Marbury is the Problem

[Today’s column comes to us from KnickerBlogger Point Guard Specialist David Crockett, Ph.D. David is an Assistant Professor of Marketing at the University of South Carolina, and can be reached at This article was originally written earlier this week, but was bumped by the Editor In Chief in an effort to improve international relations. It has been published in it’s original form.]

The past two games against the Chicago Bulls should not be cause to overreaction here in Knick Nation. No one really has any good reason to expect this team to be a vast improvement over last year’s edition, even when healthy. It may be a tad more exciting than last season’s edition, but it will not jell into a good basketball team. This is life in the NBA’s salary cap purgatory, a place the Knicks seem to have taken up permanent residence in the penthouse apartment. On the bright side, at least some cap relief is on the way. This summer the contracts of Vin Baker, Penny Hardaway, and Tim Thomas enter their final seasons. If I am not mistaken so does Moochie Norris’s contract, either through option or buyout. My hope is that Isiah Thomas thinks very seriously about preserving roster spots for young developing players, not merely dealing those contracts for someone else’s mistake.

Having said that, let me also offer Isiah Thomas another piece of sage advice. This offseason trade Stephon Marbury while you still can. In every sense Thomas has tied his own fate, and that of the franchise to Marbury’s considerable offensive talent. In many respects Marbury has lived up to what could have been reasonably expected based on past performance. Offensively, if one considers shooting prowess, ability to create scoring opportunities for others, and propensity for turnovers Marbury may well indeed be the league’s best point guard. He is certainly among the best. He is 4th in overall PER 2nd in eFG%, 2nd in assist ratio, and tied for best turnover ratio among players at his position according to the Knickerblogger’s stat page.

Player.............	PER	eFG%	Ast-r	TO-r
Dwyane Wade (Mia).. 24.10 49.6 23.4 12.5
Steve Nash (Pho)... 22.49 57.0 41.1 11.8
Allen Iverson (Phi) 22.47 44.6 19.1 10.3
Stephon Marbury(NY) 21.98 50.7 29.6 10.3

These are indeed impressive accomplishments that are far too often dismissed by sports pundits who appear contractually obligated to promote Jason Kidd as the archetypal point guard at the expense of all others. Then, as the syllogism goes, sense Marbury is a different kind of point guard than Kidd he must be inferior to Kidd.

My own suspicions about Marbury at the time of the trade were that he was a selfish, shoot-first guard, who could not run the screen-roll. Whether Marbury is selfish is one of those debates that will continue to rage between his supporters and detractors around the league. What I think we can conclude however, is that on offense Marbury creates scoring opportunties for other players through his penetration. He takes 36% of his own shots in close. This was second only to the hyper-athletic Wade who takes 38% of his shots in close, even more if one counts dunks and tip-ins. (Iverson takes 30% and Nash 20%.) He also runs the screen-roll well, particularly with Kurt Thomas. This is a more subjective assessment but I certainly have no problem with the way Marbury runs the screen-roll. Another subjective assessment: his offensive game has matured. He’s much less prone to the “heat check” hoisted jump shots that are basically as good as turnovers. Earlier in his career he had the shot selection of Jamal Crawford but appears to have grown out of settling for the long jumper. Virtually, no matter how one slices it Marbury is an elite offensive player – not just for his position but in the league. But, does he make others around him better? I suppose the answer to the question is in the eye of the beholder to some extent. What we can say with a reasonable degree of certainty though is that he creates scoring opportunities for his teammates. He penetrates off the dribble more than any other player in the league (other than Wade). As it concerns creating opportunities he more than fulfills expectations in that part of the job description.

So why move him? In a word: defense. lists counterpart’s production as its primary defensive metric. Opponent’s production is a seriously flawed metric for evaluating power forwards and centers, whose responsibility for defensive rotation seemingly overstates their defensive liabilities relative to the backcourt. However it appears to be a reasonable measure of the backcourt’s defensive contributions. In Marbury’s case specifically, since he plays nearly 40 mpg virtually all of the opposing point guard’s production comes against him. Look at opposing PG’s production against the same group of players.

