A Defensive Trend

In case you aren’t a regular reader of my blog, I’ve been following a distressing trend since the Knicks’ season started. So far defense has been a big issue for New York. The Knicks have allowed their opponents the second highest FG% in the league. However field goal percentage is a bit flawed, and I like to use something more meaningful called eFG% (sometimes called aFG%).

If you want to know exactly how to figure out effective shooting percentage (eFG%), I did a little write up at the end of this article. It’s more accurate than FG%, because eFG% takes into account the extra point a three pointer brings. Peja Stojakovic connected on 48% of his shots last year, but since he hit a lot of threes (with great accuracy I might add), his eFG% of 57% better represents his shooting ability. Good enough for second best in the NBA. Players that don’t hit any treys have the same eFG% as their FG%. Shaq had a FG% of 58%, but since he doesn’t attempt any shots from beyond the arc (thank goodness), his eFG% is also 58%. Effective FG% is gaining mainstream popularity, and you can find it on ESPN’s stat page or 82games.com.

Getting back to the Knicks’ woes, their opponents have been shooting the lights out with a 52.6% eFG%. That’s a whooping 12% better than the league average (47.1%). Only the Hawks & Nuggets are worse, while teams like the Hornets, Bulls, and Sixers rank just above the Knicks. Those aren’t a group of teams you want to be associated with defensively. Right now when teams are facing the Knicks, they’re getting a better look at the rim than the Tidy Bowl Man.

It’s fair to say that 5 games is too small a sample size to make a huge deal over. However consider this: not once this season have the Knicks’ held their opponent’s eFG% under the league average. Three of their opponents shot over 50%, with the Celtics a shade under 60%. When teams that were below average shooters last year (Clippers & Sixers) are having good shooting nights against New York, it’s time to raise the red flag.

What’s interesting is last year the Knicks contested shots very well, allowing an eFG% of only 46.1%. So what happened in a year? The roster overhaul could be the answer as the Knicks no longer have defensive minded players like Deke, Frank Williams, Shanderson and Charlie Ward. Easily 4 of the Knick starters are not thought of as above average defenders, and the 5th, Kurt Thomas, is not a shot blocking big man. Actually the entire roster is void of either a shot blocker or a “defensive stopper”.

This defensive weakness coincides with another Knick sore spot, depth at center. Nazr Mohammed is poor on the defensive end, and isn’t reliable on a day-to-day basis. Against the Clippers he only played 12 minutes, because he forced himself to the bench with constant foul trouble. His strength is on the offensive end of the court, as witnessed by his 11 offensive rebound effort against the Pacers. The Knicks would benefit by having a center that could disrupt the other team’s offense, a ying to Mohammed’s yang. Marbury, Crawford, and whoever is the PF (Thomas or Sweetney) are good enough offensively to carry a millstone at center. The Knicks won’t be able to get a guy like Theo Ratliff without giving up something big in return, but there are cheaper alternatives out there. Shot blocking machine Dan Gadzuric is loosing minutes to Zaza “Gabor” Pachulia, and would have a cheaper price tag considering Milwaukee’s depth at center.

One final thought, eFG% isn’t a complete measure of defense, but is a vital component. Dean Oliver, standing on the shoulders of great basketball minds like the legendary Dean Smith, discovered that shooting at a higher percentage than your opponent is the best single factor that correlates with winning. The founder of the Journal of Basketball Studies states that out shooting your opponent is more important than out rebounding them, getting to the free throw line more often, or winning the turnover edge. The Knicks early season only seems to confirm this, because the better shooting team has won every single game. Hopefully the Knicks can break this trend either by acquiring some good defenders, running better defensive schemes, or just giving a better effort on the court with the current personnel.



A little bit about eFG%

Traditional FG% is calculated by:

(FGM)/FGA

Field Goals Made is simply the number of 2 pointers made (2PM) plus the number of 3 pointers made (3PM). So rewriting the equation becomes:

(2PM + 3PM)/FGA

It’s clear to see that FG% assumes that 3 point shots are equal to their 2 point counterparts. Taking into account the points gained by making a trey, (3/2=1.5) eFG% is simple to understand when you put it’s equations next to FG%’s:

FG% = (2PM + 3PM) / FGA
eFG% = (2PM + 1.5*3PM) / FGA

eFG% gives 3 pointers made an extra 50% bonus because the points scored on a 3 pointer is 50% greater. A simpler way to write eFG% is:

eFG% = (FGM + 3PM/2)/FGA.

