On the eve of the 2016 NBA Draft, the Knicks made a controversial deal with the Chicago Bulls for Derrick Rose. Out went Robin Lopez, Jose Calderon and just-finished-his-rookie-season Jerian Grant, and in came Rose and Justin Holiday. The Bulls also threw in their 2017 second round pick, a sweetener that did little to remove the bitter taste the deal left in many Knicks fans’ mouths.
As many predicted at the time, the Rose trade did little to change the trajectory of the franchise. Phil Jackson’s subsequent decision to replace Lopez by handing Joakim Noah a 4-year, $72 million deal was even more disastrous, as his performance level continued to tank. His attitude went along with it as he faced his basketball mortality in the eye and couldn’t deal.
An entire summer’s worth of maneuvering designed to transform the team into an Eastern Conference playoff contender failed spectacularly, in typical Knicks fashion. The only potential saving grace was that second round pick, which ended up as the 44th overall selection, not a premium asset by any stretch of imagination. Jackson selected Damyean Dotson out of the University of Houston with that selection, the final draft pick of his ill-fated tenure as president of basketball operations.
Dotson entered the NBA with a reputation as a sharpshooter with range out to three and a competitive streak on the defensive end, both areas the Knicks were highly deficient. At 23 years old, the hope was Dotson could slot into the rotation right from the jump, but under ex-coach Jeff Hornacek he was barely featured and spent much of his time either nailed to the end of the bench or in Westchester getting G-League reps.
Understandably, many questioned whether or not Dotson had much of a future with the Knicks after his rookie campaign. This was only reinforced when he began the season out of David Fizdale’s rotation. Dotson, however, started to raise eyebrows with a promising performance off the bench against the Celtics in the third game of the season.
Following two more bright performances off the bench in which he logged over 30 minutes, Dotson forced his way into the starting lineup and has been a fixture ever since (until today, damn it). His steady play on both ends and ability to hold his own at the 3 despite conceding size mismatches every night have been a positive boost for the Knicks’ (previous) starting lineup, one which boasts a +8.1 net rating in 94 total minutes.
His defense has been tremendous. He notably managed to keep Kawhi Leonard in relative check last Saturday, holding him to 12 points on 2-7 shooting from the field.
In addition to his plus on-ball and help defense, Dotson has provided a boost in helping the team end possessions. His 16.3 DRB% is excellent for a wing and is reflected in the Knicks posting a 74.6 DRB% with him on the floor, a rate that would be good for sixth-best in the league. When Dotson sits the team registers a paltry 72.5 DRB% which would drop them to 16th overall.
It’s not just defensively where Dotson’s having an impact though. His high activity and energy levels translate over to the more glamorous side of the ball. Despite his low usage — he’s using just 16.8% of possessions when he’s on the floor — and recent cold streak from beyond the arc, he’s adding skills to the mix the Knicks have needed from their wings for years with his transition finishing, off ball movement and quick trigger decision making in the half court.
Although Dotson is active in crashing down on the defensive glass, he’s astute about when to leak out in transition.
In the first play, Dotson doesn’t fully get out on the break until he sees the Knicks secure the defensive rebound. In each of the three plays highlighted Dotson “fills the wing” in the open floor, a key in good transition offense as it creates space and passing angles for ball handlers to exploit, and forces defenders to have to make difficult choices.
On the final two plays he also demonstrates his intelligence and craftiness around the rim. Giannis Antetokounmpo and for-sure-soon-to-be-OAKAAK Kevin Durant are freakish athletes who have made chase-down blocks on unsuspecting souls part of their Dawkins highlight compilations. Dotson avoids that fate, despite not being the most explosive finisher, by using the rim for protection and finishing on the other side.
The game has changed, though. Teams aren’t just pushing the pace to get to the rim before defenses are set, they’re also hunting for open early clock triples. The Knicks are no exception, and Dotson is arguably the best on the team at finding openings behind the arc before opposition defenses are able to get set.
Some of this is being the beneficiary of not being on the scouting report early in the season, an advantage which is quickly evaporating. Still, Dotson consistently demonstrates good intelligence and awareness in these situations. He gets ahead of the ball and always spaces out to the wing and corners to make himself available for kick-outs.
Transition scoring has long been an issue for the Knicks, but this season they have been improved in this area, and Dotson has certainly contributed to that uptick. However, in the halfcourt the team is still struggling to consistently produce good possessions and quality shots.
Dotson, at least for now, isn’t capable of creating enough to fundamentally alter the offensive output in that setting, but his willingness to work off-ball and quick decision making when he receives it help to keep things ticking over. If or when this team improves, whether it be through the internal development of Frank Ntilikina, Kevin Knox or soon-to-be Knick Zion Williamson, or with a big free agent splash like signing the Slim Reaper, his craftiness to find openings to shoot or slash off the ball will be useful tools.
Dotson is effective at curling off of screens to get into the lane. Once there he has shown the ability to finish both around and through contact, the latter a skill the Knicks’ collection of guards and wings currently lack in particular.
He’s also adept at using screens to create enough space to free himself up for in-rhythm jumpers.
I really enjoy how crafty Dotson is working off of screens to create space to get off clean jumpers.https://t.co/yak0h6LttQ— ShwinnyPooh (@shwinnypooh) November 14, 2018
The second play highlighted in this clip really shows off Dotson’s ability to read the defense and react to it. Mario Hezonja and Enes Kanter set a pair of screens designed to free him up along the baseline side curling towards the ball at the top of the key. Our former friend, now turned enemy, Justin Holiday, sees this and cheats that way to cut off Dotson. Instead of trying to fight through him, Dotson uses this to his advantage. He sees Holiday leaning in that direction and catches him off guard by cutting through on the other side, which creates an easy catch-and-shoot jumper from the free throw line.
As Dotson has carved out a role for himself this season, he has started to show up on opponents’ scouting reports. Teams are now wary of his perimeter prowess and are quick to close out on him. He’s leveraged that to get to the rim showing off guile as well as strength to convert efficiently — he’s shooting 70.4% at the rim this season — when he gets there.
Dotson’s emergence this season has been a nice early-season surprise for the Knicks. In Courtney Lee’s absence, he’s filled in admirably despite playing out of position at the 3. His competitiveness on defense has been noteworthy, but his offensive contributions deserve to be highlighted as well.
He must increase his percentage from beyond the arc — connecting on just 33.9% of his attempts thus far — and could do with weaning himself off of some long twos, but how he creates shots for himself is what shouldn’t be lost in all of this. Every team needs players who are able to generate usage without the ball in their hands. Dotson’s willingness to work off the ball in finding space both in the open floor and in the halfcourt are necessary components for any team in the league and will serve him and the Knicks well moving forward.