A Few Adjustments for Game Two

With a night to sleep on it, a few things I think I think heading into Game Two.

1. The defense was the biggest Game 1 culprit, part I. For all the huffing and puffing about NY’s offense, 95 points (inefficient though they were) really should be enough against the Pacers. The game should at least to be closer than three possessions. The Pacers shot 35% from three and corralled 28% of their misses, basically their season averages in both categories. Um… That’s not going to cut it gents. You have to take something away.

As I noted in my preview, New York is well-positioned to limit Indy on the offensive glass. Guards who clean up misses are a big part of that. The defensive rebound totals, respectively, for Shump, Felton, Prigioni, Smith and Kidd in Game 1? Try 3, 2, 0, 5, and 2. Add Chandler’s three measly boards, and that–frankly–is some bullshit. (To his credit, Melo brought his big boy britches with him to the defensive glass if nowhere else. He had 10 defensive boards.) We got out-rebounded by 14 but still got off five more shots than Indy. Had we gotten off 10 more shots at the same PPS we most likely win, without being any more efficient. Yeah, and if wishes were horses then beggars would ride. I get it. Still, 11 defensive boards for Stevenson is pretty ridiculous. I’m not happy with Chandler’s play, but Hibbert and West didn’t kill us on the boards. Stevenson did. The guards have to show up better on the glass.

2. The defense was the biggest Game 1 culprit, part II. As I’ve been kvetching about since yesterday, DJ Augustin had 16 points on four triples and a layup in just under 13 minutes (a preposterous 2.67 PPS). Augustin is, evidently, a Knicks season ticket holder because all of his shots were compliments of the house yesterday. He wasn’t knocking down the same looks Jason Terry got in the Boston series off the fast break and the faux break. Not a closely-guarded shot in the bunch for Mr. Augustin. Maybe he’ll hit those too, but we know he can hit the unguarded ones. So, let’s try guarding him next time shall we?

3. We have to turn Chandler into a useful offensive player. He cannot possibly play well against Hibbert in a wrestling match. For Chandler to be more effective we need to get he and Hibbert moving. Stashing him on the weak side and using Melo to set screens was a subtle yet awesome move against Boston that won’t work in this series. With Chandler on the weak side we are still in Hibbert’s recovery range. We need Hibbert another half-step away from the basket. Putting Chandler at the top to set screens for Felton should net us the extra half-step we need. I’d be stunned if Woody doesn’t make this adjustment. Though, speaking of being stunned by Woody…

4. For all the talk of Melo’s “trust” issues, Woody is the one driving me to drink. Raymond Felton is making things so much easier for people right now, particularly Melo and Chandler. Sigh… Additionally, Copeland is easily capable of the kind short scoring outburst we saw from Augustin. But Woody can’t find 5-8 minutes of run early in the game to see what he’s got?

5. I know an unfocused team when I see one. I think even Pacers fans would acknowledge that the first round was more cognitively and emotionally draining for New York. Indiana, to its credit, did a better job of re-focusing for Game 1. The Knicks were by contrast all over the place, unable to focus. Finding the focus to simply keep playing regardless of what just happened is a huge part of the NBA playoff grind. The non-stop carping at officials is a common symptom of a team unable to focus. Although the officials had a “generous” interpretation of defensive verticality, they were remarkably consistent. You can’t say you didn’t know what’s being called from one play to the next, or from one end of the floor to the other. So, this was a textbook example of players and coaches needing to adjust but lacking the emotional resources to do so. It was obvious that emotionally, the Knicks just couldn’t get to that place Sunday. It was classic displacement.

I’m less inclined than some fans and media types to go right to (lack of) maturity as an explanation. They tend to exaggerate the extent to which teams–even championship teams–maintain focus under all circumstances. Very few teams never waiver. The Spurs come to mind. Jordan’s Bulls do too.  But they are exceptions, even among championship teams. For most, focus is a state variable rather than a trait variable. It varies by episode. So the key is less about never losing it, and more about getting it back. Miami, Dallas, L.A., and Detroit are not champions who you think of as having invariant focus. What mattered for them is the ability to re-set. To his credit, Woody has been really good at getting the focus back after the Knicks have lost it this season.

