Knicks 96 Hawks 84

I love MSG Rewind. Monday nights I rent a court with a couple of guys I’ve been playing with for a few years. The gym runs 7 to 10. Tonight the Knicks game started at 8:30, so usually I would have to choose between the two. Luckily MSG Rewind comes on at midnight, so I can still watch the game instead of trying to rush home and catch the 4th quarter without prior knowledge of what happened earlier in the game. Unfortunately last night’s game wasn’t a very noteworthy game. Actually I came away with more questions that answers. I guess it’s appropriate, since I started off this week with an interview.

How good is Penny Hardaway? In the first half, he botched a couple of easy passes. One on a fast break. I was surprised to see this, since he does play PG some of the time, but I don’t recall him handling the point tonight. Penny seems to be able to knock down shots when open, and can create a jump shot when needed. The bad passes really bothered me, but I’m not going to judge him on one game, so this will be a question I’ll be looking to answer with more statistical and observational evidence.

Why does Nazr Mohammed play inconsistently? Some nights he looks like a world beater. Tonight he scored impressively from at least three different methods: getting good passes while cutting to the hoop, crashing the offensive glass, and using his post up game. Other nights he’s almost non-existent. So what is it that causes this? Is it the foul trouble? Is it the defensive ability of his opponent? Is it when he faces an offensive player that saps his energy on the defensive end? Another question to table for a future study.

Can’t the Knicks stay healthy? The team is just too thin without Houston & T.Thomas. Sure Houston is on the wrong side of 30, but until this year, he never missed more than 6 games in a season. Tim Thomas is on the good side of 30 and has never missed more than 10 games in a season. So how are they both hurt at the same time? Deke I can understand, and Frank Williams is suffering through a personal tragedy (who we probably won’t see again this year). I’m not going to turn this into a study, so I guess this is more of a rhetorical question.

Who is the real Dermarr Johnson? He’s an intriguing player. A young prospect for the Hawks until he was in a car accident. Is the future Dermarr the guy that can hit the trey, and dunked on his former team, or is it the one that threw up an airball and shot less than 40% his first two years? We probably won’t know until next year, and I can wait until then for an answer.

Do I like Lenny Wilkens’ coaching style? I won’t even get into the phantom time out debacle of this weekend. Wilkens is fearless with who he plays. He’ll give everyone playing time, which is good during a season because you want to know what you have. However I’m not crazy about some of his choices. Why is Moochie getting more play than Frank Williams (even before F-dub went on the IL)? Why is Othella Harrington getting any non-garbage time? For now I’ll give him the thumbs up, especially after living through Van Gundy who had a tight leash in these matters.

Catch Me If I Fall

20,000 miles to an oasis
20,000 years will i burn
20,000 chances i wasted
Waiting for the moment to turn

— “Texarkana”
R.E.M.

I don’t think I can say anything about last night’s loss that won’t be said in any of the New York newspapers. I’ll keep it short and say they had plenty of chances to win, and the game should not have gone into overtime. Kenny Thomas hit a lucky three point shot to tie the game. If the fact that it banked in hard off the glass doesn’t convince you, then consider his three point stats.

Year	Team	G	Min 	3PM	3PA	3P%	PPG
 1999	HOU	72	25.0 	0.4	1.7	26.2	8.3
 2000	HOU	74	24.6 	0.3	1.2	27.2	7.1
 2001	HOU	72	34.5 	0	0.2	0	14.1
 2002	HOU	20	29.3 	0	0	0	9.8
 2002	PHI	46	30.3 	0	0	0	10.2
 2003	PHI	57	35.0 	0	0.1	0	12.3
 Career		341	29.5 	0.2	0.7	24.4	10.3

That’s right, he’s a career 24% shooter from beyond the arc, and hasn’t attempted more than 0.2/G in more than 4 years. Obviously someone figured out he wasn’t effective from that far & made him stop shooting treys a few years ago.

Watching the game (at least the first 47:59.6 minutes of it) I kept thinking about two things. I was alternately saying to myself “Wow they look pretty deep” and “Calm down, they look good because they are playing Philly without their two best players.”

