The Knicks’ summer addition has gotten off to a slow offensive start but Donte DiVincenzo’s defense and energy have still made a difference.
Knicks fans, I get it.
When the New York Knicks trade away a fan-favorite like Obi Toppin and get someone like Donte DiVincenzo through free agency, you expect to see the impact immediately. That’s sort of the whole appeal to anyone voluntarily wanting to come over to the Mecca while also seeing someone who “could’ve been” get sent off.
But, only three games in, DiVincenzo hasn’t really shown much. In his defense, the team as a whole has been struggling on offense, shooting a league-low 41.3 percent from the field overall.
On defense, the team has often looked lost. DiVincenzo did a great job in the preseason of being a pest against guards getting into the paint, often stripping them and acting as a great quarterback for the team in transition. Aside from his three-point shooting, his defense was a huge get for the team in the offseason and was needed on the bench alongside another stalwart in Immanuel Quickley and two rebounding machines in Josh Hart and Isaiah Hartenstein.
We can take a closer look at what’s worked, and what hasn’t worked, for DiVincenzo to see how the Knicks should utilize him more moving forward after this brutal stretch of games for the squad to begin their 2023-24 campaign:
What has worked
DiVincenzo’s cutting has been hit or miss so far for the Knicks. He’s small enough to get around screens and make magic happen with a ball-handling big like Hartenstein and with Quickley manning the floor alongside him, but he tends to attempt a lot of reverse lay-ins on account of trying to avoid a trailing defender from blocking his shot.
But, as I said, it’s sometimes a hit.
In this clip from the Knicks’ win over the Atlanta Hawks, DiVincenzo brings the ball up the floor and immediately passes it to Hartenstein at the top of the three-point line. He attracts the attention of AJ Griffin, who definitely has some height on DiVincenzo. After letting Julius Randle go around him, bringing his defender along, DiVincenzo makes a hard cut to the basket. We can assume he meant to leave Griffin a step slow as he tried to cover Randle, and he is able to hit the reverse layup here.
DiVincenzo should continue to take advantage of these help points for opposing teams’ defenses. It’s a good bet from him to see that his defender is keeping an eye on Randle over him, and he takes his shot immediately.
This layup was a lot easier for DiVincenzo, and it’s a look he’ll see more often than not with him camping in the corner for a dish out from the paint. He does an excellent job of screening for Hart, preventing Trae Young from contesting his shot but also getting him in that direction. As a result, Bogdan Bogdanovic gets to the corner quickly to cover RJ Barrett who is now camped out there and ready to shoot an easy pass to DiVincenzo, who is wide open in the paint as a result of his help as a screener.
He should be more active in getting open looks for others around the three-point line if he isn’t going to take them as often because it can open up the paint for him for easier layups. Additionally, the Knicks can absolutely use some scoring on drives to the basket, as they sit at fourth-worst in the league in terms of shooting percentage when they have driven.
On defense, DiVincenzo has shown flashes of what he offered the Golden State Warriors last season. His ability to take advantage of imbalanced offenses in transition has allowed him a few steals already this season.
Here, DiVincenzo manages to team up with Quickley to steal the rock away from CJ McCollum during their game against the New Orleans Pelicans, and the Knicks quickly get three points out of their defensive effort. He was very good at reading offenses in transition last season, so expect a lot more of these looks for DiVincenzo as the Knicks, hopefully, lock in more on defense.
What has not worked
The three-point shooting from DiVincenzo might be the most surprising missing factor from his game given his prowess on both the Golden State Warriors and Milwaukee Bucks from long range. He shot 39.7 percent from deep last year on 3.5 attempts per game, which should be a complementary bag to that of Quickley and Hart off the bench.
Unfortunately, the shots just have not fallen. The looks have presented themselves, but much like the rest of this New York team, he has been unable to capitalize.
This look might be familiar to Knicks fans – almost in a Toppin role, DiVincenzo lurks around the baseline while the Knicks sling the ball around, looking for an open man. DiVincenzo manages to get himself a fairly open look but isn’t able to get the shot to fall. Luke Kornet contested the shot, but it wasn’t like the big was glued to DiVincenzo.
Catch and shoot might be DiVincenzo’s best bet since it feels like so far when he does camp out by the baseline only to cut to the corner, he attracts attention and is not able to get off an immaculate shot.
Remember when I said that DiVincenzo’s reverse layins are hit or miss? Here’s a miss – DiVincenzo starts off in the corner and makes a great cut to the basket… only to be met by Kristaps Porzingis, who had four blocks on the night. In an effort to avoid Porzingis, DiVincenzo tries to angle himself and his shot away from him, missing the layup badly. I can see why he’d opt for this type of shot, but if they continue to roll out like this, he may need to reevaluate how he’s contorting himself to make them happen or seek out another option on offense if he sees a lurking big.
His size plays a big role in these sorts of plays, and it was a valid concern when New York signed him in the offseason. It would help if he was able to make something out of these plays, but his limited vision when being guarded in the paint by an un-sealed big like Porzingis can only go so far.
We’ve seen one week of NBA action, and some very competitive basketball. The Knicks have seen some horrific shooting so far from two of their most important starters in Randle and Jalen Brunson, and overall have struggled to find offense outside of isolation shots. So, DiVincenzo’s struggles, and triumphs, so far in this season should be taken with a grain of salt.
We should expect to see improvement from him as he settles into his role off the bench for the team, and as offense comes easier from both the starting and second units.