He is one of my favorite players. After begging to see him for seven months last year, I’d venture to say he’s a fan favorite among most Knicks’ diehards. I mean, what’s not to like? He gives you 10 points, 4 rebounds, and 36% from 3 (tied for 2nd among Knicks’ guards) each night – he’s been our most consistent, if not best, two-way player all season, despite DNPs and uneven playing time.
We, as fans, love him. We want more of him. Some of us would support a straight swap of his minutes for THJ’s. He’s an untouchable part of the talented youth that will help carry this franchise...wait, what? Untouchable.
It shocked me to learn a lot of fans feel this way. Can’t trade Dot. He’s part of the future.
Respectfully, I disagree. The Knicks NEED to trade him.
Play the role of opposing GM for a minute. You’re playoff-bound. You need wing help. Would you rather:
A) 2.5 years of Timmy ($37M remaining after this year) B) 1.5 years of Lee ($12.8M next year) C) 1.5 years of Dot ($1.6M non-guaranteed next year)
If you answered anything but C, you’re lying to yourself.
For me, it’s simple. Cap space is a top priority, and the opportunity to stock up on draft assets, even small ones, is next on the list. Now when I say they need to trade him, I don’t mean they should give him away. The Knicks don’t need to trade him like Washington needs to trade John Wall. What I mean is, Steve Mills and Scott Perry need to shop him with a controlled and patient aggression. With rules.
The Knicks only make the deal if:
Tim Hardaway Jr. is attached.
Courtney Lee is attached.
A draft pick is coming back.
I’m sorry if this upsets you. Trust me, I get it. I like him, too. A homegrown talent that’s been a bright spot in an otherwise dreary season. But have you considered the possibility that the dreariness is why he looks so bright? He’s not the foundational 3-and-D glue guy that some might think he is. I don’t want to disparage, but:
His 3-point shooting is tied for 82nd in the League. Solid. Not great.
His Defensive Real +/- is near the bottom of the league. His DRtg is 115. These “advanced” stats…I don’t know. Moving on.
His one elite skill, rebounding at his position, is not important enough to remove him from any trade conversation.
He’s regressed month-to-month in each of the following: points, rebounds, FG%, FT%, ORtg, DRtg, +/-, TOs, and, predictably, minutes per game. There’s no way to know ifhe’s playing worse because his minutes are down, or if his minutes are down because he’s playing worse. But the decline in MPG might suggest that Mills / Perry / Fiz aren’t sold on him as a surefire part of the future.
Despite all of this, you may still reasonably disagree with my position. You may look at it like, It’s only Year 2, and he’s shown clear two-way potential. Let’s build the rest of this thing and see what he’s made of. You may see him filling a role similar to the one Danny Green and Trevor Ariza have played on contenders. On champions. I can’t argue with that.
But he only has one year left on his contract (assuming his non-guaranteed amount is guaranteed in July). If the Knicks acquire a max player this summer – which requires them to shed salary, which becomes more likely with a sweetener like Dotson – and if KP ends up signing a max deal, that puts two max contracts on the roster.
Are the Knicks really going to spend over the cap to re-sign Dotson the following summer? With the rest of their young talent soon commanding new contracts? Money has never been an issue for the Knicks, but to keep this thing sustainable, they aren’t going to overpay for every player whose Bird Rights they own.
Besides, what if I told you they could replace Dotson with a similar, younger player who could remain under team control for a longer period of time? You’d sign up for that, wouldn’t you?
While diamonds are hard to find in the rough, Mills and Perry just hit on a second-round steal AND an undrafted stud in their first draft they worked on together. And I am confident, or hopeful, that they could do it again. I believe it’s more than realistic that they could use Dot to facilitate a Courtney Lee trade (creating more cap space in the process), use their 2019 second-rounder on a Dotson-like SG/SF, and sign him to a four-year minimum deal similar to the one Phil Jackson gave Big Willy.
Oh, and in case you haven’t heard – former Knick great Justin Holiday just netted the Bulls TWO 2ND-RD PICKS! A sub-25-year-old and two picks for Justin freakin’ Holiday.