Back to top.

One Game Pessimism

Just the other day I was talking about the Knicks inevitable slow start, and made the following prediction:

“Message boards will have plenty of fans will write off the Knicks for their poor start in December and in April at least one commentator will tout them as the “hot” team heading into the playoffs.”

Well I should have included print columnists, since Mitch Lawrence has already penciled in the Knicks for a losing season. Lawrence can’t make up his mind whether he is angry at the NBA re-alignment, the Knicks, Lenny Wilkens rotation, or the Nets fire sale. Judging by this column, anything short of a guaranteed championship team would draw the ire of Lawrence.

The worst line of Lawrence’s column is:

“As bad as Tim Thomas and Nazr Mohammed were, it doesn’t begin to explain how or why we got a major dose of Michael Sweetney and somebody named Trevor Ariza.”

Actually their poor play is exactly why Ariza & Sweetney saw so much time (if 18 & 23 minutes is a “major dose”). Lawrence prefers Wilkens to play “proven players“. The Knicks other options at SF were Shandon Anderson and Jerome Williams. The only thing they have proved is that they have no offensive skills, while Tim Thomas (3-13) and Nazr Mohammed (29 minutes 5PTS) were busy proving that they didn’t belong on the court Wednesday night. If that’s what Mitch Lawrence means by “proven”, then I’ll pass.

The Knicks finally have two rookies that can develop into NBA talent. Michael Sweetney is the Knicks’ best first round pick since 1994 (Charlie Ward), and you’d have to go back almost 20 years since they had a second round pick that was good enough to play (1985 – Gerald Wilkens). Sweetney is by all accounts ready to start at PF. As for Ariza, he’s only played well ever since joining the Knicks. He finished the game with 8 points (4-7), 5 boards, 3 assists, and 2 steals.

The Knicks won 39 games last year, but it was after a horrendous 9-18 start and a major facelift. Mitch Lawrence pretends this year’s team is the same one that finished with only 30 wins just 2 seasons ago. If you want to see how far the Knicks have come in a year, look at last year’s box score. The Knicks lost to Orlando in OT. Yes the same Magic that started off 1-19. Shandon Anderson and Howard Eisley played a (gulp!) combined 58 minutes.

Instead of being forced to play cap-killers to justify their bloated contracts, we’ve turned to using players because of their potential to contribute. This year, Knick fans can argue about what seed the Knicks can be in April, instead of whom to draft in June. The Knicks aren’t among the NBA elite, but there are only a handful of teams that can lay claim to that status. Let’s wait until the Knicks play half a season before writing their eulogy. New Yorkers should be happy that the team playing in this city is not the Hawks or the Clippers, which is where the team was heading at the beginning of last year.

An Interview With John Hollinger

Recently the 2004-2005 edition of the “Pro Basketball Forecast” (formerly Prospectus) hit the bookstores, and it’s clear that John Hollinger’s work keeps getting better and better. Whether you’re a fantasy basketball GM, a hardcore hoops head, or just a casual fan, there’s something for everyone. Hollinger keeps readers interested with funny anecdotes in between the hard hitting analysis and his unabashed criticism. There are gems on every page, like when Hollinger jokes about little used 2001 draft pick Primoz Brezec being thrilled about having “front row NBA seats,” or when he declares Etan Thomas as the “NBA’s best dreadlocked big man.”

In the first edition Hollinger introduced us to a new stat, PER, which has become the de-facto standard of measuring an offensive player’s performance. Not only is he able to express a player’s ability in one single number, but Hollinger is able to quantify a player’s ability to rebound, pass, score, and turn the ball over in a way that makes more sense than traditional statistics. If you’re still unsure about buying “Pro Basketball Forecast”, go to the book store, turn to page 90 & read Hollinger’s take on Bimbo Coles. You’ll be laughing all the way to the cashier. If you have never followed basketball closely before, with one purchase, you’ll know everything about every team and their players for the upcoming season.

