The Knicks Want Jeffries

The Knicks have signed Wizards forward Jared Jeffries to their mid-level exception (i.e., 5-years averaging $6 million per). Because the team is over the luxury tax threshold it will have to match the contract dollar-for-dollar in taxes should Washington choose not to match it. The Washington Post is reporting that the contract has language designed to discourage Washington from matching or demanding a sign-and-trade. Jeffries? agent has also made it clear that his client wishes to play in New York. However, matching the offer is not?financially speaking?especially burdensome for Washington, who has the cap space.

So, is this a good signing for the Knicks? I?ll try to look at this from three related (but distinct) vantage points: production, roster management, and fiscal. Even as I type this I?m not sure where I stand, though I?ll note that I have always rooted for him.

Production. Certainly Jeffries? per game offensive numbers fail to jump off the page. Last season he scored 6.4 points and pulled down 4.9 boards. More advanced metrics don?t necessarily make him look any better either. His career PER is 10.5 and he has posted below league average offensive ratings each year of his career. I was particularly interested in seeing how turnover-prone he is, as I?d hate to add another butterfingers to the frontcourt. His career turnover rate is 14.4?not atrocious; an upgrade over Qyntel Woods but not as good as Jalen Rose (12.5 in NY) or Q-Rich (8.7). Fortunately, Jeffries? 13.3 usage rate suggests that his teams have never looked to him for offensive punch.

His calling card, such that it is, is defense. So, how good is he defensively? That is a notoriously difficult question to answer, and probably near impossible to answer for combo forwards using most easily accessible stats. There is no reason to think that Jeffries is not at least the defensive equivalent of any of the veteran small forwards on the roster. So the real question is whether he is an upgrade, and if so by how much? Kevin Broom wrote up a nice piece at RealGM about the 2005 Wizards defense as part of a team defensive charting project he?s been doing. (If you are in a hurry, scroll down to ?Defense By the Numbers? in boldface. Start reading there.) Broom?s game-charted data portrayed Jeffries as a good pressure and help defender, typically assigned the best frontcourt scorer to protect the defensively-indifferent Antawn Jamison. Broom?s criticism at the time was that Jeffries was too often apt to abandon his assignment to help in the post, leaving accomplished shooters wide open 3 pt. looks. That seems to be precisely the kind of thing a young player might get better at over time, though I have no idea whether Jeffries has. Again, the numbers don?t add much clarity. According to his on-court/off-court numbers balance out exactly to zero.

From a production standpoint Jeffries is a gamble; not quite a Jerome James-type nonsensical gamble, but a gamble nonetheless. He?s a role player that doesn?t score. Unlike with an emerging offensive force, where widely available metrics are sensitive enough to provide a decent projection (think Jackie Butler), we are often stuck reading the proverbial tea leaves on defensive-oriented players. There?s nothing to suggest that Jeffries, who is at least 6?10? with really long arms and nice lateral quickness, doesn?t deserve the rep he has as a good young defender but then there is little to support it either.

Roster Management. Between the draft and this signing one might think that Isiah is channeling the dearly departed Larry Brown, given his sudden fondness for defense-first role players. Jeffries, who will play both forward spots, will join a semi-crowded front court. It is certainly reasonable to suspect that Jeffries, even with no other roster changes, will start at small forward alongside Channing Frye and Eddy Curry. Isiah however could also opt to start either of the more perimeter oriented forwards, Jalen Rose or Quentin Richardson. I strongly suspect that David Lee?s future is now at backup power forward rather than small forward, should he remain on the team. I certainly hope that the Jeffries signing portends the end of significant minutes for Malik Rose and Mo Taylor.

If Jeffries actually brings the defense and versatility to the table his reputation suggests then it would seem that Isiah?s strategy is to mix-and-match lineups, similar to the Dallas Mavericks. If this is true, it would seem to contradict his earlier pronouncements that he would shrink the rotation. Even should he be committed to chaining Malik Rose and Mo Taylor to the bench, and even assuming that Balkman?s minutes will be limited, it is difficult to see how Isiah manages front court minutes without thinning out the roster in that area.