Player.............	PER	eFG%	Close% Ast48	TO48 
Dwyane Wade (Mia)*. 13.9 42.4 26 7.3 2.7
Steve Nash (Pho)... 14.4 47.9 23 8.3 3.6
Allen Iverson (Phi) 12.0 44.1 22 9.6 3.8
Stephon Marbury(NY) 15.9 46.1 27 8.5 3.8

* In Wade’s case, since he has played some SG and SF I used only opposing PG figures on

Marbury allows by far the highest opponent’s PER, almost a full point above league average (set at 15). He is second worst to Nash in opponent’s shooting. He is worst in giving up penetration (as measured by % shots in close – a conservative measure), and unlike Dwyane Wade’s Heat the Knicks have no shotblockers protecting his back, or the rim for that matter. It is tempting in one respect to simply offset Marbury’s defensive liabilities against his phenomenal offensive production and live with the difference. But that would miss the point. Marbury’s incredible capacity to penetrate creates scoring opportunities for both he and his teammates. The opposite is true of his defense. Marbury’s defensive indifference, propensity to be beaten off the dribble, unwillingness to fight through screens, and freelancing create easy scoring opportunities for opponents, putting his teammates in a terrible bind. Unlike him, they cannot necessarily shoot their way out of a poor defensive showing. I would suggest that even if the team were blessed with much better interior defenders its defensive efficiency might not improve much, if at all. The guards allow so much penetration that many opponents’ shots are taken in high percentage areas.

At this point in Marbury’s career it seems unlikely that he is going to devote himself more fully to defense for more than a quarter here or there. Thus, even if the Knicks are fortunate enough to escape salary cap hell in the next 2 seasons, how can the team construct a title contender with Marbury as its focal player? I argue that it cannot. The team cannot surround him with enough offensive talent to offset his defensive liabilities with more scoring, a la Dallas of two seasons ago. Nor can the Knicks construct themselves like the San Antonio Spurs of three seasons ago, surrounding Marbury with 2 shot blockers and another perimeter defensive stopper. In order to do either Isiah Thomas would have to be perfect in all of his moves for the next 4-5 seasons. The far more sensible approach would be to attempt to build around another player where the gap between his offensive contributions and defensive liabilities is not nearly so wide.

International Relations Part 2

Scott Carefoot runs, the self-proclaimed “best Raptors fan site – now and forever”. In a tradition that began last season, we wrote guest blogs on each other’s sites before a Knicks-Raptors game. Here, Scott offers a preview of the new-look Raptors before Wednesday’s match in Toronto. KnickerBlogger returns the favor on his site.

“Addition by subtraction.” It’s one of those sports cliches that sound neat at first but nonsensical if you really think about it. The theory is that a team can improve after a negative influence is removed. Bill Simmons calls it “The Ewing Theory” in reference to his friend’s notion that the Knicks in the Patrick Ewing era always seemed to play better when he wasn’t in the lineup.

For years, Simmons has claimed that this theory applies to Vince Carter. Considering that the Raptors went 0-9 last season when Carter wasn’t in the lineup, I figured we could put that theory to bed as far as Vince and the Raptors were concerned. But a funny thing has happened to this team since Vince was traded to New Jersey for Eric Williams, Aaron Williams and Alonzo Mourning’s dialysis machine…they’re playing more like a “true team” and winning more games.

In all fairness to Vince, the Raptors had one of the toughest schedules in the league leading up to his departure. Toronto had a 7-14 record after the loss to the Pistons on Dec. 8 when he suffered his final injury in a Raptors uniform. If I remember correctly, he was diagnosed with “sand in his vagina”. Anyway, Toronto lost three of the next four games leading up to the trade, so Vince left as Toronto had an 8-17 record.

The Post-Vince era got off to a rocky start as the Raptors dropped four of their next six games before they returned to Toronto for a four-day rest. Lo and behold, the Raptors opened 2005 by winning six of their next eight games and we now stand two games behind the three-way clusterhump of the Knicks, Celtics and Sixers for the Atlantic division lead.

This resurgence can be partially attributed to an easier schedule, as they played 19 of their first 31 games on the road followed by six of their next eight at home. Considering that they are 3-18 on the road after beating the Timberwolves in Minnesota on Monday, there’s no doubt this is a mitigating factor. But it shouldn’t take Knicks fans long to see how different this team is from the Raptors that lost 108-102 in New York on Nov. 27.

