Knicks Roster Analysis – Shooting Guards

I’m disappointed I have to bump down David’s excellent piece to post this. If you haven’t already read Part Two of his off-season preview, I suggest you scroll down and do so now. If you haven’t read my point guard analysis, that’s probably also worth reading before this post so that you understand what I’m doing here.

I’d like to take a second to discuss one thing David mentioned:

“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.”

Is this more common than you might think? I think so. Gary Payton never admitted as much, but watching him go from The Glove to a defensive liability, I think conserving his energy to play 40 minutes a game was a big part of the explanation. Frankly, it’s not a bad trade-off. Guys like Marbury and Payton are so far above the level of their backups (this was especially true in Seattle from 1999-2001) that the extra productivity just isn’t worth taking them off the court (or hurting their offense). Dean Oliver, as I understand it, actually tends to think teams ought to slack off more than they do. But that’s neither here nor there.

Allan Houston

Year    MPG   PPG   RPG  APG   TS%  Reb%  Pass   Off   Def  Win%  WARP  Value  Salary
01-02 37.8 20.4 3.3 2.5 .540 5.0 0.24 92.2 91.3 .498 5.9
02-03 37.9 22.5 2.8 2.7 .563 4.4 0.31 93.5 90.9 .546 9.5
03-04 36.0 18.5 2.4 2.0 .539 3.9 0.15 90.8 90.1 .484 3.1 $3.843 $17.53

Hollinger is fond of saying that Houston and former teammate Latrell Sprewell are the NBA’s most overrated players, but I’m not buying it. Overpaid yes, overrated no. Maybe Hollinger hasn’t spent as much time in his life reading message boards as I have, but there’s plenty of invective to go around for Houston, as if he was supposed to say “no, thanks” to Scott Layden’s offer. This is not a case where a player got a big contract and stopped working; other than last year’s injury, Houston is who he’s always been — I generally rate 2002-03 as the best season of his career — and that’s simply not all that good.

Houston has been a very good offensive player for a long time, and even last year, when he was way down, presumably due to chondromalacia in his left knee, he still rated well above average on the offensive end of the court. Still, you have to be a better offensive player than Houston to be particularly valuable without contributing much on defense or on the glass. Houston’s defensive statistics are actually pretty decent, but his reputation is as a sieve, and his knee problems surely won’t help that.

I have some experience with chondromalacia, having watched Sue Bird fight it for the WNBA’s Seattle Storm all of last season, and it bothered her tremendously. After having surgery, she has been a completely different player this season. Houston has supposedly ruled against surgery, but even a summer’s worth of rest should do wonders for him.

I’ve got to say, I was very impressed by Houston’s reaction to being exposed by the Knicks in yesterday’s Expansion Draft (needless to say, neither he nor any other Knicks were taken).

“I thought Isiah handled it in a classy way,” Houston’s agent, Bill Strickland, told the Post. “We were made aware of it and what his thinking is. Allan was fine and understanding why. He called ahead of time, explained the situation, showed a great deal of respect to Allan, who had a chance to chat with him directly.”

Contrast that with the Celtics’ Chucky Atkins, who has earned absolutely no right to complain about being exposed yet still said, “If they aren?t going to protect me, then I don?t want to be there,” he said. “If you?re going to leave me unprotected, that?s a slap in the face to me.” *Pause for laughter*

Anfernee Hardaway

Year    MPG   PPG   RPG  APG   TS%  Reb%  Pass   Off   Def  Win%  WARP  Value  Salary
01-02 30.8 12.0 4.4 4.1 .472 8.0 1.48 89.0 89.8 .489 4.6
02-03 30.7 10.6 4.4 4.1 .499 8.2 1.41 88.7 89.8 .487 3.2
03-04 27.6 9.2 3.8 2.3 .472 7.9 0.58 87.6 89.4 .456 2.5 $3.179 $14.63

Has any team in NBA history ever spent $30 million on a position before? That’s a rhetorical question, but I imagine the team to come closest was the 2000-01 Portland Trail Blazers with Shawn Kemp and Rasheed Wallace at power forward. Neither they nor the Knicks at the two got very good return on their investment.