Luckily, John took some time outside of his busy schedule of writing for Sports Illustrated, the New York Sun, alleyoop.com, and of course next year’s Pro Basketball Forecast to do an interview with yours truly. [Hyperlinks added by me.]

Writing a Book

Do you use co-authors & how much of the book is written by you?
I write all of it.

How long does it take?
Well, the nice thing about an annual is that it can’t take more than a year. In all seriousness, I start writing bits and pieces before the season even starts, but probably 80% of the book is written in a furious blitz after the season ends

What is the process of writing a book of this magnitude?
There’s essentially two parts. During the seamy the most important thing is making the effort to see all the teams and players multiple times so you really get a feel for what they’re doing — even the guys who hardly play. Once it ends I’m pulling together all the final stats and writing most of my player and team comments. Then in July I have to make adjustments for the draft and as many free agent moves as I can accommodate before it goes to the publisher.

This Year’s Prospectus/Forecast

Why the name change from Prospectus to Forecast?
It basically had to do with a licensing agreement my publisher had to use the Prospectus name for their basketball and football books, which expired. So we had to call it something else this year.

What are some of the things that separates this year’s version from previous years?
I made a lot of progress in terms of coming up with new tools to help predict performance. I projected each player’s stats (at least, each important
player’s) for the coming season and that’s a tool I’m continuing to refine. I also came up with some metrics to help evaluate which players in Europe can be of assistance in the NBA.

In last year’s edition regarding defense, you said you weren’t on the tip of the iceberg, but rather “the tip of the tip.” How much of the iceberg can we see in the 2004 version?
Much more. I did some work to evaluate individual defense and provided a “Defensive PER” for every player for the past season.

Even though you acknowledge the offseason moves in the team descriptions, you have the players listed under the teams they played for last year. Why not list players like Shaq, McGrady, and Crawford under their new teams?
Because we can’t get every change in before the publishing deadline — for instance, Kenny Anderson and Jon Barry signed with the Hawks well afterward. So if we try to do it that way we’ll just end up confusing everyone.

Your book has gotten bigger and bigger each year.

'02 - 285 pg
'03 - 307 pg
'04 - 314 pg

For next year’s edition, should I take the over/under on 330 pages?
Well, the seven-page increase this year can entirely be blamed on the Bobcats, so I’d expect it to hold steady around 315.

Why should the casual fan buy this year’s book?
Because it has a lot of information you can’t find anywhere else, and critiques of the players that most announcers and beat writers don’t have the freedom to unleash.

All About John

Any chance that you’ll do reporting on a more frequent basis (either for SI or your blog alleyoop.com)?
Well, I write two columns a week for the New York Sun, so since you’re in the Big Apple that’s a big fat yes.
Otherwise, I’ll be doing a weekly piece for SI.com.

Other than your own, what are some of your favorite basketball books?
Terry Pluto’s Loose Balls is the gold standard, classic story telling mixed with some insights into a league not that many people saw. I enjoyed Sacred Hoops by Phil Jackson as well, although I’ve yet to read his new book. And, getting really old school, the Wooden-Sharman Method by John Wooden and Bill Sharman is still on my bookshelf.

When you step on the court, which NBA player’s game does your style most resemble?
LOL … I guess I’d be somewhere between Nick Van Exel and a lefthanded Jon Barry. Lots of 3s, no conscience, not much defense.

Guessing on the Knicks:

By the end of the year, who will be the Knicks’ starting PF?
Mike Sweetney, if they know what they’re doing.

There are currently 4 players on the roster left from the pre-Isaiah era (Houston, Anderson, Sweetney & Thomas). What will that number be by playoff time?
I’ll say two. Thomas will be in the Western Conference and Anderson will be in the Eastern hemisphere.

Nazr Mohammed over or under 5.8PF/48mins (his average last year)?
I’ll say over. He got to play some power forward with the Hawks last year but won’t have that luxury as a Knick.

True or False, the Knicks will end up in the second round of the playoffs this year?
False. The Knicks will be No. 5 behind Indiana, Detroit, Washington and Miami.

Dampier A Knick?

[NOTE: The notation in parenthesis is (Offensive PER / Defensive PER / +/- Roland Rating). For more information on this, look here, but quickly a PER of 15 is about average, while the higher the +/- is the better off the player.]

