Early Results Suggest Improvement

Although the season is still young, perhaps enough games have passed (11 of 82, or 13.4%) for us to get a handle on some of the emerging trends for the Knicks? ongoing 06-07 campaign, and in particular to see how things compare to last season?s trainwreck. Some have suspected (or outright accused) Larry Brown of deliberately veering the 05-06 Titaknicks headlong into disaster, and so it bears investigating how the undoubtedly earnest bailing efforts of captain Isiah are proceeding thus far, with essentially the same cast and crew as the last go-around.

The Quick
Preseason proclamations from Thomas indicated that the Knicks would resort to a more up-tempo style this season, under the hood of a seemingly complicated hybrid offense dubbed ?The Quick.? At least as regards overall pace, such claims have thus far been more shtick than quick. The Knicks? pace factor is indeed slightly higher?91.8 possessions per game this season, versus 90.8 last season. However, this slight uptick in pace is more readily attributable to faster league-wide play than anything the Knicks are doing in particular. (Remember, pace is a function of both how fast you play and how fast your opponent plays.) Both last season and so far this season, New York is playing at almost exactly the league average pace (90.6 poss/g in 05-06, 91.8 poss/g in 06-07). A drop in offensive rebounding prowess (see below) may also be contributing to the Knicks? slightly faster pace thus far.

The Knicks are playing quicker on the level of individual possessions as well, taking 42% of their shots within the first 10 seconds of the shot clock, compared to 35% under Larry Brown?s more deliberate offensive attack. It?s difficult to judge this increase relative to league-wide trends, however, as 82games.com does not provide stats for league-wide shot clock usage.

Offensive efficiency
Last season the Knicks ranked 25th in offensive efficiency, posting a paltry 103.7 points per 100 possessions. At times it seemed as if every possession was a mortal struggle to score (even the ones not involving Malik Rose). Subjectively, the Knicks? offense seems more free-flowing this season (though too often dominated by one-on-one play), and the numbers back up this impression, as the Knicks currently stand at 107.1 points per 100 possessions, good for 13th in the league.

A closer look at the four factors shows that last season, NY was excellent at offensive rebounding (4th in oreb%) and getting to the line (1st in FT/FGA), but that these considerable strengths were completely overshadowed by below average shooting (22nd in eFG%) and unspeakably awful ballhandling (30th in TO per 100 possessions at 19.5, a full 1.4 more TO/100poss than 29th placed Boston). This season, without Brown?s constant harping about playing the right way, New York is no longer great at offensive rebounding (16th) or getting to the charity stripe (11th), and has only slightly improved its shooting (48.8 eFG%, good for 14th in the league, vs. 48.1 eFG% last season). Nonetheless, the offense has been significantly better due primarily to significantly better ball handling?so far, the Knicks have shaved off 2.3 TO per 100 possessions from their 19.5 mark last season, making them an average ballhandling club rather than a rock-bottom one.

Defensive efficiency
Brown?s regime was supposed to have marked an infusion of defensive-minded play, but the Knicks struggled on D, giving up 111.3 points per 100 possessions (26th overall). They were below average at all of the defensive 4 factors except for their merely average defensive rebounding prowess. Isiah?s Knicks are actually stingier defenders thus far than Larry?s Knicks, surrendering 107.9 points per 100 possessions (22nd). The improvement in D appears to be driven entirely by opponent eFG%, where the Knicks currently give up 48.6% (15th) rather than 51.1% (22nd); the numbers for the remaining 3 defensive factors are comparable to last season?s, with average defensive rebounding and below-average performance in terms of forcing turnovers and keeping opponents off of the free throw line.

On balance, this year?s Knicks are thus far an impressive 3.4 points per 100 possessions better on both ends of the court than last year?s squad, making their net efficiency (-0.8 points per 100 possessions) resemble that of a .500 team. Perhaps a team performing within the vicinity of .500 ball is nothing to get excited about, but it’s nonetheless a steep improvement over a team contending for the #1 lottery pick (like last year?s team, which posted a hair-raising net efficiency of -7.6 points per 100 possessions).

So although all is not roses in MSG?s hallowed boobird halls just yet, the early results point to a team that might be mildly, rather than wildly, disappointing over the course of the full season. Of course, there is still ample room for the team to breathtakingly overshoot or undershoot these tentatively drawn out early trends.

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20 thoughts to “Early Results Suggest Improvement”

  1. Great research Brian!

    Offensive rebounding could be done for two reasons. First is that the Knicks had some decent rebounders over the course of last year: Butler, Antonio Davis, and Trevor Ariza. Even this year’s best rebounders (Lee & Balkman) don’t get a lot of minutes.

    The other theory is that the Knicks’ new offense is not glass friendly. Frye & Curry’s offensive rebounding numbers are down, at least 1 OREB/40 each.

    Of course, it could be a bit of both.

