Flash back to the trade deadline. The 76ers finally get a second talented offensive player to team up with Allen Iverson. That day Chris Webber was the “huge trade” and everything else was just a byline. The deal was supposed to propel Philly to the top of the Atlantic division. However since February 24th, the Sixers have only gone 6-7, and find themselves sputtering in second place.

Just before the trade deadline the division rival Celtics sent point guard Gary Payton, a first round pick, and some belly lint for Antoine Walker. That Boston wanted the 7 year Celtic back after a year and a half exile could have been the trade day laugher had Isiah Thomas not given sports talk hosts something to pounce on. Since then Boston has gone 11-1, and are 5.5 games ahead of Philadelphia. So the Celtics unexpected streak begs the question “Is this for real?”

Granted in this 12 game span, Boston has beaten up on a few of the league’s worst teams. They’ve steamrolled over the Hawks, Jazz, Hornets, and the expansion Bobcats twice. But before we dismiss the Celtics success to the schedulemaker’s whimsy, Boston has been an impressive 4-1 against teams that are .500 or better. The Beantown 12 have defeated Washington and Detroit at home, and Phoenix & Houston on the road. So maybe the Celtics’ turnaround is due to the man they (re-)acquired?

Someday in the far away future, when advanced statisticians look at 20th/21st century NBA, someone is going to write his thesis on the statistical anomaly known as Antoine Walker. The shimmying forward defies being put into any simple category. While ‘Toine is comfortable hoisting three pointer after three pointer, his free throw accuracy is inexplicably free falling towards Shaqsville. The tweener forward is a respectable rebounder (2.3 OREB/40min), but a permeable defender. He’s skillful enough handling the ball that you can run your offense through him (as Atlanta did when they played New York this year), although he’s as likely to have an assist (3.6 AST/40min) as he is a turnover (3.4 TO/40min). His most similars by age according to www.basketball-reference.com show Walker’s diverse and polarized game: Drexler to Glenn Robinson to Bird to Chuck Person to Nick Anderson to Scottie Pippen.

Antoine Walker’s 16.1 PER (career 16.9 PER) isn’t exactly league shattering. However his insertion in the starting lineup gives the Celtics a unique look on offense. They can hit the long ball from the three big spots (Pierce, Walker, LaFrentz), and the two forwards have been averaging more assists combined (7.3 AST per game) than the starting point guard (Payton 6.0 AST/game). The Walker deal also gives Boston an addition by subtraction. Since #8 dusted off his old uniform, Raef LaFrentz & Mark “Phillies” Blount have seen more bench time. In the 12 games before the trade, the two played 30 minutes or more 21 times, a feat they’ve only matched 6 times since. Walker gives the Celtics a better front court rotation.

There is one caveat with the Celtics recent success. Walker is playing a bit above his head. This year for Boston he’s been better than his career average or even best year in three main shooting categories.

Stat    eFG     3P%     PSA
Celtics 52.4% 38.9% 1.08
Career 45.7% 32.6% 0.97
Highest 47.8% 36.9% 1.01

Although I think he was a good addition to the Celtics, I suspect that they’ll cool off a bit as ‘Toine floats back down to earth. While I don’t see Boston as good as their 92% win percentage since the trade, I don’t think their improvement is a total fluke. They’re certainly not as good as the Spurs or even the APBRSonics, and it’s possible that they’ll get swept in the first round by a young & hungry team like the Bulls or the Cavs. On the other hand, I wouldn’t be shocked if they knocked off the Pistons & crept into the Eastern Conference Finals.

Knicks Improvement From An Unlikely Source

Whether or not you cared for Isiah’s trade deadline moves, there is one thing that everyone agreed on. Trading Nazr Mohammed for two undersized forwards would make the Knicks worse down the stretch. It was the equivalent of running up the white flag on the 2005 season. However, a funny thing happened as teams made their way to the Garden. The Knicks have sent three straight opponents home with losses.

While all three of their opponents are still in the playoff hunt, none would be considered great teams. In addition, each team was missing a player due to trade or injury. Indiana was without injured Jamal Tinsley, Philly was without newly acquired Chris Webber, and the Lakers, based on a Jack Haley report, were still waiting for Carlos Boozer to report.

