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BBR Mailbag: ’90s Knicks

Posted by Neil Paine on April 13, 2010

It's time for a very special edition of the Mailbag, since the questions come from my colleague Chase Stuart of the PFR Blog:

My memories of the '90s Knicks is that they were a very good team that always just came up short. They were a defensive powerhouse. They probably should have won a championship or two.

But hey, I was a teenager who knew nothing about objective sports analysis. So I'm curious what an objective, intelligent view of those old Knicks would tell me. Maybe you can get a blog post out of this. But I'm thinking...

• How awesome was the Knicks D back then? It seemed to be pretty awesome in the postseason, too. I recall Miami being the A- defense to the Knicks having the A defense. Did the NYK actually have the #1 D? Where does their best D rank historically?

• How awesome was Ewing? Defensively and overall?

• Should the Knicks have won a championship in the '90s? Were they ever the best team?

• Were any of the role players actually any good? Starks, Mason, Oakley, Ward, Childs, X-Man, etc. They all seemed like a bunch of gritty guys; they almost sound like the '01 Patriots as I think back on them.

• Any other thoughts you can think of?

Okay Chase, let's talk the 1990s Knicks...

In retrospect, the seeds for the team we think of as the "90s Knicks" were planted in 1989, after Rick Pitino departed as coach despite a relatively-successful year that saw NY win 50 games for the first time since 1981. Pitino was embroiled in a power struggle with then-GM Al Bianchi, and he was miserable; when the University of Kentucky inquired about his availability after the 1989 season, he promptly jumped ship, leading Bianchi to hire Stu Jackson as a coach more in sync with his own basketball philosophy. But the Pitino Affair (no, not that one) would prove to be the death knell for Bianchi as New York's GM -- while Pitino flourished in the Bluegrass State, the Knicks regressed under Jackson in 1990 and were 7-8 at the start of the '91 season when Bianchi fired "his guy", replacing Jackson with former Suns coach John MacLeod. With a month left in the disappointing 39-43 campaign, Bianchi was axed and former NBA exec Dave Checketts was brought on board as club President.

Checketts immediately took the reins of the directionless Knicks and put his own stamp on the franchise, promoting Ernie Grunfeld to VP of Player Personnel and making the offseason's biggest splash when he wooed former Lakers coach Pat Riley away from the broadcast booth to coach his team in the Garden. Unlike the acrimonious Pitino-Bianchi dynamic, the Checketts-Grunfeld-Riley seemed to be on the same page, at least philosophically: Patrick Ewing was going to be the cornerstone of their team, and everything else would be dictated by that organizational goal.

Of course, this meant embracing a half-court-oriented game plan with defense as the primary emphasis. Ewing was a good offensive player capable of shouldering a superstar's load of the scoring responsibility, but he was not the transcendent talent Michael Jordan was in Chicago (few -- if any -- centers have ever been close), nor was he even as gifted an offensive threat as an aging Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had been for Riley in L.A. But what Ewing was was a magnificent defender, capable of dominating a game at that end of the floor. Some coaches try to force their system no matter what, but Riley was shrewd, and saw that if the Knicks as constructed in 1991 were going to contend, it was going to be via a slow-down, grind-it-out game.

With that in mind, Checketts acquired undersized-but-tough forwards Anthony Mason and Xavier McDaniel before the '92 season, and Riley began implementing his vision to slow the game down to a snail's pace and take the mantle of "League's Toughest Team" from the Bad Boy Pistons. In 91-92, the Knicks had the 3rd-slowest pace factor in the NBA and the 2nd-best defense, as Riley had transformed New York from a sub-.500 team into the league's 7th-best by SRS. After beating the Pistons at their own game in one of the most physical series of the early part of the decade, the Knicks came within a game of knocking off the defending champion Bulls in a brutal 7-game slugfest. By holding Detroit and Chicago to a combined 104.6 Offensive Rating, the lowest among playoff teams, Riley had sent a message: the Knicks were going to be a tough out every spring.

True to form, NY returned in 1993 even tougher, winning 60 games and posting the league's 5th-best SRS on the strength of its #1 defense. In fact, their 99.7 DRtg was more than 5 points lower than that of the 2nd-best defense, the Sonics, and 8.3 points better than the league average; since DRtg became possible to calculate in 1974, only the 2004 Spurs and 2008 Celtics have outdefended the league average by that large a margin. In the playoffs the Knicks muscled past Indiana & Charlotte to find the Bulls waiting for them again, but again they were unable to shake the defending champs, this time despite staking themselves to a 2-0 series lead.

But Michael Jordan's retirement prior to the 1994 season made the Knicks feel confident about their chances to finally get over the hump. Again, they were one of the league's slowest teams, again Ewing was the league's best defensive player (despite Hakeem Olajuwon winning DPOY), and again the Knicks were one of the league's toughest outs come playoff time. Breaking Chicago's hold over them with a 7-game triumph over the Bulls in the East Semis, they survived Indiana's onslaught in the ECF thanks to a dominant Ewing, and were favored to win the Finals over Olajuwon's Rockets.

