Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Weak Links

If the season ended today, the Knicks would not make the playoffs. In fact, they're in 10th place at the moment, a half game behind the Cavaliers. New York is 8-13 overall and is 2-8 in they're past 10 games. They certainly have many problems, but the most often cited is their lack of point guard play to open up shots for their formidable front court. I'm one to be skeptical of the narrative, but in this case it's true. Painfully true. This made me look into what teams have the worst production from a certain position. With some help from, I was able to pinpoint 4 teams that are having an incredibly hard time finding productive minutes from a specific position.

New York Knicks Point Guards: 8 PER
The numbers back the story here. Toney Douglas sees 48 percent of the Knicks' minutes at point guard and posts a 4.6 PER from that spot. His opponent point guards put up what is basically average production and kill him. The problem is woeful shooting for Douglas, who takes 4.3 three point attempts per game and connects on just 25.3 percent of them. Overall his 24.59 usage rate is far too high for someone shooting 32.4 percent from the floor. 

Douglas splits time at the 1 with Iman Shumpert who is only marginally better with a 7.8 PER. He is 3 assists worse per 48 minutes than his opponents and is shooting poorly as well. Shumpert shoot 28.8 percent from three and takes over 3 attempts per game. And while Shumpert is big for a guard, his numbers are actually worse when he plays at the 2, so that doesn't seem to be the answer. Mike Bibby takes up another 18 percent of the minutes and is actually playing the best of the group with a 10.9 PER at point guard. Unfortunately, Bibby is flammable on defense as opposing point guards score 10.2 more points per 48 minutes than him. It's certainly rough when your best option at point guard is 33 years old and looked more than washed up last year.

Orlando Magic Point Guards: 8.1 PER
Amazingly, the Knicks have competition for worst point guard play. Jameer Nelson posts an 8.6 PER at point and is having an absolutely disastrous shooting season. He is shooting 28.9 percent from three as opposed to the 40 percent he shot over the past 6 seasons. He also can't hit in the lane as he's shooting 16.7 percent from 10-15 feet. For a small guard who relied on outside shooting and floaters in the paint, this is alarming. His assist rate is the lowest since his rookie year and opponent point guards are averaging a 15.1 PER against him. 

Chris Duhon is not any better. As in his PER at the 1 is 8.6 as well. His shooting is actually pretty good with his percentages (FG/3P/FT) being 43.1/45.5/77.8. Unfortunately he turns it over a lot and is not a great rebounder. Duhon also gives up a 17.4 PER to opposing point guards with those opponents netting 12.7 more field goal attempts per 48 minutes. Clearly offenses are going right at Duhon when he's at the point, which is a problem since his value is mostly in defense. Larry Hughes gets a nominal amount of minutes at point guard and somehow puts up a 0 PER. That's right. Zero. Opponents post a pretty poor 9.7 PER against Hughes and still markedly outplay him.

Minnesota Timberwolves Small Forwards: 8.4 PER
The Timberwolves' 10-11 start, the result of phenomenal performances by Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love, has been a pleasant surprise. Far from pleasant is their production from the 3. Anthony Tolliver has posted a 7.5 PER at that spot. Opponents outscore Tolliver by 11.6 points and take 8.4 more field goal attempts per 48 minutes. This shows that he has a match-up problem when playing small forward. Tolliver is also not rebounding well this season, with his 8.3 total rebound rate being much lower than his previous seasons. 

Former 4th overall pick Wes Johnson has also been bad. His 7.9 PER is especially awful since, unlike some players covered in this article, he is supposedly playing his natural position. Johnson doesn't shoot anywhere close to well enough to play 2 and doesn't seem to be using his athleticism at the 3. He averages only 0.5 free throw attempts per game while attempting 2 long jumpers from 16-23 feet per game. Unfortunately he only hits 33 percent of these. Michael Beasley was hurt for a long stretch, but still has added to the misery in Minnesota. His 3.2 PER is bad enough, but he also gives up a 16.6 PER to opposing small forwards.

Sacramento Kings Small Forwards: 8.5 PER
This is what happens when you sign Travis Outlaw. I'm kidding. Mostly. Outlaw has been bad with his 2.2 PER at the 3 while giving up an insane 22.8 PER to opponents. That means players who get matched up against Outlaw essentially start playing like All-Stars. However, Outlaw only sees 9 percent of Sacramento's minutes at small forward. 

The bigger problem is 2 guys playing out of position. John Salmons and Francisco Garcia have combined to play 72 percent of the Kings' minutes at 3. In this time they've put up a 6.6 and 8.1 PER, respectively. Both are probably more comfortable playing shooting guard. It's just a shame neither can hit a shot this season. Salmons is shooting 21.8 percent from three and still attempts 2.8 per game. He also gets nothing at the rim, which isn't surprising, but at least in the past he'd hit his jump shots. Garcia has seen a slip in his rebounding numbers, especially on the offensive glass where he used to be pretty good. He also has pretty much resigned himself to the three point line. Garcia takes 2.5 threes per game at 27.9 percent shooting. He doesn't have a single other section of the floor where he attempts a full shot per game. 

Three of these four teams are not in the playoff hunt, seemingly sunk by a complete black hole at one position. The other is a team in turmoil that might be just weeks away from seeing its centerpiece traded away. In order to make progress, these clubs are going to need to address a huge roster need. Otherwise they'll be stuck playing 4 on 5 for a while.

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