It’s somewhat sad to think about what might have been with Hardaway’s career had he not suffered so many knee injuries. He was a superstar at 23 on a team that went to the NBA Finals, then Shaquille O’Neal left and it’s been one long comedown ever since for Hardaway.

As recently as the last couple of years, Hardaway still had some value, and he had a pretty good run as the Suns’ starter at the two when they went to the playoffs a season ago. By last year, he wasn’t even at that level anymore. Hardaway has contracted a bit of Ron Mercer disease — shooting a bunch of non-three jumpers. I did a quick calculation and found the percentage of shooting possessions (FGA + .44*FTA) players used on two-point shots. Obviously, big men typically use more; amongst shooting guards, Hardaway ranked seventh at 81%. It shouldn’t be a surprise that most of those guys aren’t very efficient (though Marquis Daniels and Rip Hamilton did manage to buck the trend).

Hardaway’s been a fine ballhandler since moving off the point, but for some reason his assist numbers tanked last season. That’s the biggest reason his offensive rating (and, thus, winning percentage) went down. Hardaway will probably rebound a little next season, but on the other hand, he’ll be 33 this summer, and that’s not exactly an age where guys improve much.

It makes me feel old to think that Hardaway probably only has a few more NBA seasons left in him. It still seems like yesterday he and Shaq were making Blue Chips and the Magic was playing Hardaway at the two to let him learn the ropes with Scott Skiles still at the point. And now Skiles is on his second coaching job. Time flies, doesn’t it?

I mentioned earlier the possibility of a buyout with Hardaway; now, to explain why it isn’t going to happen. The Knicks will hang on to Hardaway in the hopes that his ending contract can be dealt for something in 2005-06. Really, that’s not a bad idea; Hardaway is still above replacement level. It would be nice to see Williams get his minutes, however.

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

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

Quick Recap Of My Finals Thoughts

Early in the series, I wrote what the Lakers and the Pistons each needed to do to win. I think since we’re half way through the series I should revisit what I wrote:

For Detroit to win, they should:
1. They can’t fall too far behind, which breaks up into:
1a. Score. They need efficient scoring from Hamilton, Billups, and Rasheed. If they can get an outburst from someone else (Prince), then all the better.
1b. Shut down the non-Shaq Lakers.
2. Stay close in turnovers.

For all you chart fans, here’s one breaking down exactly what I wrote.

Name	G1	G2	G3	G4
1a. -- Efficient Scoring --
Hamltn	N	Y	Y	Y
'Sheed	Y	N*	N	Y
Billps	Y	Y	Y	Y
Others	Y	N**	Y	N
1b. -- Shut Down non-Shaq Lakers --
Kobe	N	N	Y	Y
Others	Y	Y	Y	Y
2. -- Stay Close In Turnovers --
TO	Y	Y	Y	Y
*Game 2 Sheed 11PTS 5-14 - scoring but inefficient.
** Ben Wallace was 2nd best with 12 points in an OT game.

As for the Lakers:

1. Score, and not just Shaq. Kobe, Malone, and one random Laker per game. It’d be nice if Gary Payton would actually do something to earn that ring. If not anyone will do: George, Fisher, Rush, or anyone. By scoring they’ll put the pressure on the Pistons to score as well. The Pistons weren’t a great offensive team, so shutting them down shouldn’t be all that hard.
2. Turn the heat on with turnovers. The Lakers were 7th in the league in net turnovers (per 100 possessions), so they should be able to get some extra points from the Pistons.
3. Get to the foul line, and not just Shaq. Shaq will make Detroit foul more often. Normally Detroit is very good at not putting opponents at the line. The Lakers need to use Shaq to gain an advantage here. The rest of the gang have to drive to the hoop & try to make things happen.