But instead of winning the franchise's first title since 1973, the Knicks failed to capitalize on a 3-2 Finals lead and ultimately lost Games 6 & 7 on the road, giving Houston the championship. The drama intensified that fall, with Checketts and Riley unable to work out a contract extension before the coach's walk year. On the court, the Knicks appeared to have peaked in 1994, as they slipped to 10th in SRS in 1995 (despite the #1 defense) and were unable to capitalize on the effects of Jordan's ongoing absence and subsequent rust on the archrival Bulls. Again the Pacers pushed New York to a 7th game in the playoffs, but this time Reggie Miller (who scored 8 points in 8.9 seconds to win Game 1 of the series) and Indiana outlasted the Knicks, ending their season.

The loss also ended the Riley era in New York. His feud with Checketts finally boiled over when the coach learned the team never intended to give him complete control of basketball operations. Riley tendered his resignation in May, and the messy Riley-Checketts rift was marked by a tampering controversy with Miami after the division-rival Heat scooped up Riley to be their coach -- New York accused Miami of pursuing Riley while he was still under contract to New York, and the two teams eventually settled un-amicably with the Heat compensating the Knicks with a 1st-round pick and cash. Little did either side know that this would be just the opening salvo in a war that would continue for years.

To replace Riley, Checketts and Grunfeld went after Don Nelson, who had "retired" from Golden State with a 14-31 record midway through the 1995 season amidst a controversial feud with his players, notably Chris Webber. But the Nelson era in New York was ill-conceived from the start, as he tried to force his up-tempo gameplan on a Knicks team built for half-court grinding under Riley. Clashing with the brain trust about Ewing's future with the club, Nelson had to be fired by Checketts just 59 games into his tenure as Knicks coach. Steady Jeff Van Gundy, who astonishingly weathered 7 chaotic seasons as an assistant coach under Jackson, MacLeod, Riley, and Nelson, was named interim coach for the remainder of the season. Van Gundy re-installed some of Riley's old defensive principles, leading the Knicks to a sweep of the Cavs in the playoffs before bowing out to the juggernaut Bulls, and Checketts was impressed enough to retain JVG as New York's official coach going forward.

This proved to be a good decision. Van Gundy led the Knicks to 57 wins in his first full season as a head coach, re-shaping the Knicks into an elite defense (2nd in the NBA behind, you guessed it, Miami) and a tough-minded team around Ewing. But not all was well in New York: before the season, Grunfeld sent Mason to Charlotte for 20 PPG scorer Larry Johnson in an attempt to bolster their offense, but Grandmama was a shell of his former self and the Knicks' inability to score was exposed by the Heat's dominating defense in a grueling 7-game playoff defeat. Despite that, Grunfeld pressed on into 1998 with the same core intact, believing Johnson, John Starks, & Allan Houston would provide just enough offense for the Knicks' defense to make them contenders. During the regular season, this plan backfired as Ewing was injured and New York fell to their worst record since before the Riley era. Though Grunfeld was partially vindicated with a 1st-round win over their bitter rivals, the Heat, New York couldn't hang with the Pacers in the 2nd round, and something clearly had to be done to inject life into an aging, fading team.

Thus, Checketts and Grunfeld made the biggest gamble of their careers, bringing in embattled SG Latrell Sprewell, who had missed most of 97-98 after infamously choking then-Warriors coach P.J. Carlesimo. Public sentiment at the time was very much against Sprewell, who was probably neck and neck with Mike Tyson and Albert Belle in the race for America's Most Hated Athlete in 1998, and that spilled over to the Knicks for being the first team to take a chance on Spree after his suspension. When the lockout ended and play resumed, the Knicks looked better on paper, having added Sprewell and traded Charles Oakley for Marcus Camby... but it didn't translate much on the court, as NY struggled to find a rhythm and sputtered to a 21-21 mark with 8 games left in the shortened season. Someone had to fall on their sword for the team's performance, and Checketts chose Grunfeld over Van Gundy to avoid a locker-room revolt.

But the Knicks responded by winning 6 of their final 8 to make the playoffs as the 8th seed in the East. And in the playoffs, they outlasted Riley & Miami again despite a hobbled Ewing, then swept the Hawks, and beat Indiana in the ECF even after losing Ewing for the playoffs. The Cinderella run ended vs. San Antonio in the Finals, but the 1990s Knicks had once again rescued themselves from the spectre of rebuilding and had extended their run to 12 straight playoff appearances, 3rd only to the Blazers and Jazz among active postseason streaks.

Building on the momentum from the '99 playoffs, the 2000 Knicks were resurgent, winning 50 games and again advancing to the Conference Finals after outdueling the Heat in a hard-fought series. But against the Pacers, the Knicks once again fell short, unable to win on the road and unable to account for Reggie Miller, who scored 34 in the series-clincher.

The Ewing era would end several months later, as GM Scott Layden shipped him to Seattle for a washed-up Glen Rice and little else. And while the 2001 Knicks would win 48 games, they were upset by the Raptors in the 1st round of the playoffs. A week after their ouster, Checketts resigned as MSG President, turning over the reins to James L. Dolan. The rest, as they say, is history.

