2/29 Two Quick Links

NYSUN: Vandeweghe Would Succeed Only if Isiah Isn’t Around

[Vandeweghe’s] record does come with some warts. He served as general manager of the Nuggets from 2001 through 2006, helping to rebuild Denver from a lottery team into a playoff contender. The key deal was, not surprisingly, a trade with the Knicks — he got Marcus Camby and the rights to big man Nene from New York in return for Antonio McDyess. He also made a solid move when he signed point guard Andre Miller to a free-agent deal.
However, the rest of his résumé looks spottier. He gave up three first-round picks in the sign-and-trade deal with New Jersey for Kenyon Martin, and Martin’s seven-year, $91 million contract has been one of the league’s worst values. He also passed on Amare Stoudemire in the 2002 draft … twice. One of them was the Nene choice, and the other was all-time bust Nikoloz Tskitishvili.
That said, if he’s hired by the Knicks his biggest move will be choosing the next coach … or rather, that’s what it should be. If he’s stuck with Isiah, he probably won’t accomplish much.
Nonetheless, it would offer a very slight glimmer of hope that perhaps things might get less awful. He’d presumably have the power to start trading the many misshapen pieces of this roster. And one hopes, at least, he’d have Dolan’s commitment to a genuine rebuilding project as opposed to the slapdash quick fix Isiah tried when he took over.
But it’s puzzling that Dolan can’t realize the huge public relations boost he’d get from cutting the cord with Isiah entirely. The fan base would be rejuvenated, to the point that they’d actually be willing to sit tight and support the team through the inevitable multi-year rebuilding job.

Diminishing Returns and the Value of Offensive and Defensive Rebounds
More Diminishing Returns

In some ways I think this study provides stronger evidence for the impact of diminishing returns on defensive rebounding than my previous post. The charts allow one to easily see the effects of diminishing returns, and by looking at the rebounding of all the players in each lineup, the issues brought up by coaches potentially pairing good rebounders with poor rebounders are largely eliminated.

The specific marginal values found of 0.8 for offensive rebounds and 0.3 for defensive rebounds are also interesting. These match closely with how John Hollinger’s PER weights offensive rebounds relative to defensive rebounds (ORB are weighted by the league DRB%, which is around 0.7, and DRB are weighted by the league ORB%, which is around 0.3). And again, these values suggest that Dave Berri’s Wins Produced greatly overvalues players with high defensive rebounding percentages and undervalues players with low defensive rebounding percentages because the system assumes that each player DRB contributes a full DRB on the team level. Alternative Win Score (or AWS), the variation on Wins Produced suggested by Dan Rosenbaum in his paper, “The Pot Calling the Kettle Black”, weights ORB at 0.7 and DRB at 0.3. While these values are based on an assumption and not backed by evidence (just like Berri’s assumption that both should be weighted at 1 is not backed by any evidence), the evidence from the study I have done here (and Cherokee_ACB’s study) suggests that AWS (and PER) may be a lot closer to the mark on rebounding than Wins Produced.

Now Is The Time

Isiah Thomas should be fired. Now. I know it’s only 9 games into the season. And I know that this road trip was brutal. I also know that the next few games are against tough opponents: Golden State, Detroit, Chicago, and Utah. All these teams were in the second round last year. And I know the East has gotten better.

I know that Isiah is a wonderful drafter. I might even dare say he’s possibly the best drafter of all time. Damon Stoudamire, Marcus Camby, Tracy McGrady, David Lee, Nate Robinson, Mardy Collins, Trevor Ariza, and Wilson Chandler. That’s a fantastic team – and off the top of my head I can’t think of any GM that has done better with less in terms of drafting.

I know that the Knick team he inherited was a mess. The NBA’s worst salary cap, with little talent, and no young prospects. Scott Layden’s tenure was awful in New York. He took a near-championship level team, and turned them into a void. And I know this team is better than the one Isiah inherited nearly 4 years ago. I know Isiah wanted a younger and more athletic team. I can’t argue that this team isn’t younger and more athletic. That’s without a doubt.

