21. March 2011 23:53
I've been trying to catch up with the slumping New York Knicks. Like many of you, I was closely following March Madness over the weekend. I knew the Knicks were losing. I knew Carmelo Anthony was pouting, then hiding. I knew that the stars were talking about "needing time" and thinking more about "next season." The media and fans following the team have been documenting all of that. But, nobody's talking about something that seems very important in terms of the immediate and longterm future. The Knicks have stopped running!
I was browsing the great knickerblogger.net website today trying to get a read on the mood of avid Knicks follwers and fans. One theme kept jumping out. Fans were saying that the team had become boring to watch. Before the trade, the Knicks would play with passion, and at least put on a show when they were losing. Now, they were like too many other teams. Boring. Plodding. No fun to watch.
I went to the Knicks team page here at hoopdata to check out recent pace totals. It was as plain as day. For the season, New York is one of the fastest teams in the league, clocking in at 98.2 possessions per game though Sunday (click here for the latest pace factors, click on the category to sort). Tthe last there entries on the log Monday afternoon...92-92-92.
In fact, the change in form actually goes back longer than three games. But, it's hidden a bit by a 104 that pops up against fast tempo Indiana. Let's run some numbers.
Just After the Trade (opponent's seasonal pace thru Sunday):
99 possesions vs. Milwaukee (92.3)
106 possessions vs. Cleveland (96.2)
97 possessions vs. Miami (93.0)
102 possessions vs. Orlando (94.1)
Hold up here. New York was still running at this point. That's a characteristic of a Mike D'Antoni coached team. They play so fast they lift their opponents to a pace factor that's higher than the norm. Slowpokes Milwaukee and Miami shoot up to the high 90's. Cleveland and Orlando are closer to leage average. They shoot up into the 100's. D'Antoni teams run. In the first four games after the trade, they were still running.
Continuing in chronological order:
90 possessions vs. New Orleans (90.9)
94 possessions vs. Cleveland (96.2)
91 possessions vs. Atlanta (92.1)
101 possessions vs. Utah (94.2)
95 possessions vs. Memphis (95.1)
98 possessions vs. Dallas (92.6)
99.5 possessions in 2 games vs. Indiana (97.6)
92 possessions vs. Memphis (95.1)
92 possessions vs. Detroit (91.4)
92 possessions vs. Milwaukee (92.3)
It's like somebody flicked a switch. Instead of forcing D'Antoni's tempo on opponents...the Knicks were suddenly playing to their opponent's tempo. They'd play halfcourt games with halfcourt teams. They'd go along with a faster pace against somebody like Indiana. The only uncharacteristically fast games were against Utah...which was garbage time the whole second half, and Dallas, which saw both teams on night two of a back-to-back (and 4th game in 5 nights) and distinterested in defense.
Or, we can show it this way.
New York Pace Factors:
98.2 for the season (second fastest in the NBA)
96.5 the last 15 games (since the trade)
95.4 the last 7 games
92.0 the last 3 games
Monday night's game with Boston was another slow one that will be in the same neighborhood as the recent stragglers. Boston was at 92.8 for the year entering Monday. New York played to their pace.
The recent slump is not a case of the new Knicks having trouble adjusting to D'Antoni's style. D'Antoni's style has been thrown out the window!
We're on the outside looking in. And, those on the inside aren't always open about what's happening when a switch gets flicked like this. This does seem like a meaningful development.
It's not like Carmelo isn't used to pace. Entering Monday action, Denver--his old team--ranked just behind the Knicks in the #3 spot in tempo at 98.0. Whether it's to save themselves for the playoffs, or because depth is lacking after the trade, or because somebody somewhere is being obstinate, a Mark D'Antoni team has stopped running. That's news.
*If you've read the mainstream recaps of Monday's Boston-New York game, you know that both Carmelo and Amare Stoudemire were held scoreless in the fourth quarter. New York led by 14 at the half, and by 6 after three quarters. Boston won the fourth quarter 33-17, the second half 59-35. Just a squash once Boston got serious.
New York is now 1-6 its last seven games, and lost the fourth quarter badly (26-14) in the game before that skid started (a 110-108 win at Memphis). If Toney Douglas doesn't hit a bunch of treys, the Knicks just aren't very scary.
*Denver returned home from an Eastern swing to obliterate Toronto 123-90. They were far from embarrassed in road losses to Orlando and Miami last week in a back-to-back. Stepping back down in class, they returned to their prior bullying form. The new Nuggets aren't having much trouble adjusting to their new team.
*New York and Toronto were both playing in back-to-back spots tonight against teams who were off on Sunday. Utah was as well, and they lost by 18 at Memphis. Sacramento was too, and they lost by 40 at Chicago. Let's throw in Golden State. They lost by 15 at San Antonio even though Tim Duncan left early with a sprained ankle. Only the Nets didn't lose big with a fatigue disadvantage, falling by only four points at home to Indiana.
If you're trying to statistically assess the punitive value of a back-to-back spot, remember that cumulative fatigue can create some very ugly results in the latter stages of the season.
*Stephon Curry only played 20 minutes for Golden State tonight. The game write-up didn't mention an injury. But, with the Warriors falling off the map lately (4-12 since the All-Star Break), an injury to Duncan is going to dominate the news.
Curry's poor defense is really exposed vs. quality teams. Tony Parker took 15 shots for the Spurs and had 15 assists in 34 minutes. Obviously Parker was getting a lot done vs. whoever his counterpart was at the time.
Golden State falls to 30-41 in what was supposed to be a turnaround year. Last year they were 20-51 after 71 games...so they actually have shown significant improvement. Estimates of 41 wins, or even 50 wins were way off base. Tough to make huge leaps forward without acquiring a superstar, or hiring one of the handful of coaches that can instantly install a stellar defense.
*The NBA moved its TNT doubleheader from Thursday to Tuesday this week so as not to go up against the Sweet 16. Back late Tuesday to discuss Chicago/Atlanta and some other topics.
*All sorts of college basketball analytical strategies and methodologies took a hit in the first weekend of the Big Dance. Perhaps the next step in the stathead universe is to develop better ways to anticipate peak or valley three-point performance in the college game. Basic efficiency (points scored or allowed per 100 possessions) help you see peaks and valleys in the past. Is there a way to anticipate one or the other in a neutral site playoff style game?
Of note from the weekend:
--Florida State was 9 of 19 (47%) on treys in their upset of Notre Dame. The Irish were just 7 of 30 (23%)
--Arizona was 8 of 14 (57%) on treys in their upset of Texas. The Horns were just 3 of 14 (21%)
--Marquette was 5 of 11 (45%) on treys in their upset of Syracuse. The Orange were just 5 of 15 (33%)
--Ohio State was 16 of 26 (62% an a very high volume) in their obliteration of George Mason.
--BYU was 14 of 28 (50% and a very high volume) in their blowout of Gonzaga
--UCLA was 3 of 13 (23%) in a loss to Florida.
--Morehead State was 2 of 14 (14%) in a loss to Richmond
--Duke was 5 of 20 (25%) in a two-point win over Michigan where the Blue Devils were heavily favored.
What strikes the naked eye as great play or horrible play...and the gut as drama...is often just the roulette wheel of three-point performance playfully tinkering with the brackets...