5 Areas the NY Knicks Must Improve for Next Season
The New York Knicks are a long shot to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference, and their best-case scenario appears to be a first-round exit. It is time to take a look at how they can improve next season.
New York is unlikely to make any significant offseason additions. It does not possess a first-round pick in the 2014 draft, has few desirable trade assets and will be over the salary cap even if Carmelo Anthony signs elsewhere.
With or without Anthony, New York's change must come from within. Hiring Phil Jackson as president was a start. The Zen Master will reshape the culture of the organization and the team's style of play by replacing several employees, including head coach Mike Woodson.
However, the onus falls on the players to change their approach to the game. Every Knick must be prepared to buy into a new system and take greater pride his performance going forward.
The Knicks offense is stagnant and predictable. It relies too heavily on isolation plays and rarely reverses the ball, which make it easy to defend.
New York ranks 26th in assists with 20.3 per game, per ESPN.com, and according to the SportVU data at NBA.com, only one Knick, Raymond Felton, is among the top 75 players in passes per game (He ranks 28th, with 56.1 passes per game).
Worse yet, the more important the possession, the less likely the Knicks are to move the ball. New York's assists per 48 minutes drops to 17.5 in the fourth quarter, per NBA.com (subscription required). It's go-to play in late-game situations is either a 1-4 set with Anthony at the top of the key or an isolation for Anthony on the wing, with the other four players standing around watching.
Mike Woodson does not use an offensive system like the San Antonio Spurs' or Jackson's beloved triangle offense. Instead, he relies on isolations, pick-and-rolls and set plays, which have failed to generate enough player movement. And it is difficult to move the ball when players are standing still.
Woodson will not return after the Knicks' disappointing season. Look for Jackson to bring in a coach who emphasizes player and ball movement.
Attack the Basket
The three most efficient ways to score are layups, free throws and three-point shots. New York's 25 three-point attempts per game ranks fifth in the league, via TeamRankings.com. It is the other two categories where it falls short.
The Knicks have made it easy on defenses by settling for outside shots. According to SportVU's data at NBA.com, not one Knick is among the top 50 in drives per game. Part of the reason for that is a lack of transition opportunities. Coach Woodson's team plays at the second-slowest pace, per ESPN.com.
Consequently, New York is attempting the fewest free throws per game (19.9), per TeamRankings.com. Anthony is averaging more than one-third of the Knicks' free throws (7.0). The next-highest total is Amar'e Stoudemire's at 3.0.
Iman Shumpert (.9), Pablo Prigioni (.2) and Raymond Felton (1.8), who have made up three-fifths of the starting lineup for much of the season, are averaging less than 3.0 free-throw attempts per game combined, and J.R. Smith has seen his free-throw attempts per game drop from 3.9 in 2012-13 to 1.8.
New York's defense has been atrocious this season, particularly when defending the pick-and-roll. According to Synergy, the Knicks are giving up the most points per possession to the ball-handler (.91) and screener (1.2) on pick-and-rolls.
Felton and Prigioni lack the lateral agility to keep point guards out of the paint, and big men Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani are incapable of defending in space. Tyson Chandler is the only big man capable of protecting the rim. When teams use his man as the screener, the basket area is wide open.
The Knicks compound their deficiencies with an ineffective scheme. The players routinely switch on pick-and-rolls, which leads to mismatches all over the floor. Woodson has repeatedly stated that he does not want his players to switch so frequently, per Ian Begley of ESPN New York, yet they continue to do so.
Next season, the Knicks should use a different approach against the pick-and-roll, such as double-teaming the ball-handler, hedging or attempting to shade the offense to one side of the floor.
Point Guard Play
The Knicks have not received adequate contributions from the point guard position. It was not a surprise that Felton and 37-year-old Prigioni were unable to keep opponents out of the paint, though Woodson expected more from the tandem offensively.
Last year, Felton's dribble penetration forced defenses to sink into the paint, which created open shots for his teammates. A steady dose of Felton-Chandler pick-and-rolls served as a nice complement to Anthony and Smith's scoring.
However, the Knicks' starting point guard has looked a step slower this season and has not attacked the rim with the same frequency. Just 36.1 percent of Felton's shot attempts have come within five feet of the basket this season, down from 39.7 percent last season, per NBA.com (subscription required).
His shooting percentage has dipped below 40 percent (39.7 percent), and he is connecting at a lower rate on twos (45.5 percent in 2012-13, 43.4 percent in 2013-14), threes (36.0 percent to 31.9 percent) and free throws (78.9 percent to 71.1 percent) for a putrid true shooting percentage of 47.7 percent, per Basketball-Reference.com.
The Knicks' ball movement improves when Prigioni is in the game, but he does not pose any scoring threat (7.0 points per 36 minutes). The Argentine lacks the quickness to get into the paint, and though he is a solid shooter (45.9 percent from the field and 46.3 percent from downtown), he rarely looks for his own shot.
New York pursued a trade for Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry a couple of times during the season, per Ian Begley of ESPN New York, but were unable to work out a deal. Expect them to try to upgrade the position over the summer.
Hall of Famer Hubie Brown likes to say that you can expect a team to come out flat about five times during an 82-game season. The Knicks have far exceeded their allotment. As recently as March 25, in the midst of a desperate playoff push, the Knicks failed to show up against the hapless Los Angeles Lakers.
Even when they have been locked in, the Knicks have not provided maximum effort. It is commonplace for New York's opponent to score in transition because a Knick player is either jogging back on defense or busy arguing a call. Images like the one above of Kenyon Martin diving on the floor have been far too uncommon.
The Knicks' constant switching on defense is at least partially rooted in laziness. Chandler and Shumpert seem to be the only rotation players who take pride in their defense and embrace the challenge of shutting down their man.
Great teams provide maximum effort on both sides of the floor on a nightly basis. They impose their will on their opponents and more often than not come away with the 50-50 balls that end up deciding games. New York needs to raise its intensity level next season.