Statistical Analysis. Humor. Knicks.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

What ails the Knicks’ D?

The Knicks are a poor defensive team (24th out of 30 in points allowed per 100 possessions in ’07; 26th in ’06 with more or less the same roster). Conventional wisdom has it that New York’s defensive ineptitude is due in large part to a porous interior defense, where Eddy Curry is a poor rebounder and shotblocker, David Lee is slow to rotate, and the departing Channing Frye was soft. Many worry that the interior D is only going to get worse with Zach Randolph and his poor defensive reputation joining Curry, portending an even weaker defensive squad in 2008.

With all that in mind, the following quote from Isiah Thomas regarding the Randolph trade is more than a little surprising, even though by and large it seems to have gone unnoticed:

I think Zach is a prideful defender right now and I think, as a team, we?ll get better as a defensive unit. Again, because I think we?ll defend the three-point line better than last year. We don?t necessarily give up a tremendous amount of points in the paint. We usually outscore teams in the paint, but we got hurt last year defensively because of the three point line. I?m not necessarily looking to improve our interior defense as much as I am trying to improve the defense on the three-point line. We have to get better on the perimeter. That?s where we had problems last year.

No Knicks fan is going to argue that New York did a poor job defending the perimeter last season. But curiously, Thomas contends that the interior defense is not a key area of concern. But that can’t be right, can it?

This matter bears a closer investigation. Fortunately, we can get a pretty decent picture of how well the Knicks defend different regions of the court using data from 82games.com. (Not all of the stats mentioned here are directly available at 82games.com, but they can be calculated from stats available at 82games.com and basketball-reference.com.) In particular, we can look at how well the Knicks defend shots in the paint, 2 point jumpers, and 3 point attempts. There are a couple of different components we can look at for each portion of the court: how often the opponent tends to shoot there and how well the Knicks defend field goals attempted there. Combining those two components, we can figure out how many points the average Knicks opponent gets from each region of the court per 100 field goal attempts. These data for the 2006/07 season are plotted in the graph below in standardized form, in order to give a side-by-side comparison of how the Knicks’ performance on each measure stacked up against the rest of the league.

Knicks 2006/07 Defense

The data seems to support Thomas’s claim. It seems the Knicks actually did do a good job of defending the paint in ’07. In actual fact, New York was not very good at preventing opponents from scoring once they got in position to get a shot up in the paint. However, this weakness was more than compensated for by the sheer paucity of field goal attempts in the paint by Knicks opponents. Only the Rockets allowed a lower proportion of inside field goal attempts than the Knicks. And in terms of points in the paint per 100 FGA, only the Rockets (3rd in overall defensive efficiency), Bulls (1st), Heat (8th), and Spurs (2nd) were stingier. That is impressive company.

Still, something doesn’t seem quite right. The 4 teams that allowed fewer points in the paint per 100 FGA were all strong defensive teams overall with strong shot blocking presences. Neither of those things can be said for the ’07 Knicks. All 4 of those teams were also in the top 7 in eFG% allowed in the paint, which makes for a natural story: these teams were very good at defending field goal attempts in the paint, thus dissuading the opposition from attempting shots in the paint to begin with. Such a natural explanation for why the opposition attempted so few shots in the paint is not on offer for the Knicks, since they were among the worst at guarding inside shot attempts. This raises one’s suspicion that perhaps the Knicks allowed so few shot attempts in the paint for some reason other than good interior defense.

For instance, perhaps the Knicks just fouled the opposition a lot whenever they got near the rim. This would be poor defensive practice, but it would also have the effect of reducing inside FGA by the opponent. But this excessive fouling in the paint hypothesis doesn’t seem tenable. The Knicks were right at the league average in terms of opponent free throw attempts per 100 possessions, and at the center / power forward positions they accumulated only 0.4 fouls per 100 possessions more than the league average.

Another possibility is that the Knicks did a lot of switching, doubling, and rotating to try to compensate for their poor interior defensive eFG%. Such a tactic could have the effect of limiting interior FGA while leaving the perimeter vulnerable. But is this consistent with the data? The Knicks certainly got crushed from the 3 point line. But they actually did a pretty good job at defending the 2 point jumper, holding opponents’ eFG% below the league average and allowing them to shoot a higher proportion of 2 point jumpers than the league average. (Allowing more 2 point jumpers is actually a good defensive tactic on the whole, since they are the lowest percentage shots available on the court.)

It turns out that this pattern of data is consistent with league trends for the ’07 season. For the league as a whole, defensive eFG% in the paint was significantly correlated with opponent 3 point attempts (r = .42, p = .02), opponent 3 point eFG% (r = .53, p = .003), and opponent points per 100 FGA coming from 3 pointers (r = .52, p = .003). In other words, the teams that defended the paint better also tended to defend the 3 point shot better. However, the correlations between interior defensive eFG% and 2 point jumper attempts and eFG% fail to reach statistical significance. That is, at least in ’07, there was no relationship between how well teams defended the paint and how well they defended the 2 point jump shot.

On the other hand, on a league-wide scale, the proportion of interior FGA allowed was not correlated with interior defensive eFG% and also was not correlated with opponent % FGA and eFG% for 2 and 3 point jumpers. This does not fit so nicely with the hypothesis that the Knicks surrendered so few interior FGA because of a swarming, scrambling interior D that left the perimeter vulnerable. It is possible that the hypothesis is correct nonetheless, and the Knicks were just idiosyncratic in terms of how they defended the paint. But it is also possible that, for all their defensive weaknesses and warts, they were doing something right in order to limit opponent FGA in the paint. So although we may be strongly suspicious of the appearance that the Knicks defended the paint well in ’07, the data presented here does not categorically rule out the possibility that there was some largely unrecognized but positive component to New York’s interior D that allowed them to limit interior FGA, and thus interior points per 100 FGA, by the opposition.

