Knicks’ Winning Streak Should Be Taken With Skepticism

knicksThe Knicks have won five straight games and now sit just 3.5 games from the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. The fans of Gotham are finally excited about the Knicks for the first time this season. The Bucks come to New York on Saturday, and if the Knicks can pull out an expected victory, they’ll close the gap between them and the Hawks even further.

Right now, has the Knicks’ playoff odds at 15%. With the Knicks having five very winnable games over their next six, I’d spot their chances at about 33% today.

Moreover, on a larger level, with Phil Jackson reportedly close to signing on with the team this week, there’s a sense of relief among the fans that the team may finally have a realistic plan in place to build a roster for the future.

Unfortunately for Knicks fans, the temporary excitement in the Knicks’ hot streak is slightly misguided. As analytic-guru and writer Dean Oliver calculated in his book Basketball on Paper, winning streaks of five or six games are actually quite common in the NBA — even for underachieving teams.

The Knicks are currently 26-40, good for a winning percentage of .394.

As Oliver discovered after extensive research of historical NBA seasons, teams with winning percentages of .400 or better have a 55% chance of winning five games in a row over an 82 game schedule.

Even if the Knicks defeat Milwaukee on Saturday (not a given, considering they dropped their last matchup to Milwaukee in February), a six-game win streak for a mediocre team is still quite common in today’s NBA. According to Oliver, a .400 team has a 27% chance of winning six games in a row over the course of a season. Just last month, the Cavaliers won six games in a row and proceeded to lose seven of their next nine. Winning a string of games is not indicative of a team turning their season around.

Furthermore, out of the teams New York has beaten recently on this little streak, only the Timberwolves own a winning record (32-31). This win streak is more a reflection of the poor competition the Knicks have faced rather than the Knicks having magically figured things out. Head coach Mike Woodson still doesn’t seem to grasp who can (and can’t) play well together:

On a more positive note for Knicks fans, one thing they can be happy about is J.R. Smith’s sudden positive turnaround. Over the Knicks’ five game streak, Smith has averaged 16.6 points, 3.6 assists and 3.4 rebounds. As his production’s increased, his efficiency has improved as well. He’s shooting 43% from deep over the streak and hasn’t committed a turnover in four of the team’s five wins.

Considering he has been averaging just 13.3 points and shooting under 40% from the entire field for the season, the Knicks must be relieved to see their longterm investment starting to look adequate again.

On to the rankings…

1 Phoenix Suns MARKIEFF MORRIS, F, PHOENIX: His Suns suffered a bad loss to the Cavaliers on Wednesday but Morris was, once again, stellar. He scored 18 points on 62% shooting along with 10 rebounds. He’s averaging 17.2 points and 5.8 rebounds in 29 minutes per night since the break. 1
2 SAS_Ginobili_Manu MANU GINOBILI, G, SAN ANTONIO: San Antonio is 10-1 since Ginobili returned from injury. The Argentine put up 46 total points in a 48 minute span (68% shooting) over a two game stretch last week. 2
3 Oklahoma City Thunder REGGIE JACKSON, G, OKC: The Thunder avenged their loss to the Lakers from earlier in the week with a convincing 131-102 victory last night. Jackson displayed why he’s just so valuable for OKC — he does a little of everything. Eight points, eight rebounds and six assists in 22 minutes. 4
4 Taj Gibson headshot TAJ GIBSON, F, CHICAGO: Underwhelming week from Gibson, who averaged just 4.3 points on 22 shooting. Regardless, it was an impressive week for the Bulls who came up with big wins over the Heat and Rockets. 3
5 Alec Burks headshot ALEC BURKS, G, UTAH: Burks has scored in double digits in 16 straight games. To put his growth as an offensive weapon in perspective, he scored in double digits on 19 times in 2012-2013. 

DROPOUTS: Vince Carter, G-F, Dallas (5).

FIVE TO WATCH: Mike Scott, F, Atlanta; James Johnson, F, Memphis; J.R. Smith, G, New York; Rodney Stuckey, G, Detroit; Nick Young, G, LA Lakers.

OTHER RANKINGS: Rookie | Most Improved | MVP | Power

Jacob Eisenberg is a student at Emory University, spending the spring semester abroad in Brazil, and covers the NBA for Check out his website and click here to follow him on Twitter. 

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