International Relations

In the spirit of international friendship between our two nations and because our two favorite teams will be facing each other Friday night, Scott from RaptorBlog.com and I will be swapping blogs for a day. You can catch my blog on the “new” Knicks there.


Cuz this life is too short
To live it just for you
But when you feel so powerless
What are you gonna do?
So say what you want

— “Powerless”
Nelly Furtado

Since I’m guest blogging for Mike, I figured I’d drop some Canadian content on y’all with the opening lyrics. Also, they’re an apt summary of my current state as a Raptors fan. Toronto’s recent injuries and pathetic performance have me feeling powerless and all I can do is bitch about it.

Knicks fans have undoubtedly been watching the Raptors’ recent struggles with great interest due to the effect they have on your playoff position. Toronto has lost 10 of their last 11 games with six of those losses occurring while Vince Carter and Jalen Rose were sidelined. Jalen is on the IL recovering from his broken hand but Vince is back in uniform. Even though he’s still suffering from his ankle injury from two weeks ago, he’s still the key to any hopes we have of making the post-season.

In his current condition, Carter does not have the explosiveness to beat your defenders off the dribble nor does he have the mobility to defend your quick guards. It won’t surprise me if Allan Houston gets the open looks he needs on Friday to rediscover his shooting stroke. Raptors’ coach Kevin O’Neill’s best bet would be to put Morris Peterson on H20, since Mo Pete is our best perimeter defender right now.

Down low, Chris Bosh will probably be unable to stop Nazr Mohammed and Kurt Thomas from dunking and rebounding at will. Bosh is woefully undersized at center and his bum ankle negates any athletic advantage he might have. I’m not particularly hopeful for a repeat performance of his 18-point, eight-rebound, four-block performance against your team in January. In his current emaciated, crippled condition, he’s as well-suited to play center as Al Sharpton is to become your next president.

At this point, you’re probably wondering if the Raptors have any hope whatsoever of preventing an old-fashioned New York beatdown at the Air Canada Centre. If Toronto has a secret weapon, it’s Donyell Marshall. Jalen Rose was the biggest name in November’s trade with Chicago, but Marshall has proven to be the true stud in this deal. He’s averaged 17 points and 10 rebounds as a Raptor while shooting 42 percent from three-point range. Donyell is our “stealth bomber”. Several times a game, Vince will drive and draw a double-team before dishing out to Marshall for a wide-open trey. The Thomas boys would be wise to stick to Donyell like glue rather than worry about Carter taking it to the hole. These days, his drives are mostly decoys.

I’m not even going to bother discussing Friday’s point guard matchup. Marbury vs. Palacio is more lopsided than a dance-off between Usher and William Hung. On Wednesday night, Starbury outscored Milt 36-0. I just threw up in my mouth while writing that last sentence.

Once your current group gets used to playing with each other, I think the Knicks could really make some noise in the post-season. Unfortunately, I can’t bring myself to root for your team even after the Raptors are inevitably stomped in the first round like a narc at a biker rally. I could never support a team run by a cold-hearted snake like Isiah Thomas. Oh, you’re cheering him now. But one day, you’ll see what a complete bastard, what a psychotic megalomaniac he is. And when that day comes, I’ll laugh and have a sandwich. Isiah has failed at everything he’s done since he retired from his playing career. It will be particularly sweet to see him crucified once and for all by the ruthless vipers in the New York media. Peter Vescey is sharpening his knives as I write this, waiting for the right moment to strike the killing blow…

Whoa, sorry about that. I got a little carried away with my Zeke-hate there. Anyway, good luck on Friday. But don’t count on seeing too many “Welcome back, Lenny” signs in the stands. The only reason we’re glad to see him again is that he’s coaching our opponents this time.