Just as the story of the '90s Knicks started roughly the day Checketts took over the team in 1991, it ended the day he left in 2001. Layden had already lavished a five-year, $61.9 million contract extension on the overrated Sprewell prior to the '01 campaign, and after it he gave a similar (but even more devastating) 6-year, $100M guaranteed contract to the equally overrated Allan Houston. The team's success had left them with a decade's worth of low draft picks, and when they did have a lottery pick in 1999, interim GM Ed Tapscott selected human hurdle Frederic Weis. The core that had made the 1990s Knicks so strong was crumbling, and Van Gundy's departure 19 games into the 2002 season represented its final collapse. Under the guidance of Layden, Dolan, and Isiah Thomas, the Knicks became the laughingstock of the pro sports world, a team that got less bang for its considerable buck than perhaps any in the history of the NBA. Only now are the Knicks finally forming a plan to emerge from the post-Checketts era, and even it's a hail mary at this point.

Conclusions

The 1990s Knicks were a very good team, legitimately great on defense, and were perhaps the league's best in 1993-94 (they should have won after being up 3-2, but they squandered the Finals away). Riley was a fantastic coach who was willing to adapt his methods to his personnel, and he molded them into an amazing defensive machine. Even after he left, Van Gundy was able to maintain a strong defensive identity in New York, partly because Ewing was one of the best defenders of his generation. The brain trust did a very good job of identifying the types of players who would be good fits on the team and went after them, especially early in the run when they snagged McDaniel, Mason, Derek Harper, etc. They weren't as good at developing an offense, though -- the Knicks consistently were a below-average offensive team because they relied on Ewing (not a superstar-caliber offensive option) and a collection of inefficient chuckers (Starks, Houston, Sprewell, etc.) to propel the scoring effort.

As far as role players go, Oakley and Ward were really good glue guys; Childs, not so much, he was eventually pretty overpaid for what he brought to the table. But all of their supporting cast members had one thing in common -- they were really gritty, defensive-minded guys who did their jobs well and fought hard; combined with the influence of Pat Riley (their Belichick?), I can see the analogy between the Knicks and the Patriots, especially the '03 and '04 versions that everybody knew were one of the league's best teams. Which I suppose makes Patrick Ewing Tom Brady? Perhaps the reason the analogy breaks down there is the reason the Patriots won and the Knicks didn't -- Ewing didn't seem to have the personality for leadership or the steely nerves that Brady does. Of course, if John Starks doesn't miss an absurd number of shots in Game 7 of the '94 Finals, we may see Ewing's career in an entirely different light.

In short, the Knicks had one of the league's best runs of sustained "goodness" during the Checketts era, and although they didn't win a championship, they would probably have at least one in an alternate universe where Michael Jordan played baseball from the start. So in a way, it's fitting that Ewing as a player essentially defines that team -- they were never the most dominant force in the league, but they were consistently among the best, and they hung around for a long time, giving their fans a lot of great memories. In a game like this, there are definitely worse legacies to have.

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81 Responses to “BBR Mailbag: ’90s Knicks”

  1. Anon Says:

    "This isn't baseball, where offense is a one-man sport, and we have stats for every aspect of hitting; basketball is a team sport and offense is a lot more complicated."

    More complicated, yes. Impossible to understand using the numbers, no.

    "Win shares may be the best we have, but they sometimes produce odd results; unless you really think there are 42 players better than Hakeem, and David Robinson was just as good as Michael Jordan"

    This list isn't supposed to read as a "greatest players" list at all. The numbers simply tell you that per 48 minutes on the court, David Robinson was as productive as MJ in the regular season. That's it. There's a big difference in what it's actually telling you and what you think it's saying.

  2. AYC Says:

    Not impossible, more like incomplete.

    And WS are intended as a catch-all stat for player production, like adjusted OPS for hitting; certainly, you and most of the people associated with this site treat WS that way. So it's a cop-out for you to say now that's not what WS is all about. Your previous assertion that Drexler was better than Hakeem in 95 is based ENTIRELY on win-shares

  3. Anthony Coleman Says:

    This list isn't supposed to read as a "greatest players" list at all. The numbers simply tell you that per 48 minutes on the court, David Robinson was as productive as MJ in the regular season. That's it. There's a big difference in what it's actually telling you and what you think it's saying.

    you know what the funny thing is? PER is the one stat that correlates the most with the general public's perception of the greatest of all-time lists while Win Shares has those aforementioned odd issues. Whenever I look at the all-time top twenty all-time I'm in agreement with the placement or even if I don't agree, the calculations and the structure behind the numbers forces me to say "this is a great point." And yes that includes Robinson's inclusion in the top ten (even though Hollinger himself admitted that its not perfect with defense and that it overrates players' who play limited minutes). I might not agree that Dirk is one of the 20 greatest players ever, but I understand that what he brings to an offense per possession is truly amazing.

    "It's not worthless at all when you use with offensive possession %. You really need to read Oliver's book that I mentioned in an earlier post, because it talks about and addresses the very things you're bringing up."

    OK Anon. I understand what you're getting at. Let me just say that the offensive rating that we have that lists Steve Kerr at number one all time and Michael Jordan at 14, sucks. I'm not giving credit to a stat that loves a player who shoots a very high percentage, who is a low turnover guy or like in the case of Magic, a high percentage high turnover guy but counteracts the turnovers because of the assist total, when the killer flaw is that it doesn't seem to care at all about a players' ability to carry the offensive load. That is why I consider the stat by itself worthless.

