This may sound a little crazy, so bear with me here, but in case you hadn’t heard, the 2012-13 New York Knicks were pretty great on offense.
Finishing third in the league in offensive efficiency, the ‘Bockers tallied 108.6 points per 100 possessions while splashing an NBA-record 891 three-pointers. The Knicks’ efficient — dare I say machine-like? — offense caught fans and analysts by surprise, especially since it was installed by coach Mike Woodson, a man whose historical iso-friendly tendancies rarely have never screamed “offensive mastermind.” In fact, New York’s methodical spread-pick-and-roll offense, Woodson’s successful deployment of two-point-guard back-courts and astute utilization of Carmelo Anthony at the four were at times impossible for opposing defenses to contend with.
Strategy and matchups were not the only reasons why last season’s Knicks found offensive harmony, though. In many ways, it was their attention to taking care of the basketball which fueled their efficient ways. New York led the league in fewest turnovers-per-game (12.0) and turnover percentage (13.1%), according to NBA.com. At the risk of stating the obvious, their lack of turnovers gave the Knicks more possessions, which meant more opportunities to score.
So, just how likely is it that the 2013-14 Knicks will also be able to limit their turnovers?
Though he was nowhere close to Hall of Fame player he once was, the loss of 40-year-old Jason Kidd may be a greater one than most people expect. Despite the extremely poor shooting, Kidd demonstrated his unparalleled instinct for knowing when and where to pass the ball. And yes, Kidd did register a career-low in usage last season, but he still only committed 76 turnovers on the year (just 1.3 per game). In that regard, Kidd’s influence on fellow Knicks was undeniably critical in fostering the team’s turnover-adverse mentality. (The players’ desire to see Woodson run wind-sprints in practice may have a little something to do with it, too.)
Similarly, Woodson’s aforementioned use of two-point-guard lineups also helped New York limit its turnovers. Per NBA.com, when the Knicks paired two point guards in the back-court, they always averaged less turnovers as a team. Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd (11.7), Felton and Pablo Prigioni (11), and Prigioni and Kidd (11) all averaged fewer turnovers than the New York’s team-average of 12-per-game. Woodson is sure to utilize two-point-guard lineups again this season, and capitalizing on those opportunities, depending on matchups, will be critical for a team trying to integrate Andrea Bargnani and salavage whatever is left of Amar’e Stoudemire.
Carmelo Anthony’s position on the court is also likely to impact the Knicks’ turnover rate. As a power forward for most of the year, Anthony totaled only 205 turnovers last season, pretty astounding considering his ball-dominance (35.6% usage rate). His total turnovers were the second lowest of his career, behind only the lockout-truncated 2011-12 campaign. Unfortunately, with the arrivals of the aforementioned Bargnani as well as Metta World Peace, ‘Melo might see less time at power forward.
The turnover-news regarding New York’s offseason moves isn’t all bad, though. Beno Udrih — Kidd’s replacement, ostensibly– has always been smart with the ball despite fluctuations in his usage. As a primary ball-handler with the Sacramento Kings a few years ago, Udrih never averaged more than 2.3 turnovers per game. More recently, as a back-up guard, Udrih’s kept his turnovers even lower at less than 2 turnovers-per-game. (One caveat, however; despite his decreasing minutes/role, Beno’s turnover percentages have actually gone up of late.) Even the oft-maligned Bargnani, a fairly high-usage player in his own right, has not registered a turnover percentage greater than 11.2% in the last five years. The artist formerly known as Ron Artest hasn’t been a high-usage player in manyyears, and he certanly doesn’t figure to be one with the Knicks, but nonetheless his turnover percentage has seldom creaked 12% in the last nine years.
Interestingly, turnovers also played a key role for the Knicks’ defense last season as the team ranked fifth in opponent turnover-rate. New York seized upon the opposition’s carelessness, too, comverting almost 18 points-per-game, good enough for the eighth best in the league in that category. Conversely — and predictably – the Knicks allowed the fewest points off turnovers in the league, surrendering just 13.5 points-per-game.
The Knicks figure to be a very good offensive team again in 2013-14, and if you’re optimistic about their offseason acquisitions and the health of Stoudemire, they might even enter elite territory again. Ultimately, if they are to make any noise, though, they had better continue to be efficient on offense, especially given their liabilities on defense (18th in defensive efficiency last season) and rebounding. Turnovers — or the lack thereof, actually — must continue to play a dual role, both allowing New York to achieve its offensive potential, and minimizing their opposition’s opportunities to score.
When you marvel at the Knicks’ potency from three-point range this season — they were historically great from downtown last year – just keep in mind that those chances wouldn’t be there nearly as often without first taking care of the ball. If New York cares for the rock as well as they did last season, everything might work out just fine.