I know that Isiah has been hit with a string of bad luck. Even Hollinger thought Marbury was a near-All Star around the time the Knicks acquired him. And who thought that a pair of Hall of Fame caliber coaches in Lenny Wilkens and Larry Brown would end up the way they did. OK I might have thought Wilkens would have ended that way, but Larry Brown?

I know all these things. Yet the bottom line remains: this team isn’t a winner. Under Isiah’s tenure, the Knicks have finished with 39, 33, 23, and 33 wins. This year they’ve started off 2-7. And things don’t look to get better. Not with their upcoming schedule.

Dolan gave Isiah his extension early on an impulse. Just when the team was doing the opposite they are now – looking really good. At the time, their win streak put them into the playoffs and seemingly showed that the team had turned the corner. However things are as bleak as they can be. The season has barely begun, and it’s nearly over for New Yorkers. Coming off the heels of an embarrassing summer, and as nearly embarrassing controversy with their point guard. Coming off a road trip where they dropped 4 straight games, the last one by 32. Coming off of 6 straight losses.

Everything is in place for an Isiah exit. Grunwald can take over as GM. Herb Williams is still around to coach. The team is better off than they were 4 years ago. There are some good young players and assets to build on. The only thing left is finding the time to do it. And the time is now.

Trading David Lee for Kobe Bryant Straight-Up: Shrewd Sabermetrics or Laugh Test Flunkie?

In Basketball on Paper, Dean Oliver devoted an entire chapter to comparing the individual rating systems of several NBA analysts. He argued something that I, and most people who do informed analysis, subscribe to: Any system of statistical analysis cannot only be internally consistent, but must also pass the “laugh test.” A statistical model can be built elegantly and beautifully and pass many confidence intervals within its own logical parameters, but if it’s results are absurd, then there’s obviously a need to return to the proverbial drawing board. Oliver thought of the “laugh test” as a litmus. It’s a very broad, absolutely basic determinant of whether a statistic is logical or not. If your rating system projects the best players with the best numbers, then it’s probably onto something. On the other hand, if your rating system argues that Jerome James is a better center than vintage Shaquille O’Neal, then you better recheck your assumptions.

While no single computation can perfectly encompass the entire contribution of a basketball player, John Hollinger developed a system to sum up a player’s boxscore contribution and express them in one number. Player Efficiency Rating (PER) is a sophisticated equation that goes so far as to adjust for the yearly value of possession and the pace a team plays. In Hollinger’s analogy, PER serves as a way of considering players from different positions, allowing an “apples to oranges” comparison. But while PER is a handy little number, what it doesn’t do is convert statistical efficiency into actual wins. That’s where Dave Berri’s Wages of Win (WoW) steps in. WoW takes the same boxscore statistics that PER uses and converts it to a formula that measures how many wins a player produces. This metric can evaluate a player’s total contribution over the course of a season and break it down per minute. Like PER, WoW serves as a way to summarize a player’s contribution in one number.

Now, let’s ask PER who were the most productive basketball players on the planet this past season. PER picks these as its starting five:

1. Dwyane Wade SG 29.2
2. Dirk Nowitzki PF 27.9
3. Yao Ming C 26.7
4. Tim Duncan C 26.4
5. Kobe Bryant SG 26.3

Nothing to laugh at here. In fact, it’s a pretty amazing team. Wade is the best player, slightly ahead of Dirk, who is just a bit ahead of Ming, Duncan, and Bryant, who are in a dead heat for third best. If you were starting a basketball team and were given first pick at any player in the NBA you couldn’t go wrong by picking any of these five players. They’re the best of the best. Granted, PER isn’t intended to be the final word on basketball performance, but it is a good starting point for figuring out relative worth. Would you trade your 15 PER performer for a 29 PER man? Almost certainly. Of course you’d take into account team composition, need, age, defense, contract terms, but all else being equal, you’d be doing your team a service by having the greater PER over the lesser. And if the PER was almost twice greater, like say Dwyane Wade over Jamal Crawford, well, then there’s really no thinking involved. Of course you’d rather have Wade. It’s a no-brainer. In fact, by this measure, you’d rather have Wade than any single player on the Knicks current roster.

