Knicks Off-Season Preview (Part 2 of 2)

What the Knicks Should Do Now

I?m back to offer a ?quick and dirty? assessment of the Knicks? primary needs with the help of a few stats compiled at 82games.com. I also offer a few modest suggestions for how to address them. (By the way if you didn?t catch part 1 of my off-season preview go check it out.)

Defense. Overall the team?s aggregate defensive numbers depict a mediocre but not awful unit. However those mediocre aggregate numbers mask a disturbing trend. The Knicks yielded points per game (93.5, ranked 13th) that belied their respectable eFG defense (46.2%, ranked 8th). To put this in perspective consider that New York?s eFG defense was only slightly behind Indiana?s (46%), identical to New Jersey?s (46.2), and slightly better than Miami?s (46.4), Memphis?s (46.5), or Philly?s (46.7). However, New York gave up 93.5 ppg and 104 points per 100 possessions (ranked 12th), more than all the aforementioned teams. How, you ask? The Knicks were more generous than the United Way, sending opponents to the free throw line 26.8 times per game. This ranks them 3rd from the bottom. Only the Bulls and Jazz were more charitable.

The most straightforward explanation for why the Knicks fouled so often in 2003-04 is that very few of them can adequately defend their counterpart. In fact, in the backcourt Marbury was no better than adequate and Houston was only a bit better. The two starters managed to hold opposing guards to slightly below average shooting and below average PERs at their respective positions. (NBA eFG averages for PGs and SGs were 46.1% and 46.9%; PERs were 15.1 and 15.2) Houston actually played admirably well defensively, considering his age and knees, holding opposing SGs to 13.9 PER, well below the PER average at his position. Marbury?s individual defensive numbers did improve when he came to New York, though at least some of that may be attributed to the fact that Eastern Conference point guards were not as good as those in the West. The average eFGs and PERs for Western conference PGs were 47% and 16. The Eastern conference PG averages were 45.1% and 14.2. Interestingly, Marbury in Phoenix yielded defensive numbers that were practically identical to the average Western conference PG’s output. In New York he basically gave up the average Eastern conference PG’s output. So, while I was pleasantly suprised to learn that Marbury?s defense doesn?t appear to be turning scrubs into all-stars I think it’s safe to say that he could be a lot better if he wanted to be. In a pre-playoff article posted at NJ.com by the Newark Star-Ledger’s Dave D?Alessandro (whose link appears to have expired) Marbury talked unselfconsciously about taking his rest on defense to keep himself fresh throughout the game. On the other hand Frank Williams played spectacular defense, holding his counterparts to a PER of about 10.1 and 40% eFG per 48 minutes.

Unfortunately, the frontcourt?s defensive numbers were not encouraging apart from Penny Hardaway and Michael Sweetney, who both held their counterparts to below average PER and below 45% eFG. Kurt Thomas’s and Nazr Mohammed’s defense on opposing power forwards and centers was far from inspiring. But Tim Thomas’s 51% eFG defense (emphasis not in original) and above average PER on small forwards were worse than Keith Van Horn’s in New York. In fact they were downright Peja-like. Of course looking solely at a counterpart?s offensive production to measure defensive impact doesn?t tell the entire story, especially for frontcourt players who must rotate and cover for other players often sacrificing position to their counterpart. For instance, Ben Wallace looks like a mediocre defensive center when measured this way, but of course we all know better. Nonetheless, individual defense measures yield interesting insight into the Knicks because they expose the starters? overall poor individual defensive ability. Only two of the five starters appear even adequate by these measures. This inability to defend one on one in all likelihood explains why the team gives up almost 27 free throw attempts per game.

