With Jalen Brunson dealing with nagging injuries, the Knicks would benefit from giving Miles McBride some extended playing time.
As the 2022-23 NBA season comes to a close, the New York Knicks have enjoyed one of their best seasons in recent memory, making history and proving doubters wrong game in and game out. But with eight games remaining, New York appears to have lost steam on the defensive end, specifically on the perimeter.
To open the season the Knicks were one of the worst teams when it came to defending the perimeter. The early December decision by Tom Thibodeau to change his rotation, adding Miles McBride and subtracting Evan Fournier and Derrick Rose, helped New York put together a great defensive stretch, becoming one of the hottest teams in the NBA as a result. With the playoffs in sight, the last thing that the Knicks need is disengagement around the perimeter. In a three-point-centric league, almost anyone can stroke the long ball, so the three-point arc almost always becomes a point of emphasis when defending other teams. Struggling to disrupt the commotion on the perimeter, the Knicks have limited options to address their difficulties. One option stands above the rest, however, as this option was an integral part of the Knicks’ mid-season jump that put them into playoff position, an option that can be summed up in a single syllable: Deuce.
Ever since the Knicks acquired Josh Hart at the NBA trade deadline, Deuce McBride has essentially become an afterthought in the Knicks rotation, averaging 9.1 minutes per game in his last 20 appearances and amassing several DNPs in between. Whether people want to believe it or not, McBride was a key part of the Knicks’ brand of defense each time down the floor. When Deuce McBride was on the floor, the Knicks allowed just 107.0 points per 100 possessions, compared to 117.1 points per 100 possessions when he’s out. His high effort level and peskiness on the defensive end of the floor are easily his strong suit as a player. Although he struggles on offense sometimes, his defense creates opportunities on the other end of the floor as a net positive more often than not.
McBride with the steal and SLAM! pic.twitter.com/9rCSv9EQf1— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) March 13, 2023
In the last 10 games, the Knicks have allowed their opponents to shoot 39% from downtown (24th in the NBA in that span), an extremely concerning number as a playoff push looms. It may not always be easy to allocate him minutes, but McBride needs more burn regardless of whether Jalen Brunson is in the lineup. In fact, McBride is second in the NBA in opposing field goal percentage (minimum 50 games), holding opponents to just 42.7. When it comes to his three-point defense, McBride ranks 11th in opposing three-point field goal percentage. He is amongst the top of the league when it comes to holding his opponents to low shooting numbers, and yet he still cannot crack the rotation consistently following the All-Star break.
In the 180 minutes that McBride has played alongside Immanuel Quickley and Quentin Grimes this season, the Knicks have an offensive rating of 119.27 and a defensive rating of 100.28, good for a net rating of +19. Deuce’s impact this season has been superb by himself, and only gets better when paired with some of the Knicks youngsters, which is why his general absence is, in the grand scheme of things, a little head-scratching, at least on the surface. There is no doubt that McBride deserves minutes at this stage in the season, but it remains a question as to whose minutes he snatches as a result. The Knicks have excellent guard depth, so it makes sense that the defensive McBride is the odd man out within the rotation. But it shouldn’t be a matter of whose minutes Deuce would take, but rather, how many minutes can the Knicks subtract from each player to provide McBride with a decent opportunity out on the floor?
Tom Thibodeau holds the power to make something happen during this short skid of games. While he’s been unwilling to make any changes for the most part, there have been times when we’ve seen him cave to the demands of the fans, and be rewarded for the decision. After letting Deuce loose back in early December, the Knicks played some of the best basketball they’ve played in decades. With the team struggling to put things together defensively to close the regular season, giving McBride some solid regular season minutes to alleviate the pressure off of Jalen Brunson and others seems like a logical choice.
Deuce’s game in the last couple of months has reached a peak we haven’t seen from him. Not only are his effort levels on both sides of the floor phenomenal, but his offense is finally coming to fruition, as his shooting marks have improved substantially. McBride has always been able to shoot the ball, as he displayed at West Virginia and time in the G-League with the Westchester Knicks. Unfortunately, that aspect of his game hasn’t translated into the NBA box score, with Deuce struggling to find the net on countless attempts. But with the Knicks’ offensive surge in the past few months, McBride’s shooting percentages have increased. Take his game against the Portland Trail Blazers as an example: he did a phenomenal job not only defending the opposition well but knocking down his open opportunities en route to a career-high 18 points.
Miles McBride in tonight’s win:— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) March 15, 2023
the DEUCE is LOOSE 👀 pic.twitter.com/r5HP4bb2BP
With just eight games remaining, the Knicks should look to experiment a little with McBride and rotations, especially since they have one of the easier schedules to finish the season out. Regardless of what Tom Thibodeau and the rest of the Knicks coaching staff do regarding the Knicks’ recent defensive anemia on the perimeter, it’ll be interesting nonetheless to see how they make use of one of the best defensive players in the league, according to the numbers.