Projecting the NBA Using xWARP: New York Knicks

The Knicks are not contenders. Let’s get that out of the way to start. This core group of players won 54 games last year, but they did so on the strength of two runs of, frankly, unsustainable three point shooting as a team. According to NBAWOWY, in the first 23 games of the season, in which the Knicks went 18–5, New York shot 41% from deep on 29.4 attempts per game. Later in the year, the Knicks got similarly hot from long distance, shooting 40.6% from three on 28.2 attempts per game. For the season, the Knicks were 37.6% from three on 28.9 attempts per game. So, in games outside of those first 23 and the last 18, the Knicks shot a mediocre 34.4%. For the Knicks to have shot that well as a team, for that long during those runs is frankly remarkable, but it’s pretty unlikely to happen again. It’s especially unlikely to happen again next year, as the Knicks will be without their best three point shooter from last year, Steve Novak, and will have Andrea Bargnani’s below average three point stroke in his stead.

Additionally, Jason Kidd retired and will now be coaching the Nets across town. Beno Udrih is a solid replacement, but he’s no Jason Kidd. Even at 39 years old, Kidd was a +1.4 in xRAPM, on the strength of his very strong defensive contributions at the point guard position. Udrih is solidly above replacement level, but projects as just a -1.6 by xRAPM for next year in Nathan Walker’s numbers. Finally, many of the most important Knicks project to regress a bit. Tyson Chandler projects to have a big step back from last year, owing both to his age and expected regression to the mean. Chandler was better last year than he has traditionally been by xRAPM, clocking in at +5.3, when he is usually in the mid +4 range. Carmelo Anthony projects at +1.7 xRAPM, down from +2.3 this past season- again likely the result of regression to Carmelo’s historical mean level of performance. Pablo Prigioni is also quite old and is thus projected to decline from last year’s solid performance to something more average. Adding it all up, with the minutes projections, we get:

The Knicks project to win 47 games next year, down from 54 this past year. This is right in line with the ESPN Forecast of 48 wins for the Knicks. In fact, a lot of the projections so far seem to line up fairly well with the ESPN Forecasts, which have proven to be pretty accurate over the years. That makes me feel more confident about this exercise. One item of note: in both the East and West, my projections are higher on the teams ESPN has projected to place 4th in their conference. I have the Nets and Rockets both placing second in the East and West, respectively. It’s probably the case that the ESPN Forecast voters were factoring in some amount of an adjustment period for both these two teams, as they have both undergone a fair bit of roster turnover, which can cause teams that look great on paper to fail to live up to wins expectations sometimes. It will be interesting to see if it turns out that these xRAPM projections overrated these teams or if the ESPN voters were sleeping on them. I can’t wait to find out. Next up: the Memphis Grizzlies.

Image from Keith Allison via Flickr.

The New York Knicks trade for Andrea Bargnani because they’re the Knicks

The New York Knicks completed a trade over the weekend for former number 1 pick and all-around terrible basketball player, Andrea Bargnani from the Toronto Raptors. Not only did the Knicks trade for Bargnani’s hefty $10 million per year contract, but they paid 3 draft picks (1 first rounder and 2 second rounders) for the privilege. Bargnani is a 7 footer who plays like a (bad) shooting guard.  He doesn’t rebound the basketball, he shoots poorly from distance, despite a reputation for being a “stretch” big man, and he plays poor team defense (he’s actually a solid man-to-man post defender, despite his overall terrible impact on the defensive end).

This feels like a huge overreaction from the Knicks to the Nets blockbuster trade on draft night. But it’s not a reaction that really makes the Knicks any better on the floor. In many ways, Steve Novak and Marcus Camby, the players New York surrendered for the Italian big man, are better players than Bargnani. Camby is a better defensive presence and scores more efficiently, while taking many fewer shots. Novak is a specialist shooter, but he’s actually, you know, good at shooting the basketball, which is not true of our man Andrea. Even still, this trade, were it just a swap of on-court players, might be justifiable. Bargnani is a former first overall pick, with size, who has shown flashes of the potential that lead him to be drafted so high. Maybe a change of scenery is what he needs and he will finally come close to living up to his contract. But the Knicks needn’t have surrendered the draft picks they did in order to grab him.

Giving up the rights to future first round draft picks under the new collective bargaining agreement is the height of foolishness, unless you’re getting a proven star player in return. Andrea Bargnani could hardly be further from a star player. This is a bad, bad deal for the Knicks and they will almost certainly regret it in the future. This is now the second time that Masai Ujiri, the head man in Toronto and former head man in Denver, has fleeced the Knicks of valuable assets for a “name” player. At least last time the Knicks got Carmelo Anthony, a star player who falls short of being a superstar. This time they’ve sacrificed future assets for a player whose contract was thought by many to be such an albatross that it would necessitate the trading of assets for the Raptors to be rid of it. A word of advice to Glen Grunwald: the next time Masai Ujiri calls you, don’t answer the phone.