So, What’s Wrong with the Knicks?

By: Dr. Ikjyot Singh Kohli

As I write this post, the Knicks are currently 12th in the Eastern conference with a record of 22-32. A plethora of people are offering the opinions on what is wrong with the Knicks, and of course, most of it being from ESPN and the New York media, most of it is incorrect/useless, here are some examples:

  1. The Bulls are following the Knicks’ blueprint for failure and …
  2. Spike Lee ‘still believes’ in Melo, says time for Phil Jackson to go
  3. 25 reasons being a New York Knicks fan is the most depressing …
  4. Carmelo Anthony needs to escape the Knicks
  5. Another Awful Week for Knicks

A while ago, I wrote this paper based on statistical learning that shows the common characteristics for NBA playoff teams. Basically, I obtained the following important result:


This classification tree shows along with arguments in the paper, that while the most important factor in teams making the playoffs tends to be the opponent number of assists per game, there are paths to the playoffs where teams are not necessarily strong in this area. Specifically, for the Knicks, as of today, we see that:

opp. Assists / game : 22.4 > 20. 75, STL / game: 7. 2 < 8.0061, TOV / game : 14.1 < 14.1585, DRB / game: 33.8 > 29.9024, opp. TOV / game: 13.0 < 13.1585.

So, one sees that what is keeping the Knicks out of the playoffs is specifically pressure defense, in that, they are not forcing enough turnovers per game. Ironically, they are very close to the threshold, but, it is not enough.

A probability density approximation of the Knicks’ Opp. TOV/G is as follows:



This PDF has the approximate functional form:

P(oTOV) =


Therefore, by computing:

\int_{A}^{\infty} P(oTOV) d(oTOV),



where Erfc is the complementary error function, and is given by:

erfc(z) = \frac{2}{\sqrt{\pi}} \int_{z}^{\infty} e^{-t^2} dt


Given that the threshold for playoff-bound teams is more than 13.1585 opp. TOV/game, setting A = 13 above, we obtain: 0.435. This means that the Knicks have roughly a 43.5% chance of forcing more than 13 TOV in any single game. Similarly, setting A = 14, one obtains: 0.3177. This means that the Knicks have roughly a 31.77% chance of forcing more than 14 TOV in any single game, and so forth.

Therefore, one concludes that while the Knicks problems are defensive-oriented, it is specifically related to pressure defense and forcing turnovers.


 By: Dr. Ikjyot Singh Kohli, About the Author

How close were The Knicks to making the Playoffs?

It is another New York Knicks season where fans have to wait until next year to see if the Knicks will make the playoffs or not.

Yesterday, there was a lot buzz around the idea that Phil Jackson may want to keep Kurt Rambis on as head coach, and as usual, there were numerous people that were very vocal in their criticism.

However, in actuality, the Knicks were much closer to the playoffs than people realize. A previous post of mine described in detail using data science methodologies the criteria a team must meet to have a high probability of making the playoffs. 

Using the decision tree generated in that post, I evaluated the Knicks playoffs chances this season based on possible playoff criteria scenarios, and found the following:


One sees that a big problem was the Knicks margin of victory, which was too negative. However, even in this case, there are possibilities that existed that would have allowed the Knicks to make the playoffs. For example, a slight increase in the Knicks’ opponent’s field goal attempts or a very slight decrease in the Knicks’ field goal attempts per game would have greatly impacted their playoff chances.

These metrics can easily be adjusted for the upcoming season which will likely require a more organized execution of the triangle offense and discipline on both ends of the floor. They really are almost there!

What Do NBA Playoff Teams Have in Common?

I’ve been interested for some time on figuring out an analytical way to determine what characterizes an NBA team as a playoff team. Looking at the previous six seasons, I pulled together almost 65 different statistics that characterize how a team plays, and then performed a classification tree analysis. I found the following result:

For the above tree, the misclassification error rate was 2.73%. Also, MOV stands for margin of victory, o3PA is the number of opponent three-point attempts per game, DRtg, is defensive rating, which is the number of points a team allows per 100 possessions, and so on. The data itself was taken from

We see that the following patterns emerge among NBA playoff teams over the past number of seasons.

