Jan 7, 2017; Indianapolis, IN, USA; New York Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek on the sideline reacting to a foul in the second half of the game against the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The Indiana Pacers beat the New York Knicks 123-109.Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
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The New York Knicks have become a proverbial sideshow off the court. Don’t let the tabloids fool you: the real problem is still basketball-related.
Derrick Rose upset the masses by not showing up a game he was expected to play in. Phil Jackson rubbed people the wrong way with his comments about Carmelo Anthony, then again with his comments about LeBron James, and then again with his handling of the Rose saga.
If you’d let the tabloids tell it, the reason the New York Knicks are 17-21 through 38 games is because there are too many distractions.
For those who have watched all 38 games, however, it’s clear that the problem is being misconstrued and misinterpreted. The off-the-court issues are unnecessary and surely distracting, but they aren’t the reason New York is struggling.
The problem with the Knicks is that they simply aren’t playing good basketball.
Both Carmelo Anthony and Brandon Jennings have publicly criticized the Knicks for not trying hard enough. Kristaps Porzingis has admitted to knowing that New York’s early success would be fleeting if it kept trying to get by on talent.
The franchise player has even publicly disputed the notion that the team should be buying into the head coach’s motion offense and should instead continuing to play in isolation.
For all that’s been said over the past three months, the only thing that truly matters is what the Knicks have done on the court.
Jan 7, 2017; Indianapolis, IN, USA; New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony (7) looks to dribble the ball while Indiana Pacers forward Paul George (13) defends in the first quarter of the game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Offensive Execution, Part I: The Problem
The New York Knicks may have bigger issues on defense than they do on offense, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t flaws to correct. New York’s offense has been stagnant and inconsistent, often depending on late runs to pad the numbers and attempt to close the gap.
Rather than relying on hot stretches, the Knicks must pursue four quarters of consistency by fixing the fatal flaws.
Though there are a number of gifted scorers on the roster, New York’s commitment to isolation basketball is flawed in its nature. It runs isolation plays with the fourth-highest frequency in the NBA despite shooting below 40 percent on such possessions.
In other words: the Knicks are as committed to isolation basketball as any team in the NBA, but rank in the bottom half of the league in the efficiency with which they run those plays.
New York’s issues also include an inability to get to the foul line, as evidenced by it ranking No. 23 in the NBA in free throw attempts per game. That’s surprising when one considers the fact that New York ranks No. 9 in the Association in shot attempts from closer than five feet to the basket.
Jan 7, 2017; Indianapolis, IN, USA; New York Knicks guard Brandon Jennings (3) dribbles the ball away from a defending Indiana Pacers guard Aaron Brooks (00) in the second half of the game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The Indiana Pacers beat the New York Knicks 123-109.Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Offensive Execution, Part II: The Fix
As previously alluded to, the New York Knicks are infatuated with isolation basketball, don’t draw fouls, and struggle to finish at the rim. The fix for the Knicks it to address those issues, but what exactly must they do to correct the flaws?
The first and most obvious fix for the Knicks is to blend the isolation plays with a firm commitment to maintaining steady ball movement.
The Knicks are currently 17-8 when they accumulate at least 20 assists and 1-13 when they fail to reach that number. Furthermore, the Knicks have an effective field goal percentage of .540 on catch-and-shoot plays and .404 on pull ups.
New York can still turn to the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis, and Derrick Rose in isolation, but it’s impossible to debate that the offense better when the ball is moving.
New York must do a better job of finishing at the rim, but it must also create more effective plays in that capacity. Thus, it’s imperative to note that New York rank in the bottom 10 of the NBA in the percentage of pick and roll plays run for the dive man.
In other words: the Knicks need to keep the ball moving, limit isolation plays, get to the free throw line, and create scoring opportunities for big men through the pick and roll.
Jan 9, 2017; New York, NY, USA; New Orleans Pelicans power forward Anthony Davis (23) drives against New York Knicks center Joakim Noah (13) and forward Carmelo Anthony (7) during the first quarter at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Defensive Consistency, Part I: The Problem
The New York Knicks have allowed the opposition to score at least 100 points in 33 of their 38 games this season. New York has allowed at least 105 points in 22 of 38 games, and at least 110 points in 20 of 38 games played.
It’s allowed at least 115 points in 11 of 38 games and at least 120 points in four different outings less than halfway through the regular season.
True as that all may be, the Knicks have only allowed the opposition to shoot 50 percent or better from the field in six games. In fact, it ranks a somewhat respectable No. 16 in opponent field goal percentage during the 2016-17 season.
That number shouldn’t result in New York ranking No. 25 in scoring defense and No. 26 in defensive efficiency, so what exactly is going wrong?
The primary issue is that New York’s energy on the road has bordered on being nonexistent. It’s letting up 111.2 points and 10.2 3-point field goals made per road game on 37.6 percent shooting from beyond the arc—a product of lackluster closeouts and poor energy.
It’s no coincidence that the Knicks are allowing 102.3 points per game during victories and 114.2 points per game during losses.
Jan 2, 2017; New York, NY, USA; Orlando Magic guard Elfrid Payton (4) keeps the ball from New York Knicks guard Brandon Jennings (3) during the second half at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
Defensive Consistency, Part II: The Fix
The best way to summarize the issues with the New York Knicks is to say that it doesn’t look like they’re trying on defense. Looks can be deceiving, but both Carmelo Anthony and Brandon Jennings have publicly blasted the Knicks for that very issue.
Thus, if one is to diagnose the issues on the defensive end of the floor, then the starting point should be giving a concerted and consistent effort.
Beyond trying hard, the Knicks need to close out better on shooters, avoid foul trouble, and control the defensive boards. For perspective, New York has allowed 11.6 3-point field goals made per loss on 39.6 percent shooting from distance.
The Knicks have limited opponents to just 7.9 3-point field goals made per game on 31.3 percent shooting from beyond the arc during wins.
New York is also allowing more free throw attempts per game than all but three teams in the NBA and ranks No. 27 in offensive rebounds allowed per game. It’s also letting up the second-most second chance points and 11th-most points off of turnovers per game of any team in the NBA.
New York is allowing a combined 51.3 points per game off of free throws, offensive rebounds, and turnovers. That’s 51.3 points that are entirely preventable.
Jan 2, 2017; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek looks on with his team in the final seconds of the second half loss against the Orlando Magic at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
Stop Deflecting Blame
The best thing that New York Knicks fans can do is to stop making excuses for the individuals they like and start holding everyone to the same standard. That includes knowing how far is too far, which means anything beyond constructive criticism is crossing a line.
The best thing that the players can do is stop deflecting blame with words like, “We,” and start looking in the mirror.
It may seem counterintuitive to request that players stop thinking about the team, but New York has an identity crisis. In order to come together as a team, the players must first accept their roles, identity their flaws, and commit to fixing them.
From the franchise player to the last man in the rotation, every single player on the roster has a flaw to correct.
From there, the Knicks need to find their identity as a team and commit to playing as one. That starts on the defensive end of the floor, where effort isn’t optional. It should continue onto offense, where team basketball consistently defeats one-on-one play.
The season is far from lost—New York is just 2.5 games back of the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference—but it’s time to stop worrying about the drama and start focusing on basketball.