Contrasting ball discipline thickens this week's plot

Oh look, a turnover! (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Tuesday, March 6th -- @ Dallas
Wednesday, March 7th -- @ San Antonio
Friday, March 9th (RIP Christopher Wallace) -- @ Milwaukee
Sunday, March 11th -- VS Philadelphia

On Sunday afternoon, the Knicks and Celtics combined for 36 turnovers (albeit in an overtime game). Anyone who watched the whole ordeal is probably reading that number incredulously because it sure seemed like there were at least 50. The Knicks turned the ball over 22 times, including 12 by point guards alone, while the Celtics coughed it up 14 times. It is not an overstatement to say that, with a 50-42 rebounding edge and nearly identical shooting percentages across the board, the Knicks lost that game because of turnovers. Turnovers will be the theme of the next couple of weeks' plot, including some highly contrasting statistics to illustrate how the Knicks differ from their opponents during their toughest stretch of schedule this season.
I don't go crazy for too many advanced statistics, particularly defensive statistics, but some are crucial to painting the story of a team's season. John Hollinger and Dean Oliver are two men of many who have spent their careers creating and fine-tuning advanced basketball statistics, coming up with metrics like Player Efficiency Rating and True Shooting Percentage, two measurements that have their flaws but also act as convenient measuring sticks for offensive production. Without going into detail, many of these statistics seem convoluted to me, so I tend to look at simpler stats when assessing players and teams. One statistic, the turnover ratio, is where I want to shed some fleshlight. The turnover ratio is extremely simple: it indicates the percentage of possessions a team uses that end in a turnover. Predictably, the Knicks rank as the second worst team in the NBA at taking care of the ball, beating only Oklahoma City (which, let the record show, is an absolutely dope basketball team): 26.8% of Knick possessions end in a turnover. This is an important statistic any day of the week, but it will be particularly important on game days for the next two weeks.

On March 20th, the Knicks will play the Toronto Raptors, who rank 25th in the NBA in turnover ratio at 25.8%. Prior to that game, the Knicks will play the following teams, next to which I have indicated that team's NBA rank in ball discipline:

@ Dallas (Turnover Rank: 12)
@ San Antonio (Turnover Rank: 2)
@ Milwaukee (Turnover Rank: 4)
VS Philadelphia (Turnover Rank: 1)
@ Chicago (Turnover Rank: 5)
VS Portland (Turnover Rank: 7)
VS Indiana (Turnover Rank: 11)
@ Indiana (Turnover Rank: 11)

To summarize, the Knicks' next eight games all come against teams who take care of the ball to the following degrees:
a) Very well
b) Elite
c) The best

Sunday's Boston debacle represented arguably the biggest problem the Knicks have had all season, and their 29th NBA ranking in turnover ratio proves the eye test right. The Knicks only turned the ball over eight times all game against the Cavaliers and they blew Cleveland out, so it's not like this shit is all theoretical: Take care of the ball, win the game. Suffice it to say that if Mike D'Antoni has any interest in winning at all, he will emphasize this point to his team. This emphasis, thanks to such a brutal stretch, will come with illustrations in the forms of Carlisle, Popovich, Skiles, Collins, Thibodeau, McMillan and Vogel offenses. If the Knicks can emulate their opponents' knack for ball security, it should give them plenty of chances to come out ahead in the coming weeks.

Now let's get down to team-specific stuff.

Dirk Nowitzki's title team went on a tear recently, culminating in a loss against the Knicks two Sundays ago. Since then, Dallas has beaten Boston and lost to the likes of New Jersey and New Orleans. Additionally, Dallas will be playing the second half of a back-to-back tonight, although they played great against OKC last night in a loss. Although they obviously didn't win, and they fouled entirely too much, but to hold Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden to a combined 16 of 49 from the field is flat-out preposterous. I mean, just consider that for five seconds. Part of it is frustratingly that the Mavs have figured out how dope Ian Mahinmi is before the Knicks could grab him. Another part of it is that Dirk Nowitzki is averaging a career high in blocks, swatting 6.8 shots per game. Just seeing if you're paying attention. Last night, however, Brendan Haywood also went down in the first minute with a screwed up foot or something and probably won't play tonight.

