This Is Not a Stats Primer

Recently I’ve noticed an influx of new readers to my little corner of the blogosphere. To my new audience I say “Hi mom & dad, sorry for changing your browser start-up page.” Since the basketball stat community is new on the scene, a lot of the numbers I use here are still unknown to the general public. Unless you’ve been here for a while, or you’re already an insider on the APBRmetric scene, you might not be comfortable with all the terms on KB.Net.

This is where you expect me to do a whole big write-up on the stats I use with definitions, equations & examples. Fortunately for me, a few other people have already done that. So instead I’ll just give a link-o-rama. One note before I do, if you read the whole thing without falling asleep, at the very bottom of the post there is a little reward.

STAT DEFINITIONS
Kevin Pelton’s Stat Primer – A great place to start. Kevin goes over many of the APBRmetric standards.

Kevin Pelton’s description of Dean Oliver’s 4 factors (team stats) – The four factors is hands down the best way to analyze a team’s strengths & weaknesses.

“What Are Those Numbers?” by Forum Blue & Gold (Lakers blog) – covers a few things Pelton might have missed.

BOOKS
Required reading.
Basketball On Paper
– Dean Oliver’s revolutionary book on basketball statistics. If you don’t have it, you’re not looking at the game with open eyes.

Basketball Forecast 2004
– John Hollinger, who is undeniably today’s best basketball writer, analyzes every player and team using his own brand of statistics.

DAILY/HISTORICAL STATS
http://82games.com/
THE site for current stats. 82games features unique stats you can’t find anywhere else. oPER, team scoring by position, 5 man teams, +/-, etc.

http://www.basketball-reference.com/
THE site for advanced historical stats (PER, eFG, PSA), with incredible query labs.

http://www.knickerblogger.net/stats/
Stats page by yours truly – I have everything John Hollinger has in his Prospectus/forecast series, Dean Oliver’s four factors for teams, and per minute stats.

http://members.rogers.com/brothered/index.html
The Stats Pimp Page (currently down) – has lots of other things, including Dean Oliver’s win%, pythagorean standings, strength of schedule, etc.

And for those whose left click button died on them just after clicking on the link, here is my lazy-assed 30 second version of a stat primer.

Poss = Possessions. A possession means the ball has changed hands from the offense to defense. This is primarily used to equalize per game stats between teams, since faster teams use more possessions than deliberate squeeze every second out of the shot clock teams. (Example: points allowed/possession is more indicative of a team’s defense than points allowed/game).

eFG% = Effective Field Goal Percentage. FG%, but normalized for three pointers.

PSA = Points per Shot Attempt. A misnomer, since the equation is not the simple PTS/FGA, but it’s a measure of a player’s ability to score per attempt including free throws. If you see TS% (True shooting percentage) it is half of PSA.

PER = Player Efficiency Rating. John Hollinger’s linear weight, adjusting for minutes played & pace. 15 is average, MVP season ~ 30.

oPER = opposition PER. Only kept by 82games, basically the PER of the opponent playing the same position. Or a defensive version of PER.

PPR = Pure Point Rating. JH’s (John Hollinger’s) stat to compare Point guards.

AST-R = Assist Ratio. JH’s stat to replace AST/TO ratio.

REB-R = Rebounding Ratio. JH’s stat for measuring rebounding.

TO-R = Turnover Ratio. JH’s stat for measuring turnovers.

USG-R = Usage Ratio. JH’s stat for measuring ability to create shots.

Finally as I promised, a little treat for all the statheads out there. A
Basketball-Reference.com Search Plugin for Firefox. Click on this link from firefox & you’ll be able to search for any player in Basketball-Reference.com’s in your browser in a split second. If you haven’t switched over to Firefox yet, this is yet another reason to do so. It’s clearly superior to IE.

Oh and while I’m at it, here’s one for Baseball-Reference.com as well.

