There is a minor miracle going down these days in the general vicinity of MSG. The New York Knicks are scoring an average of 103.5 points per 100 possessions. While that number isn't exactly setting the world on fire -- 13th in the NBA, slightly above league average -- it is incredible considering have terrible the Knicks have been at shooting the rock.
I hope you're sitting down for this next tidbit: The 2015-16 Knicks, owners of a .461 effective field goal percentage, have actually shot worse than last season's abomination (.470 eFG%). The 2014-15 club averaged 99.9 points per 100 possessions, 29th in the NBA.
Achieving such a dramatic improvement on offense while shooting worse than the worst team in franchise history makes no damn sense. It makes somehow even less sense when you consider successful Knick offenses of the recent past, particularly the 2012-13 club's third-ranked unit. That team played at a slow pace and relied heavily on jumpers, especially from beyond the arc. This year's Knicks are actually firing a decent number of three-point attempts (12th in 3PA) but they aren't falling (24th in 3P%). They've settled into a slower rhythm than we saw in the first few games (24th in pace) and they still don't score much on the break (29th) or in the paint (29th).
How have the Knicks managed to stay afloat on offense? By doing just about everything else right. Here is their three-step process to scoring without shooting well.
Step 1: Get to the Free-Throw Line
The biggest difference between the new Knicks and their predecessors has come at the charity stripe. New York is currently 12th in the NBA in free-throw rate.
Previous Knicks teams had virtually no one capable of drawing fouls except Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire. This year's club doesn't have a dominant foul-drawer -- Melo's free throw numbers are actually down from previous years -- but they've gotten a massive boost from across the board: Derrick Williams (.594 free-throw rate), Jerian Grant (.453 FTr), Langston Galloway (.341 FTr) and, I shit you not, Lance Thomas (.327 FTr).
Sadly, it's easy to see why these numbers should go down in the near future. Teams are learning to sag off of Grant, trying to keep him out of the lane. Derrick Williams has fallen just about out of the rotation. And I don't know what the hell is going on with Lance. The Knicks could really benefit from a return to form from Melo, more foul-drawing from Kristaps Porzingis (who hasn't gotten to the line much outside of the season opener, but who is certainly active and awkward enough to earn more whistles on the interior), as well as Galloway finding more and more crafty ways of getting into the paint despite a lack of quickness.
Step 2: Dominate the Offensive Glass
If your teammates are going to brick a ton of shots, you might as well be a pal and slam those misses home (cue montage):
Our boy Kristaps has proven to be a demon on the offensive glass, averaging 3.1 o-boards per game and a 13.2 ORB%. Pair him with the likes of noted offensive rebounders Robin Lopez (2.3 ORB per game, 9.7 ORB%) and Kyle O'Quinn (1.9 ORB per game, 13.7 ORB%) and it should come as little surprise that the Knicks rank among the league leaders in second-chance points.
What's really surprising -- and refreshing -- is New York's ability to pair that offensive rebounding acumen with a decent transition defense:
Offensive rebounding isn't worth giving up fast-break points at the other end. The Knicks have struck a good balance thus far.
Step 3: Don't Turn the Ball Over
The Knicks certainly move the ball more often than they did in the days of yore; they currently rank 11th in the league in assists. What they do share with their orange and blue ancestors is an aversion to turnovers -- 4th in turnover percentage.
Check out the team leaders in assists per game via NBA Stats ... notice how far you go down the list until you spot a player who averages more turnovers than assists:
The Knicks' top four guards -- Grant, Galloway, Jose Calderon, Arron Afflalo -- all have an assist-to-turnover ratio of at least 2.4 (Afflalo's rate is currently ∞, which is always nice to see).
When all is said and done, I foresee no possibility in which this Knicks team continues to shoot this poorly. Melo, Calderon and Afflalo are proven marksmen; they just need time to round into form. Galloway might not shoot 55.6% from three over 82 games, but I believe in his jumper. And Kristaps ... come on, people. There's no way a dude with a J dripping that much hot butter is going to stay so cold. If the Knicks' shooters round into form, while keeping up these other positive trends, we could be looking at a very good offense.