Forty games through the 2012-2013 NBA season and the Knicks are still outperforming many pundit’s pre-season predictions, which generally hovered around 45-48 wins (I predicted 50). The Knicks are 26-14, good for a .650 winning percentage, which extrapolates to roughly 53 wins.
Of course, that extrapolation doesn’t tell the entire story because it assumes that the Knicks’ play has been trendless. However, we know that’s not the case, since at the quarter-pole the Knicks sported a .750 winning percentage, which would have put them on pace for 61-62 wins. Even at that time we recognized that certain trends that proved responsible for the teams’ remarkable ascension to the top of the league standings were breaking down:
The Knicks D may be a touch overrated too. We’ve all seen the D dominate, … especially during the early part of the year. Has that really been the case lately? The Knicks currently allow 101.1 points per 100 possessions to opponents, which is good for 12th place. Solid, but not spectacular. Here’s how that number has evolved over the course of the season.
- Rank, games 1 -5: 3
- games 6-10: 14
- games 11-15: 15
- games 16-20: 13
And for the better part of the season’s second quarter, this trend has only gotten worse:
- Rank, games 21-25: 26
- games 26-30: 18
- games 31-35: 23
- games 36-40: 5 (!)
- games 21-40: 19
Overall the Knicks now rank 14th in DRtg which can help explain why they have not continued to peel rubber over most any other squad. In fact, over the last 20 games, the Knicks are 11 – 9, and over the last 10, they’re 5 – 5. Decidedly meh/beh.
As I explored at the quarter pole, the Knicks’ success to that point was predicated on a number of things that all made a difference to their “extra scoring chances per game”, which might have also explained how the team could be so successful despite foregoing possessions by being consistently out-rebounded. One of those things was defense, another turnover differential.
Well, the good news is that the Knicks still lead the league in ESC/g primarily because they’ve continued to turn the ball over at a league-low rate over the last 20 games. But with continued mediocre defense the ESC/g has also dipped slightly, from 5.5 after 20 games, to 5.1 through 40. The stalled D combined with an O that has been perceptibly less efficient* (meaning those ESC’s are less valuable), gives the Knicks less leeway to surrender possessions due to poor glass work. The seemingly small ESC/g blip may have real significance as demonstrated by Monday’s loss to New Jersey: The Knicks committed just five turnovers for the game to nineteen for the Nets and the Knicks still lost, in part because they lost the rebounding battle by 15 combined with very subpar offensive output (98.6 ORtg) and laudible, but not great defense (100.2 DRtg).
All of this is to say, the way the Knicks play, a lot has to go right for them to win.
So, the Knicks have some issues, clearly. Why has this happened? One reason is probably injuries.
Even though a lot of fans, including me, criticized Raymond Felton’s shot selection (FG%: Felton < Jennings < Lin), it’s clear that he also provides a dynamism to the Knicks’ offense by drawing help on penetration/pick and rolls and quick, sharp passing off that penetration and on the perimeter. As I mentioned previously, the Knicks offense has offense has suffered over the course of the last 20 games, and it’s slipped quite tangibly since Felton has been out (by 4.2 points/100 possessions (110.1 to 105.9)).
And on the defensive end, even though I’ve mocked the Knicks for compiling a series of decomposing corpses, those corpses have been crucial for the Knicks. For instance, with Sheed on the floor the Knicks’ DRtg is 97.3. With Sheed off the court it’s 103.8. Camby? 97.5 vs. 103.2. Thus, the compiling of corpses still deserves to be mocked, but for a slightly different reason (I thought they wouldn’t help at all – but it turns out they help a lot. However it’s hard to keep a corpse on the court – and so its a bit foolhardy to ask corpses to provide the foundation for the teams’ success.) Anyway hopefully they can stay upright when/if they return because they’re very important.
After the first quarter-season I renewed my doubt as to J.R. Smith’s value, writing:
…Smith’s supporters often say “I’ll take the bad with the good”, but you have to wonder, as I have in the past, if you’re better off without knuckleheads like this. The numbers seem to suggest it, as the Knicks offensive efficiency with Smith on the court is vastly inferior to their efficiency with him off of it (105.2 vs. 120.5).
I started to question this conclusion over shortly after the first quarter-season ended as the trend I pointed out inverted:
During that time J.R. played some tremendous ball and rightfully earned all kinds of accolades for a maturing game. J.R. evinced patience, smarts, unselfishness, and attacked instead of characteristically settling for contested jumpers. Over the last 8 games though? Reversion, both in numbers (102.7 on, 108.8 off) and #MOTE. I know that many don’t agree, but for me, the jury’s still out (though I really do appreciate the guy’s ability to get his own shoot when all else fails).