Knicks vs. Pacers: Mini Series Preview

Schedule
Sun, May 5 vs Indiana 3:30 PM ABC
Tue, May 7 vs Indiana 7:00 PM TNT
Sat, May 11 @ Indiana 8:00 PM ABC
Additional games TBD

Four Factors (from hoopsdata)

Team Off. Eff. Def. Eff. Own eFG Opp. eFG Own FT rate Opp. FT rate
Knicks 107.7 103.0 50.9 50.7 26.5 28.0
Pacers 101.3 95.4 47.7 44.6 28.3 26.2

 

Team Own TO rate Opp. TO rate Own ORR Opp. ORR
Knicks 11.8 14.8 25.7 25.4
Pacers 14.2 12.8 30.1 25.3

I’d say the reputations for both teams generally follow the four factors. The Pacers are the rough and tumble defensive team. New York is the free-flowing three-shooting offensive juggernaut, except when they’re not. Just looking at efficiency differentials, the Pacers are +5.9 (5th) while the Knicks are +4.7 (7th). The Pacers are better defensively. Though, at the risk of being petty, the offensive embarrassment that is the Central Division may pad their defensive numbers ever so slightly. No Central teams are above average on offense. But make no mistake, the Pacers are every bit as salty as the Cs on defense. However, they are worse than Boston shooting from the floor. They make up for it by elite offensive rebounding. They are also elite at keeping opponents away from second chance points.

The Season Series and Playoff Matchups
The season series, as Seth noted over at Posting and Toasting, was weird. The November and January games were played really before either team had quite settled in. Indiana saw virtually as much roster backfill like Ronnie Brewer, Solomon Jones, and James White as they did of Iman Shumpert. On the flipside, the one game where pretty much everyone was healthy the Pacers beat us like we stole something. If there is a takeaway from the four games—and I’m not convinced there is—it is that Indiana’s chance to win is to shoot significantly better from the field.

Consider that the Pacers are elite at offensive rebounding yet still below average from the floor. They take a lot of jump shots (68%) shoot them terribly (.42 eFG), and get progressively worse late in the shot clock, (according to 82games.com). So, they depend on their frontcourt to clean up a good many messes. Well, in this series the Knicks are also elite at cleaning up their defensive boards. (And that’s not just about Chandler, all the guards rebound well.) So, what does that mean? It means the Pacers must hit the shots they get out of their sets. Against the Knicks they can’t rely on cleaning up an offensive mess on the glass. New York doesn’t have to out-rebound Indiana. They just have to keep the Pacers from making a living on the glass. Add to this, the Pacers are a high-turnover team. Turnovers offset whatever Indiana does on the offensive glass to some extent. The Pacers have low turnover games occasionally, but their turnover problem is a roster flaw. They can’t do much about it with their personnel.

Suffice it to say, I’m confident about New York’s chances. Based on what we know about both teams, I’d say that Indiana has one realistic path to the series win (barring an out-of-nowhere series from someone unexpected). The Pacers must win the eFG% battle handily to win the series. To be clear, they very well might. I don’t mean to imply that Indiana can’t just go get buckets for four games. They most certainly can. It’s more that New York a) can go get buckets, and b) can also win by simply playing to type on turnovers and even-or-close-to-it in the other three factors. I expect the teams to play fairly even on a per shot basis, but New York has the personnel to limit Indiana on the boards and get extra possessions.

Opinion: New “Van Gundy Rule” Bad for League, Impossible to Enforce Consistently

The NBA has announced a new policy that outlaws flopping. Calls and non-calls are subject to post-game video review. Fines for repeat violators can reach $30,000 along with game suspensions.

Many have openly campaigned for such a rule, none more openly, longer, or louder than ex-Knicks and Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy. So, this rule really should bear his name. It certainly reads like one of his on-air screeds turned into poorly thought out policy.

The “Van Gundy Rule” stinks of awful nativist assumptions* and an awful process, leading inevitably to awful policy.
*For the record, I’m generally a JVG fan, and I am not accusing him of nativism. But, his (partly tongue-in-cheek) jostling of international players about importing their ref-baiting practices from soccer is now encoded into policy. When this thing goes sour he better not run from it. This is his baby as much as anyone’s.

So-called “flopping” is just nativist pearl-clutching masquerading as a competitive problem
Let’s start with the basics. Not to put too fine a point on it, but no one can define a flop with much useful precision. For all the pearl-clutching about it, little consensus exists about what it is.

Put another way, I have seen far more consensus about where flopping comes from (keeping in mind that we are talking NBA geography here, which is always laughably imprecise) than what it is. I’m picking on JVG because he has been the most vocal proponent of an anti-flopping rule. In his heart of hearts all I think he could tell you is that whatever Anderson Varejao does is flopping, but whatever Charles Oakley did was not.

