We tackle some stray thoughts about the previous week for the Knicks: Porzingis’ scoring return, Doug McDermott’s slashing, and more.
Every Monday, we’re going to hit you with some thoughts from the past week of Knicks basketball with a cast of rotating writers, and look ahead to what the immediate future will bring.
Knicks record: 2-2 on the week, 13-13 overall
Upcoming schedule: 12/12 vs. Lakers (10-15), 12/14 @ Nets (10-15), 12/16 vs. Thunder (12-13)
Coming off of a recent stretch in which they lost five of six, the Knicks managed to right the ship a bit this week, securing victory over the Grizzlies and the Hawks while falling to the Pacers and the Bulls. The loss in Chicago was especially excruciating, with Kristaps Porzingis missing a gorgeous look at the buzzer that would’ve made this week look like much more of a success. The upcoming week offers two winnable games, with the Lakers and the Nets on tap, before a tough challenge on Saturday against old friend Carmelo Anthony and the Thunder. Despite the Thunder’s feeble 12-13 record, they’ll undoubtedly turn it around soon. Let’s dive into some of the happenings from the last week in Knicks basketball and turn an eye to what lies ahead.
1. Porzingis Back on Track
KP dropped 30 against the Atlanta Hawks last night, his first 30-point game in a month. Between ankle and elbow injuries, among other minor ailments, Porzingis hasn’t quite looked like himself recently, but he offered up a promising performance last night. He has shot just 38 percent over his last ten full games while overcoming his various issues, struggling from deep and not quite knocking down the same shots he was during his explosive start to the season. The hope here is that his body does not fail him and allows him to achieve the greatness we all know he’s capable of. The rough stretch hasn’t stopped him from being a monster in the post, as he is still in the 84th percentile while scoring the third-most points from post opportunities in the NBA.
His biggest problem still perpetuates his offense, which is his general tunnel vision when he receives the rock in position:
How many times have we seen this? Porzingis tries to take advantage of mismatch in the post, and liberal help off Jack gets him (turns into corner three) pic.twitter.com/7Aap41iK39
— Knicks Film School (@KnickFilmSchool) December 11, 2017
An argument to be had here is that if the Knicks can have better shooters around KP, the defense will not be able to help as frivolously as they do here, and that gives him more space. However, the ability to find teammates out of the post is so valuable for a scorer of Porzingis’ caliber. The Knicks could stand to use Porzingis in more creative ways to generate cleaner looks from three. They’ve spend a lot of possessions dumping the ball down to KP, asking him to score at will against a smaller defender. While he’s done an admirable job, squint hard, and he starts to look a little bit like ‘Melo. The onus is on Jeff Hornacek and the coaching staff to not allow Porzingis to become too reliant on isolation and post-up play.
2. Sir Douglas McBuckets, the Cutter
Doug McDermott was astounding on Sunday night, cooking the Hawks up to the tune of 23 points, scoring in a variety of ways from all of the floor. Above all else, the most impressive skill of McDermott’s has been his ability to find the soft spot in the defense and allow his good ol’ buddy Kyle O’Quinn to rifle him passes from the elbow:
There are countless more plays just like that from this season. McDermott is in the 81st percentile among cutters, per NBA Stats, and has an awesome ESP-type connection with O’Quinn. The Knicks also assist on 9.0 percent more of their possessions when he’s on the court, which is not at all a coincidence. We know pronounce you king of the cut, Sir Douglas.
3. Three-Point Defense
The Knicks suck at defending the three-point line. There, I said it. The allow the highest frequency of three-point attempts, and opponents turn those opportunities into a 37.1 conversion rate, which is 16th in the league, per Cleaning the Glass. Here’s the scary thing: the three-point defense could get worse. Despite allowing the most attempts, and the most corner threes, the opposition hasn’t been punishing the Knicks as much as they should. Giving up corner threes is quite literally the least desirable outcome of a possession as a defense, yet the Knicks bleed these type of looks often. Despite being 21st this year, an aggressively-schemed defense like Milwaukee’s is typically the type that gives up the most corner threes, permitting them in an attempt to trap and never let the ball get there in the first place. The Knicks and Jeff Hornacek don’t run that type of defense. Their big men drop deep in pick-and-roll scenarios, keeping the ball handler in front. What often happens with the Knicks is that they end up failing to be attentive, leading to easy knock downs:
Here, KP comes over to protect the rim, which he should, but the Knicks fail to execute their rotations around the arc, leading to the Ilyasova three. There are plenty of other times where the defender guarding the potential corner three player stare at the ball, and all of a sudden look up to see the offensive player in prime position to shred the defense from the corner. The shot profile that the Knicks defense allows is alarming, and sooner or later is going to bite them even harder than it has up until this point.
4. Don’t Run, Walk (No, Seriously, Don’t Even Think About Running)
The Knicks are not a team that plays in transition. That makes sense, considering their point guard is Jarrett Jack, a 34-year-old veteran that keeps the game at his pace. However, with Tim Hardaway Jr. out of the lineup, transition play has been removed from the offense entirely. Hardaway Jr. averaged 4.1 transition points per game before he went down with injury, with the Knicks as a whole averaging 6.3. Without him in the lineup, that number has dipped to just 4.6 points per game, just a hair above Portland’s last place figure of 4.5. Transition opportunities are a great way to attack a defense before it gets set, to catch them off guard and lock down an easy bucket. Without THJ, the Knicks haven’t been in transition quite as much, which leads to more slogging of the offense and more difficult shots. Hardaway Jr. is missed dearly, but this may be the number one spot. Save for Courtney Lee, the Knicks simply have no one else on the roster that can do what he does on the fast break. THJ’s scoring has caused KP to have to taken on a larger load, and his shooting has suffered as a result. Come back soon, Timmy.
5. Same Old Knicks
Nine games on the road. One win. ONE. The road has been a problem for the Knicks over the years. I talked about this being an issue last month, and they haven’t even hit the hard part of the road schedule yet. New York needs to figure out how to win on the road, and fast, if they want to look back and be proud of the final result when all is said and done. 1-8 is not going to cut it, especially when some of those losses have come against Orlando, Atlanta, and Chicago. The Wild West awaits come January, and much like the 1900’s did to the historical American region, the Knicks could be wiped out for good. What, not topical enough?