Acquiring Josh Hart significantly boosted the Knicks’ transition offense. With that in mind, it should be a point of emphasis for New York to surround the core with players who can create in the open floor.
It was a fantastic season for the New York Knicks, no doubt. But with their season now in the rearview mirror, it’s time to look forward to the offseason to retool for October. While there are a few aspects that New York should focus on, there’s one area that stands out from the rest. Although the Knicks offense is relatively strong, their pace of play as well as getting out in transition are areas to look at to give them a major boost next season.
It’s clear from both statistics and the eye test that the Knicks have struggled in these areas, as they ranked 26th in pace and 15th in points per game in transition. In the playoffs, their pace of play only continued to drop, going from 97.75 in the regular season to 92.73 in the postseason. There is no question that the pace of play in the playoffs is much slower than what we traditionally see in the regular season.
However, a team that was already slow getting progressively slower is concerning, especially since it results in fewer possessions, which could be costly in the light of a close playoff game.
So, what makes the Knicks as slow as they are in terms of pace?
It all comes down to what type of plays that the Knicks run. Outside of plays in transition, New York traditionally utilizes isolation, pick and roll plays to free the ball handler, and simply spotting up for a shot. These types of plays usually take longer to develop since it involves getting everyone set, and it should come as no surprise that the Knicks are 1st in the NBA in field goal attempts that are attempted late into the shot clock (between four and seven seconds left), and 3rd in field goal attempts that are attempted very late into the shot clock (between zero and four seconds).
Considering those plays are run more frequently since transition plays are usually generated with a turnover (which is an area that New York struggled in this season), the Knicks must continue to find players that like to run in transition, but more importantly, find players that can generate turnovers on the defensive end.
Bringing in Josh Hart at the deadline was a step in the right direction. As a great defender and someone who likes to run in transition, he has been a great instigator on the fastbreak, whether it’s taking it coast-to-coast or making the right read on the advantage. As a result, the Knicks have scored in much larger amounts with Hart now in town. Before the acquisition, the Knicks were averaging 114.3 points per game for the season. After the trade, Hart helped boost that number to 120.3 points per game, helping New York become a top-3 team in offensive rating this season (117.8).
Adding a guy with firepower who defends, hustles, and most importantly runs the fastbreak would make this Knicks team even more dangerous than before heading into the season. With that being said, let’s take a dive into some players that will be able to contribute in many facets as a “Swiss army knife” type of player that can do it all.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise. The Knicks may have come up short to acquire the two-way stud at the NBA trade deadline, but it doesn’t mean they should stop there. There is a reason he continues to garner interest. Aside from averaging 16.8 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 2.0 assists per game this season, Anunoby excelled in transition all season long, scoring 5.0 points per game in transition on 3.9 possessions per game. In Toronto, he loved to get out and run as 24.1% of his possessions were on the fast break.
For a Knicks frontcourt that lacked speed on the advantage, Anunoby would be the perfect player to plug in and let him do the rest. Paired alongside guys like Jalen Brunson, Josh Hart and Quentin Grimes — players that love to get out in transition — Anunoby would give the Knicks another strong option offensively who plays to the strengths of their backcourt. Not to mention that Anunoby is a strong defender, having been named to the All-Defensive Second Team this season.
O.G. Anunoby triple in transition 💦 pic.twitter.com/t8aXMy6oq1
— Raptors Nation (@RaptorsNationCP) December 28, 2022
With Nick Nurse officially out in Toronto, things are uncertain with Canada’s lone NBA team, which would give the Knicks a prime opportunity to swoop in and make a deal. While it would likely cost a young player and some draft capital, sacrifices must be made for the greater good of the team. Building around Jalen Brunson is the priority, and a move for Anunoby would be a step in the right direction.
In the last few NBA seasons, Brown has played a variety of different roles for his respective teams and has thrived in the majority of them. This season, Brown is averaging 11.5 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 3.4 assists in 28.5 minutes per contest. An area he has always been able to contribute to when he was playing in Brooklyn and now in Denver is getting out and running on the fastbreak.
With several strong players in front of him in Denver, he doesn’t get too many opportunities to be the benefactor. But when he does, Brown has been one of the most efficient transition players this season, scoring 1.33 points per transition possession, which is 9th in the league (minimum 40 games played and 2.5 fastbreak possessions per game). He’s been the spark that his teams have needed, and we are now witnessing the result of that with the Denver Nuggets reaching the NBA Finals.
-Bruce Brown coast-to-coast for the finger roll
-Jamal Murray finds Brown for the 3-pointer
-Then Murray to Brown again in transition for another layup#Nuggets #MileHighBasketball pic.twitter.com/orFLYfKvfI
— Joel Rush (@JoelRushNBA) December 24, 2022
When compared to other potential options, Brown would be one of the more ideal options considering that he has a player option that he must weigh at the conclusion of his season. Regardless of if Denver wins the NBA title, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Brown opts out of his deal and looks for more money in the free agency market. Although the Knicks don’t have much in the way of cap room, trading away the hefty, yet expiring contracts of Derrick Rose or Evan Fournier would give them enough space to give Brown an enticing offer if he hits free agency.
Another trade target that I discussed earlier in the season, McDaniels would be another interesting target for the Knicks. Averaging 12.1 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 1.9 assists this season, McDaniels was mainly viewed as one of the Minnesota Timberwolves’ best defenders this season. He has substantially improved in each of the three seasons he’s played and was one of the larger snubs left off of this year’s All-Defensive teams. Aside from his defense, his ability to run the break has become more and more dangerous as the season has gone on.
Jaden McDaniels transition spin + finish pic.twitter.com/aJvPQr6BBb
— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) March 21, 2023
Scoring 1.18 points per transition possession, McDaniels has shown his capabilities, but with how crowded the Timberwolves were this season in terms of talent, he never really got too much of an opportunity with the ball. McDaniels is an extremely intriguing target not only because of his extreme length but also because he plays power forward, a position for the Knicks that hasn’t been the best in terms of running the fastbreak. Bringing in a budding McDaniels would give the Knicks more firepower out in transition, but it also would make the team more of a threat on the defensive end, something that Knick power forwards have not been the best at recently.
No matter what happens this offseason, the Knicks will have plenty of solid options to evaluate as they look to put together the best team possible around Brunson in their title endeavors.