The Worst Article of 2008

Long time fans know my least favorite articles are the ones where an author obviously has come to a conclusion and tries to put together facts to support it. In 2004 I railed against Frank Hughes, the next year Charlie Rosen caught my ire, and in 2007 I took a writer from paperbacknovel to task. This year’s KnickerBlogger worst article of 2008 belongs to Bill Simmons piece on D’Antoni/Nash, which was published just before the new year. Simmons begins by bashing D’Antoni:

D’Antoni’s Phoenix teams were wildly entertaining, consistently successful—and always heading home before the Finals. D’Antoni didn’t care that just about every NBA champ since the 1988-89 Pistons had won with defense; once teams slowed the Suns’ tempo and systematically broke them down, their lack of commitment to D always surfaced. Always. They had a fatal flaw. It took us four years to realize it.

Simmons logic is straight out of the internet trolls’ handbook in the chapter titled “Count the Ringz!!1!!” Since 1984, only 8 different coaches have won a title, and like many of his peers Mike D’Antoni isn’t in that select group. Jerry Sloan’s teams were consistently successful for nearly 25 years and he never won a championship. Neither have other respected coaches like George Karl, Don Nelson, Rick Adelman, and both Van Gundys. Winning a championship is a rare event, and failing to do so shouldn’t discredit a coach or style of play.

Additionally Simmons claims “just about every NBA champ since the 1988-89 Pistons had won with defense.” After the Bad Boys won back to back titles, the Bulls won three championship teams by finishing 1st, 1st, and 2nd on offense. Then the Rockets won their first championship due to defense, but the 1995 team with Drexler was 6th on offense and 12th on defensive. Phil Jackson’s threepeat Lakers finished 4th, 2nd, and 2nd on offense. Although some championship teams were stronger on defense, most championship teams are good on both ends of the court and the exceptions generally even out. The 2005 Pistons won with their defense (18th on offense, 2nd on defense), while the 2001 Lakers were an offensive minded team (2nd on offense, 21st on defense). The claim that defense wins championships has been debunked before (namely here and here), and there has not been a defensive trend since 1989.

Simmons proceeds to belittle Steve Nash’s career . He says Nash was a “borderline All-Star” without D’Antoni and says Nash was only “slightly better than Mark Price.” The first is preposterous. Nash started off his career with 4 mediocre seasons, however he became a more productive player by improving his scoring. Nash’s pts/36 went from 11.3 to 16.5 to 18.6. He posted a healthy PER of 19.6 in 2001 at the age of 26. The next year he had a similar season (20.7 PER), became an All Star, and was voted to an All NBA team. This was when he was still in Dallas, before he played for D’Antoni. Nash was a late bloomer, but in Dallas he became a legitimate All Star.

As for the comparison to Price, I’m not sure what to make of it. During his career, Price was voted to 4 All NBA teams and received some consideration for the MVP award. So during his peak he was a pretty good player. However Price’s career ended early. He began to decline at the age of 30 and played his last season at the age of 33. On the other hand Nash has aged well. He won his first MVP at the age of 30, and last year at 33 Nash made the All NBA second team. Considering that Nash is still playing at a high level at the age of 34 (a point that Simmons makes by showing Nash’s numbers this season to be identical to his All Star year in Dallas), it’s clear that Nash’s career has already and will continue to eclipse Price’s. From my perspective Mark Price is to Steve Nash as Shawn Kemp is to Karl Malone.

It’s unfortunate because I understand Simmons’ point. Steve Nash’s assists ballooned under D’Antoni due to the style of play. Nash had the ball in his hand frequently due to the fast paced point guard emphasized offense. So Nash was able to rack up more assists than someone playing for one of the Van Gundys. This is common in just about every sport, but Simmons claims the opposite:

Which brings me to my point, and I swear I have one: Of the four major sports, only in basketball is the historical fate of everyone from borderline All-Star to borderline superstar determined entirely by his situation.

In football, we sometimes see great players trapped on abominable teams (Barry Sanders, Archie Manning) and good players hitting the team lottery (Jim Kelly, Franco Harris), but we can usually tell either way.

You have to wonder what Simmons was on when he wrote that. In the NFL, players are consistently a product of their situation. Kurt Warner is a prime example. When he played for the Rams, Warner was highly effective, twice throwing for more than 4300 yards and 36 TDs. But when placed on a Giants team with a different system, Warner’s play was so bad he lost the starting job. This year in Arizona, Warner was mentioned as a possible MVP candidate. So unlike Simmons’ claim, an NFL player can go from backup to superstar depending on their situation.

