X

New Year's Resolutions for the 2018 New York Knicks

Yaron Weitzman@YaronWeitzmanFeatured ColumnistDecember 29, 2017

New York Knicks forward Kristaps Porzingis reacts after dunking the ball during the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Phoenix Suns, Friday, Nov. 3, 2017, at Madison Square Garden in New York. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)
Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

'Tis the season for New Year's resolutions. For the New York Knicks, who at 17-18 remain in the hunt for one of the Eastern Conference's eight playoff spots despite a four-game losing streak, this year's resolution should be a simple one: Avoid collapsing in the second half for the third straight season.

Two years ago, the Knicks were 22-22 before dropping 30 of their final 40 games. Last year, they began 16-13, only to finish an ugly 31-51.

But making the playoffs and improving their ghastly road play (the Knicks are just 2-11 away from Madison Square Garden) are the whats of the equation—the equivalent to making a New Year's resolution to lose weight. More important are the hows, the methods that lead to achieved goals. 

So, with that in mind, here are four resolutions the Knicks should be making for 2018.

     

Help Krisptaps Porzingis Rediscover his Unicorn Ways

Porzingis started the season lighting nets on fire. He dropped 30 or more points in eight of his first 11 games and looked like an MVP candidate.

In recent months, opponents have adjusted their scouting reports. For one, they've recognized that the majority of his looks are contested jumpers—a shot defenders are content surrendering—so they're making a point not to hack him (he's averaging 4.7 free throws per game over 10 December contests, a huge dropoff from the 6.9 he was averaging previously).

Teams have also begun sending extra defenders at Porzingis after he puts the ball on the floor. Brad Stevens and the Celtics, who've limited Porzingis to 13 total points on 12 percent shooting in two contests, were first to deploy this tactic and others have caught on. After a scorching start, Porzingis has connected on just 40.8 percent of his shots over his last 15 games.

As tantalizing a weapon as Porzingis is, he struggles reading the floor, especially after initiating a move. Punishing aggressive defenses is the greatest weakness in his game (his assist to usage ratio among the lowest marks in the league, according to Cleaning the Glass).

There are no simple solutions. A lot of these struggles are part of the typical growing pains a young player encounters upon making the leap to primary offensive option.

Ian Begley @IanBegley

After a blistering stretch earlier in the year (27.7 PPG/48 FG% over 14 games), Kristaps Porzingis is shooting 40% in his last 9 games (20.6 PPG). I thought he gave a thoughtful, big-picture answer when talking about some of the reasons for the recent shooting numbers: https://t.co/iL2GeleVyO

But a willingness to set up teammates would do wonders for Porzingis and the Knicks offense as a whole. Or, for that matter, a willingness to share the ball. None of the 65 players averaging at least 15 points per game this season are dishing out a fewer assists than Porzingis. This leads us to New Year's Resolution No. 2. 

                          

Make Scoring Easier

The Knicks currently rank 15th in offensive rating, but until this week, that number was hovering around 11th, according to Cleaning the Glass, which removes noise like garbage time. Point being: The offense has actually been solid, especially when considering New York's second-best shot creator, Tim Hardaway Jr., has missed 13 games with a mysterious leg injury.

The problem, and reason this regression was inevitable, is the way the Knicks attack. No teams shoot fewer threes per game, and only one has taken more mid-range jumpers, per Cleaning the Glass. The Knicks are not exactly employing the Daryl Morey playbook.

It's about personnel, right? The Knicks don't have a single dynamic guard to trigger defensive rotations. They're second-to-last in the league in drives per game, and the majority of their passes haven't resulted in assists, meaning they're not catching defenders off balance (turns out spending millions of dollars on four centers isn't an optimal strategy).

Three of their four best creators (Porzingis, Enes Kanter, Michael Beasley and Hardaway Jr.) are most dangerous operating from the post. That's forced head coach Jeff Hornacek to run the offense through his big men, mostly from the elbows and via post-ups (only the Spurs post up more frequently) and with few pick-and-rolls.