Strengths
- Fourth in defensive efficiency
- Take care of the ball, 12th in apple turnovers
- Rank in the dead center in pace. I mention this because it doesn't seem like a strength, but with a historically great fast break point guard (Kidd) combined with a historically great half-court offensive weapon (Nowitzki/Terry pick and roll/pop), I think the league-average ranking indicates their great ability to control tempo depending on the situation. Maybe I'm just a stupid bastard though. Who knows? For all I know, this stat could keep Rick Carlisle up at night because it indicates a complete lack of ability to control tempo. Maybe neither of us is right, and this is just indicative of their natural balance as a unit? Maybe the whole world is just a great big middle pace ranking. And another thing, they're tied with the Pacers! The Pacers are dead-center in Pace. They're literally setting the pace for the entire league. If the Nuggets were the treasurers of the league, the Pacers would literally be the Pacers still. But then again, if names were literal, the 76ers wouldn't be able to play in Boston without having a tea party and they would probably kill Sacramento at home. What is happening?
- Dallas is dope at defending the three point line. I mean, they're no Boston or Philly, but they're dope
- Sean Williams is shooting 71% on the season inside the arc. Dirk Nowitzki shoots 49%. For some reason, Dallas has played Nowitzki significantly more than Williams this season. Nobody said Rick Carlisle is perfect. This falls under the "strengths" section because if you extrapolate Sean Williams's numbers, Dallas can expect to win out with their Bill Russell clone dominating the paint.

Weaknesses
- 19th in offensive efficiency
- Lower third in rebound rate, with less than 50%
- Dallas sucks at shooting threes. I mean, they're no Lakers or Knicks, but they suck
- Dallas sucks at drawing free throws. I mean, they're no Phoenix or Philly, but they suck
- Yi Jianlian played last night. Yi Jianlian is the international sign for batshit lunacy, and he appropriately recorded 13 minutes of burn.

Probably my second or third favorite team, the NBA's version of the Detroit Red Wings is putting together another incredible season in stealth fashion. Until recent losses against Chicago and Denver, San Antonio had been eviscerating teams at home despite Tim Duncan's worst statistical season so far and Manu Ginobili's injurious lifestyle. Still, San Antonio is probably the toughest match-up this week.

Strengths
- They never foul, ranking first in opponents free throw attempts per game (18.7)
- As previously mentioned, they hardly turn the ball over
- They score a lot and very efficiently, ranking sixth in points per 100 possessions (104) and fourth in true shooting percentage (54.1)
- They dominate the defensive glass, ranking second in the NBA in defensive rebound rate (75.7)
- Excellent at avoiding technical fouls, with only 18 on the season so far (compared to the Knicks's league-leading 46)
- Shoot the three-ball second best in the NBA at a 39.6%

Weaknesses
- Hardly ever force turnovers themselves, tied with Chicago for 24th in the NBA
- Middling defensive team (tied 14th, 100.3 points per 100 possessions)
- Abysmal offensive rebounding team, nearly tied with Charlotte for 28th overall
- Have been beaten twice at home in the last week

The easiest match-up for the Knicks this week, Milwaukee currently sits four games behind the Knicks in the conference standings despite being the closest competitor for the final playoff spot. For better or for worse, this is Brandon Jennings's team and he's got the shot attempts to prove it. If you shot 40% from the field, would you take 17 shots per game? Maybe it's a Compton thing, but Jennings seems to me like Baron Davis without the court vision. On February 1st, the Bucks beat the Miami Heat 105-97. Since then, they have beaten only four teams: Toronto, Cleveland, New Jersey and Washington. Right now, Milwaukee is a bad team.