The Knicks are a deeper team now than they were in the beginning of the year. Back in October, the only depth we had was PF (McDyess, Thomas, Harrington, Spoon, Lampe, Van Horn and Sweetney). You could argue that we had 3 PGs, but I think you’re giving Eisley too much credit. We’re certainly deeper at the bigger spots. Nazr Mohammed and Vin Baker are our centers, and don’t forget Dekembe Mutombo. Kurt Thomas also can play the 5, as had Sweetney versus albeit a very small Celtics lineup. At PF we have Thomas, Sweetney, and now little used Othella Harrington. Vin Baker can play there as well, as can Tim Thomas for small stretches.

Small forward is adequately covered with Thomas, Hardaway, and Anderson. Even if Marbury didn’t play the mega-minutes that he routinely does, we would be deep at PG with backups Frank Williams, Mochie Norris, and Penny Hardaway. With Allan Houston back, shooting guard is covered along with Anderson and DeMarr Johnson.

Isaiah Thomas has done a commendable job putting together a team, as opposed to the collection of players he inherited. The Knicks still have their weaknesses, but at least Lenny Wilkens has options on who to play instead of trying to figure out how he’s going to fit 7 power forwards in the game.

The Best & Worst Offenses & Defenses

I dragged this lake looking for corpses
Dusted for prints, pried up the floorboards
Pieces of planes and black box recorders
Don’t lie

— “Private Eye”
Alkaline Trio

If you wanted to know quickly which teams had the best & worst offense & defense in the league, you might go to ESPN.com NBA stats page. You can click on the team-by-team comparison link and you’d see which teams have scored and given up the most points. You can sort the teams by a few different stats, and for this example you might use points scored per game and opponents points scored per game. So according to this you might conclude the best NBA offenses are:

Rank	Type	Pts
1	SAC	104.6
2	DAL	103.3
3	SEA	97.8
4	LAL	97.6
5	MIL	97.1
6	DEN	97
7	MEM	97
8	LAC	96.5
9	MIN	95.5
10	ORL	94.9
11	BOS	94.6
12	GS	94.4
13	PHO	93.6
14	CLE	92
15	POR	92
16	NO	91.9
17	NYK	91
18	NJ	90.7
19	WAS	90.6
20	SAS	90.1
21	IND	89.8
22	ATL	89.7
23	CHI	89.6
24	PHI	89.6
25	DET	89.6
26	UTA	88.9
27	HOU	88.3
28	MIA	88
29	TOR	84.9

And the best defenses:

Rank	Type	Pts
1	SAS	83.9
2	IND	84.9
3	HOU	85.1
4	NJ	86.5
5	DET	87
6	TOR	87.3
7	MIA	89.4
8	MIN	90
9	UTA	90.6
10	PHI	91.2
11	NO	91.8
12	NYK	92.6
13	POR	93.6
14	LAL	94
15	MEM	94.4
16	GS	95.2
17	ATL	95.2
18	DEN	95.3
19	CLE	95.3
20	MIL	95.4
21	CHI	95.7
22	WAS	96.2
23	BOS	96.6
24	PHO	97.2
25	SAC	97.3
26	SEA	98.8
27	LAC	98.8
28	DAL	99.8
29	ORL	100.7

But if you’ve ever seen an NBA game, you know some teams’ offenses are faster than others. This is because some teams like to run down the shot clock because they want to slow the tempo, where others like to take the first or second available open shot, because their offense is good enough to get an efficient shot off quickly. A team like Dallas or Sacramento would have more chances to score than let’s say Miami or Toronto. So the team that scores the most points in a game may not have the best offense in the league, because they simply might have the fastest offense in the league.

Well some smart people have already thought about this. They said, maybe instead of looking at how many points are scored per game, we should see how many points are scored per possession (or 100 possessions). Unfortunately the people at ESPN have never thought to ask this question, or at least have not thought it important enough to put it on their stat page. Luckily the good people at 82games.com have. You can’t sort the teams all nice like the ESPN page, and they don’t even have a page where all the teams are displayed. They only have the information by team pages. But with some patience, a good spreadsheet program, and 10 minutes of free time, you can do some quick analysis yourself.