Dotson is the better player than Holiday. He’s younger, bigger, more athletic, better offensively, and when he’s not surrounded by armchairs, he’ll be a much more impactful defender than he’s shown here. A week ago, I was of the mindset that I wouldn’t move Dot unless he was attached to Lee or THJ; after seeing what the Bulls got for Holiday, I would pull the trigger on any deal that returns a similar haul.
If you want the Knicks to go big-game hunting this summer, if you dream about a KP/FA/Zion Big Three with Knox as the best fourth option in the League, if you believe in your front office’s ability to take a pick in the 40s and turn it into something good, then you need to get on board with this; Damyean Dotson’s departure may be a small but crucial step toward your dreams becoming reality.
To the naked eye, it looks like Kevin Knox has a really good looking jump shot. Is that true? After reviewing every jump shot he took this year with clips from Synergy, I took a deeper dive into his shooting form and why his inconsistent release point / follow through is why his shooting numbers are not as good as they can be.
Once Knox fixes his jumper, and I think he will as it already looks better than last year, Knox’s percentages on jumpers should go up quite a bit. Enjoy the video!
Allonzo Trier has taken the NBA by storm as an undrafted rookie out of Arizona.
While his name and skillset might be new to Knicks fans, those who followed him closely in college had an idea of the type of player he could become. Zach Milner shows us that what Trier is doing well in the pros is not very different from what he did well in college. In other words, he is playing his game.
Zach was able to scout Trier for three years at the University of Arizona, and one thing was clear to him – he should have been drafted.
If you read Zach’s scouting report from the summer, you will find familiar themes to what you are seeing in Trier’s game with the Knicks. Players don’t change much between the time that they graduate to when they are playing a few months later with Jerry West’s icon on their jersey. The question mark is whether their skills will translate. In Trier’s case, they have.
Saying Mitchell Robinson has a high ceiling is already one of the biggest cliches surrounding this Knicks squad.
It’s brought up constantly, but despite that, the concept of Robinson’s ceiling remains startlingly nebulous. The glaringly obvious lack of polish, while making Robinson an intriguing prospect, also makes it really freakin’ hard to see exactly what he could be in the long term.
That’s part of what makes Mitchell Robinson so fun to watch on film. For all the mistakes he makes, and for all the experience he lacks, we all get to experience glimpses of the potential that lies in his wiry frame. And when I say “we”, I really do mean it — the Knicks organization had no idea Robinson would be this good this quickly, either. Literally everyone interested in seeing the orange and blue find success on the court is watching with the same feeling of mystical wonder as Robinson does all kinds of wild shit on a night to night basis.
Saturday’s game in Toronto was the perfect example. While the Knicks as a team were heartily demolished by an absolutely loaded Raptors team, there were two plays that really stuck out to me when reviewing the film. Two plays that demonstrate how Mitchell Robinson can impact the game on the defensive end of the floor. Two plays that, despite falling on opposite ends of the spectrum, show the immense breadth of talent he can bring to the table. Let’s take a look.
This one is pretty simple — nothing more than a well-timed rotation leading to a blocked shot. We’ve seen Porzingis do this dozens of times. The first thing that pops out is Robinson’s timing on the rotation, because it’s perfect, something we haven’t seen much of. The timing of a rotation is a fine line to walk — rotate for the block too early, and it gives VanVleet an opportunity to dump it off to Valanciunas for a dunk; rotate too late, and it’s either a goaltend or a make. Blowout or not, this is promising.
The second thing that pops out is…
Remember how I said Porzingis has done this dozens of times? That might be a lie. I don’t think Porzingis could have blocked this shot. That still image shows Robinson’s functional length off a ONE STEP JUMP. That is absolutely OBSCENE. I can count on one hand the amount of guys in the league who can do what Robinson did in this clip. His ceiling as a shot blocker is immense.
When it comes down to it, though, defense from a big man comes down to more than blocking shots. Plus, it’s beyond obvious that Robinson is a natural shotblocker who can do stuff like this regularly. What’s even more impressive is this play right here:
That’s the kind of play that separates the standard rim protectors from the all-NBA defensive talents.
