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Knicks Film School: Joakim Noah, Frank Playing with Jack & More

Catch up with the Knicks Film School notes from the past few games, including KP’s shooting slump, Joakim Noah’s fourth quarter revival, and more.

Without further ado, here are a few interesting things I have noticed.

Porzingis as a roll man

Kristaps Porzingis is in a bit of shooting funk. Since starting the season on fire, his shot has cooled. Part of the reason could be attributed to early season elbow issues, but lately, it seems as if he is just taking bad shots. In the last seven games, Porzingis is shooting 35.8 percent from the field, eleven points lower than the previous six games. He is also taking less threes (and shooting only 25 percent on them) and more mid-range shots. The results are a product of the shot profile.

Against the Spurs, we saw Porzingis take only one three-point attempt the entire game. And what I’ve noticed is the offense has been trying to create more looks for him as a roll man than a pick-and-pop threat, something they should be exploiting as much as possible:

In lineups with Enes Kanter or Kyle O’Quinn, the Knicks lack a stretch big man who can pull interior help away from the basket, so when Porzinigs rolls to the hoop, he finds himself on a set play for him to shoot, needing to take an awkward shot or make the perfect pass inside when the help commits. I would like to see him do that more, but the result is still not perfect. The point of the play is to create a good look for the Knicks’ best offensive player, and often KP finds a crowded paint, leaving little to no room in which he can operate.

The Knicks struggle to find three-point opportunities, consistently ranking near the bottom of the league in that category. There are several contributing factors to their lack of three-point shooting, but one is Kristaps Porzingis. They need to find him more open looks outside considering he has proven he isn’t afraid to shoot from damn near any distance. One way of doing so would be on pick-and-pops off high pick-and-rolls. The Knicks rarely used Porzingis as a roll man early in the season but have done so more recently. This is moving away from the type of shots they need to find for their unicorn.

Joakim Noah vs. the Pelicans

With Kyle O’Quinn in foul trouble, Jeff Hornacek went to his $72 million man to close out the game against the Pelicans. Joakim Noah played the entire fourth quarter, setting screens, hustling down the court, and helping the Knicks capture a rare road victory:

Noah did commit four fouls in the quarter, but he had a tough assignment against DeMarcus Cousins, and I thought a few of the fouls were questionable. On one play, Noah clearly stripped the ball from Cousins on a drive and didn’t get the benefit of the whistle. I will live with 50/50 fouls coming off good defense from the rarely active Joakim.

It has been an incredibly small sample size for Noah on defense, but opponents are shooting only 5-of-19 when he is the primary defender, per Synergy. As the Knicks look for big stops late in games, it might make sense to find Noah more minutes in place of Beasley.

Why not just play Jarrett Jack and Frank Ntilikina together?

It is 2018 and Jarrett Jack is still the Knicks starting point guard. Knicks fans are hopeful that one of Jeff Hornacek’s New Year’s resolutions is to play Jack less and rookie Frank Ntilikina more. Although, it’s not so much the amount of minutes Frank plays that is a problem—he is playing the second most minutes of any 19-year-old in the league behind Jayson Tatum—it is the timing of his minutes. While Hornacek has given Ntilikina rope in crunch time, often playing him deep into the fourth quarter, by bringing Frank off the bench instead of starting him, he is limiting Frank’s floor time with Porzingis.

Recently, we have seen something different from Hornacek in managing his point guard minutes. He has tried playing Frank and Jack in the backcourt together. With Tim Hardaway Jr. injured, the Knicks have been forced to juggle their rotations with interesting looks, mostly benefiting Michael Beasley. But with Hornacek attached to the way Jack leads the offense, and as a person with eyes cognizant of the way Jack struggles on defense, the head coach’s answer has been to play both guards so he can have it both ways: Jack facilitating the offense while Frank takes the more difficult defensive assignment.

It paid off against the Pelicans, as Jack had a strong fourth quarter. But in the limited 34 minutes the two have played together, it hasn’t really worked out. The Knicks’ offensive efficiency has been one point lower and their defensive efficiency is 1.3 points higher than their respective season averages. I like the idea of using Frank in off-ball actions with another guard, but I would prefer it to be with somebody other than Jarrett Jack:

While there is plenty of debate about who should start between Frank or Jack, there’s not much to discuss about the two playing together, since I don’t see it as a long-term lineup option. Nonetheless, it’s interesting to point out as something different over the past few games.

Who are these guys?

Perhaps no roster in the NBA has carried more players that people are sure of what they do than the Thunder have over the past several seasons. And there are plenty of Knick ties. Carmelo Anthony? We sure know what he does. Enes Kanter? We know what he does. Doug McDermott, Raymond Felton, the list goes on.

So what is up with the defensive metrics this season?

Of the players who have played at least 200 defensive possessions this season (236 in total), ex-Knick and current-Thunder Raymond Felton ranks 2nd in lowest points allowed per possession while ex-Thunder and current-Knick, Doug McDermott ranks 21st, per Synergy tracking data.

I have not watched enough Thunder games to comment on Felton, but I can confirm that the numbers match the eye test for Doug McDermott. The young forward has completely changed the narrative around his game, from a player known simply as a shooter, to a player who plays well off the ball, both on offense and defense.

The emergence of McDermott’s defensive game changes how the Knicks should view McDermott as a restricted free agent. He is clearly a young piece worth investing in long-term. And when his long-ball shot is connecting, the 26-year-old Creighton alum creates a definitive threat for the Knicks.

Knicks Film School video producer. Columnist for The Knicks Wall

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