In practice, everyone tries to draw calls. So flopping is an act of labeling that describes people rather than actions in any precise way. A “flopper” is strongly associated with a European* (again, NBA geography) style thought to be heavily influenced by international soccer, where it is common for players to actively bait officials into calls. Some people deride that style for a variety of reasons.
*In NBA geography, “European” effectively refers to any non-black players born outside the lower 48 or Asia. Black players born in Europe or who emigrated there are only inconsistently referred to as European.

Styles, as they say, make fights. So I have no problem whatsoever with people who loathe soccer-style ref-baiting. Arguments about aesthetics are pretty much at the core of talking about sports. However, aesthetics makes a lousy basis for crafting competitive policy.

To wit, the league defines flopping in the broadest and most imprecise terms as if to ensure a policy that is as whimsical as possible.

The NBA said flopping will be defined as “any physical act that appears to have been intended to cause the referees to call a foul on another player. […] The primary factor… is whether his physical reaction to contact with another player is inconsistent with what would reasonably be expected given the force or direction of the contact.

I see at least three problems with the “Van Gundy Rule,” and all three seem intractable.
(1) Flopping is a fake problem poorly addressed — The league started with a small subset of missed calls (and ill-defined non-calls), labeled them flops, and defined them as a unique competitive problem. More importantly, game officials already have the power to address competitive problems with a delay of game technical foul or an unsportsmanlike technical foul for actions that interfere with the game. It is not at all unclear why these tools are insufficient. To the extent that official miss calls they’re no different than other misses.

But the “Van Gundy Rule” goes beyond post-hoc overkill to miss the mark entirely. The game suspension provision actually benefits an opponent who was never wronged by a flopper while leaving the opponent who was actually harmed with no recourse at all. Suppose, for example, that Paul Pierce gets his 6th flopping penalty after a bogus charge call awards him two game winning FTAs. NY loses its game on a bogus call while Philly gets to play Boston the next night without Pierce. NY gets screwed twice. How is that justice?

(2) “Flop and frisk” policies open the door to biases — Televised images generally, and slow motion photography specifically, bias movement. Modest head nods become exaggerated bobs on TV. This is important since the NBA will now use TV to determine whether movement is a reasonable response to the force exerted. This process seems wide open to unexamined biases about whose actions are “reasonable” and whose are not.

(3) Offensive players will get a pass — In the prevailing narrative, only defenders flop. Offensive players should play by the same rules but they rarely expect to.

“I like the rule,” [Kobe Bryant] said. “Shameless flopping, that’s a chump move. We’re familiar with it. Vlade (Divac) kind of pioneered it in that playoff series against Shaq, and it kind of worked for him.”

An enthusiastic supporter of the rule, Bryant’s value is now largely tied to “getting to the free throw line.” Not unlike former Knick Steve Francis, whose screaming dribble drives into multiple defenders “earned” him almost six free throws per 36 minutes, Bryant seeks out and often exaggerates defensive contact to get free throws. According to this rule, such players should be among the league’s most shameless floppers but that seems very unlikely to happen.

Draft Wraps Up Quasi-Eventful Week for Knicks

The draft marked the symbolic end of a week so blah that Indiana and Golden State saw more drama. In truth though, it has been an important week for New York if a boring one. Nothing really happened, but the stage is set for some potentially good outcomes.

Amid a chorus of boos, face palms and Scooby-Doo faces, the Knicks selected Kostas Papanikolaou, a forward in Greece’s top pro league. I suspect that fan reaction was just animosity toward an unfamiliar name. Odds are that Papanikolaou will take his place in the annals of European would-be 2nd round steals, right alongside Maciej Lampe, Slavko Vranes, and Milos Vujanic, assuming he ever makes it to New York. I cannot speak intelligently about young Mr. Papanikolaou’s upside, but this seemed like the perfect draft-and-stash opportunity so Grunwald didn’t overthink it. Good for him. Little point in adding more specialists or limited upside/undersized guys to this roster.

In what is perhaps an under-reported story, Amare Stoudamire (evidently when he’s not tweeting) will be enlisting in Camp Olajuwon this summer. My initial impression is to say that this sort of thing only matters at the margins, if at all. But Stoudemire’s decision to consult Olajuwon is encouraging on its face. For many aging/injured stars, an unwillingness to make concessions new limitations is a bigger problem than the actual limitations. Stoudemire may no longer be a cloud-piercing athlete, but he’s plenty athletic enough to be a hugely important piece of a top four seed in the East. I just hope that 75% of his time with Olajuwon is spent on defensive footwork.

