1. Tim Hardaway Jr. taking charge
There are very few contexts in which I’d talk about Tim Hardaway Jr. doing something positive on the defensive end of the court. Currently, Hardaway Jr. holds the worst defensive rating differential on the team by a wide margin. The Knicks’ defense is 8.3 points per 100 possessions better when THJ is on the bench. He gets caught ball-watching a lot. His effort in transition is hit or miss. He gets Jack-Shephard-Lost on some ball screens:
Yikes. I was about to compliment him but lost my train of thought. Oh right – but the guy takes charges! Say what you will (or what I already did) about the rest of his defense, but THJ is not afraid to sacrifice his body to get a stop. He is currently tied with perennial charge-leader Kyle Lowry with the most charges drawn this season (13).
Here he takes one during an important fourth-quarter transition opportunity in Cleveland:
Just a few minutes later in that same game, he did it again!
Hardaway Jr.’s propensity for taking charges fits his high-risk, high-reward style of play. Sometimes his flops work in his favor. Other times, they lead to wide open layups:
In general, I’m pretty anti-charges. I maintain that you can get in good defensive position and still contest the shot. Falling down feels like the opposite of good defense, and I typically hate when it’s rewarded. But! Good for Hardaway Jr. for finding an area of defense in which he can excel. I’m here for THJ’s charges.
2. The Spain pick-and-roll continues to work.
I’m far from the first to notice this. Zach DiLuzio wrote a nice piece earlier this month for Posting and Toasting about the Knicks’ various offensive sets in which he detailed this play. Even though the Spain pick-and-roll isn’t new, it still delights me every time I see it. The Knicks used it on consecutive plays against Cleveland to try and get Frank going. On the first one, he got a layup. Watch Tim Hardaway Jr. screen fellow son-of-an-NBA-player, Larry Nance Jr.:
Less than a minute later, the Knicks called the same play. This time, both Matthew Dellavedova and Nance were ready for it, but Frank countered with a nice wraparound assist to a rolling Mitchell Robinson:
The beauty of this play is so many of the pieces are interchangeable. Against Charlotte, Frank and THJ switched roles, leading to an open Hardaway floater:
In the above video, Jeremy Lamb stunts hard off Courtney Lee, who is sitting ball-side in the corner. If Hardaway were a more willing passer, it could have been an open corner three from Lee. Keep that in mind for one of my questions below.
3. Kevin Knox needs to improve his closeouts.
Defensive rating is not the be-all-end-all in terms of defensive statistics. But, there is no denying that the Knicks’ defense has been utterly atrocious when Kevin Knox has been on the floor, yielding a ghastly 116.3 points per 100 possessions. For perspective, 203 players this season have played at least 20 minutes per game in at least 20 games. Knox ranks 202nd in defensive rating. There is definitely some noise in that. He plays many of his minutes with other defensive liabilities like the aforementioned Hardaway Jr., Enes Kanter, Emmanuel Mudiay, etc.
The BBall Index’s grading system attempts to quiet that noise, but the tune isn’t much prettier. When compared to the 57 wings who have played similar minutes this season, Knox grades out to a D in perimeter defense and a D- in interior defense.
One area I’ve noticed Knox needs particular help is with his closeouts. Often, he’ll run out to a shooter too upright (or will actually jump), not in a defensive stance. This makes him a prime target for blow-bys:
This next play isn’t actually a closeout, but it’s indicative of the same issue. Here, he receives a pretty weak ball fake from Collin Sexton and he pretty much jumps out of his shoes:
It’s way too soon to panic on Knox as a defender. Yes, he’s been bad, but there’s plenty of reason to believe he can improve. He’s been a nice help-side rim protector at times. He has good size and length for his position. Close-outs are just such a fundamental way to prevent penetration. We have to hope that Fizdale addresses this sooner than later.
1. Why do the Knicks shoot (and make) fewer corner threes than anybody in the league?
Per Cleaning The Glass, the Knicks take just 4.8% of their shots from the corners, which ranks 30th in the league in terms of frequency. Adding insult to injury, they only connect on 34.2% of their corner three attempts, which ranks 27th in the league. In recent years, the corner three has been used as a kind of barometer for healthy offenses. There are exceptions. The Atlanta Hawks shoot the second-highest rate of corner threes this season. They also sport the 28th-ranked offense.
Here’s the difference: the Knicks have capable shooters. They hit 35.5% of non-corner threes, which is the 12th-best mark in the league. The Hawks, on the other hand, make just 31% of threes above the break, worst in the league. So, what’s the problem in New York? Is David Fizdale’s offense not unlocking one of the most efficient shots in the game?
It’ll be something to monitor going forward. It doesn’t help that (again, per Cleaning The Glass) New York takes 16.4% of their shots from long two, the sixth-highest in the league. Turning those long pull-up mid-rangers into catch-and-shoot corner threes should be high on Fizdale’s to-do list.
2. Is Noah Vonleh’s three-point shooting about to tail off?
After a ridiculously hot shooting start to the season, Vonleh has cooled off immensely in recent games. Through his first 24 games, Vonleh was hitting 45.2% on nearly two attempts per game. In his last nine contests, he’s connecting on just 29.2% of his 2.7 threes per game. We all knew that absurd start wasn’t sustainable, but where will Vonleh’s three-point accuracy level off? It’s a very important question when considering his value going forward.
I’m going to write some more things about Frank now.
I’m a Knicks blogger, what do you want from me? Also, my actual predictions have been trash. Since hurting his ankle, Ntilikina has definitely struggled offensively these past two games. Usually, when discussing the silver lining surrounding Frank, it’s all about his perimeter defense. But, I’ve been equally impressed with his interior defense. Switchability, particularly if he pans out as a point guard, is such a valuable trait. Frank has been down right stout in the post this season.
Per BBall Index grades, among the 78 guards to play at least 500 minutes so far this season, Frank is in the 81st percentile (A-) in interior defense. Watch his aggressive fronting of Larry Nance Jr. against Cleveland, which eventually leads to a steal:
Frank may still look pretty skinny, but there’s no question he’s worked on his core strength. He’s building a solid base and it shows. Even bruisers like Damantas Sabonis (who the Knicks consistently make look like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) have a hard time moving Ntilikina:
If Frank can continue to switch onto opposing bigs without repercussions, it’s going to unlock a lot of defensive possibilities for the next good Knicks team, whenever you think that may be.