New York Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek started point guards Brandon Jennings and Derrick Rose together in the backcourt against the Denver Nuggets. Here’s why the all-point-guard backcourt is a bad idea.
Lost in the New York Knicks’ daily determination to redefine rock bottom as a sports franchise, Jeff Hornacek is continuing to search for answers on the court. In the Knicks’ latest crushing defeat at the hands of the Denver Nuggets, Hornacek started point guards Derrick Rose and Brandon Jennings together in the backcourt.
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Going back to his days as head coach of the Phoenix Suns, Hornacek has never been afraid to tinker and experiment with rotations. He’s long been a fan of small-ball dual point guard lineups. In Phoenix, he played combinations of Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas together.
Desperate to shake the Knicks out of their post-Christmas funk, Hornacek doubled down on his small-ball adjustments against the Nuggets by playing Carmelo Anthony at power forward and Kristaps Porzingis at center.
This frontcourt configuration is a popular one. It maximizes the offensive ability of both Anthony and Porzingis. Former Knicks head coach Mike D’Antoni implored Anthony to play more power forward to leverage his potent combination of size and skill in a small-ball style of play.
For Porzingis, many see his most effective long term position in the league as center. Again, his combination of size and shooting ability are potentially devastating offensively. Having him as the primary big man on the court maximizes the space his shooting ability creates for his teammates.
The small-ball lineup would supercharge the offense. Whilst you definitely sacrifice defense with lost rim protection and rebounding, the Knicks’ defense has been so terrible with a traditional frontcourt that the theoretical sacrifice would be worth the risk.
The combination of Rose and Jennings is harder to justify—especially so when used in conjunction with the smaller frontline of Anthony and Porzingis.
Offensively, neither player is a good 3-point shooter, Rose is at a woeful 24.1 percent for the season, and Jennings is at a more respectable, but still below average, 34.2 percent. This lack of shooting means that both can only be effective when they have the ball. If one of them has the ball, the other doesn’t, and they cramp the offensive spacing.
It’s a truly bizarre chain of knotty, depressingly Knicks-like, one step forward, two steps back adjustments.
New York would replace Noah, a non-shooter, with Porzingis at center, sliding everyone up a position and opening up the floor offensively, only to replace Noah with Jennings, another—relatively speaking—non-shooter.
Both Rose and Jennings would thrive as the lone point guard in a small-ball lineup with Porzingis at center. Playing both together not only minimizes each player’s offensive playmaking strengths, but it maximizes their offensive weaknesses by permanently placing one of them off the ball.
Defensively, both players are below average. Despite Jennings’ best attempts at convincing us otherwise, with his accentuated, hyper-active, “Look I’m playing defense!”, type defense.
Although endearing, and occasionally effective at waking up a Knicks team that has a tendency to sleepwalk, this fake-defense of which Jennings is a master overcompensates with energy when what is desperately needed is execution. Extra rotations, bumping cutters, communicating with your teammates is preferable to the pest-value Jennings provides 50 feet from the hoop.
Jennings’ pest-defense is admittedly slightly more effective than Roses no-defense, and importantly neither of them play the best brand of defense; good defense.
It’s strange that Hornacek would give extended time to the dual-point backcourt when he has two players in Justin Holiday and Ron Baker who would make more sense alongside one of Rose or Jennings in a small-ball lineup.
Holiday is the most obvious answer here. He’s a long and active defender who can space the floor and play off the ball on offense.
The Knicks have four three-player combinations this season with a positive points differential: Anthony, Holiday, and Rose at +6.6, Holiday, Jennings, and Porzingis at +6.5, Willy Hernangomez, Holiday, and Jennings at +5.2, and Holiday, Jennings, and Mindaugas Kuzminskas at +3.5.
The common denominator is Justin Holiday.
The Knicks were a disaster defensively against the Nuggets, giving up 131 points whilst experimenting with both a small-ball backcourt duo of Rose and Jennings and a small-ball frontcourt duo of Porzingis and Anthony.
Both have inherent defensive sacrifices attached to them.
It’s important not to judge the ‘Melo and KP frontline, which has offensive positives that probably outweigh its defensive negatives, off of it’s performance alongside the Rose and Jennings backcourt.
Hornacek should move forward with Porzingis at center and Anthony at power forward, but should separate Jennings and Rose, whose shooting and defensive limitations make them a terrible fit together—especially with Justin Holiday languishing on the bench.