According to the NY Post, the Knicks are waiting for Dampier to choose their deal over more money with the Hawks. Apparently the Knicks are offering Dampier a 6 year contract starting at $9M. The Hawks can offer him a maximum deal, because well they’re the Hawks. The Knicks would send Othella Harrington and Nazr Mohammed to Golden State in this sign and trade deal.

Dampier has had his second fine season in a row (21/14/+1.1). Last year, he had a career high in PTS, REB, FG%, and minutes played. Dampier’s biggest improvement is in his FG% which has gone up every year since 2001 (40%, 44%, 50%, 54%). Erick’s other strength seems to be his offensive rebounding, where he got 14.3% of all possible offensive rebounds. How good is that?

Name	OREB%	DREB%
Damp 14.3% 22.2%
Deke 10.1% 19.1%
Nazr 11.5% 20.3%
Shaq 10.1% 20.3%
Ben 10.7% 22.2%
Brand 10.1% 16.8%
Duncan 9.4% 24.3%

It’s possible that Dampier’s numbers were inflated by weak rebounders on his team, or aided by the Warriors’ system, but nonetheless they are impressive. His rebounding should drop as a Knick, but exactly how much will be unknown.

In Harrington & Mohammed, the Knicks are giving away an average of 6.6PF/48 minutes. Looking at their worst offenders in this category, only one of their top 4 might be back next year (Vin Baker). Dampier only averages 4.5PF/48, which gives New York an improvement in this area. This is important for New York, as they were third worst team in the league in letting their opponents get to the foul line.

If they didn’t get a better player, Nazr (18.8/17.7/-2.8) would have been the Knicks starting center. His offensive PER was a respectable 18.8, but he gave almost all of it back on the defensive end (17.7). Also his propensity to commit fouls (5.8PF/48) kept him from staying in the game at times. Harrington (10/16/-3.7) was at his best decent, but he received less playing time as Sweetney developed into a solid option near the end of the season.

Everything looks like a steal for New York until you hit the books. Golden State gets a young serviceable backup center in Nazr for 2 years and only $5M per. Othella’s $3M comes off the books this year. That’s $8M in cap relief in two years, which is important for a team like Golden State that actually likes to be able to sign free agents without the help of another team.

On the other hand the deal the Knicks are reportedly giving to Dampier is a 6 year deal that starts at $9M. That means in 2009 Dampier will be in the last year of his contract, making about $14.5M (with a 10% yearly raise) at the age of 35. Erick has been healthy the last three years, but a peek at his stats show that he was injury plagued the three years prior. On his list of most similar players are Marvin Webster and Pervis Ellison. Webster stayed healthy until leaving the league, while Ellison’s other nickname was “Out Of Service” Pervis for all the time he missed.

If it goes through, I think this is a good short term deal for the Knicks. Dampier may not put up the monster numbers he did last year, but it’s certainly an upgrade over the Knicks’ centers last year. As a team, New York was outplayed at the center position (15/17/-1.8). There are two distinct risks with this deal. The first is Dampier’s health. Six years is a long time for a deal this big, and nobody knows how those early injuries will affect him down the road. Just last year, Dampier missed the end of the season due to his ankle.

The second is who is the Dampier the Knicks will be getting? There is the Dampier that for the first 6 years of his career was a poor shooting, oft injured center. Then there is the Dampier of the last two years, who has a nicely rounded game. Which one will appear in a New York uniform? Also how will his rebounding numbers change now that he is outside of Golden State? The Knicks are bent on never getting under the salary cap, so acquiring a player like Dampier in exchange for two bench guys seems like a short term no-brainer.

Knicks Roster Analysis – Centers

It’s time to conclude the Knicks roster with the center position. If you haven’t read my point guard analysis, that’s probably worth reading before this post so that you understand what I’m doing here.