The best player Isiah acquired was Malik Rose, an undersized power forward known for his defense & rebounding. However neither attribute led them to victory in the three games. Other than the Pacer game, the Knicks didn’t hold any of their opponents under the league average shooting percentage nor did they outrebound them. However the Knicks have received a boost on the offensive end, with an effective shooting percentage of 50% or greater in each game. That mark is so good, if they did that on the year the Knicks would rank 5th, just above sharp shooting Sacramento.

OPP     OPP      NYK    OPP      NYK 

PHI 49.4% 56.8% 29.5% 27.8%
IND 44.5% 50.0% 13.9% 30.8%
LAL 51.2% 54.0% 30.4% 21.7%

Instead of getting this resurgence from one of their newcomers, New York’s offense received a shot in the arm from one of their forgotten players: Tim Thomas. Back in November, I wrote an overly exuberant and hasty entry titled “Welcome Back Tim Thomas.” But by January Thomas was still in a funk, only firing at 45.2% (eFG) well below his career mark of 49.5%. During the last three games Thomas has been en fuego, averaging 24.3 points per game. Since January Thomas’ shooting has gone up 2.5% and now stands at 47.7%.

I’ll wait until the offseason before I declare Thomas cured a second time. All year long Thomas has suffered from one malady or another. From the preseason tragedies, including two deaths in the family and a sick mother, to the recent spat of injuries, Thomas has had it rough. Should the Knicks small forward recover his stroke, it would be a bittersweet pill for Knick fans to swallow. While it’s great that Thomas is making himself useful, his revival might mean less minutes for wunderkind and fan favorite Trevor Ariza. With New Yorkers having little to look forward to until the lottery, many will wonder where Tiny Tim was during their 4-18 start to 2005.

It’s certainly possible that the Knicks might show improvement down the stretch. Malik Rose has already made a positive contribution in just a few minutes, and Mike Sweetney unleashed move after move on the helpless Laker frontcourt. (It just wouldn’t be a KnickerBlogger post without a positive line about Sweet-N-Low.) However with only 25 games to go, New York would have to play as good as the Pistons (64%) just to make even. Just because the Knicks playoff hopes has already set sail, it doesn’t mean they can’t improve on a woeful season.

Stay tuned for tomorrow, when Part 2 of Kevin Pelton’s fantastic analysis of Steve Nash’s MVP candidacy will continue.

Sixers Win Webber Deal In Name Only

[Tomorrow morning I will analyze the Knicks’ two trades completed this afternoon.]

Anytime a trade includes only one big name, the immediate opinion is the team receiving that player is getting the better of the deal. It’s because in most sports the best players are most likely to turn a team into a winner. Just ask the L.A. Lakers or the Toronto Raptors. So when Philadelphia received mega-star Matt Barnes in a trade yesterday, the quick opinion was the Sixers made out on the deal. In a Yahoo poll, 75% of the readers selected “The Kings Blew it” (and yes that was an actual option).

Upon further inspection of the deal, I don’t think it’s as clear cut as everyone has made it out to be. The crux of the deal is of course Chris Webber (21.4, 19.9, -4.5 what do these numbers mean?). Although C-Webb was one of the best in the league at the beginning of the millennium, he’s no longer among the cream of the crop. Check out his numbers since 2001

Year PER. .eFG PTS/40
2001 24.7 48.1 26.8
2002 24.4 49.7 25.5
2003 20.9 46.3 23.5
2004 17.2 41.4 20.7
2005 21.4 45.5 23.5

All of his stats are down since 2001, and his PER puts him outside of the elite range but still in the very good category. In addition to his declining production, Webber hasn’t been very healthy. The Former Fab Five has averaged only 57 games per year (strike year excluded) over his entire career. The last three years have been even worse, as Webber has missed a total of 99 games. He’s only topped 75 games twice in his career, the last time back in 2000. With that in mind, take a look at his contract:

.2005 .2006 .2007 .2008
$17.5 $19.1 $20.7 $22.3
[Numbers in millions]

Having that much money tied into a single player with deteriorating numbers and a bad history of missing games isn’t a good place to be in. Just ask Knick fans how they feel about Allan Houston, who coincidentally had the same microfracture surgery as Chris Webber.