Fiscal Impact. As mid-level exception signings go it?s hard to characterize this as outright horrible, if only because Jerome James still anchors the scale at that end?not to mention the training table. Jeffries is a big gamble because he contributes so little offensively that he must play stellar defense, at a position where there are few nights off, or he becomes a net negative. Anyway, if Jeffries really is just a decent defender backed by a pretty good defensive center then why not stay with less expensive options like Qyntel Woods?

I am willing to give Thomas the benefit of the doubt on Jeffries’ talent. I am far less charitable concerning Isiah’s ability to play the market. The full mid-level seems a bit pricey for a defensive role player that is not a bona fide shut-down guy at his position, especially when San Antonio basically turned their mid-level in to Jackie Butler and Francisco Elson. But then, if my understanding is correct, Jeffries already has turned down an even bigger contract offer to sign New York?s offer sheet. Also, the agent?s very public rhetoric?that Jeffries really wants to leave?seems to suggest that he has at least some fear that Washington may match New York?s mid-level offer.

So, numerous paragraphs later I?m still not sure how I feel about this. What about you all?

Round 2: NBA Blogger’s Bracket

With 2 rounds in the books, let’s take a look at the KnickerBlogger NBA bracket standings.

Rank Name Round1 ER2T1 ER2T2 WR2T1 WR2T2 Round2 Total
1 Kevin Broom 41 7 7 5 5 24 65
2 Kevin 37 5 7 5 7 24 61
3.5 Mr.BB 36 7 5 5 7 24 60
3.5 Ron Hitley 36 5 7 7 5 24 60
5.5 Roland 44 5 5 0 5 15 59
5.5 KnickerBlogger 35 5 7 5 7 24 59
7 Kelly Dwyer 41 7 5 0 5 17 58
8 Matt Bernhardt 34 7 7 0 5 19 53
9 Aaron Schatz 37 5 5 0 5 15 52
10 Justin Kubatko 34 5 7 0 5 17 51
11 Larry Fleisher 34 5 5 5 0 15 49
12 Brian Bassett 31 5 0 7 5 17 48
13 Martin Johnson 32 5 5 0 5 15 47
14 Kurt 29 5 5 0 5 15 44
15 Jeff 29 5 0 0 7 12 41

At the top are the two Kevins, followed by a tie between our international contributor and Ron from In fifth place is statmaster Roland Beech. Beech drops out of first place from the first round, and will keep on falling. Roland has the elimanted Dallas Mavericks has his champion. The New York Sun’s participant, Martin Johnson, also has the Mavs to win the West, but he selected the Pistons to take home the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

Speaking of what is predicted in the next two rounds, here’s the remaining picks & scores of all the contestants.

Kevin Broom MIA in 7 SAS in 6 SAS in 7 92-86 65
Kevin MIA in 7 SAS in 7 SAS in 6 91-84 61
Mr.BB MIA in 4 SAS in 6 MIA in 5 94-89 60
Ron Hitley MIA in 6 SAS in 6 MIA in 7 91-84 60
Roland DET in 6 DAL in 6 DAL in 6 115-98 59
KnickerBlogger MIA in 5 SAS in 6 SAS in 6 94-85 59
Kelly Dwyer DET in 6 SAS in 7 SAS in 6 92-83 58
Matt Bernhardt DET in 5 SAS in 5 SAS in 6 90-82 53
Aaron Schatz MIA in 7 SAS in 7 MIA in 7 89-84 52
Justin Kubatko MIA in 7 SAS in 6 MIA in 7 91-86 51
Larry Fleisher DET in 7 PHO in 7 DET in 6 103-99 49
Brian Bassett MIA in 6 SAS in 6 MIA in 7 105-98 48
Martin Johnson DET in 7 DAL in 6 DET in 7 85-79 47
Kurt DET in 6 SAS in 7 SAS in 7 86-74 44
Jeff MIA in 6 SAS in 6 SAS in 6 97-86 41

KnickerBlogger 2005 First Round Playoff Trivia

A little statistical trivia, based on the first round. Feel free to submit your guesses in the comment section.