The only two starters that remain from that game’s lineup are Rafer Alston and Chris Bosh. Morris Peterson has replaced Vince Carter at shooting guard, Eric Williams has replaced Jalen Rose at small forward, and Rafael Araujo has replaced Loren Woods at center. This lineup is bigger, plays better defense and defers to Chris Bosh as the first scoring option. The 20-year-old sophomomre power forward has taken a quantum leap in 2005 with double-doubles in all eight games while averaging 20.5 points, 12.1 rebounds, two blocks and shooting 54 percent from the field.

Meanwhile, the Raptors have some pretty decent players coming off the bench. Jalen Rose has played his best basketball in years since he was relegated to an “instant offense” role after the trade. Donyell Marshall still provides rebounding and long bombs from the corners (he made three of them in a row late in the fourth quarter to slay Minnesota on Monday). Matt “The Red Rocket” Bonner has quietly been a rookie revelation, as the 2003 second-round pick has returned from a season in Italy to provide the Raptors with the league’s deadliest shooting touch off the bench. He’s third in the NBA with a .556 field goal percentage and most of those shots have been taken a few feet inside the three-point line.

In summary, I am as thrilled with this 16-23 team as it is humanly possible to be without narcotics. Now that Vince is gone, players like Bosh and Peterson have capitalized on their opportunities to take on leadership roles and there is no doubt that the team chemistry has improved as a result. It’s easy to root for this team, which is more than I can say for the Knicks. That’s not a cheap shot, it’s just that I could never root for a team managed by Isiah Thomas and coached by Lenny Wilkens. I expect this will be the last Lenny appearance in the Air Canada Centre before Isiah puts him in a home.

Bulls 88 Knicks 86

It hit me watching today’s Bulls-Knicks game, that these two teams couldn’t be more different. They are twilight zone-esque mirror images of each other. I’m sure somewhere out there, Jordan’s Knicks defeated Ewing’s Bulls with the requisite Star Trek goatees denoting the presence of an alternate universe. The Garden organ playing the infamous star trek fight music.

On the court the Bulls sport the NBA’s second best defense, while the Knicks are ranked a lowly 26th. Chicago relied on their two big men, Chandler and Curry, whose four blocked shots don’t adequately reflect the intimidation and presence they applied in the paint. The Knicks had their problems scoring inside. Marbury had a drive blocked and recovered by one of the Bulls. Nazr Mohammed was embarrassed when his clear-path-to-the-rim-I’m-going-to-jam-it-with-one-hand was forcefully rejected.

On the other hand, the Knicks starting big men had a total of one block. The Bulls scored from the paint time and time again, where they held a 38 to 26 point advantage. Chicago sealed the game with two big plays. Nocioni grabbed a rebound with less than 20 seconds left, and was fouled which setup the Bulls last play. Gordan used a pick and roll, and was left with a match-up against PF Mike Sweetney. The slower Knick kept up with the quicker guard, but Gordan still managed a high arcing shot no more than 10 feet away from the hoop to give Chicago the victory. Giving up two big plays inside at the most critical point of the game underscores my point. The Knicks just don’t have the personnel nor the scheme to stop their opponents from close range.

Everything the Bulls did on defense was what the Knicks fail to do night in and night out. Duhon fought through screens all game to disrupt the Knicks’ pick & roll. It’s been so long since a Knick guard did that, I thought maybe the NBA had made a rule against it. Even when the Knicks were able to get past their defender, the Bulls had one or two help defenders converge on the play. The Knicks were forced to counter with an outside attack. After Marbury, 3 of their next 4 scorers were perimeter players: K. Thomas, Houston, and Crawford.

From the opening tip, one match-up showed exactly how different the two teams are. The bulky veteran Jerome Williams matched up against the skinny teenage rookie Luol Deng. The Junk Yard Dog will earn $5.6M this year, more than any Bull who played tonight. In fact today there were 7 Knicks who earn more than the Bulls’ richest participant tonight: Tyson Chandler. New York’s starters average age was 30, while their opponents were a youthful 24. And that’s including the 31 year old Othella Harrington who only played for a quarter.

After getting swept in back-to-back games by their mirror-image, the Knick organization is going to have to take a hard look at itself. The players should wonder why they aren’t able to play tough man to man defense like their opponents did. The coaching staff is going to wonder why their defensive rotations don’t go as smoothly as the other team’s. The front office might wonder why their roster doesn’t have many young, cheap, and athletic defenders. Hopefully the Knicks can learn something from looking across court and seeing what they are not.