Now you why the Kings wanted something a little more stable. In the deal, Sacramento obviously lost on talent, but they got a younger more resilient crew. Webber makes the least healthy of the players they received, Brian Skinner, look like A.C. Green. In the same span that Webber played in 144 games (2002-2004), the trio sent to the West Coast averaged 217 games. While it’s hard to argue that any combination of the three are as good as Webber when they’re on the court, 73 games of no production is easy to beat.

On the other hand, Kenny Thomas (13.5, 17.2, -3.1), Brian Skinner (6.1, 11.9, -7.0), and Corliss Williamson (14.5, 14.4, -0.0) aren’t going to catapult Sacramento over the Suns, Sonics, or Spurs. What’s more baffling is that the Kings didn’t take the opportunity to make a major dent in their cap space.

Player... Age .2005 .2006 .2007 .2008 .2009 .2010
Thomas.... 27 $ 4.8 $ 5.3 $ 5.8 $ 6.4 $ 6.9 $ 7.4
Skinner... 28 $ 4.5 $ 5.0 $ 5.4 $ 5.9* ---- -----
Williamson 31 $ 5.5 $ 6.0 $ 6.5 ----- ----- -----
Webber.... 31 $17.5 $19.1 $20.7 $22.3 ----- -----
Barnes.... 23 $ 6.2 ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
*=Team Option

The Kings opted to get under the cap just a year earlier. The knock on their end of the trade is not who they got, but rather who they didn’t get. Glenn Robinson’s $12.1M expiring contract would have been a good move if they wanted to clear the cap quickly. Or Sacramento could have gone with a youth movement by asking for Iguodala, Dalembert, or Ashton Korver.

Judging by who they got in return, it’s clear that Sacramento decided instead to stay competitive now with their core of Bibby, Peja, Miller, and Jackson. The Kings helped their poor offensive rebounding (22nd) because Thomas, Williamson, and Skinner average nearly 3 per 40 minutes. According to 82games.com, opposing power forwards and centers have hurt the Kings the most. It’s likely that they’ll see an improvement with the combination of Darius Songaila (14.2, 15.7, +4.3) and the trio they received.

To sum it up, this is a trade where each team saw the grass greener on the other side. Sacramento got tired of Webber’s on-again-off-again act and longed for some stability. On the other hand Iverson has never played with a person of C-Webb’s offensive ability. Sacramento is an offensive team that could some defenders (20th), while Philly was struggling to put points on the board (22nd). Quite honestly I think both teams have the possibility to benefit from the transaction. The East is wide open, and a healthy Webber gives the Sixers a formidable starting 5 of Iverson, Iguodala, Korver, Webber, and Jackson/Dalembert. While the Kings still have plenty of firepower and they’ve improved their defense enough to go a few rounds in the playoffs.

I use three stats to get a general overall value of a player, PER, oPER, and Roland Rating. If you have any doubts that PER is a good measure of offensive ability, the last two years the top 5 PER belonged to Garnett, Duncan, Shaq, Kobe and McGrady, which passes my litmus test. oPER (opposition PER) is less accurate because of how defense is played in the NBA (switched defensive assignments, help defense, zone defense, double teams, etc.), but can still be valuable up to a point. According to 82games.com, Roland Rating “represents a player’s value to a particular team and are not intended to be an accurate gauge of the ability and talent of the player away from the specific team.” To make it easier to read, I’m going to use it with these colors: (offensive PER, defensive PER, +/-Roland Rating).

Five Stats the NBA Should Keep (Part II)

[This is the second of a two part series. Part I contains stats 1-3, so just scroll down to read it, or click here for the scrolling impaired.

At the time of this writing there is a news rumor that Chris Webber got traded to the 76ers for Kenny Thomas, Corliss Williamson, Brian Skinner, and a bunch of junk from Pat Croce’s garage. Considering the fiasco over the Carlos Boozer non-trade, and that three networks picked up the false story that Shaq’s season was over, I’m going to wait until it’s official to comment.]