Email Scott

OR

Illadelph

Aiyyo I’m all the way way, Phil Phil-lay-lay
People wanna see the way the Illadel play
Yo, look in the mirror, watch what yourself say

— “Dynamite”
The Roots

In our continuing saga, Nazr Mohammed stays out of foul (4) trouble to play 40 minutes. For those without a calculator (or any semblance of math skills), his average last night of 4.8 PF/48min is much lower than his season average (5.8). It could have been even lower except he picked up a foul on a weak call on a loose ball. The Sixer defender (Dalembert?) was falling on the ground without control of the ball, and Nazr just took a swipe at it. If I recall correctly, that was his third foul, and he came out of the game. The last time Nazr played 40 minutes was on January 21, 2002, more than two years ago. It was his third 40+ minute game in a 4 game span. In those 4 games, he averaged 19 points and 17 rebounds.

Othella Harrington and Kurt both were in foul trouble. ‘Thella had 5 fouls in 14 minutes. That’s an average of 17PF in 48min! He scored a grand total of 0 points. His days as the backup PF are numbered. You can see that Wilkens is trying to get Sweetney more minutes, because he would love to have Sweetney as the primary backup. It’s just that the rookie out of Georgetown isn’t ready yet. Wilkens even tried to start Sweetney, but that was a disaster.

The case against Othella Harrington being around much longer keeps growing. Consider:

  • He makes stupid fouls, and the Knicks already have enough big guys to send them into the penalty every quarter.
  • Their most prized rookie (Sweetney) plays the same position.
  • Isaiah Thomas is trying to make the team younger, and Harrington is 30.
  • Vin Baker might sign with the Knicks.
  • Rasheed Wallace has said he would like to sign with the Knicks.
  • Next year will be the last year of his contract.

I doubt he’ll be wearing a Knick uniform next year. His $3.15 million dollar expiring contract will be attractive to a team looking for a little cap space.

One more thing: don’t miss tomorrow’s column, with a special post for the Friday game against Toronto.

Miss Cleo or KnickerBlogger?

you can’t tell the future in a cookie
but do you ever get the hint?
and you can place your hand on a crystal ball
do you ever think you’ll win?

— “Tales From Tomorrow”
Pulsars

Today Lenny Wilkens proclaimed (for the second time) that Nazr Mohammed will be the Knicks starting center. I’m glad I predicted in my last column that he would be the Knicks starter. Of the numerous articles I’ve read, none have mentioned the one problem that keeps Nazr from being the Knicks’ starter: his foul trouble. Here’s a quick recap of Nazr’s Knick history:

2/20 – His first game as a Knick, Mohammed backs up Mutombo. Nazr plays 17 minutes, but commits 4 fouls. He only scores 2 points, but has 6 rebounds and 2 blocks.

2/22 – Again the backup, Nazr only plays 12 minutes, and again he gets 6 rebounds.

2/24 – Wilkens decides to make Mohammed the starter (for the first time). He plays well for 33 minutes, scoring 15 points, and grabbing 8 rebounds. He stays out of foul trouble, with only 2 PFs.

2/25 – Nazr starts again. This is the game Tim Thomas hurts his elbow, and the Knicks are shorthanded. Mohammed’s time is limited to 17 minutes due to 4 fouls.

2/27 – Unhappy with Mohammed’s foul trouble, and fed up with Mutombo’s inability to cover his own man, Wilkens plays Kurt Thomas at center, and Harrington at PF. Nazr plays well of the bench for 23 minutes, with 12 rebounds and 5 points (and only 2 fouls). Harrington shows he’s not the answer as the starting PF.

2/29 – Wilkens continues with his Kurt Thomas at center (again) experiment, but this time Sweetney starts at PF. The rookie gets into foul trouble quickly in the first quarter, and the PF/C minutes are split between Harrington (8), Mutombo (14), and Nazr (17). Nazr is a non-factor with only 2 points and 2 rebounds.

3/03 – Mohammed to start at home against the Sixers.