  4. Anthony Coleman Says:

    Just for there won't be any confusion with my last post, I know that D-Rob is one of the greatest defensive forces we've ever seen.

  5. Anon Says:

    "Not impossible, more like incomplete."

    "Incomplete" does not mean "disregard because they're not perfect". They still give alot of information about what is going on the court. And I would certainly prefer using them over vanilla flavor per game statistics, which are unweighted and have no context associated with the numbers.

    "So it's a cop-out for you to say now that's not what WS is all about. Your previous assertion that Drexler was better than Hakeem in 95 is based ENTIRELY on win-shares"

    You misunderstood the point of my previous post. And yes, I still stand by my argument that you could make a case for Cylde. This wasn't a bench player who was standing in the corner shooting three pointers only when the main star found him on offense, Clyde was taking on an all-star's burden of the offense and was more efficient with it, even given the fact that Hakeem was creating more for his team. Some might confuse doing everything on offense as an automatic hallmark of being the best performer on your team. However, that is only partly true, because ultimately the ball STILL needs to go into the basket for it to mean anything. It's the object of the game.

  6. AYC Says:

    Anon, you're backtracking here; this is what you said in #26:

    "And Clyde was absolutely money in '95. He was the Rockets best player in the playoffs."

    You didn't qualify this statement in any way; you didn't say he was the best player according to WS, you said he was the best player period. You can't have it both ways; WS is the only measure that would rate Drex over Hakeem. (and since they were teammates, and played similar minutes, I think the "vanilla" stats are just fine for comparing them)

    As for PER, I have a whole different set of issues with that; i think it rewards scorers too much and ignores defense; WS is much better for rating defensive greats like Russell and Ben Wallace.

  7. Anon Says:

    "You didn't qualify this statement in any way; you didn't say he was the best player according to WS, you said he was the best player period. You can't have it both ways; WS is the only measure that would rate Drex over Hakeem. (and since they were teammates, and played similar minutes, I think the "vanilla" stats are just fine for comparing them)"

    I did say that, then I went into detail in subsequent posts. Sorry for the initial confusion.

    And no, you can't justify using per game statistics just because they were similar teammates and played similar minutes. It's a little better compared to cross-team player comparisons, but they don't really tell you a slew of several other important things in basketball; notably defense, usage, and efficiency. And they are not given proper weights either. There are more informative methods out there to figure out a player's on-court contributions, and they need to be used whenever possible.

  8. Anthony Coleman Says:

    "You misunderstood the point of my previous post. And yes, I still stand by my argument that you could make a case for Cylde. This wasn't a bench player who was standing in the corner shooting three pointers only when the main star found him on offense, Clyde was taking on an all-star's burden of the offense and was more efficient with it, even given the fact that Hakeem was creating more for his team. Some might confuse doing everything on offense as an automatic hallmark of being the best performer on your team. However, that is only partly true, because ultimately the ball STILL needs to go into the basket for it to mean anything. It's the object of the game."

    you don't get it Anon, it doesn't matter that Clyde was taking an all-star level of the offense because Olajuwon was still taking on much, much, much more of the offense. And I'll say it again: yes the object of the game is to put the ball into the court but if that player isn't creating much of those shots on enough of their possessions then they aren't helping enough with the offensive load. And again: the shooting percentage has a tendency to go down if a player take more shots. The difference in Drexler's true shooting efficiency is minor when you notice that Olajuwon's carrying of the offensive end is so enormous. All things being equal the difference between their percentages is one or two missed field goals per game. Olajuwon took nearly 12 more field goal attempts per-game. No matter how you want to stare at it Anon, Olajuwon's contributions to the offense was much more crucial to the Rockets success because Drexler's shooting efficiency advantage was small, and Olajuwon's shooting volume was far larger.

    BTW do you think that Drexler in 95 was a better scorer than Jordan in his last 6 playoff appearances?
    Or Shaq in the 2000-2002 playoffs?
    Or Kobe and Wade in last years playoffs?
    Or Duncan in 2003?
    Because he outranked not only Olajuwon, but all of those men in true shooting percentages too in all of those playoff runs.

  9. AYC Says:

    Defense, usage and efficiency?

    Hakeem was far superior to Clyde in the first 2 areas. I don't see how Clyde's minor advantage in the last category matters more. (yes it is minor; despite taking alot more shots, Dream shot the better % from the field. That is true even if we look at eFG%)

  10. Neil Paine Says:

    To address the complaints about eFG% -- it doesn't matter if shooting 33% on threes is particularly good compared to the league average, or if 50% on twos is good... All that matters is the number of expected points per shot. Shooting 33% on threes always nets the exact same number of points per shot attempt as shooting 50% on twos. All else being equal (i.e., no differences in turnovers, offensive rebounding, fouls drawn, or defensive ability), a player who shoots nothing but threes and makes 33% is helping his team win just as many games as a player who takes nothing but twos and makes 50%.

  11. AYC Says:

    Neil, I have to respectfully disagree. The 3pt shooter in your analogy will score the same number of points per shot attempt, but he is still scoring less efficiently; 67% of his shot attempts will result in a defensive rebounding opportunity for the other team, as opposed to 50% of the 2pt shooter's shots

  12. AYC Says:

    ...Maybe the increased def. rebounds (changes of possesion) that result from 3pt shooting can be factored into eFG%?