4. Defensive Shooting Stats (DFGM, D3P, DFT)
Allen Iverson uses a crossover dribble to get past Chauncey Billups. Billups follows him to the hoop, but ends up fouling Iverson on the layup, creating a three point play for the mercurial guard. The next time down the court Iverson fakes the drive and pulls up for the three. This time, Billups is not fooled and gets a hand in Iverson’s face. The ball clangs off the iron and Big Ben cradles the rebound.

Although 82games.com keeps track of opposing defensive stats, why doesn’t the NBA make it an official stat? Keep track of field goals, free throws and three pointers for the defensive player who is the primary defender. In the above example, Billups would have the following stats:

D3PM: 0
D3PA: 1

Or in other words, Billups allowed 1-2 from the field (DFG: 1-2), defended well against the only three pointer attempted (D3P: 0-1), and let his opponent have a free throw (DFT: 1-1).

Are there flaws in this system? Sure. Basketball defense is partially a team effort, and assigning credit or blame to an individual seems unfair. Using that same argument, how would we judge pitchers if the lords of baseball decided not to keep track of ERA because there are 8 other players who assist him in preventing runs? Maybe the difference between having a great defense in a pitchers park is similar to a shooting guard having Kirilenko or Duncan play behind them. As for the criticism that it’s impossible to judge who is responsible for allowing the score, 82games.com has found a way and RealGM’s Kevin Broom has started to keep track of his favorite team with defensive box scores.

Using only the current stats the NBA uses (blocks & steals) doesn’t give us a complete picture of a player’s defensive skill. Blocks don’t always correlate with defensive ability. The #1 team in blocks/game is Portland, who ranks 16th defensively. Chicago is the third best defensive team, but they’re 18th in blocks. As for steals, Kevin Broom has a theory that they don’t indicate much about team defense because “the best defensive teams force misses, and usually force some turnovers as well…[but] a steal happens on less than 1-in-10 defensive possessions.”

While some good defensive players (Ben Wallace) gets lots of steals and blocks, there are plenty of good defenders (Bruce Bowen) who don’t have any numbers to back up their ability to clamp down on an opponent. Study after study has shown that field goal percentage is the primary key to defensive ability. Defensive shooting stats will give us a better insight as to who is holding their own & who isn’t.

5. Possessions (POSS)
The Phoenix Suns are the NBA’s fastest team, averaging 99 possessions per game. According to points per game, they are the worst defensive team in the league, giving up 102.3 points per game. However, that’s an unfair label, because their opponents get more opportunities courtesy of the Suns nuclear offense. The Suns defense is actually 17th, when considering Phoenix’s fast pace. Similarly, Seattle’s offense doesn’t crack the top 5, because their team crawls at only 92 possessions a game. In reality the APBRSonics are the league’s second best scoring machine.

Of course I can say all that because I’m using an approximation of possessions. A possession ends when the ball exchanges hands between teams, either by made shots or missed shots rebounded by the defense (FGA – OREB), turnovers (TO), or free throws that end a possessions. It’s that last factor that causes a problem, because you can either shoot 1, 2, or 3 free throws depending on the type of foul. While .44*FTA is the current approximation of choice, it’s just that an approximation.

The NBA should officially keep track of possessions, seeing that they’re already doing so in the WNBA. More importantly, the NBA should make possession based stats part of the basketball vernacular. Saying the Suns allow the most points per game is a fact, but the implication that their defense is also the worst in the league is false. If Phoenix took full advantage of the shot clock like the Spurs or Pistons, their points allowed per game would drop dramatically. In fact their defense would be in the top 10 in points allowed per game (94.8) if they only had 91.5 POSS/G.