1. Which player had the highest PER in the first round?
A. Ray Allen
B. Tracy McGrady
C. Yao Ming
D. Paul Pierce

2. Of the four, which Miami player had the highest PER?
A. Keyon Dooling
B. Alonzo Mourning
C. Shaquille O’Neal
D. Dwyane Wade

3. Of the four, which Miami player had the lowest PER?
A. Keyon Dooling
B. Alonzo Mourning
C. Shaquille O’Neal
D. Dwyane Wade

4. Which team had the best offensive efficiency?
A. Dallas Mavericks
B. Miami Heat
C. Phoenix Suns
D. Seattle SuperSonics

5. Of the two, which team had the better defense?
A. Boston Celtics
B. Indiana Pacers

6. The best defensive rebounding team was?
A. Detroit Pistons
B. Indiana Pacers
C. New Jersey Nets
D. San Antonio Spurs

7. Which series had the fastest pace?

2005 First Round Notes

Thanks For Playing
The Nets wonderful “end of the season run” will itself end once they get run over by Shaq Diesel. Being a Knick fan, I’m just not big on resting all your hopes on an injured shooting guard coming back to the rescue. Even if Jefferson were healthy, he’s not good enough to make the 8th seed all of a sudden topple the best team in the East. Also extending their season for only one more week are Memphis, Philly, and Denver. George Karl will have his seventh first round exit 20 years after the first.

Pondering in Seattle
A month ago considering the Sonics as upsetees would have been APBRmetric heresy, but since then they’ve limped to the finish line. Seattle’s 2-8 conclusion to the season included going a pitiful 0-6 versus West playoff teams. What happened to the APBRSonics? Did other teams figure them out? Was it the injuries? Did McMillan’s jenga move of pulling Danny Fortson out of the rotation topple his team’s on-court chemistry? (Or was it Fortson who forced the withdrawal?) Maybe they decided to sleepwalk down the stretch?

Even with those questions, I’m not confident enough with taking the Kings, especially with Stojakovic’s injury. Even if Peja was taking the last few games off as a precaution, it’s not out of the question that the injury isn’t fully healed. Additionally, when they made the Webber trade, I thought Sacramento’s defense would improve. However they’ve gone from 20th to 23rd, so color me unimpressed. No matter how bad Seattle was down the stretch, I’m not going to throw out 72 good games for the last 10. I’ll pass on the Kings.

No Joy In Hoosierville
I’m going to pass on the Pacers as well. This is not the same team that I picked to go all the way last year. Their defense has gone from awesome to a mortal 11th. Consider that the Celtics 13th ranked D is only two spots behind, and that their offense is superior, 105.0 to 102.4 points per 100 possessions. I wouldn’t be shocked if the Pacers won, but I’ll take Boston with the home court advantage.

The Last Seed
While the 4th versus the 5th seed is usually a toss-up, because of the absurd tri-divisional alignment the Dallas Mavericks are much better than their playoff position would indicate. With a top 5 offense and a top 10 defense, they’ve compiled the 4th best record in the NBA. Despite having two phenomenal players in Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady, Houston still hasn’t gotten enough offense from the rest of their team. Their PER at PF is a laughable 11.9, and the PG position is only a point higher. The Rockets offense will be their downfall until they fill in some of those big gaps.

On the other hand, the East’s last matchup might be the first round’s closest battle. Like the Sonics, the Bulls would have been one of my dark horse teams a month ago because they sported the #2 overall defense. However the injury bug has landed in Chicago and stung Deng & Curry. Chandler was bitten as well, and sat out the last game with a bum ankle. Right now the Bulls have more question marks than an old episode of Batman with the Riddler as the villain.

Ironically their opponents, the Wizards, are usually the ones limping to the finish line on crutches. From my view, Washington looks as healthy as can be, but before you lay down a few bills on the Wizards consider that I got a D in biology in high school. The Bulls winning would certainly be the better story: their first playoff series since Jordan, top notch defense, Ben Gordon’s wonderful rookie year, and the team overcoming injuries to two key players. While Chicago has gone 7-4 since both Curry and Deng were lost, most of those were against weak clubs. Filter that to only playoff teams, and the Bulls are a winless 0-4. I’ll take the Wizards in 6.

My Round 1 Picks:
Miami in 5
Detroit in 4
Boston in 7
Washington in 6
Phoenix in 5
San Antonio in 5
Seattle in 6
Dallas in 6

Top 5 Title Contenders

The NBA is just past the midway point, so I’d like to present my top 5 title contending teams.