Dirk, The Daring Defender? Odds & Ends

[If you haven’t read yesterday’s column, you’re not visiting often enough. Click here, read it, then hit back on your browser. Then remember to come here more often. :-) ]

Yesterday, I busted out a table with defensive PF stats. It was to see if Dirk Nowitzki statistically was a serious choice for an All Defensive Team spot. One thing I didn’t consider was that there are four spots between all the forwards. So Dirk would be competing against small forwards as well as power forwards. Adding a few entries to my list:

Name...........	DRank	eFG	 PER 	+/-	oeFG	oPER
Tim Duncan..... 1 .431 15.1 -6.7 .403 14.4
Rasheed Wallace 3 .449 14.6 -5.8 .442 16.1
Elton Brand.... 9 .467 15.3 -4.5 .453 14.3
Dwight Howard.. 13 .440 15.1 1.2 .455 17
Tyson Chandler. 2 .447 14.7 -0.8 .463 18.7
Dirk Nowitzki.. 6 .477 15.3 -4.6 .499 16.3
SFs
Andrei Kirilenko 30 .496 16.7 -12.1 .371 11.6
Tayshaun Prince 3 .474 14.4 -3.4 .472 13.4
Bruce Bowen.... 1 .500 13.1 -6.0 .500 13.3
Manu Ginobili.. 1 .396 9.8 -7.3 .385 10.2

Andrei Kirilenko’s numbers are just sick. Due to his injury they represent a small sample size, but he’s light years ahead of the non-Duncan field. Whether or not his time missed will cost him some votes remain to be seen. Bowen’s statistics, while still above average, are meager for his excellent reputation. Looking at Ginobili’s numbers reveals a “Hedo Turkoglu Effect.”

For those that aren’t familiar with the works of Kevin Pelton, the HTE describes what happens statistically when a team uses a defensive stopper that can play multiple positions. Bowen defends the stronger offensive player, whether he is at SF or SG. Therefore Ginobili defends the weaker one. Hence the defensive numbers gets blurred between the two. I can guarantee that Manu’s excellent defensive stats are largely the work of Bowen (and Duncan).


A poster by the name of Sterling commented in Cuban’s blog, (not this Cuban blog)

“For instance? Why are the Timberwolves a .500 team? Well the rank right their with the Mavs as far as field goal percentage, 3 point field goal percentage, and rebounding…But, has anyone notice that they rank 28 out of 30 in Free throw attempts….I think they are putting up to many jump shots…

Now imagine the argument and debate…Maybe somebody will find after reviewing several games that the lack of free throws has more to do with certain player(s) (two particularly) getting touches, than anything else?”

Instead of wondering if Sterling uses the same spell checker as myself, I thought I’d tackle his question. At the time of his writing, the T-Wolves had a .558 winning percentage. By points per 100 possession, Minnesota is ranked 5th offensively, but are an awful 19th on defense. The Mavericks are ranked 7th & 6th respectively, so it’s clear that the difference between the two is the T-Wolves lack of defense. Looking at the four factors, Minnesota is average in defensive shooting percentage, but next to last in forcing turnovers. If I were reviewing games individually, I’d start by looking at eFG & turnovers of Minnesota’s opponents.

Introducing The New Stats Page

I’ve been working on this for a bit, and I think it’s time to release it out into the general public: the new stat page. A little Merry Christmas from me to my readers. It actually started as an automated tool for myself, so I could have a few key stats handy when I’m writing, but it just snowballed into what you see today. Since I don’t have much of an index, let me give you a quick rundown, interspersed with comments from today’s Knick win over the hapless Bobcats.

The best place to start is the Team Totals. On that page, you can see each team’s scoring per possession, the best measure of a team’s offense or defense. At the very top of the defensive page are teams like the Spurs, Pistons, and Rockets. At the bottom are teams like the Jazz, Hawks, Bucks, and unfortunately, my New York Knicks. New York was 23rd when I checked a month and a half ago, so that means they’ve gotten worse since then. Wilkens has to deal with this disturbing trend either by trying out different defenses, getting the team to play better fundamentals, or by giving more minutes to better defensive players. I’ve begged & pleaded in this space for the Knicks to press & trap, something which the Knicks almost never do. In fact as far as I can recall, they play man nearly exclusively. Certainly it’s not working.

My least favorite defensive breakdown is what I call ‘defensive indifference’. Today Tim Thomas had two great examples of this. In the first quarter, Thomas got caught on a switch, and Primoz Brezec had the ball with Thomas at least 10 feet away. Brezec went up for the jumper as Thomas raced toward him. He closed the distance quickly, but realized he wouldn’t get there in time to block the attempt, and just gave up right in front of Brezec, without putting up a hand. Those kinds of plays kill me as a viewer, because every kid on a team in America has a coach that has taught him if he can’t block a shot to get a hand in the shooter face to stop him from getting a good look at the basket.