However, the idea that New York’s atrocious defense of the 3 pointer is linked to their poor interior defensive eFG% seems a bit stronger. Not only is this idea consistent with conventional basketball wisdom, but it is also consistent with league-wide statistical trends in the ’07 season. The worse teams defended the paint in terms of interior defensive eFG%, the worse they tended to defend the 3 point shot. (Of course, correlation does not imply causation, but there are independent, observational reasons for believing that a poorer interior defense could lead to a poorer perimeter defense.) The Knicks had a poor interior defensive eFG% and were among the very worst at defending 3s. So if the Knicks are to shore up their defense of the 3 pointer, it could very well require a fortified interior defensive eFG% (e.g. by way of better shot blocking and quicker defensive rotations). If the team focuses on improving 3 point defense while largely neglecting to focus on bolstering the interior defense, as Thomas’s quote suggests, the returns on perimter D could be fundamentally limited.

69 comments on “What ails the Knicks’ D?

  1. bmj320

    Dude, you have too much time on your hands. Thanks for the visual though. I’m hearing Isiah is working on a trade to bring Ron Artest home. That would definately help our interior and perimeter defense. Artest can bang with the best of them and is quick enough to cover guards. Let’s hope Q’s back holds up he’s not a bad defender. I really think his trouble is the weight he plays at. he should be at about 220 instead of 235.

  2. Owen

    Great post.

    The story the (excellent) statistics tells perhaps is that Knicks perimeter players conceded the three point line in order to protect the paint, and Eddy Curry. They did that effectively, limiting attempts, but paid a very steep price. They got killed outside, and still got killed inside when they didnt succeed.

    There really is no substitute for a great interior defender, like Tim Duncan for instance. Not only does he affect high percentage shots in the paint, he also allows perimeter players to guard their positions optimally.

  3. Bernard King

    Yeah, great post. Having watched almost every game last year (sad but true, thanks to tivo), and seeing teams score at will in the paint, one can only conclude that scoring on the perimeter was so easy, that they just stopped throwing the ball inside. An open J is an open J. It still takes work (even against the worst defenses) to get an easy shot inside. If players are wide open on the perimeter, I suppose thats where coaches chose to attack.

    But I am surpised at the stats, because the interior defense just seemed atrocious all last year (and was, at least to the naked eye).

  4. Ben

    Great Article.

    I think in one way Curry is a better defender than given credit for. His man defense is actually pretty solid. It is his help defense and his pick and roll defense that are terrible. I think this explains the stats.

    Teams cannot just dump it into the post and score easily, which is why teams do not take alot of shots in the paint, but because we hae no shotblocker or inside help, when players get into the paint on a drive they score easily, explaining the poor percentage we defended the paint.

    On top of that Curry is a terrible pick and roll defender, which allows alot of open outside shots. When teams run the pick and roll our team makes a conscious choice to defend the roll and guard the paint, which allows the ball handler to either have an open shot, or if we rotate to defend, pass to an open man for an open shot.

    Combine that with the fact our guards are forced to sag off their man, because they have no help inside, and this creates easy shot oppertunities for the other team.

    I do not know if there is an easy fix for our problems. However if we can force more turnovers, we were last in the league last year, our defense could easily rise to slightly below average or even average. Combine that with our improved rebounding, Q Rich coming back and Randolph getting all of Frye’s and Malik’s minutes and we should see some improvment even if the efg% we allow does not change.

    Plus our efg% allowed was 23rd last season and only .5% from 15th which means we are not far from average. Our defensive rebounding was 11th and our free throws allowed was 16th. It was only our turnovers forced, 30th in the league, that was really a problem.

    I do not know how to force more turnovers but I do not think our lack is Curry’s fault, or Lee’s, and I do not think Randolph will make this problem any worse. I just hope that Isiah gives Balkman and Collins alot more minutes because they are easily our most disruptive defenders.

    If you can think of a cause for our lack of turnovers forced I would really like to hear it.

  5. Sam

    OMG a large part of this blog seems to be taken from my post yesterday on a Knicks board

  6. Sam

    The Knicks have been poor defending the 3point line for at least 4 years….Well before Curry was a Knick

    Also the Bulls in 2005 led the whole NBA in lowest fg% allowed with Curry starting and playing the 2nd most minutes of anyone on the whole Bulls team.

    Looks like more reachs to try and bash Curry

    Not surprised. Thats what 70% of the blogs on here are.

  7. Ben

    Sam – I am a Curry supporter, one of the few on this board, but the Bulls had the luxury of pairing Curry up with a great inside defender in Chandler and unlike the Knicks who are loaded with poor inside defenders, Curry was the only one on the Bulls.

    So while I do not think that Curry is our big problem on defense, it is forcing turnovers, your Bulls comparison is a bit misleading. If Frye (now Randolph) and Lee were great defenders then Curry’s shortcomings would not be as apparent, but they are not.

    Great observation on the fact that the Knicks have been poor defending the 3 pointer for a long time though.

  8. Brian M

    Ben: Although the Knicks are at the bottom of the league in forcing TOs, I’m not sure that making a big push to increase TOs forced would help out their net defensive efficiency. I’m working with a limited data set here, but at least in ’07, TOs/100poss forced did not correlate with defensive efficiency, whereas the shooting stats from the various parts of the court correlated strongly.

    A good predictor of TOs forced per 100 possessions (again, at least according to data from ’07) seems to be pace. Teams that play faster tend to force more turnovers per possession. However, teams that play faster also allow higher interior eFG% and allow more 3PA at a higher eFG% (perhaps in large part due to fast breaks, though I doubt that is the whole story). Of course, it is difficult to infer causality from any of that. But if we work on the presumption that pace is the causal factor in those correlations, then any defensive gain from faster pace in terms of TOs forced is offset by a loss in terms of field goal defense. Of course there may be other ways to improve TOs forced without sacrificing so much from eFG%. But I think the Knicks clearly stand to gain the most by improving the D at the 3 point line.

  9. Sam

    Ben I understand your point but consider a few points of my own:

    On that 2005 team Curry actually played with Antonio Davis as much or more than he did with Tyson. Tyson came off the bench in all but 10 games

    Tyson also wasnt even labeled a great defender back then. He played around 27 minutes per game.

    Lastly usually these Curry bashers like to make it look like no team can ever be good on defense with Curry ignoring the past facts that the Bulls were.

