Heat, Mavs, Improvement?
The Knicks moved to 19-21 this season after an encouraging win over the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday.
Prior to the Dallas game, the Knicks threw away what would’ve been a great confidence boosting win in Miami, who’s victory was largely predicated on their willingness to shoot threes, and the Knicks’ reluctance to do the same.
The 107-103 loss in overtime to the Heat was a reminder for Knicks fans that despite a
promising start to the season, there is room for improvement on multiple fronts for the
team going forward. Much has been made over the improved defense and effort that passes the eye test when watching the team, but statistically, the game-plans have to
improve if the Knicks want to reach even the 8th seed in the playoff race this year.
Miami attempted 42 threes on Friday, but the Knicks only managed 13 attempts – this
disparity further highlighted by the fact that the Knicks didn’t make a single 3 pointer until the 3rd quarter. Of course, attempting a low number of threes would be excusable if the team was having an off night – there’s no use chucking threes just for the sake of it. However, the Knicks hit 5 threes on Friday, shooting a good 38.5% as opposed to the Heat who shot 28.5% (12/42).
We all know that the Knicks have struggled mightily in defending the 3 point line this
season, in fact, it’s probably the most frustrating part of watching the team so far. Given that for the most part the effort on defense has been great, the Knicks’ players are doing themselves a disservice by giving them up.
A more detailed study of the Heat game, undertaken by reddit user /u/zounderk1te (1) , shows that the team suffers from multiple individual errors when on defense; this is compounded by the fact that the team has to constantly help on defense to contain opposition players who are allowed to drive to the rim far too easily.
Despite KP’s recent ‘tired’ comments, there is a real case for him moving to the 5 once he can hang physically with NBA big men down low. KP frequently doesn’t contest 3 pointers when guarding stretch 4’s, and there’s no doubt he’s best defensively as a rim protector, closer to the basket.
Anyone who has watched the Knicks this year will tell you that the team appears to flat out refuse to box out sometimes, instead ball watching and allowing easy offensive rebounds as well as long rebounds which lead to easy threes for the other team. Truthfully, it’s hard to say whether this is solely a coaching issue, or because of the inexperience of the team’s young players, but regardless it’s killing the Knicks especially down the stretch in close games.
Will the Knicks make the post season?
The Mecca has been rocking of late with some impressive Knick performances, even the heart breaking come back loss handed to them by Cleveland was great to watch. Porzingis’s down tick in shooting percentage has gone unnoticed with Tim Hardaway Jr coming out party, highlighted by the dagger three at the end of the Utah game on Wednesday, a week after scoring 38 points against Toronto at MSG. Production from other role plays has also been important in jumping out to a good start. Lee, O’Quinn, Jack and Thomas have all been better than expectations at the beginning of the season.
So, what’s next for this gritty new Knicks team? In this unpredictable Eastern conference, it is too easy to fantasize about playoff basketball, and the Knicks will have to continue to improve to make it there.
The triangle is out of sight and out of mind. Horneck has been given full control of the
offense and now the offense is going to run. Unsurprisingly (given the Knicks personnel) they have managed to create an identity as a team that can run in transition, ranking in the top 10 in points added through transition (per 100 possessions). Getting out in transition is one thing but the Knicks have also remained efficient ranking 7th in transition points scored (per 100 transition plays), and 12th at finishing at the rim.
The numbers illustrate how the Knicks are trying to play, however to be successful against the better teams they will need to emphasis transition opportunities more often. We have seen New York resort to iso situations even off a steal, which slows the offense down and lets the opposing defense set up.
Another warning sign that the offense maybe struggling more than it seems is the inability to turn steals into transition points. So far, this year the Knicks rank 27th in transition points added through steals. This combined with the efficiency or lack of the Knicks are showing in transition is a worrying sign for the 10-7 New York squad.
Defensively, the Knicks have been dramatically up and down. Just over a week ago Kyle
Korver highlighted the main blundering point, defending the three-point line. This weakness was also taken advantage of by the tanking Hawks. The Knicks are one of the worst teams in the league at defending the three-point line, especially from the corners. In a three-point shooting league the team will struggle to make it to the post season without improving their close out defense. Otherwise we may start to see even more games get away from the Knicks like we saw against, Toronto (at Air Canada), Cleveland, and Atlanta.
The Knicks can’t rely on Kristaps through 82 games.
Versus both the Clippers and Raptors this week the Knicks have taken some further baby steps towards consistency. Even more encouraging for the blue and orange is Tim Hardaway Jr’s performances. Offensively the shooting guard has grown into his roll, taking less contested 3-pointers and getting to and finishing at the rim. Hardaway Jr’s performances have meant the Knicks have pulled out wins without completely relying on KP. As the season continues Timmy’s offense will become even more important, and he has to stay aggressive in attacking the rim if the Knicks are serious about staying over .500.
Unbelievably, THJ’s defense has also been worth writing about. Defensively, Hardaway has become more like his team mate Courtney Lee instead of 2015-16 James Harden. Once-upon-a- time, the young shooting guard would reach constantly, and become a turn table when confronted with a driving opponent. Nowadays, NY’s number 3 is moving his feet, muscling over screens, and stealing the ball from lackadaisical ball handlers. Hardaway Jr will never transform into Tony Allen, but if he can remain average on the defensive end the Knicks become a much better team.
