Zach DiLuzio takes us through some adjustments David Fizdale made in the Bucks game as examples of how the coach is able to read the game on the fly and make the most of his personnel.
Through four games, I am frankly thrilled with the way the Knicks have played in every single contest. The record is irrelevant — I’m pretty sure they went down by 10 in every single one (except the Hawks drubbing, of course), but managed to fight it out until the end every time. No way last year’s team does that, even with Kristaps Porzingis, who is sorely missed.
I unfortunately didn’t have time to review the weekend games (3 games in 4 nights is a lot for me, too), but David Fizdale gave me some real juicy stuff to work with in the Knicks loss to the Bucks, so I’m going to focus on that.
Let’s get to it.
David Fizdale made a couple of stellar adjustments on the offensive end in the second half of this game that really showed off an ability to read the game on the fly, take advantage of his personnel, and leverage the versatility of the offensive sets he prefers.
To set the stage, the Knicks were trounced in the first half, on both ends of the floor. Enes Kanter was absolutely shut down by Brook Lopez, who has the heft to keep Kanter off his spots, and the Knicks offense as a whole was sputtering. That changed in the 3rd quarter, when a huge run erased a 19 point halftime deficit. The focus, rightfully, went on Trey Burke. But Fizdale had a huge hand in this as well.
Let’s start with the minor piece of the puzzle; it wasn’t all that important in the grand scheme of things, but it’s the process that matters, not the results.
For this one, we need to focus on Enes Kanter, who couldn’t move Brook Lopez on the low block in the first half. Kanter post ups were going nowhere, and to add insult to injury, they were stagnating the offense as a whole. The very size that allows Lopez to stonewall Kanter, however, also means he is one of the few people in the NBA who may actually be slower than Kanter. So Fizdale took Kanter away from his traditional low block post ups and set him up in the midrange area to face up.
This was the first play they ran after the half:
Kanter rarely faces up, but this adjustment makes sense conceptually — if you can’t beat your man with size, beat them with mobility (I know how ridiculous it is to refer to mobility as an asset for Enes Kanter, but this is real!). And it worked, from a process standpoint. In the play above, Lopez couldn’t keep up with Kanter on the one dribble hook, and it gave Enes his only comfortable post up look of the night.
Here, Kanter, uses his speed (!!!) to get around Lopez again, this time to the baseline. He gets blocked, but the process here is still good — Lance Thomas (I know) is wide open at the top of the key, but Kanter doesn’t see him. Enes is not a good passer, so this isn’t expected, but these cracks were not there in the first half.
It’s also a smart move to keep Kanter happy — you don’t want him posting up Lopez, but the dude is going to want the ball even if he doesn’t particularly deserve it on a given night. The coaching staff also appeared to make a concerted effort to use Kanter more as a roll man after the break.
It’s also possible that was Trey Burke — not joking. Look how annoyed he gets when Kanter doesn’t roll hard to the rim in this clip (shoutouts to Ashwin Ramnath for pointing that one out during the game). Once Kanter actually rolls, Lopez doesn’t have the foot speed to come out of the paint, and Burke gets to the rim for the traditional 3 point play.
These are relatively small things, but it shows me this staff is ready to make even the slightest of adjustments if it gives an advantage.
This is the good one, and it’s another one designed to attack Brook Lopez on the defensive end of the floor.
We’ll have to backtrack for a minute to get to the crux of this. Last week, I broke down the blowout win over the Hawks, and noted that Fizdale’s apparent pet play was a double pindown to the corner, on either side.
The Knicks ran this quite a bit in the first half of the Bucks game, but it wasn’t really working that well. That’ll happen. The reason they weren’t working, however, is important.
In this case, the double screens were actually backfiring — Brook Lopez was sagging back, willing to give up any pull up 3’s (or 2’s, of course) in favor of securing the painted area. This is a viable strategy for the Bucks because of the staggering amount of length and athleticism they have on the court at all times.
Watch this clip — Lopez hangs back in the paint as Hardaway comes off the double screens and curls middle, but Middleton, who is actually guarding the ball handler (!!!) still manages to dig down. Hardaway picks up his dribble and hits Frank, who should be wide open… but Middleton manages a decent contest anyway. That’s the luxury of size, length, and athleticism.
This type of stuff was keeping the Knicks from exposing Lopez in the first half, and credit the Bucks coaching staff for pulling out the strategy.
But Fizdale had a counter ready.
After the break, the Knicks basically ditched the double pindown they’ve run so often this year. Instead, they switched to a more traditional single screen, which, in effect, forced Brook Lopez into defensive scenarios more reminiscent of traditional pick and roll defense. Brook Lopez does not like defending the pick and roll, because he’s bad at it. The Knicks took advantage.
They ran that concept for the majority of the second half. That double pindown I saw so many times in the first 7 halves? I think they ran it one time the rest of the game.
That shows the mindset of the coaching staff entering the second half — if Lopez is going to play, we’re gonna make you pay. There were several other plays designed to exploit Lopez; but unfortunately, I don’t have enough time to really dive in deep. You can watch them yourself below; brief descriptions are included:
Single pindown flowing into pick and roll – this is a standard read for the double screen version of the play. They just pulled one screen out and ran it right at Lopez. Midrange jumper, but you get the Kanter Effect here — the shooter knows the big man has no hope of contesting, so they get perfect rhythm and perfect confidence. See: Khris Middleton draining 3’s in Kanter’s face after a switch:
High horns (this is at the end of the first half, but the Knicks had yet to run this play in any previous games) – Hardaway somehow air balls the cleanest look from 3 he’s gotten through 4 games:
More high horns – imagine Porzingis in place of Vonleh:
Side pick and roll right at Lopez – Ntilikina strings Lopez out on the attempted show and recover, because Lopez is so damn slow. Frank beats the rotation with a nice skip pass, and the possession snowballs into a layup for Hezonja:
The Knicks lost, again, but I’m seeing a TON of encouraging signs. Fizdale and his staff have shown an ability to adjust quickly on the fly, and they’ve clearly shown an ability to motivate their players and put them in a position to succeed.
This is a great start. Let’s see if they can keep it up.
Make sure to follow Zach on Twitter for more great insight!