    Its like the people that say you can never win with Curry. They ignore the fact that in 2005 the Bulls were 37-26 with Curry but only 10-9 without Curry.

  10. xduckshoex

    Sam – Chandler and Curry played together almost as much as Davis and Curry did, and either way it doesn’t really matter because Antonio Davis is a good interior defender as well. Those Bulls were a slightly worse defensive team with Curry on the floor, suggesting that they were good in spite of him rather than because of him

    Curry does a decent job playing man to man defense, but it seems that his help defense(which is more important) leaves a lot to be desired.

  11. Mike K. (KnickerBlogger)

    Wow that Curry apologists have to go back to 2005 to find positive things to say about his defense speaks volumes of his play. BTW that year Curry played less minutes than Chandler, Davis, or Nocioni. If that isn’t the biggest reach…

  12. T-MART

    No one was reaching back to 2005 to find something positive to say about him. It was a coincidental result of the Bulls comparison with the interior defense analysis.

  13. Sam

    Its pretty lame that Mike the Knickerblogger aka Curry hater feels the need to decieve people on his own blog. what a total lack of credibility.

    “Mike K. (KnickerBlogger) Said:
    July 5th, 2007 at 3:56 pm
    Wow that Curry apologists have to go back to 2005 to find positive things to say about his defense speaks volumes of his play. BTW that year Curry played less minutes than Chandler, Davis, or Nocioni. If that isn?t the biggest reach?”

    LOL What a joke he played less minutes total because he missed 19 games.

    He played more minutes per game than all of them!

    Now here is the Truth:

    2005 Bulls
    Curry 28.7mpg
    Chandler 27.4mpg
    Davis 25.6mpg
    Nocioni 23.4mpg

    Hey Mike you should keep your lying to opinions instead of facts anyone can look up.

    http://www.basketball-reference.com/teams/CHI/2005.html

  14. Mike K. (KnickerBlogger)

    “Its like the people that say you can never win with Curry. They ignore the fact that in 2005 the Bulls were 37-26 with Curry but only 10-9 without Curry.”

    It’s not that you can’t win with Curry. It’s that you have to build a team around each player’s strengths & weaknesses. With Curry the Bulls were a good fit for him, because they surrounded Curry (a poor defender) with good defensive players. The problem with that team was that they didn’t have any other scorers (and they were still young).

    Unfortunately the Knicks have not done the same. Isiah hasn’t paired Curry with a strong defensive forward like Chandler or Davis, nor do the Knicks have defenders that can keep their man in front of them on the perimeter. The Knicks’ defensive woes are not all Curry’s fault, but being that center is a primary position with regards to defense, he does shoulder a fair share of the blame.

  15. Ben

    Brain – What I was trying to say was that the Knicks were not as bad as it initially seems at opponent efg%. They were ranked 23rd at 50.4% but were actually closer to the 13th in the league Utah Jazz at 49.6% than the 26th in the league Sacremento Kings at 51.4%.So while the Knicks were below average at opponent efg% they were not that far from it.

    Also both the Hawks and the 76ers were slower paced teams than the Knicks and both were actually in the top ten in forcing turnovers, the Magic and the Pistons, also slower than the Knicks, were right up there, the Pistons ranking 13th while being the slowest team in the league. So it is possible to force many turnovers and still be a slower paced team.

    The “four factors” that are said to be paramount in determining defensive prowess are your opponent’s: efg%, ft/fg, oreb%, and turnovers. We are average or close to average in all but one of those catagories and it is forced turnovers.

    So while I would agree that the Knicks need to get better at defending the three point line even if they had a marked improvement to their opponent’s efg% they would still be a poor defensive team if they do not force more turnovers.

    I really hope this thread does not degenerate into a argument of Curry defensive problems. Yes he is a poor defender but he is not close to the Knicks only problem and I would argue he is not even their biggest problem, because I do not believe that good defense from your center forces many turnovers, which was clearly our biggest problem.

  16. Sam

    Yeah whatever Mike. Like a guy that misses 20 games is supposed to play 30 minutes a night in those games anyway. You can parce words all you want. You were being deceptive. We both know it.

    Why dont you just change the boards title to Curry hater instead of Knicker Blogger? You sure seem to be more in to hating on Curry than speaking about the Knicks

  17. DMull

    Sam – but isn’t the data you are using based on the entire season, even the games Curry was out with injury? If so, you’d have to really strip the data of the games Curry didn’t play in to get a better picture of how he played.

    Total minutes are actually a better stat than MPG if the data you are using is based on the entire season.

  18. DMull

    Marc R – good point. I don’t know for sure, but they did play a lot of zone defense.

  19. Sam

    Dmull The 2005 Bulls that year were

    37-26 with Curry
    10-9 without Curry

    Which data do you think would look better based on their record?

  20. Mike K. (KnickerBlogger)

    It’s not splitting hairs. The Bulls were 17th on defense in 2004 when Curry earned the most minutes of the Bulls big men. That year Chandler only played 782 minutes (to Curry’s 2154). The next year 3 big men logged more minutes than Curry, including Chandler who logged the most at 2189. The Bulls become #2 overall.

    The year after Curry is gone, and the Bulls are still a top defensive team, 6th overall. Chandler plays 2124 minutes, but Antonio Davis is gone. Curry’s new team finishes 26th in defense.

    So you cherry pick on year, ignore that Curry wasn’t the biggest part of that team, and then say I’m being deceptive?

    God can the season start already? Thank goodness the summer league is almost upon us (post on that tomorrow).

  21. xduckshoex

    “The 2005 Bulls that year were

    37-26 with Curry
    10-9 without Curry

    Which data do you think would look better based on their record? ”

    Sam, in order for that to really be significant you have to account for a lot of other factors, like strength of schedule, other injuries to the team(did Luol Deng’s injury overlap with Curry’s?), injuries to the competition, etc. You can’t just throw them out there with no context.

  22. jon abbey

    “Thank goodness the summer league is almost upon us (post on that tomorrow).”

    Seattle Monday night! Balkman/Durant! let the games begin! :)

  23. Ben

    How Eddy Curry did in Chicago 3 years ago is not discussing the article that Brian seemed to put alot of work into. There is alot of great information in that article that should produce intelligent conversation. Instead we have a debate about Curry for the 50th time.