Name	G1	G2	G3	G4
1. -- LA Scoring --
Shaq	Y	Y	N	Y
Kobe	Y	Y	N	N**
Malone	N	N	N	N
Others	N	N	N	N
2. -- Create Turnovers --
TO	N	N	N	N
3. -- Get To the Foul Line --
FTA	N	N*	N	N

*L.A. had 25 FTA, but Detroit had 31
** Kobe had 20PTS but shot 8-25 (2 3PTM)

Look at all the Y’s in the Pistons’ table and the N’s in the Lakers table. It seems clear that Detroit is doing almost everything they can to win. It seemed that the Pistons’ biggest weakness would be scoring, since they don’t have the great scorers that the Lakers have in Shaq and Kobe. However, they’ve been able to get production from 4 guys: Hamilton, Billups, Rasheed, and Prince. They’ve won every game where they’ve gotten offensive production from at least 3 of these players.

On the other hand, the Lakers haven’t done anything they’ve needed to win. Their offense has been horrible. The Pistons have “let” Shaq score, but have tried to shut down everyone else. Kobe has been ineffective since game 2. I can’t blame Karl Malone, because he’s been hurt, but where are the rest of the Lakers?

During the regular season, Detroit turned the ball over often enough (20th in TO/Poss), and the Lakers were 7th in net turnovers. I expected the Lakers to have an advantage in Turnovers, but it has been a non-factor. The other place where I thought L.A. could make a difference would be to use Shaq to get the Pistons in foul trouble. My prediction was way off base here, since everyone knows by now that the Pistons are getting to the line while the Lakers are begging for calls.

This series hasn’t been close. What’s really amazing is if it weren’t for Kobe’s three point shot at the end of regulation in game 2, the Pistons would have swept the Lakers. In fact since that game, the non-Kobe & non-Shaq Lakers are 25-79 (7 3PTM – eFG% 36%). Detroit’s defense is just that good.

Kurt Thomas, ’03 Knicks Rebounding Leader

I don’t know what I can say about Rasheed Wallace’s “foul” against Shaq late in game 2 that someone else hasn’t already said. So, instead I’ll talk about the Knicks. I think it’s been long enough.

According to Knicks Clicks (and the NY Daily News), Kurt Thomas may be traded. I’ve like Kurt since his early days as a Knick. Back then, I had a running argument/joke with a friend. I was the Kurt Thomas supporter, saying he should get more minutes, while he said Thomas’ fouled too often, and should head to the bench. I’m glad to have won that argument, since Kurt turned out some good production as the Knick starting PF/C the past few years. Let’s take a quick look at Kurt’s fouls over the years:

Year	Min/G	PF/G	PF/48
1998 23.6 3.2 6.5
1999 24.6 3.5 6.8
2000 27.6 3.7 6.4
2001 33.8 4.2 6.0
2002 31.8 4.2 6.3
2003 31.9 3.7 5.6

His fouls per game increased, but only because his minutes did as well. Kurt’s first three years he was committing 6.6 PF/48mins. In his last three, Kurt lowered his average to 6.0 PF/48. It’s not the biggest improvement, but to give you an idea, last year 6.6 PF/48 would rank you 12th in the league (Doleac), where 6.0 would put you about 23rd (Dalembert).

In the Daily News article, Kurt was quoted as saying:

I believe I led the team in blocked shots or was second (he was second to Dikembe Mutombo, 123-80). I think I led the team in rebounding (he did at 8.30 per game), so I think my numbers speak for themselves.

No disrespect Kurt, but that’s damning with faint praise. The Knicks’ these days aren’t known for their blocking or rebounding. Last year they were 19th in offensive rebounding% (28%), and 16th in blocked shots per game. Kurt Thomas got the most minutes per game last year at the PF/C positions, so shouldn’t he lead the team in those stats by default? That the 56 year old Dikembe Mutombo got more blocks than Kurt with 8 less minutes per game isn’t exactly a feather in Thomas’ hat. Neither is out producing Vin Baker (18Min/G), Othella Harrington (16 Min), or Michael Sweetney (12Min) by playing double their minutes.

