Sixers 88 Knicks 96

For most of the first quarter there was nothing new to the Knicks attack. They mostly played a perimeter game consisting of one of three things:

  • Marbury asking for the pick & roll.
  • Marbury faking the pick & roll & driving to the hoop
  • Crawford using his dribble to get an open jumper.

The Knicks big guys were either to join in the perimeter attack (Kurt Thomas on the pick & roll) or do what Nazr Mohammed did. The Knicks’ starting center scored the first of his two first quarter field goals by waiting for a guard to dish the ball after being doubled team on a penetration drive. The second one Nazr earned with an offensive rebound and put back.

However things changed with about 3 minutes left. The Knicks dumped the ball in the low post to Michael Sweetney. It seemed natural to see New York work out of the post. Sweetney didn’t spin continuously in the paint & muscle his way to a jump hook like Larry Johnson used to. He didn’t hold the ball for 10 seconds and drive toward the middle to take a strong running shot in the lane like Patrick Ewing did in his day. Instead the second year player deftly spun to the paint and gently dropped a finger roll into the net.

In fact Sweetney asked for the ball two more times at the start of the second quarter, and the Knicks feed it to him for post-up scores. The announcers declared it was the first time they’ve ever seen him asking for the ball. That’s a long way from the “wide-eyed rookie” I described him as less than a year ago. That description could have fit Trevor Ariza.

Actually Ariza’s skills make him a Jekyl & Hyde player. He’s calm & confident in transition, or when the focus is not on him in the half court. One play in the first quarter exemplifies Ariza’s strengths. He stole the ball near midcourt, and beat out everyone to the ball and laid it in leaving everyone else trailing behind him on the play. It looked like Ariza was jogging while everyone else was running at full speed. Clearly, he was in his element.

On the other hand, Ariza looks lost in the half court game. His first jumper rebounded high over the backboard, causing him to loose faith in his shot. By my count, he passed up 3 open jump shots in the first half. The other end of the court didn’t offer any solace for Ariza, where his one-on-one defense was lacking. Before watching him tonight, I thought the Knicks should trap & press with him in the game. Writing his strengths & weaknesses down on (electronic) paper just reinforces this idea.

Ariza played plenty of minutes thanks to Tim Thomas having his third bad game in a as many attempts. By halftime, Thomas had played 15 minutes and had 0 rebounds with 3 points on 6 attempts. I wonder how many more bad games Thomas can afford before the Knicks hand over the SF starting job to Ariza. The Knicks can’t afford to have Thomas as an overpaid SF sitting on the bench, especially when Shanderson is doing so well in that role. Tim’s huge contract would make him even more impossible to trade if he can’t beat out a 19 year old that every team passed up at least once. I’m sure Wilkens will give him a $12.9M dollar long leash.

Unfortunately Michael Sweetney doesn’t have the luxury Ariza does. Kurt Thomas did what coaches love, all the small things. He blocked two of Iverson’s shots in the first half, and was aggressive on the offensive glass. Thomas ended up with only 8 points, but had 4 offensive rebounds and 4 blocked shots. Even though Sweetney was 4-4 in the first half, he only had 10 minutes in the first half, and didn’t get back into the game until 3:30 in the 3rd quarter. He didn’t take another shot after the first half. Kevin Pelton asked me the other day if this is Sweetney’s team yet. He’d be the starting PF if the other Thomas was ahead of him on the depth chart.

The Knicks best front court was when Michael Sweetney played next to Kurt Thomas. Philly doesn’t have a center that would make New York pay for such a transgression, so the Knicks were able to get away with a small lineup. When bigger centers come to town, Sweetney may loose some of those minutes when the Knicks are forced to play a center bigger than 6’9. Sweetney played only 17 minutes, and that’s with Jerome Williams and Vin Baker getting a combined 3 minutes. Although part of his low minute total can be attributed to 5 personal fouls.

Nazr Mohammed put up great numbers, good enough for the New York press to not be able to use the words “Keith Van Horn” until at least Friday. Unlike Sweetney, Mohammed stayed out of foul trouble which enabled him to play 32 minutes and score 18 points. More impressively he had 3 steals and 3 offensive rebounds.

