Mainstream Analysis

Since the steady decline of ESPN, I really don’t go their web page much for analysis. It’s just too annoying to go to espn.com, and be forced to wait until some multimedia presentation loads up that I’m not interesting in watching or buying. As if being owned by the Disney/ABC family, their tv station, and the bombardment of ads on their website didn’t make them enough money, they ask their customers to pay for anything that would be worthwhile to read with the ESPN Insider. If I felt a majority of that money went to the writers and web designers then I might consider paying for it. But something tells me that my hard earned dough would be going to some guy in marketing who came up with these “brilliant” (& annoying) ideas.

These days if I want to get sports analysis I tend to go to pages that end with the word “Blog” or has at least one SAT-sounding word in the title like “Prospectus“. Mainstream pages are competing to get the widest audience, and in turn the quality suffers. As proof I offer up Steve Kerr’s small write up for Yahoo!’s NBA page. He did a piece that caught my eye: NBA Preview: Atlantic. The part that caught my eye was the description that proclaimed the Knicks would finish in first.

The article is short, just two small paragraphs on each team. In the Knicks’ section, Kerr mentions that the PGs have to find a way to keep “Tim Thomas, Vin Baker, Allan Houston and Kurt Thomas happy.” What a minute did he just say Vin Baker? Baker is third on the center depth chart, behind Nazr Mohammed & Kurt Thomas. I expect Sweetney, Nazr and Hardaway to be more involved in the offense than Baker, so why mention him at all? I don’t think Baker’s demeanor really figures into the Knicks’ chances this year.

In addition, Kerr mentioned three weaknesses the Knicks will have to face this year: defense, rebounding and team chemistry. He’s, at best, half right with the first two. The Knicks defense was average last year, ranked 14th by John Hollinger’s Pro Basketball Forecast. Consider last year the Knicks were 8th in defensive shooting efficiency, 23rd in creating turnovers, and 27th in letting their opponents score from the line. The Knicks don’t need to get better at contesting shots, they just need to force turnovers & stop giving away free points from the charity stripe. With respect to rebounding, the New York was strong on the defensive boards, but bad on the offensive end. This year should be different, as Sweetney, Mohammed and Williams are good offensive rebounders and will get enough minutes to make a difference.

As for that last weakness, I’m convinced that terms like “team chemistry” and “veteran leadership” is jock language for “I don’t know why.” Even if you take Kerr’s statement literally, it’s hard to see any basis for this. Crawford & Williams are the only significant additions over the summer, and the Knicks didn’t have a chemistry problem last year. Why would they have one this year?

The Knicks aren’t among the NBA elite, but Kerr’s ignorance of the statistics can’t help him to describe why, so he describes the problem as “team chemistry” (pronounced “I don’t know why”). Last year I was able to identify the Knicks’ five main weaknesses in a two part series:

  • Committing Turnovers (23rd, -7.0%)
  • Creating Turnovers (23rd, -7.2%)
  • Scoring From the Free Throw Line (22nd, -7.2%)
  • Sending Their Opponents to the Free Throw Line (27th, -11.7%)
  • Offensive Rebounding (19th, -2.4%)

The Knicks were near the bottom in both ends of turnovers & free throw scoring, and nary a mention from Mr. Kerr? It’s just what I’d expect from most mainstream writers, either Mr. Kerr hasn’t watched the Knicks enough last year or doesn’t know enough about statistics to understand their real weaknesses.

Preseason Watch #2

Two entries ago, I ranted & raved about unimportance of the NBA preseason. Being unable to write a column on the Yankees without professional help, I’m forced to eat my words and discuss the NBA preseason. I touched on a few things in preseason that would interest me, and I’ll try to discuss each of them before the season starts.

Today’s topic: What kind of impression are the young players making? Although it’s still early, two of the Knicks younger players are getting a lot of minutes this preseason. Michael Sweetney ranks among the top 5 Knicks in minutes per game. He played impressively over the summer & has had a good preseason so far. Rebounding has been one of Sweetney’s strengths, so it’s no surprise that he’s second on the Knicks in REB/min. His FG% is a bit low (44%), but considering it’s a small sample size of 5 games and that his PSA (points per shot attempt) is higher than last year’s average, it’s nothing to be concerned about.