Now, WoW gets to pick its own top five. Note that in order to compare WoW to PER we’re using Wins Produced per 48 Minutes (WP/48), since these are both rate stats:

1. David Lee PF .403
2. Jason Kidd PG .403
3. Marcus Camby C .371
4. Shawn Marion F .370
5. Carlos Boozer PF .351

Look at that again. David Lee led the NBA in wins produced rate. Um…really. So according to this sophisticated, statistical model, the most productive professional basketball player on the planet is David Lee. The best. On. The. Planet. Let me say that being a die-hard Knicks fan, I will be the first to argue that Lee is an All-Star caliber forward. He’s cool, he’s great. He’s an out-of-the-box rebounding, ambidextrous-finishing, no-look passing, efficiency machine. He’s awesome! It’s just that, you know, he really doesn’t create much offense. He’s more of a great glue guy than a centerpiece. And that’s why he’s not exactly a superstar.

Now, I really love the guy. Don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t trade our man for the world. Oh, wait. Yes. Yes, I would. I’d trade David Lee in a heartbeat. For Tim Duncan. Or Yao Ming. Or Dwyane Wade. Or Kobe Bryant. Or Dirk Nowitzki. Or Lebron James. Or Amare Stoudemire. Or…OK, you get the point. I’d trade him for at least a dozen players who aren’t just All-Stars, they’re legitimate championship-level franchise cornerstones. Yet, right there in plain black and white, Wages of Win’s assumptions fail Oliver’s “laugh test.” WoW argues that Lee is the best player in the entire league, and that’s ridiculous.

WoW makes a very big deal about bucking conventional wisdom. And sure enough, statistical analysts are the ones who’re supposed to be bucking said conventional wisdom. At the Wages of Wins Journal, Berri argues that “perceptions of performance in basketball do not match the player’s actual impact on wins” because “less than 15% of wins in the NBA are explained by payroll.” However payroll isn’t a good measuring stick of perception due to the complexities of a closed system like NBA free agency. There are a host of factors on why a player may be overpaid from the talent available to the desperation of the team involved. In other words conventional wisdom thinks Rashard Lewis is overpaid at $126M, too.

So although conventional wisdom has a tendency to be wrong in some areas, figuring out sport superstars is not one of its weaknesses. There usually is a consensus on the league’s best players from both statistical analysis and conventional wisdom. The cream of the crop in the NFL are Peyton Manning, LaDanian Tomlinson, and Larry Johnson whether you go by the numbers or eyes. In MLB it would be Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard, Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Alex Rodriguez, and Johan Santana. At the top of the ladder of player evaluation, conventional wisdom is pretty much dead on.

According to WoW, David Lee (.403) is a far more productive player than Kobe Bryant (.242). Since teams with more productive players win more games than other teams, then Lee is better for your basketball team than Bryant. But why stop there? The Knicks could trade Renaldo Balkman (.272) straight up for Dwyane Wade (.255) and lose productivity. That’s right. WoW is arguing that if a Lee for Kobe, and a Balkman for Wade trade went through, then the Knicks would be a worse team for it. They’re arguing that Bryant and Wade, at the cost of our two young, talented forwards will hurt the Knicks’ productivity. You’ve got to be kidding me.

As the Knicks GM, would I pull the trigger on a Lee for Bryant deal? Is there even a debate? Who wouldn’t? Oh, right, WoW wouldn’t. WoW doesn’t even think it’s close. We can all disagree on which player is the very best (or the most productive), but WoW’s results are “laughable.” Dave Berri has criticized PER in the past, but before people can begin to take WoW as seriously as a tool for evaluating player performance as PER, it’s obviously going to have to address what caused this terrible absurdity in its rating process.

