The Knicks beat the Lakers 118-112. That’s a six-point margin of victory, for those who hate math as much as I do. Sometimes, that margin can come over the course of a game; other times, it’s pretty obvious what made the difference.
Jeff Hornacek and his coaching staff were able to take advantage of a leaky and generally incompetent Lakers defense last night; the Knicks generated a pretty easy eight points on four sets out of timeouts in this game. While reductionist logic can be foolhardy, it’s pretty clear that the Knicks coaching staff made a huge difference in this one.
Per Synergy, the Knicks are 14th in the league in total offense out of timeouts at .882 points per possession (they were 22nd last season). They started the season pretty hot, ranking #1 overall in that category at one point, but they’ve settled down over time. It really feels like Hornacek has been a revelation, though, and I suspect the Synergy numbers are underselling his impact a bit; they don’t differentiate between set plays out of timeouts and regular offense out of timeouts. The Knicks do both, depending on the situation.
But when after timeout sets (ATOs) are getting buckets like THIS...it’s hard to care about silly things like “rankings” and “comparing production to the rest of the NBA in order to figure out where you’re really at”.
Let’s take a look.
Here’s the first set, which they run for Kristaps Porzingis (you’ll notice a pretty heavy focus on KP during Hornacek’s plays despite a bevy of different options within each).
The key to this play comes from two separate actions: the initial screen for Brandon Jennings (which is probably a decoy, there’s no way such a simple action will consistently generate a good shot) and the secondary screens from both Derick Rose and Willy Hernangomez. Hornacek clearly installed a ton of options, a theme throughout all these sets. In this particular instance, KP chooses to use Willy’s screen, as Julius Randle is keeping his body between Porzingis and Rose to deny the use of that screen.
When KP picks the correct option and moves towards Willy’s screen, Hernangomez generates space with a really nice (and probably illegal) screen, Randle gets caught, and it’s over. Larry Nance fouls KP, but Willy is also wide open rolling to the rim. In the words of the immortal Borat Sagdiyev: very nice.
That’s a beautiful set. But it’s not even the best one from last night. This next play...this play right here is truly incredible. This play makes me feel like starting a religion around out-of-bounds plays. It leverages the skillsets of all five starters perfectly. It sows confusion and dismay among the opponents. And it shows off the skillset of our Unicorn. Ultimately, this play generates a catch-and-shoot look for Porzingis, but this play is worth more than 2 points in my heart.
The key here is the screen for Carmelo Anthony from KP. If KP draws any contact at all, this play works, and you know damn well Hornacek made that clear with the way Porzingis sets up on the screen. When KP contacts Deng (guarding Melo), his defender (Robinson) has to help in the lane to prevent an ally-oop dunk. By the time Robinson is able to recover to Porzingis, it’s already too late, because Derrick Rose has set himself up for a real nice pin-down. And if Rose has one underrated skill, it’s his screening.
Joakim Noah’s job on this play is pretty easy for him, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. This is second nature for Noah, and it’s just about as good as it gets. Right in the shooter’s pocket, with perfect timing, and nice touch to boot. That’s not as easy as it looks.
The beauty of this play is that it’s taking advantage of the unique skillsets on this roster. You cannot run this set for any other shot-blocker in the league. Our Unicorn is the only two-way player who can execute this — there’s very little real estate for the pull up, and it doesn’t matter. He uses a rhythm hop before he even gets the ball, squares up, and DRAINS it. Seven foot three, running off screens on set plays for easy buckets. It’s unbelievable. There’s also very few centers in the league who can reliably make this pass, and there’s very few point guards in the league who can set this screen. Don’t forget Melo, who is basically the ultimate decoy on this set; even on an off night, there aren’t many guys who exert such gravity on opposing defenses.
Of course, that’s not all the Hornacek magic from last night. One of the highlight reel plays from Porzingis was actually a set play after the Knicks had the ball on the sideline; it doesn’t seem like it because there’s so much of a delay on the primary action, but if you watch Courtney Lee waiting for like, eight seconds to set his screen, you’ll see what I’m talking about.
Lee’s chomping at the bit to set the screen on Nance the entire time. There’s not much to say about this play except the fact that Porzingis is a freak and has no business being able to pull this off at this size. Which basically sums up everything he does. But this play is another example of interesting play design; it functions a bit like an inverse punch hammer set, for those who know (or care) what that is (if you don’t know, but want to learn, you can see the drawn-up play here and or click this link for a good example featuring LeBron James’ inhuman passing ability).
Again, a nice little wrinkle from Hornacek.
Last, and very much least (thanks to some Bargnani-esque defense from D’Angelo Russell), here’s a Melo layup. Maybe D’Lo was just trying to get Melo to hurt his back trying to get up for the dunk. Looked pretty close there.
This play looks like it was actually intended to get Rose running a curl off the KP screen at the elbow, but the Lakers are terrible. The initial idea is the same as the second play you saw — set a good screen for Melo, and your man will have to help off to prevent the layup. D’Angelo Russell didn’t help off, so the Knicks got a layup. Thanks, dude.
Look closely, though, and you can see Porzingis preparing to screen for Rose; based on that, it seems safe to assume that the progression of this set called for KP to screen Russell, who would be trying desperately to recover to Rose (assuming he didn’t completely fail at playing high-school level defense). This would lead into a Rose curl around KP; after Rose receives the pass from Jo off the curl, my bet is on KP fading to the 3 point line. With Russell hypothetically so far behind the play, KP’s man would be forced to help into the lane to deny a Rose layup. All of a sudden, the you’ve created a wide open 3 for Porzingis all thanks to one good screen at the start of the play.
This is beautiful stuff all around. While some of these set plays rely on similar concepts, none are the same, and Hornacek definitely has counters for when opponents come prepared (we saw some of those sets and counters in preseason). Without switching, these plays will generate a good look every single time.
Welcome to having a competent coach, people. Feels good, doesn’t it?