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Drew’s Clues: Inaugural Investigation

Created by Dick Wolf

NBA: New York Knicks at Oklahoma City Thunder Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

In the New York Knicks organization, there are two separate but equally important groups. The coaches, who implement the system, and the players, who execute the actions. The results of these actions are measured by statistics. These are their stories. DUN DUN.

Oh, you thought the pun titles were over? They are undefeated, NEVA LOST. If I could find a way to incorporate a pun title based on my name for every article, I would.

Welcome to “Drew’s Clues,” a series that explores intriguing statistics — and by intriguing, I mean statistics that tickle my fancy. Sometimes the statistics will add some value to the discussion of the Knickerbockers of New York, sometimes they will be random tidbits that are just funny. I’m just going with the flow.

Two things to keep in mind with this article:

  1. The stats were collected on November 15, 2018.
  2. The sample size for these metrics are still wonky and won’t really smooth out until late December/early January.

In today’s article, there will be [insert number] clues examined. But enough with the introduction, let’s start investigating.

Clue One: Enes Kanter’s defended field goal differential within six feet

Enes Kanter’s defended field goal differential within six feet of the rim is 0.5 percent and has been increasing as the season progresses. This means that opponents shoot 0.5 percent better within six feet when Kanter defends the shot. Interestingly enough, Kanter over the past few seasons did post negative percentages in this statistic. They were nothing of significant value — his best season was in 2016–17 when he posed a -4.2 DFG% differential — but negative nonetheless.

However, this leads us to our next clue…

Clue Two: New York’s defense at the rim when Kanter plays

The following numbers come from Cleaning the Glass: when Enes Kanter is on the court for the Knicks, 39.5 percent of opponent’s field goal attempts come at the rim, and they convert 64.8 percent of those attempts. That ranks 16th and 24th percentiles, respectively.

The numbers in both these clues suggest a few things. First, and most importantly, they strongly suggest that opponents simply do not respect Kanter as a rim protector and attack the rim as much as possible when he’s on the floor. The Thunder certainly did not respect him. Second, it does suggest that the Knicks’ perimeter defense is allowing too much penetration. But as highlighted in the most recent “How They Drew It Up” (and will be highlighted in a future Posting and Toasting article) Kanter not only makes it far too easy for opponents driving to the rim, but he also sits too far back and is constantly not in proper position on pick-and-rolls. He plays a big part as to why these numbers currently are what they are.

Clue Three: Allonzo Trier has the best DFG% differential on the Knicks

The sample size is far too small, but it’s quite amusing. On 28 defended field goal attempts, opponents are shooting 11.6 percent worse against Trier within six feet of the rim. That’s all I got, so just let that marinate.

Clue Four: Tim Hardaway Jr. shoots better with Frank on the floor

Hardaway Jr. and Ntilikina have played 296 minutes together and Hardaway has played 148 minutes without Ntilikina, per NBA Stats. Hardaway Jr. has a true shooting percentage of 57.7 percent when sharing the court with Ntilikina and a 52.7 TS% when not sharing the court with Frank. The French Prince may be struggling to consistently look for his shot, but the Knicks’ best offensive player does shoot noticeably better with Ntilikina running the offense.

Clue Five: The Knicks’ starting five before the Thunder game was really good

That level of drastic change to the starting lineup against the Oklahoma City Thunder did not really make much sense to me, especially when benching your two best perimeter defenders. If Fizdale wanted to see if Kanter was bringing down Mudiay’s pace numbers, then swapping him for Frank makes sense. If Fizdale wanted to give Knox a look with the starting unit, then swapping out Vonleh makes a bit more sense than Dotson, but it’s not like swapping Knox for Dotson doesn’t make sense. Doing both wasn’t a smart move.

Anywell, that’s enough soapboxing for me. Let’s get back to the data. The five-man lineup of Ntilikina, Hardaway Jr., Dotson, Vonleh, and Robinson have a +8.1 net rating, per NBA Stats. Of five-man units that played at least 90 minutes together this season, this specific Knicks lineup is tied for sixth in the NBA. The best five-man lineup in the NBA right now is Paul George, Dennis Schroder, Steven Adams, Terrance Ferguson, and Jerami Grant — you know, the lineup that straight cooked the Knicks.

I get that this is a season for experimenting and tanking, but that five-man lineup was working and there was no need to make sweeping changes to it. The only change that would be worthwhile to explore is swapping Knox with Vonleh and then having Vonleh be the second unit backup five. Enes Kanter doesn’t need to play anymore.

Clue Six: Knicks embracing Moreyball?

You can check out the exact figures for 2017–18 here and 2018–19 here, but below I’m going to detail the year-over-year differentials for the Knicks per game field goal attempts in each shooting zone:

  • Restricted Area: +3.6
  • Paint Non-RA: -1.0
  • Midrange: -4.8
  • Corner Threes: +0.1
  • Above The Break Threes: +5.5

More shots at the rim and more three pointers! That’s what you like to see. Granted, the efficiency isn’t the same despite the better shot profile. The year-over-year field goal percentage at the rim and above the break are -4.6 and -1.1, respectively. The Knicks have also been dreadful shooting corner threes, converting 33.3 percent from the left corner and 19.5 from the right corner.

It’s nice to see the shot profile improve, but it means nothing without actually converting these shots at an efficient rate.

Clue Seven: Zone true shooting update

Below is a table of the Knicks zone true shooting percentages:

Ntilikina, despite cutting out those long two-pointers and taking more threes, needs to now work on shifting those 10–16 foot mid-range shots to shots 10 feet and closer, preferably shots at the rim. Mitchell Robinson’s zone true shooting percentage is bonkers because the only thing he does is shoot restricted area shots and free throws. It’s wonderful.

Clue Eight: Kanter’s defensive rebounding

Enes Kanter averages 11.5 rebounds per game. Of those total rebounds, 7.3 of them are defensive. We all like to say that Kanter is a great rebounder. Hell, Cleaning the Glass wrote an article on it (you can Google it, as I won’t link it).

But when we take a deeper look, we find an interesting fact. There are 37 players in the NBA that average more than six defensive rebounds per game. Kanter ranks 29th in contested defensive rebounds per game (1.1) and contested defensive rebounds percentage (14.7). He ranks in the bottom 10 of high-volume defensive rebounders in terms of grabbing tough rebounds.

More than half of Kanter’s total rebounds are uncontested (7.3 – 1.1 = 6.2). Furthermore, Kanter does not even add value to the Knicks defensive rebounding when he is on the floor. Per Basketball Reference, Kanter has a -0.4 on/off differential for defensive rebounding percentage. That’s right folks, technically and literally speaking, the Knicks are a worse defensive rebounding team when Kanter is on the court.

This concludes the first investigation of Drew’s Clues. Stay tuned for an end-of-the-month wrap up for November as we look into this month’s stats. And remember, data never sleeps.