    Most of the time there site sparks great conversation and statistical evaluation. But this is getting out of hand.

  24. Adam F

    Hey, I’m not really sure I understand what conclusion was drawn in this post.

    1. The Knicks allow a high percentage of interior fga’s to go in, but they don’t allow very many shots from the interior so that neutralizes it.

    2. They allow a lot of 2 pt. Fga’s – which is a good thing – and opposing teams don’t shoot at a particularly high percentage.

    3. The Knicks play terrible 3 pt. defense.

    You seem to say the conclusion is that the numbers are telling us that the Knicks are a poor defensive team. Maybe i misunderstood your conclusion, but isn’t it just that Isiah was actually right, and if the knicks could just improve their perimeter D, they’d be a very good defensive team, so there’s really no reason to worry about randolphs ineffectiveness? Last year we produced these efficient interior defensive numbers, without a better than avg. interior defender playing significant minutes.

  25. dave crockett

    Brian,

    excellent post as always.

    I find myself wondering what role if any opponent’s fastbreak points may be playing in the numbers we are seeing in the post eFG defense. Unfortunately I have no idea if those can be teased out with 82games data. (That sounds like a “charting” exercise.)

    When I look at the shot-clock usage stats at 82games I see that opponents took 36% of their shots within the first 10 secs, by far the most frequent. (Just for quick comparison Phoenix, who played at the league’s highest pace, saw opponents take 35% of their shots in 10 secs.) That does suggest NY gives up a lot of fastbreak points. If so, I wonder if that’s inflating the paint area eFG% enough to make the eFG defense look a little worse than it is.

    (EDITORIAL: by the way folks, the paint area defense consists of more than just Eddy Curry. Lee, Frye, and Jeffries were part of this deal. So to the Curry “haters,” “apologists,” and everyone in-between, can we not have every conversation revolve almost exclusively around Eddy Curry?)

    I just wonder if NY’s interior D isn’t a little closer to league average than the chart suggests. I certainly don’t think we have outstanding interior defenders but what I find hard to understand is how NY could keep opponents outside the paint San Antonio-style all on smoke and mirrors. I saw *nothing* this season to suggest to me that defensively NY could do much to keep an opponent from exploiting a true weakness.

    On the other hand, despite their preponderance of quick shots, opponents apparently still made a pretty concerted effort to attack NY’s perimeter defenders far more than the interior defenders. Opponents not only shot a high percentage from 3 (.358) they took a boatload of attempts (18.6/g), almost a full 2 per game over league avg (16.9/g). Add to that, the pts/FGA #’s suggest that opponents seem to be getting the bonus for attacking the perimeter–either a) getting to the FT line or b) hitting the 3 ball. They’re not getting that bonus when they attack the interior. That suggests that perhaps last year’s opponents agree with Thomas’ assessment of his defense a little more than we seem to.

  26. rock

    i thought the biggest problems with the knicks last year was their turnovers on offense.

  27. xduckshoex

    Dave – I’m not sure if you have read this yet, but given your questions on fast break points you might find it interesting: http://82games.com/fastbreakpoints.htm

    There is a similar article on points in the paint:

    http://82games.com/fastbreakpoints.htm

    According to the article the Knicks were one of the better teams in the League at limiting fast break points, but I am guessing that is due more to their offensive rebounding than their transition defense.

  28. Hotdamn

    Can one of you leaders at Knickerblogger start campaigning AGAINST bringing in Ron Artest and shipping out David Lee. That would be the worst thing ever. I don’t know of I can root for a whole team of scumbags for 82 games. Sorry that had nothing to do with the fantastic statistical analysis. But this is something that will actually matter if the move is made. The team as composed is going to have some problems — but we’re in for the perfect storm if Artest is on the roster.

  29. Ben

    Dave -

    I do not think the fast shots are because of fast breaks, I think it is more that we let teams run their offense so their first option is the shot they take. I actually thinks this explains why we are so bad at forcing turnovers, despite being average at steals.

    Teams run down the court and execute their offense just like in practice and get the shot they want. This does not take very long so they get their shot off early in the shot clock.

    Thinking back to last year this seems to really be the problem. Our team is not disruptive at all. As long as the team we face runs their offense they always seem to get the shot they want, which is usually a wide open three pointer.

    Part of this is our bad interior defense but I have to think alot of this has to fall on our perimeter defenders.

    We are very bad at pressuring the ball. Other teams are always under control. Think about good perimeter defense it is more than getting a hand in their face it is also about keeping the ball handler off balance.

  30. Frank O.

    A lot of Curry chatter, but I have some basic observations from watching a lot of Knicks’ games.
    I was constantly struck by how easily Crawford and Marbury were beat by their opposite numbers off the dribble. Crawford in particular was horrible, so bad that I started calling him the Matador.
    But when perimeter defense breaks down, it causes havoc on a court. If you have ever played, and I only played pick up, when a perimeter defender breaks down, other defenders are forced to help. Or not.
    If they helped, someone was left open. If they stuck with their men, the open penetrator usually got a layup (other teams shot well in the paint against the Knicks in large part because they got easy layups). I think that was what really makes you think the Knicks’ interior defense stunk: the number of free layups. There were not enough hard fouls to discourage penetration, in my opinion.
    Now if help did come – and remember, while the Knicks weren’t big shot blockers, they had very big bodies in the paint – often the ball was kicked out to open shooters because, as I said earlier, our perimeter defenders, Marbury, Crawford, Q, Robinson, etc., did not extend.
    And also, remember that if you didn’t defend well against a slashing guard or SF, you cheated, which means you were giving good shooters room to drain from the outside.

    Good interior defense starts with a tough perimeter defense. If you break down on the outside, everyone else is forced to adjust, and the ball moves faster than players can swing.

    I think Isiah is right.
    And I think your post and break down of the numbers affirmed something I have felt for some time, but it was based more on perception than data.
    Thanks for the data.