But a more appropriate example for Nash might be Tom Brady. In 2007 Brady threw for 50 TDs, nearly twice his career average. Did Brady all of a sudden become more talented? No. Rather the Patriots changed their offense which emphasized his strengths. And you can say the same thing for Nash. D’Antoni’s system increased his stats to the point where a PG in a traditional system might not be able to reach. However Nash still had to perform at a high level to attain those stats. Saying the system turned a regular starter into an MVP is a stretch whether you’re applying that to Steve Nash or Tom Brady.

Arguing D’Antoni’s system was ideal for Nash to win games and put up eye popping numbers seems reasonable. Arguing that Nash’s numbers were inflated by the offense that the team ran is also logical, and that he might not have been the best player in those two seasons is rational. Simmons could have written an article that showed that Nash and D’Antoni were fortunate enough to cross paths having a synergistic effect on each other.

Instead he uses old cliches and false analogies in attempt to assert his opinion. Simmons blames statistics for the problem, and says “stat geeks” as the ones responsible for falling in love with Nash’s inflated numbers. But as this APBRmetrics poll from 2005 showed most numerical analysts didn’t have Nash as a top 3 MVP candidate that year. Ironically if Simmons had a rudimentary understanding of statistics, he would have understood the concept of pace, and could have better articulated his position on Nash. Oh well, maybe next year.

Knicks’ Week in Advance 12/01/08

Welcome to the third installment of “Knicks’ Week in Advance.” As always we will look at the Knicks’ Four Factors and compare them to those of their opponents. Based on each team’s stats I’ll offer suggestions for what the fans should watch for and what the Knicks should look to do that game.

Before we get into the match ups, I want to say a quick word on the importance of advanced stats. I think every fan would do well to understand how they work – especially in light of the style of play the Knicks adopted this year. For instance last week New York, the fastest pace team (98.7 possessions per game), faced the second fastest pace team in Golden State (97.2 possessions per game). Combine that with the fact that the teams are 26th and 27th in defensive efficiency (109.4 Knicks and 110.9 Warriors), and the Knicks’ rotation featured 7 players, you get the perfect storm for gaudy offensive numbers. That is how I predicted Lee could get 20 boards vs. the Warriors.

Of course that game Lee had 21 rebounds and Duhon 22 assists, prompting the casual fan to draw comparisons to Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. Without it’s proper context, the average Knick fan might expect numbers like that from the pair on a regular basis.

Four games this week. Home games against Portland and Detroit bookend a road trip through Cleveland and Atlanta.

December 2 Portland [First meeting of the teams this year.]

TEAM POSS EFF eFG TO OREB% FT/FG
New York Knicks-Offense 98.8 107 50.3 14.8 23.5 19.3
Rank
1
11
10
10
27
29
Portland Trail Blazers-Defense 86.2 107.3 49.7 16.2 25.2 23.5
Rank
30
18
21
13
8
13
New York Knicks-Defense 98.8 109.4 51.5 14.5 28.8 18.8
Rank
1
26
27
25.5
25
2
Portland Trail Blazers-Offense 86.2 113.5 51.4 15.1 32.8 22.1
Rank
30
2
3
12
1
21

Terrible Tuesdays continue for the Knicks (four Tuesday games, four playoff teams), this time Portland comes to town. In some ways, the Blazers are the Bizzaro Knicks. The Blazers are dead last in pace (86.6 possessions per game), while the Knicks are first in pace (98.7 possessions per game). The Blazers are a great rebounding team (detailed below), while the Knick are not. The Blazers waived a highly paid, petulant, offensive minded point guard before a power play between he and management became a distraction. The Knicks… well you know the story.

What to watch for 1: Rebounding. The Knicks are going to have trouble keeping the Blazers off the glass. The Blazers are 2nd in offensive rebound percentage (32.6%), and none too shabby on defensive glass securing all but 25.1% of defensive rebounds (6th). The Knicks give up 28.8% of all defensive rebounds (24th), while securing 23.5% of available offensive boards (27th). Long story short: make the first shot; there will not be many second chances.

What to watch for 2: The neutralization of David Lee. Lee at center is not going to have the easy match ups he had against the Warriors. Oden and Aldridge are solid interior defenders and strong shot blockers (2.7 and 1.3 blocks per 36 minutes respectively). What Lee can do to help the team is work the pick and roll with Duhon and then hit the 15 footer with consistency (why don’t they run that more with Lee and Harrington’s mid range game?). If Lee can lure Oden out of the paint, it could open things up for drives to the lane (if only there was a Knick that liked to do that).