Knicks 2007 Report Card (A to Z): Channing Frye

KnickerBlogger: Channing Frye looked to be one of the better picks of the 2005 draft, earning a berth on the All Rookie 1st team, and was one of the bright spots of the abysmal 2006 season. Frye’s main strength was his jump shot. He showed good accuracy and range on his jump shot, making him an ideal pick and roll partner. Frequently he burned opposing big men who were too slow to guard him on the outside. Although primarily an outside threat, Frye did have the buddings of a decent low post game. And while he was not a fantastic rebounder or shot blocker, Frye certainly didn’t embarrass himself in either category. According to basketball-reference.com, the top 5 comparables to Knick forward/center were a solid group of Sharone Wright, Drew Gooden, Marcus Camby, Joe Smith, and Michael Doleac. Isiah Thomas looked as if he worked his draft magic yet again.

However a funny thing happened on the way to the All Star Game, Channing Frye suffered a horrendous sophomore slump in 2007. His PER plummeted from a vigorous 18.0 to an anemic 10.5. Frye had setbacks in a few major categories namely his scoring (20.4 to 14.4 pts/40), free throw attempts (5.8 to 2.3 FTA/40), offensive rebounding (3.5 to 1.9 oReb/40), and eFG% (47.9% to 43.5%). Frye’s top 5 most comparable players after last year were Michael Doleac, Thurl Bailey, Doug Smith, Anthony Avent, and Steven Stepanovich. Hardly the same class of players as the first 5.

There are a host of theories on what happened to Frye from his freshman to his sophomore season. The first is the Curry-Frye theory, which claims that Frye’s decline was due to Curry’s emergence as the Knicks sole low post player. Pushing Frye out to the perimeter would explain his drop in rebounding and foul shots, but 82games.com shows Frye to have a higher PER at the forward position than at center (where he plays with Curry off the court). So the entire blame can’t be placed on Curry’s shoulders.

The second theory is the Sax-Knoblauch theory, which claims that Frye’s decline was from the pressure to succeed in New York. While the Knicks aren’t as high profile as the Yankees, Frye was visibly shaky at times. He passed up on wide open 20 footers, normally his bread and butter. It’s unknown what could cause such a transformation, but clearly Frye’s suffered from a lack of confidence.

Finally the last theory, also known as the Frye-Injury theory, claims that Frye never fully recovered from his injuries. Channing missed the end of 2006 with a knee sprain, and the summer with a twisted ankle. It may not even be that Frye was physically hurt, but rather disoriented from the lack of cohesion with his teammates due to missing so many games.

KnickerBlogger’s Grade: F

2008 Outlook: Whichever theory or combination of theories you ascribe to regarding Channing Frye’s sophomore slump, 2008 is going to be a make or break season for him. Luckily for Frye, he’ll have a fresh start in Portland. He’ll back up the high profile duo of Oden & Aldridge for a team with little expectations and less brighter lights. With a boost of confidence and an offense that features him a bit more, Frye could show that 2007 was just a bump in the road.

Dave Crockett: I hate to give a guy an F, especially a fellow Arizona alum but… yeesh. This was a throw away season for Frye. For my money–and this is after having seen a ton of his college games–I think the move away from the screen-roll oriented offense along with the injuries were the major culprits. Perhaps more fundamentally though his game was built to be unsustainable; so one-dimensional it was. Frye should benefit from playing for Nate McMillan on a team that will probably run the floor a little more; something I happen to think is a palliative, if not the cure for athletic big men prone to offensive droughts.

Brian Maniscalco: Here’s a project for an ambitious researcher. Has there ever been another player whose PER dropped by 7 or 8 points in consecutive seasons early on in his career? The magnitude of that drop is so enormous that it must rank among the all time free falls in NBA history, especially for a player so early in his career. If there are players with similar falls from grace, how did they fare in the future? Is this the sort of thing a player can recover from or is it a death knell?

My guess is that Frye will bounce back, but I doubt he will regain the promise he held after his rookie season. I expect him to be a good-to-very-good backup for Portland, and in the best possible circumstances it’s conceivable that he could win a sixth man award or possibly slip into an All-Star game. But after such an awful performance last season I don’t see his ceiling being any higher than that, whereas after his strong rookie campaign it seemed like the sky was the limit.