5. Detroit Pistons – Now that they’re back to full strength, and their coach has stopped eyeing the Knick coaching vacancy like a teenage boy and his first Playboy, Detroit is back as a serious title contender. Staying atop of the Central is critical for their playoff chances. Just one game behind, King James and his sovereignty won’t make it easy for them. There are a group of intelligent people that think last year’s post-Rasheed Detroit was one of the best defensive teams in history. If the Pistons are running on all cylinders, they may get a chance to prove it in June.

4. Dallas Mavericks – For years the basketball team playing in the “Big D” was missing just that. This year is a different story. Dallas is ranked 6th both on offense and defense. The last time a Maverick team was that good on defense, it was anchored by Aguirre, Blackman, and Harper. Just like the modern day Mavs, that team also had a seven foot German on the roster: “Groovy” Uwe Blab. The Mavericks have learned that a fantastic offense without a defense can’t win it all. Now they’ll find out if a very good offensive and defensive team can take the crown.

3. Phoenix Suns – The Suns no longer have the best record in the league, and they can blame it on their defense. They’ve just broken a streak of 7 straight games in which their opponent scored 100 or more points. Fortunately, Phoenix’s offense is so good that they won 5 of those 7. When I wrote about them in December, they had the 6th overall defense and the best offense in the league. Today they still lead the league in scoring, but their defense has fallen to 17th. To win it all this year, the Suns need to improve on defense, either by adding personnel or by getting a better effort from the current roster. If not they can look at either the 2002 or the 2004 Mavericks to see their fate.

2. Miami Heat – No one else has an easier road to the Finals than the Heat. The West has 5 teams with a winning percentage greater than .675. The Heat is the only Eastern team that meets this criteria. Just imagine what their record would be if Shaq weren’t saving his best for the playoffs! If the playoffs started today, Miami would play Philly, then the winner of Washington/Cleveland, and at best the Pistons – all on their home court.

1. San Antonio Spurs – 1st in defense, 4th on offense. No other team in the league is in the top 5 in both categories. The Spurs have the best record in the league, and are the cream of the crop in the NBA. San Antonio must be thrilled of L.A.’s demise, seeing that Diesel’s Lakers ended their season in 3 of the last 4 years. Getting home court advantage throughout the playoffs would be a big advantage for the Spurs who are 23-1 at the SBC. Eventually the mainstream media might catch on that for the past two seasons they have been watching the best defensive team of all time.

Dirk, The Daring Defender?

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, on his webpage, advocates 2 Mavericks for the All Defensive team: Dirk Nowitzki and Josh Howard. The first nominee is a curious one that will raise a few eyebrows. Over the last few years, Dirk’s defense has been thought as mediocre at best. Last year the Mavericks were awful defensively; ranked 26th in defensive efficiency. Mark gives no evidence for Dirk’s change, but offers the following:

This year, Dirk has become better than just a good defender. Dirk has become a very good defender, on his way to being one of the best defensive PFs in the league. If that comment makes you laugh, you arent watching enough games and paying attention to Dirk on the defensive end.

Go down the list of PFs in the NBA….. After Garnett and Duncan, who is a better defender?

Hmmm… Mark Cuban says that if I don’t think Nowitzki is a great defender, I haven’t watched enough Mavs games. While he may be right, I can counter by saying that Mark hasn’t seen every game the Bulls, Pistons, Clippers, etc. have played. So how can he say Dirk is better than the PFs on those teams? With this kind of logic, everyone can claim their team has the best defenders in the league. Instead, we need a more objective way of looking at defense.

This year the Mavericks are ranked 6th defensively, so maybe Dirk’s improved defense has made Dallas a defensive minded team? Since 59% of the time Dirk is the Dallas PF, looking at how opposing PFs fare against the Mavs might give us insight into Nowitzki’s defense. So far this year, opposing PFs have had a 15.3 PER and effective shooting percentage (eFG%) of .477. Both of those numbers are about average, so it really doesn’t prove that Dirk has anchored the Mavs D.

Thanks to, we can measure three more ways in which Dirk affects his team defensively. The first is defensive +/-, which has its drawbacks depending on the strength of the team & the bench. Basically they’re comparing the points scored per 100 possessions when the player is on versus off the court. The way records this stat, lower numbers are better. Defensively Dallas has been -4.6 points worse when Dirk is on the bench (which means they’re 4.6 points better with Dirk on the floor). The last two stats are oPER & oeFG%, which represent the opposing PFs stats when Nowitzki is on the court. In this respect, power forwards have shot .499 and have an overall PER of 16.3. Again neither are impressive enough to write home about.

