Blazer/Knicks Pre-Game Whatever

Random Links:

http://msn.foxsports.com/fantasy/story/6594540 – Position battles: The book on the Knicks
http://www.postingandtoasting.com – An SB Nation blog for New York Knicks fans
http://blog.oregonlive.com/blazers/ – Blazers Blog

Team stats for Tonight’s game:

Team Four Factors
  PACE   OFFENSE   DEFENSE
TYPE
   
KNICKS
89.7   108.1

49.6

18.4

30.9 27.2   110.9

50.4

15.4 26.6 24.7
RANK
18.5   13 14 29 2 6   26 23 30 14.5

17

Team Four Factors
  PACE   OFFENSE   DEFENSE
TYPE
   
BLAZERS
87.3   106.1

48.4

17.2

29.2 23.5   111.0

50.6

15.6 26.5 26.1
RANK
29   21 22 20 7 20   27 25 29 13

23

Hollinger On Tonight’s Game

From Today’s New York Sun:

Furthermore, check out New York’s upcoming schedule: After tonight, the ‘Bockers won’t play a team with a winning record until March 10. That’s eight straight games against the league’s doormats if you’re scoring at home, and it will be a huge disappointment if the locals don’t claim at least five of them.

Notice I said “after tonight,” because this is what I’ve been leading up to; tonight might be the biggest game of the Knicks’ season. They host the Magic at MSG, and with a win they’ll close the gap to three games with 28 left to play for both sides, including a re-match in New York City on March 26.

Considering the huge disparity in the clubs’ upcoming schedules after tonight, it’s possible that if the Knicks win they could catch Orlando within the next two weeks. Plus, since New York already beat the Magic on February 3 in the teams’ only other meeting, the Knicks would hold the tiebreaker edge with a win tonight.

On the other hand, a loss tonight would be crushing. It would put the Knicks five games out, and in addition, it would require them to win the March rematch to hold the tiebreaker.

Some stats for today’s game. Note I switched the Offense & Defense so that they’ll align under each other (Orlando Offense vs. New York Defense).

Team Four Factors
  PACE   OFFENSE   DEFENSE
TYPE
   
ORLANDO
88.6   105.8 49.9 19.0 28.6 27.1   105.4 47.8 16.9 26.4 27.7
RANK
25   23 10 30 11 7   7 7 12 11 28
  PACE   DEFENSE   OFFENSE
TYPE
   
KNICKS
90.4   111.2 50.2 14.9 26.9 24.9   108.3 49.5 18.6 32.1 27.2
RANK
16   26 21 30 13 17   11 16 29 1 5

 

Knicks Need To Address Home Woes

[This does not include last night’s game against Detroit.]

The New York Knicks have entered a major home streak in their schedule. Of their next 11 games, 10 will be at Madison Square Garden. For most teams, being within the friendly confines of home is a boon to the team. When you think of home field advantage, your thoughts might be of 60,000 fans in snowy Soldier Field or the varying outfield dimensions in half a dozen baseball stadiums. But the NBA boasts a better home win percentage (about 60%) than either football (58%) or baseball (55%).

Yet for the Knicks, home is hardly where the heart is. New York has an abysmal 1-6 record at home, while boasting a respectable 5-5 record on the road. Presented to a reasonable person, the simple conclusion would be that the Knicks have faced tougher competition at home. Looking at the stats, this might seem to be true. The Knicks home opponents have averaged a .520 win%, while their road opponents average only .485.

However a closer inspection of the facts show that these numbers may not be the true reason of New York’s home mystery. If you exclude New York’s opening day victory over hapless Memphis, the Knicks road opponents average a more respectable .509. Additionally the Knicks have lost to two teams at home (Boston & Cleveland) that they beat on the road. So if strength of schedule isn’t the answer, what is causing the Knicks to perform worse at home?

Looking at the four factors for guidance, the problems become clear. On offense, the Knicks shooting percentage (46.5% eFG%) is significantly worse at home than on the road (50.6%). In fact New York has only bested their road average once in 7 tries at home. Ironically that’s the only area that is worse at the Garden. The Knicks turn the ball over less, get more of their misses, and accumulate more points from the free throw line at home.

Unfortunately you can’t say the same about the Knicks defense. New York is worse on defense at home in every single category: shooting, rebounding, turnovers, and free throws. Away from home, the Knicks defense averages 106.3 pts/100 possessions which is about where the Mavs/Nets are this year, nearly league average. But bring the same group home and the average dips to 111.2. That would place the Knicks home team among the defensive dregs of the league like Seattle and Milwaukee.

From this the keys to a Knick home exorcism is simple. First is to be patient when they have the ball. Just about everyone who has watched the Knicks on a regular basis would agree that they just look better when they stay within the frame of the offense. The Knicks should move the offense away from the guards and feature Curry (53.5% eFG%) and Richardson (53.9%) with David Lee (61%) cleaning up the scraps.

