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Can NY Knicks Sustain Success from Behind the 3-Point Line?

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Can NY Knicks Sustain Success from Behind the 3-Point Line?
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The New York Knicks have been sinking three-pointers at a staggering rate while jumping out to a 20-7 record. Through 27 games, the Knicks are shooting 39.5 percent from downtown and are on pace to set the NBA records for most three-point attempts and three-point field goals made in a season.  

Here's the question: Can the Knicks sustain their success from behind the three-point line?

In short, the answer is yes, though there may be some drop-off. A significant proportion of the Knicks' 29.2 three-point attempts per game come on open looks created by crisp ball movement.

Coach Mike Woodson has borrowed heavily from predecessor Mike D'Antoni's offensive system. By spreading the floor with shooters, including Carmelo Anthony at the "stretch 4," there is space for the point guard to initiate the offense through the pick-and-roll and for Anthony to operate in the post.

The first option on offense is Carmelo Anthony, either on the wing or the block. If a team guards him straight up, the league's second-leading scorer can take him off the dribble or jab step and pull up for a jumper. Anthony is too quick for most 4s, and when teams put a small forward on him, he uses his strength to overpower the defender in the post.

Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

When teams have double-teamed Melo, he has done an excellent job of kicking the ball out to one of the shooters spotting up behind the arc for an open shot or for the pass that leads to an open three. 

New York's second option is a high pick-and-roll with Raymond Felton and Tyson Chandler. Chandler, who is extremely agile for a big man, sets the screen then dives to the rim. If Chandler's man stays glued to him and allows Felton to turn the corner, the Knicks point guard either drives all the way to the basket or pulls up for an uncontested jumper.

If another defender steps in to help out, that leaves a shooter open on the perimeter for a three-point look. If Chandler's man hedges on the screen instead of sticking with Chandler, he is not able to recover in time to get a body on the Knicks center and Felton tosses the ball toward the rim for an easy alley-oop.

Felton and Chandler ran the pick-and-roll to perfection in the Knicks' 100-86 victory over the Brooklyn Nets on December 19.

The final factor contributing to the Knicks' success from long range has been their stellar perimeter passing. Jason Kidd brought his unselfish brand of basketball with him from Dallas, and it appears to be contagious. New York's guards and wing players have routinely made the extra pass to set up their teammates for wide-open looks.

Still, history indicates that the Knicks are unlikely to sustain their current level of success from behind the arc. Only eight teams have connected on over 40 percent of their three-point attempts over the course of a season, and four of those teams did so during a three-year stretch in the mid-'90s when the NBA moved the three-point line closer to the basket.

Additionally, several Knicks are shooting well above their career averages from downtown. Only J.R. Smith—37.6 percent—and Steve Novak—42.7 percent—are around their career rates—36.9 and 43.5 percent, respectively.

Carmelo Anthony is shooting 10 percentage points higher than his career average on three-point attempts—43.7 percent compared to 33.1 percent—and his previous season high was 37.8 percent in 2010-11. Anthony' shot distribution chart can be seen below, courtesy of NBA.com.

2012-2013 Shooting Chart  
 
            FG% Shot Distribution  
 
                                               50%          
                                            80-159         
                 33.5%            
A Restricted Area
 
                                              50%           
                                            10-20         
                 4.2%                         
                    
B In the Paint (Non RA)
 
                                             46%          
                                           73-160         
                33.8%                         
                    
C Mid-Range
 
                                             42%           
                                            5-12         
                 2.5%                         
                   
D Corner-3
 
                                            44%           
                                          54-122         
                25.7%                         
                   
E Above the Break 3

 

Jason Kidd, a career 35-percent shooter from behind the arc, is hitting 43.5 percent of his three-point shots this season. Raymond Felton and Ronnie Brewer are also shooting well above their career averages—35.7 percent compared to 33.1 percent and 32.1 percent compared to 25.7 percent, respectively.

Kidd and Anthony's career averages are somewhat misleading, as both have significantly improved from long range over the course of their careers—Kidd shot over 40 percent from downtown in 2008-09 and 2009-10 for the Dallas Mavericks—but they will each likely regress toward their individual means. The same can be said for Felton and Brewer.

In fact, all four of those players have begun to fall back to earth over the Knicks' past several games. Anthony connected on just 4-of-15 three-point attempts over the Knicks' past two games and Felton is 0-of-14 over his last four games.

Kidd has lost the touch from long range as well, knocking down just eight of his last 34 attempts, including a 3-of-13 performance against the Cleveland Cavaliers on December 15, and as seen on the chart below, Ronnie Brewer has been dismal from deep over the past month after a blistering start to the season.  

Brewer's Split

             Value          G   GS   FG   FGA   3P   3PA   PTS   FG%   3P%
Month  November 15   15   41     89     14   34    105   .461   .412
             December  12   12   15     55      4    22     40    .273   .182

New York's three-point shooting percentage will likely continue to decline over the remaining 55 games, though there is reason to believe that they will remain successful, if not spectacular, from behind the arc because of the number of high-percentage three-point shots they are creating. As long as they continue to spread the floor and play unselfish basketball, the long ball will remain a lethal weapon for the Knicks this season.

* All statistics are as of December 25, 2012.

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