Knicks 96 Chicago 82

The Knicks clinched a playoff spot yesterday with a win against the hapless Bulls (and a Cleveland loss to Memphis). It’s great to be in the playoffs again, after a two year absence. Unlike the last few Knick playoff teams I don’t have expectations for the Knicks to get past the first round. Why? Well look at the last 20 or so games the Knicks have played. I’ll split their opponents into two groups, the games they won & the games they lost.

Won:	OppWin%
Chi .282
Phi .423
Por .519
Tor .397
Atl .321
NJ .584
Wash .308
Mil .519
Was .308
Tor .397
Phi .423
AVG1 .407
AVG2 .390

Out of those 11 wins, only 3 were against winning teams. One of those wins (New Jersey) was without their opposition’s two best players (Kidd & Martin). Of the 2 other teams, neither would be considered great, as they are only slightly above average (.519). The first average (AVG1) is the average winning percentage of all the teams they’ve beaten. AVG2 is the average of those teams, minus the victory against the hobbled Nets.

Now for the games the Knicks lost:

Lost:	Win%
Ind .734
NJ .584
Det .654
Chi .282
Phi .423
Bos .449
Den .519
Lac .346
Pho .338
Sac .701
Cle .410
Uta .526
AVG1 .497
AVG2 .556

Of their 12 losses, 6 were from winning teams. The average of all these teams is just below .500, but take away the losses from the embarrassing teams (Bulls, Clippers, and Suns), and the average raises to .556. In their last 23 games, while fighting for a playoff spot, they have played 9 teams with a winning record. They’ve only won 3 of those. None of those were against a team with a record better than .520, except the Nets game. They are 8-6 against sub-.500 teams. It’s obvious looking at these numbers that the Knicks have been feasting on the weaker teams, and not putting up a good enough fight against the top dogs. In the playoffs they won’t have the Wizards, Hawks or Bulls to push around.

You may think I’m a pessimist spending a whole column on the Knicks’ slim hopes to make it to the second round. However, without expecting them to win, I can enjoy watching the games. I’m already prepared for the worst, but if they happen to pull off the upset I’ll be that much more elated.

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.

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.

Let the Kids Play!

Sunshine Delay
is when the traffic slows down
because the sun is in your eyes.

Barcelona

Today I had the good fortune of having one of my closest friends come into the city. We met up at a pub to have a few beers & watch the Knicks game. My friend, let’s call him Doctor F., isn’t a basketball fan by any stretch of the imagination. His favorite sport is football. We go to at least one baseball game a year together, and he also likes hockey. He can enjoy a basketball game if one is on and if I’m around to let my emotions spill over. Friends are like that. We want to share interests with each other, even if those things don’t normally interest us.

The good Doctor and I discussed the merits of the hockey and basketball. Hockey is an easy sport for me to critique. It’s maybe the only major American sport where it’s hard to see an actual score in real time. In baseball you can always watch a guy cross a plate, or a home run sailing over the fence. Balls are large in soccer, basketball, and football, so everyone can see the actual process of scoring in these sports. (Yes I know it’s unclear when a guy dives for the pylon if he scores or not, but you would have seen the action.)

However in hockey when a guy takes a slap shot you have to look for some other clue to see whether that little black puck flying at 100+ MPH made it past the goalie. I’ll also add to my list of hockey weaknesses the brutality. Sure there is a niche that like to see two people ruthlessly beat each other up, but it’ll never reach the mainstream in it’s current form. I would consider watching hockey more often if they made it more of a finesse game with a larger rink (Olympic style) and do away with fighting.

Dr. F made a good point about basketball’s main weakness. The last two minutes take too long. I agree (and I’m sure my wife does as well). I can’t stand what a basketball game turns into for the last few minutes. To use a simile, a basketball game is like you being the only person driving on the highway until you get within a few blocks of your destination. At that point you hit the worst bumper-to-bumper traffic you’ve ever seen. A basketball game goes smoothly for about 45 minutes, and then grinds to a halt with fouls and time outs.

Sure in baseball, managers can take forever visiting the mound and bringing in relievers. But baseball is a slow game throughout, so it’s not as noticeable. Teams huddle up for every play in football, so time outs aren’t that evident since you expect the action to stop repeatedly. Even when football teams have 2 or 3 time outs the game doesn’t slow to a crawl. The two minute drill is one of the most exciting times in any major sport. The defense doesn’t want to call a timeout. Offensive players have to judge in a split second whether the time saved by going out of bounds is worth the extra yardage he can make by trying to run up the field. Quarterbacks have to decide when they can afford to throw it over the middle of the field. Players on both sides have to scramble up the field when the clock is running, so they will be onside for the next hike.

So why can’t we have this in basketball? Imagine this, your team is down by 4, and your team’s center gets a long rebound from their opponents missed shot. With the current rules:

The center immediately calls a time out. After a minute or two of beer, car and sneaker commercials the TV comes back to your team’s offense at the other end of the court. They are aligned in an inbound formation. The ref dribbles the ball once, puts the whistle in his mouth, and hands the ball to the inbounding player. After about 3 to 300 picks someone gets open and has the ball passed to him for a quick shot.

Without being able to call a timeout:

The center immediately turns around to find his point guard, and passes he ball. The PG races up the court, along with both teams frantically trying to get to the other side of the court. The PG decides to use this confusion to try to gain an advantage, so he slashes to the hoop, and draws in 3 of the unprepared defenders. He alertly passes out to a trailing teammate behind the three point line, and puts up a trey.

One of the greatest (for non-Knick fans) endings to a game came when Reggie Miller hit two three pointers in a few seconds without the game stopping. The NBA has been looking to change their rules over the last decade to increase scoring. This may not increase scoring, but it would add excitement. I would imagine coaches being opposed to this, since they get paid so much to draw up plays on their chalkboards.

The NFL enhances the two minutes of their game with their rules. Defensive players are not allowed to slowly get off the ball carrier to waste more time. Players are no longer allowed to fake injuries to create an artificial time out. Offenses are penalized, at times, with the loss of time off the clock. The NBA could try this out in exhibition games, a year before implementing the new rule. It can’t be any worse than moving the three point line in.