    As for Curry, everyone needs to chill with him. He’s still a relatively young player with tremendous upside. If his heart issue hadn’t occurred, the Bulls would never have traded him.
    I realize he’s been in the league since he was a kid, but I think there are only a few players that came in that young whose growth wasn’t retarded in some way.
    Give him some time. Last year, his scoring and rebounding increased. At age 24, he was probably one of the most dominant offensive centers in the East.
    His shot blocking and passing out of the double isn’t great…yet.
    He’s also playing on a team that didn’t do a hell of a lot of things well. The Knicks D was constantly a step late. Rotations were slow, but breakdowns on the perimeter were killing them.
    Before you start pinning it on Curry, look to our terrible defending guards.
    Crawford is not only a black hole, who shoots for low percentage, and dominates the ball, he also can’t guard anyone. For the life of me, I don’t know what Isiah sees in him.
    And Marbury is not much better.

  31. dan

    Rock Said:
    July 5th, 2007 at 8:04 pm
    i thought the biggest problems with the knicks last year was their turnovers on offense.

    I agree, didn’t other teams have alot more shot attempts and fast break points because of our amazing ineptitude in hanging on to the ball. Poor shot atttempts also lead to easy buckets on the other end.

    I also think that we really have struggled with the fact that we basically never cemented any rotations. In 05-06 Larry Brown would start people one night and DNP them the next. Last year injuries just killed any continuity we had. The result was haphazard offense and lack of communication on defense, people playing out of position, lots of blown assignments, lack of communication, etc.

    So, in short, cut down on TO’s and bad shots, learn your assignments and communicate, and the defensive #s will improve.

    BTW, I’m new here. I went to 82games.com and I still could not figure out the “e” in eFG%. Could someone tell me what’s going on there, thanks.

  32. Ben

    Looking at the +/- ratings on 82games.com shows me that both Marbury and Crawford were bad on defense. The Knicks on defense were 3.3 points worse with Jamal and 5.4 points worse with Steph. I find this surprising because Marbury seemed good on defense.

    On the other hand the Knicks on defense were 2.5 points better with Collins, 2.4 points better with Nate and an incredible 9.2 points better with Balkman. In fact when Balkman was on the court the Knicks were a better defensive team than Dallas, Detroit and all but the top 4. (I know this has alot of other factors but it is still impressive)

    Since our offense is going to be better with Curry and Randolph it seems to me to make sense to if not start Balkman (which would be my vote) give him major minutes because he was far and away our best defender and statistically one of the best in the entire league(9.2 pts better is Bruce Bowen type of effectiveness).

  33. Z

    Good analysis Brian.

    I know it’s the offseason, and stats are all we really have right now, but I feel like what ails the Knicks D does not warrant a statistical answer.

    The Knicks played well enough on D and on O to win a lot more games than they did last year. Too many times they allowed an opponent to get to the basket in the closing seconds to win the game (Fisher’s lay-up; Butler’s dunk; Robinson’s tip in; etc…). A better defensive mindset as a team could have won all those games.

    Furthermore, the Knicks wouldn’t have to improve their D if they improved their free throw shooting. They gave away too many points on both ends. Nullify one of those two, and you make up a lot of ground in the boxscore. It’s easier to become a good free throw shooting team than a good defensive team.

    Maybe I’m oversimplifying what ails the Knicks, and you do need stats and charts and graphs. But D is hard to quantify, and more often than not it is just a matter of perseverence in the closing seconds.

    I feel that Phoenix relys on it’s offense to get them to the end of the game, and once they are there they play a solid team D that finishes opponents off. The Knicks are set up to do the offensive part. They just need to play 2 or 3 minutes of shut down D as well (it’s all on you, Jared “$30 million to play 2 minutes of shut down D at the end of the game” Jeffries)).

  34. Owen

    Dan – E is for Effective I think.

    Ben and Frank – Given the conclusion of Brian’s article, I think it’s natural to discuss Curry.

    “The Knicks had a poor interior defensive eFG% and were among the very worst at defending 3s. So if the Knicks are to shore up their defense of the 3 pointer, it could very well require a fortified interior defensive eFG% (e.g. by way of better shot blocking and quicker defensive rotations).”

    What Brian seems to me to be saying is, to defend the three better, defend the paint better.

    My original comment, which I think started the Curry bashing, was just an extension of that premise, drawing to connect the dots. My theory was that you can’t play perimeter defense knowing that if you get beat it will be an easy bucket. Everyone is a better defender when there is a great defender behind them. And a great interior defender covers for every perimeter player. Frank, you take the opposite view, which is fair enough. I dont really know what’s wrong with our defense, but its probably a fault of the players out there more than how they combine.

    And Dave, Curry isn’t the only interior player,but he is our center and ‘franchise player’ and the guy presumably who should be defending the paint. He is the guy we gave up Tyrus Thomas for, who is pretty good defensively. The guy with the heart condition we took instead of Chandler, also pretty good defensively.

    I am not convinced Lee and Frye were terrible defenders. I never know how much stock to put in it, but both of their +/- numbers were positive. Can the +/- numbers be trusted. I don’t know. But the culprits they point to Frank, are also
    the perimeter players. The three worst players on +/- numbers were Marbury (+5.4), Curry (+5.3), and Crawford (=3.3.) So you are correct on that.

    Also, Jeffries seems to have been a much better defender playing in front of Haywood and Thomas. But this was Curry’s second consecutive season as a Knick being five points worse on the court than off.

  35. Ben

    Owen – I am still convinced it is turnovers fored rather than our allowed efg% that makes us such a bad defensive team. As I said in a previous post our opp. efg% is pretty close, 0.5%, from average. Our turnovers forced however is the worst in the league.

    I do not know if Eddy has anything to do with this and he might but that is really the area we need to shore up not our efg%.

    Do you know why we are so bad at forcing turnovers?

  36. Owen

    Ben – I think that’s a really great point. Probably the most valuable thing that’s been pointed out on this thread.

  37. Brian Maniscalco

    Adam–

    “You seem to say the conclusion is that the numbers are telling us that the Knicks are a poor defensive team. Maybe i misunderstood your conclusion, but isn?t it just that Isiah was actually right, and if the knicks could just improve their perimeter D, they?d be a very good defensive team, so there?s really no reason to worry about randolphs ineffectiveness? Last year we produced these efficient interior defensive numbers, without a better than avg. interior defender playing significant minutes.”

