The New York Knicks have recently started playing small ball again. The result: a three-game win streak.
Their defense has been erratic as usual, but their offense looks very much in sync, scoring over 110 points in each of the last three games.
Regardless, a three-game win streak is still a big boost to their morale and a small glimmer of light to their dark and disappointing season. The big question is this: Is this a false alarm or an indicator of a bigger change?
Since Andrea Bargnani’s injury, the spacing in the Knicks’ offensive sets has been phenomenal.
Bargnani was acquired in the offseason with the hope of adding a scoring threat next to Carmelo Anthony that can shoot the 3. If he served as a stretch-four, there would be a lot of room for other Knicks players to penetrate into the paint.
It is safe to say that the acquisition hasn't gone the Knicks' way. Bargnani has been shooting a dreadful 27.8 percent from deep this season while averaging only 13.3 points per game, even in the absence of Tyson Chandler for much of the season.
Yet with Bargnani out indefinitely with an elbow injury, the Knicks have a chance to play small, and it has paid dividends.
With Carmelo Anthony playing power forward, the Knicks can stack the starting lineup with more guards who can shoot and drive the ball, resulting in a greater offensive output from players like Tim Hardaway Jr. and J.R. Smith.
By playing small, the Knicks have more players on the floor who can pass the rock. Essentially, they are replicating the success they had last year (54-28 record) with a three-guard lineup.
What results is more movement along the perimeter for quality shots, rather than settling for long jumpers.
It also results in many more three-pointers, which was the biggest reason for their success last year. Over their last three games, they have averaged 11.7 threes made on 47.9 percent shooting.
That’s certainly nothing to scoff at, and with Anthony leading the charge while also contributing nine assists over his last two games, the Knicks look like a force to be reckoned with.
Though the smaller lineup works in their favor on the offensive end, the Knicks have proven to be quite vulnerable defensively when employing the three-guard lineup.
Although Anthony can be a mismatch on offense, he can also be overrun defensively, especially against elite power forwards.
The Knicks also have a propensity to switch pick-and-rolls, resulting in mismatches that are taken advantage of.
Thus, teams usually score at will on the Knicks, resulting in high scoring affairs. During the win streak, the Knicks have held the Bobcats, Lakers and Celtics to an average of 95.7 points per game.
But these teams rank in the bottom 10 in offensive efficiency. The Knicks will have to keep up defensively if they want to keep winning.
Bargnani’s injury may be a blessing in disguise.
The Knicks have looked out of sync for most of the season, but over the last three games, they have started to resemble the deadly team of last year.
If the Knicks can keep up their focus on defense as much as offense, while continuing to shoot well from beyond the arc, they just might be able to turn their season around.