Offense. The Knick offensive numbers tell a similar story of overall mediocrity masking frightening underlying trends. The Knicks scored just under 92 ppg, right at about the league median (half the teams scored more than the Knicks, half scored less). The Knicks managed to be a decent shooting team, ranked 13th in eFG at 47.4% (but only 3.4% behind league leader Sacramento). This is despite the roster changes and despite playing long stretches without leading scorer Allan Houston. The Knicks outshot the Nets, Pacers, Pistons, and Heat on the season. The team?s top three offensive players, Marbury, Houston, and Tim Thomas, all shot well above 45% eFG and had at least an average PER at their primary position. The Knicks were also a solid rebounding team, one of only 11 who grabbed greater than one full rebound more than its opponents. Yet the Knicks ranked only 21st in points per 100 possessions with 102. How does a decent shooting and good rebounding team end up toward the bottom in scoring? Simple: the Knicks lost 17% of their offensive possessions to turnovers and they took only 21 free throw attempts per game. The turnover rate tied for 3rd worst with bunch of other teams. The Knicks made far more bad passes (-120) and committed more offensive fouls (-39) than did their opponents. Unfortunately the Knicks? turnovers were debilitating because they did nothing in sufficient quantity, like rebound or generate steals, to offset them. The free throw woes have been well documented; only Toronto took fewer free throws per game. The turnovers and inability to get to the free throw line more than offset shooting and rebounding that were modest strengths.

What are the Knicks most glaring needs? On defense the team simply cannot continue to send opponents to the free throw line. No matter what acquisitions Isiah Thomas makes this off-season it is self-evident that the team needs both defensive upgrades and perhaps more importantly a recommitment to playing defense, particularly from its top players. On offense the team needs better offensive efficiency more than a dominant post player per se. Although a dominant big man would be a welcome sight in orange and blue offensive efficiency begins with taking care of the ball. A big man?s impact is seriously diminished when the team loses almost 20% of its offensive possessions to turnovers. Just ask the Rockets, who are rumored to have grown weary of Stevie Franchise and his turnover prone ways.

So what should the Knicks do now? Again, my hope is to address this question at the strategic level rather than suggest a host of roster moves, keeping in mind that there is more than one way to skin a cat.

First, I strongly urge the front office to pursue only players that bring better defense, versatility, or ball handling/passing to the team – not just more prolific scorers. On defense the team needs substantially better individual defense, especially in the frontcourt. On offense the team?s turnover problems stem from a serious absence of ball skills among the starters other than Marbury. None of the other four starters are particularly skilled ball handlers or passers. The Knicks, with limited salary cap flexibility into the foreseeable future, will find themselves best able to acquire these skills by leveraging its few valuable assets for draft picks and young, reasonably priced veterans who can help lay the foundation for a winning organization. Fortunately the Knicks can add such players through the draft, salary exemptions, and by moving expiring contracts, waiting to add a star player as the final piece of the puzzle. This is the most realistic, if not altogether preferable, means of building a serious contender in the post-Jordan salary cap era. Detroit was the first to win a title this way but Indiana and Memphis have been building themselves similarly all along, now hoping to find the player who can elevate them the way Rasheed Wallace elevated the Pistons. For the Knicks, Isiah Thomas must perform due diligence and investigate the availability of the top talent but I?m certain he realizes that the team?s immediate future is more likely to be filled with the likes of Antonio McDyess, Shane Battier, and Trevor Ariza than Rasheed Wallace and Shaquille O?Neal. Though neither McDyess nor Battier would be a sexy acquisition both bring skills this team needs. They play at both ends of the floor, pass well, and don?t turn the ball over. The market for McDyess is almost certain to be limited to some part of the mid-level exception and Battier is the kind of player who could be targeted in a three way deal involving an expiring contract. Both players could potentially start or come off the bench and neither would likely prohibit the Knicks financially from making another acquisition. I am not endorsing these players per se, though I do like them, except to suggest that there will be numerous players available who bring the skills the Knicks need who are not necessarily stars.

Second, to the fans I would caution that failing to acquire a superstar does not equal a failed off-season. Many of us fans are infatuated with the idea of acquiring one (or more) of the premier (i.e., Shaq or Rasheed Wallace) or high second tier (i.e., Erick Dampier or Marcus Camby) post players expected to hit the market this summer. However it is extremely unlikely that the Knicks can land premier or high second tier big men with only salary exemptions to offer, and less to package in a sign-and-trade. Even should the Knicks somehow miraculously land one of the second tier big men for the mid-level salary slot, consider that his impact on the team could be lessened (if not swamped) absent improvements in New York?s two biggest problem areas: turnovers and fouls. So, for instance, although Dampier is a clear and welcome upgrade in every respect to Nazr Mohammed his ability to avoid foul trouble would be sorely tested by the team?s mediocre perimeter defense, and that could seriously diminish his impact. The point is that the Knicks must address turnovers, defense, and free throws in order to improve. They cannot upgrade in other areas and leave these unaddressed. As I look at any transactions Isiah makes this off-season that is how I will assess them, including the second round pick in the upcoming draft.

