Bonus Post: Empire State of Mind: Not quite the Blueprint

Everyone’s surprised by the New York Knicks.  This piece was posted over at Wages of Wins originally on August 3rd. It was inspired by my tweaking around with Automated wins produced (go see the Basics) and  realizing that Hey! The Knicks might be good. This piece then took about two weeks to prepare and led to a lot of the work/tools that made the rookie  model, and the build possible.  One comment that mostly wound up in the cutting room floor was my belief that the Knicks had accumulated enough young ping pong balls that they just might hit with one (cue the Landry Fields music). Now,I get a lot of things wrong in my life (ask anyone) but this one I got right. Consider this one a bonus post.

Oh and a shoutout to Ty at Courtside Analyst who’s cool Knicks post today inspired me to dig this out of mothballs.

When we unveiled our metric for GM ranking in the NBA (in the post The Value Proposition in the NBA), we ranked every team according in front office performance from 2005 thru 2010. The New York Knickerbockers ranked last five of the six years examined, and avoided the sweep because of the particular savvy of David Khan and the tragedy that was the Washington Wizards.

As dark as it got for Knick fans, there was still hope at Madison Square Garden.  Their Knicks had a plan. They cleared out their historically deficient front-office. They were going to clear all their cap space for the magical summer of 2010. They brought in the coach who made the game beautiful again. The bright lights of New York and the promise of the hardcourts in the Big City would deliver to the Big Apple the kind of basketball it deserved.

But the Knicks plans did not survive first contact with the enemy. They did not get their man. Now normally as a follower of Boston teams, I would be happy at the misery of any New York team. But to me, the Knicks are different. Their fans know and respect the game. They know misery and have suffered for their glory. For fans of the game, having the Knicks be good makes the league better.

Sadly, when the smoke cleared, we all know how the story ended. Or do we?

Even thought the Knicks missed with their plan A they ably implemented a Plan B (or was it C?) that allowed them to overhaul their roster and significantly improve. But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Before we talk about who the Knicks will be let’s talk about who they were.

These were your New York Knicks:

39, 33, 23, 33, 23, 32 & 29, those are not Powerball numbers, those are the win totals for the Knicks over the last seven years.  To put it in perspective, that’s only better than the Bobcats by 22 games and the Bobcats only existed for six of those years. The Knicks achieved this dubious won-loss record with the league’s highest payroll. These teams were overpaid disasters and the 2010 edition — as the following table illustrates — was no exception.

If you look at the table above you’ll see that twenty players suited up for the Knicks in the 2009-10 season.  And six of these actually produced in the negative range.  Fortunately for the Knicks, five of these six “negative producers” will not play in New York next year.  In fact, the Knicks are only bringing back five players from last year’s squad (Wilson Chandler, Bill Walker, Toney Douglas, Daniel Gallinari and Eddy Curry remain under contract).  To put the roster purge in perspective, last year the Knicks generated 31 wins.   But as the graph below illustrates, 25 of these wins have departed.  With only a few wins remaining on the roster, the Knicks had a hard road to rebuild into a contender.

Plan B

While they have missed on the King, the Knicks got their big man in Amare Stoudamaire. They may have slightly overpaid for him, but for them “slightly overpaying” is progress. To fill out their roster they turned their best player (David Lee) into multiple pieces from Golden State. They then signed an above average point guard in Raymond Felton and an intriguing piece from Russia (Timofey Mozgov). Timofey Mozgov is a 7’1”russian Center who is well loved by DraftExpress (ranked #2 for overseas free agents). While a bit of a gamble, it’s a shrewd move for them because…. okay,  let’s face it, anything is better than playing Eddy Curry.

East Coast Seven Seconds or Less?

To project this team’s wins in 2010-11, we need to do two things: project out their productivity and guess how the minutes will be divided.

For the productivity projection, I looked at the raw productivity numbers (AdjP48) for the last four years, but primarily employed last year’s numbers (with a small adjustment for age based on avg. change at the age and position). These same steps were taken for each player.  The lone exceptions are as follows:

For Amare Stoudamire I used the 2nd-half numbers from 2010 (0.470 ADJP48- Age adjustment). I believe this is an accurate representation of what he will do next season.

