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Knicks must improve ball movement as postseason approaches

Currently tied for dead last in assists per game, New York needs to start doing a better job finding their open teammates.

New York Knicks v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

Looking back through the years, one reoccurring theme for the New York Knicks has been their lack of ball movement. The proof is in the numbers, going back to the 2018-2019 season. Let’s look at how the Knicks have ranked in assists per game since that season:

  • 2018-19: 20.1 assists per game (30th)
  • 2019-20: 22.1 assists per game (27th)
  • 2020-21: 21.4 assists per game (29th)
  • 2021-22: 21.9 assists per game (30th)

Those statistics are...not great.

October 2022

The season actually started out encouraging with the Knicks passing the ball. Through six games in October, they were tied for 12th in assists per game at 25.3. New point guard Jalen Brunson led the way with 7.2 assists per game. Knicks fans were picking up on the new and improved ball movement and were ready to see it evolve further.

November 2022

Regression. New York dropped from T-12 in assists per game all the way down to 21st. They also finished November with a disappointing 7-9 record to put them at 10-12 on the season.

December 2022 (It’s getting worse)

Continuing their downward trajectory, the Knicks went from 21st all the down to 28th. It seemed to get overshadowed due to their 9-6 December record. Julius Randle had a monster month, averaging 28.3 points, 11.4 rebounds, and 4.3 assists.

January 2023 (Maybe we can start passing better in the new year?)

Actually, the exact opposite happened. Starting the first six games tied for 12th in assists, the Knicks completed their quest and finished last in the NBA in assists per game in January. The number was now 20.4 assists per game in 15 January games. Jalen Brunson (28.7), Julius Randle (26.3), and RJ Barrett (21.4) all averaged over 20 points per game but it all seemed to be coming on their own merits. New York would finish this month 8-7.

February 2023

The Knicks finished the month 9-2 but still were dead last in the NBA in assists per game. Brunson, Randle, and Barrett once again were all over 20 points per game. Brunson lead the Knicks in assists this month at 5.4 per game.

March 2023

As it currently stands, the Knicks are 29th in assists per game in March. Only the Houston Rockets have been worse. Still, with a 6-4 winning record, this will continue to get overlooked.

*At the time of writing, the Knicks are tied with the Houston Rockets for last in the NBA in assists per game.

Why I think this conversation is important/future concerns:

The Knicks are 42-31, sitting in the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference. Just because they are 11 games above .500, doesn't mean these shouldn't be concerns. My worries come when thinking about the postseason. Teams see each other multiple times and get familiar with their tendencies and how to adjust to them.

How many times can Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle take opponents off the dribble before they find a way to stop it? Those will be important questions as we inch closer to the important games. The Knicks run the third most isolation plays per game and the worry is things get too one-dimensional. We saw it in the 2021 playoffs where the offense fell flat and there weren't many adjustments to change things up.

I wanted to get out ahead of it because the assist numbers are something I've been tracking since the beginning of the season. The Knicks are winning, and everything should be good, but there is this glaring problem that hasn't gotten talked about enough.

When the game breaks down in important moments, will the Knicks be able to consistently make the right passes to put themselves in positions to succeed? Time will tell.

Let me know in the comments: Do you think the Knick’s lack of ball movement is a long-term concern?

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