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The Defensive Warts on New York Probably Aren’t Going Anywhere in a Hurry

The Knicks, struggling on both ends of the court, are producing some really ugly numbers; let’s look at them!

 

The New York Knicks were not expected to be good this season. That being said, the Knicks are now 0–3 and have been about as competitive as a G League team. Although relatively stagnant on offense, the Knicks defense has been their Achilles’ heel, placing them amongst the league’s worst in nearly every feasible defensive metric.

This offseason, the Knicks supposedly upgraded their group of wing defenders and scorers when they signed Tim Hardaway Jr. to a four-year, $71 million deal. Wait, what? Tim Hardaway Jr. upgraded the Knicks defensively?

Well, statistically, yes. Hardaway Jr. culminated 2.1 defensive win shares (DWS) over his “breakout” season in 2016–17, a whole win share higher than the next person on the list: Courtney Lee.

Factoring in his somewhat more consistent shooting stroke, it seemed as if, under a run-and-gun coach like Jeff Hornacek, he might be ready to take the next step in his career. Three games in, it seems to be the exact opposite with the young guard struggling on both ends of the court immensely. Through three games, for any player who has played in all three games, Hardaway Jr. has the team’s worst defensive rating at 120. Although early, Hardaway Jr. has -0.1 DWS through the first three games of the season, making him a hindrance more so than a well-utilized player on that end of the court.

The tale of the tape, though, does not end with Hardaway Jr., rather he is just a stark example of how mediocre the Knicks have been defensively. Utilizing the same win shares statistic for every other player on the current roster shows misery on defense: every player has a flat zero in the category, aside from Enes Kanter who has 0.1 DWS. Not ideal, even if it is early on in the season.

 

The following are key defensive categories and where the Knicks currently rank in them across the league.

Rebounding: Knicks average 29.7 rebounds per game, 29th in the league.

Blocks: Knicks average 2.7 blocks per game, 28th in the league.

Steals: Knicks average 7.3 steals per game, 23rd in the league.

 

The aforementioned three categories are effectively the three core statistical of any good defensive unit that immediately jump off the page. The Knicks, as you can easily see, are good at a grand total of zero of those categories.

Individually, it doesn’t get a lot better. Rebounding wise, Enes Kanter leads the team with 12 rebounds per game, follow by Kristaps Porzingis who is averaging 7.3 rebounds per game. Behind those two, the next best rebounder, Kyle O’Quinn, averages 6.3 rebounds per game, followed by 3.3 rebounds per game from Ramon Sessions. Yes, Ramon Sessions.

 

 

As a team, the Knicks’ defensive rebound percentage (DRB%) currently lies at 73 percent, meaning that the Knicks have thus far been able to grab 73 percent of available rebounds, good for third worst in the league.

The best offense is defense, though, right? Well, in the Knicks case, when the ball is in their hands, that hasn’t really been the case. The Knicks currently average 18.0 turnovers per game, the fifth worst in the league, leading to opponents averaging 24.3 points per game off of those turnovers, which is tied for the highest points allowed off turnovers in the league. The team tied with the Knicks? The Bulls. (In tank terms, that’s good! In playing competent basketball terms, it’s very bad.)

 

Photo: Jim Davis/Boston Globe

 

Finding themselves in uncomfortable positions regularly, a phrase I’m sure has been repeated an umpteen amount of times with this franchise, the Knicks have allowed 17.0 points per game off the fast break to the teams they’ve faced this season, the third worst total in the league.

Weirdly enough, though, despite this accumulation of horrendous defensive figures, the Knicks only allow 108.7 points per game, the 18th “best” mark in the league if we’re trying grasping at straws here.

Individually, no Knicks player has a defensive rating (DRtg), a figure used to determine an estimate of points allowed per 100 possessions, of under 100. As a team, the Knicks DRtg is 109.3, good for the seventh worst in the league. For context, the best figure in the league currently belongs to the 3–0 Los Angeles Clippers who have posted a team DRtg of 86.1 (still a bit inflated in the early season).


Despite the Knicks’ individual DRtg showing a lot more bad than good, there are a few trends that are good:

 

  • Despite limited minutes, Willy Hernangómez is slowly putting to bed Hornacek’s defensive concerns regarding the big man, as he is posting a team best defensive rating of 100 over a scattered total of minutes over two games. Putting aside what seems to be an even stronger offense (Hernangómez has made six of his seven shot attempts this season), Willy seems to be shedding his defensive, or lack thereof, narrative.
  • Kyle O’Quinn and Enes Kanter have done marginally better with DRtg’s of 110 and 107, respectively, over the season, proving the forward and center spots are performing marginally better overall defensively. The Knicks rank 17th in the league in points allowed in the paint.

 

The Knicks are not supposed to be good, not just because they can’t be, but because it would largely hurt the team in the long-run. We know that this team is clearly inept at producing defensively and while Ntilikina could possibly bring reassurances utilizing his frame on the perimeter, nothing is guaranteed, especially considering his newly formed injury concerns.

Truthfully speaking, these metrics are unlikely to change. Between the current instability at point guard, THJ’s current form — a form that became a constant in his first spell as a Knick — and the team’s reliance on Kristaps Porzingis on offense, hindering his defensive contributions, these Knicks are going to be bad defensively with very little they can do to change that.

The plan to cope with this upcoming season is simply to sit back, continue to give you all the tough-to-digest facts you probably don’t want to know, and then get excited again in June when the NBA Draft Lottery and NBA Draft roll along and the endless cycle of being a Knicks fan resets for yet another year.

All statistics courtesy of NBA stats and Basketball Reference.


 

 

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I cover the New York Knicks as a Staff Writer for The Knicks Wall. Long-suffering New York sports fan supporting the Yankees, Giants, and Rangers alongside the Knicks. Born in Mumbai, raised in London, living in New York. NYU ’21.

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