Keeping Pace With The New-Look Knicks

After the Knicks’ 107-100 win against a severely depleted Washington Wizards team on Saturday, Julius Randle was asked about why his play has improved in recent games. He told the Associated Press: “A little bit into the season, we’re learning how to play off each other a little bit better. Playing a little faster…”

I was struck by that last comment about playing faster. Throughout his tenure, David Fizdale frequently talked about playing with more pace, but like a lot of things he said, it never came to fruition.

In Fizdale’s 22 games this season, the Knicks ranked 27th in the league in pace, per PBP stats, averaging 97.45 possessions per game. Since Miller took over, it’s been a different story. Their renewed urgency reminds me of how I start hustling when I’m late to meet a friend and they call to ask me where I am. The Knicks are playing like they just lied about being five minutes away.

In their past 11 games under Miller, New York is averaging 99.42 possessions per game, good for 14th in the league during that span. They are playing faster despite turning the ball over less frequently AND forcing fewer turnovers with their more conservative defensive scheme (more on that later). That means they are pushing more frequently off of defensive stops and getting into their offense faster.

A major reason for that uptick in pace (especially if you ask any remaining Fizdale defenders) is simply the return of Elfrid Payton. While there is some merit to that argument, it doesn’t tell the whole story. When Payton has been on the floor this season, the Knicks get out in transition nearly 2% more than when he sits. I know that sounds negligible, but that differential is in the 85th percentile among point guards per Cleaning The Glass. Numbers aside, all you have to do is watch Payton to see how willing he is to push the ball:

Throughout his career, Payton has been an above average (and at times elite) defensive rebounding point guard. This season he ranks in the 64th percentile in defensive rebounding among point guards and he frequently looks to push in those situations.

It’s true, under Fizdale, the Knicks upped their pace with Payton on the floor. But, there’s a major difference, even when you compare apples to apples: when Mike Miller’s Knicks play without Payton, the team’s pace is significantly faster than Fizdale’s lineups without Payton. Further, since Miller took over, the Knicks have actually played faster with Payton on the bench. All of that is to say, Payton is NOT the only factor leading to this increase in pace. It seems like Miller has made a concerted effort to get his guys to push the ball before defenses can get set up. Here is Frank getting in on the action:

Watch here as RJ Barrett grabs a rebound versus Milwaukee and gets the ball up court. Mitch sets a screen in semi-transition before Khris Middleton can get in position to help on the roll. These kinds of fast decisions go a long way in juicing an offense:

It’s hard to overstate how important it is for an offense to eek out some easy buckets against scrambling defenses, especially given how hard of a time the Knicks have had scoring in half court situations this season. Consider this: when the Knicks get out in transition, they score 111 points per 100 possessions, per Cleaning The Glass; when the Knicks run offense in the half court, they score 87.5 points per 100 possessions (major yikes). Surely that number has ticked up in the last 11 games, but the point wholly remains.

Another reason the Knicks are getting out in transition more is because they are getting stops more frequently. Under Fizdale, New York allowed 113 points per 100 possessions which ranked 24th in the league. Since the coaching change, the Knicks are allowing just 109.5 points per 100 possessions, which ranks 16th in the league during that timeframe.

Miller’s defensive adjustments have been widely discussed, best outlined in this Posting & Toasting piece from my online drinking buddy, Dallas Amico. The bottom line is the Knicks are running a defensive scheme that better suits their talent and is forcing teams to take more difficult shots.

Knicks Film School’s fearless leader (Macri made me write that) said it best in Monday’s newsletter (which, if you aren’t subscribed at this point, let me help you with that):

Opponents are taking nearly a third of their shots from the midrange against New York with Miller at the helm, good for 10th in the league. Under Fizdale, teams took under a quarter of their shots between the rim and the arc, which was third worst.

With the higher quantity of pull-up mid-rangers comes some longer rebounds and run-outs:

Getting out in transition more frequently has undeniably helped the offense. Under Fizdale, the Knicks’ offensive rating of 102.7 was the worst in the league. Under Miller, the Knicks are scoring 107.8 points per 100 possessions, which ranks 18th. Obviously, playing at an increased pace is not the only reason for the Knicks’ recent (relative) success. Their easy schedule has no doubt played a role. But, New York is now playing as fast as David Fizdale always wanted, and so far the results are encouraging.

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