The Siren Song of the NBA: Creationism

Yesterday the Knicks beat the Hawks at home, and I had one thought on my mind during most of the game. Earlier that day I had read Alan Hahn’s live chat where a questioner said the following:

“Is David Lee overrated? Double-doubles are great, but not when they don’t impact games. IMO Nate is more valuable to the Knicks right now in that he has the ability to carry a team on his back when he erupts for 20 pts in a single quarter…”

Now, I like Robinson and have been lobbying for him to get more playing time from his first season. I hope the Knicks will keep him around for a few more years at a reasonable price without hurting their chances for a couple of major free agents. And I don’t want to get into a discussion about who is the most valuable Knick, because it’s tough to answer that question. For instance what does “most valuable” mean? It could mean if you were building a team, which player you would choose first. It could mean which player, if removed, would hurt the team the most.

What I want to talk about it the siren song of the NBA – the creative scorer. As a fan who watches many games, it’s easy to understand the lure of the volume scorer. The average fan focuses on the guy with the ball, and the scorer tends to have the ball in his hands more often than his teammates. Additionally he is able to create the shot by his own ability, independent of his teammates. It’s easy for the fan to see the benefit of the scorer’s efforts, since it connects directly to the main goal of the team: points. Rebounds don’t change the point totals on the scoreboard. When the news covers the game, usually you hear something like “Robinson led the Knicks with 29 points, while Duhon and Hughes chipped in 19 each.” You don’t hear about the other stats unless it’s a phenomenal number (20 rebounds). And the players listed are in point order, even if they score 19 points on 20 shots.

What strengthens the bond between the fan and the scorer is that sometimes the scorer performs in an amazing manner. Watch any NBA game and you’re likely to see a few spectacular shots, most by the high scorer. Hence it’s easy for the average fan to relate to the leading scorer. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the most important event on the court. Other things lead to a team’s victory, including defense, rebounding, turnovers, and free throws. But most of these aren’t as sexy as the made basket. When was the last time you saw a spectacular rebound? Has there even been a spectacular free throw? A turnover can excite the crowd, but unless it’s followed by a score the buzz is lost.

Now I’ll agree that the double-double is an overrated stat, but is it that much more overrated than points per game? Or even the ability to create your own shot? This final component seems especially important for the average fan who plays basketball. At the level of the average fan, being able to create your own shot is more important than many other attributes. In other words your neighborhood version of Al Harrington is worth more at the park than the NBA’s version is to his team. In the Hawks game thread, a game that Robinson missed due to injury, “ess-dog” commented “Now this is the kind of game that makes me wonder if Nate’s scoring and penetrating is overrated.”

During Isiah’s tenure New York was stuck with two players that could create their own shot, but do little else. Crawford & Curry seemed to divide Knick fans between creationists who worshiped their ability to make shot attempts, and those that covered their ears to the siren song of YouTube highlights. This year the team has traded one and marginalized the other, and their record is on track to improve by 10 games. It’s no coincidence that this improvement has occurred by replacing the inefficient ex-Bulls’ minutes with the more efficient Robinson and Lee. Additionally the latter pair gives the team more than just field goal attempts. Lee provides rebounding, while Robinson sprinkles the stat line with rebounding, assists, and steals.

As advanced statisticians already know, at the highest levels of basketball shooting is the most important factor with regards to a team’s chances of winning. But it’s not shooting volume that we use to measure it, but rather shooting efficiency. If a team can shoot at a high percentage and prevent their opponent from doing the same, they’re going to win a lot of games. Creating a shot does have value, but it must be taken in the proper context of the ability to make the shot. On the night the Knicks won without their best creative scorer, Golden State got blown out by the Bulls. They were ‘led’ by Stephen Jackson 19 points (on 20 shots), Corey Maggette 14 points (on 16 shots) and Jamal Crawford 11 points (on 15 shots).


Per 36 minute stats comparing last year’s creationists to their 2009 counterparts.