Nothing illustrated the Knicks defensive improvements more than the third quarter on
Wednesday night vs division rivals Toronto.
However, the defensive effort has to be there for the Knicks 8/10 games if they want to hold on to one of those magical playoff seeds.
So, can the Knicks finally make a playoff run?
That’s to be decided, but they are making progress.
Phil Jackson should still be with the Knicks
For all the damage Phil Jackson inflicted on the New York Knickerbockers, and all
the criticism he took during his time in the city, he may have actually saved the
This year we are witnessing Kristaps Porzingis live up to his multiple alter-egos, we
have seen flashes of both ‘Porzingod’ and the ‘Unicorn’. I’m not entirely sure what
either of those would look like, but I’m pretty sure KP is the closest thing you can get.
In fact, this season Porzingis has outperformed most of his talented 2015 rookie
class. So far in this season KP is producing 30 ppg, whilst also increasing his
efficiency across the board. Compared to the Latvian’s previous two years of 44.5
FG%/ 35 3FG% he has improved 6.2% from the field and 3% better from deep. The
numbers seem steady, until you explore the usage this year (35.7 USG%) which has
increased by more than 10% after Carmelo’s departure in the summer. Usually we
don’t see efficiency increases co-inside with a dramatic usage increase. Therefore,
seeing Porzingis’s development this year has surprised most. Also noteworthy is the
fourth quarter heroics, on three occasions now Kristaps has single handedly won
games (looking like 2009 Kobe). His new-found mamba mentality was on full show
during the Knicks’ recent game vs an in-form Indiana Pacers.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HsBT7kihaTE (Real GD’s Latest Highlights)
But we already knew Porzingis was going to be a scorer after his first few games in
the league, and with Carmelo Anthony as a mentor it seemed even more likely. What
is more encouraging for the Knicks faithfuls is the dynamic defensive ability KP can
produce, especially in the clutch. In the very same Pacers game KP rejected six
shots, four of which came in the second half, and all during the Knicks come back.
After the theatrics New York witnessed during KP’s first two years it was clear he
was a steal at the 4th pick back in 2015. Although that wasn’t commonly known in
June 2015, and while some saw athletic Dirk, most saw Darko. Even after some
impressive, well-edited highlight videos started to appear, many still were calling for
the Knicks to select Justice Winslow (a sure thing in many people’s opinion, even
mine). Then it happened; Phil Jackson rang-in the selection of a skinny 7’3″ European
and the rest just may well be history.
Fast forward two years, and things are really reaching a boiling point. Phil wants
Melo gone, Melo loves NY but hates Phil so agrees to make two teams available for
a trade (either of which he would join later in the year). Then it comes out Hornacrk
thinks KP plays ‘like a pussy’, so then Kristaps flies home before meeting with Phil
and Horneck. Or so it is rumoured.
Finally, the 2017 NBA draft, the one event that the Knicks excelled at, or at least
when they have had a 1 st round pick. And again, Phil Jackson along with his Knicks
staff select a long, skinny European, who like Porzingis had been playing
professional ball for a couple of years. Frank Ntilikina (the ‘t’ is silent) has gone
reasonably unnoticed among his peers, but that is by no means a reflection of his
potential. What’s most striking when watching Ntilikina is his defensive IQ, coupled
with a relentless motor. After 11 games, the 19-year- old has averaged 1.6 spg whilst
only playing 20 minutes, he’s also within the 100th percentile for his position on steals
per team possession (cleaningtheglass.com). In comparison to Dennis Smith Jr’s
defensive numbers 0.8 spg (1 spg per 36 minutes) Frank looks much more capable
‘The French Prince’ (Ntilikina’s favoured nickname) has also shown his ability to be
that floor general teams look for in an all-star point guard. Proving that his high
basketball IQ is not just a defensive one, he’s averaging 5 apg during is 20 minutes
of playing time. He’s also in the 73rd percentile in his position on what percentage of
his teammates’ buckets did he assist on (cleaningtheglass.com). At 19, his overall
game is impressive and throughout the year we are bound to see mistakes and
brilliance from the rookie. Once again it is difficult to criticise the pick.
So that’s one franchise player selected and a 6’5, 19-year- old point guard who after 11
games has shown he can defend really well and find his teammates. Plus let’s not
forget the trade Jackson made to acquire Willy Hernangomez (drafted and stashed
by the Philadelphia 76ers), another highly skilled European who was selected in the
NBA first all-rookie team just last year.
So, the question has to be asked, should Phil Jackson still be with the Knicks? Well
quite clearly no, but his time with the Knicks shouldn’t be remembered as a failure. In
fact, Jackson might have been one of the rare executives that leave a team in better
condition than when they started. Perhaps the Knicks could make the 11-time NBA
champion their head European scout? He could even live in Lithuania with
Kuzminskus once he gets cut to make room for Phil’s best friend, Joakim Noah.