The Knicks were a 29-53 laughingstock last year. It was Mike D’Antoni’s second year at the helm instituting his up-tempo offense, and although they managed to score 102.1 ppg, good for ninth in the NBA, their defense was surrendering 105.9, third-worst in the league. They were a fast and furious team to watch, but really they were just losing in a fast and furious way.
The team saved all their moolah and was ready to pick up LeBron James and friends in the big free agent grab of 2010, but it turned out the only big-name player to bite was Amar’e Stoudemire, who wasn’t exactly the splash they were looking for. Fortunately for New Yorkers, however, Stoudemire is intimately familiar with D’Antoni’s system and is turning in a career year, averaging 26.3 ppg, 9.1 rpg, and 2.4 blocks. His 2.6 assists are a career high, plus he’s shooting 51%, getting to the line 8.1 times per game, and bringing plenty of Madison Square Garden fans to their feet with YouTube-worthy transition dunks. Not only that, the Knicks are 21-15 and currently sit firmly in the #6 spot in the Eastern Conference standings. Because of all of this, pundits everywhere are deeming Stoudemire a top-5 MVP candidate. I’m here to tell you that those pundits are wrong, so very very wrong.
For starters, Stoudemire’s award stats (points and rebounds for big men) aren’t nearly as impressive when you consider a) he plays for the second-fastest team in the league, and b) he sports the fifth-highest Usage Percentage of all players. For comparison, Blake Griffin’s stats, if adjusted for pace (Knicks, 96.5 possessions per game; Clippers, 92.0) and usage (Amar’e, 31.3%; Blake, 27.2%) would be 26.3 ppg and 15.2 rpg. Dirk Nowitzki’s would be 28.2 ppg and 8.8 rpg after making the same adjustments (Mavs’ pace, 90.6; Dirk’s Usage Percentage, 28.5). Not only that, Blake and Dirk both have a higher shooting percentage than Stoudemire, and they don’t have nearly the opportunity to pad their FG% with fast break dunks that Amar’e has, so if they played at the Knicks’ pace, you can bet their scoring numbers would be at least a couple points higher than the adjusted ones. In which case you’d be comparing scoring-rebounding pairs of 28-15, 30-9, and 26-9 just between those three players; it’s clear which of those pairs is far outclassed.
Next, people are making way too much of the Knicks’ improved record from last year. Any team as bad as last year’s Knicks is bound to improve simply from the law of averages, especially when Isiah Thomas’ cast of clowns and financial storm cloud is finally starting to disappear. Throw in it being the coach’s third season, a coach who uses a very specific system that needs time and specific players to run it, and NY was going to get better. This much better? Maybe not. But keep in mind that the Knicks have faced one of the easiest schedules up to this point. Through 36 games, they’ve squared off with only 14 opponents with winning records, and Amar’e’s Knicks are a mere 5-9 against those clubs. New York’s projected wins and losses based on the Pythagorean Wins/Losses formula is 19-17. Similarly, their RPI of .518 is 14th in the league and their Simple Rating System is 0.65, also 14th. Mathletics’ NBA Ratings also have the Knicks at 14th with a 0.62 rating, and Sagarin’s computer ratings also have the Knicks at 14th. Pretty much every system that calculates strength of a club puts NY at barely above-average. Considering the ease of their schedule up to this point, people should start to recognize that the Knicks are bound to take a spill in the near future. Their record is fool’s gold, so don’t let it get you carried away with Amar’e’s MVP candidacy.
Lastly, it’s nearly impossible to find an Advanced Impact Statistic that ranks Amar’e as the best player on the Knicks, let alone anywhere near the top of the league. These are the stats that look at a player’s overall impact on the point differential of a game, and this is where a player who is a questionable defender, passer, and contributor in less highlights-worthy ways gets exposed. His Adjusted Plus/Minus is +2.65, way behind teammates such as Landry Fields (+15.92), Wilson Chandler (+10.34), and Ronny Turiaf (+9.09). If you look at Wins Produced, Amar’e’s 3.1 are way behind Landry Fields (7.3) and Raymond Felton (4.5), and barely ahead of Danilo Gallinari (2.7) and Wilson Chandler (2.4). When you consider Pythagorean Winning Percentage (I’ll keep it simple and compare a player’s Offensive Rating and Defensive Rating), Amar’e’s 109-107 is far behind Gallinari (124-112), Turiaf (122-107), Fields (118-109), Chandler (117-109), and only fractionally in front of Felton (112-111). Keep in mind that none of these teammates are anywhere near the league lead in any of these categories.
Amar’e Stoudemire is a big-time scorer on a team that’s exceeded many fans’ expectations up to this point. But make no mistake, Amar’e is more a product of getting so many shots in such a fast system than anything, and he’s obviously not doing the less measurable things that teams need to win; considering he’s been known as a poor defender for quite some time, this should seem reasonable to most people. Not only that, the Knicks’ success is really just an indication of their easy schedule to start the season. When things get tough and the team falters, we can quit this MVP nonsense.
Or you can do the sensible thing and quit it now.