Was SCHOENE Correct About the Knicks?
I have nothing against being proved wrong. Most of the time, it’s an ego check that puts me back in line. I have nothing against admitting I’m wrong. But, man, did the SCHOENE system — ESPN’s prediction machine for the NBA season — have me fuming way back in October.
A projected 37-45 is what that stupid machine spat out. How insulted everyone felt. Dropping aged veterans Jason Kidd, Rasheed Wallace, Kurt Thomas, and Marcus Camby would make the New York Knicks younger. Ousting Novak’s contract for Bargnani was an upgrade at the four-five spot. Metta World Peace and Beno Udrih were steals for the MLE and potentially put the Knicks at or above 50 wins.
Boy, how the joke is really on us now. I assume SCHOENE is taking a big crap on the doorstep of every Knicks fan right about now.
This brings up a very interesting point, however. What made SCHOENE correct? Was it simply the fact that its simulators are far beyond the most knowledgable basketball minds on this planet? Or did the Knicks really take a step back this season? Kevin Pelton of ESPN’s True Hoop Network had this to say back in October in explanation to all the insulted, angry fans of the Knicks that took this prediction with a grain of salt.
1. 3-Point Outage
As Tom noted, no team in NBA history has been more dependent on the 3-pointer than last year’s Knicks, who made a league-high 891 triples. Over the summer, New York lost its two most accurate 3-point shooters (Steve Novak, 42.5 percent and Chris Copeland, 42.1 percent) as well as Jason Kidd, who made 114 threes. The newcomers replacing them (Andrea Bargnani, 30.9 percent; Beno Udrih, 33.3 percent; and Metta World Peace, 34.2 percent) combined to make 33.4 percent of their 3s, a rate worse than league average.
In 2012-13, the Knicks shot 37.6% from three. Of course, this team had the accuracy of Steve Novak and Chris Copeland, which Pelton pointed out. This season, the Knicks haven’t really seen the dramatic drop in percentage that it was made out to be here. They are shooting a flat 37% from deep this year. The major difference here is the amount of shots attempted. New York has nearly cut the amount of threes they’ve taken in half. Last year finished with the Knicks chucking a total of 2371 three-pointers. This year, they’ve taken only 1677 with 15 games remaining. A big wrinkle in their offense last year being cut in half may have hurt the Knicks this year.
2. Fewer Looks, Makes for Melo
Because the Knicks lost two of their lowest-usage players, Kidd (responsible for 11.7 percent of the team’s plays) and Novak (13.1 percent), SCHOENE projects Carmelo Anthony’s league-high 35.6 percent usage rate to decline all the way to 30.2 percent. Yet Anthony is also projected to be less efficient because SCHOENE factors in his down 2011-12 season.
As a result, SCHOENE estimates just a 16 percent chance of Anthony playing as well as last season or better. If his improvement last season was a real effect of the improved spacing around him — and New York can replicate that without its best shooters — Anthony could easily outperform his projection.
Carmelo Anthony has had an outstanding season. Through the struggle and dismay New York has experienced, Anthony never hit any bumps in the road. He has almost certainly been a better all-around player than he was last year. He is heading for a career high average in rebounds and is flirting with a career high in scoring. Whether that happens or not is up to the way New York plays out this home stretch of the season.
It is obvious, however, Anthony has missed the likes of Jason Kidd this season and shooters like Novak. Last year, eight players averaged at least one three-pointer per game. This year, that number dropped to five. Has this ultimately spaced out Melo and made it harder for him to get his own looks this season?
3. The Effects of Age
Anthony isn’t the only Knicks player with a pessimistic SCHOENE projection. In fact, of New York’s likely rotation, only J.R. Smith saw similar players improve at the same age. Players similar to Amar’e Stoudemire declined by 6.1 percent the following season, while players similar to Tyson Chandler saw a 5.4 percent decline.
Chandler might be the most important factor. If the Knicks are going to score more like they did in 2011-12, they’ll have to defend like they did in Mike Woodson’s first half-season at the helm, when they finished fifth in defensive rating and Chandler won Defensive Player of the Year honors. If he suffers through another season where injuries limit his productivity, that will be difficult if not impossible.
If you want to channel your SCHOENE anger towards something, do so right here. J.R. Smith had seen nothing close to improvement at the beginning of the season and Amar’e Stoudemire is playing his best basketball in over three years. Tyson Chandler’s decline was spot on, however. Injuries have majorly limited his productivity and missing those 8-10 weeks early in the season hurt the Knicks, regardless of the games they won without him — he is a crucial part of what the Knicks do.
With 14 games remaining, the Knicks are 28-40, not far off of 37-45, really not far at all. Seven wins in a row heading into another soft stretch could propel the Knicks to 32 wins by the end of next week and have them on an 11-game tear heading into Phoenix, Arizona. Only two of their renaming games in March are against .500 opponents, which heightens the optimism of a very positive month for New York and hope for keeping their playoff push alive.
April will be tough. All seven games will be against playoff opponents. So New York’s playoffs essentially begin at the end of this month. The way the Eastern Conference looks, 37-40 wins should be enough to secure an 8th-seed and rumble with Indiana in the First Round.
It’s funny now that I would absolutely love for the Knicks to finish with 37+ wins as opposed to October when my head was in the clouds with everyone else. I won’t even remind anyone what my prediction was back then. SCHOENE is that friend in life who always has to shut down your opinion and argue every comment you make, whether factual or not. Don’t we all love those type of people?
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