Dec 17, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; New York Knicks guard Brandon Jennings (3) reaches for the ball as Denver Nuggets guard Will Barton (5) defends in the fourth quarter at the Pepsi Center. The Nuggets won 127-114. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
The New York Knicks have been one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA. What are the specific issues with New York’s defense and how can they be fixed?
The New York Knicks are playing better than most critics expected them to. Through 30 games, head coach Jeff Hornacek has the Knicks off to the franchise’s best start since the 2012-13 campaign, when New York won 54 games.
Though being 16-14 offers undeniable reason for optimism, there are issues that the Knicks must rectify in order to maximize their potential.
New York is currently allowing an average of 107.9 points per game, which ranks No. 25 in the NBA. New York is also tied for No. 25 in the Association in defensive efficiency with an average of 108.0 points allowed per 100 possessions.
Though the Knicks are two games above .500, this level of defensive inefficiency projects to be unforgivable in the long-term.
The Knicks have been abysmal on the defensive end of the floor, but the issues are far from impossible to fix. Most of the damage has been self-inflicted, but it’s also correctable with improved effort and execution in a small number of areas.
The question is: what are the issues with the New York Knicks’ defense and how can the players and coaching staff fix them?
Dec 20, 2016; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks forward Kristaps Porzingis (6) during a break in action in the second half against the Indiana Pacers at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
It Shouldn’t Be Happening
Before we proceed, it should be noted that the New York Knicks shouldn’t be as bad as they are defensively. That isn’t necessarily a comment on the talent on the roster, although it should be acknowledged that there’s a significant measure of it.
From a statistical perspective, the Knicks shouldn’t be as poor as they are on the defensive end of the floor.
As previously alluded to, New York ranks No. 25 in points allowed per game and points allowed per 100 possessions. Yet, the Knicks rank in the Top 15 in both opponent field goal percentage and opponent 3-point field goal percentage.
Based on those facts alone, there’s no reason for the Knicks to be allowing 107.9 points per game or 108.0 points per 100 possessions.
New York is holding opponents to 45.0 percent shooting from the field and 34.8 percent shooting from beyond the arc. Neither are elite numbers, but they’re more than strong enough for the Knicks to boast a Top 15 defense.
The answer to the question of why they continue to struggle is both clear and unfortunate: communication, rotations, and effort.
Dec 9, 2016; Sacramento, CA, USA; New York Knicks center Joakim Noah (13) rebounds the ball against the Sacramento Kings during the second half at Golden 1 Center. The Knicks defeated the Kings 103-100. Mandatory Credit: Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports
The New York Knicks are one of the best rebounding teams in the NBA—sort of. New York ranks No. 3 in the Association in rebounds per game and has a positive rebound differential, but that isn’t quite as encouraging as it seems.
No team in the NBA has been worse at keeping teams off of the offensive boards than the Knicks, which is a driving force behind the defensive struggles.
New York is allowing a league-worst 11.9 offensive rebounds per game. More applicably, it’s allowing opponents to score 14.8 second chance points per game—the second-highest mark of any team in the NBA.
For perspective on how damaging the Knicks’ struggles on the offensive glass have been, the only team allowing more second chance points per game are the 8-22 Brooklyn Nets.
The Knicks are allowing 107.9 points per game, which means second chance points account for 13.7 percent of the total offense allowed. If they can cut into that number by two points per game to flirt with the league average, the defense could begin to stabilize.
The Knicks excel defensively when they hold opponents to one shot, but the inability to do so has been the root of their issues.
Nov 11, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; New York Knicks guard Derrick Rose (25) and Boston Celtics guard Avery Bradley (0) battle for a loose ball during the second half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
As previously established, the New York Knicks are allowing 14.8 points per game off of offensive rebounds. That alone is reason to believe the Knicks are giving the opposition far too many unnecessary opportunities to score.
As if the struggles on the offensive glass weren’t enough, the Knicks are also finding themselves in foul trouble on a far too consistent basis.
New York is sending opponents to the free throw line for an average of 26.2 attempts per game. Only three teams are allowing more free throw attempts than the Knicks, with two currently residing well below .500.
With the opposition sinking an average of 20.1 free throws per game against the Knicks, the easy fix on offense appears to be in the numbers.
The Knicks are allowing a combined 34.9 points per game via offensive rebounds and free throws. In other words: 32.3 percent of the points that New York allows per game are entirely preventable by a more responsible approach to defense.
If Jeff Hornacek and the Knicks are going to escape this current rut, then they must stop gifting points to the opposition.
Dec 17, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried (35) defends as forward Wilson Chandler (21) takes a shot against New York Knicks guard Ron Baker (31) in the first quarter at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Intensity On The Road
Thus far in 2016-17, the New York Knicks are 11-5 at home and 5-9 on the road. New York’s defense has held up relatively well at Madison Square Garden, allowing 105.9 points and 24.6 free throw attempts per game on a slash line of .444/.334/.779.
Though the Knicks should aim to bring the number of points allowed per game down, the opponent’s slash line is inefficient.
On the road, the Knicks fall to pieces in virtually every manner imaginable. The Knicks are allowing 110.3 points per road game on a significantly more efficient slash line of .457/.365/.758, with an average of 28.1 free throw attempts.
Not only is New York allowing the opposition to shoot more efficiently, but it’s rotating poorly and finding itself in foul trouble.
A team with 10 new players, three new starters, and a new head coach is expected to struggle on the road early in their tenure. The Knicks’ struggles come down to a lack of effort, however, which both Carmelo Anthony and Brandon Jennings have publicly acknowledged.
The Knicks aren’t necessarily defending well at home, but the absence of intensity on the road is what’s costing New York so dearly.