New York Knicks: Five Areas NYK Must Improve

The New York Knicks are a respectable 8-9 through 17 games. Beyond the record, there are a number of issues that the Knicks must sort out.

Nov 28, 2016; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony (7) leaves the court after losing to the Oklahoma City Thunder at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

This conversation shouldn’t be happening again, but with the New York Knicks at 8-9 after 17 games, it is. Flirting with .500 isn’t a bad place to be after 17 games, and being an even 10-10 after 20 would actually be an ideal result.

Bigger than the wins and losses, however, is the fact that the Knicks have several issues that continue to rear their ugly head without the necessary signs of improvement.

New York has secured a number of signature victories early in the 2016-17 regular season. It defeated the Chicago Bulls 117-104 on the road and picked up home wins over the Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets, and Portland Trail Blazers.

From that perspective, the Knicks have made progress—a belief corroborated by the fact New York is 5-3 over its past eight games.

Nevertheless, there are still significant issues that have plagued the Knicks through 17 games. There have been some signs of progress, but in the case of the following slides, these issues have consistently hurt New York.

The question is: what are the New York Knicks’ biggest issues and how can they overcome them in 2016-17?

Nov 28, 2016; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks center Joakim Noah (13) reacts after scoring a basket during the first quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Honorable Mention: Joakim Noah

With all due respect to Joakim Noah, he hasn’t played very well—and he knows it. He’s shooting atrociously from the free throw line, has been far too hesitant to score—see: passing out of an uncontested layup to set up a corner 3—and has struggled to box out down low.

The good news for the New York Knicks is that Noah himself acknowledged the need to improve and promised he will. Per Marc Berman of The New York Post:

“All I can control is my progress. I need to play better and I will. I just got stay working.”

“I need to play better and I will.”

That’s a promising sign that Noah is going to put the work in to turn things around.

Noah’s issues can be summarized in one surprising area: free throw shooting. A career 70.6 percent free throw shooter, Noah has converted at a clip of just 28.6 percent during the 2016-17 NBA regular season.

Noah is admittedly attempting just 1.4 free throws per game—down from his career average of 3.1 and limited enough to prevent the development of a rhythm—but that massive decline is a sign that something isn’t right with the 31-year-old big man.

The worst case scenario is that Tom Thibodeau wore Noah down and he simply isn’t confident enough in his health to turn things around. The best case scenario is that Noah will get back into game shape after his two-game absence and regain that confidence as the season progresses.

Noah’s track record suggests the latter is more likely than the former.

Nov 17, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; New York Knicks center Willy Hernangomez (14) shoots as Washington Wizards forward Andrew Nicholson (44) defends during the first half at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

5. Defensive Rebounding

On the surface, the New York Knicks have the personnel to be one of the best rebounding teams in the NBA. Joakim Noah is a dominant rebounder, Kristaps Porzingis is 7’3″, Kyle O’Quinn has proven proficient on the boards, and Willy Hernangomez has a powerful frame and a strong work ethic.

All four of those players seem to be better on the offensive glass than the defensive boards, however, which is hurting the Knicks in 2016-17.

New York is currently allowing an average of 11.6 offensive rebounds per game—more than all but three NBA teams. It’s pulling down 11.8 per contest, but this shouldn’t be a battle of who can grab more.

The Knicks are allowing teams to extend possessions and give explosive scorers second chances, which is the perfect formula for allowing 100-plus points.

The Knicks are allowing a league-worst 15.7 second-chance points per game. Any team that gives up 16 points that are entirely preventable by simply grabbing a defensive rebound is going to struggle defensively.

New York has other issues on the defensive end of the floor, but allowing fewer offensive rebounds allowed will be critical to improvement.

Nov 6, 2016; New York, NY, USA; Utah Jazz small forward Joe Johnson (6) shoots the ball over New York Knicks shooting guard Courtney Lee (5) during the fourth quarter at Madison Square Garden. Utah won 114-109. Mandatory Credit: Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

4. Closing Out On Shooters

The New York Knicks are attempting to improve upon the biggest issue that’s plagued the team in 2016-17: defense. There are multiple areas in which the Knicks must improve on that end, but it begins and ends with defending the 3-point line.