  2. According to 82games.com, thus far the Knicks’ shot attempts are distributed across the court the same way as they were last year (57% jumpers, 35% close shots, 6% dunks and 2% tips). However, not only is the team shooting worse on jumpers (38.9 vs 40.9 eFG%), the efficiency of all shots close to the basket is also much better this year (62.9 vs. 57.2 eFG%). The net effect of all this is that this season, 31.4% of NY’s oreb opportunities are close-in misses, whereas last season 35.3% of the oreb opportunities were off close-in shots. That must account for some of the difference (assuming misses off of jumpers are indeed more difficult to offensive rebound than misses off of close shots). Presumably some of the drop can also be attributed to Isiah’s penchant for smaller lineups.

    Still, I get the sense that some non-trivial fraction of the dropoff is due to difference in coaching philosophy, even beyond what kinds of lineups have been deployed. NY’s spike in oreb% and FT/FGA last season seem very much like “Larry Brown effects” rather than solely being explicable by changes in personnel and types of rebounding opportunities.

  3. I think it may be too early in the season to be sure if there is tangible improvement. Two of the Knick wins have been substantial blowouts that could skew the data in their favor. However, removing these games from the stats in hopes of getting a more result more indicative of their level of play is also problematic, because this accounts for 20% of the games played and half the wins. It’ll take more time for us to be sure if the coaching change has improved the team.

  4. Certainly it’s a bit early, but you can tell that the team is making progress even from just a visual non tangible look at the team. The team looks far more attentive on D and even tho they still make mistakes, there’s a different feel to the way this team is playing.

    Statwise I think that we’ve had a few key guys go thru scoring slumps and that has had an effect on the production as have minor and major injuries. I think this team will continue to improve and pick up steam. It seems that isiah is having a much easier time in addressing team problems, cuz his rotations are more sure and it’s clearer where the problems actually are. This in turn will lead to REAL improvement as the year goes along. This was one of my major problems with what LB did last year. He made it impossible to really diagnose what the problems were from an individual and team aspect. We needed some stability and consistency to measure against. Without that you just can’t be sure what you’re looking at. Now we know for sure who’s performing properly and who isn’t. A bit more consistency over a 20 game spread gives you some real production to look at. I can’t wait for this team to be clicking on all cylinders. I don’t think we’ve seen the best of this team yet.

  5. Frye/Marbury have been killing our shooting percentages but there’s major signs for hope for both of them the last few games. We’ll see if that translates to a real improvement over the rest of the season. I agree with Nix – if this team ever gets their act together they can compete with anyone (if not consistently).

  6. Well said nixluva. I think the prime example of LB’s damage on the team would be Frye. LB killed Frye last year. He started out with league-wide recognition for possible rookie of the year. By the end of the year, he was so mixed up by what brown did, he had little to no confidence. I think that was his problem at the beginning of this season. He probably still had it in his head that he MUST perform, or be benched. That’s a lot of pressure. As the games continued, and he was left in the starting lineup (read…no DNP CD’s), he regained some of his confidence and is playing WAY better. I think they’ll do okay. In my humble opinion, doing okay(this year) is better than doing bad(last year). I’m not a part of this wierd contingent that believes theres some magical GM out there that will instantly make the ‘titaknicks’ better. As long as there is progress being made, I’m happy.

    I’m personlly excited to see what a Curry, Frye, Jeffries, Richardson, Marbury lineup would look like. Or i’m just crazy. Probably the second.

  7. Several questionable coaching decisions by IT, most recently getting kicked out of the game. Its clear better players are available like Nate and Lee, why not have ‘superstars’ Francis/Curry come off the bench? This starting 5 written in stone is the same thing Brown did wrong only in reverse…the problem was not the tinkering with the starting 5 but the flawed roster.

  8. I like Nate and Lee coming off the bench. They’re a great second unit. You have curry and marbury coming off the bench, you lose that spark. Although, I think if Lee started he’d probably average 15rpg.

  9. I really think that Zeke should hire EWING to work solely with Curry,Frye and the other big men.The bigs should be his sole responsibility giving Aguirre and or Williams a helping hand.He is 1 of the gr8test ctrs. of all time.With him helping our bigs should only help them,not hinder them.Helpful hints on jumpshooting and low post work from him,after all would only help all our bigs improve!Thank GOD the Larry Clown show left town!!! The way he undermined the team,he doesn’t deserve half the settlement he got!!!!What an Ego-Maniacal JACKASS!!!!! With that said;Zeke has the players spouting 1 mantra:Team Basketball and that’s something LCLOWN COULDN’T DO LAST SEASON!!!!That,in itself,suggests Improvement.

  10. One thing I forgot to mention is,when Jeffries returns they should improve even more Bcuase of his defense,rebounding and ball handling skills.Zeke was real confident B4 he was injured.He signed him 4 the X-factor he brings.Proving he stays healthy when he returns,by mid to late January we should have a better idea whether or not this team has truly improved!!