Sweetney is ready to take over as the Knicks PF, and the Knicks management might hand over the reigns. New York could play small this year, starting Sweetney at PF, moving Kurt Thomas to center, and bumping Nazr Mohammed to “first big man off the bench.” With Mount Mutombo gone, the Knicks no longer have a shot blocker/finger shaker, so they might as well mix & match with their strengths. Thomas’ perimeter shooting game makes him a liability on the offensive boards, but playing along side a strong glass cleaner either at the 4 (Sweetney) or the 5 (Mohammed) would complement his style. Thomas at center could open up the inside by forcing the other team’s center to come out of the paint and respect his jumpshot. The obvious downfall is the matchup on the defensive end. With the big centers in Miami & Cleveland, the Knicks would be forced to abandon this plan, and play their big guys. Playing Thomas at the 5, when the matchup permits, takes away minutes from guys like Baker, Sundov and Bateer, and gives them to Sweetney. The Knicks lack of talent at the 5 and Sweetney’s development makes this idea plausible, but a more ideal solution would be to get a quality center.

Michael Sweetney’s success is not unexpected, but no one would have predicted Trevor Ariza’s play. John Hollinger, author of the 2004-05 Pro Baketball Forecast, described Ariza as the “third-best player on a terrible team,” hardly a ringing endorsement. However, the rookie has been filling the stat sheet like a veteran, not a freshman turned second round pick. The Knicks are giving Ariza a lot of time on the court, in fact he’s second on the team in minutes with 24 min/G. Trevor’s non-scoring traditional numbers are impressive; per game he is averaging 5.8REB, 2.2STL, and 4.4FTA per game. Ariza is second on the Knicks in steals and free throw attempts per minute. He’s a tad behind Sweetney in REB/min, which shows he’s hitting the boards as well. Given his status coming out of college, these are impressive stats.

Before we hit the presses with the Trevor Ariza ROY posters, his game comes with a caveat emptor. His main weakness is his poor shooting, which spans from beyond the arc (0% 3P%), to the free throw line (64%). Ariza’s current eFG% of 38% exposes this shortcoming. He also has a propensity to turn the ball over at an alarming rate. Trevor could make the rotation with his energetic play, but how many minutes he gets will depend on his ability to cut down on his poor shooting & turnovers. After years of first round pick failures, the fact that I’m talking about a Knick second round pick possibly making the rotation is a step in the right direction. For the next few years if Ariza can provide a spark off the bench for a couple of minutes a night, then the Knicks front office can consider that a success.

Net Loss

NOTE: Grammar edited after a full night’s sleep. :-)

I was going to write a lengthy discussion on the Nets recent moves, but there isn’t anything to say about the Nets loss of Martin and now Kittles that hasn’t been said by the best blog done by a Nets fan: These Days. Shaddax’s blog covers everything from basketball to football to baseball to boxing to hockey. Although he specializes on the New York area teams, These Days seems to cover just about everything happening in every league. If that isn’t enough to make you want to peek over and see what’s happening, then check out a sample of his solid writing (about being a GM in NYC):

…I’m sick of people parroting that idiocy about “oh, it’s New York, you have to go for it in New York”… People might say bad things about you on talk radio? Well guess what: if you give a shit about what Al from Scarsdale or Vinny from Yonkers has to say about the team, then make one of them the GM, clear your desk out and take up some other occupation. Or learn how to lie better, and just say nothing could be worked out. Either way, if you don’t have the stomach to come up with a plan and see it through, if you don’t have the perspicacity to tell the difference between a lucky run in a crappy division and a legitimate contender’s chance, if you don’t have any clue what makes a player good or bad, then get the hell away from my team. I’m sick to death of having every franchise in town held hostage to “they say” crap.

Getting back to the Nets, they could have really made a good try at turning around this franchise. In fact they should have retoolled to make another championship run. Something tells me they knew they weren’t going to keep Kittles and Martin from the beginning. So why not put them out there early & try to get Shaq or McGrady? They could have traded both at the onset of the offseason, and with the $20M they got back in trade exceptions, made a run at Kobe Bryant. Even if they didn’t try to get one of the best available players, there were a bunch of quality guys that were available that the Nets might have acquired to give them a stronger team.

New Jersey waited too long, and now the Nets only have slim pickings to choose from. Instead of trying to get Boozer, Okur, or Ginobili, they can try to get Dampier, Crawford, and Rodney White. That’s if they choose to spend their trade exceptions, instead of pocketing the money. Honestly with their new ownership I doubt they’ll sign any long or expensive deals in the near future. Imagine how bad things will be if they trade Jason Kidd in a similar fashion.

