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. 82games.com 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.

NAME		PF/48
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.

NAME		FT%	FTM/FGA
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.


Summary:
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.

The Knicks Needs, Summer 2004 Part 1

The rumors have been rampant on who will be traded to the Knicks this offseason. Erick Dampier. Jamal Crawford. Antoine Walker. Even Vince Carter – yeah right! Message boards are lighting up with differing opinions on which would be the best fit for New York. Since each one plays a different position, each one potentially offers a different set of skills to the Knicks. So the question should become, what areas do the Knicks need improvement in the most?

First it helps to know which factors are most important for a successful team. Dean Oliver says there are four factors for a team’s success: shooting percentage (eFG%), turnovers (TO/poss), offensive rebounding (OReb%), and scoring from the line (FTM/FGA). Each stat has an offensive and defensive component. Your shooting percentage may be great, but if you also let other teams get a good look at the basket then you’re not getting an advantage in this category. Additionally some of these are weighted more than others. For example, shooting percentage is most relevant to winning. Turnovers are slightly more important than offensive rebounding. The least important is scoring from the free throw line.

By looking at these factors, we can see what areas the Knicks need to improve. Let’s take a look at each one & see how the Knicks fared last season.

Shooting Efficiency (eFG%)
Offense 13th, +0.6%
Defense 8th, +2.1%

I’m going to introduce a set of numbers that I’ll use in each section. The first number is the Knicks rank among all 29 teams in this category, the second is how much better than the league average they were. In this case, on offense the Knicks ranked 13th in eFG%, and were 0.6% better than league average. On defense they ranked 8th, and were +2.1% above the rest of the NBA.

This might come as a slight shock to Knick fans, either to find out their defense was better than their offense, or that they were pretty good in limiting their opponents shot selection. This is because 4 of their 5 starters (Marbury, Houston, Tim Thomas and Nazr Mohammed) aren’t better known for their offensive game than their defensive prowess. In retrospect, Houston and Mohammed didn’t play a full season, and shared time with offensively-challenged yet better defenders in Anderson and Mutombo (at least in help defense).

It’s impossible to assign blame or credit for every shot attempt. There are a myriad of things that can happen on any NBA trip down the court, from fast breaks to double teams to switching defenders. In addition, traditional NBA stats give an incomplete picture of individual defense. However thanks to 82games.com, we can see what each of the 5 positions shot against the Knicks & try to narrow the field down from there.

The Knicks were very good on the perimeter, keeping point guards and shooting guards at bay with a 44.0% and 44.8% respectively. The other three positions were the Knicks’ Achilles heal, with an eFG% just above 47%. Tim Thomas’ defense was plain awful, letting opponents shoot at a high 51.1%, and Nazr Mohammed wasn’t far behind at 49.1%. Surprisingly Sweetney and Mutombo held their opponents to good percentages. Actually Sweetney was great at PF (43.7%) and horrible when out of position at center (52.7%).

If Allan Houston is healthy all of next year, their offensive efficiency should improve. H20 is a career 50.0% eFG% shooter, at a moderately high usage rate (16.3 FGA/G over the last 5 years). The players that hurt the Knicks offensively in this area were Anfernee Hardaway (40.9% eFG 9.7FGA/G), Frank Williams (42.8% eFG 3.7FGA/G), and DerMarr Johnson (43.8% eFG 4.6FGA/G). Frank Williams gets a pass because of his ridiculously good opponents? eFG% (40.5% eFG), the low number of shots that he takes, and his youth. If anyone needs to shoot less it’s the Knicks’ 6th man Hardaway. He’s had a decline since his first year in Phoenix (49.4%) and is nowhere as near as good as he was his first 6 years in Orlando (50.7%).

At 24 years old, DerMarr is the Knicks’ “special project”. So far in his NBA career, which was derailled by a car accident, DerMarr has shown to be a poor shooter, and his defense which was touted in the first Basketball Prospectus, may have declined as well. Johnson will attempt to improve his shooting (and his game) this summer.

Turnovers (TO/POSS)
Offense 23rd, -7.0%
Defense 23rd, -7.2%

If the Knicks want to make a big improvement next year, turnovers is the first place Isiah should look. New York was atrocious on both sides of the ball. Looking at turnovers per 48 minutes, there isn’t a single qualifying Knick in the top 50. On the other side of the ball, Marbury is the only Knick ranked at #46 in steals per 48 minutes. Meaning they just don’t have anyone that is good in either of these categories who plays a lot of minutes. Othella Harrington (3.6 TO/48 & 0.66 STL/48) and Vin Baker (3.8/1.07) are the worst, while Penny is the best (2.6/1.65).

