With the decade nearing it’s end, I think it is a good time to look back on some of the teams that we should remember from this era. This is part 1 of a longer series of posts where I will dive into, from a statistical perspective, some of the teams of the 2010’s that I find most fascinating. Though I became a more devoted NBA fan in the last few years, I will still try to give the entire decade its due.
I should note that I tended to choose teams who were at least moderately successful, although not all were champions or finalists. For some reason, good-but-not-great squads and awesome regular season teams which faltered in the playoffs seem to dominate this list. Still, some NBA champs will make the list; it is hard to talk about the 2010’s without some mention of LeBron James or the Golden State Warriors.
As a small point of clarification, I considered teams from the 2009-10 season through this past year, 2018-19. Also, a huge thank you to basketball-reference for providing most of the statistics I touch on here.
Without further ado, let’s begin!
The 2012-13 New York Knicks
I will note at the outset that this season still feels like a dream; it’s as if I have to check the basketball-reference page just to make sure it really, in fact, happened. The New York Knicks, a basketball team from the Big Apple known for their general ineptitude, were legitimately… good. At least for a season.
Let’s start with the top-line numbers. This Knicks team won 54 games and weren’t just lucky; their expected wins based on point differential were 53. The 2012-13 edition posted the 6th best regular season net rating (point scored minus points allowed per 100 possessions) in the entire league and did it by achieving the 3rd best offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions). How did they score so efficiently? They did it by shooting 3-pointers before it was cool to shoot 3-pointers.
The 2012-13 Knicks attempted 35.4% of their field goal attempts from behind the 3-point line, the top mark in a season in which the league average team 3-point attempt rate was just 24.3%. No team other than the Daryl Morey GM’d Houston Rockets was even close. And they didn’t just attempt them- they also made them. They shot 37.6% on 3-pointers, good for 5th in the league.
Everybody on the team was given the green light to hoist the long-ball. J.R. Smith, their minutes played leader in the regular season, attempted 416 3-pointers and made 35.6% of them. Carmelo Anthony, in his age 28 season, went from never posting a season with more than 4 3-point attempts per 36 minutes to 6 per 36 minutes. Long-range specialist Steve Novak made an astounding 42.5% of his 351 attempts. A 39 year-old Jason Kidd shot them. His backcourt mate Raymond Felton shot them.
Another secret to their offensive success was posting the lowest turnover rate in the NBA at 11.7%. This team was able to usually get a shot attempt up and avoid playing too much transition defense, which was particularly important for an older club (they had the 3rd highest average age at 30.2 years). They also managed to not be horrible on defense; they finished 18th in defensive rating.
I remember Jason Kidd being an important part of this team. His passing, often to a rim-running Tyson Chandler, and timely 3-point shooting produced some awesome highlights. In terms of assists per 36 minutes though, his passing was actually a good bit down from his New Jersey Nets peak. He still had great hands on the perimeter, as his 2.2 steals per 36 minutes evidenced, and he paced the team to the 4th best opponent turnover rate in the NBA. But this was the twilight of his illustrious playing career; the next season he was coaching the Brooklyn Nets. Though he was arguably a better player than a coach.
No early 2010’s Knicks discussion can be complete without some mention of Carmelo Anthony. As previously stated, Melo became more of a 3-point shooter this season. He also posted the highest usage rate of his NBA career this year, his age 28 season. Though I remember him taking a leap in shooting efficiency as well, this was not the case. His 0.560 True Shooting Percentage mirrored his Denver Nuggets days. Perhaps this was because his increased 3-point volume came at the expense of getting to the foul line; his 0.344 free throw attempt rate was at the time a career low. He also shot a lower percentage of his overall field goal attempts at the rim.
I thought Anthony became a more willing passer this year, but it was actually the previous season where he posted his then career high assist rate. Overall, aside from the increased reliance on 3-pointers, this Anthony year looked statistically a lot like many of his other successful seasons. He would have one more strong statistical year in 2013-14 before exhibiting a noticeable decline.
The one truly successful Knicks campaign of the 2010’s ended with a 6 game conference semifinals series loss to the Paul George-led Indiana Pacers. I recalled this series as being fairly lopsided in the Pacers’ favor, but this was not the case. Each team actually scored the exact same 537 total points in the series. This was also the season that the Knicks memorably wore “funeral black” to an elimination playoff game against the Celtics; they lost the game but held on to win the series.
Another interesting nugget: this was backup point guard Pablo Prigioni’s first season in the NBA, coming over at age 35 from the Spanish squad Baskonia. And, even as a 35 year-old rookie, he was a useful player! He played roughly 1300 minutes, made almost 40% of 3-pointers, and managed to post a 0.595 TS%. Moreover, he did all this while bearing a last name which was extremely satisfying to pronounce.
As of this writing, this was the last Knicks season with a positive point differential. The 2013-14 edition still shot 3-pointers (they were 3rd in attempt rate), but they slipped to 11th on offense and 24th on defense, in terms of points per 100 possessions. Still, Knicks fans can always cherish their 2012-13 campaign. For one glorious season, New York hoisted 3-pointers before it was cool to hoist 3’s and reaped the rewards .
The photo of Carmelo Anthony was taken by Alexandra Walt on 11/23/2013. It is on Flickr and is dedicated as being in the Public Domain.