Breaking Down How NY Knicks Free Steve Novak on Offense

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Breaking Down How NY Knicks Free Steve Novak on Offense
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

If you’re a fan of my Twitter stylings, you’ve undoubtedly seen me mention, talk about and even borderline obsess over “The Steve Novak Play.” It’s a creative little action the Knicks broke out early in the season. They’ve had moderate success (8-of-22 on shots originating out of the play this season entering Monday’s game against the Warriors) running it thus far, but it’s all but disappeared over the last month or so, probably due to the aforementioned lack of positive results. 

However, the action is one where I believe the results belie the process. Nearly every time the Knicks run this set, Steve Novak ends up with an open look at a three just to the right of the top of the key; he just happens to have missed more often than not so far. Considering Novak is a career 43.6 percent shooter from beyond the arc—and 43.1 percent from the right wing—it’s probably worth revisiting. 

The play starts with the Knick point guard bringing the ball up the left side of the floor. Novak positions himself at the left elbow while the two bigs on the court align themselves at the nail and the right elbow. The nominal shooting guard takes up residence on the left wing.

After shuttling the ball over to the wing, the point guard on the court—whether it be Raymond Felton, Pablo Prigioni or Jason Kidd—kicks off some misdirection by rubbing off a Novak screen above the elbow and heading toward the baseline. As this is happening, JR Smith, Jason Kidd or Iman Shumpert slowly dribbles the ball left to right toward the top of the key.

Novak then spins around and sets another screen, this time for one of the bigs on the court. That player is often Carmelo Anthony, which helps to maximize the distraction effect. Sometimes, this player will screen for the ball-handler and pop out to the wing (as happens below), but others, they’ll just keep moving through.

This is when Novak has to do a little bit of acting for a minute. He moseys—as in, casually walks/runs—over to the opposite elbow, looking like he’s going to head to the opposite corner to clear space. Then, suddenly, he stops on a dime and jets off a brush screen toward the top of the key, where he gets a pass and a quick catch-and-shoot opportunity. 

When it works—as it did last week against the Utah Jazz—it looks beautiful, and you wonder why the Knicks don’t go to it more often. With all the moving parts and misdirection, especially on Novak’s part, it’s tough to run this set more than once per game. Once a team sees and recognizes the route Novak takes on this play, they’ll likely be able to sniff if out if the Knicks try to run it again.

With Amar’e Stoudemire out for the remainder of the regular season, Jason Kidd in a prolonged shooting slump (34 percent from the field, 29 percent from three since Christmas), Carmelo Anthony battling a multitude of injuries and the Knick offense in a mini-funk for the last month (their 104.6 offensive rating since Feb. 12 is 3.5 points per 100 possessions worse than their full-season average), it might be wise to get Novak some more shots. After all, New York is 19-2 when Novak attempts six or more threes this season. 

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