Simply, the Knicks beat up on a bad team. I can’t blame them for it, because you can only beat who the schedule makers pit you against. New York plays the Clippers at home next, before facing a brutal road trip against 4 top notch opponents. For the time being, I’ll enjoy tonight’s victory & everything that comes with it.

The Knicks Needs, Summer 2004 Part 2

This is the second part of a 2 part series. If you didn’t read the first part, please do so now.

Offensive Rebounding (oREB%)
Offensive 19th, -2.4%
Defensive 8th, +5.5%

Name oReb% dReB%
Sweets 14.5 18.3
Kurt 6.0 20.1
Deke 10.1 19.1
Baker 11.8 11.6
Nazr 11.5 20.3
Thella 6.9 14.3
TimT 3.5 12.7
Penny 3.5 12.0

Offensively the Knicks are hurting on the glass. Sweetney is by far the Knicks’ best offensive rebounder, and next year the Knicks should be giving him more playing time. Nazr Mohammed is a good rebounder as well. As a Knick, Baker was good on the offensive glass, but downright awful on the defensive boards. In fact his Boston numbers show him to be poor on both ends of the glass (8.0%/12.7%). That doesn’t give me confidence in his rebounding.

If there is one person that hurts them the most on the offensive glass, it’s Kurt Thomas. Kurt just plays too far from the hoop to make an effect on the offensive glass. shows that 83% of his shots were jump shots and only 17% were from inside, which is high for a PF. Compare that to Sweetney who’s shot selection consisted of only 39% jump shots and 61% inside shots. Bringing up the rear is Othella Harrington. Thella similarly takes a small percentage of inside shots (39%), hence why the poor rebounding.

Tim Thomas is thrown in because he’s 6-10, and SF are supposed to help out on the glass. You’d expect his numbers to look low because he’s a SF, but it’s known that he’s not aggressive on the boards. Penny Hardaway is not a great rebounder either, but he also spends time at the point & shooting guard spots. Keith Van Horn, as a Knick, was an impressive 6.6% & 15.1%, or 3% better in both offesive and defensive rebounding.

Free Throw Line (FTM/FGA)
Offensive 22nd, -7.2%
Defensve 27th, -11.7%

If you’re a first timer, or new to my blog, you probably don’t know about my distaste for the Knicks’ foul problems. It just kills me to see them commit stupid fouls.

C. Trybanski 19.2
V. Baker 9.5
Harrington 7.4
M. Doleac 5.9
N. Mohammed 5.8
K. Thomas 5.6
M. Sweetney 5.5
D. Johnson 5.4
D. Mutombo 4.5
T. Thomas 4.4
S. Anderson 4.4
F. Williams 3.9
M. Norris 3.8
A. Hardaway 3.2
A. Houston 2.8
S. Marbury 2.6

You really don’t get at how bad the Knicks are until you look at PF/48 around the league. The 50th worst in PF/48 is Udonis Haslem with 5.3PF/48. Of the 16 players listed above, 8 players were worse than that mark. Sweetney was a rookie so you’d expect him to foul often, but he was still better than veterans Kurt Thomas, Nazr Mohammed, Michael Doleac, and Othella Harrington.

C. Trybanski .50 .50
V. Baker .71 .32
M. Sweetney .72 .30
D. Johnson .90 .29
Harrington .74 .29
M. Norris .77 .28
D. Mutombo .68 .27
S. Marbury .83 .27
T. Thomas .81 .26
S. Anderson .76 .22
A. Houston .91 .20
F. Williams .85 .20
A. Hardaway .78 .17
N. Mohammed .53 .16
M. Doleac .86 .14
K. Thomas .84 .13

It’s no surprise that Kurt Thomas has the lowest amount of free throws made per shot attempt, especially with his away from the hoop play. Nazr Mohammed’s ratio would go up about 7 points if he were a 75% free throw shooter instead of 53%. Sweetney’s numbers are very promising in this area, especially for a rookie.