  11. I’m confident that Isiah will end up having done a FAR better job than LB did. It’s a process of undoing all that LB did last year. These players are gaining confidence and with so many young players who need to gain experience, the team is likley to show more growth as the season moves along.

    My biggest disappointment was Jared going down, cuz the idea was to see how this team played with a solid defender in there. To see how we played with another ball mover out on the floor as well. Having Frye, Jared and Curry out there makes for a very impressive defensive posture. Jared bridges the gap because he can cover so much more ground. It actually would make Frye and Curry better defensively, cuz he’d be out there allowing them to cover a smaller range. He’s like adding a shortstop with great range. He just makes things easier for the other infielders.

    As it is with Q playing so much better, Balkman and Lee giving us so much on D, Nate’s energy, Jamals scoring and we have yet to see the best from our starters, I think this team is already showing signs of possibly being much better.

  12. Another thing to consider is that Frye and Marbury’s numbers will improve. Both are learning a new type of game. it’s no accident that both of them are experiencing a dip in numbers since the pick and roll game is no longer a key part of the offense. once they get it together, they’ll be much better. Also, Marbury’s offensive dip isn’t that bad when you consider that he (in spite of a couple of clunker games) is demonstrating more of a commitment to D. And Frye is doing better on that end.

    I don’t know if Lee would board that much better. Don’t you think he benefits from having Nate and Crawford throw bad shots up for him to chase?

    I think that the hard decision will be what to do with Francis/Q Jeffries when Jeffries is healthy. I’d like to see Q at the 2 and Jeffries at the 3, but I don’t see how Francis can be relegated to a 2nd unit guy…

  13. Just watched the rockets game. no starchise down the stretch, and the towel was in the larry-brown-hating position….

    Nate’s block was, well, very nice! I liked the DLee, Frye pairing up front, and Curry played with some fire when he wasn’t in foul trouble. In all, every knick under 28 looked pretty good, I thought, but not as good as the Rockets (who some say could win it all).

    I must say I enjoyed the game.

  14. May I make a mild suggestion: David Lee should start.

    Oh, he’s too short to guard the big men, is he? He just guarded Yao, who at 7′ 6″ is one of the taller players in the Milky Way galaxy. Yao had a big game, but Lee only had him for 20 minutes or so.

    This idea of players providing a spark? Well, let me explain. When you were in middle school, and the coach told you: “We need you TO PROVIDE A SPARK off the bench” — he was really just protecting your feelings. You weren’t good enough to start.

    There’s no such thing as providing a spark off the bench. The only place to spark anything is ON THE FLOOR. The scorebook doesn’t care if you just came in the game, or you’ve been in the game for 10 minutes. A basket still counts as two points.

    I’ll be happy to explain that more, if there are any questions.

    But, the important thing is playing time. Let’s get Robinson and Lee into the game.

  15. The encouraging sign is that Frye is playing better though it seems that jumper needs some work. It’s no longer automatic like it was last year.

    Crawford is one of our most inefficient scorers and it befuddles me that he continues to lead the team in FGA. If we want any chance to compete Marbury has to be un-neutered.

    I think it’s become pretty evident that Curry needs to sit. He has become a detriment and the sooner IT realizes it, the better our defense will be.

  16. Hey, at least we got Nate’s block out of the Rockets game, right?

    I was at the game in a heavy Chinese attendance section – so it was all Rockets rooting.

    Quite annoying.

    And yes, why is Marbury playing so neutered? It is weird.

  17. Sorry, Jeffries is not the answer. This is a team of overpaid underachievers in need of a stern coach, (Brown, Riley, Jackson.) We had one, they ran him out. The team has no Nationally Televised Games. (No ESPN, No ABC, No TNT)…If that’s not a collective negative assessment of Isiah’s work, I don’t know what is. Yes, I’m a KNICK LIFER who’s has to call it like I see it. I want the losses to mount…So, KiKi V. can come in and clean this mess up. He did a great quickly with the NUGGETS. Isiah is getting what he deserves. Kharma is Btch…

    Credit: A blog post from NYpost.com that I found interesting.

  18. I could not be more pleased with the Knicks so early on this season. It is so exciting to see the performance. It is even more satisfying to see the coaching of Isiah Thomas. How rewarding.
    Yes, how rewarding it is to see the next phase of the KNICKS demise under the guidance of Mr. Bright himself, Isiah Thomas. He deserves everything he gets. I do hope and trust it is the size 11 boot of Dolan out the door.
    thanks to Thomas it is hard to remember that the KNICKS were the number one team the NBA in Spirit, Strength, TEAM play, reputation. Thanks to Thomas he has single handedly ripped the franchise to shreds. What a shame and what a sham.

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