With the NBA’s and Knicks’ season in full swing, the time has come for the return of TheKnicksWall’s “Three Man Weave” column. This week, we’re taking a look at the Knicks top rated defense, the play of their three-headed monster at point guard and the change in the overall play of Carmelo Anthony
When Mike Woodson was hired to become an assistant to former coach Mike D’Antoni, it was because of his reputation as a strong defensive coach and the hiring led the Knicks to see improvements, going from 21st in defensive efficiency in the 2010-11 season to fifth last season. This year, Woodson’s work has taken the Knicks defense to another level. The Knicks currently lead the NBA in opponents points per game (87.5), opponent’s field goal percentage (41%), opponents turnovers per game (18) and defensive efficiency (95.7 points per 100 possessions). If the Knicks are serious in becoming one of the NBA’s elite teams, they must continue playing the type of defense they’ve been playing through their first four games. Over the past five NBA seasons, the eventual NBA champions finished no lower than 7th in defensive efficiency (Heat fourth last year, Mavs seventh in 2011, Lakers fifth in 2010 & 2009, Celtics first in 2008).
During the summer, Knicks’ General Manager, Glen Grunwald, signed Jason Kidd to be the Knicks’ backup point guard and mentor to Jeremy Lin. The news was music to fans’ ears, as the team would have one of the league’s greatest floor generals as a backup while he taught Lin the ins and outs of becoming an elite NBA point guard. Only problem was the Knicks decided not to match the Houston Rockets’ offer-sheet to keep Lin, sending fans into a panic over what the team would do at the position. The team filled the void left by Lin by signing-and-trading for Raymond Felton, with visions of him being the starter and also brought on board long-time Euro League player, Pablo Prigioni. Despite Felton’s great play with the Knicks in the first half of the 2009-2010 season, the moaning and groaning continued. Felton and Kidd were both coming off their worst seasons (13.46 PER for Felton, 13.11 PER for Kidd) and despite Prigioni’s standing as one of Europe’s best point guards, he was unknown in terms of NBA play.
However, so far so good for the Knicks’ point guards. With two of them currently in the starting lineup (Felton at points, Kidd at the two), the two have combined to average 20.6 points, 15.3 assists and 4.1 steals per game. Kidd’s 2.3 steals per game is tied for ninth in the league with Knicks’ sixth man, J.R. Smith, while Felton’s 6.8 assists rank him 15th in the NBA. They each have a PER above the league average of 15 (Felton 15.61, Kidd 20.26). And, as the two primary ball handlers, they’ve helped place the Knicks eighth in assists ratio (15.8) and first in turnover ratio (19.6). While Prigioni’s numbers don’t jump off the stat sheet, he has shown a tendency to create havoc on the defensive end (four steals in four games) and look for the open man. So far, he’s third in the league in assist ratio (41.5). The three are making the Knicks’ summer point guard decisions look masterful.
The New Melo:
We just spoke about the great play Jason Kidd has shown on the court through his first four games as a Knick. However, his greatest contribution to the team could be the effect he has had on Carmelo Anthony. As Dallas Mavericks’ coach Rick Carlisle mentioned after the Knicks defeated the Mavs Friday night, “…Jason Kidd is going to bring everybody’s level of focus, concentration, intensity up an awful lot. That’s just how things work. He’ll have the broadcasters in a defensive stance, trust me on that.” Not sure about Mike Breen and Clyde, but Kidd definitely has gotten in Anthony’s ear about defense.
We all know Anthony is one of the league’s best scorers so his NBA leading 27.3 points per game should not be a surprise. His defense, however, has transformed him. Through four games, Anthony has held opponents to 41% shooting. Playing the power forward position, many wondered if banging with big men would affect Anthony. However, he’s held opponents to 20% shooting in post ups. He’s also currently averaging 1.3 blocks per game. Take into account Anthony has never averaged a block per game in any of his previous NBA seasons. As we highlighted earlier, Coach Woodson has much to do with the Knicks improvements in defense, but their is no doubt that when the players see their leader (Anthony) playing as hard on defense as he has been, it only makes them raise their effort on the defensive end, as well.