Of the 8 areas I outlined, the Knicks have 5 big weaknesses:

  • Committing Turnovers (23rd, -7.0%)
  • Creating Turnovers (23rd, -7.2%)
  • Offensive Rebounding (19th, -2.4%)
  • Scoring From the Free Throw Line (22nd, -7.2%)
  • Sending Their Opponents to the Free Throw Line (27th, -11.7%)

I could have added shooting efficiency as a 6th weakness as well. Their eFG% was just above league average. It’s not as bad as it looks. For the Knicks to be a great team, they don’t need to fix all their problems. Detroit was 20th in offensive shooting efficiency and offensive turnovers. The Lakers were worse than 15th in 4 of the 8 categories. Minnesota had 3 categories that they were ranked 23rd or worse. The one thing about these teams is that they were very good in many of the categories. Minnesota and Detroit was among the top 5 in 3 factors, while Indy & the Lakers were in the top 5 in 2. Unfortunately the Knicks were not in the top 5 in any factor. They were in the top 10 in 2 categories: defensive shooting efficiency and defensive rebounding. Getting an offense upgrade could push their eFG% into the top 10 as well.

It’s clear that they have problems with the center and forward spots. In the areas that the Knicks need the most help, Kurt Thomas is especially weak in at least three of these, while Nazr Mohammed and Othella Harrington are weak in two. Giving Sweetney major minutes (or even making him the starter) would be a good start. Sweetney’s strengths fit the Knicks’ weaknesses. He is a good shooting PF, that gets to the line, is agressive on the offensive boards, and at worst won’t send opponents to the line more often than Kurt Thomas. They need to unload one or more of Othella, Nazr or Kurt for another big man that doesn’t foul as often. They can hang on to one, or even two, but all three just compounds the problem.

Sweetney (and a healthy Houston) are the only internal options the Knicks have. To improve on next year, they’ll need some help from outside. So how do the three commonly rumored players fit in?

Name	eFG%	TO/48	STL/48	oREB%	DrawF	PF/48
Crawford 45.0 3.3 1.9 1.5 5.8 2.7
Dampier 53.5 2.6 .66 14.3 18.5 4.5
A. Walker 46.4 3.4 1.1 6.6 7.7 3.6

Let’s start with the guy that I think makes the biggest difference: Dampier. Dampier’s arrival originally meant Othella’s & Nazr’s departure. Not only would the Knicks get rid of a ton of fouls, but they pickup someone that lives inside the paint, shoots at a high percentage, gets to the line fairly often, can rebound, and by my last account can defend. The only thing to not like about the deal is the length of Dampier’s contract, which was a big point of contention. If the Knicks can get him for 3 years, without losing another major cog like Sweetney, I would be ecstatic. If I were the Knicks GM, I’d even take him for 4 years, but would have to take a long look in the mirror if his agent wanted 5 or more guaranteed years.

If Crawford comes to the Knicks, he’ll be taking Shandon Anderson’s place. If Houston isn’t healthy, Crawford will be the starting SG. Crawford’s FG% (38.6%) is horrible, but his eFG% (45.0%) is more respectable due to the number of 3 pointers he hits (2.1 3PM/G). Crawford took 16.5 shot attempts per game, which is more than double than Anderson’s. This could improve the Knicks’ offense by taking away shots from inefficient scorers like Penny Hardaway.

Crawford is by reputation a good ball handler. His turnover per 48 minutes is the same as all the Knick guards combined (3.3). Crawford gets the same amount of steals as Stephon Marbury, so he should address the Knicks’ turnover woes on both ends of the ball. Crawford is only 24 years old, and considering Houston’s health, signing him to a long term deal would be a plus for New York. Of course the loss of Frank Williams in a Crawford trade would be a minus, but as long as New York has Marbury and Houston’s health is up in the air, they need a SG more than a backup PG.

Of the three, Antoine Walker makes the least sense for New York. On the plus side, he doesn’t foul often, has a good handle for a PF, and he gets a decent amount of steals for a big man. On the negative side, he plays further outside than Kurt does. Walker’s shot selection is suspect, as his 3 point percentage last year dropped to a pathetic 27%. He doesn’t get fouled often and doesn’t get many offensive rebounds. Walker wouldn’t address many of the Knicks needs.