In his 6 games, Mohammed has had 2 good games, 2 games where he’s had foul trouble, and 2 non-factor games due to not enough minutes. If being in foul trouble in 2 out of 4 or 6 games seems to be a lot, it’s because it is. His average this year of 5.8PF/48min is below his career average of 6.1. In case you think this might be inflated due to his limited minutes (small sample size), when he started 73 games in ’01, he averaged 5.6. Keith Van Horn who was criticized for committing dumb fouls, only had 4.6FP/48min. Across the river, Jason Collins (5.2) and Kenyon Martin (4.8) foul less than Mohammed. The Knicks have a problem in this area, since Sweetney (6.0) and Harrington (7.3) are also foul prone. Only Deke stays out of trouble with 4.5PF/48min. I guess arguing with the refs on every play pays off for Mt. Mutombo.

At this moment, the only thing stopping Nazr Mohammed from being the Knicks starting center is himself. I think even if Nazr can’t stay on the court, he’ll still start, since the Knicks don’t have any options in this area. I’ll be shocked if Mutombo or Harrington starts again (unless players get injured). If Sweetney develops into a solid contributor, then Wilkens might be pushed into putting him into the starting role, and moving Kurt to center. However I don’t think that will happen this year.

Mohammed would be smart to make a name for himself now, before Vin Baker comes to town. If he?s plays well and becomes entrenched as the starter, it will be harder for Baker to take that spot away. That’s the only legitimate threat Mohammed has, other than the officials.

The Next 5 Games

There was something I really wanted to show you
But I just can’t find it

— “Can’t Find It”
Smoking Popes

I was reading the newspaper this morning (online of course), and one of the lines caught my eyes:

SOFT SCHEDULE: All of the Knicks’ next five games are against teams with losing records.

The sentence implies that the Knicks will be at an advantage their next few games, since they are playing “bad” teams. But is this really true? There is a well known formula that you can use to try to predict who will win a certain matchup. According to Dean Oliver:

In a 0.500 league, i.e., where all we have are the overall records and no information about home court advantage, etc.:

Win%A_B = [Win%A*(1-Win%B)]/[Win%A*(1-Win%B)+(1-Win%A)*Win%B],

where Win%A_B is the chance that A will beat B, Win%A is A’s winning percentage against the league, and Win%B is B’s winning percentage against the league.

So I took the Knicks next 5 opponents, and plugged their records into a spreadsheet. Using the above equation, I was able to figure out what the Knicks’ chances are to win each game (KN_w%).

Knicks Opponent	W	L	Pct	KN_w%
 Philadelphia	24	36	.400	.527
 Toronto Raps	25	34	.424	.503
 Washington	19	39	.328	.604
 Boston Celts	26	36	.419	.507
 Philadelphia	24	36	.400	.527

According to this equation, the Knicks have about an even chance at beating the Raptors and the Celtics. They have slightly better odds against the Sixers (twice), and pretty good odds against the Wizards. In fact according to this, the Knicks should be favorites in 3 of the five games, and at least even in the other two. However, a keen eye might notice that this equation doesn’t care who is at home or away. If teams do better at home, wouldn’t we want to take account of this?

The answer is yes. Since I already had the NBA standings in my spreadsheet, I decided to calculate the home records for whole league. The home team in the NBA this year wins 64% of the time. That seems to be a huge advantage, so can’t we account for this in our matchup equation? Luckily someone already thought of this as well. Back to Dean’s web page:

For example, if Team A is the home court team and Win%H is the percentage of times the home team wins, we have

Win%A_B = [Win%A*(1-Win%B)*Win%H]/[Win%A*(1-Win%B)*Win%H+(1-Win%A)* Win%B*(1-Win%H)]

So recalculating:

H?	Knicks Opponent	W	L	Pct	KN_w%	KN_w%lgw
H	 Philadelphia	24	36	.400	.527	.667
A	 Toronto Raps	25	34	.424	.503	.360
A	 Washington	19	39	.328	.604	.459
H	 Boston	Celts	26	36	.419	.507	.649
A	 Philadelphia	24	36	.400	.527	.382
Home teams in bold

Now things have radically changed. The Knicks are substantial favorites in their two home games against the Sixers and the Celts. They are underdogs against the other three teams, and substantially more against the Raptors and Sixers. What’s especially noteworthy is that they play the Sixers twice. Against Philly, they go from being a 67% team at home to a 38% team on the road. Also in a neutral site, they are most likely to beat Washington, but accounting for home court advantage, they are no longer the favorite.

