Mike Woodson has spoken!
And while most of us obsess over potential starting lineups, we also got this this delightful quote, dropped in between Woodson's tall lineup fetish-izing:
Sounds like the #Knicks plan to shoot 3s at or near the pace they established last year. "I’m not going to ever take that away," Woody said.— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) October 6, 2013
Hell yeah! More threes! Threes from M3LO! Threes from M3TTA and B3NO! Threes from the PIP3! Just no threes from K3NYON, if you please.
In 2012-13, the Knicks rode the three-ball all the way to an Atlantic Division championship and a third-overall offensive ranking. New York made history last season from behind the arc -- shooting a record-breaking 2,371 three-point attempts and making a record-breaking 891 of them. Their .376 three-point field goal percentage ranked fifth in the NBA.
But that was last season. New York has lost their two best three-point shooters by percentage: Steve Novak (.425 3P%) and Chris Copeland (.421). It would stand to reason, then, that their overall shooting percentage may take a hit in 2013-14. Does that mean the Knicks should think about curtailing their three-happy offense this season, if only just a bit?
Oh, hell no. Not even a teeny bit. Consider this: if the Knicks go away from the three-ball this year, just where exactly can we expect the additional offense to come from? Carmelo Anthony won the scoring title and led the league in usage rate, so he has pretty much maxed out his scoring potential. Their best low-post scoring threat, Amar'e Stoudemire, isn't guaranteed to play more than a handful of games this season, and their new scoring threat, Andrea Bargnani, is coming off multiple injury-riddled and ineffective campaigns up in Toronto. Can Tyson Chandler make up the difference with mid-range jumpers? Somehow, I doubt it.
Before we delve into the potential efficacy of this year's Knicks three-point attack, we should try to better understand what made last year's offense so special. Last year's offense wasn't simply about shooting threes; it was also about using the threat of the three to open up space for players inside. There wasn't a single player last season who didn't benefit from the three-heavy offense.
For proof, look no further than Amar'e Stoudemire. The Knicks' big man suffered through a depressing season of knee pain, knee cysts, and probably knee lupus. He started the season on the disabled list, struggled to work his way into playing shape in January, and was back on the DL by the beginning of March. Yet, through all this, he managed to put together his most efficient offensive season since his glory days with Steve Nash.
The results were, quite frankly, remarkable. Amar'e accumulated more offensive win shares in 682 minutes last year than he did in 1543 minutes in 2011-12. I know that part of this success was due to his new post game and his apprenticeship with Hakeem, but let's just say he had developed his post game a year earlier: do you think he could possibly have achieved the same results in the 2011-12 Knicks' dysfunctional offense? What about that 10.0 offensive rebounding percentage -- the best rate since his age-24 season?
Amar'e's body is no longer in the prime condition of his glory days in Phoenix, but last season he could once again operate in a Phoenix-style half-court offense: with a quality point guard and surrounded by shooters. Just think back to how well he played in the first half of 2010-11, when he played with Felton and the surprisingly good shooting seasons of guys like Landry Fields (.393 3P%), Shawne Williams (.401 3P%) and Toney Douglas (.373 3P%). Throughout his career, Amar'e has succeed when he has been given room to operate. He didn't have that in 2011-12, but he did last season. And all that space came from the threat of the three.
So how did last year's Knicks transform into the most prolific three-point shooting team in NBA history? Credit is due to shooting coach Dave Hopla, of course. Mike Woodson deserves praise for embracing the strategy, however willingly. And ex-Knicks Steve Novak, Chris Copeland and Jason Kidd should be given their fair share of kudos. But Novak actually shot fewer threes last season, at a lower percentage, than he did in the offensive Dark Ages of 2011-12.
And as for Jason Kidd, his awesome-though-not-sustainable three-point production over the first two months (.443 3P%) completely cratered after the new year (.289 3P%), yet the Knicks offense stayed relatively effective.
I believe the unsung hero of last year's offense was none other than Raymond Felton. The Penguin isn't usually given his fair share of credit for last year's three point barrage -- he was only fifth on the team in three-point attempts per game and never put up the gaudy assist numbers that cry out for recognition -- but he was the source of much of the improvement. He played the third-most minutes on the team -- 2313 minutes, more than 1000 minutes more than Pablo Prigioni, the other true point guard -- and much of their overall offensive success can be attributed to him.
The Knicks scored a decent 107.4 points per 100 possessions with Felton on the bench and an otherworldly 114.0 points per 100 possessions with him in the game. That +6.6 on/off offensive boost led the team -- Melo was second with a +5.7 offensive rating. And although Felton wasn't shooting the most threes on the team, the Knicks shot better with him on the court.
Not bad for the little dude, particularly when you consider the fact that many of the Knicks' best shooters (Novak, Copeland, Pablo) spent the majority of the season on the second unit. And sure, Felton gives away on D a lot of what he brings on O, but that is a story for another time.
On the next episode of "From Way Downtown", we'll look at the Knicks' returning shooters, and whether they can sustain (or even improve) on last season's success.