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The Dallas Palace of Analysis: Winitiating the Offense, Part 1

Loading up the Pistol

New York Knicks v LA Clippers Photo by Chris Elise/NBAE via Getty Images

Welcome to the Dallas Palace of Analysis, please take off your shoes.

Winitiating the offense:

Since Mike Miller took over as coach, the Knicks have made a concerted effort to (1) use ball screens more frequently and (2) get into the offense more quickly. But they’re not just running into high pick-and-rolls most trips down the court. Instead, Miller has installed multiple sets that have built-in quick-hitters, multiple ball screen options and multiple off-ball options. In this three-part series of articles, I’ll analyze several of these sets, and hopefully point to the underlying explanation for why the Knicks’ pace and offensive efficiency have gone up under Miller.

Let’s start with the most ball-screen heavy set of them all, the Pistol.

Knicks Pistol:

Here’s a diagram of the basic Pistol setup:

Pistol action, credit Dave Nedbalek

To initiate the offense, the 2 sprints down the wing and then comes back towards the ball handler (1). At this point, the 1 has multiple options. The primary option is to pass the ball to 2, who immediately tosses it back to 1 and runs to the top of the key where 4 sets a quick flare screen for them.

Flare screen diagram—taken from

Knicks Pistol Toss:

I call the primary option “Knicks Pistol Toss,” because it starts with the 2 tossing the ball back to the 1. Let’s look at some film.

The first option for Knicks Pistol Toss is for the 1 to immediately attack the basket via the baseline upon receiving the toss.

If the ball handler is unable to get to the rim (and the 2 doesn’t come open on the flare screen) they pull the ball out and run a side PnR with the 4.

One of the great things about these PnRs is that the strong side is cleared out. Thus, if the ball handler attacks the middle of the floor, the defense will not be able to bring a help defender over to bump the roll man. On the other hand, if the ball handler rejects the screen (as Frank did in the first clip) the big will be left on an island to defend both ball handler and roll man. Either way, you end up with an advantageous PnR situation.

Knicks Pistol 2:

This next option in the pistol involves the 2-guard keeping the initial pass. The 4 then sets a ball screen for the 2, and the 1 either makes this a stagger or wedge screen, or continues down to fill the corner.

Knicks Pistol Keeper:

In this final variation of the Pistol, the 1 never passes the ball ahead to the 2. At that point, the Knicks often run a PnR.

Sometimes, however, they throw in a twist. Because the Knicks use this action so frequently, teams sometimes overplay various actions. For example, you’ll sometimes see the player defending the 2 jump the flare screen. As a result, the Knicks have installed the following counter. After the big sets a flare screen for the 2, the 2 immediately reverses direction and comes right back for the ball:

Summing up

Everyone knew that the Knicks needed to run more ball screens. With Mitchell Robinson and Julius Randle, how could you not? Under Miller, the Knicks have done just that. But they aren’t merely running spread PnR. While they have used those sets — even using a five-out PnR against Portland the other night — Miller has wisely recognized that the Knicks’ ball handlers aren’t able to reliably leverage those situations into advantages for the offense (YET!). As a result, he’s installed sets that have multiple ball-screen options. The effect is similar, but, because of the multitude of ball-screen options, teams are unable to sit back and key in on any one pair of players. And no one ball handler is asked to do too much.

Meme time:

Of course, it wouldn’t be a DPA without a horrendous meme.

Be well friends, and ENJOY YOUR COMMUTES!

You may now put your shoes back on (until Parts 2 and 3 later this week!).