    What I’m suggesting is that different areas of the court aren’t defended in a vacuum. How you defend the perimeter seems to depend on how you defend the paint, and probably vice versa. So if the plan is to improve the 3 point defense (as Isiah wants), a big part of that might actually involve improving the interior D (which Isiah seems to think is already good enough).

    The data back up Isiah’s statement insofar as it’s true that the Knicks don’t give up a lot of points in the paint per 100 FGA. However, because of the way they do it (limited attempts but with a high FG%) and because of the dissimilarities with other teams that are as good at limiting opportunities in the paint, it’s not clear to what extent the low points in the paint number is due to genuinely good interior D as opposed to some other factor. (e.g., maybe the way the Knicks limit interior opportunities has the side effect of creating better opportunities for the opponent from 3, which they choose to exploit.)

  38. Brian Maniscalco

    Dan– here’s eFG% as explained in basketball-reference.com’s glossary:

    “Effective field goal percentage; the formula is (FG + 0.5*3P) / FGA. This statistic adjusts for the fact that a 3-point field goal is worth one more point than a 2-point field goal. For example, suppose Player A goes 4 for 10 with 2 threes, while Player B goes 5 for 10 with 0 threes. Each player would have 10 points from field goals, and thus would have the same effective field goal percentage (50%).”

    Basically eFG% is a way to take the extra point a 3 pointer gives you when figuring out how efficiently a player or team scores from the field. But for this article you can basically mentally replace “eFG%” with just “FG%” because I deliberately separated 2 pointers from 3 pointers.

  39. Brian Maniscalco

    Ben:

    I certainly agree the Knicks could stand to improve the TOs forced. However, similarly to the idea that inside eFG% and 3 point eFG% are linked, it may not be the case that you can force more turnovers without having further repercussions on the rest of your D, some of which may be negative. The possibility I raised earlier that faster pace may lead to more TOs/100poss but also poorer 3 point D is one way this sort of thing could play out, but it’s not the only way. The reason I suspect some sort of tradeoff like this is going on (whether it has to do with pace or not) is because in the 2007 season TOs forced/100poss did not correlate with defensive efficiency. If forcing more TOs did not come with some mitigating factors then I would expect opponent rate to correlate with defensive efficiency. (Then again, maybe 2007 was just a wacky season in this regard for whatever reason.)

    You are correct to point out that NY’s eFG% allowed on the whole isn’t terribly bad when compared to the league average. But you could say the same for defensive TO rate. The Knicks forced 15.1 TOs/100poss, compared to the league average of 16.6. So they were 1.5 TOs/100poss worse than average– an appreciable difference to be sure, but not enormous. Without attempting to quantify it, I would guess that the Knicks would be better off raising their 3 point D (28th) to average than they would raising the TO rate to average, all else being equal.

  40. Ben

    Brian –

    Addressing your first point, all four factors play a role in being an efficient defense. While I would agree that efg% is the most important of the factors, forcing turnover’s helps. In fact the best defense in the league, the Bulls (2nd in turnovers forced) were worse (but still great) than both the Spurs and Rockets in efg%, ft/fg, and oreb%, so while not as important it definatly plays a role.

    About raising 3pt fg%, I do not think you can simply raise 3pt fg% without working on your team efg%. It seems that our weakness defending the three is directly related to our ability to protect the paint. So if we started to focus on the three point line the rest of our defense would suffer. That is why I prefer to look at efg% as a whole, because as you said since our interior defenders are not strong they must be getting help from the rest of our team.

    While we need to raise both our efg% and our TOs forced, it would seem to me to be easier to raise our forced turnovers than our shot defense, because it does not necessarily take good interior defenders to force turnovers. (as evidenced by GS, MIL, ATL, SAC)

    So since we have three below average defensive bigmen (that probably are not going anywhere) it would seem that average is about as good as we can hope for in efg%. So to make up for it we need to be better than average in the other three categories.

    We were better than average in oreb% and ft/fg until we were hit by injuries last year so getting them back above average seems realistic. So that just leaves TOs forced. If we can raise that to at least average even if we remain average or even slightly below average in efg% we should see marked improvement in our overall def eff.

    I would say that we only need to be average on defense to have success because with all our offensive firepower, getting into the top ten in offensive efficiency seems realistic. In fact, before we were hit by injuries we actually cracked the top ten and were moving up the list. TOR, PHX, NJ, GS and UTAH were all merely average on defense, and still made the postseason, and all but one of those teams actually won their first playoff series.

  41. Mike K. (KnickerBlogger)

    “Teams run down the court and execute their offense just like in practice and get the shot they want. This does not take very long so they get their shot off early in the shot clock.”

    This theory jives best with my recollection of the season. It seemed that all too often the opponent executed their offense, and the Knicks would have to double, colapse, rotate, etc. which left someone open on the perimeter for a wide open three. And there isn’t one particular person responsible since just about everyone stunk on defense.

    When you have defensive weaknesses at multiple areas, it’s tough for anyone to look good. For example looking at 82g by position, opponents scored most at the SF position. But looking at our roster, SF should be our best defensive position (Richardson, Jeffries, Balkman). Maybe getting better perimeter defenders will help, but that doesn’t really seem to be Isiah’s aim this offseason (Nichols?), unless we’re going to see a lot of Collins this year.

  42. Matt D

    I think it all starts with how the Knicks defended the pick and roll. Channing Frye was a major liability – he always got burned because he couldn’t switch and then rotate back quick enough. Francis didn’t help on the perimeter either.

  43. Bernard King

    Fact is that Curry is extremely slow to rotate on defense and very slow to react. The irony too is that he has very quick feet. Its not that the skill isnt there, he either has very slow reaction/recognition abilities on defense or is extremely lazy (or a combination of both). Its silly to debate, the proof is right out there.

    He can be a dominating low post scorer and thats what he is. If Curry can improve his rebounding and his FT shooting, he can be a much better player, but dont ever expect him to be a shot blocker or even average help defender.

    In order to win with him, the perimeter defense must be tightened up.