Michael Zannettis: My feelings about Frye’s play this year are well-documented. Without getting to the free throw line or being a force on the offensive glass, the one player that showed up in his comparables both seasons, Michael Doleac, seems to be the player he’s become. Another name that comes to mind is Maurice Taylor. As we’ve learned from players like Doleac and Taylor is that as sweet as that mid-range jumpshot is, it’s actually the worst shot to take on the court. You’d have to hit it at a ridiculous rate to be a viable offensive player if that was your only skill.

I can’t blame Frye’s struggles on the screen-and-roll, the brights lights of New York, or the tunnel vision of Mr. Curry. Simply put, he didn’t man up. He played soft. As much as we often like to question Curry’s effort level, especially on defense, we have to wonder where Frye’s determination to grab an offensive board went. They don’t call it “fighting” for position, for nothing.

Brian Cronin I took Brian’s challenge, and took a look at every rookie in NBA history who played as many games as Channing Frye did in his first year (65) and ended up with a PER of at least 8 for the season.

Of the 915 matches, only ONE of them had a PER drop as large as Frye’s, John Shasky, who posted a 12.7 PER for the Miami Heat in their expansion year of 1988-89, but only a 2.5 in 14 games for Golden State the following season. Shasky played one more year before his NBA career ended, with a nice rebound PER of 11.1 for Dallas in 1990-91.

So this is basically unprecedented (Shasky wasn’t a major rotation piece like Frye was), which I guess bodes well for Frye, in the sense that it sounds like a bit of a fluke.

However, upon looking through the players, I did note a number of players who suffered decent setbacks (minus 4 or so points) and in almost every case, while there was some bounceback, for the most part, they continued to stay at the lower level or even decline further.

So I don’t think Channing Frye’s future is a bright one.

As for his grade for this past season, I’m gonna be nice and say D-.

A Quick Sneak Peek Draft Prospects

With the Twenty-Third Pick the New York Knicks Select?

While we are still in the midst of playoff fever I wanted to post a position-by-position thumbnail sketch of the players Isiah Thomas is most likely to consider at #23. (Of course, as Thomas proved by selecting Renaldo Balkman last June anyone’s guess is as good as mine.) I’ll do something more substantial, time permitting, closer to the draft.

PGs

Thoughts: This is probably the draft?s thinnest position top to bottom. The Knicks seem unlikely to look for a PG. Yet you cannot rule out Thomas looking for the ?best player available.?

1. Mike Conley, Jr., Ohio St., Fr. ? if he stays he will be off the board by #23; considered the best pure point in the draft

2. Javaris Crittenton, Ga. Tech, Fr. ? he will likely return to school; compared to Steve Francis athletically, only he is more turnover prone

3. Acie Law, Texas A&M, Sr. ? combo guard was not especially efficient until his senior year

4. Gabe Pruitt, USC, Jr. ? likely a 2nd round pick, but his style is tailor-made to dazzle at the pre-draft camp’s glorified pick-up games

5. Mustafa Shakur, Arizona, Sr. ? ditto; Shakur is a pure point guard, totally unselfish, but prone to poor decision-making (his shot also needs to be completely reconstructed)

SG/SFs

Thoughts: The deepest position in a draft is usually ?swingman? and this draft is no different. The best value at #23 will probably be here.

1. Arron Afflalo, UCLA, Jr. ? projects as primarily as a defensive specialist and rebounder; a capable though not outstanding scorer

2. Morris Almond ? big-time scorer that brings little else to the table

3. Derrick Byers, Vanderbilt ? a complete prospect; draft position may depend on whether he really is 6?7?

4. Rudy Fernandez, Spain ? combo guard stands roughly a foot taller than Nate Robinson yet is 8 lbs. lighter

5. Alando Tucker ? virtually the same skill set as Arron Afflalo

6. Nick Young, USC, Jr. ? increased efficiency each year at USC; plays NBA caliber defense

7. Marcus Williams, Arizona, So. ? a better defender and rebounder than usually given credit for, but didn?t improve as a sophomore; long player with high basketball IQ

8. Julian Wright, Kansas, So. ? a bit of a jack-of-all trades; very good passer and long-armed defender (very unlikely to drop to #23)

PF

Thoughts: This position is also very deep, and has perhaps the draft?s most intriguing prospects from a Knicks perspective. It features a number of players that don?t necessarily need to score to be effective. I am listing the second tier power forwards most likely available at #23.

