Knicks Film Study: How Caris LeVert Beat the Knicks

Photo: @BrooklynNets

Caris LeVert made a driving basket to beat the Knicks against his fellow Michigan alum Tim Hardaway Jr. Let’s take a look at where the play went wrong.

Why isn’t Frank Ntilikina guarding Caris LeVert on the game’s most important possession?

That’s the question Knicks fans are asking themselves this morning after the Michigan product blew past Tim Hardaway Jr. to score the winning basket in an exciting game at Barclays.

My initial reaction was to let Hardaway Jr. stay on the assignment, considering he had been guarding him throughout the game, and the two are friends who train together in the offseason, so if anyone knows LeVert’s tendencies, it would be Timmy.

Former scout, Clarence Gaines, noted that it is rare to find an NBA coach switch match-ups in that situation after they had been matched-up the entire time.

Putting the Frank vs Hardaway Jr. debate aside, what exactly happened on this play?

Let’s take a deeper look.

As you can see in the video, it appears that Hardaway Jr. intended on forcing LeVert left at the start of the possession, but his spacing and footwork caused him to be in poor position to stay in front of him when LeVert crossed the ball over and drove right to the basket.

After the game, Hardaway Jr. told reporters, “I feel like I could have defended it a lot better. That’s all I can say. He’s been going right the whole entire game, so I just need to know that,” via MSG Networks.

It’s also interesting to note the help assignments on the play. The Knicks had Kevin Knox helping off the left side, with both Lance Thomas and Frank Ntilikina pinned to their men to prevent a kick-out for an open three.

While this makes sense for Joe Harris, a 40% career three-point shooter, I would have liked to see Frank a few steps off Dinwiddie in the corner, which would have allowed Lance to at least reach over and help on LeVert’s drive, knowing he had Frank in position to help if he reached too far. The clock was ticking down to the final seconds, so there wasn’t a lot of time for LeVert to kick out and give his shooters the time to make a pump fake, so both Lance and Frank could have closed hard on any kick-out.

Fizdale supported Hardaway Jr. after the game saying, “No, he was alright. They’ve got too many shooters to be trying to help. I thought Tim did a good job. I really thought that was a tough shot that (LeVert) made.

Another factor to consider that caught my attention from a quote that Hardaway Jr. made after the game is fatigue. Hardaway Jr. said, “I think I shot the ball way too much tonight. That falls on me. I’ve got to get my teammates involved.”

To me, this isn’t about being out of shape, or a grand indictment on Hardaway Jr., but I do think it is worth considering the impact of fatigue on the final play. Hardaway Jr. took 25 shots over a team-high 36 minutes of play. He is then being asked to defend a talented player on the final possession (I guess more reason why people would argue Frank should have been on the ball).

If you look at his footwork in the video, whether he wanted to force LeVert left or right, a good on-ball defender is able to keep the player in front of them with proper technique. On the final play of a high usage game, I could see why Hardaway Jr. wouldn’t have the perfect technique.

Let me know what you think in the comments.

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