  1. MOV > 2.695
  2. MOV < -0.54, MOV > -1.825, Opponent 3PA > 16.0732, Defensive Rating < 106.05
  3. MOV < -0.54, MOV > -1.825, Opponent 3PA > 16.0732, Defensive Rating > 106.05, FGA < 80.2195
  4. MOV < 2.695, Opponent FGA < 82.0671, MOV < 0.295, Opponent FT > 16.7866
  5. MOV < 2.695, Opponent FGA < 82.0671, MOV > 0.295
  6. MOV < 2.695, Opponent FGA > 82.0671,  Opponent DRB > 29.7683, FGA < 83.128
  7. MOV < 2.695, Opponent FGA > 82.0671,  Opponent DRB > 29.7683, FGA < 83.128, MOV < 2.17


Breaking Down the Knicks’ Season

Like many of my fellow Knicks fans, I am in an absolute state of shock and disappointment as the Knicks are currently 5-29 to start the new year! Many analysts from the standard outlets, ESPN, Yahoo! sports, etc… have given their share of reasons why the Knicks are playing the way they are. Being a mathematical physicist and data scientist, I decided to see if one could deduce any useful information from how the Knicks have been playing to see what is the true reason why they are losing all of these games. Here is what I found. Based on the data available at,  I designed an algorithm in R to go through each game, and fit regression trees (Here is a link to more on regression trees if you are unfamiliar with the concept) and found the following:

1. The number of points the Knicks score per game:

knicksplot1From this regression tree, we see that if the Knicks for example make less than 33.5 FG’s in a game, and have a 3-Point shooting percentage of less than 0.309, they will be expected to score no more than 79 points in a game. On the other hand, if they make more than 38.5 FG’s in a game, and also attempt more than 19 free throws in a game, they can be expected to score more than 111 points in a game.

2. The number of points the Knicks’ opponents score per game:

knicksplot2From this regression tree, note that first “Tm” denotes how many points the Knicks score in a game. We see that for example, if the Knicks have less than 28 defensive rebounds in a game, also score less than 98 points in a game, and have fewer than 4-5 blocks in a game, their opponents will slightly outscore them, and win the game. In fact, if the Knicks manage to get less than 28-29 defensive rebounds per game, and score less than 98 points in a game, they will be expected to lose every game they play! Now, let’s say, the Knicks do manage to get more than 28 defensive rebounds in a game, if they still only manage to score less than 89 points in a game, they are still almost guaranteed to lose as well.

Although, many analysts have probably pointed these things out, the conclusion one draws from these regression tree analyses, is that the Knicks have a significant problem with defensive rebounding, as that seems to be the number one factor in them not winning games. Further, they also have a significant problem with how many points they score per game, which is a direct result of this Knicks team still not running their offense correctly.

Would Tyson Chandler have made a difference? As the above analyses show, no single factor determines whether the Knicks win games or not. It is reasonable to assume that if Tyson Chandler was on the team, then, the Knicks would get more than 28-29 defensive rebounds in a game. But, according to the above analyses, and the right of the previous regression team, if they still as a team would attempt more than 78-79 field goals, they would still be expected to lose every game. The question then remains would Tyson Chandler’s presence increase the Knicks’ offensive efficiency? In principle, according to his career FG% stats, I would say yes. According to, Tyson Chandler had a FG% of 0.638 while in New York, and for his career has a FG% of 0.588, which is quite high for NBA standards. It is quite reasonable to assume therefore, that the Knicks would have considerably less FGA’s (certainly less than 78-79) in a game, and their opponents would be held to around 91.0 points per game. One would conclude that from a statistical perspective, trading away Tyson Chandler was perhaps a mistake and had an overall negative impact on the team’s performance both defensively and offensively.