       Player  Season  Age  G  MPG  FGA  ORB TRB AST STL TOV  PF  PTS  TS%
Jamal Crawford 2007-08  27 80 39.9 15.7 0.4  2.3 4.5 0.9 2.2 1.6 18.6 .528
 Nate Robinson 2008-09  24 52 1561 16.9 1.7  5.1 4.7 1.7 2.1 3.4 21.1 .559
 
       Player  Season  Age  G   MP  FGA  ORB TRB AST STL TOV  PF  PTS  TS% 
    Eddy Curry 2007-08  25 59 1530 12.8 2.6  6.5 0.8 0.3 3.0 3.7 18.4 .578
     David Lee 2008-09  25 60 2134 11.9 3.2 12.1 2.0 0.9 2.0 3.4 16.7 .599

KnickerBlogger Turns 5

This week marks the 5th anniversary of KnickerBlogger. When I started this venture, I didn’t imagine it would last this long. Five years ago, blogging was still in its infancy. There were less than 2 million blogs when KnickerBlogger came into existence. Just six months after, the number of blogs had doubled. Today it’s unknown how many blogs there are. One estimate is 200 million. Many of them are powered by individuals like myself.

More important than the number of blogs is the role they perform. Once derided by the mainstream media, just about every newspaper, magazine, and network hosts their own blog. They are now an essential part of the world’s information and entertainment. Blogs fill an important niche in the world. Previously the only avenue for the common man to voice his opinion was through those who held the keys to kingdom. Often his voice was not heard by the public. Blogs have taken the words of the everyman and projected them from the world’s tallest soap box.

Five years ago my goal with KnickerBlogger was to create a platform for those who felt their opinion was not represented in the mainstream. Judging by the other readers who come here to share their thoughts and my affiliation with True Hoop Network that allows me to bring these voices to the mainstream, it seems that I have succeeded. I can only wonder what KnickerBlogger will be in five more years.


To celebrate this anniversary, I’m announcing the KnickerBlogger Quinquennial Team. To assist in this matter, I’ve looked at the overall PER and the single season PER for that period.

Stephon Marbury, PG – As painful as it is to admit, Marbury has dominated the team in many ways during the lifespan of KnickerBlogger. As his career with the team comes nearer to it’s disappointing end, it’s hard to remember that he was a productive scorer early on. He has the highest single season PER (21.9 in 2005) as well as the highest PER (18.4) during the KnickerBlogger era. His defense was mediocre and his contract was suffocating, had the two been reversed he would have been a shoe in for the Hall of Fame.
Reserves: Chris Duhon, Nate Robinson, Frank Williams.

David Lee, PF – It may shock many to see Lee here, but those that have watched him play aren’t surprised that he’s been the second most productive Knick by PER standards over the last 5 years. Looking at things from a objective standpoint it’s hard to find a more deserving PF. Randolph’s PER is the same and his weaknesses are similar to Lee’s (blocked shots, defense). However, Lee has played 4000 more minutes while costing the team $10M less. After Randolph are Mike Sweetney and Kurt Thomas. Sweetney ate himself out of the league, and Thomas wasn’t nearly as productive on the offensive end. Of all the starters on this list, Lee is the one who is most likely to also appear on KnickerBlogger’s Decennial team as well.
Reserves: Zach Randolph, Kurt Thomas, Mike Sweetney.

Nazr Mohammed, C – Surprised it’s not Curry? Nazr played exactly 81 games for the Knicks in 2 seasons, and would rank 4th in Knicks PER over the KnickerBlogger era. Mohammed was a great offensive rebounder, pulling down 4.0/36 oreb/36. To put that in perspective that’s a higher rate than Lee’s career 3.6. During the Isiah era, Nazr was eventually replaced by Eddy Curry. Comparing the two, Nazr was outscored by Curry (19.2 to 13.7), but Curry did it with almost double the turnovers (3.5 to/36 to 2.0). Additionally Mohammed had nearly double the blocks (1.3 blk/36 to Curry’s 0.7), triple the steals (1.4 stl/36 to 0.4), and more rebounds (10.6 reb/36 to 7.4). With that in mind, it’s clear that Nazr deserves the nod here.
Reserves: Eddy Curry, Dikembe Mutombo.

Van Horn/Renaldo Balkman, SF Keith played only 47 games for New York, but he put up some good numbers while he was here. Van Horn was criticized for being a tweener that had trouble defending, but he rebounded well and scored efficiently. However Van Horn only played 1500 minutes for New York. That’s about as much as Al Harrington. If that’s too little for you, then Balkman is next on the PER list. Considering how PER doesn’t account well for defense, then it makes sense that he was probably unrepresented by his stats.

