I admit it, I've observed the Knicks' winning ways from afar with a skeptical eye. I look at the roster and the system and I don't give them a fair shake, but after a 3-14 start, NY has played exceptional ball and heading into tonight's game, I thought it would be worthwhile to figure out how.
I ran the advanced numbers on their season split in two, their 3-14 start (through Nov. 29th) and their 20 games since (12-8). Check out the differences below:
The dramatic changes came in two areas, pace and eFG (both the team's eFG and the eFG allowed). The rebounding has been better on both ends, but not really dramatically so. The thing that really jumps out at me is the pace. The Knicks have essentially gone from a top five team in the league in pace to one of the bottom five, and the only reason I can come up with is a drastic shift made by their coach.
After a year and change in charge of this roster, D'Antoni has apparently realized he doesn't have Steve Nash to run his offense, and he's abandoned the "7 seconds of mess" philosophy for a slower, half-court game. There's one other notable thing about the stats above, the Knicks are forcing fewer turnovers, relative to their first fourteen games. I think this may also have a lot to do with the increased defensive efficiency. They simply aren't gambling as much.
If you're looking for personnel changes, well, Nate Robinson was a healthy scratch for 14 of the 20 games and played a total of 11 minutes in the month of December. Jarred Jeffries has seen an uptick in his minutes. Jonathan Bender was added to the team, and he's gotten decent minutes out of retirement.
The one statistic that's quite impressive is David Lee's production. Last season, I took Lee's numbers with a grain of salt simply because the Knicks played at such a high pace. Numbers get bloated when there are a ton of possessions in games. But over the past month-and-a-half, the Knicks have played a slow pace yet Lee has still killed it both on the glass and in scoring efficiently. I doubt he's suddenly learned how to defend, but the numbers are still quite impressive.
If I had to sum it up, I'd say D'Antoni has his team playing fundamental defense and they're intentionally slowing the pace down. It's a departure from pretty much everything the guy has done in his career, and the results are downright shocking, especially when you consider the dearth of talent on his roster.
Still, I'm very much a "believe when I see it," kind of guy, and as luck would have it, I'll get to see it tonight.
Preview coming some time after 5pm.