In the next quarter, Charlotte had a possession where they got a few offensive rebounds. At one point Okafor pulled one down facing the basket and Tim Thomas came behind him. Now, I have Thomas listed as 6’10, Okafor at 6’10, and Okafor’s FT% at 62%. If Thomas tries hard enough, the worst he can do is give Okafor a 38% chance of scoring two points. At best, it would have been a blind side block, the kind that little guys like Boykins, and Brevin Knight salivate for. But Thomas just watched as Emeka scored an easy two. Defensive indifference.

Anyway back to the stat page, not only can you rank the teams by efficiency, but by pace, or any of the four factors. You may notice that each team name is underlined, and clicking on the name will bring you to the team page. Here I have a few stats I use, including John Hollinger’s PER. It came in handy today when one of the announcers (Al Trautwig?) claimed that Moochie Norris was doing a good job bringing energy off the bench & setting up the offense. He’s got to be kidding me. Norris (2.9 PER) runs the offense like the Ukrainians run an election.

John Hollinger did a great job coming up with ways of rating a player’s ability, but what does Norris’ 19.5 turnover ratio mean? Click on the leaders link at the top, and then on the X above TO-r. This brings you to the League Leaders page, sorted by Hollinger’s turnover ratio. Norris doesn’t have enough minutes to qualify for league leaders, but if he could, his 19.5 would be 6th worst. Right between Antonio Davis and Erick Dampier. That’s just what you want in a backup PG, someone that turns the ball over like two old centers.

A special thanks goes to Kevin Pelton of supersonics.com fame for eyeing over my work & helping me get over that final hump in PER. Kevin, a cold beer awaits you in New York if you can make the trip with the team in March.

Knicks Holiday Preview

[Today’s article comes from KnickerBlogger NBA Roster Head Analyst David Crockett, Ph.D., who in his part time is an Assistant Professor of Marketing at the University of South Carolina. He can be reached at dcrockett17@yahoo.com]

This summer I wrote an off-season preview for the Knicks in which I urged Isiah Thomas to continue rebuilding on the fly by eschewing (for a while at least) any more roster-gutting moves, concentrating instead on building from the back of the bench. In Part Two of that preview, titled ?What the Knicks Should Do Now,? I suggested the following.

I strongly urge the front office to pursue only players that bring better defense, versatility, or ball handling/passing to the team. On defense the team needs substantially better individual defense, especially in the frontcourt. On offense the team?s turnover problems stem from a serious absence of ball skills among the starters other than Marbury.

It was hardly surprising that Isiah had a reasonably similar assessment of the Knicks? major weaknesses. The Knicks were horrible in the aforementioned areas. This season the Knicks have shown some improvement in each of the areas, even if ever so slight. The Knicks are scoring 104 points per 100 possessions (pPts) and allowing 105pPts for a -1 differential according to 82games.com. Last season?s differential was -2. Part of this slight improvement is that the Knicks have become a tad better at hanging onto the ball and prying it away from their opponents. The team currently has a 16% turnover rate, turning opponents over at the same rate. Both numbers represent 1% improvements over last season. More substantially, the Knicks are also taking 24.5 trips to the free throw line (up over 3 attempts per game from last season) while giving up 26, slightly down from last season. These improvements, with less than a third of the season completed, are far from awe-inspiring. They are undeniably, however, improvements.

The Knicks, with limited salary cap flexibility into the foreseeable future, will find themselves best able to acquire these skills by leveraging its few valuable assets for draft picks and young, reasonably priced veterans who can help lay the foundation for a winning organization… The Knicks must address turnovers, defense, and free throws in order to improve. They cannot simply trade these problems off against each other. As I look at any transactions Isiah makes this off-season that is how I will assess them, including the second round pick in the upcoming draft.