Of course, the big story is the settlement between the league and NBA Player’s Association on “Bird Rights” for waived players. The settlement likely allows NY to return last season’s roster in tact and add some much-needed backcourt depth without exceeding the tax threshold. NY is likely to concentrate on re-signing its own players, and perhaps bring in a backup guard in trade/free agency. OJ Mayo hitting the unrestricted market may benefit NY by pushing another guy down into the mini-MLE/veteran minimum range.

2012 Report Card: Jerome Jordan

Stats:

Player Age G MP MPG PER TS% eFG% TRB% AST% TOV% USG%
Jerome Jordan 25 21 108 5.1 18.3 0.561 0.515 14.4 6.3 5.1 16.4

Per 36 Minutes:

FGA 3PA 3P% FTA FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
11 0 0 3.3 0.8 4.7 4.3 9 1.3 0.3 2 0.7 5 14

Sometimes storm clouds sit visibly on the horizon. Other times the sun lights up a cloudless sky on a perfect spring day. But mostly, days are just days. Partly sunny and partly cloudy blend; neither glorious nor awful. Such days rarely merit entry into conversation. What’s the point? In truth, if we ever reminisce about such days it is usually to mark the time before the interesting weather arrived.

Jerome Jordan’s rookie season was like 21 days of utterly unremarkable weather. Should we ever find ourselves reminiscing about it at some future date, (barring the tragic) we will almost certainly be puzzling over the rather unassuming start to his career. To be fair, Jordan resembles (if one squints) a useful backup big. Similar to Boston’s Ryan Hollins, if not as athletic. Jordan is quality depth. But given the team’s affinity for Josh Harrelson, Jordan may be near-superfluous depth. Jordan saw very limited action this year despite significant injuries in the frontcourt. When asked about the prospect of playing Jordan in March, with Jeffries and Stoudemire still out, Coach Woodson did not exactly give a ringing endorsement.

‘Would I be scared to throw him in there if we got in foul trouble and needed to use him?’ Woodson said earlier in the week. ‘Absolutely not. I think he can give us some positive minutes, but not big minutes. He just hasn’t played enough.’

I like Jordan, but him seeing significant time in NY would likely follow a pretty significant roster shakeup.

Grades (5 point scale):
Offense:3.5 — He generally only shoots layups and dunks, but he has a little game.
Defense:INC — This was hard to assess in the few glimpses I saw.
Teamwork:INC
Rootability:4 — I have seen two games live at Duke’s Cameron Indoor Arena (vs. Boston College and Tulsa), so I like Jordan and Jared Dudley for no other reason.
Performance/Expectations:0 — NBA 12th men, going back to the giants like Jack Haley, Scott Hastings, and Paul Shirley have a legacy to uphold. We expect them to be interesting. We expect them to be in the twitterverse, in the blogosphere, or at least an interesting quote. Something. Jerome Jordan has not and is not. He goes to practice and just collects a paycheck, as if that’s all there is to being a 12th man. No movie reviews. No restaurant reviews. No Jamaican jerk recipes. No bible verses. No Nothing. And dammit, I’m not here to just hand out passing grades like candy.
Final Grade:0 — Be more interesting.

Should the Knicks Bring Back Woody?

Despite denials, Phase I of NY’s off-season appears to be underway. Rumors abound that Mike Woodson is the favorite to coach the Knicks next season. Reportedly at James Dolan’s request, Woodson replaced his agent, who also represents former Knicks, Pistons, Sixers, Pacers, et al. coach, Larry Brown, with an eye toward getting an extension done.

Bringing Woody back seems like the logical, let’s-not-overthink-it play. For all the justifiable hand-wringing and kvetching about the savage playoff beatdown, the Knicks improved significantly this season. The 2011-12 Knicks improved their win percentage over 2010-11 (55%, up from 51%), against a tougher schedule (11th in SRS, up from 15th). NY’s 41 expected wins were 8th best in the league, up from 15th. In truth, NY was a bit unlucky to end a game behind Orlando for the 6th seed. A late season blowout-lead-turned-loss to Indiana and head-scratching losses to Cleveland sure do stick in my craw, considering that we match up with Indiana about as well as we don’t with Miami.

