New York Knicks: Necessary Team Improvements At The Quarter-Mark

The New York Knicks have played well leading up to the quarter-mark of the 2016-17 NBA regular season. In which areas must they still improve?

Dec 4, 2016; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek talks with players during the third quarter against the Sacramento Kings at Madison Square Garden. New York Knicks won 106-98. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Having already looked at what the players and head coach are doing well or otherwise, it’s time to evaluate the New York Knicks as a whole. No matter how well the individuals perform, the Knicks will win and lose as a team.

The Knicks have gotten off to a strong start to the 2016-17 NBA regular season, but building upon that momentum will be the key to a postseason berth.

New York finished the first 20 games of the 2016-17 NBA regular season with an 11-9 record. That puts the Knicks in control of their own destiny after the quarter-mark, as they’re in a position to continue playing this same caliber of basketball and make the playoffs.

Currently on pace for 45 wins, one can’t help but optimistically believe the Knicks can win 50 if they continue to chip away at their flaws.

New York has overcome injuries to key players to reach where it is, which is why this article is written with an optimistic tone. The Knicks are a newly-formed team with minimal experience together and an uncommon number of early obstacles.

The question is: what can the Knicks do to improve upon what may be plaguing them and turn this into an even more successful season?

Dec 4, 2016; New York, NY, USA; Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins (15) shoots for three over New York Knicks center Joakim Noah (13) during the fourth quarter at Madison Square Garden. New York Knicks won 106-98. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

5. Defending The 3-Point Shot

The New York Knicks rank a respectable No. 14 in the NBA—in a good way—in opponent 3-point field goal percentage at .348. New York also ranks in the Top 10—also in a good way—in 3-point field goals allowed per game.

Encouraging as that may be, the 3-point shot has given New York trouble in 2016-17; it’s just a matter of where the games have been played.

This issue will be further explored on a future slide, but the Knicks’ ineffectiveness in defending the 3-ball on the road is troubling. The Knicks are allowing opponents to shoot 39.9 percent from 3-point range during games played away from Madison Square Garden.

It’s especially shocking when one considers the fact New York is holding opponents to 31.9 percent shooting from beyond the arc at Madison Square Garden.

It’s difficult to maintain a high level of energy on a road trip, but the Knicks must dig deep and close out with more energy. Allowing a 3-point field goal always hurts, but it’s especially difficult when the shot fires up the opposition’s crowd.

If the Knicks are going to maximize their potential as a contender, then defending the 3-point line at a higher level will be a key point of emphasis.

Nov 30, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony (7) dribbles against Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins (22) during the first quarter at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

4. Too Much ISO

Head coach jeff Hornacek has given the New York Knicks the look of an offensive juggernaut at times this season. He’s getting the players to buy into a motion offense that may limit gaudy statistics for individuals, but will help the team improve.

The Knicks continue to fall in love with isolation possessions, however, which has been the cause of their late-game woes.

10.4 percent of the Knicks’ total possessions end in isolation—the third-highest mark in the NBA. That’s a legitimately insane reality when one considers the fact that New York is averaging 0.78 points per isolation possession—the fifth-worst mark in the NBA.

No matter how you may feel about about the players who are orchestrating these possessions, the reality is harsh: the Knicks continue to run plays that simply do not work.

It stands to reason that the Knicks could improve in isolation as the season progresses, but that isn’t exactly the most pressing need. New York has a coach who can run a motion offense and the personnel to execute it at a high level.

Abandoning what works for three quarters in order to stroke egos during the fourth has cost the Knicks too much already.

Nov 14, 2016; New York, NY, USA; Dallas Mavericks forward Dorian Finney-Smith (10) drives to the basket past New York Knicks center Joakim Noah (13) during the first half at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

3. Defending The Pick & Roll

The New York Knicks have been dealt an unfortunate hand with Joakim Noah and Lance Thomas missing multiple games due to injury. Both play a vital role in the defense’s ability to prevent and contest the pick and the roll.

Fair as that may be, the Knicks don’t have time to make excuses, nor will they attempt to make them; the pick and roll defense simply must improve.

Having a healthy Noah would mean having a player who isn’t afraid to throw his body around and send a message with a hard foul to a guard coming around a screen. Having Thomas would mean having a positionally versatile big man who can add an extra element defensively.

With or without those players, the Knicks cannot continue to be exploited by the pick and roll late in games.

The Knicks are doing an outstanding job of preventing the ball handler from turning the corner and getting an efficient look at the rim. The issue for the Knicks, however, is that they’re allowing 1.11 points per possession to the dive man—the fifth-worst mark in the NBA.

The Knicks’ big men must do a better job of rotating and preventing the pick and roll dive man from entering the paint for easy finishes.

Nov 30, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony (7) shoots the game-winning basket over Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins (22) during the fourth quarter at Target Center. The Knicks defeated the Timberwolves 106-104. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

2. Maintaining Leads

At times in 2016-17, the New York Knicks have looked like a legitimate NBA powerhouse. They’ve taken double-digit leads into the fourth quarter, only to find themselves mere minutes away from a blowout win.

The Knicks haven’t yet learned how to play with a lead, which could end up costing them more than it has thus far.

New York has been fortunate to be on the receiving end of Carmelo Anthony’s clutch heroics in 2016-17. The reality is: the Knicks shouldn’t be needing Anthony to hit game-winners during games that were being decisively won.

Against the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Knicks led 99-82 with 7:27 remaining in the fourth quarter, yet needed Anthony to hit a game-winner in order to secure a 106-104 win.

The Minnesota game was more of the rule than the exception for the Knicks. In recent games, New York led the Sacramento Kings by 20 and won 106-98, and led Minnesota in a second game by 14 and won 118-114.

The Knicks are struggling to maintain leads during the first and second half, which has made potential blowouts more complicated than they should be.

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

Following a brutal loss to the Washington Wizards, sixth man Brandon Jennings called the New York Knicks out for playing with lackluster energy on the road. It was a necessary move by the outspoken Jennings, who was accurate in his evaluation of the Knicks.

Though they’ve played better in recent games, the Knicks haven’t yet escaped the reality that they consistently no-show road games.

Per Marc Berman of The New York Post:

“We haven’t been locking in well on the road,” Jennings said after the Knicks failed to hit the .500 mark and dropped to 5-7. “That’s our big problem. If we want to be the team we think we are, we’re going to have to lock in better on the road. We got to play 10 times harder.”

Cliche as it may seem, the Knicks need to give a 100 percent effort on the road.

The Knicks may be 11-9 overall, but nine of those victories were achieved at Madison Square Garden. It’s not a bad thing to be strong at home—it’s actually a vital strength—but it’s terrible to be 2-6 on the road.

When digging deeper than the win-loss record, one can corroborate Jennings’ claim that the Knicks aren’t trying hard enough on the road.

The Knicks are allowing an average of 110.8 points on a slash line of .458/.399/.777 during road games. Those numbers drop all the way to 103.6 points on a slash line of .441/.319/.770 at home, which all but proves that this is a matter of energy and effort.

If the Knicks are going to turn an 11-9 start into a postseason appearance, then they must play with a higher level of energy and effort on the road.

It’s never easy to play away from home, but if the Knicks can bring it during road games, the results will pay off over time.

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