Third, the Knicks must find ways to drop deadweight from the roster before training camp. Shandon Anderson should be bought out and released, as was the plan at one time last season. It should be made clear that he is not in the picture. No hard feelings. Buying him out would be best for everyone involved. I feel similarly about Moochie Norris. In his entry Kevin suggests buying out Penny Hardaway. Financially, this move would be a no-brainer if both sides could reach an agreement. From a basketball standpoint however I wouldn?t be upset if Penny makes it onto the opening day roster. He and Marbury are really the only two offensive players on the team that can score, pass, and handle the ball. Although Penny?s physical skills have eroded he played surprisingly good defense at small forward last season, and he still ?thinks? the game at a high level. Apart from that, since he plays most of his minutes at small forward now he?s not really taking minutes away from any of the youngsters. Only Tim Thomas and Shandon Anderson played significant minutes at that position last season. If the Knicks could keep Penny to 15 minutes per game he would be valuable.

In all, this promises to be an exciting off-season but I hope the excitement is generated by prudent moves that continue to shape the identity of the franchise and lay the groundwork for a future NBA champion.

David Crockett, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Marketing at the University of South Carolina. He can be reached at dcrockett17@yahoo.com

Message Board GMs

Sports message boards is an interesting mix of technology, sports, and the human psyche. The anonymity of sitting behind a computer makes every emotion seem more heightened. Every losing streak is a lost season. Every winning streak a championship run. Every rumor is truth. Every trade idea is a rumor. Every draft pick is an All Star. For every move a GM makes there is at least someone that hates it.

OTOH, message boards can provide lots of great information. When a few intelligent posters get together & ask some good questions, you can only hope your GM is as astute. “I Need A Question Answered…” asked poster Jazz(FU). [I’m guessing he either is a musician at Fordham, Fairfield or another starting with “F” University, or he really hates the Utah Jazz.]

Posted: Mon Jun 14, 2004 3:33 pm Post subject: I need a question answered..

WHY PROTECT EXPIRING CONTRACTS?!?

I see and fully understand the value of an expiring contract. But for an otherwise useless player, isnt a trade exception 10x more valuable? I mean a team like Phoenix that thought they had a legit shot at Kobe could trade us players for a future 2nd and take back zero salary, unlike with an expiring contract they have to take back salary until the end of the year. A trade exception HAS to be more valuable…

I’ll admit, I haven’t been giving 100% of my attention to the upcoming expansion draft. At the moment of reading this I hadn’t know about the trade exception rule. According to the Bobcats webpage on nba.com:

The expansion draft is scheduled for June 22, but would be pushed back a day if the NBA Finals go to a seventh game. Teams have to protect at least one player who is either under contract or a restricted free agent, and no more than eight. Charlotte will select at least 14 players no more than one from a team. That means it’s far from a given that Portland will lose anyone. If they lose one under contract, the Blazers would receive a trade exception equal to that player’s salary for next season.

Recently, the papers have reported a lot of high salary players as unprotected (Antoine Walker, Allan Houston, Penny Hardaway, Eddie Jones, etc.). If you don’t know why, poster kosmovitelli will tell you:

The TPE really matters when you get a huge one.
Just imagine if the Bobcats take Allan Houston and we get a $17.5M TPE.

We could acquire via trade a $9M player in july then acquire a $5M player in september and a$3.5M player in october.
In that case, the TPE is a credit and you have one year to use it and you can split it.
If we want to trade Allan Houston, we can only use him once in a trade. That’s the bonus of the TPE.

Teams, like the Knicks or the Mavericks, that could never dream of having fiscal flexibility would have it if the Bobcats take one of their expensive players in the expansion draft. It would be as if you were under the cap by that player’s salary, even if you were still $20M over it. Other teams that want to get under the salary, can trade their players with contracts for part of this exception.

The first poster is asking why protect a contract that is expiring over a non-expiring one. The question is a lot more complicated than it looks. Let’s look at it from the Knicks’ GM point of view.