Of course all defensive turnovers aren’t registered with a steal. A defender can take an offensive charge or a player can dribble the ball of his foot due to defensive pressure. The NBA doesn’t keep track of these stats, but our good friends at 82games.com do. For every team, they keep track on both ends of the court of offensive fouls, bad passes, ball handling errors, and miscellaneous turnovers. Here’s a chart with some of the best & worst teams & how they commit or force turnovers:

Offense
Rnk Team Foul Pass Drib Misc

1 DAL 106 577 299 13
2 MIN 152 454 398 29
23 NYK 188 570 491 34
28 HOU 170 595 547 50
29 WAS 168 645 586 33

Defense
Rnk Team Foul Pass Drib Misc

1 DEN 216 546 515 23
2 MEM 156 638 569 20
23 NYK 149 450 507 23
28 ORL 151 487 431 37
29 CLE 97 529 418 25

With the 5 teams I picked, it seems that dribbling is one area that could indicate a team’s turnover tendencies. (Of course more research would have to be made before there is a definite correlation found.) On the other hand a team like Memphis creates a lot of turnovers by forcing bad passes, while Denver is superb at taking charges. The chart puts into perspective the Knicks numbers. On offense they are causing too many fouls, and they don’t have great ball handlers. Defensively, they are woeful in challenging the passing lanes.


Stay tuned for Part 2 where I will check out the Knicks performance at the offensive glass and free throw line. Also I’ll take a quick look at the three that are rumored to come to New York & what areas they might help or hurt.

My Attempt To Make The Third Week In July Erick Dampier Week

According to the Newsday, the Dampier trade is highly unlikely in the form it was announced a few days ago. In their offseason of acquiring mediocre players, Golden State has traded for a backup center in 35 year old Dale Davis (13/16/-6.2), so now they have little need to trade for another one in Nazr Mohammed (19/18/-2.8). Supposedly the Warriors are now looking for a small forward, which the Knicks don’t have to spare.

Without a sign & trade, the Knicks have little chance to sign Dampier. Either they have to find a third dancing partner, or pray that Dampier signs for the MLE. Of course Erick is coming off of a career year (sometimes called a fluke year), so this may be his last chance at a large payday. Taking a one year deal for only $5M could cost him somewhere in the neighborhood of $50M if something goes wrong.

This is the second deal that has been prematurely reported to be done by the New York newspapers. The first was the Crawford (SG:18/16 PG:13/17 / +3.8) deal. Apparently that deal didn’t come to fruition due to Isiah and Paxson playing chicken. The point of conention is Isiah trying to dump Moochie Norris instead of the more valuable expiring contract (also known as Dekembe Mutombo). Of course with the Dampier deal now “dead”, the papers are rumoring (it’s now a verb) that Isiah is trying to get the Crawford deal back on track.

Stay tuned. I’m sure a deal will turn up before October.

Dampier: Peak Or Fluke

In my last column, I wrote that Dampier would be a good addition to the Knicks. Well not everyone feels the same way as I do. I received an email from a (hopefully) long time reader who pointed me to an APBR_analysis post of his regarding Dampier dated almost 3 months ago.

From: bob chaikin (bchaikin@bballsports.com)
Date: Fri Apr 2, 2004 2:31 pm

…dampier may be valuable now (with the individual numbers he’s putting up), but almost certainly won’t be as a free agent – i.e. if someone looking at him is expecting this kind of performance in the future from him he won’t repeat a season like this with any consistency, if at all. it can easily be shown that dampier is having, as JohnH would say, a fluke season (see posting 3370), a fluke good one in this case…

he’s already in his 8th season and 29 years old, and up and to this point has never demonstrated this kind of production before, despite getting substantial playing time. and although he looks like a monster offensive rebounder now, its actually his defensive rebounding that has improved more (from last season). his touches/min and player attributes (what he does once he gets the ball) are pretty much the same as last season (he is getting fouled more however), and in actuaity his touches/min is down from prior years, as is his shot blocking – those two right there would worry me. he is shooting better than ever, getting to the line better than ever, and committing fouls the least amount of his career. i’d bet he won’t keep this up, not for any extended period of time in the future. i can’t recall any player that was in the league for 7 seasons that had his career year in his 8th season and kept up that kind of production for any length of time…