Though not solely by choice, Isiah approached this past off-season in a manner not altogether inconsistent with my suggestions. Not nearly enough games have been played to offer anything close to an assessment on the wisdom of this off-season?s moves; however we have seen enough of this year?s Knicks to chronicle those players? roles on the team and how they address the team?s key weaknesses. Obviously the big off-season move was the sign-and-trade that brought Jamal Crawford for $55 million over 7 years and Jerome Williams who has 4 years remaining on his $40.8 million contract (team and player option in the ?07 season). (Crawford warrants a few comments in his own entire paragraph elsewhere.) Williams, the Junk Yard Dog, is a very versatile if expensive role player who has the ability to defend power forwards as well as centers in some situations. Isiah also drafted the athletically-gifted and defense-oriented Trevor Ariza from UCLA in the second round, and signed free agents Vin Baker, Bruno Sundov, and Jamison Brewer.

Thomas also eventually bought out the contract of Shandon Anderson, who is now averaging a career low 15.3 mpg with the Miami Shaqs. Of those moves, Williams and Baker are the two players who either carry burdensome contracts or who may be standing in the way of young talent that needs minutes. Vin Baker is an expensive insurance policy at a fragile position. Should the vastly improved Nazr Mohammed succumb to injury I suspect the Knicks would go small, sliding Kurt Thomas to center and starting Sweetney at power forward. In that scenario Baker would become the primary backup at center. As for JYD, how can anyone not love what he brings to the Knicks? His hustle, athleticism, and ability to finish are all things that endear him to fans but that are also quite valuable on the second unit? at power forward.

Crawford, who was the key acquisition this off-season, is a brilliant if erratic offensive talent. The sign-and-trade that brought him to New York is the classic high risk/high reward gamble. It is precisely the kind of gamble on which GMs make or break reputations. In one respect, since Crawford is a player entering his peak production years with no major injury risks this is not on its face a poor gamble. Conversely, his reputation for being a poor defender, streaky shooter, and generally immature in his decision making appears to have been well-earned. Whether he is able to overcome these shortcomings will go a long way towards determining Isiah?s legacy as an executive in New York and in the league, even more than the established Marbury.

At the time of this writing the Knicks are two games above .500 and feeling generally optimistic about how the first half of the season. Isiah publicly stated that a .500 record after 20 games would meet or exceed his expectations for the team, a mark the team was able to reach. So now what? How might the Knicks realistically improve as they enter year 2 in the EZ (Era of Zeke)? If we look at the four factors the Knickerblogger highlights on his stats page (shooting, turnovers, rebounds, free throws) we might get some clues.

? Shooting ? (15th off, 24th def) from an overall offensive efficiency standpoint the Knicks are just below the median (and just at the median based on eFG%). Defensively the Knicks are quite poor, 1.6 and 2 points respectively below median defensive efficiency and eFG defense.
? Turnovers ? (16th off, 18th def) the Knicks are middle of the pack in turnover rate both offensively and defensively.
? Offensive Rebounding ? (20th off, 11th def) the Knicks are middling, 20th ranked though less than a full rebound below the median. Defensively, the Knicks are doing a reasonable job of protecting their defensive boards.
? Free Throws ? (21th off, 15th def) on this dimension the Knicks are quite poor, ranked 21st in FTM/FGA, a full 1.5 below the median. However they are right at the median defensively, a marked improvement over last year.

That the Knicks, a barely above .500 team, are pretty mediocre across those categories thought by many to be the most closely correlated with winning is hardly a shock. The key question facing the team as it goes forward is how can it improve? Assuming that the team makes no major roster moves the Knicks can do two things to help improve their FG defense and their ability to get to the free throw line. (I realize that we?re talking about Isiah but trade deadline moves is another post altogether)

1. Play Sweetney more minutes ? Perhaps the only reason the Knickerblogger allows me to post to his blog is that when it comes to Michael Sweetney he and I both agree that Sweets should play the lion?s share of the power forward minutes on this team. [KB’s Note: Not true, the weekly check Dave sends me is enough.] I suppose that when it comes to campaigning for Sweetney, we’re kind of like the guys from the Guinness ?Brilliant!? ad campaign. Sweetney does exactly what the Knicks need. He crashes the offensive glass (brilliant!), scores in the post (brilliant!), and lives at the free throw line (brilliant!). Sweetney doesn?t have to start over Kurt Thomas but both should play roughly 40% of the team?s power forward minutes. This needs to be a priority for Lenny Wilkins.