First is will Charlotte take Houston? They are operating with about a $30M cap, smaller than the rest of the NBA. Using half of their cap on Houston seems to be a crap shoot, especially since his health is in doubt. If they do take the risk, the question turns into can Isaiah make our team better with $17.5M to trade or spend? This part comes down to whether you think the Bobcats will take a flier on H20, and can Isaiah deliver if they do.

If the Bobcats don’t draft anyone from the Knicks, then the question we can ask is would we rather have the trade exception for Harrington or Mutombo? It’s much more likely that one of these guys would be taken by the Bobcats, since they make considerably less ($3M and $5M repectively). New York would then have a few extra million to play with, and the trade exception would be more valuable than the player. Sure both of they are tradeable now, since they are in the last year of their deals, but a team would more easily trade for the exception since they wouldn’t have to pay the salary for the rest of the year. In essense, if you traded a $5M trade exception for a $5M player, you’re giving the team $5M, since they don’t have to pay a player that amount. That is why it is more valuable than the expiring contract.

Looking back, I think Jazz(FU) brought up a good point. Isaiah has a track record of taking risks like the one he is doing with Allan Houston. Just ask Doleac, who was traded in the hopes that the Knicks would be able to pick him up back up off of waivers. At least this time the Knicks would get something in return if Isaiah lost Houston. I have yet to see a single credible report saying that Charlotte would take Houston, so the chances have to be very slim. Most likely the Knicks will come out of the expansion draft without a single change, but it would have been better if we got a small exception for one of our lesser used players.

King Of The Wild Frontier

I love getting email!

—–Original Message—–
From: David Crockett
Sent: Saturday, May 29, 2004 11:35 AM
To: KnickerBlogger@kurylo.com
Subject: frank williams and other knicks thoughts

hey,

i just came across your blog for the first time this past week. i wanted to comment on something you wrote at the end of the nets series regarding frank. i’ve been a big fan since his college days.

you mentioned the likelihood that he’d be moved this off-season. here’s two reasons that would be laydenesque*:

1. basketball reasons – i think we have every reason to suspect that williams will develop into a solid-to-very-good third guard, an aaron mckie type player. right now frank is by far the team’s best perimeter defender (sadly, followed by penny hardaway). if the team moves frank it *must* get a big, defensive guard in return.

2. financial reasons – who is new york going to get that brings frank’s particular skill set at his salary? the knicks probably wouldn’t need to break the bank to re-sign him either. i hope isiah doesn’t continue the recent history of taking on big contracts (e.g., eisley, anderson, witherspoon, norris, et al) to fill roles that should be filled by younger less expensive players.

[*note: to my readers that aren’t Knick fans or are from Utah, Laydenesque is not a compliment.]

I agree with you that Williams is the Knicks best perimeter defender, and should turn into a solid player. The problem is the Knicks have a PG that was 7th in minutes per game. Marbury is Isaiah’s prime acquisition as the Knicks GM, so I doubt that he’d move him so quickly (unless McGrady or Kobe were involved). According to 82games.com, Williams spent more time at shooting guard, than at the point. Next year, if Allan Houston is healthy, those minutes are pretty much gone.

So the Knicks have two options. They can keep Williams as their backup PG & third SG (or fourth if the entity known as Shanderson is still around), and he’d get somewhere in the vicinty of 10-15 minutes per game. He makes a small salary, but the Knicks are nowhere near being under the cap. In this scenario, Williams has little value to New York.

On the other hand, he might be exactly what another team desires, especially one that is actually trying to stay under the cap. Williams can be a good starting PG. He doesn’t shoot well, but he’s got great vision and a nice passing touch. On the other side of the ball he is a tough defender (remember the playoffs against NJ?). All that has to be appealing to some GM out there, especially for only about $6M over the next 3 years. If his value to another team is greater than his value to the Knicks, then a trade is in order. If the Knicks can use him as a “throw-in” to upgrade at another position I’m all for the move. We can do a 2-1 and package Frank with Nazr, Kurt or Tim to improve in that area. Another idea would be to trade him for a good defensive big man (less than 59 years of age). A good defensive big man would get more playing time for the Knicks than Williams.

I don’t want to see Williams traded. In fact he’s one of my favorite players to watch, despite his low eFG% (my pet stat). It might have been questionable to trade for Marbury when Williams was starting to develop as the Knicks starting PG. However that deal is already done, and unless the Knicks lose Marbury, Houston, or Hardaway, I don’t see much that Frank can do in blue & orange. Nothing would make me happier to see him develop into a solid pro, but with the current roster he just won’t get many minutes in New York, which makes him prime trade bait.