Sure, take the standard “grain of salt” with NY’s expected wins in this weirdo season, but 66 games is enough to make some meaningful inferences. And in this case, the Pythagorean record squares fairly well with the hairy eyeball. The Knicks were by any measure a pretty fine defensive team, over-switching all. Among Eastern Conference playoff teams, only Miami and Chicago won their season series. NY finished the season rated fifth overall in defensive efficiency. Defensive improvement (it should be noted) was evident under D’Antoni but it jumped under Woodson, even as the schedule got tougher. The improvements appear sustainable. Chandler had his standard season, which may not win defensive POY without the media narrative about his locker room presence, yadda, yadda. But more importantly, this kind of season seems–knock wood–repeatable. Carmelo, for all the righteous grief he’s taken, evolved from a turnstile into a reasonable defender. What used to be Marbury-like indifference is now mostly occasional ball-watching. We’ll have to see if he can build on those improvements.

HOW-EVAH! If I may get my Stephen A. on for a sec, the Knicks were just a mess offensively. Not even a hot mess, as they rated 17th in offensive efficiency. Obviously the injuries and transitions were a major culprit, but, as the old saying goes, “Excuses are tools that build bridges to nowhere and monuments to nothingness.” Injuries wrecked continuity for sure, yet we saw a sound scheme on defense that didn’t fall apart without Chandler unless Jeffries was also missing. We didn’t get the same soundness of scheme on offense, which far too often seemed aimless. Melo may exemplify this flaw, and his shortcomings are well-documented, bordering on legend, but it was a structural flaw. It wasn’t just about Melo. Flaws were also evident under D’Antoni. I might note a personal a pet peeve. The aptly named “pick-and-roll,” a staple of the fabled D’Antoni offense, has both “pick” and “roll” components. A “V-cut,” Amare, is NOT a pick. A “pick” requires the “pick-setter” to actually impede an oncoming defender’s movement while remaining stationary. Now I’m not one to gossip, but the touches STAT so desperately craves would be far more plentiful if he set actual picks on the pick-and-roll.

If Woodson can claim credit for the #5 defensive rating–and he can–then he must also own the dreadful offense. His inability to get Novak double-digit shots over five games is pretty troubling. It goes to concerns about whether this is destined to be Atlanta redux; a 50-55 win squad that can’t get a top three seed.

So, what say you Knickerbloggeristas? To Wood, or not to Wood? That is the question. If no, what’s your plan? Not really interested in any Phil Jackson tripe. Let’s keep it to the question of the coach. I’m sure the other guys will get to the roster in the coming days.

Can DWTDD Save NY’s Season?

In a word, no. Toney Douglas is not going to save NY’s season, but he could well have a significant impact on it.

I suspect Coach Woodson would rather Douglas did not play, but he will almost certainly need to. So, we may as well consider what he could possibly contribute. I doubt Bibby can play more than 25-30 useful minutes at both ends, and that may be optimistic. Douglas won’t take the entire remainder, but it’s hard to see him chained to the bench.

Of course, that awful stench you smell is Douglas’ descent from a useful-if-mediocre rookie to a Roger Mason, Jr. scented-turd in year three. It has been malodorous and nauseating. Douglas is a likeable guy having one of the worst seasons in the league. So it’s hard not to feel for him, coming off surgery in a lockout shortened season.

As circumstance would have it though, Douglas could be key to any chance NY has in game five. I fully expect the Heat to extend their defense with the goal of coaxing NY into continuing to stroll the ball up the floor. To this point the Heat has consistently forced NY to start its offense 3-4 steps beyond the arc, well into the shot clock, with flat-footed entry passes from awful angles. Davis and Bibby pose no threat off the dribble and have often been quick to pick it up with little pressure. DWTDD is notorious for doing killing his dribble too, so I don’t want to pitch him as NY’s salvation. Nevertheless, he might quicken the pace at which NY gets into sets, provide some useful ball-handling, and resistance on defense. He is at least theoretically capable of driving past his man. Just the threat of a drive could create an extra inch or to of floor spacing. Even if that is asking too much, Douglas can–again, in theory–play Shumpert’s designated ball-handler role. That mostly involves not picking up the dribble halfway between the half-court line and the arc to telegraph a 15 foot entry pass. Also I see a role for Douglas defending Chalmers, who seemed to run around unchecked in games 1 & 2. I’ll be happy if we can just get that.

At this point, we know WTD(cannot)D. He cannot shoot. So, let’s not have any illusions about a repeat of Chicago 2010. But, WTD(CAN)D is get the team into its sets quickly and stay in front of his man. NY is going to need a lot of that in game five.