Throughout this three-season mini-renaissance, one thing has become abundantly clear: as goes the New York Knicks' three-point shooting, so goes their offense.
|3PA/G (NBA Rank)||3P% (NBA Rank)||Off. Efficiency (NBA Rank)|
|2010-11||25.4 (2nd)||.368 (8th)||110.9 (7th)|
|2011-12||23.3 (2nd)||.336 (22nd)||104.4 (17th)|
|2012-13||28.9 (1st)||.376 (5th)||111.1 (3rd)|
Last season wasn't exactly the Knicks' first three-point rodeo -- they've been jacking up threes for a while now. If anything, last season was merely the culmination of a larger trend. But there was a lesson to be learned from 2011-12's disastrous campaign: once the threes stop falling, the offense implodes.
And, make no mistake, the Knicks lost a lot of quality shooting from last year: Steve Novak, Chris Copeland, Jason Kidd's first two months. But they also cleared themselves of a bit of dead weight: Rasheed Wallace, Ronnie Brewer and James White's 181 combined three-point attempts (???) and Jason Kidd's last four months.
What the team is left with, heading into 2013-14, is five shooters...five shooters who chucked a hell of a lot of threes last year.
To put that total into perspective, those 509 made three-pointers were more than eight entire teams, including the Jazz, Celtics, Bulls and Grizzlies. The .371 combined 3P% would have landed them seventh overall in the NBA, tied with Atlanta. Those five guys did some serious work behind the arc.
The question now becomes: can they do it again. In this group we have two veterans who had three-point percentages above their career averages in Raymond Felton and Carmelo Anthony, two relative newcomers in Pablo Prigioni and Iman Shumpert, and one veteran who actually underperformed in J.R. Smith.
We begin, as usual, with Melo. His 2012-13 season was as fascinating as it was awesome. In many ways, he was the same ol' Melo: stopping the ball, isolating, using the lion's share of possessions...you know, Melo stuff. But within his ball-stopping, high usage game, he transformed his own shot selection, shooting nearly twice as many threes than his previous career high. The results were a quite simply a model of high-volume scoring efficiency. Melo was shooting higher-value shots at a better percentage, and when he wasn't shooting threes he was getting to the free-throw line. Melo, James Harden and Deron Williams were the only three players in the NBA to end last season in the top 20 in both made three-point field goals and made free throws.
So can Melo repeat last year's .379 three-point shooting percentage? It was a career high, but only by one percentage point (He shot .378 between the Knicks and Nuggets in 2010-11, and .371 in 2008-09). If Melo's shoulder is healed -- and we all pray that it is -- then there's no reason to expect a serious drop-off this season.
Ray Felton is in the same boat as Melo -- his .360 3P% wasn't a career high (.385 in 2009-10), but it was the second-best performance of his career. The good news here is that his three best shooting seasons have all come in the last four years -- if you take out his disastrous 2011-12 lockout season in Portland, Felton has shot .362 on his threes since 2009-10. I'll take that any day of the week.
Iman Shumpert and Pablo Prigioni are both trickier cases. Shump always possessed a sweet shooting stroke, but unfortunately he debuted during the offensive shit-storm that was the 2011-12 season and was forced to play point guard. Last season, as he struggled to return to physical form following knee surgery, something clicked within the mind of young master Shump. While many Knicks fans lamented his lack of finishing and defense early in his comeback campaign, Shump took advantage of the new point-guard-laden roster and started shooting threes. Lots of them. It wasn't very apparent during the regular season, since he played so few minutes, but Shump was shooting 4.6 threes per 36 minutes, and making 40 percent of them. That's awesome. And Shump didn't back down in the playoffs against two of the league's best defenses, shooting 42.9 percent from beyond the arc. If he can carve up the Pacers's first-overall three-point defense, I see no reason why he can't continue that shooting against the rest of the league.
What more can be said about Pablo? He's awesome. He's my best friend. His jersey should be retired immediately. He's the only person on Earth who can solve the government shutdown. Oh, and he can shoot the J and spread it around, too. Last season the Knicks shot 40.2 percent as a team from behind the arc in the 1262 minutes Pablo was on the floor. In the 298.2 minutes Pablo combined with Felton in the backcourt, that number jumped to a preposterous 46.7 percent. And remember the playoffs, when the Knicks small-ball, three-bombing trickery was supposedly exposed by the rugged Celtics and Pacers? In 151.8 playoff minutes with the Pablo/Felton backourt, the team's three-point shooting dropped all the way down to...45.3 percent. So that is exactly 450 minutes regular season and playoffs combined, and the Knicks shot 46.3 percent from beyond the arc. And Mike Woodson wants to go away from this lineup?
Last, and technically least on this list, we come to J.R. Smith. Le troisième Earl was the one player on this list who had a disappointing shooting season, at least percentage-wise. In the five seasons before he joined the Knicks, J.R. averaged 38.2 percent from behind the arc. We all know the culprit here: shot selection. To quote from one of Chris Herring's late-March "What Has Gotten Into J.R. Smith?" article:
"Smith shoots 47.2% when he is left unguarded in catch-and-shoot situations, according to Synergy—far better than the 31.7% of jumpers he makes when there is a hand in his face."
Catch-and-shoot, Earl, my man...please do it more.
As you can see, the Knicks maintain a great deal of the three-point shooting prowess that fueled their offense last season. On the next edition of Three Week, I've delve into some of the newcomers: can they pick up some of the slack? Stay tuned!