In his defense, the Knicks were slightly better with Kurt on the court than they were with him off the court. His +/- was the 4th best on the team last season, and the team was +2 points (per 100poss) with him on the court instead of off. Of course this stat has many different interpretations. It’s possible that his replacements were bad, or the first team that Kurt normally plays were better than the second team that his replacements played with. Kurt has a reputation as a good man-to-man defender, but his opponents positional stats were a bit high for my taste. When he played, the opposing PF or C (depending on where Kurt played) had a PER of about 17/18. That’s a bit above average, and to give you an example, Kurt’s PER was somewhere around 14.

So here I am at a crossroads. Thomas was a favorite of mine since coming to the Knicks after his leg injuries, and he was a long shot to stay as the starter for this long. But now, his value to the team is questionable. He just doesn’t seem to fit their team mold anymore. Thomas worked well with Ewing and Camby along side him, since they provided the shot blocking and interior defense. If Isaiah can use Thomas to upgrade the team (the rumor this week is Shareef Abdur-Rahim) I would be happy with the deal.

Predicting the Finals (The Long Way)

Predicting sports events is a losing endeavor. There is a reason that gambling is a such a lucrative business, for the bookmaker that is. Professional gamblers, like “psychics”, want to sell you their “knowledge”. Even wonder why don’t they use their “gifts” to make themselves rich without your money? Nobody can see into the future, and nobody’s system is good enough to beat Vegas’ odds consistently.

However for those that write about sports, predicting teams is a winning proposition (as long as there is no money on the table). If the prediction is correct, I can refer to it later. If it’s wrong, I’m sure no one will care, since it’s foolish to be held to that kind of accountability. Everybody has their own way of picking who will win. Some people decide which team is more hungry. Some people use which team has more heart. Other will look at which team has more playoff experience. I’m sure these people have varying degrees of success with these methods. I don’t know how anyone could quantify which team has more heart without getting a cardiologist involved.

I prefer something more tangible. As I’m typing this right now, I don’t know who I will predict to win. I’m going to look over all the data I have & make an educated guess at the end. I’m going to use Dean Oliver’s four factors of winning. Despite digging around, I haven’t found how he came to these results. This bothers me a little, but since his work in Basketball on Paper is so thorough and logical, I can let it slide for now. There are actually 2 sides to each factor, an offensive and defensive component.

Factor 1. Shooting (eFG%)

OFFENSIVE

L.A.	48.1%	102%	7th
DET	46.1%	98%	20th

[NOTE: The first number is eFG%, the second is their percentage of the league average, the last is their rank.]

Los Angeles has the advantage here, and it should be no surprise. Shaq led the league in eFG% with his massive FG% (58%). Payton, Malone, and Kobe all had better eFG% than the Pistons’ team average.

On the other hand Detroit is a poor shooting team. Adding Rasheed (47%) slightly improves their percentage, but their big scorers Hamilton and Billups have an eFG% of 46%. Meanwhile Larry Brown’s Ben Wallace experiment has me scratching my head. Wallace’s offensive contributions used to be limited to put backs and easy shots, which gave him a near 50% FG%. This year Brown has asked Wallace to take a more active role, and he’s been horrible (42%). Brown’s logic is to keep teams honest by using a defender on Big Ben, which should give the other Detroit shooters a small edge. Either it hasn’t worked as Detroit is 20th in eFG%, or the Pistons are a worse shooting team than I expected.

DEFENSIVE

L.A.	47.1%	100%	15th
DET	44.1%	107%	2nd

This is where the Pistons shine. Although L.A. is simply average, Detroit is awesome, only behind the Spurs. Which brings an interesting comparison, since Los Angeles beat the Spurs earlier this year. Here’s a little chart of L.A.’s big 4 scoring in that series.

Name	1	2	3	4	5	6	1-2avg	3-6avg
Shaq	19	32	28	28	11	17	25.5	21
Kobe	31	15	22	42	22	26	23	28
Payton	4	7	15	8	5	15	5.5	10.8
Malone	10	13	13	9	7	8	11.5	9.3
?????	32	33	28	23	28	25	32.5	26

Los Angeles lost the first two games, but won the next 4. The difference seemed to be Kobe Bryant, who averaged 5 more points in the Laker’s wins. The last row is Bruce Bowen’s minutes, Kobe’s main defender. Granted Kobe torched him in game 1, but it’s apparent the less Bowen played, the more points Bryant scored. The reason Bowen played less is the Spurs’ offense fizzled and they needed more scorers on the court. San Antonio’s offense was ranked 14th, slightly better than the Pistons. Detroit should learn a lesson from the Spurs. They have to stay close in the game, so Brown won’t be tempted to take his defenders out for more firepower.