More importantly the Knicks need to bring home the defensive intensity that they’ve shown on the road. Oddly, enough the injury to Channing Frye may have helped the Knicks here. With David Lee in the starting lineup, Renaldo Balkman has seen more and more playing time coming off the bench. If Balkman isn’t the Knicks’ best defender, he certainly is their most tenacious. He’s earned the name “the Human Windmill” by the KnickerBlogger household for the way he swings his long arms on the defensive end. Additionally Isiah has turned to the zone to help the Knicks’ defensive woes. Although Zeke relies on the zone too often (last night Detroit feasted on the outside shot), it’s helps mask some of the Knick poorer defenders. But ultimately New York needs to give more effort on the defensive end.

Early Results Suggest Improvement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Four Questions About the Knicks’ Four Factors

Sorry this is up so late today gang. Things got busy at work. You know the drill.

While we are still in something of a Knicks news black hole I thought it might be interesting to pose four questions to the readership about the upcoming season that call for rampant speculation. We’re all good for that, right?

But, to provide this post with at least the thin veneer of being at the analytical forefront of the sports blogosphere I’ve organized the questions around Dean Oliver’s “Four Factors”. Let’s restrict this round to offense mostly–just to see how this goes.

Question 1 (Shooting): In 2006 the Knick effective FG% was 48.1%, 22nd in the league. Denver was 15th last season at 48.8%. Will the Knicks increase their eFG% to 48.8% or better in 2007? Why?

Question 2 (Turnovers): New York was dead last in the league in 2006 at 19.5 turnovers per 100 possessions, more than a full turnover behind next-to-last Boston. The Clippers were 15th at 15.9 per 100 possessions. Can the Knicks keep their TO’s to 15.9 per 100 or fewer?
(Okay, almost certainly not but do you expect to improve in this area? How much?)

Question 3 (Rebounding): New York was 4th in the league in offensive rebounding percentage (31.2%) in 2006. At least three reserves who contributed double-digit rebound rates (Qyntel Woods, Mo Taylor, and Jackie Butler) are gone. Replacing them are Jared Jeffries–who was the basic equivalent of Taylor on the boards last year–along with uber-rebounder David Lee, and possibly rookie Ronaldo Balkman. Will the Knicks be able to remain a top 5 team on the offensive glass?

Okay, so I lied. I will ask one defense-oriented question because getting to the FT line, the fourth factor, is kinda boring.

Question 4 (Defensive Rebounding): Unfortunately the Knick prowess on the offensive glass did not translate to defense. The Knicks lacked the knack for keeping other teams off the boards. [Read that last sentence in Clyde’s voice. It’s almost like watching MSG.] They allowed a respectable 27.2% of opponent misses to be rebounded, good for 13th. The Heat lead the league at 23.6%.

The team’s unwillingness to rebound on the defensive end may be the singularly most inexcusable aspect of their play last year. They already were a high turnover team that didn’t shoot especially well or play good defense. However, there doesn’t seem to be much reason why a team can pound the offensive glass with the best of them but remain mediocre on defensive glass–other than “want to”. It was the widest disparity between offense and defense among the four factors for the Knicks in 2006. So, can Isiah inspire this bunch to become a top 5 defensive rebounding team? Why or why not?

Alright, have at it…

A Few Reasons 2006 Will Be Better for the Knicks

[Today’s article comes from David Crockett. Dr. Crockett is the lead researcher of optimism at KnickerBlogger.Net industries.]

As poorly as the Knicks have played in spots they really aren?t quite as bad as they look.

In all seriousness, this team should be a bit better than its current 8-21 record (as of January 4th) based on its Pythagorean formula, which projects wins and losses based the two most direct determinants of winning (i.e., how much you score and how much you give up). If I?ve calculated it correctly the Knicks should have between 13 or 14 wins rather than their current 8. [KB’s Note: There are different ways to calculate expected win% using points for/against. David has chosen: g*pf^2.37/(pf^2.37+pa^2.37), while the stat page uses (G*(PTS^14/(PTS^14 + oPTS^14)) which has the Knicks at 10 expected wins.] The difference between actual and projected wins is often referred to as ?luck,? or perhaps more precisely the difference is in little things less directly related to winning than scoring or defense. Often, whether those little things go in your favor can be pretty random. (A good example from football is recovering fumbled balls. Jumping on a lose football is pretty much a 50-50 proposition but it can have a huge impact on winning or losing a game. Over time it evens out but it at a given moment it can really hurt or really help.)

Of course ?coulda, shoulda, woulda? is the sad lullaby of losers. Still, it is hard to deny that in addition to a number of completely self-inflicted wounds the Knicks have also been genuinely unlucky in the early part of the season. They?ve played a ton of road games against a killer schedule.

What can the Knicks build on in the New Year?

The Schedule Gets Kinder. Through November and December the Knicks spent a lot of time on the road. In those two months the team had only four sets of consecutive home dates. One negative impact of playing so much on the road is lost practice time spent traveling. January will mark the first month where the Knicks will play the majority of their games at home. They will have four sets of consecutive home dates in January alone. Apart from the crowd noise, the home cooking, and all that jazz, Larry Brown will have the opportunity to practice and teach which should pay some dividends in the spring.