Knicks – Nets Game 2

I’m pumped up for tomorrow’s game. The Knicks were underdogs in this series, but they were the trendy pick for a first round upset. The argument goes that the midseason changes made the Knicks better than their sub .500 record indicates. In addition there is doubt that the Nets aren’t that strong of a team, with most prognosticators having Indy and Detroit fighting to represent the East in the Finals.

Let’s not forget the geographical vicinity of the two teams. Walk north from MSG about 8 blocks to the port authority bus terminal & you’re only 15 minutes away from the Nets’ home court. It must irk the Nets’ players that when they face the Knicks in East Rutherford, there is plenty of orange and blue in the house.

If the first game was a boxing match, the Knicks would have hit the canvas twice, but gotten up with a bloddy nose. In fact at times it did resemble the squared circle, with Frank Williams and Tim Thomas taking hard shots. Thomas got the worst of it all, and probably won’t play Game 2. Williams was the only one to fight back with a shove that cost his team a possession, but saved some face with the Knick fans that reminisce over guys like Oakley, Sprewell and the X-man.

The Knicks always seemed to play their best wounded and trapped in a corner. They don’t always win, but the effort seems to be there. These are the kind of games I like to watch, when you don’t know what will happen next. The allure of team sports is the possibility that anything could happen on any given night. I wouldn’t be surprised if Kurt Thomas took out his team’s frustration on one of the Nets tomorrow. I wouldn’t blink an eye if Tim Thomas or Allan Houston decided to step on the court and give it a try. The game is as likely to go clean without a hitch.

There are so many possibilities on who might step it up tomorrow for the Knicks. Penny Hardaway is running the point. DerMarr Johnson will see more playing time, due to injuries. Sweetney and Deke will likely see more time. Maybe Kurt Thomas has let that 1-10 game simmer, and has something to prove against K-Mart.

Whatever happens, I’m looking forward to it. I’m fully prepared for what will happen, be it another let down, a nail biter, or a boastful victory. For now I’ll let the anticipation keep me happy until game time.

Indiana 107 New York 86

First Half Notes:

Two shocking moments for Knick fans in the first half. First is Lenny Wilkens getting visibly angry. The usually reserved Wilkens “lost it” when Tim Thomas got called on a dubious offensive foul against Ron Artest. No technical called on the Knicks coach. Maybe the refs were too shocked to call a T.

Second, a Dekembe Mutombo sighting! When Deke came in the second quarter, my jaw almost hit the floor. It was good timing, since the Knicks had been getting killed by Pacer defensive rebounds.

After Thomas’ foul (see above) DerMarr Johnson subbed in. Johnson made a nice play on a missed Indiana shot that won’t show up in the box scores. With the Pacers in good position for (another) offensive rebound, Johnson came from under the hoop. DerMarr, using his height & leaping ability, tipped the ball out to a Knick to save the rebound. He won’t get any credit for the play, but he should have.

Shandon Anderson got stripped by Jamal Tinsley twice in the first half. I could swear that he just dribbled the ball towards the Pacer’s PG and practically handed Tinsley the ball.

Penny Hardaway ruined an easy 4 on 2 fast break. Even I know when you’re going down the court, and you have the option, you give it to your big man (Nazr). Mohammed was open on the wing, but instead Penny passed it to the trailer behind him. The Pacers easily stole the ball & had a break of their own.

Nazr Mohammed started off 4-4. It should have been 5-5. Mohammed had head faked his defender & had a clear path to the hoop. Nazr (6’10), instead of going strong to the basket, tried to lay it in from a late helping Ron Artest (6’7). Artest got called on the foul, but Mohammed missed the shot. Had the Knicks’ center taken it strong, he most likely would have gotten an opportunity at a three point play.

Michael Sweetney played excellent in the first half. He stopped the bleeding that was the Knick’s defensive rebounding, by pulling a few down. Of course as soon as he got started, he was back on the bench again. At least it wasn’t in favor of Othella Harrington (0 first half minutes).