Odds & Ends 1/14/05

John Hollinger, the author of the Basketball Prospectus/Forecast books, writes a few columns a week for the New York Sun. Recently I’ve found that the articles are now online for free (in the past you had to pay a fee to read them). Normally his columns cover the entire NBA, but this week he had two columns on the Knicks. Lazy Defense Sinking Knicks’ Ship paints a dire picture of the Knicks’ future, while ‘Black Tuesday’ Uncovers Fatal Flaws for Knicks and Nets lays some of the blame on Coach Wilkens.

This just in: Dallas Mavericks owner Marc Cuban reveals a secret on his blog: he voted for Bush in the last two Presidential elections. Gee, a billionaire sports owner from Texas voted for Bush? What’s next? Paris Hilton is going to disclose that she’s not a virgin.

Dean Oliver recommends reading Alan Schwarz’ column on ESPN. It’s a discussion amongst two “Moneyball” guys and two “traditional” scouts. After reading it, head on over to the APBRmetrics forum, and discuss the issue in this thread.

(Guest Post) – You’re back in the NBA now, Chicago Bulls

[In honor of the Knicks-Bulls matchup this weekend, today’s blog comes from Matt of Bulls Blog. KnickerBlogger’s post is published on Matt’s site..]

Greetings Knickerblogger readers, my name is Matt and I am the creative force behind Bulls Blog. While it can be said that such a title is the blogging equivalent of being the valedictorian of summer school, I still enjoy being in my own corner of the blogosphere writing about the post-dynasty trials of the Chicago Bulls. It’s an honor to write to you on one of the most prolific (and one of my favorite) basketball blogs around.

Your New York Knicks are coming to the United Center on Saturday, so Knickerblogger and I decided to switch places for a good-ole-fashioned preview. Since it’s the first meeting of these two teams, you may not be fully aware of how things are going in Chicago. With so many new players shuffling in and out of the house that Jordan built these past 6 years. That said, unless you haven’t been paying attention to the league lately, you’ve heard that the Bulls are one of the hottest teams in the NBA. Riding a 5-game winning streak (and 11 out of their last 14), the Bulls have rebounded from a disastrous 0-9 start to the 8th best record in the Eastern Conference. But enough about the wins, how are they getting them?

GM John Paxson’s first two drafts since taking over for Jerry Krause have gone particularly well, with 3 his first round picks of Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng, and Ben Gordon now the foundation of the team. Hinrich (PER of 16.39) is probably the Bulls’ most recognizable player, and this season has shifted more to the off-guard position to accommodate the smaller Gordon and 2nd round pick Chris Duhon in the rotation. While you will find him moving off of the ball moreso than last year, he still exhibits his playmaking ability (14 assists against Boston last saturday), and remains the floor leader of the team. Deng (14.79) leads the team in +/- ratio and while he lacks the outstanding athleticism you see of most 19 year old draftees, he more than makes up for it with basketball skills and court awareness that makes him seem a lot older than he is. Ben Gordon (13.03), while not a starter, is definitely the energizing 6th man and ‘closer’ for the Bulls. As the best creator on the team, Ben can take nearly anyone off the dribble to get off his accurate (50.1% eFG) shot launched, an invaluable resource at the end of close games.

Another place where you can see Paxson’s fingerprints is the veteran bench. Through trades of Jalen Rose and Jamal Crawford, Paxson not only gained cap flexibility but picked up veterans Antonio Davis, Eric Piatkowski, Adrian Griffin, and a familiar face to Knick fans in Othella Harrington. While all past their prime, they also are an upgrade from the CBA talents that used to fill the Bulls bench, and help maintain head coach Scott Skiles’ desire to instill the principles hard work and discipline into the younger players. Another bench contributor is 24-year-old Argentian Andres Nocioni. His rookie campaign in the NBA hasn’t shown the offense he exhibited while helping his country win a gold medal in Greece, but especially as a defender he’s equal parts effective and hilarious. Baiting of opponents into technicals, drawing charges on flops, and performing an act on the officials to the point where any call against him is met with no less than bombastic exasperation. These tactics, I’m guessing, will have most opposing fans loving to hate ‘Chapu’.