First, Robinson “shows” by stepping out … 35 feet from the rim … to keep Kawhi Leonard contained. He’s on his own for a split second, because Dotson is pinned on a screen, and it’s executed quite well. This is already impressive, and a clear win. The Raptors, though, progress into a natural counter, one that often makes true 5’s look absolutely silly. The roll man (Ibaka) bails out (you can see him turn his head, notice Robinson showing, and immediately roll). The Raptors, being a smart basketball team, immediately went to one of the counters to that style of pick and roll defense — instead of risking a dangerous pass over the top of Dotson and Robinson, Kawhi hits Lowry on the wing, who ostensibly has a better angle to hit a rolling Ibaka.
You can even see Noah Vonleh cheating off the corner, ready to rotate to Ibaka if Robinson can’t recover in time. That’s because this point in the play represents the exact inflection point where most 5’s wouldn’t have had the physical abilities required to recover in time. It’s asking a lot for a true center to show 35 feet from the hoop, let alone recover 20 feet about one full second later. Mitch Rob, however, has no such issues getting back to his man, and after all of that, there’s no easy place to attack for the Raptors. Of course, as a cherry on top, Big Mitch completes the shutout with some excellent one on one defense to force the miss.
On a certain level, Mitchell Robinson snuffed out this play entirely by himself.
Try to imagine someone like Brook Lopez doing this. It’s laughable.
That’s the real ceiling of Mitchell Robinson. A monster defensive backbone who can show and recover on one play, only to block your shot 13 feet above the ground on the next one. He continues to get better with every game. For all the questions about this franchise, on every level, let’s collectively agree to enjoy watching this guy grow, even through the inevitable painful spurt. As trite as it may be … Mitchell Robinson’s ceiling really is above the clouds.
Want to hear a weird fantasy of mine? Ok here goes. Kevin Durant comes home from another boring blowout win, and some bickering with Draymond Green, and then puts on his pajamas and some highlights from around the league and what does he see? A kid who doesn’t hide that he grew up idolizing Durant putting on a show at MSG. And Durant thinks to himself, “Hey this kids pretty good. I bet it would be so fun to be his teammate.” And that kid is Kevin Knox. 1And yes I’m saying I fantasized about KD in pajamas watching the Knicks. And yes I could probably dream bigger but let’s move on.
We may not get to see much of a healthy Kristaps Porziņģis this year, so we really want one of our “puppies,” as Coach David Fizdale says, to show some legit potential as an added selling point to attract the biggest fish. Otherwise it could be another year of waiting, or worse, settling for a sub-par but expensive consolation prize.2shout out Amar’e Stoudemire
Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Lonzo Ball didn’t need to be world-beaters last year for the Lakers. They just needed to show enough potential to give LeBron James the hope that he could build something with that young core one day. Can something similar happen this year for the Knicks? Because to acquire KD without showcasing a healthy Porzingis, it may have to.
I know Knox hasn’t played much, just 120 total minutes, but it’s time for the first of hopefully several way-to-early video breakdowns of his game. We need one or two guys on this team to really step up and show that the future in New York is bright and Knox might just be the best bet. Maybe his coach showing some confidence in him will help.
Finding an Expert
I didn’t fully trust my own eye for talent, so I enlisted a little help from an expert, The Stepien’s wonder-kid, Jackson Hoy, is a must follow on Twitter. I was blown away by Jackson’s writing and analysis this past spring and it changed the way I think about certain b-ball elements so it was super exciting to get his perspective. He had Knox 18th overall last June on his Big Board.
So for this piece, I asked Jackson if his opinion has evolved after Knox’s Summer League breakout, or early NBA career. Here is what he told me:
“I really haven’t had a chance to see Knox much in preseason or regular season, but I do think he has looked more quick-twitch athletically since his time at Kentucky. He’s moving better on defense and having an easier time getting past guys off the dribble. His shot mechanics were always there at UK so I wasn’t particularly worried about his shot translating, especially with how much he shot off pindowns. So, the way he has been able to move in NBA space has definitely been a positive and has allowed him to look more like a big wing than a small-4.
I still want to see him continue to develop higher-level decision-making and court awareness on both ends, as he was never much of a passer at Kentucky and was notoriously bad at racking up blocks and steals. Beyond that, his defensive attentiveness was lacking on tape, and even in Summer League we saw him drive into crowded lanes rather than passing to open teammates. So the court awareness is probably the biggest thing for him to work on going forward.”