Second Half:

One of the announcers was talking about Nazr Mohammed’s development. He said that Mohammed is growing every day, because this was his first year starting. A moment later, he tried to qualify his statment by saying that he had started in the past, but that it was only spot starts, and this was Nazr’s first real year as starter. If starting 73 of 82 games in 2001 doesn’t count as being a starter, then I don’t know what does.

Mohammed blocked 4 shots tonight. The last time he did that, was January of 2003, against Portland.

It’s shocking to see Andy Pettitte in another uniform. The Astros/Giants game on ESPN2 was infinitately more enjoyable than another one of those New York Met commercials. I almost expect them to be fully endorsed by George Bush.

Vin Baker has just lost it. He’s fouled Jermaine O’Neal 4 times in a row, and if that wasn’t showing his frustration enough, he’s earned a technical foul for arguing as well.

The Knick announcers, with a 19 point lead and 9 mintues left, were discussing since the Knicks have a home game tomorrow, Lenny Wilkens will have to decide when to give up on tonight’s game, and save the player’s energy for tomorrow. Well if Lenny had the “game state matrix”, he would know that the Knick’s chance of winning on the road at that time, was less than 2%.

Playoff Odds 04/05/04

Curious at how the seeds to the playoffs might turn out, I got a little ambitious. It all started from something I learned a while back. That is you can calculate the probability of a team winning a game if you know: the home team’s record at home, the road’s team record away, and the league’s home win %. I used this little formula in a previous column to talk about the Knicks’ chances to win their 5 next games.

I decided to see how far I could take this. So I inserted all the home/road records of every team in the league into a spreadsheet. Then I put in the remaining schedule for the entire league. I determined probability of the winner of each game using this formula. Based on these odds & using Excel’s random number generator, I played out the rest of the season 1000 times.

The East:

Team	Ewins	EW%	Seed1	Seed2	Seed3	Seed4	Seed5	Seed6	Seed7	Seed8	Miss


IND 59.9 .730 1.00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00
DET 54 .658 .00 .00 1.00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00
NJN 48.5 .591 .00 1.00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00
MIL 42 .512 .00 .00 .00 .77 .19 .04 .00 .00 .00
MIA 40.9 .499 .00 .00 .00 .17 .58 .23 .02 .00 .00
NOR 40.1 .489 .00 .00 .00 .05 .22 .62 .09 .01 .00
NYK 38.3 .467 .00 .00 .00 .00 .01 .09 .66 .24 .00
BOS 37.5 .457 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .02 .22 .70 .05
CLE 34.8 .424 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .01 .03 .96
PHI 34.1 .416 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .01 .99
TOR 32.2 .393 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 1.00
ATL 27.3 .333 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 1.00
WAS 25.6 .312 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 1.00
CHI 23.8 .290 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 1.00
ORL 20.3 .247 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 1.00
[Ewins = Expected # of wins, EW% = Expected winning percentage]In the East, the top 3 seeds are already set in stone. Indiana, New Jersey and Detroit will be the top 3. New Jersey clinches the #2 spot, due to winning the weak Atlantic. Milwaukee has a 77% chance of taking the 4th seed (a.k.a. the last home field spot for the first round), followed by Miami (17%), and New Orleans (5%). More good news for Bucks’ fans, they won’t likely have worse than a 5th seed (4%). Miami can fall as far as the 7th seed, but even that is a small (2%) chance.

Speaking of that 7th seed (we know Penny Hardaway isn’t anymore), the Knicks appear to be the favorites here, with a 66% probability of facing the Nets in the first round. After the events of this weekend, that should prove to be a most interesting matchup. Boston might win the 7th seed, and the Hornets have a 9% chance of falling that far as well. If either Cleveland (4%) or Philly (1%) makes the playoffs, it’ll be at the expense of the Celtics.