John Hollinger wrote a column calling the Warriors the “new Clippers.” Without any improvements, the Nets should easily win this crown. In fact, you could argue that the Nets would be worse than the Warriors. Sure it’s easy to point to Derek Fisher’s laughable 6 year contract and say “top that”. But at least Mullin is trying to win. If the Nets trade Kidd for cap relief, then they’re sending a clear sign to the rest of the league: “We don’t care if we win.” Even though they’ll be under the cap and able to sign players in the future, throwing up a white flag now will scare away fans and free agents for years to come.

Knicks Roster Analysis – Small Forwards

So I’m back today with my look at the Knicks’ small forwards. 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.

Tim Thomas

Year    MPG   PPG   RPG  APG   TS%  Reb%  Pass   Off   Def  Win%  WARP  Value  Salary
01-02 26.9 11.7 4.1 1.4 .522 8.7 0.12 90.0 90.9 .455 2.3
02-03 29.5 13.3 4.9 1.3 .527 9.6 0.07 89.8 90.6 .479 3.9
03-04 31.7 14.7 4.8 1.9 .534 8.8 0.19 90.0 90.0 .487 3.8 $4.229 $12.90

As you may or may not have noticed, my fellow guest blogger David wasn’t a huge fan of Tim Thomas’ acquisition. I’ve got to say I was more than a little puzzled by the move. Trading Keith Van Horn wasn’t the worst idea in the world. I tend to think Van Horn gets a bad rap from many people, but he’s a poor defender, horribly inconsistent, and as out of place in the paint as Wayne Brady at Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles. So, if you were going to trade him, you’d think you’d acquire someone who was entirely different, right? Wrong.

As I noted in my post-deadline Transaction Analysis, Thomas was Van Horn’s most comparable player in the NBA as of the trade, and vice versa. If you look up the definition of irony in the dictionary, you get the Van Horn-Thomas trade.

In my book, Van Horn’s the better player, but there are some things in Thomas’ favor. He’s a better athlete, which has been a key point of emphasis during the Isiah Thomas era, and he has the advantage of not having teamed with Marbury in New Jersey (and the resulting possible bad blood).

Overall, I would describe Thomas as an “adequate starter”. With him in the lineup, small forward isn’t a position the Knicks really need to be aggressively looking to upgrade, but they also aren’t set for the next decade at the position.

Looking at his numbers, Thomas is a better offensive player than I realized. His efficiency isn’t that bad (league average true shooting percentage, for reference, was 51.6%), and he does put points on the board. Thomas is also improving on offense, though it’s not readily apparent from the numbers I’ve listed; just maintaining the same Offensive Rating is improving, because it’s gone down league-wide from 90.4 to 89.9 to 89.2 over the last three years.

Unfortunately, Thomas is an absolutely horrid defender. John Hollinger rated the Bucks 28th in defending starting small forwards last season, and this year (per 82games.com) opposing small forwards shot an adjusted 49.2% against the Bucks as of the trade (I’m recycling an argument here — sorry), as compared to a league-wide 46.9%.

Thomas’ rebounding is also nothing special for a small forward. Small forwards are generally around 10% of available rebounds in terms of rebound percentage; Thomas has been below 9% two of the last three years.

Shandon Anderson

Year    MPG   PPG   RPG  APG   TS%  Reb%  Pass   Off   Def  Win%  WARP  Value  Salary
01-02 19.5 5.0 3.0 0.9 .489 9.0 0.09 87.3 90.9 .380 -0.7
02-03 21.1 8.4 3.1 1.1 .553 8.6 0.10 89.7 90.0 .484 3.0
03-04 24.7 7.9 2.8 1.5 .500 6.5 0.20 87.5 89.6 .399 0.0 $1.268 $7.300

Someday, when historians look back on the great mysteries of the 21st century, they will be confronted with the popularity of reality television, how George W. Bush became president, and Anderson’s 2002-03 season. In three years in New York, Anderson has shot 39.9%, 46.2%, and 42.2% from the field. From three-point range, he’s shot 27.7%, 37.1%, and 28.1%. Which of those numbers are not like the others?

Having a season that was about as good as possible, post-Utah, Anderson was still only a solid backup. Last year was a more typical year, and Anderson was right at my estimate of replacement level. His efficiency was poor, he started rebounding like a guard, and he’s only an okay defender.