Factor 2. Turnovers (TO/100poss)

OFFENSE

LA	14.2	109%	5th
DET	16.2	96%	20th

DEFENSE

LA	15.4	99%	16th
DET	16.5	106%	7th

Again, the Lakers are better on offense, while the Pistons are better on defense. However the Lakers have the edge here. How? They turnover the ball 14.2 times per 100 possessions, but force turnovers 15.4 times, which is a net of +1.2. Meanwhile the Pistons give it up 16.2 times, and get it back 16.5 times, which is a small +.3 net.

Factor 3. Offensive Rebounds (oREB%)

OFFENSE

LA	28.1%	98%	16th
DET	30.1%	105%	9th

DEFENSE

LA	26.7%	108%	5th
DET	28.3%	101%	12th

Getting this far is seems that these two teams have strengths & weaknesses in the opposite areas in just about every aspect. Detroit is better on the offensive glass, while the Lakers are better on the defensive. I can’t tell who has the advantage here. The Lakers’ great offensive rebounding is tempered by their below average offensive rebounding. Detroit is above average in both respects, but nowhere near the Lakers’ efficiency on the defensive end. I would guess that Detroit has a slight edge, but not by much.

Factor 4. Free Throws (FTM/FGA)

OFFENSE

LA	.244	107%	7th
DET	.247	108%	4th

DEFENSE

LA	.222	103%	16th
DET	.202	113%	3rd

I guess I spoke too soon about their strengths & weaknesses. Detroit is clearly superior here at both getting to the line, and keeping their opponents from the charity stripe. One thing to consider is how will Shaq change this? Surely the Pistons will foul Shaq when it suits them, so will this negate this advantage? For example, maybe the Pistons can get away with a foul here & there, because their big men don’t foul often. Giving a few free fouls to Shaq, will that put them in the penalty sooner? It might, but I don’t think it’ll be as much of a factor, since Detroit is so good in this respect.

SUMMARY:
Detroit has an edge in the weaker categories, free throws & rebounding, and Detroit’s defense should put them over the top. However Los Angeles is very efficient when it comes to scoring and not turning the ball over, combined with Detroit’s weakness in these same categories gives the edge to the Lakers. In simpler terms, Los Angeles has a good offense, and an average defense, while Detroit has a good defense, but a bad offense. It’s Detroit’s lack of offense that will hurt them.

Does this mean that the Lakers will definitely win? No. I’ll spare you from the all too familiar “anything can happen in a 7 game series.” Instead I’ll say that the statistics don’t tell the entire story. This entire column is based on the regular season stats. However, Kobe only played 65 games, Shaq 67, and Malone 42. On the other side of the ball, Rasheed only played in 21 games for the Pistons. We really don’t know exactly what these teams are like at full strength. I won’t write off Detroit yet, but I do think they’ll have to do a few things to keep themselves in the game.

No one can stop Shaq for a long period of time. The Pistons will likely do what everyone else has done, which is to put a body on him as best they can & foul him when it’s profitable. Detroit needs to stop the rest of the gang, especially Kobe. If L.A. can jump out to a lead, they’ll force Detroit to do something they’re not good at, which is try to score. The Pistons move at a slow pace, and turning out lots of points very quickly isn’t how they got here. The key for Detroit is to keep the games close. They can do that by keeping the non-Shaq Lakers from scoring, and getting good production out of Hamilton, Billups, & Rasheed.

The key for the Lakers is to score and put the pressure on Detroit. They need points out of someone other than Shaq & Kobe. Malone has done well enough (13PPG), despite facing two great defenders in Garnett and Duncan. Gary Payton has all but disappeared from the offense, scoring 8.8PPG in the playoffs. The Lakers need production from the rest of the gang, whether it be Fisher, George, or Rush. They’ll want to score points off of turnovers, while minimizing any damage the Pistons might cause on the offensive boards and at the free throw line.