What to watch for 3: The Blazers are exceedingly efficient on offense (113.1, 2nd in the NBA) and from the floor (51.1 eFG%, 5th). The Knicks will need a solid defensive effort against this team.

December 3 at Cleveland [Cavs won first meeting 119-101]

TEAM POSS EFF eFG TO OREB% FT/FG
New York Knicks-Offense 98.8 107 50.3 14.8 23.5 19.3
Rank
1
11
10
10
27
29
Cleveland Cavaliers-Defense 90.2 102.7 45.8 16.5 26.4 26.4
Rank
23
6
4
11
15
26
New York Knicks-Defense 98.8 109.4 51.5 14.5 28.8 18.8
Rank
1
26
27
25.5
25
2
Cleveland Cavaliers-Offense 90.2 114.8 52.4 14.4 30.4 25.9
Rank
23
1
2
6
5
7

The Knicks looked awful against the Cavs in the last meeting. It was the first game with new acquisitions Harrington and Thomas so maybe that had something to do with the Cavs one-sided victory. More likely, it was due to the Cavs being one of the best teams in the East.

What to watch for: Defense. When the Knicks last played the Cavs, I suggested that the Knicks pressure the ball and force the Cavs into poor shots and sloppy play. What did the Knicks do? They allowed the Cavs to post a 58.4 eFG% while only forcing 8 turnovers. The boys in blue have to do better. Hopefully, Mobley will be available to help the back court defense. I know the team should always play good defense, but it is crucial when playing a team as efficient as the Cavs.

December 5 at Atlanta [ First meeting of the teams this year. ]

TEAM POSS EFF eFG TO OREB% FT/FG
New York Knicks-Offense 98.8 107 50.3 14.8 23.5 19.3
Rank
1
11
10
10
27
29
Atlanta Hawks-Defense 90.1 107.8 48.4 14.9 28.2 22.7
Rank
24
21
10
22
21
11
New York Knicks-Defense 98.8 109.4 51.5 14.5 28.8 18.8
Rank
1
26
27
25.5
25
2
Atlanta Hawks-Offense 90.1 109.1 50.8 15.3 27.6 22.8
Rank
24
7
7
14
9
18

After a very hot start, the Hawks have cooled a bit but they are still a dangerous match up for the Knicks because their offensive efficiency (109.1, 6th) and eFG% (50.8%, 7th) exploits the Knick defense.

What to watch for 1: Pace. For a team with so many athletic players the Hawks don’t really push the pace (90.1 possessions per game, 25th). It will be interesting to see what the Hawks do if the Knicks push the pace.

What to watch for 2: Inside the paint. The Hawks, like the Knicks, lack a true center. Solomon Jones is solid interior defender (2.7 blocks per 36 minutes) but he is quite foul prone (5.5 fouls per 36 minutes). Josh Smith blocks the same number of shots per 36, but is more of a weak side defender than face up. If Duhon and Robinson can get inside they can open up a few easy baskets for Lee and Harrington when Smith comes to help.

December 7 Detroit [Pistons won first meeting 110-96]

TEAM POSS EFF eFG TO OREB% FT/FG
New York Knicks-Offense 98.8 107 50.3 14.8 23.5 19.3
Rank
1
11
10
10
27
29
Detroit Pistons-Defense 89.8 107.6 49.5 15.2 26.4 25.6
Rank
25
20
18
20
14
24
New York Knicks-Defense 98.8 109.4 51.5 14.5 28.8 18.8
Rank
1
26
27
25.5
25
2
Detroit Pistons-Offense 89.8 107.7 48.4 14.6 27.2 25.6
Rank
25
9
18
8
11
10

Last week I wrote that the Knicks needed to exploit the high usage/low efficiency of the Pistons’ offensive leaders. The Knicks did not do that in allowing the Pistons to post a 54.4 eFG%, which is 6 points higher than their season average (48.6%, 17th). Let’s try it again.

What to watch for: 12 p.m. opening tip. The Pistons will be on the road and maybe they partied a bit Saturday night in New York. Maybe they will be sluggish for this game.

I admit I’m reaching here, but I’ve been chasing two kids around all weekend. (Did you know that baking soda and rubbing alcohol can undo the work of a two year old artist who works in the medium of Sharpie on fine oak furniture?)

