The Knicks are expectedly average but have gotten there in confusing ways. Trey Rodriguez sifts through the contradictions.

The New York Knicks are an anomaly. Would you believe it if I told you their opponents are shooting just 43.5% against them, trailing only the defensive juggernauts of Milwaukee? But despite that, their defensive rating is a measly 111.8, good enough for 18th-best in the NBA. That’s right, the team with the second-best OPP FG% in the league is actually a hair below average defensively.

The thing about efficiency, or lack thereof, is that it’s almost irrelevant in a league where volume is king. The Knicks actually have the 10th-best perimeter defense in the league by field goal percentage, with opponents knocking down only 34.5% from three, yet, the Boston Celtics just set a franchise record for most threes made in a game against them. In fact, teams are making 14.5 threes per game – tied for league-worst – against the Knicks! How are they doing such a decent job defending the three-point line, yet dying to it every night? Volume. New York is giving up the most threes per game of any team so far this season.

Here’s some absurd context. The Dallas Mavericks hold opponents to 33.3% shooting from deep, a mere 1.2% better than the Knicks. However, they are giving up just 29.3 3PA and 9.8 made three-pointers. What is the difference in their ability to contest shots? Minimal. What is the difference in attempts being given up? Monumental. No team in the league is giving up more shot attempts than the Knicks. It doesn’t matter how well you defend every possession, if you give up enough looks, shots are bound to fall. And so here we are, with the Knicks sitting at 5-5 for the young season.

Big Apple Turnovers

Disgusting, aren’t they? The Knicks are coughing up the ball 15.3 times per game; only 11 teams are worse. And teams are cashing out on these fastbreak opportunities, averaging 19.9 points per game off Knicks’ turnovers. Never was this more evident than in their sloppy game against the Philadelphia 76ers earlier in the season. It’s an incredible feat given that their newly-acquired point guard, Jalen Brunson, is having an assistant-to-turnover season more efficient than anyone in the league not named Chris Paul. The problems happen when anyone else touches the ball. 

While having a spectacular season, Cam Reddish still tends to get lost out there from time to time. I mean, he quite literally gets lost; the numbers may not reflect it because of his lesser minutes, but he tends to have some of the more egregious turnovers. Then you have Julius Randle and RJ Barrett, both of whom are having solid seasons, and both of whom tend to look better when the game is faster than it is slower. 

The two southpaws are dynamic in transition, with the ability to go coast to coast, tricking people into forgetting they are lefties and finishing through contact. Barrett is averaging four fastbreak points per game, the 21st-best in the entire league. Yet, when in the halfcourt, his looks are often, quite literally, hit or miss. Barrett has been extremely guilty of making bad decisions when the game slows down, often leading to turnovers, and the quality of Randle’s shots tends to plummet the second he dribbles the ball.

Dominating the Paint… Sometimes

Are we ready for more numbers that make little sense on the surface? The Knicks are the second-best scoring team in the league in the paint, averaging 57.0 PPG. They are the third-best offensive rebounding team in the league (12.7) and third-best scoring off offensive rebounds (12.7). They’re even holding opposing teams to just 45.4 points in the paint (ninth-best). But… are you ready for it? Here comes the contradiction. 

Opposing teams are stealing 12.6 offensive rebounds every night against the Knicks, the second-worst rate in the league. They’re converting 16.3 points per game of those second chances, the third-worst in the league. The ever-so-dominant Knicks are only dominant depending on the personnel. Randle and Robinson are among the league’s top-20 offensive rebounders, helping the Knicks garner second-chance opportunities. However, that paint presence instantly diminishes when Robinson hits the bench. Isaiah Hartenstein often floats on the perimeter as DHO big and Obi Toppin has made a living off his three-point shooting. All in all, allowing for more offensive rebounds has allowed for more shots. More shots mean more points, potentially.

Leaking Out

RJ Barrett being among the league’s top scorers in transition is incredible because the Knicks only force 13.3 turnovers per game. That’s the second-worst mark in the league. It means that many of his “fastbreak” points actually come from him pushing the ball and making the best of teams getting back. They don’t get as many easy buckets as they should because they often take the ball out from under the hoop. The Knicks only average 17.2 points off turnovers (21st in the league). Additionally, Barrett is averaging 10.4 points in the paint (21st best overall) behind just five other guards in the league, and all with the fewest opportunities to run off of turnovers.

When you look at these numbers from a distance, some clear trends emerge. The Knicks need to protect the ball better, at the very least. They’re a middle-of-the-pack three-point shooting team, often finding themselves trying to outshoot teams that are getting 10 more looks from three than they are, which is an absolute recipe for disaster. They also need to do a better job securing defensive rebounds, allowing the southpaws to push the envelope. The Knicks’ defense under Tom Thibodeau has tended to let up too many threes, but if the Knicks can crack down on these early problem areas, it will be a pivotal first step toward being a sensical team.

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