I said I would make a prediction at the beginning of this column, and I’ll stick with it. If Detroit wins I won’t be surprised (or sad), but I have to go with the evidence I have. I know I said over a month ago that the Lakers wouldn’t be holding the trophy by summertime, but I’m going with the Lakers, in a hard fought 7 game series. The Lakers’ offense and the Pistons’ lack of offense give Los Angeles the edge they need.

Points Per Possession – The April Edition

If you don’t know what points per possesion is, go back and reread my former column about team stats in the NBA. I had some free time & took the team data from 82games.com & put it into a spreadsheet. Here are the teams ranked by points per 100 possessions:

Offense:

Rank	Team	Pts	Poss	OpPts
1 SAC 103.6 91 113
2 DAL 104.5 92 113
3 MIL 98.6 90 109

4 SEA 97 88 109
5 MIN 94.5 87 108
6 LAL 98.6 90 108
7 MEM 97.3 90 107
8 IND 91.1 86 106
9 DEN 97.1 91 106
10 POR 91.2 85 106
11 LAC 95 89 106
12 SAS 91.5 87 105
13 GSW 93.1 88 105
14 ORL 94.6 90 105
15 DET 89.9 86 104
16 HOU 89.3 86 104
17 MIA 90 86 104
18 BOS 94.8 91 104
19 NOR 92 88 104
20 UTA 88.7 85 104
21 CLE 93.3 90 104
22 NYK 92 89 103
23 PHO 94.1 90 103
24 NJN 89.5 87 102
25 PHI 88.3 87 101
26 WAS 91.9 91 101
27 TOR 85.7 86 100
28 ATL 91.2 90 100
29 CHI 89 90 98

Since I did this a little over a month ago, the Knicks have gotten a little better. They were 24th offensively, and now they’re 22nd. The Spurs seem to be the big winners, moving up 7 spots to #12. I guess that’s what happens when you win 17 straight games or is it the other way around? Maybe improving their offense (combined with the best defense in the league) helps you win a bunch of games in a row. The Nets were previously near average at 18th, and now they’re among the bottom at #24. That seems about right with the injuries they’ve had, especially downgrading from Jason Kidd to Lucious Harris.

The top 6 teams are relatively the same. Sacramento & Dallas are still far beyond everyone else in scoring. Milwaukee has crept into the top 3, while Minnesota dropped to 5th, but at that level the changes aren’t significant.

Let’s check out the other side of the ball.

Defense:

Rank	Team	Pts	Poss	dpPts
1 SAS 85 87 97
2 DET 84.7 86 98
3 IND 86 86 99
4 NJN 87.1 88 99
5 HOU 87.2 86 101
6 MIN 89.7 88 102
7 PHI 90.3 87 103
8 TOR 88.6 85 103
9 LAL 94.2 91 104
10 MEM 94.2 90 104
11 MIA 89.9 86 104
12 DEN 96.1 91 105
13 BOS 95.9 91 105
14 NOR 92.2 87 105
15 NYK 93.4 89 105
16 SAC 97.7 91 106
17 GSW 93.8 88 106
18 UTA 89.9 85 106
19 CHI 95.6 90 106
20 MIL 97.3 90 107
21 CLE 95.7 89 107
22 WAS 97.4 91 107
23 ATL 96.7 90 107
24 POR 92.3 85 108
25 PHO 97.7 90 108
26 DAL 100.3 92 109
27 SEA 97.7 88 110
28 LAC 99.1 89 110
29 ORL 101.5 89 113

Over the last 5 weeks, Detroit has upped their ranking to #2, from #5. We all remember the 75 point streak, and you have to wonder how much of that is due to Rasheed Wallace? Same with Boston who has done the most dramatic change. In February, they were ranked 22nd, and now they are 13th! Is John Carroll that much better than Jim O’Brien?

The Knicks’ defense has slipped 4 spots to #15. So the Knicks have gotten better offensively, and worse defensively. Could this be due to the replacing of Mutombo with Nazr Mohammed?