Further downside: Anderson was a complete and total disaster in the playoffs, shooting 25.9% from the field and averaging 4.3 points per game as Allan Houston’s replacement in the starting lineup. That probably should have been the last strike against Anderson’s Knicks career. Dave mentions a buyout, and it’s tough to see this relationship ending in any other fashion. Between Trevor Ariza and potentially Dermarr Johnson, the Knicks have a pair of young options at small forward who could be better than Anderson next season — Johnson was, by my metrics, last year — and could get better. Anderson, at age 30, could have another fluke season, but real improvement is not coming.

If I was Anderson, I’d try to beg my way back to Utah or to some team like Sacramento, New Jersey, or Washington that uses a highly motion-based offense. 2002-03 aside, Anderson’s been best when asked to slash and move without the ball, not stand around and be a catch and shoot player from three-point range. In the right situation, Anderson can still have some value. That situation just isn’t the Knicks.

Dermarr Johnson

Year    MPG   PPG   RPG  APG   TS%  Reb%  Pass   Off   Def  Win%  WARP  Value  Salary
01-02 24.0 8.4 3.4 1.1 .513 8.2 0.09 88.8 90.0 .443 1.5
03-04 13.6 5.4 1.9 0.5 .511 7.9 0.05 88.6 89.6 .437 0.2 $2.203 UFA

I hadn’t taken much of a look at Johnson statistically this season, other than KnickerBlogger’s periodic updates in this space. Comparing his performance last year with how he did before his serious injuries, the similarity is rather evident. Actually, as with Thomas, similar offensive numbers indicate improvement, and that’s true of Johnson as well.

Based on these numbers, it appears Johnson’s injury didn’t set him back at all. However, he did lose two seasons of development. Johnson’s 01-02 numbers were impressive for a player who hadn’t quite yet turned 22. Now, with Johnson having turned 24 last month, his potential isn’t nearly so great.

Also, while Johnson was a pretty well regarded defender in Atlanta, the numbers at 82games indicate he was just awful on the defensive end last season. Not only did he make the Knicks 9.3 points per 100 possessions worse on defense, he got torched by opposing shooting guards and small forwards. The former averaged a ridiculous 31.4 points per 48 minutes when Johnson was at the position.

That matches what the good folks at KnicksOnline.com had to say recently about Johnson: “Dermarr Johnson is really something on offense but he has nothing on defense.”

I don’t know that I’d say that Johnson is “really something” on offense; he looks pretty good compared to Anderson every year besides 2002-03, but 18.9 points per 48 minutes at an efficiency slightly below league average is nothing to hang your hat on.

Again, we’ll run the similarity scores on Johnson to try to get a read on where he’s going. It’s interesting to note that the defining characteristic of Johnson in this regard is a great “Shoot” rating, based on his 36.1% three-point shooting and 90.3% free-throw shooting last year. So we get a lot of one-dimensional shooters, like Joe Hassett and Tracy Murray. It’s also “interesting” to note that a pair of Knicks teammates, Allan Houston (as a rookie in Detroit) and Anderson (circa 1997, the Utah days), show up amongst Johnson’s 20 most comparable players.

In terms of drawing conclusions, I want to temper my initial reaction based on my knowledge that there’s a reason I haven’t heard of the guys on the list who weren’t successful; If I pay attention only to the players I know, I’ll overestimate Anderson. The first three players on the list — Paul Thompson, Linton Townes, and Rodney Buford — hardly inspire confidence. Further down, however, are guys like Houston, Terry Teagle, and another Knicks shooting guard, John Starks, all of whom went on to solid careers or better.

Ultimately, I think Johnson is worth a longer look next season to see if he can make dramatic strides in his second season after the injury, and I’d rather have him on the roster than Anderson, all things considered, but Ariza may pass him in the Knicks’ plans at small forward.

Kevin Pelton writes “Page 23” for Hoopsworld.com on a semi-regular basis. He can be reached at kpelton@hoopsworld.com. Check back Monday for his analysis of the Knicks’ power forwards.

Knicks Roster Analysis – Point Guards

Hi, I’m Kevin Pelton. At the risk of going all Lionel Hutz on you, you may remember me from such columns as “Page 23” at Hoopsworld.com and such contests as KnickerBlogger’s 2004 Bloggers Bracket. Over the last couple of months, his KBness and I have shared some e-mails and AIM conversations, and I was flattered when he asked me to do a little guest blogging during his vacation. After giving him some crap about vacationing on the best day of the NBA year, I gladly agreed and offered to give an outsider’s take on the Knicks. I’m basically thinking of this as my chance to do one chapter’s worth of a Pro Basketball Prospectus-style annual.

