A less than stellar week for the Knicks kicks off their tough sledding through January and February. Willy Hernangómez is in trade rumors, KP’s offense has been changing, and more in this week’s Monday Musings.
Knicks record: 1-3 on the week, 19-21 overall
Upcoming schedule: 1/10 vs. Bulls (14-26), 1/12 @ Timberwolves (25-16), 1/14 vs. Pelicans (19-19)
A 1-3 week for the Knicks was capped off by a win in Dallas that almost turned ugly. The ‘Bockers were able to stave off a fourth quarter comeback attempt from the Mavs on the back of Kristaps Porzingis’ 29 points, but plenty of problems remain going into one of the toughest stretches of the season.
Let’s get right into it:
1. The Hernangómez Dilemma
Despite the Knicks poor play this week, one of the biggest storylines has revolved around their much-maligned sophomore center, Willy Hernangómez. Per Marc Berman of the NY Post, teams around the association have been reaching out to the Knicks about trading for the Spaniard:
— Marc Berman (@NYPost_Berman) January 7, 2018
Despite not receiving much playing time this season, teams are high on Willy’s upside given his impressive rookie campaign in which he finished with All-Rookie First Team honors.
The Knicks have reportedly not been entertaining these talks, instead favoring trading one of Kyle O’Quinn or Courtney Lee. With rumors spreading about O’Quinn potentially opting out of his deal with the Knicks this offseason after a strong campaign thus far, trading Willy might mean leaving Kanter and Noah as the only two pure centers on the roster next season.
Given that Hernangómez hasn’t seen the floor too often this season, trading KOQ would free up minutes for the youngster’s development. If teams aren’t biting on O’Quinn, however, the Knicks should at least be willing to hear other teams’ offers for Hernangómez. If they can recoup mid-late first round value for him, they should pull the trigger and potentially use the pick along with their own first rounder to move up in the draft if they so desire.
Barring a good offer like that, the Knicks should stay pat on one of KP’s best friends on the team and keep looking to deal O’Quinn or Courtney Lee to a contender.
2. Return of the Junior
Tim Hardaway Jr.’s month-long absence has been a problem for the Knicks. The team ranks dead last in both three-point attempts and makes this season, and Hardaway Jr. is their most prolific long-baller, with 7.3 attempts from distance per game.
His quick trigger will take defensive pressure off the semi-slumping KP inside and allow the point guards more room to operate:
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
After claiming that he was tired after playing in a back-to-back, Porzingis had this to say about Tim’s absence, per Ian Begley:
“Having Tim out doesn’t make stuff easier,” Porzingis said. “Hopefully, Tim can be back with us soon and kind of take a little bit of pressure and attention off of myself and other guys.”
The good news is that he should be back with the team soon. Following a practice on Saturday in which he was seen sprinting and playing 5-on-5 half-court ball, Timmy said that he expects to return to game action the week after next.
The Knicks as a team rank 29th in the league with only 6.6 fastbreak points per game. THJ’s return should push the Knicks’ pace and hopefully spell the end of this awful stretch of offensive stagnation.
3. Iso Ball
Speaking of offensive stagnation, the Knicks have been particularly iso-heavy down the stretch of games this week. They try to force the ball into KP’s hands for a post-up or face-up, and though it’s nice to see him bank turnaround mid-rangers, these are not the most efficient shots the Knicks should be targeting late in games.
KP ranks in the 25th percentile in isolation efficiency this season, having scored just 0.75 points per possession on 79 attempts, per NBA Stats.
He is much more efficient as a catch-and-shoot player, and can be more creative with his finesse if he is able to catch the ball in motion towards the hoop. The return of Hardaway Jr. may bring more variety late in games as the Knicks will have more options and gain more spacing around the perimeter. But until then, the Knicks need to be more creative with their play-calling for KP to get him the best looks possible instead of relying on ‘Melo-style fourth quarter action.
4. Bringing the Ball Up
It has been frustrating all season to watch Jarrett Jack and Frank Ntilikina bring the ball up from the backcourt. Jack has a tendency to jog the ball up the court and seems to cross the timeline with 18 or 19 seconds on the shot clock almost every time down the floor. When he does this, the team gets into their sets late and struggle to fully develop plays if the first or second look is not available.
Frank Ntilikina has been better than Jack about getting up the floor after a rebound or make, but still does not run up the floor looking to get into transition often. He runs in a half crouch, which is an effective tool to protect the ball. However, it would be nice to see him fully extend his legs and really get going downhill to attack backpedaling defenses:
— TKW Clips (@TKWClips) January 8, 2018
Though he is able to finish here with some lazy defense from Charlotte, watch how even when he puts his head down to try to speed up, he still is not fully extending his legs in stride. He takes seven steps to get from the three-point line to the bucket.
He has such length, yet lacks real NBA explosiveness. It’s been a rare sight this season to see Frank in a full sprint. He’ll be a much more dangerous player once he learns how to take advantage of his long legs to stride up the floor and past defenses like Giannis does with his gazelle-like movement.
5. Courtney Lee, Not Friends with Second Halves
Courtney Lee has been a great piece for the Knicks this season. He has been a solid on-ball defender and a scoring threat from the outside for a team that severely lacks firepower in that area. Not to mention he’s one free-throw away from tying the Knicks franchise record for most consecutive makes and currently leads the association with a 96 percent mark from the line (shoutouts to Chris Duhon for currently still holding that honor with 44 in a row). Despite his strong play, Lee has displayed a tendency to put in his work in the first half and then disappear in the second.
Over the past ten games, though he has played more second half than first half minutes, he has taken fewer field-goal attempts in the final two periods. He is also shooting at a lower clip, with his field-goal percentage seeing a significant drop-off from 48.4 percent in the first half to 37.1 percent in the second half. His on/off splits are just as telling, with a +0.4 net rating in the first and a -2.7 in the second, per NBA Stats.
Because there have been less player and ball movement down the stretch of games recently, Lee has less space and thinner lanes to work with off the catch and slash. With KP dominating the ball in fourth quarters, and his passes out of double teams not being a noteworthy facet of his game yet, Lee is not able to get off as many quality looks late in games.
Also, when Lee struggles to hit Porzingis on a post-entry after a failed pick and roll, he’ll just settle for a one-on-one iso play, which is one of the least efficient parts of his game:
Knicks struggle to get Porzingis the ball after slips/rolls. And when they miss that pass, they are skittish on post entries, leading to random ISO plays by the likes of Courtney Lee and Jarrett Jack. In overtime, Jack really struggled on offense. My breakdown for @TheKnicksWall: pic.twitter.com/TxCZiipcxE
— Knicks Film School (@KnickFilmSchool) January 6, 2018
In order for the Knicks to get out of their current funk, they have to figure out ways to make sure that Lee is just as important of a piece of the puzzle in the second as he is in the first, and that should involve more fluid second half offensive schemes from Hornacek.