Of course the cynic in me responds that with all the time the fans at MSG spend booing them the road may not be so bad for the Knicks. Certainly, the Knicks will be dogs in most of their home dates going forward. Still, for a young team trying to find itself home is probably the best place to be.

The Four Factors (Offense). Any longtime reader of Knickerblogger.net knows that KB?s stat page allows the reader to sort teams by Dean Oliver?s four factors most closely associated with winning (i.e., shooting, turnovers, rebounding, and free throws). Offensively, in two of those areas (rebounding and getting to the free throw line) the Knicks are among the best in the league. Conversely, the Knicks are the highest turnover team in the NBA and in the bottom five in eFG%.

As I alluded to in September (see Question #2) the question of style/tempo would be an interesting one for Larry Brown. Fortunately, he has allowed the Knicks to play the seventh quickest pace in the league at 92.6 possessions per game (Phoenix is 1st at 95.6). Given the makeup of the roster I believe this is the right call. Unfortunately, at this point the Knicks aren?t any more efficient now (103.2) than they were last season (103). But, one could change the framing of that statement and argue that the current Knicks have managed to match the offensive output of last year?s version despite only intermittent production from an out-of-shape and hobbled Curry, an unstable rotation filled with rookie starters, and perhaps most importantly with a knack for getting to the free throw line. So going forward one reason to suspect that the offensive efficiency will improve is that Curry is getting closer to game shape. One reason to suspect that the Knicks will cut down on turnovers is that the rotation is beginning to stabilize. Also, adding David Lee to the starting lineup, even out of position at small forward, brings better ball handling and passing to the frontcourt than Quentin Richardson or Trevor Ariza.

The Four Factors (Defense). Interestingly, the Knicks are also good in two of the four areas on defense. First, the positive. This Knick team forces turnovers. At just over 17 per game the Knicks are 6th in forcing turnovers in the league. It?s easy to overlook this aspect of their game since they give all those back plus some. Also, they currently rank 12th in defensive rebounding (where only 1.1 offensive rebounds allowed per game separates them from #5 San Antonio). The Knicks do a very good job of limiting their opponent?s second shots. Now, the not so good. The Knicks are among the worst in the league at eFG defense, allowing over 50% eFG. Thus, not surprisingly the Knicks are among the most charitable teams in the league sending opponents to the FT line almost 29 times per 100 FGAs.

How can the Knicks improve on defense? Well, for starters they could stop turning the ball over on offense so doggone much. Cutting down on easy baskets won?t turn them into the 2004 Pistons but it could, even with no other improvements, move them out of the bottom quarter of bad eFG defense teams. A quick look at 82games.com appears to confirm this. The Knicks allow by far the largest percentage of opponent?s shots early in the clock (37% of opponent shots come at 0-10 seconds) and yield the highest eFG (55%) on those attempts. This is most likely the accumulated impact of turnovers and poor transition defense.

Let?s hope for all our sakes that the Knicks have resolved in the New Year to be smarter with the ball, to get back on D, and keep getting to the line. If so, 2006 may be a happy year indeed.

2006 Stat Page

Some interesting tidbits from the 2006 stat page (all stats as of Sunday morning):

* The best offense in the league is Flip Saunders’ new team, the Detroit Pistons. It shouldn’t be a surprise since the 6-0 Pistons have had four 100+ point outbursts. They are still playing at snail’s pace, as Detroit is the 3rd slowest team in the league. It’s slightly odd, because they don’t lead the league in any of the four factors, but right now the Pistons have 6 players sporting a PER of 20 or higher.

* The best defensive team in the league is Flip Saunders old team, the Minnesota Timberwolves. Like the Pistons, the T-Wolves don’t lead the league in any of the four factors. Peering at their 82games.com page, so far they’ve done an excellent job at shutting down point guards and centers.

* The biggest surprise might be the PER leader. Speedy Claxton has a half point edge over LeBron. He is averaging 27.1 points per 40 minutes, fueled by a 56.6% eFG and 53 free throws made per 100 shot attempts. The Hornet’s other point guard, Chris Paul, is faring well as well. The rookie has a PER of 22.3, good enough for 35th in the league.

* The top 10 in PER:

RANK	TEAM	NAME
1	NOR	Speedy Claxton	PG
2	CLE	LeBron James	SF
3	SAS	Tim Duncan	FC
4	HOU	Yao Ming	C
5	LAC	Elton Brand	PF
6	MIN	Kevin Garnett	F
7	BOS	Paul Pierce	SG
8	DAL	Dirk Nowitzki	PF
9	WAS	Gilbert Arenas	PG
10	MIA	Dwyane Wade	G

* Not surprisingly, the Knicks are last in the league in offense, but are a respectable 9th on defense. Of the Knick rookies, Robinson (6.2 PER) is faring poorly, Lee (31.8) played well in the 2 games he has appeared, and Frye (18.1) is playing well enough to be starting at either power forward or center.