One note on Keith Van Horn: shortly after Isiah Thomas took over the team, he traded Keith Van Horn. At the time Van Horn was a popular player who had just been acquired that summer, so the trade felt hasty. Since then New York has suffered through instability at the small forward position, something I’ve called “the Curse of Keith Van Horn”. The list of small forwards since the Knicks jettisoned Van Horn: Anfernee Hardaway, DerMarr Johnson, Tim Thomas, Trevor Ariza, Shandon Anderson, Jerome Williams, Matt Barnes, Jalen Rose, Ime Udoka, Qyntel Woods, Jared Jeffries, Quentin Richardson, Renaldo Balkman, and Wilson Chandler. Hopefully the curse will be broken in 2010
Reserves: Tim Thomas, Junk Yard Dog.

Jamal Crawford, SG – The default pick, since there really haven’t been many other shooting guards in recent Knick history. Robinson is the only other one that merits any mention. Crawford can drive Golden State fans crazy for the next few years.
Reserves: Nate Robinson

Lenny Wilkens, Coach – I’d like to choose D’Antoni, but he’s only been around for a half season. Wilkens got the team to the playoffs until they tuned him out a year later. In retrospect that should have signified there was something wrong behind the scenes. In his latter years, Wilkens was an adequate coach, which says a lot about the coaches the Knicks have had over the last 5 years.

Most Minutes 5: Curry, Lee, Richardson, Crawford, Marbury
Least Minutes 5: Trybanski, Randolph Morris, Matt Barnes, Jamison Brewer, Jermaine Jackson

Best Defensive 5: Mutumbo, Kurt Thomas, Balkman, Ariza, Frank Williams
Worst Defensive 5: Curry, Randolph, Jalen Rose, Crawford, Marbury

Drafted 5: Frye, Lee, Balkman, Ariza, Nate
Toughest 5: Kurt Thomas, Balkman, Collins, Robinson, Frank Williams

Best Shooting 5: David Lee, Tim Thomas, Van Horn, Nate, Marbury
Worst Shooting 5: Bruno Sundov, Malik Rose, Balkman, Shanderson, Collins

All Name 5: Cezary Trybanski, Othella Harrington, Qyntel Woods, Anfernee Hardaway, Moochie Norris
Scrappiest 5: David Lee, Jerome Williams, Renaldo Balkman, Jermaine Jackson, Frank Williams

If I had to choose a Starting 5 from this era: Nazr, Lee, Balkman, Robinson, Duhon.
Reserves: Mutombo, Van Horn, Ariza, Sweetney, Frank Williams, Gallinari, Chandler.
Coach: D’Antoni

It’s sad but I think this is the best the Knicks could do combining all the players over the last 5 years. I’ve left Marbury off for obvious reasons. New York would have a tremendous rebounding starting lineup, with enough balance of offense & defense on the bench. If you wanted, you could substitute Randolph or Kurt Thomas for Sweetney. But this being KnickerBlogger, I thought it’d be good to give the guy a second chance. The same goes for Frank Williams, who is playing well enough in the NBDL to get another shot at the NBA. Gallinari & Chandler make the list because of their youth. If this team were looking at a title, then I might choose Tim Thomas and Crawford. But I think this is a .500 team that will need some youth.

Chandler Makes Another Adjustment

Last night against the Rockets, the big news for the team on the court was the changing of the starting lineup. Over the last few games the Knicks have started out slowly, and Coach D’Antoni was looking to correct this flaw. So against Houston, the team benched Wilson Chandler in favor of Al Harrington.

At the start of the season, many Knick fans were hoping Chandler would win the small forward battle against Quentin Richardson. But recently Wilson’s poor play has made fans hope that he would be removed from the starting five. The youngster has shot abysmally, shooting a meager 38% eFG% over the last 6 games. He has two major flaws which hurt his scoring efficiency. The first is his poor shooting from three point range (29.4%), the second is his inability to draw fouls.

Back on January 5th, I talked about the latter. Chandler had just come off a win against Boston, where he attempted a career high 12 free throws. At the time I said:

If Chandler is able to score more from the charity stripe, it’ll make him a more efficient scorer. This helps the Knicks in the short term (as Chandler is still in the Knicks starting lineup), and the long (he’s more likely to develop and/or be valuable to other teams).

But more significantly is that perhaps this coaching staff noticed this flaw in Chandler’s game and attempted to correct it. This would be a substantial gain for the team, because it marks their ability to improve their players. Two of Isiah’s biggest acquisitions were Eddy Curry and Jamal Crawford, two young players that the team hoped would turn into NBA All Stars. Unfortunately Curry & Crawford continued to commit the same mistakes over and over and never improved. If the current Knick coaching staff can identify a young player’s flaws and attempt to rectify them, then it shows the team has improved in that area as well.

