The Knicks play at the seventh-slowest pace in the NBA, averaging 94 possessions per 48 minutes. A slow pace in and of itself isn't a problem. But the Knicks aren't just slow, they're inefficient. Every team below their pace has a better true shooting percentage.
TEAM PACE TS%
NYK 94.2 .517
SAS 93.8 .557
MIA 93.8 .536
TOR 93.6 .541
CLE 93.5 .550
MIL 93.3 .528
UTA 91.8 .524
The Knicks are below-average from the field (43%) and downtown (34%); a year ago they were 43% and 35%. Adjusting for pace, there has been improvement: last year they were 29th in offensive rating (99.9), which measures the number of points a team scores per 100 possessions; this year they're up to 19th (102.9). Still, to view 2015-16 in five-game increments is to witness devolution:
The obvious advantage of the Knicks pushing the pace is getting more opportunities for easier buckets. The perhaps non-obvious answer to this problem? Derrick Williams.
Consternation rang throughout the land when Phil Jackson gave Williams a two-year, $10M deal last summer. And if you study the conventional numbers, Williams doesn't appear to be doing anything special: 7 points in 13 minutes a game while shooting below average from the field and from distance (41% and 32%, respectively) is nothing to write home about. But numbers have been known to lie, so if we talk to some other numbers and look at some film, we see Williams is already one of the Knicks' most impactful players and could be a big part of a more efficient team offense.
Per 100 possessions, Williams leads the Knicks in free throw attempts at 10.5; the only other players averaging more than 6 are Carmelo Anthony and Lou Amundson. This has helped the team raise their percentage of points off free throws from 16.1% last year to 18.7% this year. Maybe with more playing time, he could help their fast break numbers too: New York's percentage of points off fast breaks has actually dropped from 9.1% during The Tankening to 8.3% this season.
Over the past few weeks, Williams' shooting numbers have been on the rise. Since being benched in Orlando the night before Thanksgiving, he's hit 47% from the field and 37% on three-pointers (shout out to Joe Flynn for this fun detail). In Saturday's 112-110 win over Portland, the Knicks had 12 points in transition. Not an epic number, and one game does not a messiah make. Yet Williams was involved in much of that action, some of which came in secondary transition that was often the result of Williams pushing the pace. In the play below, watch as basically all five Blazers are forced to pay attention to his drive, creating a wide-open three for Anthony.
Any possession that results in a wide-open three for Melo is as good as New York's offense gets. Not many Knicks can pressure a defense to the point that they lose sight of Melo, even for a moment. Williams can, in part because teams have to respect his aggressiveness on drives: despite ranking ninth on the team in minutes, he's third in free-throw attempts and leads the team with 7.4 per 36 minutes. Give him an inch and he'll take a mile:
Williams is second on the Knicks in usage rate (per basketball-reference.com, who calculate the % of a player's possessions that result in a shot, a turnover, or a foul), behind only Carmelo. Williams' turnovers are actually very low.
In the win over the Blazers, ten Knicks played. Williams ranked eighth in touches that night, yet led the team with four assists. Even when he wasn't leading the break, his running the floor led to mismatches that opened up teammates for buckets. Here, after he'd switched onto Damian Lillard on the other end and forced a miss on a long contested jumper, Williams raced down court ahead of the defense and got Lillard on his back, forcing Portland to swarm and creating a good look for Galloway.
During the Knicks' fourth-quarter push to take the lead, Williams got ahead again in transition and found an open seam on the baseline, where he saw Lillard again in a mismatch down low, this time with Kyle O'Quinn. Williams threw it up high where only O'Quinn could reach it, and voila: and-one.
Athleticism is a tangible part of the game, even if it's not quantified in the box score. I don't think anything Williams does in the clip below shows up on the stat sheet, but in a game that comes down to the last shot, every possession matters. Check it out:
Phil Jackson has talked about wanting learners, players who can learn the X's and O's quickly. Look at Williams, who's been a Knick for all of 25 games, directing action. Look at the crisp chest pass to Galloway. Look at the athleticism: no Knick besides Kristaps Porzingis could have caught the stratospheric pass Anthony threw. But even though Williams was moving to his left and the pass went to his far right, he was able to corral it and instantly whip it to Robin Lopez, who had prime position under the hoop, forcing the foul from Miles Plumlee.
It may seem silly to point out a crisp chest pass, but it's not. Williams is already one of the few Knicks who has shown any familiarity with how to make an entry pass to the post. He's a compelling, unusual mix of fundamentals and athleticism, a potential playmaker who forces the action on a team that sometimes looks content to stay in the right lane for 48 minutes.
And we haven't seen much of what he can do working with the Knicks' big guns. Williams has only played five minutes in lineups with Carmelo and Porzingis and just four with Melo and Afflalo. He's not a guy who needs plays run for him. When other players force double-teams and Williams can cut to the hoop, he's been known to throw down on fools. Williams' minutes fluctuated during the team's recent four-game losing streak: 12, 10, then 19, then 6. In the win over Portland he played 13. Hopefully that unlucky number steadily grows and the Knick offense grows with it. Why not see what can happen? Introduce a little anarchy, Knicks.