As KB said in introducing the guest bloggers, I’m a Sonics fan, but I’ve followed the Knicks more closely than the average NBA team the last couple of years. I guess it’s the contrarian in me that makes me feel a certain kinship with a group of guys roundly criticized as underpaid. I championed the Knicks as a playoff team in my preview this year, repeatedly insisting they were better than the Celtics. Lo and behold, I nailed the C’s record and was one game off on the Knicks. Just forget the fact that both teams remade their rosters during the season.

Before we start examining the players in detail, some technical notes about the statistics I’ll be using in the statistical summary:
TS% – true shooting percentage, the best measure of offensive efficiency (PTS/(2*FGA + .88*FTA))
Reb% – percentage of estimated available rebounds grabbed
Pass – 50 * ((AST/MIN)^2)*(AST/TO)

The other measures are all derived from my possession-based rating system, which creates an imaginary team composed of four average players and the player in question. Off and Def are this team’s offense and defense ratings, Win% its winning percentage, and WARP the wins the player is worth over a replacement-level player.

Value is derived from a slightly adjusted WARP formula and uses the Marginal $/Marginal Win concept I’ve adapted to basketball from the late Doug Pappas. I only have this for last season. Salary is the player’s 2004-05 salary (from Hoopshype.com).

Without further ado. ?

Stephon Marbury

Year    MPG   PPG   RPG  APG   TS%  Reb%  Pass   Off   Def  Win%  WARP  Value  Salary
01-02 38.9 20.4 3.2 8.1 .519 4.7 5.12 93.1 91.1 .547 9.7
02-03 40.0 22.3 3.2 8.1 .520 4.6 5.06 93.4 89.9 .592 13.0
03-04 40.2 20.2 3.2 8.9 .519 4.6 7.05 93.0 89.2 .601 13.6 $11.48 $14.63

I spent the summer of 2002 “covering” the Suns for News@Hoopsworld, and the process made me a Marbury fan. That summer, Marbury was feeling the full wrath of the comparison between him and the player he was traded for, Jason Kidd. Marbury was fairly blamed for a foolish DUI, but the blame for the teams’ performance was unjustified, as it usually is. Kidd is a better player, but he’s also been the best point guard in the NBA over the last three years. It wasn’t Marbury’s decision to effectively trade Clifford Robinson for Bo Outlaw, just as Kidd didn’t draft Richard Jefferson or magically heal Kerry Kittles.

Statistically, Marbury is one of the league’s most devastating offensive forces. It’s my belief that players who are good at more than one thing don’t get as much credit for those skills as do one-dimensional players, and Marbury might be exhibit A in that argument. Last year, Marbury posted an identical assist/turnover ratio to Kidd’s and handed out only slightly less assists per minute, but anyone suggesting that they were in the same league in terms of passing would be laughed off the ‘net.

With the Knicks, Marbury drifted slightly more to the true point guard side of things, sacrificing a point per game for an assist per game, a trade-off I imagine Lenny Wilkens was happy to see him make. It’s not inconceivable that Marbury could lead the NBA in assists next season.

The concern is that Marbury gives it all back at the defensive end of the court. Hey, look, here’s a quote that says just that!

“Marbury’s one of the top 10 players on offense,” Wayne Winston, half the brains behind WINVAL, told the Washington Times. “Everybody thinks this guy is a great player. But when he’s on defense, he gives it all back.”

Indeed, per 82games.com, the Knicks were 6.7 points per 100 possessions better on offense with Marbury in the game, 5.6 points per 100 possessions worse on defense.

But is that right? Plus-minus numbers, particularly the adjusted kind WINVAL uses, are valuable, but they’re not the complete story on defense. John Hollinger reported in last year’s Prospectus that the Suns ranked fourth in defending starting point guards, and 82games.com also reports that Marbury held opposing point guards in check.

Marbury’s other big weakness is that sometimes he tries to do too much. The playoffs were the quintessential example of that; the image of Marbury forcing it time and time again in desperation against the Nets will be hard to forget (and not just because I picked the Knicks to pull the upset). Marbury put up 23 shots a game over the last three games of that series. He’s been at his best when paired with a strong power forward along the lines of Kevin Garnett and Amar? Stoudemire — and the Knicks might just have someone like that on their roster.