  13. Neil Paine Says:

    The other team gets the ball back whether the shot is made or not. They don't get any "extra" possessions when you miss those threes -- whether inbounding after a made basket or grabbing a defensive rebound, it's 1 possession they get regardless of the offensive team's result. Unless the expected points/possession in a defensive rebound situation is significantly greater than the expected rate after a made basket (and I haven't seen the numbers on this -- I expect a DReb situation where you can fast break to yield more points/poss., but I'm not sure how big the difference is), there is literally no difference in contribution to winning between shooting 33% on threes and 50% on twos.

  14. Anon Says:

    "Maybe the increased def. rebounds (changes of possesion) that result from 3pt shooting can be factored into eFG%?"

    Why? This has nothing to do with offense at all.

  15. Anon Says:

    "you don't get it Anon, it doesn't matter that Clyde was taking an all-star level of the offense because Olajuwon was still taking on much, much, much more of the offense."

    Not really, that's a bit of an exaggeration. He took on around 10% more, and he was 10% less efficient as a result. Since there are several studies that suggest that the tradeoff in usage and efficiency is around 1 point in ORtg per 1% increase in offensive possession rate, Hakeem's higher shot-creation in the '95 playoffs was not much of an advantage over Clyde's higher efficiency.

  16. AYC Says:

    Fair points, Neil. But that doesn't change my earlier point that on any given posession the 2pt shooter is 50% more likely to hit the shot; I think that difference is relevent.

    We have all heard the mantra "live by the 3, die by the 3." It makes me wonder, do teams that shoot the 3 more often win more? I would guess not, but I don't know this for a fact...

  17. Neil Paine Says:

    These are good questions. Like I said, the difference between the 33% 3-pt rate and 50% 2-pt rate depends on a team's expected ORtg on possessions following a defensive reb. vs. possessions where you have to take the ball out of bounds, as well as the reliability of making 3s vs. 2s (which you alluded to). I once found that 3-point % is the element of the offense that has the lowest year-to-year correlation on a team level:

    http://www.basketball-reference.com/blog/?p=3475

    So it's certainly reasonable to point out that 3s can't always consistently be counted on as another consideration when choosing whether the 50% 2s/33% 3s tradeoff is always worth it as a team strategy.

    One other thing I wanted to say re: Hakeem is that Anthony's point about "Derek Jeter Syndrome" struck a chord with me. I think you're right, that even when an opinion of a player (Jeter, Hakeem) has its roots in objective analysis, if a player is overrated by the media compared to his "real" sabermetric value, there is a tendency for backlash and that isn't objective. So this is my mea culpa: I apologize for treating Hakeem unfairly in the sense that many things I wrote about him were reactions to that media overrated-ness, to the point that I was underrating him and being too harsh just because other people boosted him more than his stats warranted and I was subconsciously trying to "even things out". I promise to do better in the future in this area, and to try to be fairer not just to Hakeem, but to everyone I perhaps treated unfairly as a reaction to the media's inflated opinions (Kobe Bryant, anyone?).

  18. Jason J Says:

    To chime in on the 33% 3s vs 50% 2s issue:

    Pros for 3s - More misses = more opportunities for offensive rebounds while still expecting the same point production on the makes.

    Cons for 3s - More misses = more opportunities for defensive rebounds (often long ones) which can lead to transition baskets for the opposition. More consecutive possessions without scoring can be negative to a team's confidence, and if they occur at the end of a quarter, could mean you don't another opportunity. More deep jump shots means less chances to get to draw fouls.

    I don't actually know how much of an impact the pros or cons really have on winning percentages, and I'm sure a lot of them can be mitigated - a conscious effort to get back on defense, good clock management, etc.

  19. Anthony Coleman Says:

    "Not really, that's a bit of an exaggeration. He took on around 10% more, and he was 10% less efficient as a result. Since there are several studies that suggest that the tradeoff in usage and efficiency is around 1 point in ORtg per 1% increase in offensive possession rate, Hakeem's higher shot-creation in the '95 playoffs was not much of an advantage over Clyde's higher efficiency."

    Just off of possessions from the field alone Olajuwon took on 78 percent more shots than Drexler. That translates into a dozen more field goal attempts per game. That is the amount a shots per game that are usually taken by an average 3rd starter. Olajuwon was shooting at a volume equivalent to an all-star, plus another starter. That is huge.

    And "ten percent less efficient?" Olajuwon's true shooting percentage was 56% to Drexler's 59%. That is only 3 percent. How does that translate onto the floor? Well lets look:

    If we convert his 140 free throw attempts to 61.6 2 point field goal attempts plus his 322 field goal attempts (383.6) and then multiply it to .59 then he ends with 226.32 field goals made and averaging out by the 22 games played it equals 10.3 field goals made per game.

    Now lets assume that Olajuwon had the same 383.6 field goal attempts and multiply by .56. It would equal 214.8 and then divide by 22 games it would be equivalent to 9.8 two point field goals made per game. Drexler only completed .5 2 point field goals made per game or 1 free throw. The difference is only a free-throw. That is minor.