2. Move Crawford to the second unit (eventually) ? Though moving Jamal Crawford to the second unit may rankle the New York punditry, who desperately wants to write the Batman and Robin story about the Marbury/Crawford pairing, I suspect that he will eventually meet with his greatest NBA success as a sixth man. He has a phenomenal array of offensive tools and skills. Yet as well as he has shot the ball this season at SG (48% eFG) his defense is, in a word, atrocious. In fairness, I should note that he is averaging over 1.5 steals per game (good for 17th in the NBA at the time of writing); nonetheless, he gives back a lot of points at the defensive end. Apart from that, once Houston is healthy, Crawford is the better fit coming off the bench with the high energy second unit.

As it concerns the second unit more broadly the Knicks really need to acquire or develop a point guard for the second unit. That unit, which usually features some combination of Norris, Ariza, Hardaway, JYD, and Sweetney, consistently plays with high intensity and is by far the best defensive combination. But unless that unit can get out and run it has a difficult time orchestrating the offense and scoring in the half-court. Moochie Norris has played admirably as the unit?s point guard, which is to say, not very well. He has played just under 10% of the team?s minutes at point guard this season amassing a whopping PER of 2.21. Pacer cast-off Jamison Brewer hasn?t played any better between stints on the DL but it?s difficult to imagine he can play much worse than Norris has. In addition, he has displayed some of the vaunted athleticism Isiah so covets.

Knicks 93 Houston 92

How did the Knicks win last night? The easy answer was a heave-ho off the glass from what seemed like 40 feet. What Jamal Crawford described after the game as the biggest shot of his career, gave the Knicks their first road win of the 2005 season. New York didn’t look good early on. A 7 point Houston lead at the half grew to 11 points by the start the 4th quarter. However the Knicks came storming back with a 3-point barrage. Actually Penny Hardaway and Jamal Crawford combined for all 7 of New York’s treys. All of Penny’s came in the 4th quarter, and Crawford’s last trey gave the Knicks a 1 point edge as time expired.

The four factors tell an interesting story of the game that was highly entertaining to watch (for a Knicks fan anyway). Again New York failed to keep their opponent at a bay with regards to shooting percentage. The Rockets eFG% of 48.8% meant that the Knicks still haven’t forced a competitor under the league average (47.1%). On the positive side, it was their second best effort since they held the Clippers to 48.6% in their 110-96 victory at the Garden. The Rockets came into the game as the third best team in the league at defensive shooting percentage (43.6%), and Houston kept the Knicks to 44.3%. This meant the Rockets had the shooting percentage advantage in this game, and so far this year, New York has lost every single game when their opponents held this edge.

Two of the factors were very close, although slightly in the Knicks’ favor. Turnovers were kept remarkably low, as both teams combined for only 15, which is usually what the Knicks average on their own. New York also had a small advantage at the free throw line as well. The Knicks hit 16 free throws to the Rockets 12, a 4 point advantage.

What kept the Knicks in the game out was their superior rebounding. They snared 14 offensive boards, while keeping the Rockets to only 8. In fact, Nazr Mohammed pulled in 8 New York misses on his own. Kurt Thomas had a great game scoring 23 points, but he also had 14 total rebounds, 11 on the defensive end.

Beyond the four factors, there’s a lot to report on this game. You would have thought Van Gundy coached the Knicks, as four of their starters played 40 minutes or more. By the second half it was pretty much a 7 man playoff-style rotation. Anyone else think Lenny is feeling pressure to win games? Shockingly Nazr Mohammed was credited with 45 minutes. He’s usually on the bench because he hacks more than a 2600 conference. Nazr not only kept himself to 3 fouls, but he played Yao fantastically on defense. One of Mohammed’s fouls came on a block of Ming, that from the replay looked clean to me.

Tim Thomas only played 12 minutes, and you have to wonder how much longer he’ll be the starting SF. No I really mean it this time. His confidence is non-existent at this point. Even though he looked for his shot early, he couldn’t get his offense going and ended up with 2 points on 5 attempts. Ariza and Hardaway played the rest of the game at SF, and combined for 17 points in 44 minutes. I mentioned earlier that Penny scored primarily from beyond the arc. Ariza was just as effective without the long range shot. He had a traditional three pointer, and had 5 free throw attempts in just 20 minutes. This is one aspect of his game I really love, getting to the foul line. Although he does give it back, and had 3 fouls of his own. When he matures if he can reduce the number of fouls he commits, getting to the line will give his team a serious advantage.