Now onto the once-heralded cornerstones of the franchise, Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler. Curry (14.58) still isn’t the dominant player he can be, but finally in his 4th year and at the age of 22, he is becoming a big part of the team’s success. Look for Eddy in the first 5 or 6 possessions of the game to establish post position early, and going right into his increasing assortment of post moves. His talent has always been evident, but now he’s showing it more consistently, which is a scary message to Eastern Conference frontcourts. Chandler (16.56), as you probably know already, is the opposite of Curry. With small hands and awkward moves, his offense is limited. But while Eddy still drifts through defensive assignments and rebounding, Tyson has become one of the premier rebounders (8th in the league in rebound rate) and shotblockers in the league. At 7’1″ and the ability to jump out of the gym, he alters nearly any shot that’s near him, and would have even more rebounds if he were strong enough to hold on to them.

And that brings me to the most important factor in attributing the Bulls success: Defense. Using defensive efficiency as a metric, which as you may know factors in the possessions accrued during a game as well as points allowed, the Bulls are second in the NBA in team defense, behind only San Antonio. The Bulls defense starts in the paint, with Chandler, Davis, and an improving Curry making their capable perimeter teammates’ jobs much easier. This defensive success is mainly due to Skiles, who always has his players playing hard and within the designed scheme. Assuming they keep up their usual intensity on that end, the Bulls’ defense will keep them in nearly any game they play throughout the season.

But all this ‘homer’ praise is not to make you assume that the Bulls do not have weaknesses. Their most glaring weakness defensively is their trouble against opposing guards. No matter which combination of Hinrich/Duhon/Gordon is in the game, there is nearly always a size disadvantage. Gordon especially is immediately targeted by opponents as a post-up victim and despite Skiles’ claims to the contrary, Duhon isn’t much better. And all 3 (along with Curry and Chandler) are known to get in early foul trouble. If Marbury and Houston can be agressive, foul problems could arise for both their man defenders and help defenders alike. Another major problem is turnovers. Both Gordon and Curry are in the league leaders in TO/40 minutes, and while I have mentioned that they play a great team defensive game, they are still a very young team and often throw away possessions on offense. One workable strategy to force the Bulls into these mistakes is to use Duhon’s man to double on Eddy right when he gets the ball. On most occasions either Eddy is rushed into a poor shot or turnover, or an open Duhon bricks a shot of his own (and if you read my blog you’ll know that picking on Duhon is a pretty consistent theme).

To use a generality in terms of how to beat the Bulls, anything that keeps the Bulls from defending effectively will help the Knicks win. The Knicks’ big men will need to crash the glass for offensive rebounds and tip-ins, and getting out on the break after forcing turnovers to not allow the Bulls to dig in. It also means their guards being aggressive and getting to the line, both to shoot free throws and to get the Bulls younger foul-prone players relegated to their bench early. The Bulls aren’t a stellar offensive team, and are prone to long scoreless stretches when Hinrich and Gordon aren’t playing their best. But what they do is stay close, and by crunch time, Gordon and Chandler will use their specialized excellence to try and take over both ends of the court.

Hopefully after reading this you’ll have a better understanding of what to expect on Saturday afternoon. Although after watching the Bulls go from 0-9 to a potential playoff birth, its hard for myself to know what to expect anymore.

Wade Joins Elite Group; Jefferson Wears Out Wrist

[This article is dedicated to the Daily Show, the Onion,, sPerts, and all the sarcastic bastards out there. A special thanks goes to the New York Knicks who by unexplicably losing to the three four win Hornets, forced me to create my own reality.]

Dwayne Wade Inducted Into Sidekick Hall Of Fame

The Miami Heat’s Dwayne Wade was formally inducted into the Sidekick Hall of Fame last night. The committee elected him based on his play alongside Shaquille O’Neal. “He’s just exemplified what a sidekick is” said Burt Ward, the actor who played Robin in the Batman tv series. “With the arrival of Shaq, someone on Miami was bound to get enshrined.” Current members flocked to the home city of the SHOF, Oakland, to attend the ceremony. It was a who’s who of who’s that, as Al Gore, Chris Tucker, Art Garfunkel, Jonathan Frakes, Scottie Pippen, and Kobe Bryant all were there to welcome their new brethren.

