The rumors have been rampant on who will be traded to the Knicks this offseason. Erick Dampier. Jamal Crawford. Antoine Walker. Even Vince Carter – yeah right! Message boards are lighting up with differing opinions on which would be the best fit for New York. Since each one plays a different position, each one potentially offers a different set of skills to the Knicks. So the question should become, what areas do the Knicks need improvement in the most?
First it helps to know which factors are most important for a successful team. Dean Oliver says there are four factors for a team’s success: shooting percentage (eFG%), turnovers (TO/poss), offensive rebounding (OReb%), and scoring from the line (FTM/FGA). Each stat has an offensive and defensive component. Your shooting percentage may be great, but if you also let other teams get a good look at the basket then you’re not getting an advantage in this category. Additionally some of these are weighted more than others. For example, shooting percentage is most relevant to winning. Turnovers are slightly more important than offensive rebounding. The least important is scoring from the free throw line.
By looking at these factors, we can see what areas the Knicks need to improve. Let’s take a look at each one & see how the Knicks fared last season.
Shooting Efficiency (eFG%)
Offense 13th, +0.6%
Defense 8th, +2.1%
I’m going to introduce a set of numbers that I’ll use in each section. The first number is the Knicks rank among all 29 teams in this category, the second is how much better than the league average they were. In this case, on offense the Knicks ranked 13th in eFG%, and were 0.6% better than league average. On defense they ranked 8th, and were +2.1% above the rest of the NBA.
This might come as a slight shock to Knick fans, either to find out their defense was better than their offense, or that they were pretty good in limiting their opponents shot selection. This is because 4 of their 5 starters (Marbury, Houston, Tim Thomas and Nazr Mohammed) aren’t better known for their offensive game than their defensive prowess. In retrospect, Houston and Mohammed didn’t play a full season, and shared time with offensively-challenged yet better defenders in Anderson and Mutombo (at least in help defense).
It’s impossible to assign blame or credit for every shot attempt. There are a myriad of things that can happen on any NBA trip down the court, from fast breaks to double teams to switching defenders. In addition, traditional NBA stats give an incomplete picture of individual defense. However thanks to 82games.com, we can see what each of the 5 positions shot against the Knicks & try to narrow the field down from there.
The Knicks were very good on the perimeter, keeping point guards and shooting guards at bay with a 44.0% and 44.8% respectively. The other three positions were the Knicks’ Achilles heal, with an eFG% just above 47%. Tim Thomas’ defense was plain awful, letting opponents shoot at a high 51.1%, and Nazr Mohammed wasn’t far behind at 49.1%. Surprisingly Sweetney and Mutombo held their opponents to good percentages. Actually Sweetney was great at PF (43.7%) and horrible when out of position at center (52.7%).
If Allan Houston is healthy all of next year, their offensive efficiency should improve. H20 is a career 50.0% eFG% shooter, at a moderately high usage rate (16.3 FGA/G over the last 5 years). The players that hurt the Knicks offensively in this area were Anfernee Hardaway (40.9% eFG 9.7FGA/G), Frank Williams (42.8% eFG 3.7FGA/G), and DerMarr Johnson (43.8% eFG 4.6FGA/G). Frank Williams gets a pass because of his ridiculously good opponents? eFG% (40.5% eFG), the low number of shots that he takes, and his youth. If anyone needs to shoot less it’s the Knicks’ 6th man Hardaway. He’s had a decline since his first year in Phoenix (49.4%) and is nowhere as near as good as he was his first 6 years in Orlando (50.7%).
At 24 years old, DerMarr is the Knicks’ “special project”. So far in his NBA career, which was derailled by a car accident, DerMarr has shown to be a poor shooter, and his defense which was touted in the first Basketball Prospectus, may have declined as well. Johnson will attempt to improve his shooting (and his game) this summer.
Offense 23rd, -7.0%
Defense 23rd, -7.2%
If the Knicks want to make a big improvement next year, turnovers is the first place Isiah should look. New York was atrocious on both sides of the ball. Looking at turnovers per 48 minutes, there isn’t a single qualifying Knick in the top 50. On the other side of the ball, Marbury is the only Knick ranked at #46 in steals per 48 minutes. Meaning they just don’t have anyone that is good in either of these categories who plays a lot of minutes. Othella Harrington (3.6 TO/48 & 0.66 STL/48) and Vin Baker (3.8/1.07) are the worst, while Penny is the best (2.6/1.65).
Of course all defensive turnovers aren’t registered with a steal. A defender can take an offensive charge or a player can dribble the ball of his foot due to defensive pressure. The NBA doesn’t keep track of these stats, but our good friends at 82games.com do. For every team, they keep track on both ends of the court of offensive fouls, bad passes, ball handling errors, and miscellaneous turnovers. Here’s a chart with some of the best & worst teams & how they commit or force turnovers:
Rnk Team Foul Pass Drib Misc
1 DAL 106 577 299 13
2 MIN 152 454 398 29
23 NYK 188 570 491 34
28 HOU 170 595 547 50
29 WAS 168 645 586 33
Rnk Team Foul Pass Drib Misc
1 DEN 216 546 515 23
2 MEM 156 638 569 20
23 NYK 149 450 507 23
28 ORL 151 487 431 37
29 CLE 97 529 418 25
With the 5 teams I picked, it seems that dribbling is one area that could indicate a team’s turnover tendencies. (Of course more research would have to be made before there is a definite correlation found.) On the other hand a team like Memphis creates a lot of turnovers by forcing bad passes, while Denver is superb at taking charges. The chart puts into perspective the Knicks numbers. On offense they are causing too many fouls, and they don’t have great ball handlers. Defensively, they are woeful in challenging the passing lanes.
Stay tuned for Part 2 where I will check out the Knicks performance at the offensive glass and free throw line. Also I’ll take a quick look at the three that are rumored to come to New York & what areas they might help or hurt.