New York has gotten better at defending the 3-point line, but it’s still No. 21 in opponent 3-point field goal percentage.

The necessary perspective for this issue is that the Knicks are holding opponents to 31.3 percent shooting from beyond the arc at home. They’re also allowing opponents to shoot 41.8 percent from distance on the road.

That’s a massive drop-off that falls in line with the reality about this Knicks team: defensive intensity is unpredictable.

In seven road games, the Knicks are allowing opponents to make 10.0 3-point field goals per game. That’s an unforgivable mark, especially when New York is attempting to win games away from Madison Square Garden.

The Knicks need to close out with far more energy and consistency if they hope to stabilize the defense.

Nov 28, 2016; New York, NY, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) drives to the basket past New York Knicks guard Derrick Rose (25) during the first half at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

3. Defending The Pick & Roll

One could argue that no play is more prominent in the modern era than the pick and roll. Chalk that up to Jerry Sloan and Mike D’Antoni experiencing extraordinary success, if you will, but the reality is simple: it’s happening.

Unfortunately for the New York Knicks, they’ve been nothing short of horrendous when defending the pick and roll in 2016-17.

The Knicks are allowing 8.5 points per game to pick and roll dive men, which is the ninth-worst mark in the NBA. The percentage is relatively low, but the Knicks are allowing the play to be run far too often.

New York is also allowing 17.8 points per game to the pick and roll ball handler, which adds up to 26.3 points allowed via the pick and roll per game.

There’s an undeniable need for the Knicks to buckle down and deny the pick and roll before the play can be run. They’re defending it reasonably well at times, but it has trouble preventing the play from being executed altogether.

The likes of Derrick Rose, Brandon Jennings, Courtney Lee, Justin Holiday, Kristaps Porzingis, and Joakim Noah need to collectively step up.

Nov 28, 2016; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony (7) and head coach Jeff Hornacek looks on during a break in action against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

2. Less ISO

The New York Knicks have done a generally excellent job of creating ball movement in 2016-17. For a vast majority of the games being played, the Knicks trust one another, move without the ball, and create open shots.

During the fourth quarter, however, the Knicks consistently stumble into isolation possessions that stunt the development of an offensive rhythm.

The Knicks are currently No. 5 in the NBA in points via isolation possession per game. New York is shooting just 37.4 percent from the field on isolation possessions, however, which ranks No. 22 in the Association.

Despite ranking in the bottom 10 of the NBA in field goal percentage in isolation, the Knicks are No. 3 in the Association with 11.7 isolation plays run per game.

The Knicks continuously post Carmelo Anthony up from 16-to-20 feet away from the basket and stop moving off-ball. He holds the ball for a number of seconds before making a decision, which is generally to shoot or attempt to draw contact.

23.8 percent of Anthony’s possessions end in isolation, and while he’s more than proficient, that’s far too high of a number with the amount of talent around him.

Nov 26, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; New York Knicks guard Derrick Rose (25) and guard Brandon Jennings (3) react to a call after Rose is charged with a foul during the second half of the game against the Charlotte Hornets at the Spectrum Center. Hornets win 107-102. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

1. Energy On The Road

The New York Knicks have done an outstanding job of defending at a high level when playing at home. The Knicks continue to win games at home, as well, which is all one could ask for in the long run.

The issue for the Knicks is that, when the games aren’t being played at Madison Square Garden, New York has been horrific.

As previously alluded to, the Knicks are allowing 10.0 3-point field goals on 41.8 percent shooting away from home. That’s a product of the Knicks not giving the adequate level of effort when having to travel to play games.

Simply put: the Knicks simply aren’t giving enough of an effort during games played away from Madison Square Garden.

The Knicks are 7-3 at home and 1-6 on the road, which is a massive disparity. The Knicks must be able to flirt with .500 on the road to realize their potential as one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference.

The one and only way for the Knicks to turn this season around and win the 50 games it’s capable of winning is to thrive on the road.

By addressing these issues, the Knicks can be one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference and NBA.

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