Nazr Mohammed

Year    MPG   PPG   RPG  APG   TS%  Reb%  Pass   Off   Def  Win%  WARP  Value  Salary
01-02 26.4 9.7 7.9 0.4 .490 17.2 0.00 87.8 90.9 .452 2.4
02-03 12.8 4.6 3.7 0.2 .452 16.4 0.00 86.2 90.0 .426 0.2
03-04 20.1 7.4 5.9 0.5 .542 16.8 0.01 87.9 89.2 .508 3.6 $4.308 $5.250

Both Dave and I have discussed our opinion that going from Keith Van Horn to Tim Thomas was a downgrade for the Knicks at small forward. Still, four and a half months later, that deal looks good, because the Knicks did well to pick up Mohammed from Atlanta along with Thomas. Mohammed’s season statistics were very good, and he was even better with the Knicks, averaging 9.1 points and 7.7 rebounds per game and shooting an incredible 56.3% from the field.

I don’t know if it was KnickerBlogger or someone else, but I’ve read a comparison between Mohammed turning it on in New York and what he did after being traded mid-season to the Hawks in 2001. Then, Mohammed went from a non-factor in Philadelphia to averaging 12.3 points and 7.7 rebounds per game as a starter in Atlanta. That’s what got Mohammed his current five-year, $25 million contract, as he became a free agent that summer. I was rooting for the Sonics to sign Mohammed in their quest for a center way back when, continuing a pro-Mohammed trend; I also wanted the Sonics to draft him instead of Vladimir Stepania way back in 1998. (Score two for me.)

The question is, can Mohammed keep up his performance from last season? My answer is probably not. Mohammed is 26, so we would expect him to be nearing his peak, but he also had never shot better than 47.7% in a season before last year’s 52.1%. And, while he was plagued by injuries in 2002-03, he shot just 42.1% from the field that season. My research indicates that players — even young ones — who take that kind of a leap in two-point shooting tend to give much of it back the next year. In Mohammed’s case, that decline is tempered by the fact that his “real” shooting percentage before this season was closer to 47% or so, but I’d be mildly surprised if Mohammed shot better than 50% next year.

Even at that level, Mohammed still has a lot of value. He’s one of the league’s best rebounders, pulling down around 17% of available rebounds over the last three seasons. Mohammed’s defense is a little tougher to rate. His on-court/off-court ratings aren’t of a ton of use because he was playing opposite two of the NBA’s better defensive centers in Dikembe Mutombo and Theo Ratliff. In New York, Mohammed’s position defense rated as horrendous, but he was great in Atlanta, allowing just 41.8% effective field goal shooting. I rate Mohammed as a below-average defender for a center because he doesn’t block a ton of shots.

Overall, Mohammed is of similar value to Thomas, barring him continuing to play at the level he enjoyed after the trade. He’s certainly an acceptable starter, but unlikely to ever rank amongst the NBA’s best at the center position. Mohammed’s number one comp is a good one, last year’s Brian Skinner. Like Mohammed, Skinner a year ago was coming off of a shooting season (55.0%) he was unlikely to repeat. In fact, he didn’t, shooting 49.7%, but that and his defense/rebounding was still good enough to make him a useful starter.

Dikembe Mutombo

Year    MPG   PPG   RPG  APG   TS%  Reb%  Pass   Off   Def  Win%  WARP  Value  Salary
01-02 36.3 11.5 10.8 1.0 .574 16.8 0.02 89.5 88.9 .543 8.7
02-03 21.4 5.8 6.4 0.8 .445 17.0 0.04 85.8 88.8 .454 0.6
03-04 23.0 5.6 6.7 0.4 .523 16.9 0.01 86.8 87.3 .520 3.8 $4.461 $4.496

The opposite side of the issue with two-point percentage is illustrated by Mutombo. In 2001-02, he had one of his best offensive seasons, shooting 50.1% from the field. Then he went to New Jersey and shot 37.4%. Even with his age, it was obvious Mutombo wasn’t that bad, and he was one of the three guys I specifically mentioned as likely to see a two-point percentage rebound prior to last season. (The others were Jeff Foster, who I also nailed, and Chucky Atkins, whom I did not.) Lo and behold, Mutombo bounced all the way back to 47.8%, and while he wasn’t quite as effective as he was in 2001-02, he was still a very productive player indeed.

Through February, that is. Shortly after Mohammed’s arrival, Mutombo lost his staring job, and a little after that, he had abdominal surgery that kept him out about a month. Mutombo’s field-goal percentage, above 50% the first three months of the season, sank to the 30s in February and stayed down there in April. It’s tough for me to say whether that was because he was already injured, because he just ran out of gas, or what.