In any case I doubt Dallas would trade Walker to the Knicks. Antoine has a huge expiring contract and the Knicks are trying to trade their lesser expiring contracts (Othella & Deke). I don’t know if New York will be able to get Dampier, with the Warriors making that last deal for a backup center. However interest for Dampier around the league seems to be slow. Dampier wants what’s best for him (a long deal), and New York has been reported to have the most long term interest in him. Golden State would rather not loose him without any compensation. So there is still hope.

It has been reported that Isiah Thomas is currently in Chicago to iron out a deal for Crawford. Zeke and Paxson have been playing a game of chicken, and they’re going to have a showdown in the middle of town to see who blinks first. I’d expect that we’re going to know for sure whether or not Crawford will be traded to the Knicks by the end of the week. After that Isiah should know what pieces he has left for any other deals.

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 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 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

Knicks 102 Wizards 98

It was one of those games as a fan, you love to watch. There was a little bit of everything for everyone. The Knicks are still fighting for a better playoff spot, so it was a meaningful game. Even though they clinched a playoff spot, a few wins might move them up to a higher seed. However since the playoffs are so close, the Knicks also want to give a rest to their starters. They don’t want their best players tired in their first round matchup. So the Knicks were trying to win an important game with playoff indications on the strength of their (mostly) young players. If that isn’t enough to get the fans’ blood pumping, the game was close throughout, and went into overtime.

With all the Knick’s youth on the floor, it was like a glimpse into the future. The only regulars were Tim Thomas (because of a lack of SF depth due to Penny’s stomach virus) and the prehistoric center Dikembe Mumtombo. For most of the crunch time, it was DerMarr Johnson, Frank Williams, and Michael Sweetney on the floor. Frank Williams, one of my favorite underused Knicks, didn’t play exceptionally well. He did hit a “clutch” layup, but only shot 2-3 with 3 TOs and 4 ASTs in 32 minutes. Of course he played better than Morris, who shot a horrible 1-8 and had only 1 assist with his 1 turnover.

One of DerMarr Johnson’s weaknesses over his career has been his average shooting. His career FG% is just 38%, and more importantly his career eFG is an unspectacular 45%. Yesterday he shot 54% with an eFG% of 62%! I couldn’t pinpoint anything different, except going to the hoop more often, including a two handed jam. His shots just seem to be going down.

DerMarr is an interesting player. He has Reggie Miller’s frame, but other than that has little resemblance to one of the most efficient scorers over the last decade. He’s an average scorer, at best, and lacks Miller’s incredible shooting eye. Like most players that come out of Cincy, the former Bearcat is an athletic defender. The 2002 Basketball Prospectus called him “one of the best defensive prospects in basketball.” From what I’ve seen the 23 year old is still a prospect. He was no match for Ron Artest at SF in Indy the other day. His skinny 6-9 body with long arms is more suitable for defending against SGs.

MSG’s player of the game was the Knicks’ first round pick Michael Sweetney, and rightfully so. Sweetney was, as Clyde Frazier likes to say, omnipresent under the boards. He picked up 5 offensive rebounds, and 7 on the defensive end. Combined with Mutombo, they did an excellent job countering the Wizards advantage on the glass. As for his offensive game, Sweetney shot 6-9 and I noticed he plays a little bit better when given ample playing time. In the 8 games he’s been given 20 minutes or more, he has shot 22-40 or 55%. Last night, he showed a nice array of post up moves. At one point he turned a near blocked shot into a left handed layup by adjusting mid flight. I’ve seen him make this type of adjustment at least twice on the season, and they are impressive to watch.

These last few games should be interesting to watch. The Knicks’ might be playing these guys more often. Sadly, it could the last time you see any of them in a Knicks’ uniform. Isaiah Thomas has a trigger finger when it comes to trades. Any or all of them could be gone if he feels he can net a better player in the process. In a way it’s a shame, since I’ve grown to like all three, and can see potential in all of them. There is something special in sports when you watch a young player develop into a good or great player. However sports is a business, and I would trade any of these guys if it meant getting a top notch player.

Should We Talk About The Weather?

In case you haven’t already I highly suggest you meandering over to the APBR analysis discussion group. There is a great dialogue going about what stats do and don’t tell us about basketball. To whet your appetite, I’m only going to give you a little piece of the first few exchanges, which nowhere gets into the depth of the discussion.