The ceremony was not without its own controversy. Upon arrival, Kobe Bryant almost bolted when told he had to share the stage with anyone else. The event organizers had to build a separate stage for Bryant to sit upon. Scottie Pippen was upset when he found he would not be the closing speaker. “I always take the last shot,” said Pippen afterwards. When it was his turn to speak, he broodingly declined and glumly slouched in his seat.

Dwayne Wade humbly accepted the award by acknowledging the great sidekicks throughout history, namely Stan Laurel, Lou Costello, Dr. Watson, Tonto, and Chewbacca. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when he reflected on the life of Herve Villechaize, the Fantasy Island star who sadly took his own life in 1993.

Jefferson’s Uses Wrist Too Much

Richard Jefferson?s season ending wrist injury came as no surprise to his teammates. The loss of Kenyon Martin and Kerry Kittles to free agency, combined with the injury to Jason Kidd left the Nets with Richard Jefferson to take all of their shots. Jefferson performed admirably taking shot after shot for the personnel-challenged Nets. “R-Jeff gave us his all” said Nets’ flagrant fouler Jason Collins. “I remember the second game of the season” reminisced bricklayer Rodney Buford “he put up 69 shots in 57 minutes and had to put his arm in a bucket of ice after the game.”

New Jersey eventually got Kidd back & even traded for Vince Carter to relieve Jefferson of his load, but the damage was already done. “Every wrist only has so many shots” said chucker Allen Iverson. “I’ve been able to take so many shots year after year because I don’t wear it out during practice.” Jefferson declined to comment on whether he exasperated the injury filming a commercial, where Charles Barkley coerces Jefferson to shoot more. When asked by the media who would pick up the slack, Nets President Rod Thorn calmly shot back “this is why we acquired Vince Carter. His wrist has been plenty rested during his sulking in Toronto.”

Football Envy

If you’re jealous that the football playoffs are in full swing & feel that the basketball season is too long, head over to your local satellite aided sports bar on Tuesday night at 9pm. Put on your favorite summer shirt, ask your local bartender to crank up the thermostat to June, and change the chanel on the closest wide screen tv to the Heat-Suns game. There you may catch a glimpse of the NBA Finals, as the Conference’s two best teams will go at it in Phoenix.

The Miami Heat (27-9) were expected to challenge in a competetive Eastern conference since Kobe Bryant decided that he’d rather be the center of an average team rather than share the main stage with Shaq. However something happened to last year’s stallwarts the Pacers and Pistons (what it is I honestly don’t remember) that has left the field wide open. Right now the only serious challengers to the Heat’s path to the Finals are the Cavaliers, and Shaq’s big toe.

Meanwhile the Suns (30-4) were expected to merely “unseat one of the West’s top eight seeds” and “have to battle for survival in April.” However the Suns are sitting on top of the NBA, swatting away their opponents like Randy Johnson and the CBS press.

The similarity between the teams are plentiful. Both teams made major moves this offseason. Miami of course got Shaq in the deal (steal?) of the century, and Phoenix made two major additions in Nash & Richardson. Both teams are anchored by their centers, Shaq (26.7 PER), and Amare (27.7 PER). The Heat’s young player Dwayne Wade dramatically improved his PER from last year’s 17.5 to 24.7, as did the Suns Amare Stoudemire upgraded from 19.8 to 27.7. And just look at how close the team’s stats are:

1st Suns 113.3
3rd Heat 108.2

9th Heat 100.4
10th Suns 100.5

Of course the marquee matchups will be an undersized Amare versus an oversized Shaq, and the youthful Wade against the err…. Canadian Nash. If Amare gets beat-up by Shaq, then Phoenix will have to abandon their current game plan of “drain as many minutes out of the starters” (average of 37 Min/G), and use backup centers Hunter and newly activated Voskuhl. On the other hand the Suns have a third major option with Shawn Marion (23.8 PER), and their up-tempo game might wear down the Heat. However it turns out, this is a major game for this early in the season. It could establish the winner as an early Finals favorite.

So how do you think the game will turn out? Got some great insight on the two teams? Head over to the APBRmetrics forum (SABeRmetrics for basketball) and state your opinion. It’s replacing the Yahoo group APBR_analysis, and it still has that new car smell.