Chris Herring's been on top of the Knicks' statistical trends lately, and his piece from last night details something we've all seen: The Knicks-- all season long, but especially in recent games-- get destroyed by opposing point guards. The Knicks' flaky, switch-y pick-and-roll coverage habitually grants open lanes and mismatches, and it's made big nights from even semi-decent point guards a regular thing. Especially over the last few weeks (which, to be fair, includes a lot of Raymond Felton-less games), shit's been rough. I like the way Herring frames it here:
Over the Knicks' 12 games in January, the opposition's point guards have shot 39% from three-point range and 51% overall, while averaging 18.5 points, 6.8 assists and 4.5 rebounds in 36 minutes per game.
To put that into perspective, only one player in the NBA, reigning most valuable player LeBron James, averages at least 18 points, six assists and four rebounds while shooting 39% from distance and 50% overall. In other words, the Knicks have allowed MVP-level performances on a nightly basis at the point-guard position.
And that totally checks out with what we've seen. Jeff Teague looked like the best player on Earth on Sunday. Same for Jrue Holiday the night before (Jrue might actually be the best player on Earth, though). There are plenty of factors at play, especially recently-- Raymond Felton's injury, the absence of Rasheed Wallace and Marcus Camby on the back line, Tyson Chandler decision-making (and health) as the only remaining interior defender, etc.-- but the upshot is point guards are torching the Knicks. The decent become good, the good become great, and the great become MASTERS.
The good news here, I suppose, is the team isn't blind to any of the above. Mike Woodson is preaching better man defense (which, to me, means less doubling and switching, though Woodson seems to love those tactics)...
"We’ve got to clean up our high pick-and-roll defense and get back to our coverages we were doing early in the year. It’s just guys being up and being committed on the ball and not begging for help. That’s the name of the game. You’ve got to take pride in guarding your man who has the ball.’’
...and J.R. Smith's over here talking about better help rotations, too:
"We have to get to that nail,’’ Smith said. "The weak side can’t just hug their guys. Everybody has to tilt and stop guys from walking through that paint."
Agreed on both counts. I hope Woodson's strategy-- especially with Felton and Iman Shumpert healthy-- comes to include a higher threshold for switches and doubles (i.e. only switch if it's a real pick, only double if it's a genuinely threatening player), but I also hope the Knicks grow better prepared to help each other protect the basket.
After a couple days of practice, the Knicks face a perfect test case for any improvement in Orlando's Jameer Nelson. Nelson is...ya know, he's Jameer Nelson, but he played like Ja-Meer St. Nelson, Lord of the Basketballs in his one game against New York this year with 29 points, five three-pointers, and eight assists. (Then again, he torched the Bulls the game before that, so maybe he was just having a splendid week). Let's see if he plays like an MVP tonight at the Garden.