I think the defense requires a slight downgrade to the numbers I get for Marbury, but he’s still certainly amongst the top five point guards in the NBA and likely amongst its top 20 players. At $14 million-plus next year and for many years to come, he’s somewhat overpaid, but he gives the Knicks a star player they haven’t had since Patrick Ewing, and the price paid for him in the trade with Phoenix was worth it.

Moochie Norris

Year    MPG   PPG   RPG  APG   TS%  Reb%  Pass   Off   Def  Win%  WARP  Value  Salary
01-02 27.4 8.1 3.0 4.9 .471 6.3 4.14 89.7 91.1 .463 2.9
02-03 16.8 4.4 1.9 2.4 .470 6.7 2.32 88.4 89.7 .468 2.0
03-04 12.8 3.5 1.0 1.8 .471 4.5 1.93 87.7 88.4 .454 0.9 $2.528 $3.850

Since I’m only going back three years, Norris’ last good year doesn’t show up. The last three years, Norris has barely been adequate for a backup point guard, and last year he was even worse than that after seeing his passing and rebounding numbers tank. If there’s good news, it’s that Norris did pick up his performance after joining the Knicks in a trade for Clarence Weatherspoon, pushing his field-goal percentage from a dreadful 31.0% to 40.8%.

Most point guards come out better offensively than defensively by my system, which makes sense. With scoring and passing, most of their contributions come on the offensive end of the court. But Norris hasn’t been an efficient scorer in the last three years and has only been a good passer one of those years.

As a price for unloading Weatherspoon’s larger contract, Norris isn’t that bad, but the Knicks shouldn’t feel particularly compelled to play him, and if he’s still in the rotation next fall, that’s not a good sign.

Frank Williams

Year    MPG   PPG   RPG  APG   TS%  Reb%  Pass   Off   Def  Win%  WARP  Value  Salary
02-03 8.0 1.3 0.9 1.6 .393 6.3 4.15 86.1 90.3 .372 -0.1
03-04 12.8 3.9 0.9 2.2 .478 4.3 2.76 88.1 89.5 .432 0.5 $2.216 $0.957

Williams has just recently been discussed here, so I’m not sure entirely how much I have to add for the discussion. Unlike Dave, I wasn’t a particularly big fan of Williams in college. I recall thinking of him as an underachiever (I also abhorred Illinois teammate Brian Cook), and scoffing when people got excited about his summer-league play before his rookie seasons.

After a couple of NBA seasons, however, I have to agree with Dave that the Knicks need to keep Williams and give him more action. Offensively, Williams and Norris were similar players last season, and neither was very good. The first place there’s a difference between the two of them is that while Norris will be 31 this summer and is on the downside of his NBA career, while Williams turned 24 this season and has plenty of room to grow.

The second difference is defense. I hadn’t really investigated Williams’ defense very much before this, but there’s little question statistically that it’s fantastic. Williams’ on-court/off-court comparison is the reverse of Marbury’s – 5.7 points per 100 possessions better on defense (and also 1.4 points per 100 possessions better on offense). Williams’ individual defense also looks great; he limited opposing point guards and shooting guards both to a microscopic 10.1 PER.

Sadly, I’m going to copy Hollinger again by using my similarity scores to assess the future prospects of the Knicks’ youngsters. Williams’ closest age-24 comparable is Jeff McInnis, at the time playing limited minutes as a backup in Washington. It would take a couple of years, but McInnis eventually developed into an adequate starter. The next four names on the list — Morlon Wiley, Anthony Goldwire, Dan Dickau, and someone named Lowes Moore — aren’t as encouraging, but next after that is Scott Skiles and Sam Cassell also lurks in the top ten. So there’s some breakout potential there.

KnickerBlogger correctly points out that there won’t be a ton of minutes for Williams next season if Allan Houston is back, but what about the possibility of just cutting bait on Anfernee Hardaway? Hardaway isn’t a bad player by any stretch of the imagination, but he’s not a part of the Knicks’ future and Williams could be. I think Williams is plenty thick enough to play 20-25 minutes behind Marbury and Houston as a third guard in a three-guard rotation and that would really help the Knicks’ perimeter defense.

Kevin Pelton writes “Page 23” for Hoopsworld.com on a semi-regular basis. He can be reached at kpelton@hoopsworld.com. Check back Wednesday for his analysis of the Knicks’ shooting guards.