Strengths
- Jennings kills the Knicks (last game: 36 points on 6-12 from three)
- Milwaukee ranks in the top half of the NBA in offensive rebound rate
- They hardly ever turn the ball over, as previously mentioned, coughing it up on fewer than a quarter of their possessions (fourth in NBA)
- They cause tons of turnovers (16.4 opponent turnovers per game, fourth in NBA)
- In terms of pace, Milwaukee actually does a decent amount of running, ranking just ahead of Miami in this category. This is directly because of Andrew Bogut's absence, as it relegates Drew Gooden into a "center" role. Ideally, Milwaukee is a grind-it-out offense, but without Bogut there really isn't a reason to slow down

Weaknesses
- Horrible rebounding team (28th)
- Thanks to Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee ranks 28th in team field goal percentage (42.4%)
- Not a great defense, giving up 102.7 points per 100 possessions
- Milwaukee shoots the second highest percentage from the foul line in the NBA, which doesn't matter because they are in the lower third in attempts per game
- Teams shoot a high percentage from three against the Bucks (36%, lower third in NBA)
- Teams shoot a lot of free throws against the Bucks (23.8 a game, lower third in NBA)
- Teams shoot well from the field against the Bucks (49.4%, lower third in NBA)
- I don't know how else to say that Milwaukee is a bad team playing arguably their worst basketball of the season. I guess this is a weakness for both of us.

The Knicks beat Philadelphia at the height of its power way back in January, but neither team is the same. During that game, both Jeremy Lin and Steve Novak received "DNP-CD" lines and New York held Philly to slightly less than 40% shooting. Mike D'Antoni used three total bench players, all of whom have been securely fashioned to the bench recently (Walker, Douglas, Harrellson). This time around offers a Sunday Matinee at the Garden, which will be the first home game for the Knicks since February. The Sixers have been great this season, but are vulnerable on the road, where they are a .500 team at this sentence's genesis. Philly is a lockout-ready team that has great discipline and rarely will beat itself.

Strengths
- Top 10 offensive team
- Statistically #1 ranked defensive team
- Very slow team (26th in pace) with the athletes to run, run, run
- Controls the defensive boards, tied with New York for 5th in defensive rebounding percentage
- Healthy team. If someone doesn't play, it's a decision and not a necessity.
- Top-third three point percentage team in NBA (36.6%)
- Causes about four more turnovers per game than they give up, tops in the NBA
- Again, this is basically saying the same thing about turnovers, but Philly's assist/turnover ratio is incredibly above two at 2.08 assists for every turnover. The last team to have that good an assist/turnover ratio throughout an entire season was the 2005-2006 Detroit Pistons led by Chauncey Billups.

Weaknesses
- Hasn't beaten a good team in a month (last quality win came against the Lakers on February 6th, when Philadelphia was still considered an Eastern Conference powerhouse)
- Bad free throw shooting team that ranks dead last in free throw attempts per game (18.2)
- Lower-third rebounding team (22nd in NBA with 49.1%)
- Mediocre road team
- Lack of superstar
- From same town as Philadelphia Eagles

Common Thread
As you can see, each team is excellent at one thing: making possessions count by holding fast to the ball instead of lunging it at the ankles of seven foot tall men like a human being throwing Chinese popping fireworks at the feet of dancing moon men. The Knicks have proven the ability this season, as well as seasons past, to play either up to or down to their opponent, quality depending. Perhaps the deliberate style of this slate of teams will engage a monkey-see monkey-do type of mentality. I know Jeremy Lin will be pressured and is sure to accumulate turnovers, and they're tolerable for the most part so long as he is attacking. But when a team begins to outperform opponents and lose because of turnovers, perhaps it wouldn't kill them to take some notes. Speaking of notes, I got nearly all the statistics above from ESPN.com, including the rankings. I don't love ESPN very much, but its statistics database is a great resource. I recommend you guys click to sort various columns like I did. It tells you things about guys and groups of guys.

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