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How the Knicks' switch-happy defensive scheme vs. Dallas blew up in their faces

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So much chaos.

Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

After Dirk Nowitzki cooked Kristaps Porzingis for two early buckets in the Knicks' Monday night loss to the Dallas Mavericks, the defense appeared to be switching screens much more often than usual. Was this some kind of stratagem designed to slow down the Nowitzki-powered Dallas offense? Apparently so.

"We switched a lot, which was our game plan. They took advantage of that."

The question now becomes why that was their game plan in the first place. I get trying to keep Porzingis out of foul trouble, but in terms of actually stopping Dirk and his teammates from scoring, this plan seemed destined to fail. Screen-switching can work very well, provided your team has quick, athletic players capable of defending multiple positions as well as a strong, team-wide understanding of defensive rotations. The Knicks have neither of those things; still, they switched with gusto.

Here are three consecutive early possessions:

I see four problems here:

  1. Dirk Nowitzki ends up isolated on Jose Calderon in two of these possessions.
  2. The Knicks seem loath to bring help.
  3. The other Mavs do a pretty good job of spacing the floor in order to increase the distance needed to help on Nowitzki.
  4. Seriously? Jose Calderon?

New York's backups fared even worse. Here, Kevin Seraphin and Jerian Grant switch, leaving the poor rookie point guard trying to defend Nowitzki on the block while Seraphin just kind of stares. Lance Thomas decides against bringing the double because you can't just leave JaVale McGee open. Naturally, Langston Galloway has already rotated to McGee. Let's break down the defensive assignments at this point:

  • McGee: 2 guys
  • Nowitzki: 1 rookie point guard

I wonder how this will end?

Galloway draws the Dirk assignment later on. At least he makes Dirk work for it:

Perhaps the most annoying facet of this defense, at least when the Knicks play it, is that half the players aren't sure who they're supposed to be guarding on any given possession, which leads to stuff like this:

The Knicks have performed fairly well on defense specifically because they haven't tried to get creative. Their bigs sag deep into the paint and protect the rim, and their athletically-challenged guards usually make an effort to run opponents off the three-point line. They've played about as well as could be expected with the talent at hand.

So please, Derek Fisher, no more exotic defensive game plans. It didn't work against Dallas, and it won't work in the near future.