New York’s tendencies to go iso-ball and sputter tough mid-range shots can be traced to the lack of a playmaker at the wing—and Hardaway Jr.’s eventual return will not overhaul these issues in the long-term.
Since the New York Knicks’ second-leading scorer, Tim Hardaway Jr., went down with a stress fracture in his leg, the Knicks offense has visibly suffered. The team ranks 25th in offensive rating in his absence, down from a top 15 placement. With or without Tim, though, this is a roster with an obvious need for wing scoring depth.
Courtney Lee and Michael Beasley have picked up some of the slack, but their effort feels more like a temporary Band-Aid. Lee (14.1 points per game since Hardaway Jr. went down) is a defensive-minded, mid-range-oriented guard with good-but-not-elite athleticism who takes fewer than four three-pointers per game and can only play shooting guard. Beasley has stepped up impressively (15.8 points per game in Tim’s absence), but about 90 percent of his field-goal attempts are two-pointers, and he operates mostly within 16 feet of basket.
Co-captain Lance Thomas specializes in intangibles, as the platitude goes, while Doug McDermott is a good-sized (6’8″) deep threat (40.2 3P%) who increasingly looks like a long-term bench cog but could also cap out as an evolved Steve Novak. (The Knicks are currently 19th in bench scoring, buoyed by the recent Beasley resurgence.)
Lee, Thomas, and the point guards (Jack, Ntilikina, Sessions) have contributed to an above-average defensive rating, 105.2, according to NBA Stats, defying many preseason projections. But going forward, it’s clear the Knicks need more offensive potency from the wing, and particularly more three-point prowess. The Knicks sit dead last in three-point attempts and makes, and they convert treys at a below-average rate—a recipe for failure in the modern NBA.
Hardaway Jr., still a few weeks away from returning, takes 7.3 threes per game, but only at a 31.6 percent clip in 21 games. His willingness to hoist the rock up is energizing, though, even if his heat-check proclivity can be disruptive to the offense. Still, the Knicks need more players with that kind of tendency, especially on nights when opposing defenses overwhelm KP. The NBA season is littered with half-hearted games in which a sudden spark can make the difference, and having a guy who can randomly catch fire can help snag some extra W’s. The results, like McDermott’s pure shooting stroke, are illustrative, even though he isn’t taking as many threes as he should:
Knicks are 3-11 when McDermott shoots 40% or lower. That makes them 15-7 when his shot is working.
McDermott also shoots 11.5 points higher at home (51.7%) where the Knicks flourish than on the road (40.2%) where they struggle.
— Knicks Film School (@KnickFilmSchool) January 2, 2018
In general, the Knicks need more playmakers and shot-creators on the perimeter, especially in off-the-dribble and/or in pick-and-roll situations. The Knicks have created the fifth-fewest points from pick-and-roll ball handlers, and rate third-to-last in Score Frequency in Iso plays—an issue that came up in their recent losses to San Antonio, in which Kawhi ate them up:
Kawhi blowing up this DHO is pretty amazing, forces Lee back to the sideline into a contested shot (upset with himself at the end for allowing KP the rebound) #Spurs #Knicks pic.twitter.com/moIcKCBv8q
— Knicks Film School (@KnickFilmSchool) January 3, 2018
Plus, there lack of outside threats limits the effectiveness of their pick and roll attack:
This is the problem of not having enough perimeter shooting on the floor. While Frank is developing his PnR game, even when he makes the right read, nobody available to pull the quick trigger #Knicks pic.twitter.com/7WH7tlD23E
— Knicks Film School (@KnickFilmSchool) January 4, 2018
In Wednesday night’s 18-point blowout loss to Washington, the Wizards back court of John Wall and Bradley Beal combined for 52 points, while the Knicks starting guard combo of Jack and Lee teamed scored just 18 points between them.
At some point—likely in the offseason—the Knicks will need to add more scoring and athleticism on the wing. A cheap and simple option could derive from the G League, where Trey Burke has absolutely lit it up, and quick-triggered Damyean Dotson has averaged 18.4 points in five appearances for the Westchester Knicks, while combining to jack 12.6 threes per game. Burke’s small stature has hindered the former-lottery pick’s success in the Association so far, but his quickness, speed, and aggressive nature could add a different dimension to Jeff Hornacek’s backcourt. Dotson has limited exposure, but clearly brings a scorer’s mentality. Of course, the Knicks could turn to the draft or free agency to find some help in this department.
THJ’s injury hasn’t caused the Knicks’ wing dearth but rather exacerbated the problem. The team struggles in multiple key offensive areas as a direct result of the lack of shot creation on the perimeter, and Hardaway Jr.’s return alone won’t be enough to cover up the flaws.