Kicking The Cold Streak
The numbers say the Knicks and Pacers’ poor shooting won’t last.
After blessing SLAMonline with the nERD Power Rankings throughout the season, our guys at numberFire are back to help us look at the postseason in an analytics-based way. So what do the algorithmic models say about the Knicks and Pacers’ recent poor shooting? NumberFire’s Chief Editor is here with the answer.—Ed.
by Zach Warren / @ZachWWarren
Heading into their respective Game 5s, the Knicks and Pacers are two teams with completely different circumstances. The Knicks could replace Carmelo Anthony with the worst player from his yearly Baltimore three-on-three tournament, and they’d still have a good chance at taking the series. The Pacers, meanwhile, need to scratch and claw for two wins in three games after dropping two straight in Atlanta.
For these two teams, though, one thing remains the same: Their shooting touch has gone pterodactyl-style and disappeared from the face of the earth.
Both teams spent Game 4 slumbering through one of their worst shooting performances of the season, for Indiana continuing a cold stretch that started the moment they set foot on Georgia soil. Despite dominating other facets of the game, both teams lost almost solely on account of having the offensive skills of vintage Mark Madsen.
But don’t look so glum, Pacers and Knicks fans. According to our analytics, those shooting performances are outliers. In fact, there are good odds that you won’t see those types of poor performances again for a while.
New York Knicks
Think about these numbers. The Boston Celtics won Game 4 despite:
• Grabbing only 7.3 percent of offensive rebounds
• Allowing New York to grab 30.2 percent of offensive rebounds
• Committing turnovers on three percent more possessions than the Knicks
• Only barely making more free throws, with a free throw factor (FT/FGA) only .043 higher than New York
Game 4 had statistical anomaly written all over it, and the only reason the Celtics were able to come out on top was a poor .383 effective field-goal percentage (eFG%) night from New York. You know the high-variance, lots of threes strategy that I’ve talked about a lot in recent days? The Knicks showed what happened on the down end of the variance scale, losing because they went 7-30 from three (including an 0-7 night from deep for Melo).
For New York, though, the chances of a repeat performance aren’t high. New York shot under .400 eFG% only five times all season, and their lowest regular-season performance against Boston was .433 eFG% on January 24. Shooting that poorly just doesn’t happen too often to the boys in blue and orange.
And according to numberFire Chief Analyst Keith Goldner, it shouldn’t. Given their season-long offensive efficiency, the odds of the Knicks shooting .383 eFG% or worse are only at 2.98 percent. The Celtics defense may be a little better than average, which would shoot that number up slightly. But no matter how you want to slice it, the Knicks should shoot that badly about once every 30 games or so.
That means that if the Celtics are planning on the same strategy for Game 5, it’s probably not going to work. Boston will need to upgrade some other part of their game, be it rebounding or turnover percentage or getting to the line, to make up for a better expected Knicks performance than we saw on Sunday.
The Pacers are getting there. After I wrote on Monday about how Indiana’s Game 3 .296 eFG% would never, ever happen again, the Pacers at least put up a .423 eFG% against Atlanta in Game 4. Progress is something, right?
Not when the Hawks shoot .097 eFG% better en route to Game 4 victory and hold the Pacers to .056 eFG% below their already low, 22nd-best season average. Only one player has above a .500 eFG% in four games for the Pacers, and I’m not even sure Gerald Green and his .544 eFG% in 17 minutes per game is really helping the Pacers too terribly much.
But those numbers are just too low for Indiana to shoot that poorly forever. Indiana shot under .423 eFG% in only 16 of their 82 regular-season games, or less than 20 percent of their total contests. And only four of those games—one apiece against Brooklyn, Portland, Sacramento and Toronto—were against teams in the bottom half of the League in terms of defensive effective field-goal percentage. Atlanta, by the way, finished 16th in that stat (just barely in the bottom half of the League), allowing a .496 eFG% to opponents on the season.
All told, our analytics don’t see Indiana’s effective field goal percentage staying down forever. By our odds, the Pacers only hold a 21.53 percent chance at shooting .423 eFG% or worse again. That may seem like a lot compared to the Knicks’ small chances at shooting .383 or worse, but it still means the Pacers will shoot that poorly only about once every five games.
That’s the main reason the Pacers still hold a 65.5 percent chance of winning the series; our numbers just don’t think the Hawks are that solid. According to our nERD rankings, which measures NBA team efficiencies on a scale from 0 to 100, the Pacers are No. 7 in the NBA at a 64.0 nERD score. The Hawks are barely above average at 51.4, good for No. 13. While that difference isn’t extraordinarily big, it’s enough to make the Pacers a clear favorite to take two of the final three games of this series.
NumberFire is a sports analytics platform that uses algorithmic modeling to better understand sports. Follow Nik Bonaddio at @numberfire, Keith Goldner at @drivebyfootball, and Zach Warren at @ZachWWarren. Check out numberFire on Facebook.