And why should the NBA stop with keeping track of possessions for teams? The NBA should keep POSS for players as well, split between offensive & defensive possessions. Maybe Ray Allen’s 24 points per game is more valuable than Stoudemire’s 26, because Amare the Great has more possessions in which to score? This would also be useful in seeing how coaching tendencies change with different players on the court. Maybe with Earl Boykins on the court, Denver uses up more possessions per minute, and therefore runs a quicker offense. Phoenix might slow things down with Barbosa & Hunter on the court instead of Amare & Nash. Making stats possession based will be a step in making a level field between slow and fast paced teams.

Five Reasons the Knicks Should Stand Pat at the Trade Deadline

[If you came here looking for Part 2 of “Five Stats The NBA Should Keep“, I apologize. KnickerBlogger.Net’s Official Trade Deadline Specialist, David Crockett, had an opinion that he urgently needed to share with everyone before the trade deadline. If pre-emptive scheduling angers you, David is an Assistant Professor of Marketing at the University of South Carolina, and can be reached at dcrockett17@yahoo.com

Tomorrow Part 2 will be here, and that gives me extra time to speel cehck it.]

1. The Knicks have taken the crucial first step ? admitting it?s time to rebuild ? in their journey toward wholeness. But they could undo this progress with a foolish trade.

Of course any rebuilding will likely include some trades. Should the right move come along then by all means Isiah should make it happen. Unfortunately the right move rarely comes along for rebuilding teams at the trade deadline; particularly for capped out teams reduced to exchanging bad contracts.

Isiah has had to learn the hard way that although the NBA?s beautiful people can add a little makeup to cover up barely noticeable blemishes the league?s butt-ugly must take the time to work on their personalities. The Knicks are about as butt-ugly as it gets in the NBA. A little makeup here or there might not hurt but it isn?t gonna solve the problem.

2. Few if any great moves are out there

Q: If you find that you?ve dug yourself into a hole what is the first thing you must do to get yourself out of it?

A: Stop digging.

The Knicks must avoid taking on any more bad contracts. Most of the players widely rumored to be on the move (e.g., Baron Davis, Donyell Marshall, Jalen Rose, Chris Webber, Peja Stojakovic, Keith Van Horn, Michael Redd) simply aren?t what the Knicks need. They are either too old, too expensive, slowed by injury, or D ? all of the above. The Knicks need a shot-blocking, rebounding center, but who is desperate to get rid of such players? The Knicks need a defense-first backup point but cannot offer much in return without taking on a bad contract.

The answer to that question again: stop digging.

3. Roster-wrecking makes player assessment so much more difficult

This season, fairly or unfairly, is a referendum on the wisdom of building a team around Stephon Marbury. (If you have not seen this write up on Marbury in the New York Times (registration required) it?s pretty interesting and more balanced than is typical.) If management is committed to building around Marbury it must answer two questions about him based on his play the rest of this season.

First, can he lead? That is, what will he do to keep this team from disintegrating as the losses mount? How is he aiding in the development of Crawford, Ariza, and Sweetney? Second, will he commit to playing defense? The more roster fluctuation there is the more difficult it will be for management to truly make this assessment. Of course Marbury isn?t the only player for whom the stakes are high for the rest of this season. The informal ?no trade clauses? Isiah has attached to Sweetney and Ariza will no doubt expire this summer unless they continue to improve.

Having said that, I would like to see Isiah make a move to improve the end of the bench. With New York fading rapidly from Chicago?s rearview mirror I?d like to re-visit the possibility of re-acquiring Frank Williams to play the backup role he played last season. Brewer and Sundov for Chicago?s Williams and Jared Reiner seems a workable swap of 11th and 12th men. (Of the four only Brewer averages over 10 mpg.)

4. What the Knicks can offer in trade will have more value this summer.

Other than Kurt Thomas, the Knicks basically have contracts due to expire at the end of next season to offer in trade. I was hoping that Tim Thomas would play well enough this season to be a useful rental for a contender with an expiring contract after next season at the deadline. But alas, he?s having the worst season of his career and for all practical purposes cannot be traded. By contrast Kurt Thomas?s trade value may be as high right now as it will ever be. Still, Isiah is likely better off peddling his wares this off-season.

