I spend many of my idle matutinal hours staring at HoopData, and I'm trying to turn that into something quasi-productive so I'm not just sitting here, staring, and gnawing on my wrists in vain. I wrote part of a post presenting some stats related to the Knicks' miserable switching defense, but decided that that stuff's pretty obvious, and I already grumbled enough about it in a post last week. Basically, the Knicks switch excessively and carelessly, and it's leading to easy, assisted buckets. Opponents need only to run a pick-and-roll to set in motion a calamitous domino effect that ends in a wide-open shot. That hasn't changed in the last few games. Let's look at something else.
How about this? The Knicks, through six games (still a small sample size, so feel free to think of these numbers as "over the last six games" instead of "this season" if you please) have committed fouls at a higher rate than anybody in the NBA. They foul 24.17 times per game, which is tied for for most in the league, and also rank first in opponent free throw rate at 36.1 (i.e. 0.36 free throws attempted/field goal attempted, as I understand it).
Why are they fouling so much? Well, I'd attribute at least part of it to that dastardly switching. Switching, when executed properly, still leads to mismatches, which probably lead to fouls. Switching, when executed improperly, leads to open men, which leads to scrambling help defense, often in the form of an outright bum-rush, which also probably leads to fouls. Beyond that, it seems like a few Knicks have been especially prone to careless fouling. Tyson Chandler and Carmelo Anthony repeatedly get caught reaching or bumping into shooters, while Toney Douglas gets called for an absurd number of "ticky-tack" fouls (to the point that I've quit blaming the refs and now wonder if Toney's surreptitiously electrocuting people or something) and Bill Walker just fancies hitting folks. Fouling a lot isn't always a bad thing, but for the Knicks, it feels like it is.
There's a pleasant flip-side to this one, though. The Knicks, as it turns out, just live for physical contact. They're fouling the most, but also drawing quite a few fouls themselves. They're fourth in the raw numbers, drawing 23.5 fouls per game, and first overall in that free throw rate statistic at 37.1 (again, that's free throws attempted over field goals attempted taken as a percentage). That's terrific, and it's likely a huge reason why they've remained even remotely productive on the scoreboard despite appearing short-handed and mostly disorganized. Carmelo Anthony leads the entire league in free throws attempted with 10.2 per game and Tyson Chandler and Amar'e Stoudemire are both close behind him in the top fifteen. All three are shooting decent enough percentages at the line, and the team as a whole is sixth in the league at just a pube under 80 percent from the line. These are all wonderful numbers, and one hopes they'll be joined by other fine offensive numbers in the near future. (The Knicks, incidentally, are middle-of-the-pack in terms of offensive efficiency, despite looking like they've been trampled by the pack. I'd imagine things are swayed considerably by that one Kings game, but still...)
So, yeah. So far this season, the Knicks have been super into illegally touching folks and getting illegally touched by folks. On defense, it strikes me more as a function of sloppiness and careless defensive rotations than it does some praiseworthy "NO LAYUPS FUCK YEAH KNOCK EM DOWN" mentality. On the other end, the Knicks' stars are doing a terrific job of getting to the line, and that might be what's keeping the Knicks' offense somewhat afloat despite massive flaws.