    Btw, the Knicks of the 90s defended the perimeter fairly well, but Starks and Derek Harper while active defenders weren’t lock down defenders. Having Ewing roam the paint made a pretty big difference though. And when you watch Curry after having had the pleasure to watch Ewing all those years you really start to appreciate Old Patrick and realize how underappreciated he was here (at times).

  44. Bruce Jett

    Some criticism for Curry’s lack of rebounding and
    not being in top physical condition should go to the coaches and Isaih for enabling this type of behavior to continue.
    Curry’s paid to score, rebound, defend and get into the best shape possible to deal with the demands of an NBA season.

  45. Brian Maniscalco

    Ben: Of course I don’t dispute that TOs have value on defense. Obviously if you hold all other aspects of your defense constant and increase your TOs forced, you increase your defensive efficiency. I’m just not sure if the “hold all other aspects of your defense constant” clause really applies in the NBA, and therein lies the rub. Although you can find different teams more or less matched on other aspects of D but different in TOs forced, that could be due to differences in team personnel. Within a team, holding the personnel constant, is where I think increasing TOs would likely have other (negative) repercussions on the rest of the D.

    That’s not necessarily to say the Knicks shouldn’t try to force more TOs or that it wouldn’t work if they did, just that I’m a bit skeptical that that endeavor would bear fruit on the whole. But it’s really an issue that requires a more in-depth statistical look I think. It requires a better understanding of how teams force TOs and how those things relate to other aspects of the defense.

  46. Caleb

    Ah nostalgia – the Mason/Oakley/Ewing combo was like the ’85 Bears D-line. Mason was a freakin’ beast in those days – they’d leave him him one-on-one with everyone from Hakeem to Barkley to Mookie Blaylock. With the refs and rules today, tho, about 50 percent of the Mason/Oakley fouls would be flagrant 2s.

    The backcourt defense was also good. Don’t forget there was no hand-checking rule, which helped Harper in particular.

    Back to the present… I’ve been tough on Mardy Collins, but it would be an interesting combo to play him and Marbury at the same time. Mardy – guarding the quickest player, and Steph covering two-guards. I seem to remember his better defensive moments this year being vs. larger guys like Kobe and Ray Allen. Fred Jones might fill a need, too – I haven’t seen him play for a few years, but back in Indy I remember him being very good.

    Between Collins, Jones and Balkman – maybe Q, if he’s healthy – I could imagine the perimeter being defended a lot better than it was last year. It’s a trade-off, though, since none of those guys can throw a rock in the ocean, which will free up defenses to triple team our bigs every time down the floor.

    Still – an advantage of having such a deep roster is being able to have different looks during the course of a game.

  47. Ted Nelson

    Bernard- The Knicks in the 90s were the NBA’s #1 defense in terms of points allowed per 100 possesions 4 years in a row (91-92 through 94-95) then 4th (b/c Don Nelson was their coach most of the season?) then 1st again in 96-97 (5 out of 6 years as the league’s best defense). Starks was on all those teams, Harper only 2.5 (Mark Jackson 91-92, Doc Rivers 92-93, then Ward/Childs after Harper). Starks and Harper were pretty good defenders. However, I agree if you’re saying the Knicks are going to have a hard time stopping people on the perimeter with such a weak interior D.

    Mike K- I agree: It’s hard to examine individual defenders when almost the whole team stinks. From the opponents perspective, why take a relative pounding (not so much vs. the Knicks of course) in the paint to get 2 points when you’re wide open for 3? It would be interesting to see points in the paint by quarter to see if teams established themselves in the paint early, forcing the Knicks to adjust, then rained 3s.

    One thing I find strange is that all season Isiah seemed to praise Steph and Q for their D, Balkman was a beast, and he brought in Jeffries as a defensive stopper, but now he says perimeter D is the problem? I guess he saw some stats about where we were giving up points and decided the perimter was the problem.

  48. Mike K. (KnickerBlogger)

    “One thing I find strange is that all season Isiah seemed to praise Steph and Q for their D, Balkman was a beast, and he brought in Jeffries as a defensive stopper, but now he says perimeter D is the problem? I guess he saw some stats about where we were giving up points and decided the perimter was the problem.”

    That only leaves the SG spot, with Crawford & Robinson. And both are poor defenders, but it doesn’t really seem Isiah shored up this position defensively. I don’t see Nichols helping in this dept.

  49. retropkid

    Knicks didn’t lose because of foul shooting, teams they played shot poorly against them too.

    Steph did not play good D, just very low expectations on his D given his history…yeah, he improved…from terrible to bad.

    Mardy’s D numbers are good partially because he is a very good D rebounder on a team that needs it. Hope we see him get major minutes this year, if he worked on the jumper.

    Artest would indeed help perimeter D, and interior too. Short of getting him, you have to hope Zach can help the Knicks out-score opponents.

  50. Z

    “Steph covering two-guards. I seem to remember his better defensive moments this year being vs. larger guys like Kobe and Ray Allen.”

    He also shut down Arenas pretty good in one game. Definitely a pattern (like, when he tries, he can do it pretty well). I think the “from bad to terrible” comment is bitter, without proper recognition of an improved aspect of his game.

    And the Knicks did lose games because of bad freethrow shooting. Who cares if opponents shot worse than them. That’s the whole point. Take advantage of the opportunities you are given. Freethrows are easy. Most of the people that write on this blog can shoot 75%, and we make $0 to do it. If Curry could shoot 75%-80% and get to the line 10-12 times, those close games aren’t as close anymore.

  51. Caleb

    Yeah, with Steph it seems like it’s partly an effort thing. If you want to be optimistic – maybe as his offensive role goes down, he will expend his effort on the other end, and become consistently solid.

    If you want to be more pessimistic/realistic, he already has bad knees and that’s not going to get better as he gets older. But you could minimize the damage by finding the right matchups – he just gets killed by smaller, quicker, younger players, but is strong enough to hold his own agaist big point guards and even 2-guards.

    I would love to see Nate step forward in this dept. We know he’s got the physical tools; he’s super-quick and despite being short I’d guess he’s stronger than most of the players he’s up against – not to mention having great physical leverage. He also seems to have the desire and effort – but unforunately, hasn’t shown the basketball knowledge to deny position, maintain concentration for a full shot-clock, etc.