Granted this doesn’t mean that the team can turn any young player into an NBA starter. Obviously credit for this change, should it be permanent, should go to Chandler for being physically and mentally able to get to the charity stripe more often. Not every NBA player will be able to correct their flaws. However during the Isiah era, it felt as if the team was stuck in the same place. Every month the Knicks suffered from the same problems and made the same mistakes, without any change. At least Knick fans can be more confident that the team probably won’t fall into the same malaise.

Now if they could just work on Chandler’s three point shooting…

Unfortunately the change was not permanent. Since that game, Chandler hasn’t attempted more than 4 free throws in a single game. However the Knick forward seemed to address the other flaw in his shooting, his inaccurate three point shooting. Against the Rockets, when the ball rotated to Chandler on the perimeter, he would take a hop-step before receiving the pass. Therefore instead of being forced to shoot a three point shot, Chandler was taking a make able 18 footer. Looking at last night’s game chart, he made 2 of the 3 he attempted.

Again I have to give credit to Chandler and the coaching staff for this adjustment. Last year he only attempted 1.6 3PA/36, but in D’Antoni’s system that number has skyrocketed to 4.2 3PA/36. For a career sub-30% shooter, this volume must be outside of Chandler’s comfort zone. This change may allow the 21 year old to be more efficient and take pressure of him to hit a shot he may be uncomfortable with. Perhaps this confidence helped Wilson last night. In the waning moments, the Rockets left him alone at the top of the key, daring him to hit a three pointer. With the Knicks down by 2 with 2:21 left, Chandler coolly drained the shot to put the Knicks up for good. It’ll be interesting to see if this time the adjustment sticks.

The Expected

Sometimes a commenter makes an point that inspires an article. I could have written this in the comments section, but I think it deserves an post of it’s own. Yesterday BigBlueAL wrote:

Look I have praised David Lee alot this season because he has improved his offense alot in terms of hitting that baseline jumper a bit more consistantly and being able to drive more often w/o getting his shot sent into the stands. But his numbers to me are a huge reflection of this system and Randolph being traded. Defensively he is still horrible and is not going to be anywhere near worth what his salary will most likely reach if you are trying to put together a championship caliber team.

Again I like David Lee and dont like ripping him, but please he is not a starting PF on a championship team. He is what his and Nate’s role should be, 20-25 minute players who bring energy off the bench. Those players are very important on good teams, but they are easier to find than go-to, superstar type players which is clearly what the Knicks are lacking and have lacked since Houston/Spree were together.

Unlike baseball where I have vast knowledge of sabermetrics and such in basketball I dont look at stats beyond the basics as much as I should, although being an ESPN Insider I do like reading John Hollinger and becoming more aware of more analytical basketball stats.

I have a theory on why David Lee is underrated from a visual perspective. Two of the things he does well are “expected”: rebounding and finishing around the hoop. Every time the other team misses a shot you expect your team to get the rebound. So when David Lee comes flying in to secure the rebound, it’s expected that the he does it. It’s not an act that is remembered or noted because it’s counted upon. Compare this to when Jamal Crawford sinks an impossible shot. Those memories usually stick in someone’s mind because of the rareness of the act. Yet most people don’t remember when Crawford misses a shot, since missing a shot is commonplace and an expected result.

But watching last night’s game against the Thunder, down the stretch Lee’s defensive rebounding was excellent. If you were concentrating on him, it was amazing watching his positioning and tenacity. There were a few rebounds that I don’t think any other Knick (or most big men in the league) would have secured. I honestly don’t think the Knicks would have been in yesterday’s game at the end if it weren’t for Lee’s rebounding.

The same goes for his inside scoring. Fill in the blank in the following sentence: Chris Duhon drives the lane and is double teamed, so he passes to an open David Lee who…

{Have your answer?}

Depending on your imagination you might say:
* dunks the ball.
* makes a reverse left handed layup.
* draws the foul for 2 shots.
* makes the buckets and draws the foul.

Now fill in the blank on this sentence: Chris Duhon drives the lane and is double teamed, so he passes to an open Jared Jeffries who…

{Have your answer?}

This time your answer will probably differ from Lee and you might say:
* fumbles the pass.
* blows the layup.
* scores with a nice finger roll (Jeffrightened style!).

