After a huge win against the Lakers last night, the Knicks travel to Minnesota to play a surprisingly competent Timberwolves team. Now, my biggest question mark about Jeremy Lin is whether he is able to maintain this level of play while playing more than 30 minutes a night.
We've seen Chris Duhon and Raymond Felton wear down after Mike D'Antoni gave them more minutes than they were used to. Tonight, we get to see if Jeremy Lin is physically up to the task of playing back-to-back games. The Knicks will take on the team that plays at the second-fastest pace in the NBA, the Minnesota Timberwolves.
This might be the most difficult game for the Knicks to win during Jeremy Lin's stint as the starting PG. as it is the second of a back-to-back.
Here are some things to look for if you are hoping for a Knicks win:
Make the Timberwolves Jump Shooters
The Timberwolves thrive in transition. That means the Knicks need to get back on defense. They also have to quickly matchup on defense due to the uncanny vision and passing ability of Ricky Rubio.
Yes, the ghosts of the 2009 Draft will haunt the Knicks for a long time, though Jeremy Lin is making us feel better with each performance. The Knicks missed out on Stephen Curry and Rubio because Kahn decided to draft two point guards. The Warriors decided to punt backcourt defense.
In drafting Jordan Hill, the Knicks passed on Brandon Jennings (understandable but drafting Jordan Hill instead?), Tyler Hansborough (though Jorts fills the role of intangibles big man off the bench), Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson, Jeff Teague, Eric Maynor, Darren Collison and Taj Gibson.
If the Knicks had taken Ty Lawson , then we would have been spared the Carmelo Anthony trade debate. Getting rid of Chauncey Billups (bad fit for what George Karl wanted to do the whole time in Denver) and giving the starting role to Lawson (about as good of a fit for Karl as anyone in the NBA) is the biggest reason Denver has played so well since then.
Okay, that tangent took up a lot more words that I thought it would.
With Ricky Rubio, the job of stopping the Timberwolves in transition is not complete until Rubio sets up a half court set. That is because Rubio has the ability to find the open man when the defense is confused about whom to matchup with.
In fact, they attempt 37 percent of their field goal attempts in the first 10 seconds of the shot clock and have an eFG (effective field goal percentage = (FG + (1/2)(3P)) / FGA) of .550. The league average this season is .482.
On shots that are taken 11-15 seconds into the shot clock, they have an eFG of .450. It only gets worst the further they get into the shot clock. If you take away the easy buckets, you make the Wolves into a below-average NBA offense.
The Knicks can take this a step further by forcing the Timberwolves to shoot jump shots.
The Timberwolves shoot 29.4 percent from 10-15 feet (27th in the NBA), 36.2 percent from 16-23 feet (20th in the NBA) and have an eFG of 49.5 on three-pointers (20th in the NBA).
Minnesota also ranks second-to-last and last in the NBA in the number of 10-15 foot and 16-23 foot makes that come off of assists, respectively. This could imply that most of these opportunities come out of isolation plays or are contested off-the-dribble shots.
So how do the Knicks force the Timberwolves into these shots?
Well, Michael Beasley's shot selection helps, but the best thing to do is to cut off dribble penetration. That starts at the point guard.
Rubio/Barea vs. Lin (and hopefully not Bibby)
Rubio and Kevin Love run the pick-'n-roll rather well. So, it is important that Jeremy Lin goes under the picks. In fact, that should be the primary way Lin approaches it. This is because Rubio is an awful shooter off the dribble and when contested.
He does his damage from the outside on unguarded catch-and-shoot shots. If the screener is not Kevin Love, then look for the Knicks to hedge the pick.
However, that would not be the wisest course of action if Love sets the pick. He is adept at rolling to the basket or playing pick-and-pop. Not only that, but his passing ability allows him to take advantage of the defense rotating back to him. It's like playing against Wes Unseld, if Unseld could shoot threes.
The Timberwolves, like the Knicks, are a point guard-driven offense. If Lin and company can stifle Rubio, then that will go a long way toward getting a victory. The same goes for JJ Barea, as he primarily looks to penetrate and should only encourage his man to go under the screens.