KnickerBlogger 2004 NBA Playoff Brackets Contest

Well folks, way back in April I searched the world for some of the greatest basketball minds & asked them to predict what would happen in the NBA playoffs. I included myself among this group of super-geniuses, to see how the average man would fare against the smartest of the smart. In an attempt to make it seem that I’m giving you the reader extra content, I will republish the original bracket here. To take a page from Microsoft, I’ll make it look slightly different, so it seems new, despite having the same content. I’ve taken the liberty of bolding all the incorrect picks.

BLOG:	John	Kevin	Ron	Michael	 Scott	Tim	Matt	Me
:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-: EAST FIRST ROUND :-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:
E1v8 IND IND IND IND IND IND IND IND
E2v7 NJ NY NJ NJ NJ NJ NJ NJ
E3v6 DET DET DET DET DET DET DET DET
E4v5 MIA MIA NO MIA MIA NO NO MIA
:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-: WEST FIRST ROUND :-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:
W1v8 MIN MIN MIN MIN MIN MIN MIN MIN
W2v7 LAL LAL LAL LAL LAL LAL LAL LAL
W3v6 SAS SAS SAS SAS MEM MEM SAS SAS
W4v5 DAL DAL SAC DAL DAL SAC SAC SAC
:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-: SECOND ROUND :-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:
E2-1 IND IND IND IND IND IND IND IND
E2-2 DET DET DET DET DET DET DET DET
W2-1 MIN MIN MIN MIN MIN MIN SAC MIN
W2-2 SAS LAL LAL LAL LAL LAL SAS SAS
:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-: FINALS :-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:
EAST DET DET IND IND DET DET DET IND
WEST SAS LAL LAL LAL LAL LAL SAS MIN
CHAMP SAS LAL LAL LAL LAL LAL SAS IND
:-:-:-:-: TIEBREAKER SCORE OF THE LAST GAME :-:-:-:-:
Score 82-78 89-80 87-81 110-95 93-86 90-75 90-82 91-84

Not a single person picked the correct team to win it all. I was the only one to pick an East team, but unfortunately for my fortune telling business I choose the wrong one. So how did everyone do?

In last place is Matt, from Bulls Blog, with 10 points. Believe me when I say that he is a better blogger than prognosticator. Tied for 6th place with 11 points is John Hollinger and myself. I’m proud that I scored the same as the guy that’s written for CNN/SI, and has written a couple of books. John is so well respected that I spelt his name wrong in the original bracket. Sorry John, don’t take it out on my Knicks in your next Basketball Prospectus (did I mention I already pre-ordered it :-).

For first place there is a 5 way tie. In the “I should have won column”, Kevin Pelton claims his blood sugar was low when he picked the Knicks over the Nets, and Ron Hitley would have been blacklisted by his fans for not picking his home town Hornets to go at least one round. That should be a lesson when gambling. Eat your breakfast, and don’t bet on your favorite team.

Thank goodness I came up with the tiebreaker, or these guys would have to fight it out to the death to decide the winner. The person who was closest to the score of the last game of the Finals, will win.

PARTICIPANT:	Kevin	Ron	Michael	 Scott	Tim	
WINNER (100): 89 87 110 93 90
LOSER (87): 80 81 95 86 75
# FROM WINNER 11 13 10 7 10
# FROM LOSER 7 6 8 1 12
TOTALPOINTS 18 19 18 8 22
That would make the winner, Scott Carefoot. Although I never met him, it seems as Scott has it all: great writing ability, a forum on his web page, his picture next to every post… all he needs is a huge Johnson.

1. Scott		12 points + tiebreaker
2t Kevin 12
2t Michael 12
2t Ron 12
2t Tim 12
6. John 11
6t Me 11
8. Matt 10

Congrats Scott & better luck next year for everyone else!

Should We Talk About The Weather?

In case you haven’t already I highly suggest you meandering over to the APBR analysis discussion group. There is a great dialogue going about what stats do and don’t tell us about basketball. To whet your appetite, I’m only going to give you a little piece of the first few exchanges, which nowhere gets into the depth of the discussion.

If you’re already sold, go to this page and read the first thread on the page (#3513). Just promise you’ll come back tomorrow ;-)

If you still need some selling, then I’ll start you off with an excerpt from the post that started it all.

From: “dan_t_rosenbaum”
Date: Thu Mar 25, 2004 10:30 pm
Subject: The Problem with Possessions-Based Linear Weights

…The second approach is what I will call the possessions-based approach. The essence of this approach is to count every contribution to either points scored or a failed possession and to count it only once. This is certainly the approach used to construct John Hollinger’s PER and its lies behind the construction of Dean Oliver’s offensive and defensive ratings. Also, a large fraction of the arguments on this board are about the proper way to do this possessions-based accounting.