Depending on the player you would have a different result. Yet Lee doesn’t seem to get credit for being able to catch a pass in traffic and score around the hoop. It’s because it seems to be such an easy act that it’s expected that he does so. Yet few players in the league can be as successful Lee, when performing this action. Now if you think I’m using a strawman argument with Jeffries, then replace Lee with Chandler or Curry. Chandler is more likely to take a turnaround jumper instead of going inside and isn’t very likely to draw a foul. Meanwhile Curry is more apt to either fumble the ball or commit an offensive charging foul.

David Lee’s rebounding and efficient inside scoring (without turning the ball over) is valuable because there aren’t a lot of players in the league that do those things at such a high level. That makes him a valuable starter level player, even with his defensive shortcomings. Hence why the Knicks have entertained so many offers for Lee from other teams. Of course everything depends on context, he would need to be paired with a strong defensive center. But as for Lee not being a good starter on a championship team, don’t you think the Spurs would love to have him on their team right now? Currently their PFs are Matt Bonner, Kurt Thomas and Fabricio Oberto (who pushes Duncan to PF).

However, the more relevant point I’m trying to make is that it’s hard to catch these things with the naked eye. As Michael Lewis wrote in Moneyball:

One absolutely cannot tell, by watching, the difference between a .300 hitter and a .275 hitter. The difference is one hit every two weeks. It might be that a reporter, seeing every game that the team plays, could sense that difference over the course of the year if no records were kept, but I doubt it. Certainly the average fan, seeing perhaps a tenth of the team’s games, could never gauge two performances that accurately-in fact if you see both 15 games a year, there is a 40% chance that the .275 hitter will have more hits than the .300 hitter in the games that you see. The difference between a good hitter and an average hitter is simply not visible-it is a matter of record.

Similarly observers might not be able to differentiate between a player has a TS% of 60 and one that has a TS% of 55. And the value of player who averages 11.7 reb/36 might not be noticeable. But it’s undeniable that these stats correlate to winning, more than the naked eye would believe. To make an analogy to baseball David Lee might be the .280 hitting shortstop with a handful of few home runs, but has a strong .OBP, hits a lot of doubles, and doesn’t make a lot of errors (but maybe doesn’t have a lot of range or a great arm). For decades things like OBP, SLG, etc. were not valued by generations of baseball fans. And much like baseball, unless you’re looking at the advanced stats, you might not be able to see the value David Lee gives a team.

Chandler’s Improvement Mostly Charity

When the 2009 season started, many Knick fans had high hopes on Wilson Chandler. As a rookie, Chandler’s stats weren’t overly impressive. Although he showed some athleticism, his numbers were pedestrian. Chandler rebounded well (6.7 reb/36), but his defensive stats were average (0.8 stl/36, 0.8 blk/36), and his shooting was bad (48.0% TS%, 45.7% eFG, 30.0% 3P%, 63.0% FT%). However Chandler was only 20 years old, and pre-drinking age players are usually the most volatile. Looking over the players who had a PER under 12 as a 19 or 20 year old shows a wide variety of players, from future All Stars (Tony Parker, Rashard Lewis, Joe Johnson) to future McDonalds employees (Joseph Forte, Donnell Harvey, William Avery, Ha Seung-Jin)

Although it was unlikely for Chandler to turn into an All Star, it was entirely possible that he would be able to turn into a solid NBA starter. Unfortunately, Chandler’s second season showed little improvement. As early as the beginning of December Knick fans were calling for Chandler to be sent back to the bench. On December 22nd, Chandler’s had improved his FT% to 82.8, but not much else. His PER was a paltry 12.1, nearly the same as last year. Chandler’s main weakness was his inability to get to the free throw line. He felt more comfortable taking jump shots. His main weakness was from behind the arc where his percentage stayed at 30%, but his attempts per minute increased 250%. Even when Chandler got close to the rim, he preferred to take a spinning fade away jumper in lieu of going strong to the hoop.

One of the tools statisticians use to measure a player’s ability to earn points from the free throw line is FT/FG. Basically this measures the ratio of free throws made to the field goal shots attempted. It will give you a good idea of how often a player gets to (and converts) from the free throw line. Last year Chandler’s FT/FG was 14.0, which was third lowest on the team. This year began no differently, as Chandler’s FT/FG on December 22nd was exactly the same 14.0.