So with his thoughts in mind, let’s go make up our own. Get your your popcorn and get into your favorite Knicks onesie pajamas KD probably wears. It’s time to watch film.3Now we’re not going to do defense this time because the numbers are noisy this early and the team’s defense is a train wreck in general. For what it’s worth, like Jackson notes, Knox is not yet someone who racks up blocks or steals or rebounds, but that doesn’t necessarily mean someone isn’t playing solid D. Right Shane Battier? But we’ll leave that alone this time and look at his offensive possessions. I watched all of his minutes so far and here are some examples of my impressions.
At UK, Knox was 25/61 on runners for 40.1%, per Synergy.
He has already attempted eight runners so far this season and made three, pretty close to his college percentile. Below is a nice one:
As you get to know Knox as a player, you’ll also begin to notice Knox sometimes tries these “in between” shots that Synergy Sports still classifies as a runner but they have a slightly indecisive feel to them. Above, he rejects the screen but then … am I taking a jump shot? Am I taking floater? Am I taking a jump hook?
Then below, he sometimes takes a clear floater, not an in-betweener, so that’s good. It’s makeable. But he probably shouldn’t have taken it at all. Look:
Remember Jackson’s input: court awareness, ball handling and passing are things we want to see Knox improve upon. To entice Durant, we’re looking for sets of skills to snowball, so that one day they avalanche. For example, if he were just a little more confident with his dribble, he might take one more into the teeth of the D, suck up the help then make it easier to spot Mario Hezonja open there in the right corner pocket. Did you spot Mario? Watch it again. He might have attacked contact too. The open 3’s for teammates and free throws help avoid efficiency pitfalls like ESPN’s Kevin Pelton cautions against here:
Some of the scorn reserved for midrange attempts should probably make its way over to non-restricted area paint attempts (often floaters). https://t.co/7K7b6NXvXb
Now I hear a couple of you resisting. “Doofus! He’s played in 7 games, don’t restrict him already!” And you know what? You’re very persuasive so I’m going to I agree with you. But let’s compromise. I suggest he keep working on his handle and attacking and drawing contact while also intentionally seeking shots for teammates or “sharing the game” as Coach David Fizdale would tell him. We’ll check back in down the road on his runner efficiency. For now, it’s great that he has the touch to confidently take them as they’ll make him less predictable to cover.
Finishing has been something Knox had a bit of trouble with going back to Kentucky. The raw numbers in school turned out OK relative to some other prospects:
At the Rim:
Kevin Knox: 66/97, 68%
Miles Bridges: 74/115 64.3%
Mikal Bridges: 101/145, 69.65%
… but the film often told a different story. 4Remember some of these will be relatively uncontested and those easy makes can muddy your sample a little bit
Per Synergy, Knox currently ranks in just the 2nd percentile in terms of finishing around the rim so far, and while that number is likely to regress in a good way, it’s also indicative of something college fans of Knox already knew: he has a bit of trouble with this.
Here, see what you think:
You’ll begin to notice there is less explosiveness off of a single leg jump. That one was way too easy for Jarrett Allen and his 7’4.5 wingspan to time.
This play above feels indicative of an issue for him. He is fairly quick and capable of gathering the ball from a huge distance from the cup. That’s great. But it seems to me like he burns a bit of his energy and power in getting to the hoop and can run out of steam when it comes time to get up, seek contact, and finish over the help. That’s just my humble opinion but see what you think, here’s another:
It’s certainly not an easy layup. And it doesn’t seem like one he can’t make. But it does appear again that he sort of expends his burst. Maybe this will come with power training and as his lower body and core continues to get stronger. 5Maybe someone who is a physical therapist or understands biomechanics might have a suggestion for training or tips for a new move to get to his spot better.
One more for you where an NBA level big who isn’t exactly Joel Embiid or Rudy Gobert, but simply understands the concept of verticality, gives Knox lots of trouble. One of his coaches will probably note that he had the wrap around bounce pass to Noah Vonleh here. It’s not a concept that is foreign to him. You can see him do it below at UK, he drives, feels the help, decelerates then drops the dime.