The West:

TEAM	Ewins	EW%	Seed1	Seed2	Seed3	Seed4	Seed5	Seed6	Seed7	Seed8	Miss


SAC 56.73 .692 .55 .02 .31 .10 .02 .00 .00 .00 .00
LAL 56.23 .686 .25 .18 .45 .10 .02 .00 .00 .00 .00
MIN 55.69 .679 .12 .41 .11 .36 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00
SAS 55.53 .677 .07 .39 .13 .41 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00
MEM 52.55 .641 .00 .00 .00 .03 .77 .20 .00 .00 .00
DAL 51.41 .627 .00 .00 .00 .00 .20 .80 .00 .00 .00
HOU 44.77 .546 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .90 .07 .03
UTA 42.6 .520 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .03 .43 .54
POR 42.43 .517 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .04 .32 .64
DEN 42.09 .513 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .03 .18 .79
GSW 37.09 .452 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 1.00
SEA 36.93 .450 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 1.00
LAC 28.94 .353 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 1.00
PHO 27.83 .339 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 1.00
The West isn’t as simple. Four teams are vying for the #1 seed. Just looking at the expected wins column, and there is little to separate them (barely more than one win). The Kings are the favorites, but at 55% are hardly locks for the top spot. If you add in the Lakers’ 25%, there is an 80% chance that the Pacific will have the top seed.

Minnesota (12%) and the Spurs (7%) can still land the top spot. However since there is an 80% chance that the Pacific gets the #1 seed, then that means there is the same probability that these two teams will have the #2 seed. The Timberwolves (41%) have a slight edge over the Spurs (39%) here. There is the tiniest chance (2%) that the Lakers or Kings will slip to the 5th spot, and in that scenario, the Grizzlies would grab the last home field spot (#4).

There are 6 teams that can avoid the lottery. Actually Dallas and Memphis have guaranteed them no worse than the 6th spot. The Rockets only have a 3% probability of missing the playoffs, and will likely get the 7th seed. That leaves Utah (46%), Portland (36%), and the Nuggets (21%) to fight for the final spot (although technically any of them can be as high as #7). It’d be nice to see the Nuggets win that 8th seed, and hopefully critics won’t blame only him for not being able to get out of the first round, like they do to Kevin Garnett.

Nets 108 Knicks 83

“If the Nets are injured and not playing well, whoever faces them is definitely going to have a good chance of beating them… But they’re going to play hard. They’re defending Eastern Conference champs for the last two years. So they’re not just going to give up.”

Penny Hardaway was right with one part of his quote. The Nets played hard last night and didn’t just give up, trouncing the Knicks 108-83. For the most part the Nets dominated the entire game. The closest the Knicks got after the beginning was a 6 point deficit in the third. It was the type of game where points came fast and furious in spurts. As soon as the Knicks were that close, they were back down by 13 only a few moments later.

New Jersey exposed New York’s weakness, interior defense. I tried to keep a play-by-play account using Dean Oliver’s method from his book, Basketball on Paper. I got through a little more than a page, before deciding to give it a rest. The Nets first play of the game was to post up Rodney Rogers. The play didn’t net any points, but I’m sure that was coach Frank’s game plan. According to my score sheet, they went into the post 4 times in the first 6 minutes.

Not that you needed a score sheet to know that. You probably wouldn’t have to watch the whole game, since I’m sure the dunk Jefferson had with 6:00 gone in the first quarter on Kurt Thomas will be shown coast to coast. That dunk gave the Nets a 18-9 lead, and forced Lenny Wilkens to call a time out.

Right after the timeout, my score sheet shows Tim Thomas missing a shot near the foul line. What would happen next would prompt me to drop my pen and forgo keeping track of the game. Jefferson got the ball to Collins in the post. The Nets center missed the easy shot, but quickly got his rebound. He did this two more times, until the Knicks were able to get the ball away from him. He didn’t end up with any points on the scoreboard, but he had made another point: the Nets owned the paint. I dropped my pen part in anger because Collins was able to get his missed shots back so easily & part because it happened so fast it was hard to keep up with.

The Knicks’ aren’t going to be able to compete if they don’t protect the basket. If Dekembe Mutombo were healthy, I’m sure he would have seen action early in this one. None of the Knick’s other big men are great defenders, not Nazr, not Baker, not Sweetney, not Harrington, and not Thomas. Kurt Thomas is a good man-to-man defender, but as Jefferson found out tonight, he’s not a great help-defender. The Knicks will have to address this flaw in the offseason.


If you’re the optimistic type, you’ll be happy to know there was plenty of garbage time. Coach Wilkens gave playing time to Sweetney, DerMarr Johnson, and even Frank Williams. Frank Williams is back on the active roster because Allan Houston went on the IL. Unfortunately non of the Knicks’ young players did anything special. Hopefully we’ll see more of Williams, and I’m not hoping for more garbage time either. He can’t be any worse than Moochie Norris.