If you’re like me & you’re scoring at home, putting all that above into a spreadsheet looks like this:

Name...........	TmRank	eFG	PER	+/-	oeFG	oPER
Dirk Nowitzki.. 6 0.477 15.3 -4.6 0.499 16.3

On their own these numbers are meaningless. What if PERs for power forwards are generally higher? What if PFs generally have better defensive +/-? To find out how good defensively Dirk is, we can put him next to the best defensive PF in the league: Tim Duncan.

Name...........	TmRank	eFG	PER	+/-	oeFG	oPER
Dirk Nowitzki.. 6 0.477 15.3 -4.6 0.499 16.3
Tim Duncan..... 1 0.431 15.1 -6.7 0.403 14.4

Now we have the beginnings of a mini-study. Armed with some statistics, I agree with the one-time Dairy Queen server. We should go down the list of the PFs in the league, and see who is a better defender. Spending hours of my free time that I could have otherwise spent interacting with other human beings, I went through for all the stats of the following PFs.

Name...........	TmRank	eFG	 PER 	+/-	oeFG	oPER
Dirk Nowitzki.. 6 .477 15.3 -4.6 .499 16.3
Tim Duncan..... 1 .431 15.1 -6.7 .403 14.4
Kevin Garnett.. 19 .502 17.0 -2.0 .498 16.8
Rasheed Wallace 3 .449 14.6 -5.8 .442 16.1
Elton Brand.... 9 .467 15.3 -4.5 .453 14.3
Shawn Marion... 17 .479 17.4 1.2 .508 20.6
Pau Gasol...... 5 .470 17.0 0.4 .467 17.1
Carlos Boozer.. 30 .473 16.8 2.5 .465 17.3
Dwight Howard.. 13 .440 15.1 1.2 .455 17
Chris Bosh..... 20 .470 16.7 -6.2 .477 17.6
Tyson Chandler. 2 .447 14.7 -0.8 .463 18.7
Kurt Thomas.... 27 .520 19.0 5.9 .511 19.7

Ahhhh I love the smell of spreadsheets in the morning. Looking at this list, it’s obvious that Duncan is the best of the group. Why do I say that? He has the best +/-, the best oeFG, and the second best oPER. Since that seems like a good way to see who is statistically the best, let’s rank the stat of each player against the others.

Name...........	R1	R2	R3	R4	R5	OVR
Tim Duncan..... 1 3 1 1 2 1
Rasheed Wallace 4 1 3 2 3 2
Elton Brand.... 5 5 5 3 1 3
Dwight Howard.. 2 3 9 4 6 4
Tyson Chandler. 3 2 7 5 10 5
Dirk Nowitzki.. 9 5 4 10 4 6
Chris Bosh..... 6 7 2 8 9 6
Pau Gasol...... 6 9 8 7 7 8
Kevin Garnett.. 11 9 6 9 5 9
Carlos Boozer.. 8 8 11 6 8 10
Shawn Marion... 10 11 9 11 12 11
Kurt Thomas.... 12 12 12 12 11 12

R1 is team PF eFG% ranked. R5 is oPER ranked. Tim Duncan is the best in team PF eFG%, and Elton Brand is the best in oPER. The last column OVR is how they rank overall in all the stats.

Other than Garnett’s low ranking, the list isn’t very surprising. If someone told me the 5 best defensive PFs in the league were Duncan, Rasheed, Brand, Howard, & Chandler, I’d believe it. Given a ballot for All Defensive Team, I would choose the top two on my list. Duncan is a no-brainer, but IMHO ‘Sheed, who has never won any defensive honors, is highly underrated in his defensive ability. During last year’s Finals, Sonics analyst Kevin Pelton said of Wallace:

What is clearly most impressive about the Pistons post-Wallace trade is their defense. Detroit was a very good, if overrated team, prior to adding Wallace. With him in the fold, they’ve been nothing short of magnificent.

Nowitzki’s 6th overall ranking shows that he’s upgraded his game under his own basket. He doesn’t fare well in both opposing shooting percentage categories, but he does well in all the others. Despite the evidence that’s he’s an above average defender, I’d still be hesitant voting for him in any kind of all-defensive team.

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.