However Chandler has put together a string of 5 strong games, earning praise for his play. The secret to Chandler’s success is simple: he’s been taking it to the basket more. Over the last 5 games Chandler’s FT/FG has been 34.9, raising his season average to 18.2. Of course 5 games isn’t significant, and this change might just be an outlier in Chandler’s career. But if Chandler is able to score more from the charity stripe, it’ll make him a more efficient scorer. This helps the Knicks in the short term (as Chandler is still in the Knicks starting lineup), and the long (he’s more likely to develop and/or be valuable to other teams).

But more significantly is that perhaps this coaching staff noticed this flaw in Chandler’s game and attempted to correct it. This would be a substantial gain for the team, because it marks their ability to improve their players. Two of Isiah’s biggest acquisitions were Eddy Curry and Jamal Crawford, two young players that the team hoped would turn into NBA All Stars. Unfortunately Curry & Crawford continued to commit the same mistakes over and over and never improved. If the current Knick coaching staff can identify a young player’s flaws and attempt to rectify them, then it shows the team has improved in that area as well.

Granted this doesn’t mean that the team can turn any young player into an NBA starter. Obviously credit for this change, should it be permanent, should go to Chandler for being physically and mentally able to get to the charity stripe more often. Not every NBA player will be able to correct their flaws. However during the Isiah era, it felt as if the team was stuck in the same place. Every month the Knicks suffered from the same problems and made the same mistakes, without any change. At least Knick fans can be more confidant that the team probably won’t fall into the same malaise.

Now if they could just work on Chandler’s three point shooting…

Knicks’ Week in Advance 12/8/08

I’m toying with the idea of theme music for this weekly feature.

To the original theme from “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids”

Hey, hey, hey…. it’s Thoooooomas B.
I’m gonna preview some games for you.
And Mike might add a word or two.
We’ll have some fun now, looking at these stats.
I’ll talk about what to watch for based on PERs and other facts.
Nah, nah, nah going to get some stats now.
Hey, hey, hey!
Hey it’s Thomas B. coming at you with four factors and fun.
And if you’re not careful, you might learn something before we’re done. Hey, hey, hey.
Nah, nah, nah going to get some stats now.

Now that I have that out my system, let’s get on with the fourth installment of Knicks’ Week in Advance. The Knicks start a five game road trip this week with games in Chicago, New Jersey, and Sacramento. While tough, road trips can be a good thing for a team. The team gets to pull together and that is just what the Knicks need as Harrington, Thomas, and Jeffries find their place in the rotation. Let hope the Knicks can improve on the 2-7 road record.

Tuesday, December 9 @ Chicago [First meeting of the teams this year.]

TEAM POSS EFF eFG TO OREB% FT/FG
New York Knicks-Offense 98 105.5 50.1 15.8 23.6 19.1
Rank
1
19
12
15
28
30
Chicago Bulls-Defense 94.8 106 48.4 16.5 29 25.6
Rank
5
15
8
12
26
23
New York Knicks-Defense 98 109.2 51.2 14.5 28.3 18.9
Rank
1
24
25
26
20
2
Chicago Bulls-Offense 94.8 103.4 47.1 16.5 27.6 24.1
Rank
5
23
24
20
9
16

Another Tuesday brings another tough game for the Knicks. The Knicks are 0-4 on Tuesdays so far this year. Let’s see if we can turn this thing around.

The Bulls come into this game with numbers very similar to those of the Knicks. Like the Knicks, the Bulls push the pace with 94.8 possessions per game (5th). The Bulls’ offensive efficiency (103.4, 22nd) trails the Knicks’ offensive efficiency (105.2, 19th). Furthermore, the Bulls’ eFG% of 47.1 (24th) is well behind the Knicks’ 49.8 (13th). One reason for this could be the Bulls’ lack of inside scoring.

The Bulls’ big men are not efficient scorers from close range. Aaron Gray leads the big men with an eFG% of 46.6 in 14 minutes per game. Behind Gray, the Bulls have Noah and Thomas with eFG% of 39.6 and 34.4 respectively. Compare that to David Lee’s 56.2 eFG%, and *gulp* Tim Thomas’ 51.8 (I know, but what other big man do we have?). The Bulls’ inside scoring troubles bode well for the Knicks as they struggle defending big men who can score inside.

What to watch for: Defense. The Knicks should focus on limiting penetration from Rose and open looks from Gordon (51.1 eFG%, 37.3 3p%) and Hughes (53.2 eFG%, 47.7 3p%).

