Aesop taught us when we were very small that the slow and steady tortoise can beat the hare. Have the Knicks been slow and steady in their improvement, or did they, like the hare, wait around, give only partial effort for half the season, assuming that all the other NBA teams were wearing half-shells?
Many point to the firing of D’Antoni as the moment when the Knicks woke up and began to run for their lives. However, if you take a look at the chart below, you can see that this year’s team should be called the Turtle-Knicks, for they have slowly and steadily improved throughout the year. Each game, their adjusted margin of victory has improved by 0.24 points, and that trend has been pretty steady throughout the season.
What the chart shows is the Knicks’ margin of victory in each game, adjusted for both difficulty of opponent and whether the game was home or away (strange observation: the Knicks outscore opponents by a ridiculous 8.7 fewer points when on the road). Bizarrely, in spite of the series of injuries this team has suffered through, those injuries (color coded onto the chart) seem to have far less of an impact than we might expect.
Likewise, Linsanity was real. Even after adjustments, six of the seven games the Knicks won during their seven game streak were above the trendline. That six game streak was the longest streak of over-the-trendline games the Knicks have had this season. Their worst streak? The four games before the close loss to Chicago, after which D’Antoni resigned.
Some other information I gleaned from the data:
1) The Knicks before D’Antoni resigned improved by an average of 0.13 points/game. However, if you exclude the games after Linsanity, when Anthony admitted to dogging it, they improved by an average of 0.3 points/game.
2) The Woodson Knicks are trending downward by 0.6 points/game. However, if you exclude the Portland blowout, they are only trending downward by 0.2 points/game.
3) The most stable period for the Knicks was during Linsanity as well. You’ll note that the chart knives up and down far less violently during that win-streak.
4) Stoudemire and Anthony were a part of most of all the losing streaks. Both of the longer win streaks occurred with either Anthony or Stoudemire missing some games.
With so much roster instability, it’s hard to predict how this information will affect our playoff performance. You could argue that our consistency in spite of injuries shows the Knicks’ great depth. You could also argue that it is indicative of the frailty of the marriage between Stoudemire and Anthony. Either way, it’s nice to see that the players likely did not nap through half the season, and instead were slowly working their way into shape, learning the defense, and learning how to play together.