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New York Knicks

Forget the triangle, Knicks need more pick-and-rolls

New York Knicks' Kristaps Porzingis, left, and Courtney Lee participate during NBA basketball training camp in Tarrytown, N.Y., Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
AP Photo/Seth Wenig

Enough already with the triangle.

Ever since Phil Jackson became president of the New York Knicks in March 2014, that three-sided word has been put on a loop. Triangle this, triangle that, triangle here, triangle there.

Enough.

For starters, the Knicks are barely even running it. Head coach Jeff Hornacek, in his first season with New York, uses terms like “aspects of the triangle” while really implementing a more uptempo attack.

Frank Isola of the New York Daily News has been all over it:

But one deficiency in the offense promised under Hornacek is the oldest, best play in basketball — the pick-and-roll. It’s time for the Knicks to focus on that and forget about all the other noise. In their first win of the year, a 111-104 victory over the undermanned Memphis Grizzlies, that’s what they did:

It was the second time all year the ‘Bockers have cracked triple-digits:

As Isola alluded to, Jackson reportedly spent 15 minutes with Courtney Lee two days later, detailing intricacies of…well, you already know:

Defense is another matter. The Knicks rank 29th in defensive rating and 25th in points allowed, per Basketball-Reference. But, in fairness, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Houston Rockets are going to surge pass the 100-point mark most nights, regardless of the opponent.

The D has been ugly, but the offense is still concerning.

According to NBA Stats, the Knicks are using a roll man on three percent of their possessions. That’s dead last in the league. The spot-shooting Golden State Warriors use a roller on four percent of plays.

Similarly, the Knicks are running plays for the pick-and-roll ball handler on just 14.1 percent of sets, 25th in the league.

Sometimes numbers don’t convey the whole story. Take a look at this graphic from Synergy Sports:

The players have seemed to pine for a more screen-and-roll-heavy offense all along:

  • “I want pick-and-roll every time down,” Derrick Rose said after losing to the Cavs on opening night, per Newsday’s Al Iannazzone. “You see with Cleveland, they run pick-and-roll the entire game and [create] mismatches and closeouts, and them driving the ball and making someone else commit and pitching out for a three. That’s something we have to keep doing.”
  • Even after Jackson’s post-practice study session, Lee told ESPN’s Ian Begley that the Knicks should practice the pick-and-roll more: “We run the triangle, we practice against it a lot. I think we need to practice against pick-and-rolls, practice against other looks and whatnot and get comfortable with that because that’s what other teams are running.”
  • Dating back to the preseason, Begley reported that Hornacek was planning on adding more P-n-R action: “Players interviewed last week seemed excited about the possibility of adding more pick-and-roll plays, which are a staple of many offenses around the NBA.” Kristaps Porzingis seemed especially excited.

While not quite a panacea, incorporating pick-and-rolls would help solve one of the Knicks’ biggest offensive problems: getting Porzingis touches.

Rose, Carmelo Anthony and Brandon Jennings are score-first players. And that’s fine. But they shouldn’t all be out-touching KP.

Here’s how the 21-year-old second-year big man has ranked in total touches in each respective game:

  • Fifth
  • Fifth
  • Third
  • Sixth
  • Fifth

Porzingis ranks third on the team in field goal attempts, trailing Melo and Rose. The 7’3” Latvian has taken 40 jump shots to 14 layups, with five of those being tip-ins. Jumpers are fine, and KP can hit them, but he’s only taken 61 shots on the year.

Numbers don’t lie: New York isn’t running enough plays to get their soon-to-be franchise player open.

Even on Friday, when KP erupted for 27 points on 10-of-15 shooting in N.Y.’s 117-104 win over the Chicago Bulls, four Knicks got more touches and two took more shots. Porzingis nailed four of his seven attempts from deep, rarely serving as a roller or popper:

It’s not like Porzingis can’t move well enough. Even at 7’3”, the guy is an absolute gazelle and emerged as a strong pick-and-pop/roll man with Jerian Grant in 2015-16:

 

Here’s a stat I dug up for TFB last season:

Under Hornacek, it’s likely we’ll see much more of Porzingis flexing his versatility as a shooter and screener. Last year, New York ran the fifth-fewest pick-and-rolls of any team in the league, per NBA Stats.

Porzingis, though, to his credit, scored the 27th-most points as a roll man despite ranking 266th in P-n-R frequency (13.7 percent).

The Knicks have a machine gun at their disposal, but they’re loading it with rubber bullets.

Some nights, they’re leaving the chamber empty. In Wednesday’s loss to the Rockets, KP took four shots and didn’t knock down any of them. Four! Ron Baker took five in garbage time (and outscored Porzingis, 4-3).

That can’t happen. And if the Knicks start running more pick-and-rolls — even when Porzingis’ shot is falling, like it was on Friday — it won’t happen.

Follow @TJDhoops.

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