…if dampier is traded or signed as a free agent next season by another team expecting from him super rebounding numbers for a few more seasons, they will most likely be disappointed, especially when his rebounding numbers come down along with his shooting, he commits more fouls, and his shot blocking doesn’t return to previously high levels (two years ago he was blocking almost 6% of all opponents shots, now he’s just a little better than half that)…

Part-time KnickerBlogger and full time sports guru, Bob feels that Dampier’s season was a fluke. That is he’s highly unlikely to repeat last year’s performance in the future. In his evaluation, he says to expect more fouls, a lower FG%, less rebounds, and the same or less number of blocks. Browsing through the APBR_analysis message board, I found another part-time KnickerBlogger that has a different opinion on Dampier.

From: Kevin Pelton
Date: Sun Apr 4, 2004 5:54 pm

…Dampier pretty clearly is not having a fluke season, in that he had not “leveled” prior to this year. Before last season, he had leveled off at a sub-mediocre level of performance, but he dramatically improved last year — in fact, in a point I don’t think anyone else has pointed out, JohnH has Dampier as one of his fluke players this year.

Take a look at this graph of Dampier’s efficiency by my formula divided by replacement level year-by-year:
http://www.sonicscentral.com/dampiereff.jpg

That’s not a player who’s leveled off. PER shows a similar pattern, so I didn’t bother graphing it.

To quote JohnH, “Dampier enjoyed a career year at the age of 28, which means I’ll be looking very closely at him this season. The Fluke Rule says that players who make sudden jumps in productivity after 27 almost always come back to earth the next season, but 28-year-olds do less severely than others.”

Well, Dampier hasn’t come back to earth, he’s been even better. Two years of well above-average play in the middle seems an awful lot to explain away to a fluke to me. Dampier is extremely unlikely to repeat this year’s All-Star level performance in the future, but given the current level of centers in the NBA, he’s still a very valuable free agent…

Fluke or peak, there is one thing that all of us agree on:

Bob: “paying a 29 year old for one really good season with a contract going for 4 or 5 at mega bucks IMHO would be ill-advised.”

Kevin: “I would be careful of giving Dampier too long of a contract or too much money.”

It’s not the amount of money that Dampier would be getting that worries me, as much as the number of years. The Knicks are bent on never getting under the cap, and as long as the Dolans are willing to pay out a luxury tax, I guess it doesn’t matter if they’re $1M over the cap, or $50M over it. If the Knicks have to overpay to get someone to agree to come here, then so be it. It really doesn’t affect us in the short term, since we’re nowhere near being under the cap.

The question is how much longer and at what level Dampier can keep up his production? At this price, he’ll be unmovable for 5 years. So, between him and Marbury, the Knicks will have at least 4 more years of cap hell (which brings us to 2008).

Going into next year, Dampier is a clear upgrade over Nazr Mohammed. He is superior in every measure, offensively and defensively. The Knicks will see some improvement if they have Dampier starting next year. If Dampier is a “fluke” or fizzles out in a few years, then the Knicks will be stuck with an untradeable contract until 2009. Simply put, it’s a short term gain for a long term hit.

Dampier A Knick?

[NOTE: The notation in parenthesis is (Offensive PER / Defensive PER / +/- Roland Rating). For more information on this, look here, but quickly a PER of 15 is about average, while the higher the +/- is the better off the player.]

According to the NY Post, the Knicks are waiting for Dampier to choose their deal over more money with the Hawks. Apparently the Knicks are offering Dampier a 6 year contract starting at $9M. The Hawks can offer him a maximum deal, because well they’re the Hawks. The Knicks would send Othella Harrington and Nazr Mohammed to Golden State in this sign and trade deal.

Dampier has had his second fine season in a row (21/14/+1.1). Last year, he had a career high in PTS, REB, FG%, and minutes played. Dampier’s biggest improvement is in his FG% which has gone up every year since 2001 (40%, 44%, 50%, 54%). Erick’s other strength seems to be his offensive rebounding, where he got 14.3% of all possible offensive rebounds. How good is that?

