The Knicks’ Defensive Stopper Dilemma
Originally I was going to write an article about David Lee’s minutes, or lack thereof. Even though Brian Cronin is the president of the “Free David Lee” club, I’m a card carrying member. This seemed like an especially good idea after Lee’s last game. The forward scored 20 points and led the Knicks in minutes, defensive rebounds, offensive rebounds, and free throws. Unfortunately Lee was given the playing time not due to his wonderful production, but because of the foul trouble of the Knicks frontcourt. Frye only managed to stay on the court for 10 minutes before earning his 6th foul; meanwhile Curry shot well (10-12 for 26 pts) but only grabbed a single rebound before hitting the bench for good in the fourth quarter.
Unfortunately for those that wanted to read more about David “Shallow Waters” Lee, my research led me in another direction. While some writers would have continued onward with their originally intended article, that’s not my style. I prefer letting the facts lead me, rather than distorting or ignoring them to fit my opinion. In any case I wanted to look at how Lee’s minutes affected the Knicks. So I singled out the games where he played a large amount of minutes & wanted to see how the team fared. To use as a comparison, I decided to do the same with another Knick: Jared Jeffries. And that’s when the data took me on a different journey.
Jeffries, Isiah’s most notable offseason signing, was brought to New York to boost the team’s porous defense. He missed the beginning of the year with an injury, and was suspended for 4 games when he returned. Due to his missed time, I have a good amount of data with and without Jeffries to get an idea of how he affects the team. In the 29 games that Jeffries played less than 20 minutes (or missed altogether), the Knicks defensive efficiency was 110.2. In the 12 games that the Knicks swingman played 20 or more minutes per game the Knicks defensive efficiency was 112.9. In other words with Jared Jeffries the Knicks allowed 2.7 points more per 100 possessions than they do without him. Unfortunately this isn’t the only data that shows Jeffries inability to improve the Knicks’ defense. 82games.com shows New York to be 5.3 points worse on defense when Jeffries was on the court.
The problem isn’t Jeffries per se. Last year the Wizards were 4.6 points better on defense with Jeffries on the court. And from what I’ve seen this year, Jeffries is a solid, but not spectacular, defender. So why aren’t the Knicks getting the same performance boost from their starting small forward?
Looking at Jeffries’ 82games.com page from last year, his top 3 most frequent floor units all included Brendan Haywood. At the time of the Jeffries signing, there was a general consensus that Haywood was Washington’s best defender. Pairing Jeffries with a strong defensive center in Haywood enhanced Jeffries’ effectiveness. This year, Jeffries has been paired most often with Eddy Curry, a notoriously poor help defender, and the results have been unfavorable.
Armed with this knowledge, the Knicks are in a quandary. Option one would be not to change their rotation. However it’s obvious that Jeffries alone isn’t enough to make New York a decent defensive team. Last year 20 players received at least 1 vote for defensive player of the year, and Jeffries wasn’t among them. He’s just not a lockdown on the level of Bowen, Artest, or Prince. Another option would be to try to emulate Washington’s success with Jeffries. Isiah could give more minutes to some of the defensive minded centers like Kelvin Cato or Jerome James. Unfortunately this would mean that it would cut into the minutes of Curry, Lee, and Frye. The third option is to limit Jeffries’ minutes. If Jeffries isn’t as productive defensively without a strong presence in the middle, then it doesn’t make sense to play him. The Knicks would be better off giving the minutes to David Lee and Balkman, who fared well when Jeffries was suspended.
At the time of this writing the Knicks are ranked 11th on offense, but only 26th on defense. If they seriously want to compete, even in a weak Atlantic, they’ll need to improve those numbers. Considering how bad they are, it’d probably be easier for New York to become more efficient on defensive. Jared Jeffries has shown that he can help on the defensive end, but the Knicks aren’t using him to his fullest extent.