If you’re already sold, go to this page and read the first thread on the page (#3513). Just promise you’ll come back tomorrow ;-)

If you still need some selling, then I’ll start you off with an excerpt from the post that started it all.

From: “dan_t_rosenbaum”
Date: Thu Mar 25, 2004 10:30 pm
Subject: The Problem with Possessions-Based Linear Weights

…The second approach is what I will call the possessions-based approach. The essence of this approach is to count every contribution to either points scored or a failed possession and to count it only once. This is certainly the approach used to construct John Hollinger’s PER and its lies behind the construction of Dean Oliver’s offensive and defensive ratings. Also, a large fraction of the arguments on this board are about the proper way to do this possessions-based accounting.

So what is wrong with this approach? The problem is that there are numerous contributions to successful or failed possessions for which there are no statistics – a good pick, an ineffective blockout, a good entry pass that leads to a score but not an assist, the presence of a shot blocker that keeps his opponents from driving to the hoop. One could easily argue that the unmeasured contributions to successful or failed possessions are more than the measured contributions, e.g. points, assists, steals, etc…

Now mind you this is only 2 of about 20 paragraphs that were posted. The rest of Dan’s post spans a number of intelligent issues, including the NBA’s efficiency statistic, the difference between basketball and baseball statistics, possession based statistics, and linear weights. The first two to reply were Dean Oliver and Bob Chaikin, who within a half an hour of each other asked Dan the same question. They wanted him to “easily argue that the unmeasured contributions to successful or failed possessions are more than the measured contributions.”

Dan replied with:

…What do we measure on the offenive end?

1. We measure which player touched the ball last on every field goal attempt and we measure the outcome of those field goal attempts.
2. On successful attempts, we sometimes measure the player that touched the ball second to last.
3. We measure personal fouls on a particular player when those personal fouls lead to free throws and we measure the outcome of those free throws.
4. On failed field goal attempts, we measure the player who regains possession of the ball.
5. And finally, when possession turns from one team to the other without a field goal or free throw attempt, we measure who is responsible for that “turnover” of possession.

That is a lot and that is much better than what we measure on the defensive end. But what contributions to scoring or not scoring do we not measure?

1. We do not measure which players successfully navigate the ball to the frontcourt.
2. We do not measure which players initiate an offense with an effective non-assist pass. In fact, we fail to measure all of the non-assist passes that contribute to scoring (or non-scoring), such as all of the passes that lead to shooting fouls.
3. We do not measure which players get themselves open in out of bounds situations.
4. We do not measure screens on the ball or off the ball.
5. We do not measure which players keep the floor spaced leading to fewer turnovers and higher percentage field goal attempts. It is pretty tough to have a successful field goal attempt when you are
double teamed because of poor spacing.
6. We do not measure which players tend to hold onto the ball for an inordinate amount of time leading to forced shots or shot clock violations.
7. We do not measure which players correctly run plays and which ones do not.
8. We do not measure players failing to get open leading to a turnover for the player holding the ball.
9. We do not measure players with good hands grabbing an errant pass that would have been a turnover for the passer.
10. We do not measure the player who keeps a possession alive by tipping an offensive rebound to a teammate or by blocking out an effective defensive rebounder…

A few hours later Dean Oliver volleyed with:

Most of these unmeasured things aren’t that hard to accomplish (or to avoid, if they’re negative). I can go out and set picks. A lot of these 10 unmeasured things are taken as givens. Guys know how to do these things and, if they don’t, they aren’t as important as the measured things. That’s the conventional wisdom. Perhaps not right, but I think there is a significant burden in showing that these unmeasured factors are more important than the measured ones…Depends on how you make that list. It’s ALWAYS easier to make a longer list of unmeasured things than measured things. For baseball, things that affect whether a run is being scored:

1. The signs flashed by the 3rd base coach.
2. Whether the man on first is running on the pitch or not.
3. Whether the man on first saw the signs.
4. How the fielders are positioned (now starting to get measured).
5. Whether the hitter has that black stuff under his eyes or not.
6. Whether the pitcher is in the sun and the hitter is in the shade.
7. How good the hitter is at reading speed of pitches.
8. How fast a hitter gets out of the batter’s box.
9. Whether the hitter is swinging for the fences or for a base hit.