    Then you have to consider the fact that Olajuwon carries a dozen more shots per game and then you multiply by his .56 again. Olajuwon was not only carrying the volume of Drexler and another 3rd option; he was off by only a free throw to equaling Drexler's total at his volume and then adding the total scoring value of a very good starter. I'm not going to give Drexler more credit for essentially, if Olajuwon was producing at his volume, only besting him by a free throw but then have Olajuwon do so much more of the scoring load. That makes no sense.

  20. Anon Says:

    Anthony,

    Calculating possession rate and efficiency is a bit more mathematically involved than what you did in your post.

  21. Anthony Coleman Says:

    Anon,

    Please explain to me why my post isn't correct?

    BTW you didn't answer my other question about whether you believe Drexler's 1995 was a better scoring series than Jordan's last 6 playoffs, Shaq's 2000-2002, Kobe's and D-Wade's from last year and Duncan in 2003.

  22. Anthony Coleman Says:

    OK Anon I'm sorry about earlier when it came to my 70 % post. You were going by subtraction and I was going by addition. However, I think what I'm saying is clearly right because:

    a) the team's overall offensive efficiency is mostly determined by the player who shoots the most shots. There is no getting around it and that is something I've always complimented Hollinger credit for recognizing (even though some have criticized him for overvaluating volume shooter. No matter how the way you look at it The Dream was attempting a dozen more shots a game, and it REALISTICALLY would account for 10 points a game more to the Rockets' points scored. That is a huge difference. Second you're missing another point: how come Olajuwon took more shots per game than Drexler?

    b) Because Drexler couldn't carry as much of the offensive load at his age than Olajuwon. Somebody had to take those shots in those possessions and Drexler couldn't make and create the variety of shots Olajuwon could at that age. His role was significantly less limited because he couldn't do as much.

    This is what people need to consider. Drexler's efficiency was better, he averaged slightly more assists and once we adjust for the assists, his turnover rate was lower than Olajuwon's in the second Rockets' title run. But those advantages, no matter how you look at it Anon, in the course of a possession by possession in a 48 minute basketball contest is small. What is not small is the dozen more shot attempts Olajuwon was taking per game and thus the higher correlation to the Rocket's shooting percentage.

  23. Anthony Coleman Says:

    Thanks Neil. Sorry for saying that I was going to "son" you. That was out of line. You have a point though about Olajuwon. His regular season stats at his peak are not on par with Robinson's or Shaq's. Plus I think he gets overrated from his most ardent supporters (he is not in the running for greatest centers ever or greatest player ever.) With that being said he was still an amazing player and I think one of history's ten greatest players. I give him credit for being a rare high efficiency-high volume scorer (but subtract some points for the turnovers), for his longevity, being one of the very best defensive players ever (was his 1990 season the greatest defensive season in the modern era?), and for his great play in the Playoffs. That is one hell of a career.

    I have a ton of respect for Robinson at his absolute peak in the regular season (which are three of the best seasons ever). He gets underrated in that department. I have come to the point that I have no problem with people ranking him based on those accomplishments alone. But I still do penalize him for two things: the deep offensive drop in the playoffs and the drop in overall production because of the reduced minutes he played after he came back from his leg injury. Because I think that the playoffs are more important game I give them more value than regular season games (the only reason for the existence of the regular season is seeding for the playoffs). Plus, for whatever reason, there are players who drop off alot in the playoffs (Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant, and for all of his clutch reputation in the playoffs, Larry Bird) so there is some justification of a player not doing better against the best talent available. Those are the reasons I rank Robinson behind not only Olajuwon, but Tim Duncan, Shaq, Kareem, Jordan, and Magic to name a few.

  24. Anon Says:

    "OK Anon I'm sorry about earlier when it came to my 70 % post. You were going by subtraction and I was going by addition."

    Not a problem at all; there was no offense taken in the first place. But you're still assuming that I'm calculating efficiency and possessions used in a similar manner that you're doing in your posts. Your comments on Hakeem (and the game in general) are all valid and deserve consideration. However, someone has already done that for you in detail -- see "Basketball on Paper".

  25. Anthony Coleman Says:

    see "Basketball on Paper".

    Dean Oliver created most of our community and our understanding of the possession by possession importance of the game was crucial. Yet, just like people didn't always agree with Bill James, I don't always agree with his importance of efficiency for an individual player.

    In a game with a 24 second shot clock and 90 to 100 possessions per game, a quality shot must be attempted. Its the one thing that drives us nuts because our statistical "on-base percentage" for judging scorers is a subjective skill and not a record of absolute fact: usage percentage. The efficiency is the "slugging percentage." Like I said before the difference between Olajuwon, if he took the quantity of shots of Drexler the difference is only a free throw. Yet, I hate to sound like a broken record here, there was still those extra possessions that somebody needed to take those shots and Drexler, at his age and not having the athletic ability of Olajuwon, couldn't be relied upon to carry more of the load. Those 12 shots per game would represent 36 points but realistically, 0 to 16 points. Correct me if I'm wrong but the Rockets' games were mostly decided by less than 10 points per game so if Olajuwon would have been ineffective with those extra shots there is absolutely no way that the Rockets could have won the title. Olajuwon was maintaining a very high efficiency with those possessions and thus accounted for 12.5 points more per game. That's more than enough to convince me that he was more valuable to the Rockets' offensive success than Drexler was. Personally I don't think its even close.