What to watch for 2: Q. Richardson vs. Hughes/Gordon. Nate Robinson’s injury has moved Q to the shooting guard spot. What Q gives up in speed, he makes up for in strength. Q should take the same approach he took with Jamal Crawford defending him and take Hughes inside. When Thomas or Noah help, move the ball for a good shot.

What to watch for 3: More of the high pick & roll. Seven Seconds or Mess did a great job showing how the high pick & roll worked for the Knicks against the Blazers. New York should should employ the same approach in this game. Inexperienced players usually aren’t good at defending the pick & roll, so the Knicks should go at Rose and Noah/Gray/Thomas early with it.

What to watch for 4: Chi-town ties. Q and Chandler are from the area so they should be comfortable for this game. Meanwhile former Bulls Duhon and Thomas may feel they have scores to settle against their old team. You ever notice how nobody ever leaves the Bulls on good terms? When have you heard, “I really enjoyed my time with the Bulls organization and I look forward to returning some day.”

Wednesday, December 10 @ New Jersey [First meeting of the teams this year.]

TEAM POSS EFF eFG TO OREB% FT/FG
New York Knicks-Offense 98 105.5 50.1 15.8 23.6 19.1
Rank
1
19
12
15
28
30
New Jersey Nets-Defense 91 111.3 51.3 15.3 26 29
Rank
22
27
27
20
11
29
New York Knicks-Defense 98 109.2 51.2 14.5 28.3 18.9
Rank
1
24
25
26
20
2
New Jersey Nets-Offense 91 110.2 50 14.4 26.8 26.8
Rank
22
5
13
3
15
4

The Nets are a team of contrast. New Jersey is bad on defense, and their efficiency (111.3, 27th), and eFG% (51.3 %, 26th) are among the worst in the NBA. On the other hand, the Nets are strong on offense (110.2, 5th) and they take care of the ball (14.4 Turnovers, 2nd).

What to watch for: The Nets are over .500 due to the great play they are getting from Devin Harris. Harris leads all Eastern Conference PGs in PER (27.6), and scoring (24.5/36 min, 5th overall). He averages 0.8 3PM/36, which means he does most of his damage on the inside and at the free throw line (9.2 ftm/36). I have not seen him play this year, but those numbers indicate that Harris drives a lot. The Knicks need to give Harris room to take the jumper rather than let him get into his comfort zone of driving.

What to watch for 2: Defense. I have said this every week, but the Knicks need a strong defensive effort against teams that are efficient on offense. The Knicks’ defensive focus has to start with Harris. Duhon will need to play smart (stay out of foul trouble) as he may not have Nate to back him up.

Saturday, December 13 @ Sacramento [First meeting of the teams this year]

TEAM POSS EFF eFG TO OREB% FT/FG
New York Knicks-Offense 98 105.5 50.1 15.8 23.6 19.1
Rank
1
19
12
15
28
30
Sacramento Kings-Defense 92.7 112.9 52.8 15.9 29.5 25.8
Rank
10
29
29.5
13
29
25
New York Knicks-Defense 98 109.2 51.2 14.5 28.3 18.9
Rank
1
24
25
26
20
2
Sacramento Kings-Offense 92.7 103.7 49 17.2 26.7 21.7
Rank
10
21
16
25
16
21.5

The Kings are rebuilding around Kevin Martin, John Salmons, and uh…not much else. Sacramento is one of the worst defensive team in the NBA. They are 29th in defensive efficiency (112.9), tied for last in defensive eFG% with Golden State (52.8), and they don’t do well on the defensive glass giving up 29.5% of available defensive boards (29th). Only one team does it worse – you guessed it, the Warriors again. Their leading shot blocker is Hawes (1.8 per 36 minutes).

What to watch for: The Knicks should take the same approach they took against the Warriors with one exception – play better defense. The Kings are not strong on offense coming in 21st in offensive efficiency (103.7) and 15th in eFG% (15th). The Kings frequently turn over the ball (17.2, 24th), so added defensive pressure should bring those numbers up.

What to watch for 2: The Knicks should run the high pick & roll with Lee and Duhon against the Kings’ slow frontcourt players.

What to watch for 3: Push the pace. This game is the second of a back to back for the Kings. The Knicks come into this game on two days rest. The Knicks should push the pace and try to wear the Kings down. Hopefully, Nate, JJ, and Mobley (I’m still holding out hope) will be able to give us around 20-25 a night and help us keep the pressure on the Kings.