Name	OREB%	DREB%
Damp 14.3% 22.2%
Deke 10.1% 19.1%
Nazr 11.5% 20.3%
Shaq 10.1% 20.3%
Ben 10.7% 22.2%
Brand 10.1% 16.8%
Duncan 9.4% 24.3%

It’s possible that Dampier’s numbers were inflated by weak rebounders on his team, or aided by the Warriors’ system, but nonetheless they are impressive. His rebounding should drop as a Knick, but exactly how much will be unknown.

In Harrington & Mohammed, the Knicks are giving away an average of 6.6PF/48 minutes. Looking at their worst offenders in this category, only one of their top 4 might be back next year (Vin Baker). Dampier only averages 4.5PF/48, which gives New York an improvement in this area. This is important for New York, as they were third worst team in the league in letting their opponents get to the foul line.

If they didn’t get a better player, Nazr (18.8/17.7/-2.8) would have been the Knicks starting center. His offensive PER was a respectable 18.8, but he gave almost all of it back on the defensive end (17.7). Also his propensity to commit fouls (5.8PF/48) kept him from staying in the game at times. Harrington (10/16/-3.7) was at his best decent, but he received less playing time as Sweetney developed into a solid option near the end of the season.

Everything looks like a steal for New York until you hit the books. Golden State gets a young serviceable backup center in Nazr for 2 years and only $5M per. Othella’s $3M comes off the books this year. That’s $8M in cap relief in two years, which is important for a team like Golden State that actually likes to be able to sign free agents without the help of another team.

On the other hand the deal the Knicks are reportedly giving to Dampier is a 6 year deal that starts at $9M. That means in 2009 Dampier will be in the last year of his contract, making about $14.5M (with a 10% yearly raise) at the age of 35. Erick has been healthy the last three years, but a peek at his stats show that he was injury plagued the three years prior. On his list of most similar players are Marvin Webster and Pervis Ellison. Webster stayed healthy until leaving the league, while Ellison’s other nickname was “Out Of Service” Pervis for all the time he missed.

If it goes through, I think this is a good short term deal for the Knicks. Dampier may not put up the monster numbers he did last year, but it’s certainly an upgrade over the Knicks’ centers last year. As a team, New York was outplayed at the center position (15/17/-1.8). There are two distinct risks with this deal. The first is Dampier’s health. Six years is a long time for a deal this big, and nobody knows how those early injuries will affect him down the road. Just last year, Dampier missed the end of the season due to his ankle.

The second is who is the Dampier the Knicks will be getting? There is the Dampier that for the first 6 years of his career was a poor shooting, oft injured center. Then there is the Dampier of the last two years, who has a nicely rounded game. Which one will appear in a New York uniform? Also how will his rebounding numbers change now that he is outside of Golden State? The Knicks are bent on never getting under the salary cap, so acquiring a player like Dampier in exchange for two bench guys seems like a short term no-brainer.

Basketball Authors Wanted

Recently I had plenty of free time due to a solo business trip. In case you’ve never been on one, a solo business trip is akin to being put in jail. Without your wife, your friends, and the comforts of home, you just try to find ways of killing time.

I never knew that going to the book store can be an activity on it’s own. Near to where I was staying was a large book store. On the two nights I visited, the place was jumping. Seriously for a book store, I couldn’t believe how many people were there. There were solo book readers, friends sharing passages in their respective magazines, and groups meeting in the cafe. It was a disco for the literate and sober.

With nothing to do other than browse their large selection, I spent a good amount of time in the sports section. There were about 10 baseball books I would have happily purchased. The selection was large and diverse when it came to baseball. You could get books on baseball statistical analysis, books on the history of baseball, books on the physics of baseball, and biographical books ranging from players, to managers, to umpires. I could name about 5 more categories, but I’ll spare you from the Benjamin Buford Blue impersonation.

On the other hand, almost all the books in the basketball section fell into one of three categories:

  • Books by college coaches
  • Books by outrageous players (Barkley, Rodman, Dawkins)
  • Books on coaching basketball

I’m not too keen on college basketball. Certainly I like watching March Madness, but given the option I would rather read a book on the pros. Books written by outlandish attention-craving players don’t really do it for me either. For those that are ready to point out that statistical books about basketball exist, I already own Basketball on Paper and all the Prospectii. There was a single book on the history of the NBA, which I purchased but is more of a businessman’s book than fan’s. There just aren’t many basketball books that interest me.

