Salaries Aren't the Only Numbers Knicks Should Consider

Data analysis should be integrated to Knicks system

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Joe Johnson

    For some, the most interesting Knicks related tidbit to hit the wires on Friday might be the news that the Knicks have a "wink-wink" deal in place with Joe Johnson as a plan B in this summer's free agency bonanza. The Daily News quotes another team's GM as saying that it is "a done deal."

    It's not the news anyone would have hoped for when the Knicks started dumping salary at the beginning of last season and probably won't guarantee that all those season ticket deposits turn into full-season sales. Such a move on its own would certainly have many howling that all of the salary dumping and losing of the last two years wasn't worth it if all you get is a shooting guard closer to his career decline than his peak.

    Whether the Knicks wind up with Johnson, LeBron or some other combination of players, it's important to realize that there's going to be more to changing the culture in the Garden than one or two free agent signings. The team will have to round out next year's roster, keep building without high draft picks and be diligent in avoiding the kinds of personnel mistakes that marked the last soul-crushing decade of basketball in New York.

    A good way to help that process would be for the Knicks to follow the lead of several other franchises and throw themselves into the world of statistical analysis. David Biderman of the Wall Street Journal reports that 15 teams have employees whose sole purpose is analyzing data to help shape the roster and that those teams have won 59.3% of the time this season. The other 15 teams? They've won just 40.7 % of the time and only three of them would make the postseason right now. 

    These kinds of newfangled numbers and suggestions to follow them make some old-school types uncomfortable, so let's be clear: There's no substitute for talent in any sport nor is there any great value in doing away with scouts and actual observation of the athletes in question. Advanced metrics and increased analysis is just part of the recipe for success and it is particularly important the further you get down the roster and players need to fill specific roles as fully as possible.

    Daryl Morey, general manager of the Houston Rockets, is the poster boy for statheads in the NBA and it is for good reason. His team survived the losses of Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming without much pain in the standings because he'd made shrewd moves for players who provided maximum value. Lest you think he's just some guy in love with his own brilliance, though,  his trade for guard Kevin Martin -- part of the deal that brought McGrady to New York -- shows that he isn't mistaking spreadsheets for a guy who can fill it up.

    No one's saying that data analysis is the only reason these teams are winning nearly six out of 10 games they play, just that it is playing a larger role in the way NBA teams do business. Teams, like businesses, that refuse to innovate get left behind. The Knicks can't afford to let that happen to them, not with so much in the balance in the coming years.