If you make the leap of faith that Mutombo’s age is what the NBA reports, he turned 38 last Friday. Few NBA players, of course, hit that age, but most of them are in the Mutombo mold. 17 of the 59 NBA players to play at the age of 37 before last season were at least one standard deviation above average in terms of height, which about corresponds to 6-11 or 7-feet. Height, as they say, never ages, and while Mutombo has a harder time getting around, he remains as good of a rebounder and shot-blocker as he has been in recent years (down from his Defensive Player of the Year prime, but still very good indeed). On the other hand, 82games.com has Mutombo rated as only a slightly positive influence on the Knicks’ overall defense.

The two things that could trip up Mutombo are injuries and a desire not to hang around too long. It’s not a stretch to believe that he could play a late-model Robert Parish role as a third center until he was in his mid-40s, but that may not be Mutombo’s choice. On the other front, Mutombo also suffered torn ligaments in his wrist that cost him 56 games in 2002-03, but he hasn’t had the knee/back injuries that really prove problematic for most older players.

Mutombo remains a solid option for 15-20 minutes a night off the bench. Whether the Knicks accept him in that role remains to be seen, but Mutombo will surely find employment somewhere next season.

Cezary Trybanski

Year    MPG   PPG   RPG  APG   TS%  Reb%  Pass   Off   Def  Win%  WARP  Value  Salary
Year MPG PPG RPG APG TS% Reb% Pass Off Def Win% WARP Value Salary
02-03 5.7 0.9 0.9 0.1 .287 9.2 0.00 80.8 90.2 .162 -0.4
03-04 2.1 0.1 0.1 0.0 .102 3.8 0.00 73.7 87.4 .000 -0.1 $2.047 $1.760

Do you think other GMs gossip about Trybanski on the phone to make themselves feel better because, hey, even Jerry West makes mistakes? Trybanski was one of West’s first signings after joining the Memphis Grizzlies organization, and while he didn’t get a lot of money, he’s been only slightly more useful to an NBA team over the last two years than you would have been.

Certainly, Trybanski hasn’t played enough minutes for us to be certain of his abilities, but he’s been amazingly bad when he has gotten on the court, posting a negative winning percentage last season. Logically, that’s silly, but that’s what happens when you fail to make a field goal all year. Trybanski’s lack of playing time is a form of evidence in and of itself; while we can’t say for certain he can’t play, there’s also no evidence since he came to the United States that he can play. Since I believe that players are bad until proven good, I’m not giving Trybanski much chance to salvage his career. Trybanski will also turn 25 by the start of next season, so he doesn’t have a ton of youth on his side.

According to New York Times, Trybanski will play for the Knicks’ summer-league team, and he may have to show something over the summer to stand a good chance to even make the roster this fall.

I should note about the value listed above that the value system I’m using gives players credit for about $2 million in value just for being a warm body, the NBA equivalent of getting an 800 just for signing your name on the SATs.

That concludes my position-by-position look at the Knicks roster. On Friday or possibly Saturday, I’ll get up my general take on the Knicks and the direction I’d pursue this summer and beyond.

Kevin Pelton writes “Page 23” for Hoopsworld.com on a semi-regular basis. He can be reached at kpelton@hoopsworld.com.

With the 43rd pick of the 2004 NBA Draft …

“Here’s the one you’ve been waiting for here at the Garden,” Deputy Commissioner Russ Granik said in introducing the Knicks’ pick.

And what exactly would that be? A backup small forward. Apparently. Isiah Thomas went with UCLA forward Trevor Ariza, who I foolishly neglected to mention this morning. Ariza makes a lot of sense from the Knicks; he’s very athletic, which Thomas likes, and a defensive upgrade on Shandon Anderson and Dermarr Johnson. I had Erik Daniels rated ahead of him, but Ariza is the clear winner in terms of potential, and the 43rd pick isn’t a bad place to try to get lucky.

Surprising no one, none of the trade rumors involving the Knicks came true on what turned out to be a surprisingly quiet draft day. The only major trades, of course, were those announced yesterday but being made official today.