The last book on basketball that I’ve read is The Jordan Rules, by Sam Smith. Despite of what you think of Smith, the book is an interesting read. It was published more than a decade ago, so it was fascinating to see what things were like back then. I wonder how many kids today are unaware that there was a time when Jordan’s leadership was questioned. Years ago Michael had spent 6 seasons as one of the best players in the league, but without a lot of playoff success. His inability to win a championship had columnists labeling him as a selfish player. Six championship rings later, no one would dare question his Airness in such a matter. However the book is about the Bulls’ first championship run, before his greatness was bronzed.

Unless you were a member of the 90-91 Bulls, you won’t be able to verify the book’s authenticity. Whether or not the stories are true, it’s certainly an entertaining page turner, as Sam is good at creating the mood of the team. Often times we don’t know anything about a player other than what they do on the court. In my experiences, I’ve seen that often a person’s on court demeanor is different from his off court one. Nice guys can step onto the floor and become the meanest SOBs you’ve ever met. Quiet guys turn into field generals. Funny guys loose their sunny disposition. Guys that would cross town to give you the shirt off their back won’t bother to chase a loose ball.

Sam Smith goes into the locker room to let you know what everyone is like off the court. It’s just like any work place, with conflicts left and right. The bench guys want more time. Pippen wants more money. Phil Jackson uses Bill Cartwright as the team’s pincushion in a complicated psychological ploy to motivate the team. Grant is fighting off losing his job to a younger player. Everybody wants the ball more. Everyone is jealous of Krause’s obsession with the unknown Toni Kukoc.

Jordan is the central figure in the book, but he’s a solitary mysterious figure. Michael is the genius that suffers no fools. He criticizes the GM frequently. He blames his teammates when the team looses. Seemingly his only concerns are his golf game, playing poker, the scoring title and winning a championship. The Jordan Rules refer not to the Pistons’ defensive rules that kept Jordan in check, but rather how the rules are changed for Michael off the court due to his fantastic ability on the court. It’s these Jordan Rules that help separate him from the rest of the team.

Unfortunately Smith’s book is the only one I’ve been able to find that illustrates the NBA in such an entertaining manner. I can’t even begin to count how many baseball books that I’ve read in my lifetime (25? 50? maybe 100?). Unfortunately the hoops section of any bookstore is far behind their hardball bretheren. There is no basketball version of the American classic Ball Four. Nothing as indepth as the Bill James’ Hoops Historical Abstracts would be. No Physics of Basketball to tell me why some shots go around the world before dropping. No Big Book Of Basketball Lineups to pass the time with franchise tidbits. Nothing as funny for hardwood lovers as Nice Guys Finish Last. The NBA is still 75 years behind MLB, so maybe this generation of youngsters that fill the playground courts will be tomorrow’s authors of great basketball literature.

A New Standard?

Last night I had a nice column written about baseball, basketball, and statistics. Unfortunately when I hit the save button, my browser notified me that blogger.com was down for scheduled repairs. Hitting the back button, revealed to me what I had dreaded, that my entire blog was gone. In another parallel universe I imagine my readers enjoyed an entertaining column. Barring a Stan Lee spectacular bending of the laws of physics sending me to that universe to save my blog, I’m just going to have to rewrite the darn thing.

In baseball there is a simple notation to represent hitters. I don’t know when it became common to represent players this way, but I remember as a kid that when a batter came up to the plate you saw three numbers that were suppose to represent their hitting skills. For example it might say “Jackson .286 – 32 – 110” (BA – HR – RBI) for Reggie’s first season as a Yankee. Just three numbers would tell you that Reggie was a better hitter than fellow teammate Roy White .268 – 14 – 52.

A lot has changed in the world of sports since Mr. October roamed the Bronx’s greens. Today there is a large group of fans that understand that those three stats aren’t best representative of a hitter’s worth. However the three number notation lives on for cutting edge sports columnists. Today the three numbers are BA/OBP/SLG. It’s because these three numbers are very representative of a player’s worth. Let’s look at two of Reggie’s back to back seasons:

Old Notation:
1978 .274/27/97
1979 .297/29/89

By the old notation, these two seasons look about the same. If you had to choose one, you might flip a coin.

New Notation:
1978 274/356/477
1979 297/382/544

By the new notation it’s clear that Reggie’s second season is the far superior one. This is a huge advantage when talking about baseball players. With a small amount of data, you have a good idea of a player’s worth.