Then again, there's no law that states all teams must play the same way. Look at the Spurs, who, like the Knicks, prefer to keep two big men on the floor and don't heave treys ever possession. You can build a vibrant offense playing a more old-school style (not that they're old school, but the Warriors are the one team driving to the basket less frequently than the Knicks)—you just have to find other methods for making up the difference.

Hornacek could try loosening up the floor by playing more lineups with Porzingis at center, a move he's gone to for just 10 percent of Porzingis' minutes this year, per Basketball Reference. The Knicks have outscored opponents by 4.6 points per 100 possessions over that span, but again, it's not that simple. Playing Porzingis at the 5 weakens the Knicks on the offensive glass, where they've both thrived and worn opponents down. Also, the majority of Porzingis' offense comes from the mid-post, where he's had more trouble against defenders closer to his size. He can't just turn and shoot over them and is not yet strong enough with his handle to consistently create off the bounce.

So, what to do? Unfortunatley, like Porzingis, both Kanter and Beasley are unwilling passers. The Knicks actually do well on catch-and-shoot looks. Their wings would get more opportunities to let the ball fly if Porzingis, Kanter and Beasley tried passing around traffic as opposed to shooting over it.

The Knicks should also look to push the ball more frequently after defensive rebounds and steals, something they've rarely done, according to Cleaning the Glass.

Again, there's no dramatic change needed. Some minor tweaks here and there could transform the Knicks into a top-10 offense.  

      

Fix the Defense

Where to begin?

There's been a disconnect between scheme and execution all season. The Knicks are actually fortunate to be boasting the 15th-best defense in the league.

Hornacek has mentioned wanting to limit opposing three-point looks, yet the Knicks have allowed the second highest percentage of treys in the league and, more worrisome, they've been the worst in the NBA at preventing looks from the corners, per Cleaning the Glass. That's not ideal, and as soon shooters start connecting on more of their open looks, that overall defensive number will start to plummet.

Also not ideal: The Knicks ranks toward the bottom of the league in deflections and loose balls recovered

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 25:  Ben Simmons #25 of the Philadelphia 76ers and Frank Ntilikina #11 of the New York Knicks scramble for the loose ball at Madison Square Garden on December 25, 2017 in New York City.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Mike Stobe/Getty Images

The defensive unit surrenders a ton of open three-pointers and doesn't appear to be exerting much energy. This shouldn't be the case. Porzingis is one of the game's top rim protectors. Rookie point guard Frank Ntilikina is already a stout defender. Courtney Lee is solid on that end, as is Lance Thomas. Even Doug McDermott's defense (don't laugh) has impressed scouts this season. 

There are enough pieces in place to not be chasing the ball like headless chickens possession after possession. It's on Hornacek to design and implement a better scheme, and the players to do a better job following it. 

      

Keep Eyes on the Big Picture

Making the postseason would be great for both the fan base and young players like Porzingis and Ntilikina. But the goal should be building a team that competes for multiple seasons. That takes patience, time and shrewd transactions.

Lee is a great piece for the Knicks, but what if a contender is willing to give up a first-round pick to obtain him? Or maybe there's a team out there looking to bolster its frontcourt depth with Kyle O'Quinn. Or maybe the Thunder think Lance Thomas has enough two-way skills that he'd be worth coughing up a decent draft choice.

A playoff berth would be great for the Knicks, but at what cost? That's a question Perry will have to answer in 2018. Putting too much weight on the postseason is the kind of thing that leads to shortsighted decisions that set franchises back. 

                      

Yaron Weitzman covers the Knicks and NBA for Bleacher Report. All stats via NBA.com unless otherwise noted. Follow Yaron on Twitter, @YaronWeitzman, listen to his Knicks-themed podcast here, and sign up for his newsletter here.

🚨 SPORTS NEWS ➡️ YOUR INBOX

The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.