With Opening Night less than a week away, let this be the first of what will be a season-long installment of weekly film sessions with your host, Jeffrey Bellone a.k.a. Knicks Film School.
Welcome to TKW’s Knicks Film School. I’m excited to make this the first of what will be a weekly study session of Knicks basketball.
I’ll break down interesting things I see on film, respond to questions and ideas from people on Twitter, and hopefully, provide you with a unique perspective on the New York Knickerbockers each and every week.
Without further ado, let’s start the show.
Kristaps Porzingis: Power Forward vs. Center
How about comparing KP's defense while playing PF compared to C. Plus, how the closeout 3's hurt more than what he gives up in the post.
— Michael Dolan (@theeDolan82) October 9, 2017
No topic generated more feedback to my weekly call for film ideas than Kristaps Porzingis’ position on the court. The 7’3″ unicorn is stuck on a roster full of bigs. With Joakim Noah, Enes Kanter, Willy Hernangómez, and Kyle O’Quinn all demanding, or in KOQ’s case, lightly pleading, for minutes, it seems unlikely coach Jeff Hornacek will play KP at center too often this season.
That being said, we did see a very small glimpse of KP at the 5 in a preseason contest against the Nets. Hornacek interchanged Doug McDermott and Michael Beasley next to him at the 4, while Courtney Lee and Tim Hardaway Jr. manned the wings with Frank Ntilikina at the point. As I show in the video below, KP immediately took advantage of his matchup against the Nets’ Quincy Acy, driving to the hoop for a dunk.
The preseason experiment with KP at center lasted fewer than four minutes, and the Knicks were outscored 11–8 during that stretch. The offense relied primarily on three-point attempts by Hardaway Jr., who connected on two of them.
The two preseason games played by Porzingis, both against Brooklyn, provided an interesting situation to consider in terms of his strengths and weaknesses at power forward relative to center. I was surprised how well Rondae Hollis-Jefferson looked against KP. The athletic forward with long, stretchy arms made it difficult for Porzingis to score off the dribble, and at times, he seemed to wear him out on defense. The Nets pushed the ball down the court at a rapid pace. In transition, the Knicks had trouble finding the right cross-match, and Kristaps was forced to exert more energy chasing a player capable of making plays in the open court, rather than follow a slower big. KP still found ways to be effective in disturbing shots around the rim, but only because of Hollis-Jefferson’s lack of shooting ability.
A few things come to mind after watching the Hollis-Jefferson match-up:
- Nobody can stop KP all of the time, which is why he’s a unicorn. While RHJ limited his off-dribble moves, KP was able to take him in the post.
- This type of bout becomes really difficult if the opposing forward can shoot from long distance. Porzingis’ ability to protect the rim as a help defender is aided when he can cheat off the weak side, something that becomes more difficult if he has to worry about a kick-out three.
- If you are in favor of playing KP at the 5, point to matchups against athletic 4’s as a reason why. There are plenty of teams in the modern NBA who can slot an athletic forward against Porzingis. The “Dale Davis” power forward days are over. There are almost zero teams who can assign athletic match ups at the center position. If you have to take on the impossible task of matching up against a 7’3″ rim protector who can shoot threes and dribble past you one-on-one, you would prefer to do so with an athletic forward with length rather than a sluggish big man. Hence, Porzingis would find more favorable match ups playing center.
Frank Ntilikina’s defense
It seems like forever ago when the Knicks drafted Frank Ntilikina. Heck, Phil Jackson was still President of Basketball Operations. The 8th overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft remains a mystery to Knicks fans. He didn’t play college basketball, he didn’t play in Summer League, and he saw limited action in the preseason. But from those limited minutes, we caught a glimpse of the type of defensive player he might be.
It’s an extremely small sample size, and it’s a preseason game, one that Ntilikina played while a bit banged up. I wouldn’t draw any conclusions from one game. However, there are teasers in the way he plays defense –aggressive, tenacious, and with a natural wingspan that allows him to recover from several feet away.
Ron Baker Defense vs. James Harden
The NBA is a results-oriented league, like any big business. So when the Rockets played their starters for the final five minutes in their preseason beatdown of the Knicks, it was no surprise that NBA Twitter quickly picked up on James Harden dropping buckets on Ron Baker.
Harden out here on a mission to end Ron Baker’s career for absolutely no reason 😩 pic.twitter.com/h2N10NKMHR
— LeRob Perez (@WorldWideWob) October 10, 2017
Somebody scrolling through their timeline and seeing this often-retweeted video of Harden on Baker would think the floppy-haired recent-signing of the Knicks played terrible defense. Well, that’s not entirely true.
— Knicks Film School (@KnickFilmSchool) October 10, 2017
Perhaps if Ron Baker had a better big man to defend the pick-and-roll, the results would have been different. Or maybe James Harden is just so good that a hand in his face doesn’t stop him. But that doesn’t mean Ron Baker played poor defense.
Tune in next week for our next installment of “Knicks Film School.”
— Jeffrey Bellone, columnist