5. Draft position

I believe ? or at least I am sincerely hoping ? that the team?s slight momentum heading into the All-Star break foreshadows good things to come. Though the Knicks are clearly no longer serious contenders for the playoffs I do not think the team should be diving for ping-pong balls.

Still, it appears that Isiah already has an eye toward the June draft. The best centers in the upcoming draft appear to be Andrew Bogut, the Aussie who plays for Utah, and Brazilian Tiago Splitter. Both will likely be off the board in the top five picks. The Knicks, at their current pace, are looking at a pick in the 6-10 area. However this draft appears to be packed to the gills with players who could contribute immediately at backup point guard. Some of the defense-oriented guards (e.g., Deron Williams of Illinois and Mardy Collins of Temple) are likely to be available outside the top ten.

PER Leaders (12/17/04)

And a special thanks to Blogger for taking a nice looking table, and forcing me to use the format below. :-P

SAS Tim Duncan...... FC 23 35.2 27 51.9 67.5 1.13 36 30.8
MIN Kevin Garnett... F 22 39.8 23.5 48.6 76.1 1.08 30 29.89
DAL Dirk Nowitzki... PF 23 38.6 27.5 47.4 85.7 1.14 47 27.9
PHO Amare Stoudemire FC 22 36.4 28.3 57.5 71.1 1.25 43 27.87
CLE LeBron James.... SF 23 41.4 23.7 51.6 76.7 1.13 26 26.74
MIA Dwyane Wade..... G 22 38.2 24 50.9 75.7 1.18 51 26.24
MIA Shaquille O'Neal C 24 34.3 24.1 60.1 45.8 1.16 38 25.85
PHO Steve Nash...... PG 22 34 18.3 58.9 88.1 1.26 21 23.83
LAL Kobe Bryant..... SG 22 43 25.4 44.6 81.1 1.07 43 23.67
PHO Shawn Marion.... F 22 39.2 19.9 49.9 78.7 1.06 16 23.56
BOS Paul Pierce..... SG 21 36.3 24.7 46.7 84.7 1.13 48 22.82
MEM Pau Gasol....... PF 21 34.1 22.3 50.5 74.1 1.14 42 22.79
NYK Stephon Marbury. PG 22 38.6 20.5 51.2 85.1 1.15 32 22.42
SEA Ray Allen....... SG 22 40.4 23.7 50.1 91.6 1.15 33 22.09
SAS Manu Ginobili... SG 23 28.8 20.2 52.9 79.5 1.2 43 22
SAC Chris Webber.... PF 21 35.3 23.2 45.7 72.7 0.97 14 21.91
UTH Carlos Boozer... PF 23 35.9 21.4 52.4 75.4 1.14 26 21.89
HOU Yao Ming........ C 22 32.1 22.8 50.7 77.7 1.15 40 21.83
MIN Eddie Griffin... F 19 23.5 19.2 52.4 81 1.08 9 21.72
LAC Elton Brand..... PF 20 38 19.9 50.9 76.3 1.12 30 21.61

2003-2004 Team Rankings

2003-2004 End of season Offensive ranking:

1 DAL 92.8 .495 113.3
2 SAC 92.4 .507 111.2
3 LAL 90.5 .481 108.5
4 SEA 89.7 .501 108.3
5 MIL 90.7 .477 108.1
6 MIN 88.3 .486 107.0
7 MEM 90.4 .479 107.0
8 IND 86.3 .471 105.8
9 DEN 92.0 .467 105.7
10 GSW 88.4 .475 105.5
11 SAS 86.9 .473 105.3
12 POR 86.2 .478 105.3
13 LAC 90.7 .453 104.5
14 BOS 91.2 .486 104.4
15 UTA 85.1 .456 104.2
16 DET 86.6 .461 104.0
17 ORL 90.5 .461 104.0
18 NOR 88.4 .460 103.8
19 MIA 87.0 .463 103.7
20 PHO 91.5 .475 102.9
21 CLE 90.4 .451 102.8
22 ATL 90.5 .465 102.5
23 NJN 88.1 .471 102.4
24 NYK 89.8 .474 102.4
25 HOU 87.7 .484 102.4
26 PHI 87.0 .456 101.2
27 WAS 90.8 .454 101.1
28 TOR 86.6 .454 98.6
29 CHI 91.3 .446 98.3