So here we are, the best offenses in the NBA, by points per 100 possessions (pPts):

Rank	Type	Pts	Poss	pPts	OldRank	DRANK
1	SAC	104.6	91	114	1	+0
2	DAL	103.3	91	112	2	+0
3	SEA	97.8	89	109	3	+0
4	MIN	95.5	87	109	9	+5
5	LAL	97.6	90	108	4	-1
6	MIL	97.1	90	107	5	-1
7	MEM	97	90	107	6	-1
8	LAC	96.5	90	107	8	+0
9	POR	92	86	107	14	+5
10	DEN	97	91	106	7	-3
11	ORL	94.9	89	106	10	-1
12	GS	94.4	89	106	12	+0
13	NO	91.9	88	104	16	+3
14	IND	89.8	86	104	21	+7
15	UTA	88.9	85	104	26	+11
16	BOS	94.6	91	103	11	-5
17	PHO	93.6	91	103	13	-4
18	NJ	90.7	88	103	18	+0
19	SAS	90.1	87	103	20	+1
20	DET	89.6	86	103	23	+3
21	HOU	88.3	85	103	27	+6
22	MIA	88	85	103	28	+6
23	CLE	92	90	102	15	-8
24	NYK	91	89	102	17	-7
25	PHI	89.6	87	102	24	-1
26	WAS	90.6	90	100	19	-7
27	ATL	89.7	90	99	22	-5
28	CHI	89.6	90	99	25	-3
29	TOR	84.9	85	99	29	+0

The first team that jumps into the top 5, that wasn’t there before, is the Timberwolves at #4. Even though they only score 95.5 points a game, they would score 109 points if given 100 possessions. They just play at a slow pace of only 87 offensive possessions per game. (The average pace is 88.4 possessions/game). Portland also jumps into the top 10, while Utah & Indy move into the middle from the bottom 10. The big losers are Cleveland, Washington, and my own beloved Knicks, who drop to 6th worst.

Now for the defenses:

Rank	Type	Pts	Poss	pPts	OldRank	Diff
1	SAS	83.9	87	96	1	+0
2	IND	84.9	86	98	2	+0
3	NJ	86.5	88	98	4	+1
4	HOU	85.1	85	100	3	-1
5	DET	87	86	100	5	+0
6	TOR	87.3	85	102	6	+0
7	MIN	90	88	102	8	+1
8	LAL	94	90	103	14	+6
9	PHI	91.2	87	104	10	+1
10	NO	91.8	87	104	11	+1
11	NYK	92.6	89	104	12	+1
12	MEM	94.4	90	104	15	+3
13	DEN	95.3	91	104	18	+5
14	MIA	89.4	85	105	7	-7
15	MIL	95.4	90	105	20	+5
16	UTA	90.6	85	106	9	-7
17	GS	95.2	89	106	16	-1
18	ATL	95.2	89	106	17	-1
19	CLE	95.3	89	106	19	+0
20	CHI	95.7	90	106	21	+1
21	WAS	96.2	90	106	22	+1
22	BOS	96.6	91	106	23	+1
23	SAC	97.3	91	106	25	+2
24	PHO	97.2	90	107	24	+0
25	POR	93.6	86	109	13	-12
26	DAL	99.8	91	109	28	+2
27	SEA	98.8	89	110	26	-1
28	LAC	98.8	90	110	27	-1
29	ORL	100.7	89	112	29	+0

Not much difference here among the top teams. The Lakers move into the top 10. Meanwhile Miami and Utah drop out of the top 10 into the middle of the pack, while Portland takes the biggest dip to the 5th worst defense in the league.

Unfortunately it’s hard to judge the Knicks current team using these tools. The team has experienced a large turnover in their roster. These stats are for the Knicks over the entire year, which includes players like Van Horn, Charlie Ward, as well as Marbury and Penny Hardaway. However we can use it to learn a bit about tonight’s opponents, the Kings. The Kings are the team’s top scoring offense both by points per game, and by points per possession. Their 91 possessions/game tell you that they have one of the league’s fastest paced offense. Their defense is lacking, 7th worst in the league.