  26. Anon Says:

    "Yet, just like people didn't always agree with Bill James, I don't always agree with his importance of efficiency for an individual player."

    Understood, and there's nothing wrong with disagreeing with someone. But if people disagree they need to present sound evidence.

    And actually, Dean was the one who emphasized the statistical importance of shot-creation and why it is important in basketball in his book. Winning games surely has to do alot more than shooting high %s from the field, which is why for all of the flak that the Kobes, Iversons, etc. get sometimes from the media for shooting too much during games, fans need to understand that by doing so they help open up opportunities for others by attempting the shots that their teammates wouldn't otherwise make, which gives them value over players that shoot high %s but don't do alot in the offense in the first place. However, the key is figuring out how how much you increase your team's chances of winning with the shots you create (even if you miss them) until you start shooting too much and you're not getting significant returns for the extra shots you attempt. Hakeem was certainly helping his team by virtue of taking on alot of the Rockets offense, but for all the additional shots he was taking, he wasn't making enough of them to justify his (high) possession rate. Perhaps Drexler wouldn't have been the shot-creator the Hakeem was, but with what he was already doing in his role he could've increased his usage without taking a huge hit in his already high efficiency.

    A perfect example of this phenomenon in games I've watched this season is with the Lakers. With Kobe's injuries this season, the other go-to guy on the team in Pau Gasol took on more of the Lakers offense to compensate for their first option being out. He has been sterling in this regard, and has had multiple games where he has remained pretty efficient while creating more shots than usual.

  27. Anthony Coleman Says:

    """"However, the key is figuring out how how much you increase your team's chances of winning with the shots you create (even if you miss them) until you start shooting too much and you're not getting significant returns for the extra shots you attempt. Hakeem was certainly helping his team by virtue of taking on alot of the Rockets offense, but for all the additional shots he was taking, he wasn't making enough of them to justify his (high) possession rate. Perhaps Drexler wouldn't have been the shot-creator the Hakeem was, but with what he was already doing in his role he could've increased his usage without taking a huge hit in his already high efficiency."""""

    This is the dumbest basketball related thing I've heard in quite some time.

    Olajuwon was still averaging 56% for the true shooting percentage on of the 30 shots he was attempting per game. For that kind of volume that is a fantastic number. That's the equivalent of Jordan's last four championship runs and Shaq's 2000 playoffs. Having him take that many shots, no matter how more efficient than Drexler was in far fewer shots, was still the most important factor in the Rockets' repeating. To say that his less efficiency didn't justify his high possession rate is pure nonsense.

    Also, I'll say it again, the difference between in points scored if Olajuwon's TS% was used for the volume of shots Drexler shot was only 1 point. That is small. And guess what? Drexler's points per game that he scored was only slightly better than what he was averaging in the playoffs and regular season for the previous three seasons. To me he was playing exactly at his limits when it came to his maximum offensive potential.

    Also here is another point: it doesn't matter about if he or should he been taking more shots per game, the fact is that he didn't and he definitely couldn't. He was 32 at the time and was slightly past his athletic prime. At that point in his career Olajuwon was definitely superior at creating his own shot with regularity. Would you like to argue this point Anon? If a player has a significantly higher load of the offense then that is indication to me that they're talent for creating their own shot is probably better. I'm not going to give somebody more credit for a slightly higher efficiency in shooting if the other player is taking on a much bigger piece of the scoring responsibility.

    You're seemingly going tic-for-tac by the win share formula without exploring how it reflects in the possessions of a basketball game. To me Win Shares got this wrong: by virtue of his still high efficiency and his volume Olajuwon was the more important cog of the Rocket's offensive engine. It is reflected by the 12 extra points a game and I am shocked that you're not seeing the obvious.

    BTW you've still ducked my question: do you think that Drexler was a better offensive player than Jordan in his last three championship runs, Shaq in the Laker dynasty era, or any of the other players I selected? Please answer that question.

  28. Anon Says:

    This is the dumbest basketball related thing I've heard in quite some time.

    I tend to be dumb on purpose.

    "Also here is another point: it doesn't matter about if he or should he been taking more shots per game, the fact is that he didn't and he definitely couldn't."

    Oh really? That's why he absolutely struggled despite accounting for about 24% of his team's offense, right? Clyde certainly had more in the tank than you would care to admit.

    "You're seemingly going tic-for-tac by the win share formula without exploring how it reflects in the possessions of a basketball game. To me Win Shares got this wrong..."

    I don't think you're in a position to criticize something that you don't even have an understanding for, neither in its methodology nor how it was formulated. If you have a problem with it, you need to air your grievances with the methodology used in its calculation, not cherry-pick examples of your choosing that you don't happen to agree with because it doesn't put who YOU want to see at the top.

    "BTW you've still ducked my question: do you think that Drexler was a better offensive player than Jordan in his last three championship runs, Shaq in the Laker dynasty era, or any of the other players I selected? Please answer that question."

    You don't need to be covert in your reasons for wanting me to answer this question; I know what you're trying to do here. The answer is no.