Of course these are just percentages. The Knicks could win all 5 games (1 in 37 chance), or they could loose all 5 (1 in 40 chance). Going back to the newspaper quote, you might expect the Knicks to win 3 or 4 of their next 5 games, but in reality they’re expected to only win 2 or 3.

On a final note, this equation doesn’t take into account many factors. The two most important I can think of are injuries, and whether the records used are indicative of a team’s true strength. For example this Knick team is radically different from the one that started 2-8. Let’s say with the additions of Marbury, Hardaway, Nazr, Tim Thomas, and Lenny Wilkens the Knicks are better than their record. If they were let’s say a .500 team, things would change even more. The Knicks would become heavy favorites at home against Philly (73%) and Boston (71%), slight favorites away against Washington (53%), and slight underdogs against Philly (45%) and Toronto (43%).

Choices

Three choices.
One bullet.
One trigger.
Guess who gets to pull it?

— Head? Chest? or Foot?
Propogandhi

Last night, Lenny Wilkens came out with a lineup I was thoroughly pleased with. The big changes were Kurt Thomas starting at center for the second straight game and rookie Michael Sweetney started at PF. It was Sweetney’s first start in the NBA.

I thought this was a good lineup because, arguably Kurt might be our best starting center. Mutombo, albeit a good help defender and rebounder, is too slow to guard other centers one on one. Deke might have the worst footwork of any big man I’ve seen on the offensive end. He can turn a 3 foot layup into an 8 foot hook shot. Nazr Mohammed looks promising at times. His post moves look good, although he’s missing a lot, and his rebounding is solid. However he keeps getting into foul trouble, averaging 5.8PF/48mins as a Knick.

This year Thomas’ scoring is down, but he might be the best scorer of the three. Not only that, but he might be the best man-to-man defender of the three (certainly he’s not worse than Mutombo). Of the other two, Nazr might be a better pure center, but we won’t know until he can stay in the game for more than 20 minutes on a consistent basis.

When he joined the Knicks, Isaiah Thomas was shocked that the #9 pick in the draft was wasting away on the I.R. One of the advantages to drafting Sweetney out of Georgetown was that he was supposed to be ready to play in the NBA. Against the Clippers, Wilkens started Thomas at center, and gave Kurt’s old starting spot at PF to Othella Harrington. Harrington was, to be kind, unspectacular in 25 minutes. So why not try the rookie out and see what he has?

Sweetney got into foul trouble quickly, and was yanked early in the first quarter. His line for the game was as empty as they come: 9mins, 0-1FG, 4PFs, and nothing else. It could have been worse, Harrington could have come in & done well. Instead Harrington was limited to 8 minutes, where he only had 2 points, 2 turnovers, and 1 foul.

Nazr and Deke split about 31 minutes at center, and Thomas split his 41 minutes between PF and C. Out of all the people mentioned in this entry, only Thomas had a good stat line: 9-19 with 18 points and 11 boards.

It’s no secret that the Knicks have a problem in the middle. Each option has a big weakness or two. It looks like Wilkens is tired of watching other centers have career nights against the Knicks. Which leaves either Nazr or Kurt to start at center. If Kurt starts, who will get the nod at PF, Sweetney or Harrington? Basically it’s a three man competition, since Kurt Thomas will start at either center or power forward. Who will get the nod between Mohammed, Harrington, or Sweetney? All three foul too often to tell. I’d love to say Sweetney will develop, but I think he just hasn’t had enough playing time. I’ll go with Mohammed, since he’s more ready to play now than Sweetney and has a higher ceiling than Othella.

