New York Knicks: Offensive Spacing With And Without Joakim Noah

How does Joakim Noah fit into the New York Knicks’ new-look offense with Kristaps Porzingis at center and Carmelo Anthony at power forward?

The New York Knicks had their best offensive half of the season in the second half of last night’s 93-77 win over the Dallas Mavericks. They did it with starting center Joakim Noah on the bench.

Where does this leave Noah?

It’s been a eye-opening few days for the Knicks’ offense. It started with team president Phil Jackson’s unexpected admission that he doesn’t care if the Knicks run his beloved triangle offense.

It was followed by an offensive explosion in the second half against the Mavericks, with New York outscoring Dallas 57-38 in a welcomed win at home.

Jackson’s public comments of ambivalence towards the use of the triangle will be music to everyone’s ears; players, coaches and fans, all of whom have struggled with Jacksons insistence on the offense. The constant chatter and controversy about the triangle has contributed to the Knicks’ struggles in establishing an identity on the court.

The team’s second half performance last night might have provided us with a glimpse of that identity. By replacing Joakim Noah with Justin Holiday to start the third quarter, the offense looked fantastic. The impact of this one substitution has a number of factors, but they all had one thing in common: it created space.

Valuable, precious, beautiful space.

Replacing Noah, a center, with Holiday, a guard, meant going small. It bumped both Kristaps Porzingis and Carmelo Anthony up a position to center and power forward respectively. Many believe KP’s best long-term position will be playing the 5. His shooting, mobility, and rim protection make him a modern day stretch 5 straight out of the lab.

For years, people have known Anthony’s best position is the 4. His strength and shooting ability make him a nightmare for defenses. Former Knicks head coach, offensive guru, and early small-ball architect Mike D’Antoni pleaded with’ Melo to play as a stretch power forward.

Anthony has reportedly resisted playing power forward because of the physical punishment of matching up with traditional 4s, but the league has been trending small for a few seasons now and these bruising Anthony Mason type power forwards are becoming rarer.

Perhaps Anthony will be more open to playing some small ball 4.

Defense is Noah’s calling card, and his offensive limitations have always been mitigated by his athleticism, hard work, and passing ability. With his athleticism declining as he ages, his lack of offense has hurt the Knicks early in the season, with defenses abandoning him to load up on KP and ‘Melo.

Against the Boston Celtics, defenders fronted Porzingis, and relied on help from Noah’s defender, Amir Johnson, to deter the high-low lob pass from Noah. Defenses are daring Noah to create for himself.

Early in the season, the Knicks were forcing this pass to Porzingis and turning the ball over.

In the above play, Noah made the right play, being decisive and aggressive, and driving to the basket for a layup. Whether he makes the shot or not, Porzingis has offensive rebounding position against a smaller player, Noah gets a high-percentage shot at the rim, and he keeps the defense honest.

Against the Toronto Raptors, his defender was nowhere near him. Noah makes the right play again, aggressively attacking the rim. Although he misses the layup, Derrick Rose attacks the glass for an offensive rebound and putback.

The Knicks and Noah will see this extreme help defense all year. Noah has to be consistently aggressive to keep opposing defenses as honest as possible and the offense moving.

Although Noah can mitigate the effectiveness of these extreme help defenses by being as aggressive as possible, spacing will always be an issue with his lack of shooting.

With the discovery and success of the small-ball unit that demolished the Mavericks last night, the Knicks will be an interesting team to watch on offense. The contrast of the two lineups—the quicksand group with Noah on the court against the super-spacing created by ‘Melo at the 4 and Porzingis at the 5—is a powerful demonstration of the value of spacing.

How Hornacek uses these lineups will be something to watch going forward. We shouldn’t over or under-react to the Knicks’ newfound offensive versatility.

Noah is going to play. He’s the Knicks’ engine and best interior defender and rebounder. He’s also getting $72 million dollars over the next four seasons.

The Knicks current starting group, including Noah, can and will play together.

However, head coach Jeff Hornacek should experiment with various lineups. Staggering minutes for Porzingis and Noah, and ‘Melo and Noah to give the super-spacing lineup—and variants of it with Melo at the 4 without Porzingis, and Porzingis at the 5 without Melo—some time.

Matchups will dictate the relative uses of each of the combinations. Part of the reason the ‘Melo and KP frontcourt was so effective against the Mavericks was that Dallas doesn’t have a dominant low-post threat to attack Porzingis.

Against the Andre Drummond’s and Marc Gasol’s of the league, Noah will be invaluable.

Limiting Noah’s minutes would be a smart move for the coaching staff generally, given his age and injury history, and Hornacek will be happy that there are various ways in which he can do this. The offensive-minded, small-ball unit is one option.

The emergence and all-around encouraging play of Willy Hernangomez gives Hornacek the welcomed second option of another traditional center to turn to if he wants to rest Noah.

The Knicks’ record at 4-6 is disappointing, but there have been positive signs this week for a team slowly finding its identity.

The organization as a whole will benefit from Phil Jackson’s recent comments regarding the triangle, finally giving the coaching staff clarity and the freedom to, well, coach.

Knicks fans should look forward to coach Hornacek using this freedom to unleash what is a versatile roster with talent on both ends of the floor.

This article originally appeared on