The Knicks Look to the Distant Future

Posted on November 23, 2008 by

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For the first time – in a very long time – the Knicks have a winning record.  And naturally, that must mean it’s time to acquire another collection of unproductive scorers.  In separate trades with the Warriors and Clippers this past week, the Knicks sent out Jamal Crawford, Zach Randolph, and Mardy Collins for Al Harrington, Cuttino Mobley, and Tim Thomas. 

The WP48 Story

Let’s ignore the reported reason why these moves were made for a moment and simply look at the players involved.  Here are some of the relevant numbers [WP48 = Wins Produced per 48 minutes]:

The Knicks Surrender:

  • Zach Randolph: 0.143 WP48 in 2007-08, 0.102 Career WP48
  • Jamal Crawford: 0.032 WP48 in 2007-08, 0.049 Career WP48
  • Mardy Collins: -0.067 WP48 in 2007-08, -0.028 Career WP48

The Knicks Acquire:

  • Al Harrington: 0.024 WP48 in 2007-08, 0.019 Career WP48
  • Cuttino Mobley: 0.029 WP48 in 2007-08, 0.064 Career WP48
  • Tim Thomas: -0.053 WP48 in 2007-08, -0.016 Career WP48

In terms of scoring, Randolph, Crawford, Harrington, Mobley and Thomas have scored at an above average rate across their careers. But when we look at Wins Produced, we see that only Randolph has produced at an above average level. And – as Table One indicates below — Randolph has been even better this year. So although it looks like Mobley can come in and offer what the team got from Crawford (although Mobley has been awful this year), going from Randolph to Harrington-Thomas is a step back. 

Dreaming About 2010

One suspects that the Knicks know this is true.  So despite a 7-6 start (which suggests the playoffs are possible), the Knicks have deliberately taken a step back.

The payoff to this step back – according to Marc Stein of ESPN.com (and others I am sure) – is the 2010 free agent class.  By shedding the salaries of Randolph and Crawford, the Knicks hope to be major players in a market that will include LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, Amare Stoudemire, etc…

Assuming all this is true, the Knicks have essentially bailed on both the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons in the hope that they will land a talent in 2010 that will give the Knicks a chance to compete for a playoff spot and the NBA championship. 

It’s important to note – as Marc Stein observes: “…no fewer than 15 teams — including the Cavaliers — awoke Friday morning with less than $40 million in committed salaries on their books for 2010-11.”  So even if the Knicks can convince one of these players to leave their current home, they still have to convince these superstars to come to a franchise that might have nine consecutive losing seasons when the summer of 2010 begins.

Table One: The New York Knicks after 13 games in 2008-09

Table Two: The Golden State Warriors 12 games in 2008-09

Table Three: The LA Clippers after 13 games in 2008-09

Helping the Warriors and Clippers

What about the Knicks trading partners?  As Table Two indicates, the Warriors have shed their least productive player in 2008-09.  So although Crawford doesn’t offer much, he should be able to give the team more than they were getting from Harrington. 

As for the Clippers…. in the off-season this team took Marcus Camby away from the Denver Nuggets and gave Baron Davis a new home.  When we look at WP48 [reported in Table Three], both of these players have been above average, although Davis has dropped off a bit from his career mark (0.153).  In addition to the production the Clippers have received from Davis and Camby, LA is also getting an above average level of production from Chris Kaman.  Unfortunately, the Clippers have received little from anyone else.  In fact, eight of the players the Clippers have employed this season have WP48 marks that are below zero. 

Given these early results, the trade with the Knicks looks quite positive.  Not only do the Clippers shed two very unproductive players (and as noted, two players who have never offered much), but the team adds a productive player in Zach Randolph. 

The only obvious problem with this move is that the Clippers – like everyone else – only have 96 minutes to allocate at power forward and center.  Currently the minutes per-game of Camby and Kaman sum to 65.5.  So if the Clippers don’t play anyone else – and they don’t change the minutes of Camby and Kaman — they can only give Randolph 30.5 minutes of playing time a night.

As for the rest of the roster, the Clippers have to decide who gets the minutes of Mobley.  Their choices appear to be Ricky Davis or Eric Gordon.  R. Davis has been dreadful this season, posting an adjusted field goal percentage of 32.7%.  Gordon has only posted a mark of 41.3%, and although this is also quite bad, it’s absolutely amazing relative to R. Davis. 

Okay, I think those are the relevant details for all involves.  Let’s try and summarize what I think we have learned.  If we focus on the 2008-09 season, I think these moves hurt the Knicks while potentially improving the Warriors and the Clippers (with the latter team probably the most improved).  Going beyond this season, the Knicks might someday look back on these trades as the first move this team made in building a championship team.  Then again, if the stars of the 2010 free agent class say no, Knicks fans might someday ask: “How many consecutive losing seasons are we destined to suffer?”

By the way, this column is another example of large-market bias.  Rather than focus on either the Warriors and Clippers (and despite playing in LA, the Clippers have never been a big-market team), I spent most of this post focusing on the Knicks.  My next post will make up for this transgression by focusing entirely on a small-market team.

– DJ

The WoW Journal Comments Policy

Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.

The Technical Notes at wagesofwins.com provides substantially more information on the published research behind Wins Produced and Win Score

Wins Produced, Win Score, and PAWSmin are also discussed in the following posts:

Simple Models of Player Performance

Wins Produced vs. Win Score

What Wins Produced Says and What It Does Not Say

Introducing PAWSmin — and a Defense of Box Score Statistics

Finally, A Guide to Evaluating Models contains useful hints on how to interpret and evaluate statistical models.

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