The Knicks Lost Season

Posted on September 25, 2009 by

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The Knicks have finally re-signed David Lee and Nate Robinson.  As Table One indicates, these two players were responsible for nearly two-thirds of the Knicks victories last year.  So without Lee and Robinson in 2009-10, the Knicks season could look fairly bleak.

Table One: The New York Knicks in 2008-09

The Knicks in 2009-10

The difficulty of life without Lee and Robinson can be understood by examining the Knicks potential depth chart (revised from ESPN.com).

Potential First String

PG: Chris Duhon [5.5 Wins Produced, 0.090 WP48]

SG: Larry Hughes [2.0 Wins Produced, 0.064 WP48]

SF: Wilson Chandler [1.0 Wins Produced, 0.018 WP48]

PF: David Lee [14.1 Wins Produced, 0.240 WP48]

C: Eddy Curry [-1.9 Wins Produced, -0.060 WP48 in 2007-08]

Potential Second String

PG: Nate Robinson [6.7 Wins Produced, 0.146 WP48]

SG: Gabe Pruitt [0.2 Wins Produced, 0.027 WP48]

SF: Danilo Gallinari [0.7 Wins Produced, 0.084 WP48]

PF: Al Harrington [0.0 Wins Produced, 0.000 WP48]

C: Darko Milicic [1.1 Wins Produced, 0.052 WP48]

In addition to these players, the Knicks also have Jared Jeffries [SF, 0.9 Wins Produced, 0.034 WP48], and two first round draft picks (Jordan Hill and Toney Douglas).  Both draft picks, though, were below average college performers last year (relative to other players who were drafted).  This was a point made explicitly about Jordan Hill before the draft.

It has been reported that the contract Lee signed called for a million dollar bonus if the Knicks made the playoffs.  Looking at the past performance of the players currently on the Knicks roster reveals that there’s little reason to believe the outcome in 2009-10 will be much different from what was seen in 2008-09.  The two most productive players will probably still be Lee and Robinson.  After these two players, everyone else is still below average.   And this means that Lee shouldn’t count on getting his playoff bonus.

One senses, though, that this is understood by everyone. The Knicks didn’t really do much this summer to alter their roster.  Of the 11 veteran players listed above, only Gabe Pruitt and Darko Milicic were not on the roster last season.  Yes, Eddy Curry, Larry Hughes, and Danilo Gallinari might be available the entire season.  But given the past performance of these players, the only player one can expect to be above average next year is Gallinari; and that assumes that he gets better in his second season. 

So what are the Knicks trying to accomplish? Looking at HoopsHype we see that the Knicks will be very far beneath the salary cap next summer. Preserving that salary cap space appeared to be the number one goal the Knicks had at the beginning of this summer.  And it appears that goal was accomplished.

Throwing the Season Away

Unfortunately, this means the Knicks are essentially throwing away the 2009-10 season.  The team will still play and people will still pay significant dollars to watch.  But the team is not making much effort to contend this season.

All of this illustrates the observation that hope does not spring eternal in basketball.  At the onset of the season in the NFL and MLB, each team can – at least momentarily – envision a scenario where their team contends for the playoffs. This vision became reality for the Detroit Tigers and quickly faded away for the Detroit Lions.  But the vision does exist for everyone at some point in baseball and football.    In basketball, though, this is not always the case. Player performance is far more consistent in the NBA.  So if your team did not contend last year, and little was done to make the roster better, then your team will probably fail to contend this year.

So now fans of the Knicks are in the odd position of just waiting for an entire season to end.  When the 2009-10 season is over, most of the players who are currently with the Knicks will depart.  The Knicks will then enter the free agent market and hope someone takes their dollars.  Ideally that someone will be LeBron James.  Of course, that’s also the dream of a number of other teams.  After LeBron, the Knicks might also focus on Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh. 

Although one suspects the Knicks will focus on the big names, New York shouldn’t ignore David Lee.  Although Bosh is a bigger name, Lee has actually been a more productive player.  In Bosh’s first six seasons he has posted the following numbers: 51.7 Wins Produced and 0.152 WP48 [with a high of 0.210 WP48 in 2006-07].  In four seasons, Lee has produced 47.3 wins with a 0.283 WP48 [with a low of 0.197 in 2005-06].  In sum, Lee does more than Bosh.  And he will probably be cheaper. 

Of course, all of this can be discussed throughout the season.  And given the scarcity of wins, who the Knicks will sign next summer might be the only worthwhile discussion for fans of this team.

Let me close with one last note on next summer’s draft.  As noted the Knicks are probably not going to be in the playoffs.  Normally this means the Knicks will also get a lottery pick next summer.  That pick, though, is currently held by the Utah Jazz (and it is unprotected).  Isiah Thomas traded that pick away to acquire Stephon Marbury.  Not sure fans of the Knicks regard this trade as a wise move today, but regardless, that pick is now gone. 

One should emphasize, though, that the recent history of this team suggests lottery picks are not very helpful.  Remember, this team took Channing Frye, Danilo Gallinari, and Jordan Hill in the lottery.  The choice of Frye clearly didn’t work out.  Although it’s possible Gallinari and Hill will become productive NBA players, it seems unlikely that these players will produce at the level of David Lee.  So perhaps it’s a good idea the Knicks lost the 2010 lottery pick.  At least, that’s one more story Knicks fans can tell as they witness the lost 2009-10 season.

– DJ

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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.