My point is that you can break down the games of baseball or basketball to an infinite degree. I think baseball and basketball offenses are broken down pretty well by stats. What’s left over are small variations of strategy or training. Do they matter? Yes, but do we miss a significant amount of value by not measuring them? I don’t think so…


I really don’t want to go any further, because I’ve paraphrased enough. It’s such a great conversation that continues with some interesting twists that I won’t get into. I recommend going there & reading through the posts, or you won’t know what you’re missing. You know it’s a good post when a few more threads have stemmed from it, including “List of unmeasured stuff to track”, and “The Knowledgeable guys…”

Go check it out!

LA Clippers 96, New York 94

I had it, and I lost it,
Now you’ve got to
help me get it back again

— “Lost It”
The Hippos

Yesterday I had the good fortune of watching the Knicks play again. But what if you actually had a life & were doing something else last night other than watching the game? How would you learn about the game?

I imagine most people would pickup a paper, or if you?re reading this probably go online to read a recap of the game. ESPN?s recap spends a lot of time on what happened in the last few minutes to win or loose a game, but they usually don?t mention what happened in the rest of the game. Sure they?ll tell you how many points a certain player scored, and any spectacular plays that happened early on. But most likely it?s the last few minutes that they?ll concentrate on. I like to look at the box score to get a fuller picture of how the team played.

The Knicks outscored the Clippers in 3 of the 4 quarters, but it was Los Angeles? big first quarter that was the deciding factor. The Knicks had a slight edge in FG%, FT%, and turnovers. The rebounding edge went to the Clippers who had 3 more offensive boards, but maybe the biggest statistical advantage was the three point shots. L.A. hit 6 of 17, while the Knicks were only 2-11, a paltry percentage. I can recall from watching the game that at least twice the Clippers had an uncontested three point shot due to a poor defensive rotation.

Both teams attempted lots of free throws. Looking at the NBA team stats, teams average between 19 and 28 FTA per game, and shoot an average of 66%-80%. This night, the teams would both exceed the maximums in each. The Knicks hit 30 of 33 free throws (91%), and the Clips were 24 of 29 (83%). You can verify that both teams are generous with sending their opponents to the charity stripe (without accounting for pace).

Looking over the individual efforts, Marbury scored 28 points in 45 minutes. That means he sat out for only 3 minutes. I looked to see how much the Knick backup PGs played, and ?lo & behold at the bottom there are two DNP-CD?s next to Norris and Frank Williams? names. Most likely, Penny played the point while Stephon was resting. Not a good sign for Frank Williams? fans.

Tim Thomas was next in scoring with 22 points in 39 minutes. Other than hitting all of his free throws, the rest of his stat sheet was unspectacular with 4 boards, 2 assists, only 1 turnover (good for the amount of minutes he played) and 5 fouls (not so good).

Kurt Thomas had 4 fouls in only 16 minutes, Tim Thomas had 5, Othella had 4, and Sweetney had 3 minutes. In the ?why didn?t they get more minutes? department, I would nominate the Knicks? starting centers of the two games before. Nazr Mohammed seemed to have a good night. After his poor outing yesterday, he had 12 rebounds with 5 on the offensive end, in only 23 minutes. Mutombo had 3 offensive boards in 13 minutes. Statistically, the Knicks might have been better giving Harrington?s minutes to Nazr or Deke (by having Kurt Thomas at the 4 instead of the 5). Harrington had a horrible statistical night, 6 points, 4 fouls, and only 3 boards in 25 minutes.

On the other end of the box score, Richardson, Brand, and Maggette combined for more than half of their teams? points (58), rebounds (22), free throws (15/18), and blocks (3). Richardson and Jaric hit all of the Clips 6 treys. Simmons and Wilcox provided some spark off the bench with 21 points and 12 rebounds.

From the box score I would think that the teams were pretty evenly matched. The only differences that stick out are the 4 more three pointers, and the 3 more offensive rebounds. It was a game that could have gone either way, and since I witnessed it, I know this was certainly true.