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Knicks Radio Broadcasters Flunk Analysis and Logic; So Does Stephen A. Smith


Stuck in the car last night, the only place I could find the Wizards-Knicks match-up was the Knicks feed on satellite radio. For the most part, I enjoyed the superb play-by-play from Spero Dedes and the commentary from Brendan Brown. But there were two issues they discussed that were nonsensical enough to merit comment. I'll get to Stephen A. Smith in a moment.

During the second quarter, Brown, a former Knicks scout, observed that the Wizards have been good at home, but terrible on the road. "The Wizards need to figure out why their defense is so much better at home," Brown said. "Maybe it's because they can't get away with all their physical stuff as easily in away games."

What's wrong with that? Only the analysis.The Wizards are better at home, but it's not because their defense changes. As shown below, the Wizards defense is a little better at home, but the change is not significant. The reason their record is so bad away from Verizon Center? Their offense falls apart.

Offensive Rating 105.7  94.9 10.8 
Defensive Rating 102.2 103.5  1.4 

By the way, it doesn't take advanced stats to see the primary cause of the Wizards home/away difference. It shows up in good ol' points per game. Using points per game (which is a crappy way of doing analysis, but still), on the road the Wizards score 10.0 points per game fewer than they do at home while allowing 1.2 points per game more. In other words, even using a bad conventional stat, the cause of the Wizards home/away discrepancy is plain.

The second issue is one of simple basketball logic. As the Knicks were in the process of pummeling the Wizards, Brown questioned several times the team's strategy of double-teaming the Wizards on post touches. He repeatedly said it wasn't necessary, using as evidence the fact that Nene wasn't scoring much.

Okay, going by this kind of logic -- no need to double Nene because he's not scoring in this game (a fact Brown emphasized several times) -- there'd be no reason to enter a game with a defensive strategy at all. Just wait and see who starts scoring and then focus defensive attention on that guy. I suspect most coaches wouldn't find that to be advisable, however.

But let's back up. Why would the Knicks implement a strategy of double-teaming the Wizards on post touches? Here's some salient information: the Knicks injury list entering the game -- Tyson Chandler (C), Marcus Camby (C), Amare Stoudemire (PF/C), Kurt Thomas (PF/C), Rasheed Wallace (PF). And, the Wizards injuries -- Bradley Beal (SG), Martell Webster (SF) (though Webster did play).

So, the Knicks were short-handed among big men, and the Wizards' best long-range shooters were out or hampered by injury. Washington's best player of late has been PG John Wall, but Wall does the bulk of his damage in the paint or from the mid-range.

So, if you're a Knicks coach you're probably thinking that the Wizards won't be able to hurt you from three-point range because Beal is out and Webster is hindered with that abdominal strain. The primary threats then would be Wall (penetration and mid-range) and Nene or Okafor (in the paint). Which would make packing the lane and doubling post touches a good strategy. The fact that Nene and Okafor weren't scoring many points was likely evidence that New York's strategy was working.

Moving Stephen A. Smith, whose status as a commentator/expert/sports pundit continues to baffle me. He's a triumph of bombast -- of forcefully stated nonsense. But...something about today's appearance on Mike & Mike rankled.

First up was the discussion of whether or not minutes in today's NBA are perhaps more difficult than they were in previous eras. A potentially interesting topic (Tim Legler had an interesting response to it later in the show, though I wanted to ask Legler why -- if the defense was better, and the league was tougher and more physical in the 90s -- the scoring (as measured by points per possession) was easier) that could lead in a lot of directions. I could see talking about size, strength, athleticism, vastly improved scouting. 

I could see arguing that no era was any tougher than another -- each era had its own challenges and advantages and the net effect is that it all balances out.

I could see arguing that minutes in the 90s were more difficult because of hand checking, etc. If I gave it more thought, I could probably come up with several other avenues for discussion.

Smith instead talked about Michael Jordan being underpaid for years and then getting two big $30+ million contracts at the end of his career. What? Then he went directly to comparing apples to Martian toenail clippings by talking about the total value of contracts today's superstars have signed. His intention was to imply that players today are extremely well compensated and therefore should be playing all 82 games no matter what, but he undercut his own point by contrasting Jordan's single-season salary with multi-year total salaries for today's stars.

The facts are that today's stars ALL make less per year than Jordan did in his final two seasons in Chicago. The reason: the maximum salary provision in the collective bargaining agreement. Elite players are actually underpaid (as Jordan was for most of his career) for the value they bring to their teams and to the league. No star is more underpaid than Lebron, who took less than the maximum when he signed with the Heat.

Finally, Smith finished up his appearance by asserting that while Lebron would be this year's MVP, the number two: Carmelo Anthony. No argument on Lebron, he's actually having one of the all-time great seasons -- arguably the best ever when looking at "relative dominance" (how dominant a player is over his own contemporaries). But Carmelo? No.

Anthony has been terrific the past few weeks. He's an outstanding scorer and he's been carrying the Knicks offense during the team's 13-game winning streak. But, the award is based on a full season of work, not 3-4 great weeks. Here's a quick comparison of Anthony with the guys who should be top MVP candidates (and to the league average player). Note that the stats are per 40 minutes and are standardized to a 100-possession game. Also note these numbers do not include last night's games.

STAT  Average  Carmelo Lebron  Chris Paul  Durant 
MPG 23.0 37.2  38.1  33.4  38.7 
Usg 20.0%  32.9%  29.3%  24.6%  28.7% 
Ortg  105.9  110  124  126  120 
2pt% .483  .475  .599  .538  .535 
3pt% .358 .381  .405  .332  .412 
Reb 7.6  7.9  9.4  4.8  8.7 
Ast 4.0  3.0  8.4  12.7  4.9 
Stl 1.4  0.9  2.0  3.2  1.6 
Blk 0.9  0.6  1.0  0.1  1.4 
Tov 2.5  3.2  3.5  3.1  3.9 
PF 3.6  3.7  1.7  2.7  2.0 
Pts 17.6  34.1  31.2  22.3  31.4 
PPA 100  156  280  250  231 

I understand that watching a guy score is fun. I understand that Carmelo plays in New York. But there's more to the game than scoring. There's more to being a great player than putting on a Knicks uniform.

Anthony scores more points...because he shoots more. His offensive efficiency is the lowest of the MVP candidates by a wide margin. His rebounding is a little better than average, but his production is lower than average in assists, steals, and blocks. 

Compare that with Lebron, who's better than average in every category except turnovers (and, when you control for usage, the turnover rates for all four players are excellent). Same for Durant. Paul, of course, plays a different position, and while he lags in rebounding and blocks, he's far ahead in assists and steals.

Carmelo's PPA ranks 34th this season. A very good season (actually the best of his career so far), but not one that merits inclusion in the MVP conversation. 

'Nuff said.