The question is can we apply this to basketball? The first thought that came to my mind was to use shooting percentages: FG%, 3P%, and FT%. So Allan Houston’s career numbers look like 444/402/863. It tells us that when Houston does shoot he’s very accurate from downtown & the free throw line. The problem is it doesn’t tell us how good of a player Houston is. Put Houston’s line next to Kobe’s, and it would seem that H20 is the superior shooter:

H20 444/402/863
Kobe 454/331/833

We could use more accurate measures of skill, PTS/G, PTS/MIN, eFG%, or TS%, but shooting is only one aspect of a basketball player’s game. For baseball hitters, their hitting is a large part of their game. Sure there are differences between positional players (SS & C hit worse than OF & 1B), and some players are better defensively than others (Irod & Piazza). Defense in baseball is primarily handled by pitchers, so it isn’t as important an aspect as it is in basketball.

Actually in basketball there is more than just shooting and playing defense. Rebounding and passing are also integral roles. Right now due to two recent events, I think we have a way to approximate a player’s skill. Due to the hard work of Jon Hollinger we have a stat that incorporates a player’s total value, called PER. PER is a good approximation of a player’s total offensive value, but is a bit lacking on the defensive side. In comes the guys at 82games.com. Not only do they calculate a player’s PER, but the PER of his opponent at the same position.

You would think we’d have a pretty good idea of a player’s ranking, but defensive PER isn’t a precise measurement. Let’s assume Stephon Marbury has blown by his PG defender & is heading for the hoop. Marbury’s chances of scoring are less if Tim Duncan or Ben Wallace is that person’s teammate than a lesser defender (let’s say uhhhh… how about Wang Zhi-Zhi). So players that have good defenders on their team will do better than those that have poor defensive teammates. Same thing for guys like Bowen and Artest who routinely will take on the better offensive player, leaving guys like Ginobili and Miller to handle the easier assignment.

So a third number is needed. I prefer Roland Rating, which is a +/- number that shows how the team performs relative to the player being on or off the court. It’s certainly flawed as well. For example if a player has a weak substitute or strong teammates, his +/- might seem higher. Not one of the three stats are all encompassing, but I prefer having some kind of cross between tabulating individual effort with a +/- system that may catch some things that aren’t calculated by traditional means.

Let’s just take a look at a system like this. Reggie Miller has a very good Roland Rating (+11.7), about as good as Shaq & Kidd (+12.1). Our intuition tells us that Miller isn’t that good, so we look at his PER numbers: 16.8 on offense and 10.5 on defense. An average PER is about 15, so Reggie is pretty good if the defense is actually his doing and not Artest’s. However we know that Reggie isn’t in the same league offensively as Shaq (25.3) or Kidd (20.4). Reggie’s numbers by my notation would look like 16.8/10.5/+12.1. We can probably round off to the nearest PER so 17/11/+12.1. Here are a few NBA stars in no particular order:

Name	PER(O)	PER(D)	RR+/-
Shaq	25	11	+12.1	
Kobe	24	14	+6.8
KG	31	14	+20.2
Duncan	29	12	+9.3
T-Mac	26	17	+4.4
Dirk	24	18	+8.6
Yao	23	11	+5.9
Kidd	20	14	+12.1
AI	20	16	+0.7
Stoja	22	16	+6.6
Carter	21	13	+10.4
Marbury	21	15	+1.6

A few things to ponder about this system. Duncan has a lower Roland Rating than some other players, but his PER numbers are excellent on both ends of the court. Kidd is thought of as a great defender, so his defensive PER is puzzling. However his Roland Rating is an excellent 12.1. Just looking at the PER numbers you’d think Marbury is on Kidd’s par, but Marbury’s low Roland Rating shows the difference.

This certainly not the greatest way to measure a player. Everyone from Dean Oliver to Kevin Pelton to Bob Chaikin to Dan Rosenbaum all have ways that may better represent how good a player is. However I don’t have the tools (or the brains) to do the type of calculations that they do. With only a few clicks I (or my readers) can look up any current player. It’s relatively easy to do and you can compare players in different positions on different teams. Looking at the above chart, it seems that with a few numbers, I have gauged the overall worth of those players.

NOTE: Edited by me Thursday Morning 9am, after a night of sleep. Only small changes were made to better illustrate my ideas.