TrueHoop: Kevin Pelton
After five years of using the SCHOENE projection system to predict the upcoming NBA season, I have a pretty good sense of where SCHOENE will differ from conventional wisdom. Still, sometimes the results surprise even me. Such was the case when I saw the initial version of the Knicks projection featured in today's Insider team forecast: 37 wins. Tom Haberstroh did a good job of explaining New York's potential pitfalls in the forecast, but I wanted to take a closer look at some of the statistical factors causing SCHOENE to project such a steep decline.
1. 3-Point Outage
As Tom noted, no team in NBA history has been more dependent on the 3-pointer than last year's Knicks, who made a league-high 891 triples. Over the summer, New York lost its two most accurate 3-point shooters (Steve Novak, 42.5 percent; and Chris Copeland, 42.1 percent) as well as Jason Kidd, who made 114 3s. The newcomers replacing them (Andrea Bargnani, 30.9 percent; Beno Udrih, 33.3 percent; and Metta World Peace, 34.2 percent) combined to make 33.4 percent of their 3s, a rate worse than league average.
Add in regression from the Knicks' holdovers and SCHOENE projects them to make nearly 200 fewer 3-pointers this season. Take away those triples and New York's offense could look a lot more like the 2011-12 incarnation, which finished 19th in the league in offensive rating.
2. Fewer Looks, Makes for Melo
Because the Knicks lost two of their lowest-usage players, Kidd (responsible for 11.7 percent of the team's plays) and Novak (13.1 percent), SCHOENE projects Carmelo Anthony's league-high 35.6 percent usage rate to decline all the way to 30.2 percent. Yet Anthony is also projected to be less efficient because SCHOENE factors in his down 2011-12 season.
As a result, SCHOENE estimates just a 16 percent chance of Anthony playing as well as last season or better. If his improvement last season was a real effect of the improved spacing around him -- and New York can replicate that without its best shooters -- Anthony could easily outperform his projection.
3. The Effects of Age
Anthony isn't the only Knicks player with a pessimistic SCHOENE projection. In fact, of New York's likely rotation, only J.R. Smith saw similar players improve at the same age. Players similar to Amar'e Stoudemire declined by 6.1 percent the following season, while players similar to Tyson Chandler saw a 5.4 percent decline.
Chandler might be the most important factor. If the Knicks are going to score more like they did in 2011-12, they'll have to defend like they did in Mike Woodson's first half-season at the helm, when they finished fifth in defensive rating and Chandler won Defensive Player of the Year honors. If he suffers through another season where injuries limit his productivity, that will be difficult if not impossible.
Over the three summer leagues I've attended -- and others I've watched on TV -- I've developed a philosophy for how to view summer league that differs based on each individual player's status.
Watching draft picks
For rookies who were drafted some three weeks ago, summer league represents their first taste of the pro game. I'm mostly looking to see whether what they did in college translates against bigger, quicker, more-experienced opponents. That can take a couple of games. Cody Zeller, the No. 4 overall pick by the Charlotte Bobcats, was a nonfactor in his debut before putting together back-to-back strong outings.
Summer league offers these newcomers an indication of what they must work on to succeed as pros. For example, C.J. McCollum of the Portland Trail Blazers has been effective as a scorer so far in Las Vegas -- no surprise there. But he's had more trouble creating shots for teammates and struggled when the Phoenix Suns put a bigger defender on him and blitzed the pick-and-roll. McCollum is gaining needed experience in such situations, which he didn't face as a primary ball handler at Lehigh.
Watching NBA veterans
Besides the rookies, the other summer leaguers assured of roster spots are the second- and sometimes third-year players back to work on their games. We already have an idea of what they can and can't do at the NBA level; summer league is all about expanding their games and trying new things.
It's no surprise that Golden State Warriors defensive specialist Kent Bazemore has locked up high draft picks Otto Porter and Ben McLemore in his first two games. More meaningful is the promise Bazemore has shown creating shots out of the pick-and-roll, something he wasn't asked to do during his rookie season. Meanwhile, the Toronto Raptors didn't run their offense through Jonas Valanciunas last season, but they can in summer league, which has allowed Valanciunas to showcase his wares in the post.
Watching fringe players
When it comes to unsigned players, I'm mostly looking at NBA skills that will translate in a specific role. For the most part, spots on the end of the bench don't go to scorers, since NBA teams get that production from their rotation. Instead, they're looking to fill in the gaps with shooters, playmakers, perimeter defenders, rebounders and shot-blockers. A player who does one of those things at a high level and everything else acceptably can find a home in the league.
Last year's best example was Chris Copeland, who played for the New York Knicks in Las Vegas before signing a one-year contract with the team. Copeland's combination of shooting ability and size hinted at the stretch-4 potential that made him a valuable reserve for the Knicks last season.
A year later, Copeland cashed in with a two-year, $6.2 million contract from the Indiana Pacers. This year's summer-leaguers can only hope to do the same.