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  • One-One Punch: New York’s Point Guards Scoring in Bunches

One-One Punch: New York’s Point Guards Scoring in Bunches

Jarrett Jack and Frank Ntilikina are integral to the success of this Knicks team. Thankfully, the floor generals for the Knicks have assumed a bigger burden of the scoring lately, easing the pressure around the roster.

In the absence of Tim Hardaway Jr. and his 17.8 points per game, the Knicks need all the scoring help they can get. They averaged just 99.5 points in their first four contests without Shimmy, of which they lost three. Over the current two-game winning streak, though, their offense has bounced back, posting totals of 111 and 113, respectively, in wins over the Hawks and Lakers.

After KP, the Knicks are a team of role players, and quite good ones. Courtney Lee, Doug McDermott, and Michael Beasley have all had their moments, but they aren’t prolific scorers every night. Enes Kanter (13.4 points, 60.3 percent from the floor) is hobbled, with his health possibly hovering around “40-50 percent.”

Fortunately, another source of scoring in the past week—and perhaps a silver lining from the Hardaway Jr. injury—has come from the New York point guards. Even in an admittedly small sample size, this newfound aggressiveness is a promising development, in both the short and long-term.

Jarrett Jack, the starter for the past 24 games, played like he was allergic to the basket for the first month of the season. It took him until November 25 (18 games) to put up ten shots in a game, but has done it twice this month. That was also the first game this season in which he made five field goals, and he repeated that feat on Sunday in a season-high 19-point outing vs. Atlanta, shooting 7 of 11 from the floor and nailing the biggest shot of the game:

After Jack’s passive opening weeks, I was dubious of his self-assessment claiming he has “been known in this league as an offensive guy, a guy who can come in and score quickly” considering he’s only eclipsed 13 points per game once over a full season, and that came nearly a decade ago. Sunday’s performance displayed some of that ability he was talking about.

Jack’s shift is certainly helpful at the moment, but the emergence of Frank Ntilikina’s offense has been the most significant recent development for the franchise. After playing with a (totally understandable) wide-eyed hesitancy during his debut month, he has finally begun to look at the basket with conviction. Like Jack, he too was looking for his shot against Atlanta:

In the Knicks thrilling 113-109 win over Lonzo Ball and the Lakers on Tuesday, Frank dropped a career-high 13 points and five assists, outscoring Ball 7-2 in the fourth quarter and overtime. He was on the court for the final 21 minutes, and—perhaps motivated by the matchup with his fellow lottery pick—consistently attacked the bucket, providing a huge spark.

The Knicks astutely encouraged this attitude by running action for early on to open up a look from deep:

With that confidence in tow, his eagerness to hoist was evident by his rapid repositioning after getting a steal:

Frank has only shot 32.6 percent from three thus far, but his jumper is smooth and sound. There’s no reason why that number shouldn’t improve, especially when he’s making shots like this:

However, the sequence that best indicated his newfound approach came around the five-minute mark of the fourth, when he caught Lozno by surprise with pull-ups on two consecutive possessions.

First, after bringing the ball up and relaying a play, he comes off a screen with verve before stopping on a dime to coolly drain the J:

Then he displayed poise, control, and length on a confident and patient move:

Jack praised Frank’s conscious effort to score:

“[Tuesday] night, his very first shot came out no indecision, no thinking…I said, ‘I don’t want to see any of that other Frank from before, the indecisive Frank. Be aggressive. Be sure. I said, ‘If you’re going to second-guess it, you might as well not even do it.’”

Frank is averaging 9.2 points per game in December, compared to just 4.7 in November. A shift in his mentality began on the first day on the month against Orlando:

In today’s Steph Curry-fied NBA, it’s simply hard to thrive without any scoring punch from the point guard position. If a point guard doesn’t pose a threat coming off screens—either from three-point range or with rim attacks—his team becomes demonstrably easier to defend. Regardless of THJ’s injury, it’s encouraging that the Knicks point guards are looking to score, especially Frank. When he’s doing so, he becomes that much more dangerous in the pick and roll:

Still, Jack and Ntilikina are averaging just 12.1 points combined, and Ron Baker is a defensive-minded player whose highlight videos fittingly open with him getting whacked in the neck.

But, as long as Hardaway Jr. remains sidelined, the Knicks point guards’ recent change in mindset could not be timelier. Having it become a mainstay would do wonders.

Staff Writer

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