1. Jared Dudley, Boston College ? classic case of “do you focus on what he can do or cannot do?”; likely a 2nd rounder but a team could easily fall in love with him in workouts

2. Spencer Haws, Washington, Fr. ? super-hyped prep prospect with a pro-ready 18-foot shot, excellent passer; upside could be limited because he doesn?t jump out of the gym

3. Josh McRoberts, Duke, So. ? ditto; however McRoberts is a very underrated defender and rebounder as well as a gifted passer

4. Jason Smith, Colorado St., Jr. ? 7-foot shooter in the Brian Cook/Channing Frye mold

5. Tiago Splitter, Brazil ? has appeared in mock drafts seemingly forever; nbadraft.net compares him to P.J. Brown

6. Thaddeus Young, Ga. Tech., Fr. ? gifted lefty athlete with undeveloped skills; should stay in school but pre-draft camp might disguise his deficiencies

7. Sean Williams, Boston College, Jr. ? PERFECT fit for the Knicks; long-limbed shot-blocker with Camby?s shot-blocking instincts but a better developed body; unfortunately he?s a bona fide knucklehead, kicked off Al Skinner?s Boston College squad for repeated drug offenses (sigh); no sane executive should hand this kid first round money to piss away

C

Thoughts: As you are probably well aware the real value at this position is almost always at the top of the board.

1. Marc Gasol, Spain ? Pao?s younger brother is 270 with a well-developed post game
2. Aaron Gray ? he?s definitely a ?beauty is in the eye of the beholder? prospect; poor footwork but very good hands

Free David Lee?

Mike Lupica must have hit his head before he wrote this week’s column, because he had a good point in the beginning of the column, where he points out that David Lee is eighth in the NBA in rebounds per game, while playing the fewest minutes out of all the eight.

Kevin Garnett MIN 39.0 12.6
Dwight Howard ORL 36.0 12.6
Marcus Camby DEN 32.5 12.1
Carlos Boozer UTA 37.0 11.8
Tyson Chandler NOK 32.7 11.3
Emeka Okafor CHA 35.5 11.0
Jermaine O’Neal IND 35.8 10.5
David Lee NY 30.0 10.4

And in the Knicks’ last loss, Lee barely played until it was too late.

Lupica made the argument that Isiah is just trying to make his free agent signing look good, but I think that is wholly unfair, as A. Isiah gets credit FOR Lee – HE drafted him! So if Isiah was just looking for things to make him look good, Lee would be it and B. Isiah has no problem with not playing Jerome James.

Still, Lupica is correct (man, that just sounds wrong, doesn’t it?) in that it is Jared Jeffries who David Lee is competing with. I think Isiah just really likes Jeffries, and believes that he is the better defensive player, and more important to have on the floor.

Still, Jeffries didn’t help much during the third quarter of the Charlotte game.

Isiah said after the game, “We ran into a hot team. They shot well, they made shots. They did the correct things, they made plays. I don’t have any excuses other than the other team that we played tonight, they were hot. They did everything right.” I understand that Isiah is just trying to put a good spin on things, but the Knicks defense was just AWFUL.

Also, while Quentin Richardson really improved his defense last year, during the previous game, Breen and Clyde were calling Q the Knicks “best perimeter defender.” What is Jeffries, then?

Finally, I love that Steph is playing so much better, but 42 minutes is a crapload of minutes for a guy who has looked tired at times this year. I’d prefer not to see that. I’d like to see them try starting Q at the 2.