Defense is still an issue, and Marbury seemed to put in a better effort tonight (as did most of the team, especially the Knicks’ big men). Charlie Ward put up a big goose egg for the Rockets, but on the other hand their diminutive PG Tyronn Lue scored 15. Most of the damage was done by the Rockets’ unstoppables McGrady and Yao. This is a defensive effort I could better stomach, as they gave the appearance of actually trying.

Kurt’s big game (23pts, 55% eFG, 14 REB) meant little time for Michael Sweetney. The big man from Georgetown did play some D against Yao Ming, but had little effect in his 10 minutes. The rumors about Sweetney being available as trade bait for other teams scare me, especially when his playing time dwindles like this. Two games ago he played 32 minutes, but he just doesn’t get large amounts of minutes on a regular basis. The situation is out of Sweetney’s control, as the Knicks will play Kurt and Nazr as long as they are effective. How bad is it when I’m dreaming of a Nellie-esque lineup that sends Tim Thomas to the bench, so the Knicks can start all 3 of their big men? This wouldn’t be the first time the Knicks put a PF in at SF, and at least in this incarnation the Knicks can drop back into a legal zone.

In the near future I would imagine Tim Thomas will be sent to the bench, and the Knicks try out figure what combination of Trevor Ariza, Penny Hardaway and the forgotten man Jerome Williams works at SF. I’m sure at first Wilkens might try to use Thomas a 6th man, to help him regain his composure, but right now I can’t predict anything positive for Tim. Isiah said that Sweetney would not be traded, and given the choice to believe an NBA trade rumor or the Knicks GM, I’ll stick with Zeke on this one. Sweetney will get whatever minutes trickle down from Thomas & Nazr. Some nights he’ll give us flashes of what’s to come, others he’ll be the fogotten man like last night.

For the time being the Knicks will live with their jump shooters. When Crawford and Marbury and Penny and Kurt are hitting iron, the Knicks offense will self-destruct like it did against the Spurs. However when those same shots are finding net, the Knicks will find themselves with happier endings like last night’s win against Houston.

A Defensive Trend, Pt. 2

Yesterday I pinpointed the Knicks’ main defensive weakness: letting their opponents shoot at a high percentage. Looking deeper into the numbers reveals a more complete picture of where the Knicks are defensively. At the end of yesterday’s article I referenced the work of Dean Smith and Dean Oliver each of which I’m going to touch on today.

Dean Smith understood that per game averages has a major flaw. Each team plays by a different pace, and therefore some teams will have more opportunities to score per game than others. For example, last year the Pacers only scored 91.4 points per game which was a lowly 20th best in the league. However Indiana’s offense wasn’t below average, it’s just that the Pacers preferred a slow pace to enhance their defensive style. Compare them to the Suns, who ranked above average (11th) in points per game thanks to their up-tempo game. Coach Smith would say that scoring 20 PPG for the Pacers is worth more than scoring 20 PPG for the Suns, because you would have more opportunities to score as a Sun, than a Pacer.

To make up for the inequality of pace, the Hall of Fame coach used possession based statistics to evaluate his team in his 30+ years of coaching. A possession is when your team ceased having control of the ball, either by scoring a field goal, a free throw, or by turning the ball over. It’s approximated by FGA + TO + .44*FTA – OREB. (Notice that offensive rebounds doesn’t create another possession, since the other team never got control of the ball).

Using possessions we can find a team’s offensive efficiency, or points scored per 100 possessions. Going back to our example above, Indy was 8th overall, scoring 106 points per 100 possessions. Meanwhile Phoenix had an offensive efficiency of 103 which ranked them 20th overall.

Getting back to the Knicks, they have a defensive efficiency of 104, which ranks them 23rd overall. Dean Oliver says that defense can be summed up by 4 main components: shooting percentage, turnovers, rebounding, and free throws. RealGM fans might be familiar with this, as Kevin Broom talked about these four factors in his article last week.

Yesterday I showed that New York is one of the worst teams in opponent shooting percentage (28th), but that is only one factor. New York has two major strengths so far this year. They are second overall in turnovers forcing 19 per 100 possessions. A good example of this would have been the Knick-Sixer game, where the Knicks had 15 steals from 7 different players. Leading the charge are newcomers Jamal Crawford and Trevor Ariza, but the rest of the Knicks are helping as well. Six players are averaging at least 1.5 steals per 40 minutes. The other New York strength is their defensive rebounding, where they rank second in the NBA. Opponents only get their missed shot 24% of the time against New York.