LA Clippers 96, New York 94

I had it, and I lost it,
Now you’ve got to
help me get it back again

— “Lost It”
The Hippos

Yesterday I had the good fortune of watching the Knicks play again. But what if you actually had a life & were doing something else last night other than watching the game? How would you learn about the game?

I imagine most people would pickup a paper, or if you?re reading this probably go online to read a recap of the game. ESPN?s recap spends a lot of time on what happened in the last few minutes to win or loose a game, but they usually don?t mention what happened in the rest of the game. Sure they?ll tell you how many points a certain player scored, and any spectacular plays that happened early on. But most likely it?s the last few minutes that they?ll concentrate on. I like to look at the box score to get a fuller picture of how the team played.

The Knicks outscored the Clippers in 3 of the 4 quarters, but it was Los Angeles? big first quarter that was the deciding factor. The Knicks had a slight edge in FG%, FT%, and turnovers. The rebounding edge went to the Clippers who had 3 more offensive boards, but maybe the biggest statistical advantage was the three point shots. L.A. hit 6 of 17, while the Knicks were only 2-11, a paltry percentage. I can recall from watching the game that at least twice the Clippers had an uncontested three point shot due to a poor defensive rotation.

Both teams attempted lots of free throws. Looking at the NBA team stats, teams average between 19 and 28 FTA per game, and shoot an average of 66%-80%. This night, the teams would both exceed the maximums in each. The Knicks hit 30 of 33 free throws (91%), and the Clips were 24 of 29 (83%). You can verify that both teams are generous with sending their opponents to the charity stripe (without accounting for pace).

Looking over the individual efforts, Marbury scored 28 points in 45 minutes. That means he sat out for only 3 minutes. I looked to see how much the Knick backup PGs played, and ?lo & behold at the bottom there are two DNP-CD?s next to Norris and Frank Williams? names. Most likely, Penny played the point while Stephon was resting. Not a good sign for Frank Williams? fans.

Tim Thomas was next in scoring with 22 points in 39 minutes. Other than hitting all of his free throws, the rest of his stat sheet was unspectacular with 4 boards, 2 assists, only 1 turnover (good for the amount of minutes he played) and 5 fouls (not so good).

Kurt Thomas had 4 fouls in only 16 minutes, Tim Thomas had 5, Othella had 4, and Sweetney had 3 minutes. In the ?why didn?t they get more minutes? department, I would nominate the Knicks? starting centers of the two games before. Nazr Mohammed seemed to have a good night. After his poor outing yesterday, he had 12 rebounds with 5 on the offensive end, in only 23 minutes. Mutombo had 3 offensive boards in 13 minutes. Statistically, the Knicks might have been better giving Harrington?s minutes to Nazr or Deke (by having Kurt Thomas at the 4 instead of the 5). Harrington had a horrible statistical night, 6 points, 4 fouls, and only 3 boards in 25 minutes.

On the other end of the box score, Richardson, Brand, and Maggette combined for more than half of their teams? points (58), rebounds (22), free throws (15/18), and blocks (3). Richardson and Jaric hit all of the Clips 6 treys. Simmons and Wilcox provided some spark off the bench with 21 points and 12 rebounds.

From the box score I would think that the teams were pretty evenly matched. The only differences that stick out are the 4 more three pointers, and the 3 more offensive rebounds. It was a game that could have gone either way, and since I witnessed it, I know this was certainly true.

Suns 113, Knicks 95

It is time
It is time for
It is time for stormy weather

–“Stormy Weather”
The Pixies

Even though you can analyze basketball fairly well with statistics, there is much to basketball that doesn’t show up in the stat sheet. On the same note those that watch the game without a good understanding of the stats will not be getting the whole picture either. If you watched a game, you wouldn’t know if someone shot 42% (10/24) or 50% (12/24), unless you kept track. The difference is only 2 shots out of 24, but someone who shoots 50% consistently would be one of the league leaders, whereas a 42% shooter would be at the other end of the spectrum.