Read last week’s article, the same stuff applies.

Knicks 96, Pistons 110 (Thoughts On the New Guys)

Tim Thomas: How soon we forget. During yesterday’s game a Piston shot missed off the rim & slowly dribbled to the sideline. Tim Thomas watched the bouncing ball and instead of securing the rebound, he allowed the Pistons to get the ball & keep the possession. The NBA’s version of Cpl. Upham he’ll just cower in the corner and watch as the other team stabs you right in the heart.

Al Harrington: It’s only two games in, and I’m really not impressed. Al Harrington’s shot selection makes Jamal Crawford’s shot selection look like David Lee’s. Al Harrington’s passing ability makes Wilson Chandler look like Chris Duhon. The arc on Al Harrington’s shot makes Steve Francis’ arc look like Nate Robinson’s. Al Harrington’s rebounding ability makes Eddy Curry look like, ok it’s not that bad.

He should be better than this. And I understand that’s he’s rusty, not only adjusting to a new team but adjusting to playing in general (he sat out 8 games on the season). But 38 points on 40 shots? Over his career the ratio is 16 points per 13.8 shots, so it should get better. It was just really tough to watch him take 24 shots against the Pistons, double that of the next teammate (Wilson Chandler took 12 shots that game). Somewhere I was hoping he would develop a conscience.

Boy I can’t wait until these guys get some practice under their belt…

Knicks’ Week in Advance 11/24/2008

Hello all. Thomas B. here with the second installment of Knicks’ Week in Advance. This article appears exclusively on Knickerblogger.net (everyone else-including Stern Must Go-turned me down). I will compare the Knicks’ Four Factors to those of their opponents this week.

I’m glad the Knicks beat the Wizards Saturday. The win spared me from drafting an open that parodies those Time Life Books commercials from the 1980s:

November 2008. The administrator of a popular blog contacts a man of limited basketball knowledge and invites him to join the staff. Shortly thereafter, the Knicks begin a losing streak that has yet to end. Coincidence? Read the book.

Thankfully, the Knicks won so that open won’t be needed. Besides, about 2% of the population would have got the reference anyway. Such is my sense of humor.

This week the Knicks have home games against Cleveland and Golden State with a road trip to Detroit in between.

Tuesday, November 25 – Cleveland

TEAM POSS EFF eFG TO OREB% FT/FG
New York Knicks-Offense 98.4 106 50.1 14.5 21.8 19.3
Rank
1
14
11
6
29
28
Cleveland Cavaliers-Defense 88.8 104.8 46.8 16.6 28.1 26.4
Rank
26
12
8
11
20
24
New York Knicks-Defense 98.4 107.4 50.9 15.2 28.6 19.1
Rank
1
21
27
21
24
3
Cleveland Cavaliers-Offense 88.8 114 51.8 15 29.4 28.4
Rank
26
1
2
11
7
3

[First meeting of the teams this year.]

This will be the third straight Tuesday on which the Knicks meet one of last year’s playoff teams (Spurs and Boston previously). The Cavs went 9-1 over the last 10 games and look to be clicking. Conversely, the Knicks are going to work three new players into the rotation.

What to watch for: LBJ. Since the Knicks have the cap room to dream about Lebron, I think LBJ might start showing the garden crowd exactly what they could get on about July 24th 2010. That is if the price is right.

What to watch for 2: Of all the players brought in, I think Cutino Mobley can have the best immediate impact due to his defense. He and Duhon give the Knicks their strongest defensive backcourt since perhaps Derek Harper and John Starks. That’s a good thing, since the Cavs are 2nd in shooting (eFG%: 51.8%), and 1st on offense (OE: 114 pts/100poss). Much of this is due to strong backcourt play. Mo Williams and Delonte West are both shooting above 40% from behind the arc, with West’s 66.2 eFG% leading the team. The Knicks need to eliminate open shots by pressuring the ball and cutting off passing lanes. If Duhon and Mobley can pressure the backcourt, they could push Williams’ and West’s so-so assist ratios down, while bringing their slightly below average turnover ratios up.

Wednesday, November 26 – Detroit

TEAM POSS EFF eFG TO OREB% FT/FG
New York Knicks-Offense 98.4 106 50.1 14.5 21.8 19.3
Rank
1
14
11
6
29
28
Detroit Pistons-Defense 89.7 106.8 49.3 15.2 25.5 26.6
Rank
24
19
20
20
10
25
New York Knicks-Defense 98.4 107.4 50.9 15.2 28.6 19.1
Rank
1
21
27
21
24
3
Detroit Pistons-Offense 89.7 108.2 48.4 15 28.4 26.3
Rank
24
10
17
12
10
8

[First meeting of the teams this year.]