For Kelenna Azubuike… given the low minutes in 2010, I used the average of 2008 and 2009 for his numbers.

And for the rookies, I’ve adjusted their numbers to get a WP48 for the Position played.

The productivity numbers are as follows:

Now let’s guess at minutes played. Here, I again looked at historical data for each player and tried to logically allocate the team’s minutes. It’s important to note that this process is far from perfect.  There is also one big caveat (in more ways than one).  Some reports indicate that Eddy Curry is out of the rotation.  So it is assumed for this projection that Curry will not be playing.

Beyond the issue of Curry, it is important to remember that there is no way to project injuries.  Injuries will happen in the NBA.  So a summer forecast will probably overstate a team’s actual results. In other words, the summer forecast is often just a “best-case scenario.”

Okay, enough caveats.  Let’s try and make New York fans happy.

As the above table indicates, the numbers for the Knicks suggest this team could win 48 games in 2009-10.    Such a leap can be traced to the

  • elimination of negative producers
  • the addition of Amare Stoudemire, Raymond Felton, Kelenna Azubuike, and Anthony Randolph (players who more than make up for the loss of David Lee)
  • Eddy Curry always wearing a really nice suit on the bench.

So according to my numbers the Knicks – despite missing on LeBron – might have actually built a playoff team. This is also a very young and athletic team, that has a decent chance of having one of their young players (Walker, Gallinari or  Randolph) make a significant leap in productivity.

Plan C:

The final point I want to touch on is that the Knicks are also holding out the hope that if they build a good enough team, they can use their assets and cap room to bring in a free agent ( like Chris Paul) over the next two summers. I think they have done a surprisingly good job given their track record.  And I do hope for their sake, that when they dip back into the free agent market they don’t undo all the progress they’ve made as an organization.

My personal take is that this is a team that will look very much like the D’Antoni Suns of yesteryear. It’s a young, fun and athletic bunch that will bring excitement and fun back to the basketball temple that is Madison Square Garden.  And that is true, even if I don’t see them making a lot of noise in the playoffs. To paraphrase Jay-z and Alicia Keys:  “Let’s hear it for New York, New York, New York”


  1. Man of Steele

    Here’s an instance where a front office could have obviously benefited from employing straight WP logic. The Knicks could have kept David Lee for less than they payed Amare, and still had enough cap space to make a bid at CP3 if they wanted.

    • Xavier Q

      Yes, but Amare Stoudamire is a bigger draw for prospective free agents, and they turned David Lee into Kelenna Azibuke and Anthony Randolph, filling holes in their roster. They brought in Felton to fill the hole at PG, and retained Wilson Chandler. They’ve done about as good as they could have, considering they were denied by Lebron and Co.

    • some dude

      not to metion, Amar’e started slow. his WP48 on November 5th was -.272 and now it’s .128 which means he’s been playing like a Superstar for a month. Meanwhile, lee has been below average all season long and continues to play mediocre ball while GSW look like a 25 win team.

      As of this moment, Amar’e for Lee has been a definite upgrade.

  2. Cal

    This seems only kind of relevant. But, for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, David Lee is playing with a hole in his arm. Before looking, I’ve gotta tell everyone that this sh*t is pretty gross.
    Just in case anyone was looking for an explanation for Lee’s drop in productivity…

    • some dude

      yeah, that is unfortunate and Lee had a freakish injury and infection. I’m glad his career wasn’t ended due to it.

      That said, I believe he had a below average WP48 before the injury, too.

      • Cal

        I think it was pretty variable. He’d mostly okay to good games and a couple really bad ones. It was only 8 games with a new team. Could happen to anyone.Also, it might just be a coincidence but Golden State hit rock bottom as soon he got hurt.

        Regardless, I’m pretty sure he’ll step up his game when he doesn’t have a hole in his elbow.

        Anyways, I think Wilson Chandler has a new nick name: Infection.

  3. Man of Steele

    Lee was somewhat above average (although not as good as last year). Also, I understand that Amare’s star-power could help draw FAs, but I think that in the end wins have an impact too. If the Knicks had kept Lee and made the playoffs, I think they may have gotten some big FAs’ attention.

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