Unfortunately last night’s game coincided with the funniest show on tv, so I did miss a good 20 minutes or so. The game wasn’t a close match, so I really didn’t feel like I missed much. I wanted to concentrate on the Knicks that I haven’t seen much of, namely Nazr Mohammed, Tim Thomas, and rookie Michael Sweetney, who has moved up the depth charts recently. I know what they do statistically, but I wanted to learn how they compiled their numbers.

Tim Thomas hurt his arm on the first play of the game. He would stay in the game for a few minutes, and have the most exciting play of the night for the Knicks. It started when Marbury stole the ball & headed up court with the closest Sun right behind in hot pursuit. Knowing he couldn’t have made the basket with a defender in tow, near the basket Marbury made a nice behind the back backwards pass to the trailing Thomas. Thomas followed with an athletic dunk. In my head I imagined Van Horn on that play. Keith would have missed the lay-up, but get the offensive board and get fouled on the ensuing shot. It was a prime example of the “athleticism” everyone had been talking about. Thomas would leave the game shortly after due to the elbow injury, and not return.

My focus drifted to Nazr Mohammed. I want to see what kind of offensive skills he has. A PF can average 10 PPG, but you can’t tell from the stat sheet whether he scores primarily by jump shots, posting up, or from offensive rebounds. Nazr did appear to like to work from the post. His first attempt was a post up fadeaway, but he started so far from the paint, it fell way short of the hoop. The next time he was posting up closer to the hoop, and spun into the paint. He missed again, but the move looked pretty good. His only points of the night were the results of a great pass by Marbury under the hoop for an easy dunk. He also had a nice pass out of a double team in the post to a wide open Kurt Thomas.

Nazr Mohammad only scored 2 points because he was in foul trouble all night. If you didn’t watch the game, you would know this by looking at the box score. When someone who would probably play 25-30 minutes, plays only 14 and has 4 fouls in that span, you can conclude that they had foul trouble. However if you just looked at the stat sheet, you wouldn’t know that Nazr committed a stupid foul on McDyess. With less than 5 seconds left in the half Mohammed committed a reach in foul under the hoop, which sent the former Knick McDyess to the foul line. It was no surprise to me that Mohammed was in foul trouble. Looking at his per 48 minutes, Mohammed averages 5.8 personal fouls. That?s almost as high as team leader Othella Harrington (7.3), and the same as Kurt Thomas. The next current Knicks on the list are Sweetney (4.6) and Mutombo (4.5).

Seeing Michael Sweetney next to Jahidi was the only other highlight for me. They are both large men. At one point White was driving to the hoop, put up a shot and on the way down crashed into a stationary Sweetney. Instead of following the shot, my eyes followed White?s trajectory. I was surprised that Sweetney was not only able to hold his ground, but he repelled the massive White. The Knicks rookie PF looks skilled, but lost at times especially on defense. I expect that if the Knicks are patient enough to give him playing time, this befuddled play will disappear as it did with another New Yorker, who was wide eyed early in his career.

Moochie Norris, although not on my list to watch, made a name for himself on my notepad. He embarrassed himself last twice last night. In the first half while bringing the ball up, Kurt Thomas was wide open on the far side waiving his arms frantically asking for the ball. By the time Moochie woke up from his daydream and passed Thomas the ball, the defense collapsed on Kurt, forcing him to take a bad shot. The second bungle was without the ball. Norris freed himself on a screen, but as the ball was passed to him, he tripped on his own feet, and fell flat onto the court. Why Norris gets any time ahead of Frank Williams is a column for another day.

The Knicks were lit up last night by the inside presence of the Suns. It seems that the last few games teams have figured out how weak the Knicks are up the middle, and have been exploiting this. Jahidi White, who is averaging 4.7 PPG this year, tore up the Knicks. He looked like Shaq on the offensive glass, pulling down 5 offensive boards in only 15 minutes. Amare Stoudemire posterized Deke with a dunk, then to add insult to injury, rejected him at the other end. It was that kind of night.