Vranes. The Knicks had about 7 guys that could play PF, but only 2 SG and 2 PGs. Weatherspoon went to the Rockets for Moochie Norris. Zeke made the huge trade for Stephon Marbury & Penny Hardaway. And a few days ago, he traded Keith Van Horn, Michael Doleac, and a second round pick for Tim Thomas and Nazr Mohammed.

In my opinion, he’s done a great job on each move, except for the last one. I still don’t understand that last deal. Keith Van Horn is Tim Thomas’ superior in most of the important statistical categories. He’s a better scorer. A better rebounder. A better offensive rebounder. A better thief. A better free throw shooter. Better at drawing fouls. Thomas has him beat in assists, turnovers, and age.

So I was shocked to see the media for the most part praising this move. I don’t know the statistics on this, but I’m sure nobody could give a reason without including the words “more athletic.” I can’t verify this either, but I’m sure the word “alley-oop” increased on Knick message boards by about 500%.

One question that just leaps into my mind: If Thomas is more athletic, then what words would you use to describe why he has put up less statistically? Unskilled comes to mind to me. Unmotivated seems to be a favorite choice of optomists. There have been plenty of players that have been great athletically, but aren’t good basketball players. There is more to basketball than being athletic, just like in baseball (right Michael?).

I guess in the scope of things, the loss to the Knicks in this deal isn’t that bad. Nazr Mohammed is by most scouting reports, an excellent rebounder and a decent shooter. He hasn’t played much in the last few years, so maybe he can develop into a decent big man, like another Knick did. If he can develop into a C that can play 24-30 minutes a game, maybe that can alleviate the loss of Van Horn. The Knicks are a better team today because of Isaiah Thomas than they were just two months ago. I just hope Houston comes back ASAP & is healthy, because right now the Knicks don’t have a good second scorer.