Don’t count the New York Knicks out of the playoffs just yet


(Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

The New York Knicks won 37 games last season, finished ninth in the Eastern Conference and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2010. Michael Dunlap from Hoopshabit.com projects them to be a “lame duck squad” this season which goes 33-49 for a 10th place finish in the East.

Carmelo Anthony, on the other hand, doesn’t think they will win a championship, but does see his team making the playoffs.

“Yeah, I think so, for sure. Absolutely,” Anthony said.

The Knicks finished the 2013-14 season strong, winning 16 of their final 23 games by going back to what made them successful the year before: A small-ball lineup that was able to hit the three-point shot. The lineup featuring Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith outscored opponents by 13.9 points per 100 possessions and had a 10.6 percent higher three-point field goal percentage than the opposition. With this lineup over the last last ten games of the season, the Knicks scored 129.5 points per 100 possessions while yielding just 90.8 with a true shooting percentage of 62 percent.

Chandler and Felton were traded to the Mavericks in exchange for guards Shane Larkin and Wayne Ellington, big man Samuel Dalembert, point guard Jose Calderon and draft picks. Calderon, who created 10.9 points by assist per game and had a true shooting percentage of 59.6 percent in 81 starts for the Mavs last season, is an upgrade at point guard over Felton in terms of shooting and Dalembert could fill in for Chandler.

Of course, having Anthony back also helps. He averaged 25.5 points per 36 minutes last season and racked up 10.7 win shares, an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player, which was good for 13th best in the NBA in 2013-14. He was also the only player to shoot better than 40 percent form three-point range and score 25 or more points per 36 minutes. In addition, Anthony set the second best effective field goal percentage – which adjusts for the fact that a three-point field goal is worth one more point than a two-point field goal — of his career at 50.3 percent.

But the biggest benefit to the Knicks this season may be the schedule itself.

The Knicks play in the Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference, giving them the fifth weakest schedule in terms of strength of opponents. Strength of schedule is determined by averaging the probability their opponents have at winning a championship, as set by Vegas bookmakers.

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The first two games on the schedule are doozys: The Knicks play the Chicago Bulls on ESPN then the re-designed Cleveland Cavaliers on TNT the very next night. But then things start to get a lot easier, at least for November.

December is shaping up to the be the eighth toughest schedule among all teams for that month, but the season culminates with an April schedule that features eight games against some of the weakest teams in the league, including a hobbled Indian Pacers and a Philadelphia team that won 19 games last season.

This Knicks team won’t contend for a championship, but thanks to offseason improvements and a soft schedule they will make the playoffs and gain a lot of momentum heading into the 2015-16 season.

Neil Greenberg analyzes advanced sports statistics for the Fancy Stats blog and prefers to be called a geek rather than a nerd.
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Neil Greenberg · August 20