When the Knicks acquired Robin Lopez and Kyle O'Quinn during this summer's free agency period, longtime fans perked up at the possibility of improved defense and increased toughness in the paint. After all, Lopez and O'Quinn have made their names on the defensive end.
However, both players are also considered skilled passers for their size. O'Quinn has consistently posted double-digit assist rates since his rookie year, while Lopez has steadily improved since he was drafted in 2008. It makes sense to put the ball in each big man's hands to start the offense, which Derek Fisher has quickly obliged. The big man duo has responded, posting the highest assist percentage of their respective careers on matching 21.4% usage rates. However, higher usage and increased offensive emphasis has also resulted in a spike in turnovers, many of which have been preventable mistakes early in the shot clock.
Lopez 2015-16 Turnover Percentage: 25.9% (career 11.6%)
O'Quinn Career Turnover Percentage: 18.6% (career 16.1%)
Example One: Ambitionz Az A Lopez
The first turnover was projected grossly from Lopez's fingers during the third quarter of the only Knicks loss this season at the hands (talons) of Atlanta. Glancing at the above screenshot, one can glean that Lopez received a swing pass from Calderon (bottom), which he was expected to deliver to Kristaps Porzingis on the perimeter. Noting the positioning of Sasha Vujacic and Carmelo Anthony to the left, as well as the 16 seconds remaining on the shot clock, one can also identify at least two desirable offensive options remaining:
1. Carmelo Anthony sets a screen on Kyle Korver underneath the basket to open up the right corner three-pointer for Sasha Vujacic, who would receive the pass from Porzingis.
2. Vujacic sticks to the left corner, opening up space for Porzingis to lob an entry pass into Carmelo Anthony on the right midrange wing.
Instead, Lopez's point-center ambition directed him to attempt an ill-advised bounce pass to Porzingis, who cut into the paint in a pseudo-backdoor attempt. Although such cuts are the lifeblood of the triangle offense, they rely on a lack of attention from the defense and perfect timing. One look at Al Horford's positioning and awareness near the charity stripe, combined with a clearly attentive Paul Millsap, should have discouraged Lopez from attempting the near-impossible pass, which would have prevented a costly turnover.
Example Two: O'Quinn Gets Fancy
This pass attempt by Kyle O'Quinn did not result in a turnover, which can be chalked up to dumb luck, but it represents his early-season tendency to try to do too much. He receives the ball on the right block from Derrick Williams, who then fakes a cut to the opposite corner to set a screen for Lance Thomas at the free throw line. The mechanism to spring Thomas is pretty cool, but the play relies on a lack of help defense from Williams's man, and Drew Gooden has played almost 20,000 NBA minutes. With 15 seconds left on the shot clock at the time of his pass, O'Quinn should only make this attempt if he knows the entry passer's defender is beaten cleanly. If the pass isn't there, the right play is to kick it out to Jose Calderon up top.
Example Three: Lopez Island
The third example continues the trend of poor judgment with plenty of time remaining on the shot clock. Lopez receives the ball about 26 feet from the basket with 19 seconds on the clock. He takes a heavy dribble to his right to wind up marooned in the following position:
Note the 15 seconds remaining on the shot clock. Sasha Vujacic, who is hidden in the above frame by Kristaps Porzingis's Nosferatu limbs, is about to spring from the midst of a Porzingis - Melo sandwich to receive the ball up top. It's difficult to say if this was the result of a broken play, and therefore a "reset," or if it was to be the first action in an established set. Such information is impertinent, however, thanks to a supremely lazy pass on Lopez's part, which would result in a Bradley Beal steal and subsequent breakaway dunk.
Lopez conceivably could defend himself (no pun intended) by arguing that he had to get rid of the ball at some point because he was not in a position to succeed. His teammates also should have done a better job screening (Anthony, Porzingis), as well as showing urgency in receiving the ball (Vujacic). Despite receiving little help, it remains Lopez's responsibility to hold onto the ball until he has a clear target, particularly with so much time remaining to coordinate a play. This turnover is particularly egregious considering that Lopez is the only Knick in position to defend a potential fast break.
The acquisitions of Lopez and O'Quinn have done wonders not only for overall team toughness and defensive intensity, but also for offensive flow. Each has done his part to keep his eyes open to set up teammates, and the Knicks offense has greatly improved as a result of those opportunities. However, steps should still be taken by each big man to ensure his turnovers do not mitigate the positive impact of his keen passing. Sharpened decision-making early in the shot clock is a natural first step toward such a goal.