  29. Neil Paine Says:

    More fuel for the fire:

    http://www.basketball-reference.com/blog/?p=5500

  30. Anthony Coleman Says:

    "You don't need to be covert in your reasons for wanting me to answer this question; I know what you're trying to do here. The answer is no."

    I know this is coming back to bite me in the ass so I'll say it now: I should have said scorer again, not offensive player. However, the whole argument has been based on the argument of scoring and whether his efficiency and less turnovers offset Olajuwon's volume. Now lets get back to our regularly scheduled program.

    You damn well should consider Drexler that then seeing that Drexler had a True Shooting percentage higher than Jordan in 1996, and Shaq in 2000. In fact the whole argument is about the playoffs and while doing some research I noticed something: over the last 19 playoffs for all of the players who have won an NBA title and averaged at least 30 points (I'm going to include Kobe's 2001 because he averaged 29.4 a game), not one of them had a true Shooting Percentage as high as Drexler's. Here is the numbers (note: I'm not correcting for the pace because the shot attempts are pretty much the same)

    Jordan 1992: 34.5 points per game/ 57.1 TS%
    Jordan 1993: 35.1 PPG/ 55.3 TS%
    Jordan 1996: 30.7 PPG/ 56.4 TS%

    Shaq 2000: 30.7 PPG/ 55.6 TS%
    Shaq 2001: 30.4 PPG/ 56.4%
    Kobe 2001: 29.4 PPG/ 55.5%

    Kobe 2009: 30.2 PPG/ 56.4%

    also lets add more to the mix: D-Wade's 2006 was 28.4 and his True Shooting percentage was 59.3.

    Also because of his greatness in the postseason and his higher average in the first two titles, Tim Duncan
    Duncan 2003: 24.7 PPG/ 57.7%
    Duncan 1999: 23.2 PPG/ 57.3%

    So here is the breakdown: For all the ones that averaged at least 29 points per game not one of the max is 57.1 held by Michael Jordan. After that the rest were hovering around 55.5-56.5 percent. Then we had Duncan, who was less than thirty points, but had a higher average than Drexler, his percentage was in the 57%. There is only one player who had a higher scoring average, won a title, and had a higher TS% and that was Wade (and that was fueled by an absolutely crazy efficient final two series). But the point is this: in the playoffs when the average reaches the mid 20s, and certainly nearing 30 points, the drop in TS% is precipitous.

    This is why I am so surprised that there isn't so much skepticism when it comes to Drexler's high efficiency and just because of that he'd continue to be anywhere near effective with more shots. The data we have suggests that the likelihood of that happening when you're facing the very best teams in the league in a seven (well back then the first rounds were 5) game elimination is very, very, very low. It is very difficult to maintain that kind of productivity when you're shooting that often in the playoffs. Plus ask yourself that question: do you honestly, in your mind, feel that at his age Drexler was as athletically dominant as all of those all-time greats (and if Wade's body doesn't fall apart he will certainly join those ranks)? I think that answer is a definitive no.

  31. Spree Says:

    This was a great article. I'm glad I found it. I do have a couple of problems.

    Latrell Sprewell and Allan Houston were not overrated, IMO. With a gimpy Ewing and a limited LJ, these two guys had to really carry New York. People forget that the Knicks went on that playoff run largely due to Houston, Sprewell, and Camby as Van Gundy reluctantly opened up the offense out of necessity.

    Let's review. Ewing, LJ, and Kurt Thomas did the gritty defensive work and rebounding against a bigger, healthier, and younger Miami Heat in the first round of 98-99. But scoring wise this one hinged on Houston and Sprewell. And we all know it turned out that Houston hit the game-winner. In Round 2 they swept the Hawks handily with Camby really having a coming out party. Against the Pacers, Ewing and LJ were not playing for large stretches and Houston, Sprewell, and Camby ran circles around Indiana. They ran out of bullets against a San Antonio team with two hall of fame big men.

    But you can't say Sprewell and Houston were overrated. They led a team with Chris Dudley as the starting center to the Finals.

    Also, I understand that you don't spend much time on Camby, because Van Gundy ignored him for the most part. But the Knicks don't get to the Finals without Camby coming alive against Atlanta and Indiana. He was remarkable has a shot blocker and rebounder. He didn't have the size to bang with Duncan and Robinson, but Camby was extraordinary for a spell. And really, Van Gundy must be faulted for not utilizing him.

    As you said, Pat Riley's gift was his ability to adapt his strategy to the team he had. Van Gundy could not do that. He insisted on centering the team around Patrick Ewing when he was clearly past his prime and after Sprewell and Houston were the clear team leaders. I believe it was a mistake by Van Gundy to not start speeding up the games and having Camby, Houston, and Sprewell run the floor with Childs at the point guard position. The Knicks had better open floor players than the Kings of that time who ran effectively. No one was more dangerous than Sprewell on the fast break. Houston could stop and pop a fast break three. Camby was thriving anytime the Knicks ran. Van Gundy instead continued to try and post up Ewing and LJ time and time again. That was a failure on Jeff's part.

    And those early 90's Knicks? They were typically the second best team in the League. At that point they were MJ's biggest rival. No team pushed the Bulls and Jordan harder. It's a testament to Jordan that he beat those Knicks of 92 and 93. Ewing was no choker there. Losing to the greatest ever is no choke.