    I’m a Nate fan and think he already has a lot to offer in the way of instant offense as a 6th or 7th man – he’s our best outside shooter, among other things. But it’s hard to argue for more minutes when he shows so many lapses of concentration on the defensive end. I still say he could be our version of Leandro Barbosa, but this may be his last year (in a Knicks uniform) to show it.

  52. Ben

    Z – We need to shoot better at the free throw line but we also need to be better on defense and we need to reduce turnovers and increase assists. Any of those things would make us a better team but until we improve in more than one of those areas we will stuggle to go anywhere in the playoffs. Of all the problem areas the two that really stick out as weaknesses are defense and turnovers but improving free throws would help.

    Brian – I see your point now about how forcing more turnovers might hurt other aspects of our defense, but I think if anything it would actually help them. We were very bad at pressuring the ball handler last year so teams had an easy time setting up their offense. I think if we were more aggressive it would help more often than it would hurt.

    At any rate I think we need to rethink our defensive strategy. There is no reason to be last in any category because we have alot of talented players and we have no excuse stuggling so bad to disrupt the other team.

    I would still say that starting Balkman at SF would go a long way to improving our defense. Our def eff with Balkman was 103. That is incredible. We have enough offensive firepower to be able to absorb the hit that starting Balkman would cause.

  53. DMull

    I can knock down over 80% at the stripe…on double rims..

    It’s tough to say how much Steph improved defensively last year..I wanted to be skeptical of all the praise he was receiving but to the naked eye he was absolutely shut down in a few games against the other teams premier scorer. I agree he has a lot of trouble with quicker guards (Mo Williams anyone?).

    I think the bigger problem for the Knicks than the individual players defensive struggles is their lack of team defense. How many times did you see a team making a couple of passes around the perimeter and absolutely burning the rotations..or as has been noted, we were pick and rolled to death, it was an absolute joke. Plus as someone noted above we played a lot of zone defense and I believe with our poor rotations teams burned us from the outside a lot.

    You watch other teams like the Spurs and the Pistons and they just seem to know their responsibilities a lot better…not many players can stop an NBA PG or SG from getting by him on the dribble…it’s what happens with the team defense after it gets broken down.

  54. Caleb

    Balkman wasn’t bad on offense, either. His TS% was .531, which is pretty average (210th out of 405 NBAers who played more than 500 minutes).

    He had 12 turnovers/100 posessions, which is below average but not by much.

    He can’t shoot, but doesn’t try to do it anyway – he managed to shoot over 50 percent.

    While he’s definitely earned the starting job, in my mind, you have to be careful with the floor combinations. It could get ugly fast if you have Lee, Balkman and Collins (or Jones) out there at the same time. Probably need to stick with a max of two non-shooters at once.

  55. Ben

    I totally agree about the floor combinations. Thats why I would start Balkman and bring Lee and Collins off the bench. If we planned it right no more than two would ever be on the court at the same time. That way we would always have at least two outside shooters on the court at any given time.

  56. dan

    As far as I can tell Steph is looney tunes and not the sharpest crayon in the box. Zach doesn’t seem like the nicest person in the world. Ron Artest probably needs medication and lots of therapy. BUT I DON’T CARE, I DON’T CARE. Just learn the playbook, work together, and hustle. This is the New York knicks and you’re representing alot of people who love basketball and their city.

    The big question: Are these guys handling themselves like professionals or not. Is Curry taking extra freethrows? I constantly here talk about players short comings, both mentally and physically but is this conjecture or are they really blowing the important stuff off? Guys, who’s got some insight for me on what goes on in practice?

  57. retropkid

    When Isaiah complained about the teams’ free throw shooting last year, it was a red herring…they lost games on the floor, not at the line. Sure, they could shoot FTs better, it would help…but the needs are:

    1. Perimeter D…Steph just didn’t deliver here, maybe because of his knees, who knows…but rotations were poor, and the guards didn’t come back and help D rebound (until Mardy got time last 14 gamees). Expecting Steph’s improvement in D to be substantial, is imho, wishful thinking…it isn’t who he is…

    2. Turn-overs, especially at key moments late in games…this is about decision-making…and the one area Zeke needs to improve as a coach too…put the right guys in the right situations.

    3. Rebounds…especially D boards…

    Eddie has to improve markedly in 2 and 3 to be a real force…and that’s before asking him to hit the open man occasionally…

    If we get Garnett, we have a team, and you don’t need Eddie then. Eddie isn’t the answer and neither is Steph…and that goes double for Zeke and his boss too…

  58. iyamwutiam

    If I read the article correctly – which I think I did – re-read it like 3 times. You start out saying Isiah is right – the interior defence WAS good and the 3 point defnce was not.

    THEN- there is a rambling on on about how those numbers MAY NOT be right. Basically a bunch of could be this or that stuff – which is not backed up by ANYTHING – but some possible mystical insight.

    Add to that a digression about how they “general pattern” for 2007 is ‘different’ from the specific pattern of the knicks as a ‘trend’- but (lol) on the OTHER HAND some confusing rhetoric -finally followed by a point – which is the “the knicks may hve been doing something right” , your words.

    But you conclude that despite the statistical evidence to the CONTRARY- because of “conventional wisdom” (what EVER that means)?!?

    Then you basically take a direct quote from Isiah – which in essence is borne out by YOUR statistical analysis (that their interior defence was not the issue but rather their perimeter defence particularly the 3 point line defence) and once again attach your thoughts to it by saying it was Isiah who says that perimeter defence is necessarily linked to interior defence – depite the numbers saying OTHERWISE.

    This is EXTREMELY confusing. This comment is NOT meant to be criticaal – although it is. instead – I hae read a lot of your other work and hate to see so much hard work and sincerity be wASHED AWAY with confusing additons and digressions to the topic at hand.

    Keep up the great job – and thank you for being a valuable asset to the Knicks fans community.

    Lastly- I may have some agreement on whether or not Eddie Curry is being fairly assessed- as noted by other posters.

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