[pPTS is points scored per 100 possessions. This accounts for the team’s pace & is a better measure than points/game. For example, Indiana only scores 91.4 PPG, good enough for 20th in the league. However since their offense & defense slows down the game, it gives both teams a less chances to score. However accounting for pace, their offense is ranked 8th. eFG% is FG% with a bonus for 3 pointers (since they net more points). This is a better measure than FG%. For example if a player shoots 4-9 from inside the arc, that’s only about league average, and he gets 8 points. However if all of those are from three, it’s considered excellent shooting, and he gets 12 points.]

Dallas has taken the top spot, due to the plummeting Kings. Nearly two months ago (2/24), I ran this kind of comparison before, and the Kings had 114pPTs. Since then they’ve dropped almost 3pPts. The question is were they playing over their heads early on in the year, or are they suffering from trying to work Chris Webber back into the mix?

Also at that time, Orlando was still in the top half offensively (11th), but since McGrady’s injury, they’ve dropped to 17th. With their record being so horrbily bad, I would imagine it was their defense that was pitiful. Maybe if they could pick up a defensive force in the draft, they can have a quick turnaround for next year. That is if T-Mac is still around.

2003-2004 End of season Defensive ranking:

1 SAS 86.9 .433 97.0
2 DET 86.6 .441 97.3
3 IND 86.3 .459 99.2
4 NJN 88.1 .460 99.6
5 HOU 87.7 .447 100.4
6 MIN 88.3 .444 100.8
7 TOR 86.6 .449 102.1
8 MIA 87.0 .463 103.1
9 NOR 88.4 .476 104.0
10 NYK 89.8 .461 104.0
11 PHI 87.0 .467 104.0
12 LAL 90.5 .471 104.2
13 MEM 90.4 .465 104.3
14 DEN 92.0 .481 104.5
15 CHI 91.3 .469 105.2
16 UTA 85.1 .468 105.6
17 CLE 90.4 .469 105.7
18 SAC 92.4 .483 105.8
19 BOS 91.2 .479 106.0
20 GSW 88.4 .476 106.3
21 POR 86.2 .482 106.8
22 MIL 90.7 .485 107.0
23 PHO 91.5 .482 107.0
24 WAS 90.8 .486 107.3
25 ATL 90.5 .476 107.6
26 DAL 92.8 .498 108.6
27 SEA 89.7 .487 109.0
28 LAC 90.7 .494 109.6
29 ORL 90.5 .502 111.7

Well there is Orlando, dead last in defense, just as I predicted above. The Spurs take home the crown for best defensive team, with the Pistons barely behind. The West has the top 5 offensive teams, but the East has 3 of the top 4 defensive teams. Even though they are second & third in defense, I have picked the Pacers to win the East because their offense is 8th, as opposed to the Pistons who sit at 16th.

Knicks Related
There is one thing I can’t explain, and that is the Knicks’ ranking in the top 10 in defense. The Knicks’ defense has looked pitiful at times, but according to these numbers, it’s their offense that is the weaker of the two. To make matters more confounding, their opponents eFG% is a lowly .461, good enough for 8th in the league.
Breaking it down to their players, of their starters 2 are known as weak defenders (Nazr & T.Thomas). Only Kurt Thomas is regarded as a good defender. Thomas is a good man to man defender, but not necessarily a good weak side helper. Anderson is probably a better defender than Houston, but he’s not good enough to propel the Knicks single-handedly to the top 10. Mutombo is a good (weak side) defender but has seen little playing time this second half.

The Knicks don’t create many turnovers (23rd in the league), and are about league average in blocked shots (16th). They are one of the worst teams in sending their opponents to the line (behind only Utah & the Bulls). Really the only indication of them having a good defense is the low eFG%. Maybe the Knicks individual players’ defensive reputation is lower than their actual performance? One explanation of this could be their lacking players who perform well in traditional defensive measurements (STL, BLK, etc.). In any case I’m pleasantly surprised with this revelation.