The 46% Solution – Revised

A quick look at the Knicks game stats reveals something I call “The 46% Solution” (with apologies to Sherlock Holmes).  When the Knicks shoot 46% or more from the floor, they win 75%-80% of their games.  When they shoot less than 46% from the floor, they only win about 20% of their games.

These winning percentages, observable in other Knicks seasons during the Mike D’Antoni era, held true through the end of the regular season.  However, during the recent 7-game winning streak, the Knicks amazingly defied the odds and won 3 of the 7 games while shooting < 46%.  That is probably related, at least in part, to the #WinForGianna factor and will be addressed in another post in the future.

Knowing that 46% is a critical milestone is one thing, using it is another.  Can the Knicks use this stat “real time”, adjust their tactics based on that stat, and win some games they ordinarily would lose?

After giving it some thought, attending the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, and reading Jeffrey Ma’s new book “House Advantage” (Jeff was a star on the now famous MIT blackjack team), I’ve got an idea for how to turn this interesting piece of trivia into a useful tool for the Knicks coaching staff to use: treat FG% like it was the card count at a blackjack table.

If you were at a casino and knew the card count, like the MIT blackjack team did, you’d adjust your bet according to that count.  When the count heavily favored the casino (your opponent), you’d only bet the table minimum.  But when the count heavily favored you, you’d probably bet a lot more.  The card count determines the tactics you’d use.

If the Knicks evaluate their FG% every 4-to-6 minutes of game clock time, they can use it to determine their tactics for the next 4-to-6 minutes.  If the team is shooting 46% or more (the count favors the Knicks and they have an 80% chance of winning the game), they can continue playing as they are at the time.  However, if they’re shooting less than 46% (the count favors their opponent and the Knicks have only a 20% chance of winning the game), something needs to change.

Some reasons that they might be shooting < 46% are addressed in another post, “What Goes Around Needs to Be Spread Around”    This identifies some imbalances in shot distribution and timing that can be corrected to get the team shooting well again.

But if the team is shooting < 46% and none of the items identified in my other post are causing the problem, it may be that the players are just having a bad shooting spell.  If that’s the case, the Knicks can give more minutes to the players who are the better defenders.  Because at that point, the only way to improve on that 1-in-5 chance of winning the game is to reduce the number of points the other team scores.  The better defenders, obviously, are more capable of doing that.

Just like at the casino, when the count swings back in your favor during a shoe, you can go back to placing larger bets.  If the Knicks shot poorly in the first half and gave more time to their defensive players because of it, they could go back to playing the big guns for longer minutes if they came out of halftime and started to light it up.  And playing better defenders because the shooters were missing the mark in the first half, would keep the Knicks from getting into a hole that was too deep to crawl out of.

The better shooters are going to get a lot of minutes anyway.  This is more a way to determine if they’re getting 38 minutes or just 32 on a given night.  Even if the FG% is low, I don’t see Amar’e Stoudemire or Carmelo Anthony getting just a few minutes in a game while the better defenders play 40 minutes apiece.

By using statistical analysis and borrowing tactics from the MIT blackjack team, the Knicks have the opportunity to identify times when a change of tactics, and possibly personnel, would be beneficial.  Making the most of that opportunity will allow the Knicks to win a few games that might ordinarily be lost.  That’s a neat trick in a seven-game series.

At the end of the regular season, the Knicks shot 46% or more in 42 games.  They shot < 46% in 40 games.

Their regular season record? 42-40.  Coincidence?  Maybe.  But I’m buying a Powerball ticket, just in case.  I can’t very well tell the Knicks to pay attention to this 46% statistic if I don’t do it myself.


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