So then you might ask, if they have a great offense and a poor defense, shouldn’t they be an average team? Not necessarily. If anything they might be a little bit better, since their Pythagorean expected wins says they should have about 1 or 2 more wins, based on their points for/against. However, you can look at the offensive numbers above, and realize that they are a LOT better offensively than most teams. The difference between them and the #5 Lakers, is 6 points (per hundred possessions). This is the same difference between the #5 Lakers and #23 Cleveland.

So the Kings’ offense is very good, which is why they have the best record in the league.

DON’T LET’S START

Don’t let’s start
This is the worst part
Could believe for all the world
That you’re my precious little girl
But don’t let’s start
I’ve got a weak heart

They Might Be Giants

What a day to start a Knicks blog. In case you decided to do something else last night other than watch the game yesterday (lucky choice), you might not understand why. I can attest to you first handed that the Knicks played a half-hearted effort for 3 quarters last night. I wish I could say anything about the fourth quarter, but I switched to another game half way through. They scored 11 after the first quarter, 28 at the half. It was that kind of night. Thank goodness I don’t believe in omens or anything of that sort, or this might turn out to be the worst blog ever.

This is the Knicks team that we’ll see for the rest of the year, since the trade deadline has passed. Only 5 of the 12 players that played last night were on the team at the start of the year. It’ll be 6 when Houston comes back from injury. For the most part, I really like what Isaiah Thomas has done with this team since his arrival. This is a team that won 37 games last year, and 30 the year before. Scott Layden had assembled a bunch of overpriced bench players, that seemingly had zero value and couldn’t be dealt. Over the summer Knick fans had hope again, when Layden drafted 3 young players with promise. It should have been a good sign when for once the Knick fans at the draft were cheering for the players that were drafted instead of their usual “Fi-re Lay-den!”

However things went sour quickly, as two of the rookies were burried on the I.R., and the third was so low on the depth chart that he played a whole 44 minutes (garbage minutes) before heading to the I.R. in December to join his draftmates. The team was in the worst sort of disarray, they were losing games and not developing their rookies. You can’t blame Dolan for firing Layden at that point.

Since then Isaiah, has taken over the reigns. If the NBA was a western movie, Isaiah would have been the cowboy who stops the gallooping horses from taking the carriage off the cliff. He cut rookie Slavko Vranes. The Knicks had about 7 guys that could play PF, but only 2 SG and 2 PGs. Weatherspoon went to the Rockets for Moochie Norris. Zeke made the huge trade for Stephon Marbury & Penny Hardaway. And a few days ago, he traded Keith Van Horn, Michael Doleac, and a second round pick for Tim Thomas and Nazr Mohammed.

In my opinion, he’s done a great job on each move, except for the last one. I still don’t understand that last deal. Keith Van Horn is Tim Thomas’ superior in most of the important statistical categories. He’s a better scorer. A better rebounder. A better offensive rebounder. A better thief. A better free throw shooter. Better at drawing fouls. Thomas has him beat in assists, turnovers, and age.

So I was shocked to see the media for the most part praising this move. I don’t know the statistics on this, but I’m sure nobody could give a reason without including the words “more athletic.” I can’t verify this either, but I’m sure the word “alley-oop” increased on Knick message boards by about 500%.

One question that just leaps into my mind: If Thomas is more athletic, then what words would you use to describe why he has put up less statistically? Unskilled comes to mind to me. Unmotivated seems to be a favorite choice of optomists. There have been plenty of players that have been great athletically, but aren’t good basketball players. There is more to basketball than being athletic, just like in baseball (right Michael?).

I guess in the scope of things, the loss to the Knicks in this deal isn’t that bad. Nazr Mohammed is by most scouting reports, an excellent rebounder and a decent shooter. He hasn’t played much in the last few years, so maybe he can develop into a decent big man, like another Knick did. If he can develop into a C that can play 24-30 minutes a game, maybe that can alleviate the loss of Van Horn. The Knicks are a better team today because of Isaiah Thomas than they were just two months ago. I just hope Houston comes back ASAP & is healthy, because right now the Knicks don’t have a good second scorer.