Just to give you a little perspective on how the teams ranked combined in offense and defense, I’ve computed their net points per 100 possessions. This is done by taking the number of points they score per 100 possessions, and subtract it from the number of points they give up per 100 possessions.

Net Points

Rank	Team	OpPts	dpPts	NetpPts
1 SAS 105 97 8
2 IND 106 99 7
3 SAC 113 106 7
4 DET 104 98 6
5 MIN 108 102 6
6 LAL 108 104 4
7 DAL 113 109 4
8 NJN 102 99 3

9 HOU 104 101 3
10 MEM 107 104 3
11 MIL 109 107 2
12 DEN 106 105 1
13 MIA 104 104 0
14 BOS 104 105 -1
15 NOR 104 105 -1
16 GSW 105 106 -1
17 SEA 109 110 -1
18 PHI 101 103 -2
19 NYK 103 105 -2
20 UTA 104 106 -2
21 POR 106 108 -2
22 TOR 100 103 -3
23 CLE 104 107 -3
24 LAC 106 110 -4
25 PHO 103 108 -5
26 WAS 101 107 -6
27 ATL 100 107 -7
28 CHI 98 106 -8
29 ORL 105 113 -8

Dallas is a surprise at number 7, because they have the 4th worst defense in the league. It just shows you exactly how good their offense is. The converse is true with the Nets, who have trouble scoring, but excel at keeping their opponents from doing the same. I wonder if the teams could help each other with a trade, or if they would loose their edge by dealing from their strength?

Don’t start placing your postseason bets solely on that chart above. There are many factors that aren’t covered by the above list. First is injuries. If the Nets’ don’t get Kidd & Martin back, they’ll be lucky to get past the second round. The Lakers have had their players injured for most of the year, and will probably be healthy for the playoffs. Secondly, home court advantage is a big factor in the playoffs. San Antonio might have the best combination of offense & defense, but right now, they’re a 3rd seed. Having to win a series or two (or three!) on the road will diminish their chances at a championship. Finally there are the unforeseeable events, including getting an extra defender.

Illadelph

Aiyyo I’m all the way way, Phil Phil-lay-lay
People wanna see the way the Illadel play
Yo, look in the mirror, watch what yourself say

— “Dynamite”
The Roots

In our continuing saga, Nazr Mohammed stays out of foul (4) trouble to play 40 minutes. For those without a calculator (or any semblance of math skills), his average last night of 4.8 PF/48min is much lower than his season average (5.8). It could have been even lower except he picked up a foul on a weak call on a loose ball. The Sixer defender (Dalembert?) was falling on the ground without control of the ball, and Nazr just took a swipe at it. If I recall correctly, that was his third foul, and he came out of the game. The last time Nazr played 40 minutes was on January 21, 2002, more than two years ago. It was his third 40+ minute game in a 4 game span. In those 4 games, he averaged 19 points and 17 rebounds.

Othella Harrington and Kurt both were in foul trouble. ‘Thella had 5 fouls in 14 minutes. That’s an average of 17PF in 48min! He scored a grand total of 0 points. His days as the backup PF are numbered. You can see that Wilkens is trying to get Sweetney more minutes, because he would love to have Sweetney as the primary backup. It’s just that the rookie out of Georgetown isn’t ready yet. Wilkens even tried to start Sweetney, but that was a disaster.

The case against Othella Harrington being around much longer keeps growing. Consider:

  • He makes stupid fouls, and the Knicks already have enough big guys to send them into the penalty every quarter.
  • Their most prized rookie (Sweetney) plays the same position.
  • Isaiah Thomas is trying to make the team younger, and Harrington is 30.
  • Vin Baker might sign with the Knicks.
  • Rasheed Wallace has said he would like to sign with the Knicks.
  • Next year will be the last year of his contract.

I doubt he’ll be wearing a Knick uniform next year. His $3.15 million dollar expiring contract will be attractive to a team looking for a little cap space.

One more thing: don’t miss tomorrow’s column, with a special post for the Friday game against Toronto.