So what is wrong with this approach? The problem is that there are numerous contributions to successful or failed possessions for which there are no statistics – a good pick, an ineffective blockout, a good entry pass that leads to a score but not an assist, the presence of a shot blocker that keeps his opponents from driving to the hoop. One could easily argue that the unmeasured contributions to successful or failed possessions are more than the measured contributions, e.g. points, assists, steals, etc…

Now mind you this is only 2 of about 20 paragraphs that were posted. The rest of Dan’s post spans a number of intelligent issues, including the NBA’s efficiency statistic, the difference between basketball and baseball statistics, possession based statistics, and linear weights. The first two to reply were Dean Oliver and Bob Chaikin, who within a half an hour of each other asked Dan the same question. They wanted him to “easily argue that the unmeasured contributions to successful or failed possessions are more than the measured contributions.”

Dan replied with:

…What do we measure on the offenive end?

1. We measure which player touched the ball last on every field goal attempt and we measure the outcome of those field goal attempts.
2. On successful attempts, we sometimes measure the player that touched the ball second to last.
3. We measure personal fouls on a particular player when those personal fouls lead to free throws and we measure the outcome of those free throws.
4. On failed field goal attempts, we measure the player who regains possession of the ball.
5. And finally, when possession turns from one team to the other without a field goal or free throw attempt, we measure who is responsible for that “turnover” of possession.

That is a lot and that is much better than what we measure on the defensive end. But what contributions to scoring or not scoring do we not measure?

1. We do not measure which players successfully navigate the ball to the frontcourt.
2. We do not measure which players initiate an offense with an effective non-assist pass. In fact, we fail to measure all of the non-assist passes that contribute to scoring (or non-scoring), such as all of the passes that lead to shooting fouls.
3. We do not measure which players get themselves open in out of bounds situations.
4. We do not measure screens on the ball or off the ball.
5. We do not measure which players keep the floor spaced leading to fewer turnovers and higher percentage field goal attempts. It is pretty tough to have a successful field goal attempt when you are
double teamed because of poor spacing.
6. We do not measure which players tend to hold onto the ball for an inordinate amount of time leading to forced shots or shot clock violations.
7. We do not measure which players correctly run plays and which ones do not.
8. We do not measure players failing to get open leading to a turnover for the player holding the ball.
9. We do not measure players with good hands grabbing an errant pass that would have been a turnover for the passer.
10. We do not measure the player who keeps a possession alive by tipping an offensive rebound to a teammate or by blocking out an effective defensive rebounder…

A few hours later Dean Oliver volleyed with:

Most of these unmeasured things aren’t that hard to accomplish (or to avoid, if they’re negative). I can go out and set picks. A lot of these 10 unmeasured things are taken as givens. Guys know how to do these things and, if they don’t, they aren’t as important as the measured things. That’s the conventional wisdom. Perhaps not right, but I think there is a significant burden in showing that these unmeasured factors are more important than the measured ones…Depends on how you make that list. It’s ALWAYS easier to make a longer list of unmeasured things than measured things. For baseball, things that affect whether a run is being scored:

1. The signs flashed by the 3rd base coach.
2. Whether the man on first is running on the pitch or not.
3. Whether the man on first saw the signs.
4. How the fielders are positioned (now starting to get measured).
5. Whether the hitter has that black stuff under his eyes or not.
6. Whether the pitcher is in the sun and the hitter is in the shade.
7. How good the hitter is at reading speed of pitches.
8. How fast a hitter gets out of the batter’s box.
9. Whether the hitter is swinging for the fences or for a base hit.

etc.

My point is that you can break down the games of baseball or basketball to an infinite degree. I think baseball and basketball offenses are broken down pretty well by stats. What’s left over are small variations of strategy or training. Do they matter? Yes, but do we miss a significant amount of value by not measuring them? I don’t think so…

DeanO

I really don’t want to go any further, because I’ve paraphrased enough. It’s such a great conversation that continues with some interesting twists that I won’t get into. I recommend going there & reading through the posts, or you won’t know what you’re missing. You know it’s a good post when a few more threads have stemmed from it, including “List of unmeasured stuff to track”, and “The Knowledgeable guys…”

Go check it out!