When you look at the Knicks’ stats as a team compared to the rest of the NBA, something stands out like a sore thumb: assists, or more accurately, lack of them. Of the 30 teams in the NBA, the Knicks are 29th, with 19.4 assists per game. Only the pathetic Bobcats make fewer assists per game than our beloved ‘Bockers. Since New York scores the tenth most points in the league and is sixth in offensive rating, this is pretty shocking.
When you consider the Knicks roster and their style of play, it starts to make a little more sense. The Knicks have a roster filled with good offensive players; the team is well stocked with scorers, shooters and ball handlers, just not playmakers. They have some players that are skilled at creating their own shots, but few that are displaying much skill in creating shots for others.
Despite the presence of future first ballot hall of fame point guard Jason Kidd on their roster, the closest they come to a true playmaker on the team currently is Raymond Felton. Felton is averaging 5.8 assists per game, down from his career average of 6.6 a game and only good for a four way tie for 25th best in the league. Of course Felton’s stats may be hurt by the slow pace the Knicks play at (25th in the NBA), but Greivis Vasquez and Deron Williams are both in the top five in the league in assists and they play for teams with an even more glacial pace than the Knicks (29th and 30th!) Rajon Rondo leads the league in assists with 11.1 per game and the Celtics have the 20th slowest pace. Not only is there little evidence to suggest that a slow pace prevents a playmaker from racking up big assist numbers, but the opposite almost seems true. Obviously some teams rely heavily on their playmaker to create shots out of half court sets.
In theory the Knicks would like to be one of them. Much of their offense is intended to revolve around pick and rolls orchestrated by Felton; giving him the opportunity to get assists by setting up the roll man or feeding an open shooter. Despite this plan, entirely too many of the Knicks’ offensive possessions boil down to Carmelo Anthony or JR Smith trying to create their own shots in isolation.
While it may seem obvious that the more assists the better, this specific stat seems to be particularly revealing in the case of the Knicks. In games where the Knicks have made fewer than 17 assists this season, they are 2-11. In games were they’ve made 23 or more assists, they’ve gone 14-2. For a team that’s one of the two worst assist producing teams in the NBA, this correlation is quite troubling.
This has been especially glaring over New York’s last 17 games. Over that span they’ve averaged a meager 17.3 assists, Raymond Felton has had more than 5 assists in a game only once and the Knicks have gone 7-10.
Obviously there are lots of reasons the Knicks have been struggling recently. The past week and a half have been particularly rough with the knees of all three of the Knicks’ frontcourt superstars breaking down at the same time. Despite this kneepocalypse or perhaps because of it, it’s no time to panic. Unfortunately, the Knicks are not acting like the team that started the season 8-1 without having Amare Stoudemire available to play. Instead of sharing the ball, finding open shooters and trying to create the most efficient offense possible, the Knicks seem to be relying on individuals like Melo and JR to create their own offense more than ever.
If New York is going to overcome the loss of so much star power to this kneegeddon and pull themselves out of their awful tailspin, they’re going to have to work as team, now more than ever. They can start by sharing the rock and finding some good shots. Failing that that could always try playing some great defense, but I don’t want to get too crazy.