So no one really thinks the Knicks have done much to improve at center, power forward, small forward or shooting guard over last season. Sure, there’s some changes at the margins, with Marcus Camby probably an upgrade over Jared Jeffries, but the starters largely remain the same, while Ronnie Brewer needs to replicate Landry Fields’ 2011-12, which he’s likely to do.
The major place on the roster of upheaval is point guard. And at first glance, the change isn’t very significant there, either.
Four players received the minutes at point guard last season: Baron Davis, Toney Douglas, Mike Bibby, and… oh, right. Jeremy Lin. I know Iman Shumpert got some time there, but generally, it was these four.
Together, they put up, over 2,748 minutes, a Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 12.2. (15 is league average.) Davis was at 10.0, Bibby was at 7.8, Douglas was at 7.1, and Lin checked in at… 19.9.
Raymond Felton, who you might have heard was out of shape last season, put up a career-low PER of 13.4 last season, and his career PER is 14.4. Jason Kidd’s PER was 13.1 in 2011-12. His career mark is 18.1, but last year’s total is certainly a better indicator of his current talent level, since he’s 39. Pablo Prigioni is, obviously, the great unknown. But if he isn’t better than Felton and Kidd, he won’t play much.
So strictly from an apples-to-apples comparison, the Knicks can expect slightly better point guard play over last season, in aggregate.
But anyone who watched the Knicks last season knows that a simple breakdown of point guard minutes- Lin 34 percent, Bibby 24 percent, Davis 22 percent, Douglas 20 percent- doesn’t capture what really happened. There were the pre-Linsanity Knicks, the Linsanity Knicks, and the post-Linsanity Knicks. So what I really wondered was: just how much better are the Knicks now, compared to the Knicks we saw for the majority of last season?
Unfortunately, in-season splits on PER are not available. But the way the actual playing time shook out, we can pretty well isolate how effective the weapons were for the Knicks in the three disparate periods. I simply took the minutes all the point guards played during those periods of the Knicks season, and assumed season-consistent PER production from every one of the point guards. This is safe: Davis was pretty much Davis, while Bibby and Douglas, regrettably, were very much Bibby and Douglas throughout.
Period One: Pre-Linsanity (Start of season-February 3), with Lin playing a total of 54 minutes in 23 games, and pre-Baron Davis, who didn’t return until February 20. This was Douglas (23 minutes) and to a lesser extent Bibby (14 minutes) time.
Period Two: Linsanity, (February 4-March 24), where Jeremy Lin averaged more than 33 minutes per game, Davis around 17. They were, in other words, the point guards.
Period Three: Post-Linsanity (March 24-end of season), no Jeremy Lin, and mostly Davis (25 minutes), some Bibby (17 minutes), a bit of Douglas (10 minutes) thrown in.
In Period One, the Knicks were 8-15. The PER from that proportion of Douglas and Bibby comes to… 7.1. 15, again, is league average. You want to tell me the problem last season was Stoudemire? Anthony? D’Antoni?!? Well, the Knicks were receiving point guard play in that 8-15 start so far below the league average in PER, just 34 of the 439 NBA players in 2011-12 with at least 100 minutes logged AT ANY POSITION performed worse. And exactly one of them, DeShawn Stevenson, started more than 19 games, total. It was bad.
Period Two? Better. The Knicks were 16-10. The PER from the proportion of Lin and Davis comes to… 16.5, or better than league average production at the position. That’s also significantly better than a combination of Felton and Kidd provided last season.
Period three? Much, much worse. The Knicks were 12-5, which was actually the best winning percentage of the three periods. But point guard play dropped off dramatically. The PER from the proportion of Davis, Bibby and Douglas came to 8.8. Again, much below league average, but interestingly, better than in period one by a significant margin. There’s no Amar’e for that period, and the best Carmelo we’ve seen as a Knick. But we’re just talking point guard play here, and it is unlikely that this year’s Knicks will see point guard play that isn’t much more effective than it was during their 12-5 stretch run.
So what does this ultimately tell us? Well, a couple of things. One is that though in total, the Knicks can expect slightly better point guard play this year, the point guard play should be miles ahead of last season’s production in 40 of the 66 games. Take Linsanity out of the equation, and for 61 percent of the season, the Knicks had a point guard PER of 7.8. The team’s record over those 40 games? Exactly 20-20.
The returning point guards this season each bested 13 in PER last year, and call me a cockeyed optimist, but I think Prigioni is a good bet to best 7.8 as well. So if the Knicks get nothing more from any other position-and keep in mind, Amar’e Stoudemire played in only 25 of those 40 games, with most of those 25 coming early as he worked to get himself back into shape following last summer’s back surgery- they should still be a better than .500 team. If the degree of improvement at point guard is as dramatic as it appears, they should be a good bit better than .500.
But yes, they’d also probably have been better off keeping Jeremy Lin. Still, I’m guessing you already knew that.