While still a very talented team, these are not the same defensive minded Pistons of recent years. The Pistons are in the bottom third of the league on defensive (DE: 106.8, 19th), eFG% (49.3%, 20th), and turnovers (15.2 TO/100poss, 20th). Unfortunately, the Knicks’ are ranked lower than the Pistons’ in each of those defensive categories. The Knicks have an edge on offense in terms of shooting (eFG%: 50.1%, 11th), so they should look to exploit that.

What to watch for: The Knicks’ backcourt defense. Iverson, Hamilton, and Stuckey are the Pistons’ highest usage players and the least efficient shooters. The Pistons also lack a true point after trading for Iverson, so the Knicks have to keep the pressure on him to disrupt the offense. This is true when dealing with Iverson in general.

Once Iverson has decided he is going to shoot, nothing short of a stoppage of play will change his mind. The trick is to invite him to take a bad shot. I say invite because you don’t have to force him into it. Much like Crawford, he does it willingly. Once Iverson is pressing on offense, he forgets to pass and the rest of team is taken out of the game. Easier said than done, but there you go.

What to watch for 2: Rasheed Wallace vs. the three headed forward. Now that Harrington and Thomas will join Chandler at the power forward spot, D’Antoni can throw three versions of pretty much the same player at Wallace. Once Gallanari gets healthy, we will have four 6’9-ish forwards who like to work outside of the paint. Not since Robert Palmer have I seen such symmetry.

The good news is that between Thomas, Harrington, and Chandler, we may have enough bodies to wear Wallace out, foul him out, or just plain psych him out. Wallace is the best interior defender on Detroit, so the Knicks would do well to get him into foul trouble. Generally, you do that by posting or driving, and that’s not what “simply irresistible” does very well.

Saturday, November 29 – Golden State

TEAM POSS EFF eFG TO OREB% FT/FG
New York Knicks-Offense 98.4 106 50.1 14.5 21.8 19.3
Rank
1
14
11
6
29
28
Golden State Warriors-Defense 96.6 107.9 49.5 16.3 30.4 23.4
Rank
2
25
22
12
29
12
New York Knicks-Defense 98.4 107.4 50.9 15.2 28.6 19.1
Rank
1
21
27
21
24
3
Golden State Warriors-Offense 96.6 107.2 47.1 15.2 31 26.5
Rank
2
11.5
19
15
4
6

[First meeting of the teams this year.]

Take a good look in the mirror Knickerbockers, the image staring back at you is that of the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors are slighty more efficient on offense while the Knicks are slightly better shooters. Golden State shares the Knicks’ defensive woes with both teams in the bottom third of the league in the defensive stats.

What to watch for: The return of Jamal Crawford means more offense for Golden State, but far less defense. I’d love to see the Knicks exploit this by having Q play some minutes at the two and work Crawford in the post. The Knicks could play that lineup if Lee, Harrington, and Chandler play the front court.

What to watch for 2: Rebounding. Neither team is especially strong on the glass, as they each play small. Given the pace and that each team favors jump shot offenses, the team that controls the glass should come out the winner. Look for David Lee to get his first 20 rebound game of the season.

What to watch for 3: What is up with the “Golden State?” Every other team in the league is named after either the city or the state, but the Warriors use the nickname of the state? So even if you know the state nicknames, you still don’t know the city. No wonder they can’t sell out the arena, no one can find the stadium. Yet, somehow the name works. I mean, the Bee Hive State Jazz sure doesn’t work.

Any win this week means the Knicks finish November without a losing record. Wouldn’t that be nice? See you next week.

Iverson for Billups/McDyess

http://www.nba.com/2008/news/11/03/nuggets.pistons.trade.ap/index.html

The Denver Nuggets have agreed to a deal that would send Allen Iverson to the Pistons in exchange for Chauncey Billups and Antonio McDyess, sources have told TNT analyst David Aldridge.

There is one sticking point to the deal, though. McDyess does not want to go to Denver, and a source close to him says “he will not put on a Nuggets uniform” and may opt to retire.

Because of McDyess’s objection, the Nuggets may waive the mandatory physical each player in a trade must take in order for the league to approve any deal. McDyess may be seeking a buyout of the remainder of his contract (two years, $13.6 million).