Like you, I am fairly desperate for the basketball season to start. Accordingly, last night, I watched Game 4 of the 1992 NBA Eastern Conference playoffs between the New York Knicks and the Chicago Bulls. The Knicks won, 93-86. It was great.
The star of the game was Xavier McDaniel, who scored 24 points to lead the Knicks. Michael Jordan scored just 29 in a losing effort. And it brought to mind the complaint from many Knicks fans that the decision to let Xavier McDaniel go is what cost the Knicks, ultimately, the chance to win an NBA championship.
I remember loving McDaniel, and being distraught over losing him to, of all teams, the Boston Celtics. But I wondered: did losing McDaniel really make the difference?
Consider that in his one season with the Knicks, there were indications that McDaniel had already played his best basketball. From age 23-26, McDaniel’s Player Efficiency Rating stayed between 17.9 and 18.7 in each season; but at age 27, the year before coming to the Knicks, it dipped to 15.2, and in his season with New York, it dropped to 13.9. That matches the 13.8 he put up over five seasons upon leaving New York.
The 1992-93 Knicks, once McDaniel shocked them by signing with the Celtics, replaced him by making a deal to bring Charles Smith and Doc Rivers to town. Mark Jackson was traded in the deal, among others.
Smith put together a solid season for the Knicks, with a PER of 14.7, or better than McDaniel’s 1991-92. McDaniel’s 1992-93 PER, however, was 16.3. Rivers checked in at 14.6, which was a downgrade from Jackson’s 1991-92 mark of 17.8, or even his 16.6 in 1992-93 for the Clippers.
Overall, the difference between the two players from 1991-92 and 1992-93 was a significant loss to the Knicks, who could have signed McDaniel and kept Jackson.
I’m not even including the obvious analysis of a single play. I don’t think anyone in the world believe Xavier McDaniel would have gotten blocked repeatedly at the end of Game 5.
So yes, I think there’s something to this analysis. To the time machine!