Repairing the Knicks' offense

Hey guys! I hurt my foot playing pickup basketball yesterday, but my hands still work. As such, I can continue to write a lot of words about the Knicks. Today I want to talk about offense. Specifically the Knickerbocker offense. Last season it was bad. Really bad. This is odd for a Mike D'Antoni team, as he is most likely the greatest offensive mind of the modern era. The Knicks cannot hope to contend while playing so poorly on that end of the floor.

NYK was 19th in offensive efficiency last season. To be honest, it felt a lot worse at times. The Knick offense was stagnant, and the players couldn't consistently generate good looks at the basket. There was a lot of Carmelo barrelling into the paint and missing at the rim, a lot of Amar'e Stoudemire bricking his right elbow jumper, and a lot of JR Smith playing as a combo guard. It was ugly ball, to be sure. One of the clear issues was NY's inability to install a consistent point guard to helm the O.

Toney Douglas, Iman Shumpert, a hobbled Baron Davis, Jeremy Lin, and the rapidly decaying cadaver of Mike Bibby all spent time as the starting PG in New York last season. I count one good point guard among that number, and Lin spent the end of the season on the bench due to injury. There was just too much inconsistency at the 1 for this team. Toney Douglas was on track to become literally the worst starting PG in NBA history before he was mercifully yanked out of the rotation. Shumpert is just not a point guard. Like, at all. I cannot off the top of my head think of a guard worse at operating the pick-and-roll. That's kind of a necessary skill on a team featuring Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler. Baron Davis actually has pretty good court vision, but he was never truly healthy. Lin was quite good, and that's all I have to say about that. I like Mike Bibby, but he isn't an NBA player at this stage in his career and his greatest contribution was a series of strange walks through the tunnel. In addition to the general poopiness of that guard rotation, not one of them is a capable perimeter shooter. They are all (except for Lin) massively inefficient scorers. Perhaps most egregiously, they struggled to get the ball up the court swiftly, resulting in less time to execute plays and more difficult shots for their teammates. The player most affected by it was actually Carmelo Anthony.

It wasn't obvious unless you looked for it, but the Knicks really struggled to execute plays last season. Okay, maybe it was pretty obvious. Too many broken plays resulted in Carmelo isolating 18 feet from the basket. Part of the problem was Carmelo taking on more of a point forward role. Without a guard to set him up, Melo proceeded to create the offense himself. That didn't go so well. Carmelo was assisted on a paltry 37.9% of his field goal attempts. That's fine if you're an unstoppable offensive juggernaut named LeBron James. Not so much if you're Melo. Carmelo needs to defer to his point guard if he wants to return to form as a dominant scorer in the NBA. The good news is that Carmelo usually defers to his PG. His best offensive years came in the mid-aughts, before he had developed his three point shot. Back then, Carmelo was assisted on almost 60% of his FGA. With actual point guards running the show this season, look for Carmelo to be assisted on more of his shots and boost his efficiency up to acceptable levels. Unfortunately, that isn't going to solve the problem of the Knick offense. The bulk of that problem lies on the broad, rippling shoulders of Amar'e Stoudemire.

I know people don't want to believe it. Many of us rather took a liking to the affable STAT after he signed a large contract to star in New York City. He brought excitement back to NY hoops. I'm just going to have to come out and say that Amare was insanely detrimental to the offense last season. Check it: While Stoudemire was on the court, the Knicks posted an offensive efficiency of 102.5. However, while STAT rested, NYK's offense leapt up to a sparkling 108.5 points per 100 possessions! That mark would tie for best offense in the NBA with the San Antonio Spurs! It's really remarkable how detrimental Stoudemire was to this team. Now, this isn't to imply STAT is a bad offensive player, because he isn't. But shooting 16% on right elbow jumpers is what it is. Ranking 110th in qualified offensive rebounding percentage is what it is. Stoudemire will need to fix those things if the Knicks are to fix their busted offense. It's often said that Amar'e and Carmelo don't fit together, which I don't buy into. Carmelo loves going to work on the lower left block, and Amar'e favors the right elbow jumper. Carmelo is probably the best pick-and-roll ball handler at small forward in the league, and Stoudemire is among the best finishers. They should actually fit pretty well as a forward duo, but it doesn't work if Stoudemire's man leaves him wide open to help on Carmelo knowing he is almost incapable of hitting that midrange shot. The secret to fixing the Knicks' offense is not separating the two forwards, but helping them function together. This is why I've been so opposed to bringing Stoudemire off the bench. Rather than installing two different offenses and hoping we can just see-saw that into the playoffs, the coaching staff needs to teach them how to play together. It's certainly possible, but it will take hard work from both Carmelo and Stoudemire and a focus by the coaching staff to help them get there. Coach Woodson has already committed to making the pair work. I desperately hope the team is up to the task.

There were other issues with the Knick offense that bear mentioning.

I believe one of the values Felton brings to the offense is his aggressiveness in pushing the transition game. Felton loves to get out and run, and he's still among the fastest PGs in the NBA. This is perfect for the Knicks. Contrary to popular belief, Melo is at his best when the pace ramps up and he is forced to make quicker decisions. He becomes more efficient and much more difficult to cover. Making Carmelo run is, in my personal opinion, the single best thing Felton will contribute as the starting PG in New York. That will be much more valuable than his two-man-game with Amar'e. The more Felton runs the better. The Knicks were 5th in pace last season, they should shoot to lead the league if possible this year.

The Knicks were 4th in the league in turnovers last season. Don't expect this to get much better switching to Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd. Both guards are prone to turning the ball over. The Knicks mitigated that issue by placing 2nd in the league in forcing turnovers. I don't expect the Knicks to meet that mark this season, after losing Iman Shumpert for part of the season to injury and Jeremy Lin to Houston.

NYK was surprisingly poor at hitting threes last year: Their team percentage of 33.6 was good for 21st in the NBA. Replacing the smorgasbord of awful with Felton and Kidd should help some, and a full season of JR Smith and Steve Novak should help even more. Carmelo has looked much more comfortable knocking down his threes since the Olympics, recalling his early days on the Knicks when he was shooting 42% from deep. The team should be much better at converting 3 pointers this season, which will help get the offense off life support.

The Knicks were really good at drawing free throws last year (free throw rate good for 8th in the league), but I'm not sure they'll be able to improve after losing Jeremy Lin. Lin was fantastic at drawing fouls and his loss hurts. If Carmelo can return to his typical rate of drawing fouls and Chandler continues to be Tyson Chandler the Knicks should continue to do well there.

Last note: Pls hit your free throws, guys. The Knicks weren't good at that last season. They will almost certainly continue to be poor free throw shooters this year. Nothing to be done with the personnel we have in that regard.

The Knicks have the tools to field a pretty good offense next season, but several things need to happen first. Stoudemire needs to get it together and contribute in a positive way on offense, Carmelo needs to shoot less and be assisted more, Felton needs to shoot less, and Chandler needs to get more involved in the offense. The degree to which these things occur will determine just how much the offense improves. I do expect the Knick offense to get better, but it will need to really jump in order to stand a chance against the defensive stalwarts in the Eastern Conference. I hope this helped you gain new perspective on the prospects of the NYK offense. There are some things I left out for the sake of shortening the post, but I'd love to hear your thoughts on the Knick offense and what you think it can do to improve.

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