30 Second Draft Recap

Five Best Picks
1. Anderson Varejao, Orlando/Peter John Ramos, Washington – not exactly difficult picks, but good value nonetheless. I disqualify Luol Deng at seven, Josh Smith at 17, and Jameer Nelson at 20 as being too obvious/lucky.
2. Romain Sato, San Antonio – gives the Spurs another quality perimeter defender at pick 52.
3. Delonte West, Boston – $5 says he’s Boston’s starting point by season’s end (I’m on a high after winning $3 in a pool to predict the Sonics’ 12th pick this evening)
4. Tony Allen, Boston – is he a good fit? Could they have gotten him later? I don’t care — I love this guy that much.
5. Blake Stepp, Minnesota – and thus ends the Darrick Martin era.

Five Worst Picks/Biggest Reaches
1. Josh Childress, Atlanta – is there anyone who doesn’t see us looking back on this and mocking the Hawks? I think there’s a pretty good chance Deng, Luke Jackson, and Andre Iguodala are all better players than Childress.
2. Royal Ivey, Atlanta – all or nothing night for the Hawks. Ivey would have been a reach in the 50s; he’s a decent passer, but he makes Chris Duhon look like Michael Jordan.
3. Sebastian Telfair, Portland – uh, why couldn’t they have gotten him at 22 or 23?
4. Lionel Chalmers, L.A. Clippers – about five better point guards left on the board at that point.
5. Ben Gordon, Chicago – sorry, I just don’t get this one, and I don’t think he’s all he’s cracked up to be.

Lots of interesting NCAA free agents — Jamie Lloreda, Daniels, Nigel Dixon, Andre Barrett, Bryant Matthews, Arthur Johnson. It will be interesting to see where they end up and if they can do as well as guys like Marquis Daniels and Theron Smith.

(Subsequent edit — NYC native Barrett has signed on with the Knicks for summer-league play. Isiah Thomas targeted him after the draft and got the job done. Nice work Isiah!)

Kevin Pelton writes “Page 23” for Hoopsworld.com on a semi-regular basis. He can be reached at kpelton@hoopsworld.com.

Knicks 96 Chicago 82

The Knicks clinched a playoff spot yesterday with a win against the hapless Bulls (and a Cleveland loss to Memphis). It’s great to be in the playoffs again, after a two year absence. Unlike the last few Knick playoff teams I don’t have expectations for the Knicks to get past the first round. Why? Well look at the last 20 or so games the Knicks have played. I’ll split their opponents into two groups, the games they won & the games they lost.

Won:	OppWin%
Chi .282
Phi .423
Por .519
Tor .397
Atl .321
NJ .584
Wash .308
Mil .519
Was .308
Tor .397
Phi .423
AVG1 .407
AVG2 .390

Out of those 11 wins, only 3 were against winning teams. One of those wins (New Jersey) was without their opposition’s two best players (Kidd & Martin). Of the 2 other teams, neither would be considered great, as they are only slightly above average (.519). The first average (AVG1) is the average winning percentage of all the teams they’ve beaten. AVG2 is the average of those teams, minus the victory against the hobbled Nets.

Now for the games the Knicks lost:

Lost:	Win%
Ind .734
NJ .584
Det .654
Chi .282
Phi .423
Bos .449
Den .519
Lac .346
Pho .338
Sac .701
Cle .410
Uta .526
AVG1 .497
AVG2 .556

Of their 12 losses, 6 were from winning teams. The average of all these teams is just below .500, but take away the losses from the embarrassing teams (Bulls, Clippers, and Suns), and the average raises to .556. In their last 23 games, while fighting for a playoff spot, they have played 9 teams with a winning record. They’ve only won 3 of those. None of those were against a team with a record better than .520, except the Nets game. They are 8-6 against sub-.500 teams. It’s obvious looking at these numbers that the Knicks have been feasting on the weaker teams, and not putting up a good enough fight against the top dogs. In the playoffs they won’t have the Wizards, Hawks or Bulls to push around.

You may think I’m a pessimist spending a whole column on the Knicks’ slim hopes to make it to the second round. However, without expecting them to win, I can enjoy watching the games. I’m already prepared for the worst, but if they happen to pull off the upset I’ll be that much more elated.