The Knicks need to stay alert on defense. Not only because of Ricky Rubio's passing ability, but also because of his extreme confidence in it, which leads to him turning the ball over quite a bit.
Until he gets out of this Jason Williams phase and into more of a Jason Kidd phase, he is going to give the Knicks chances to get out on transition and get easy scores. With Lin pushing the pace, it is only a matter of the rest of the Knicks having the energy to fill the lanes and finish with aplomb.
On offense, Lin pretty much needs to keep doing what he is doing. The Timberwolves are soft on the interior without Darko Milicic's shot blocking ability. Not having to worry about the interior presence of the Timberwolves should give Lin free rein to penetrate and cause all sorts of problems.
Look for Lin to get Tyson Chandler involved on the pick-n-roll early and often. The Wolves, unlike the Lakers, do not have anyone who can matchup with Chandler's size and athleticism. Lin does needs to keep his turnovers down. More importantly, he can't commit turnovers that make it difficult for the Knicks to recover and lead to transition opportunities for the Timberwolves.
So, if beating the Wolves comes down to just getting back on defense, forcing them into jumpers, and attacking the paint, then how are they 13-14? The answer: Kevin Love.
Contain Kevin Love
With the poor perimeter shooting of the Timberwolves, it is crucial that the Knicks clean up the glass against arguably the best rebounder in basketball (definitely the most skilled rebounder). He grabs 30.6 percent of the Timberwolves' offensive rebounds when he is on the floor.
Jared Jeffries needs box Kevin Love out and make sure he does not get the rebound. The Knicks will also need to see Iman Shumpert and Landry Fields crash the boards. The Timberwolves like to employ a two-PG look with Ridnour, Rubio, and Barea. Only Ridnour has shown competency in his perimeter shot.
Nikola Pekovic has also shown some ability to rebound and to rebound on the offensive end (grabs the 30.1 percent of offensive rebounds when he is on the floor), but in Tyson, I trust.
Ultimately it's a numbers game. If the Knicks rebound with three or four consistently, then they will be able to secure the rebound against two.
I already discussed the problem he poses on the pick-n-roll. In addition to that, his three-point shooting and passing makes him a difficult cover for most fours in the NBA.
This is where Jared Jeffries comes in. He is comfortable defending on the perimeter and on the block.
On the perimeter, the Knicks should not look to send double teams. However, when Love posts up, the Knicks should look to double team off the non-shooters.
In particular, Fields and Shumpert should double off of who is playing the shooting guard position, except for Ridnour and Ellington. Bill Walker, or whoever is playing on Wesley Johnson for the Knicks, should also double hard on Kevin Love down low, as Wesley Johnson is not a good basketball player (that's some high level analysis.)
What Jared Jeffries and the rest of the Knicks cannot do is needlessly foul Kevin Love. The Timberwolves are fourth in the NBA in FT/FGA ratio in the NBA.
The team averages almost 27 free throws a game, with Kevin Love averaging 9.1 free throws a game. It is crucial that the Knicks box out, avoid loose-ball fouls, over-the-back fouls and fouls that come off of Love's offensive rebounds.
Along with Ricky Rubio, the depth of the Timberwolves roster has played a critical role in keeping the Timberwolves around .500.
In a condensed, lockout-shortened season, teams that can go 10 or 11 deep have an advantage over teams like the Knicks, who at this point only go a legitimate seven deep. To combat this, the Knicks need Iman Shumpert to keep attacking the basket, creating turnovers and getting to the free throw line.
Steve Novak needs to continue shooting well. However, to counter the Timberwolves' depth, the starting five needs to dominate the Timberwolves' starting five.
On the second of a back-to-back, it is too much to as the Knicks' two-man bench to a Timberwolves' bench that is at least four deep with Derrick Williams, Michael Beasley, Martell Webster, and J.J. Barea.
If the Timberwolves' starting five match the production of the Knicks' starting five, then it's hard to see the Knicks winning the game.
Linsanity hits the road and, hopefully, the Knicks can grab another win. They can leave it all on the court tonight.
After this game, Knicks fans will have to wait until Tuesday to cheer their heroes, as the Knicks will play the Raptors in Toronto.