NBA: Lessons Learned From Carmelo Anthony-Knicks Experiment

| by David Berri

David Biderman – of the Wall Street Journal – has looked at how often teams with two starting All-Stars have played as badly as the Knicks have played since Carmelo Anthony came to the Big Apple. The answer… not often.

Okay, the Knicks – despite defeating the Magic in Monday night – have not been good. Could anyone have expected this outcome?

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Before this trade happened, I thought the Knicks were about a 50 win team with Carmelo. At least, that’s what I told the Wall Street Journal. But that forecast required that we not only know the productivity of the players the Knicks employ, but also the minutes each player would player.

Now that the Knicks have played 20 games with Anthony, we now know the minutes.  So let’s re-visit that forecast.  The following table reports what we should have expected each player to do in the past 20 games, given the performance this season before “the trade” and minutes played after “the trade”.  The table also reports what has actually happened.

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The team’s record with Anthony is 8-12.  Given performance before the trade (and again, minutes after the trade), we would have expected this team to be about 10-10.  In other words, now that we know who has actually played, the forecasted wins for a season would be revised from about 50 wins (or what I told the Wall Street Journal before the trade) to about 41 victories. 

When we look at actual Wins Produced, the team should be about 9-11.  In sum, the Knicks – as a team – are not really performing much different from expectations.  And again, these are expectations we would have if we knew minutes played (which we didn’t know before the trade).

To understand the reduced expectations, let’s go back to the explanation behind the 50-win forecast.  Here is what I said in February:

In the article it is noted that I think the Knicks could be a 50-win team with this trade.  Forecasting is of course difficult.  Especially about the future.  But here is a quick summary of my thinking on this move.  Essentially I see the trade as having three key components:

  • Carmelo Anthony replaces Wilson Chandler
  • Chauncey Billups replaces Raymond Felton
  • Someone (probably Ronny Turiaf) takes the minutes of Timofey Mozgov

A month ago I offered some numbers that indicated these three components improved the Knicks by about 50 wins.  Now that we see the minutes played, though, we see that two of these three aspects of the trade didn’t quite happen.

Specifically, Billups has been hurt.  So he hasn’t played as much as expected.  In addition, the minutes that went to Mozgov have essentially been replaced in the frontcourt by Jared Jeffries.  Soon after this trade happened, Jeffries was cut by the Houston Rockets and signed by the Knicks.  Although Jeffries has been somewhat productive in the past, this year he has been about as good as Mozgov.  And that means the small gain I expected the Knicks to realize with Mozgov playing elsewhere haven’t been realized.  In fact, because Jeffries plays more than Mozgov, the “swap” of Mozgov for Jeffries has really not helped.

The injury to Billups and the addition of Jeffries are not the only observations we could make about the Knicks.  Since the trade…

  • Landry Fields is still the most productive player on the team, but he has declined.  So he is not leading by as much as he was before.
  • Amare Stoudemire – who some people saw as an MVP candidate earlier in the year – was below average before the trade.  He is still below average (and maybe I should offer a post on that issue in the future).
  • Carmelo Anthony was above average before the trade and is above average in New York. But he is not very far above average.  And he is not really a star; at least, not in terms of production.
  • Tony Douglass and Roger Mason have both played well since the trade.  So the strength of this team is not their star forwards (i.e. Amare and Melo).  The strength is in the backcourt.
  • And that strength in the backcourt would be improved if Chauncey Billups played all the time and produced as he did in Denver.  In other words, with a healthy Billups the Knicks would be a bit better than average.  But even with Billups healthy, this is not a contending team.

Although the Knicks are getting productive play from their guards, once again, it is not enough to turn this team into a contender.  And there is a simple explanation for this outcome:  The Knicks do not have enough productive players to contend for a title.

Yes, they have two starters from the All-Star game.  If this starting duo had been taken from a group including LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard, or Chris Paul; then the Knicks would be contenders.  The Knicks, though, have acquired relatively unproductive stars.  Consequently, fans of this team shouldn’t expect to see a contender until more productive players are added.

And just to note… changing the coach –without changing the players – is probably not going to make any difference.

- DJ