Perimeter defense has seemingly been a consistent problem for the Knicks in recent years and this year, it simply isn’t up to par yet again.
With today’s NBA being perimeter-centric, with more skilled shooters and athletes than ever, it has become crucial to at least have a decent group of wing defenders. As currently constituted, the Knicks rank eighth in the NBA in opponents’ points in the paint, per NBA Stats, mostly thanks to Mitchell Robinson, who is an obvious difference-maker when on the floor.
Unfortunately, the further away from the basket you go, the starker the contrast in defensive prowess. The Knicks currently rank 29th in the league in three-pointers allowed per game and find themselves in the bottom half of the league in opponents shooting percentage from 25-29 feet, per NBA Stats.
It’s not just that the Knicks lack a Defensive Player of the Year candidate on the perimeter – a large majority of the guys currently getting minutes in the backcourt/guarding around the perimeter like Jalen Brunson, Derrick Rose, and Julius Randle simply aren’t good at that end of the floor. Couple that with R.J. Barrett looking mediocre on defense compared to what we expect, and that leaves us with Immanuel Quickley and Quentin Grimes. Give credit to IQ, who always brings it defensively and is more than adequate, but at the end of the day he is only 6’3 and there are limitations as to who he can contain. Grimes is a solid 3-and-D guy, but until recently, was out of Thibs’ rotation and is still looking to settle into a groove in only his second season in the Association.
Who’s to Blame?
These perimeter defensive shortcomings partially fall on the collection of players New York has in-house and partly on supposed defensive guru Tom Thibodeau. As I often hear when evaluating NFL coaches, just because you get your “side of the ball” right, that doesn’t mean you’re cut out for the job. In this case, Thibs is struggling to either motivate, properly position or just simply use sensical defensive lineups relative to the opponent at hand.
The Knicks have inexplicably not known their own defensive coverage all night. IQ seems certain this is a switch. Randle never considers it. Been this way all night. pic.twitter.com/imViiYPtmX
— Tom Piccolo (@Tom_Piccolo) November 6, 2022
Some players are truly un-guardable and will get theirs, regardless of who you throw at them or how much you dig in defensively. The list of those guys is short and it seems as if the Knicks have consistently given up career-highs/ breakout performances to many non-elite perimeter players, with the most recent instance being their game against the Blazers where Jerami Grant (44 points) and Anfernee Simons (38 points) went buck wild at MSG, per ESPN Stats. Grant and Simons are good, not great players, who have no business erupting like they did the other night.
Some would chalk this performance up to just a couple of guys having the hot hand, but too often we’ve seen the Knicks slack off and make B players look like A’s. This screams a lack of preparation, discipline, and communication, which starts with the man who is running the show; Tom Thibodeau.
Of course, it’s impossible to get every guy on the roster to buy in defensively, especially in today’s NBA, but too often, the Knicks look like swiss cheese on that end of the floor and a lot of it is scheming and just straight up coaching, and I think that aspect has been underwhelming.
I highly doubt the Knicks are going to/want to go out and swing a trade for a star player this season, let alone someone who can help defensively. There have been rumors swirling recently about Suns’ veteran wing Jae Crowder, who could potentially be a big step towards improving the Knicks’ overall toughness as a “coach on the floor”-type guy. Crowder is a 3-and-D grizzled vet who isn’t afraid to mix it up and can add an element of grit that the Knicks do not have right now.
Crowder, however, will likely be coveted highly by championship-contending teams and is more at the ring-chasing phase of his career. The 32-year-old would likely rather join a team like the Warriors, Celtics, etc. than an average team who might not even make the playoffs, like the ‘Bockers.
Similarly, per Bleacher Report, one target that makes sense for the Knicks is journeyman Robert Covington. RoCo has been phased out of the Clippers rotation and wouldn’t cost that much to acquire. He is a plus defender with playoff experience who could be a key piece in the Knicks’ journey to fixing their wing defense woes. Matisse Thybulle is also someone to consider as well, but despite being a defensive wizard, Thybulle is an awful offensive player, and bringing him in might not be as positive of a move as we might think. It very well could be Frank Ntilikina 2.0.
Internally, giving Deuce McBride more minutes could definitely help. He was sent down to Westchester, the Knicks’ G-League affiliate today, along with Jericho Sims, but could be a good situational defender who is likely better than most Knick guards in that department. McBride, although small, is very compact and strong and provides a pesky aspect to the Knicks’ team defense that they don’t have. I don’t believe that McBride is/should be getting 20 minutes per game, but here and there I think it could behoove New York to try him in spots when they see an opponent heating up or need fresh legs in the game.
Cam Reddish has also shown some flashes of defensive excellence this season (along with the burgeoning offense) and has definitely earned more minutes than he has been getting recently. Reddish is long, very talented, and has seemingly developed more chemistry this season in New York.
Below, you can see Reddish a couple of years back with the Hawks playing very well in terms of perimeter defense. Proper contests, some blocked shots, and active hands against the eventual champion Bucks team were impressive and I think given more opportunity, we can see this version of Reddish for the Knicks.