3 Observations

1. The Knicks are statistically one of the worst passing teams in the league.

It’s not just that New York averages the fewest assists per game in the entire league at 19.5. The Knicks also rank 29th in assist percentage, assisting on just 48.8% of made baskets. Only the Portland Trailblazers, with their bucket-getting backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, assist on a smaller percentage. This may not come as a surprise when Tim Hardaway Jr. is your top offensive option. Among the 76 players to record at least 75 drives this season, THJ ranks 68th in passing, doing so on just 21.3% of his drives.

Based on 2017-18 BBall Index player talent grades and projected 2018-19 minutes, the Knicks roster projected to be the 6th worst team in our Playmaking category. That was the expected starting point based on non-rookies.

Adding to the team’s passing woes has been the recent emergence of Allonzo “Iso Zo” Trier, who is averaging more than 15 points in 28 minutes per game over his last five contests. During that stretch, 70.8% of Trier’s field goals have been unassisted. I love Trier’s aggressiveness and am wildly impressed with his ability to create efficient offense for himself as a rookie. Getting this guy undrafted on a two-way was an absolute coup. The one downside to his style is that it leaves at least three of his teammates standing around ball-watching, as is the case in these three plays:

To be clear, I don’t think these are all necessarily bad shots. But, having so many players loafing on the perimeter lets defenses off the hook too easily. There’s a reason the Knicks’ offense ranks 23rd in both distance traveled per game and average speed according to NBA.com’s Second Spectrum data. Trier has already shown the ability to get similar (or even better) shots when he is off-ball. When he catches following a prior action, scrambled defenses have even less of a chance of handling Trier’s crafty moves. Against the Hawks, he showed what he can do off-ball:

This criticism is not meant as a knock on Trier. He needs to continue to stay aggressive and put pressure on the defense. Instead, the hope is for David Fizdale to implement sets that use Trier’s off-ball canniness and improve ball movement overall.

2. Enes Kanter and Mario Hezonja have developed an unexpected chemistry.

After criticizing the Knicks’ passing in the first observation, I wanted to take a moment to appreciate this surprising development. Last season, Kyle O’Quinn and Doug McDermott routinely picked apart defenses with back door cuts for easy buckets. This year, against all odds, that void has been at least partly filled by Kanter and Hezonja. Kanter, who has been a notoriously bad passer throughout his career, is averaging a career-high 2.2 assists per game. Through 13 games, he has racked up a total of 29 assists; 11 of those have gone to Hezonja, his most prolific relationship on the team. Check out these five nifty plays, surprising defenders from Jabari Parker to Draymond Green.

Notice Hezonja’s acting ability: pretending to set a screen before bolting to the rim. Props to Kanter for finding him so often.

3. Emmanuel Mudiay is looking like a solid back-up point guard.

Mudiay currently holds the second best net rating differential on the team, behind only Noah Vonleh. So far, the Knicks have been 11.1 points per 100 possessions better when Mudiay has been on the floor. The bulk of that difference has come on the offensive end. With Mudiay on the court, the offense has been generating much better shots. Per NBAWowy, 42.5% of the team’s shots have been either dunks or layups with Mudiay on the court. When Mudiay has sat, that number has dropped to just 31.1%. Mudiay obviously doesn’t deserve all the credit, but his willingness to move the ball is notable. He passes on 41.2% of his drives, by far the highest mark on the team.

It’s been a small sample, but Mudiay has been both aggressive and unselfish, which is a combination of traits that no other guard on this roster possesses.

2 Questions

1. What happened to Trey Burke?

Sometimes, the NBA is a zero-sum game, and as Trier’s stock has risen, Burke’s has plummeted. Coming into the season, I believed Burke was the best playmaker on the team, and the Playmaking data backs that up. Burke’s rating in that category over the past five seasons: A, A, A-, A-, A. And so far this season, he hasn’t done much to dissuade that notion. Of all Knicks players to play significant minutes, he has by far the highest assist percentage at 24%. However, as his minutes have become more sporadic, so too has his willingness to pass. It feels like whenever Burke has gotten burn recently, he’s been trying to do too much in an attempt to impress Fizdale and garner more minutes. It’s unclear whether he has fallen out of the rotation for good, but Trier and Mudiay’s combined success doesn’t bode well for Burke.

2. Why do the Knicks force a lot of turnovers, but score so few fast break points?

I actually don’t know the answer to this and am willing to listen to theories.The Knicks’ defense forces turnovers on 16% of possessions, the sixth-best rate in the league. So, it’s kind of surprising that they only score 9.9 fast break points per game, third-fewest in the league. It could be that the types of turnovers that the Knicks force are of the dead-ball variety, but they also rank in the top half of the league in steals per game. Per InPredictable, the Knicks score 1.29 points per possession off turnovers, good for 14th in the league. Is it a matter of not pushing the ball after turnovers, so the ensuing possessions are not categorized as “fast breaks?” This will be something I monitor going forward.

1 Prediction

Kevin Knox will have a 30-point game within the next 30 days.

Knox finally appeared moderately healthy against Toronto, scoring 12 points on 12 shooting possessions. The performance came after missing seven games with a sprained ankle, and then two games playing fewer than ten minutes.  He has looked every bit like a barely 19-year-old rookie, shooting just 32% from the field. But, he’s too big and skilled for his position to consistently struggle without showing at least flashes of brilliance. A couple games to watch out for:

  • December 3rd at home against the Wizards’ 28th-ranked defense
  • December 8th at home against the Brooklyn Nets

Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

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