Not all the news is good, and one area that continues to be a problem for the Knicks is giving up free points to their opponents. This year they are 21st in free throws per field goal ratio. Although on the positive side, this is an improvement over last year when they were an awful 27th. Slight improvement can be attributed to getting rid of Othella Harrington and a major decline by Kurt Thomas. Of the top minutes getters, Nazr Mohammed, Trevor Ariza and Tim Thomas are hurting the Knicks the most.

Clearly New York could improve their defense by addressing their weaknesses at shooting percentage and at the free throw line. Yesterday I said the Knicks could use a shot blocking big man, and today I’ll suggest they could use a good perimeter defender as well. It’s a shame that they lost Frank Williams, who was a fantastic defender. His play in the playoff series against the Jason Kidd was memorable. I’d like to see the Knicks get a good defensive PG/SG for 8-12 minutes a game (read: Moochie’s minutes). Playing along Marbury, Crawford, or Penny that “defensive stopper” could handle the tougher offensive assignment of the night.

Open Feedback To ESPN Stats

[FOLLOWUP: Apparently the entire email was too big to send using their form, so instead I requested that ESPN read it off my site. Unfortunately I think my chances of them reading it has decreased greatly.]

ESPN.com created a feedback form for their NBA stat coverage department. So, I sent them this letter:


To Whom It May Concern:

First I would like to thank you for putting a feedback form on your web page. Since you’re asking for opinions, I’ve noticed that the baseball stat page on ESPN has a advanced statistics while basketball lags sorely behind. The only “advanced” statistic I can find is aFG% and PPS. There are some easy ones you could use that would be beneficial to all NBA fans.

You could start with possessions. A stat heavily used by every serious NBA author from Dean Oliver to John Hollinger (and I believe created by or used by Dean Smith?). Possessions are important because some teams run a fast paced offense thereby giving them (and their opponent) more chances to score. This makes points per game less important because a team might be scoring a lot of points in a game, but only because they are taking more chances (think early 90s “run at all costs” Nuggets). Possessions are easily calculated using stats you already have in your database.

Poss = FGA + TO – OReb +.4*FTA

Of course another stat that would go hand in hand with this is pPTS or points per 100 possessions. It’s simply PTS*100/Poss. Last year, according to my calculations Indiana had the 8th best offense, however due to their turtle slow pace they scored few points per game. There is no doubt that Indiana was a good offensive team last year, but you wouldn’t have thought so due if you only looked at ESPN’s PTS/G which ranked them at a lowly 21st!

Rebounding is not affected by possessions, since you already wisely use REB%. However turnovers should be measured by possessions as well: TO/Poss (turnovers per 100 possessions). The last team stat I will request is FTM/FGA. This shows a team’s ability to get to the foul line score. There is a correlation between winning and the following four factors of basketball: shooting, turnovers, offensive rebounding, and scoring from the free throw line. Shooting and rebounding are already covered on your web page (aFG% & OREB%), while the other two (TO/Poss & FTM/FGA) are simple equations that could be added to cover all 4 major aspects.

On the individual level, I would start at John Hollinger’s PER, a great measure of a player’s offensive contribution. You only need to pickup a copy of Basketball Forecast to get the equation (but being in the stat business I assume you already own a copy, right? ;-) Of course why stop there when you can also keep track of Dean Oliver’s excellent stats: Floor percentage, scoring possessions, etc.

If you’re still reading, I’ll pitch two more ideas to you. One is keeping track of charges. Some players are very good at taking charges which creates a lot of turnovers. Shouldn’t they get some credit for this? Finally why not keep track of the game using the Possession Scoring System? All you would need would be 2 or 3 interns at every home court to do this for a whole season. Actually if they had access to the games taped on video only 1 or 2 would suffice. Dean describes the notation in detail in his book “Basketball on Paper” (which you also own, right?) and can also be read online at: http://www.powerbasketball.com/theywin2.html.

Thanks for taking the time to read this & I hope to hear your response.
Mike
KnickerBlogger.NET