In the next video, you can watch his three best finishes of the year, in my opinion. Notice they’re all off two-foot jumps. The first one, after a really nice sequence he shows Michael Jordan-style probing jab steps, then a cross-over earns a trip to the stripe and gets the Garden crowd going.
In his most recent game, the route vs. Orlando, Mike Breen noted a few positives. Aside from Mitchell Robinson’s block-fest, he observed Knox seeking contact. He wound up shooting 10 free throws, having not even shot 3 in any previous game. Here, (yes it was garbage time from the moment he entered the contest but still) he even takes on the ludicrous length of Mo Bamba and gets to the line.
Finding ways to get to the rim for these types of two-legged bursts while drawing fouls is one way to increase his efficiency until he continues to fill out a little more.
And of course, we got this this one-handed master-blaster.
(You may not think that’s a good thing, but having poop with you to Durant, is apparently very good!)
Finding creative ways to take shorter strides, or an extra dribble, and get to a two-legged jump would help as he gets stronger. Maybe like this move by his teammate, Allonzo Trier:
Trier Decel BTB Gallop Hop & Finish 📍Begins buffering momentum w/R limb 📍Immediately gallops w/high dribble=time 2take in visual info while being able 2deceive 📍Foot plants from above=Optimize GRF *Ball dip helps energy return in2 double pump @bballbreakdown@ISO_ZOpic.twitter.com/tzi3uN3QFR
Here the film and the stats contradict a little bit. He’s only 2/9 so far on pull-ups per Synergy, with a grade of “poor,” but they don’t look bad to me. For example, a player like Robert Covington is an elite defender and a very good catch-and-shoot player, but not good off the dribble. And when you watch him play, you can almost feel Covington’s lack of comfort firing off the bounce. Not so with Knox. While he may never be as good off the bounce as catch-and-shoots, his shot looks comfortable and mechanically sound enough to be a weapon for him over time. See if you agree.
His favorite thing to do has been to take one or two dribbles off a screen-roll for an 18′ pull up like so:
And another couple below:
I’m leaving you the full possessions so you can get a complete feel for the shots he’s taking. He’s been a little early, not always letting Vonleh get set on the pick and the second clip probably isn’t a great shot but the mechanics are sound.
Shooting in the 70th percentile in the half court is very good. Three-point shooting is the best thing about his game so far. An overwhelming positive. His release point is so high. Here’s a little Devin Booker patented “sorry tall person, I didn’t notice you were in my face” for ya:
That was the recently injured, Caris LaVert, and his 6’10 wingspan. No problem. Impervious, as Clyde Frazier would say.
Vince Carter the legendary leaper can’t reach this shot anymore. This jumper works. This one below is even more impressive.
From @KnickFilmSchool B/c Trier is starting to see “spies” on d, and Mood is almost ignored, Knox sees what may feel like a Zone look. Here he apparently had ZERO regard for Anunoby’s 7’6 wingspan! This should remind #suns fans of Booker’s imperviousness, as Clyde would say pic.twitter.com/IvGefMeTsx
And above, notice he sells the cut before accepting the back-screen from Baker. This looks easier than it is. He has to retreat and get behind the three-point line but not step out, a mistake he’s made a few times this year. Big feet. Maybe still growing. Enes Kanter draws the whole defense and has to avoid lots of arms to get this through. It’s still a tough catch and shoot play, and man, Knox has some poop with him, as KD might say.
You may have seen the reports that while Knox was rehabbing his ankle, he tinkered on his mechanics with his dad, a former NFL wide receiver, and now unfortunately Knox shoots exactly like one throws a football! Devastating. Just kidding, but if they were looking for something, here on both of these two pretty releases, he drops his shooting arm a hair early and back pedals a bit; likely why he misses short.
Again from the top, see all that backwards momentum he has? Had he just stayed put or leaned into this one, he probably makes it. Short by a couple inches.
Actually though, by my count he’s been almost twice as likely to miss long so far rather than short. Something to keep an eye on.
Knox feels like a player to me, who, like perhaps Otto Porter, has the potential to make a dramatic impact on a game before he looks like a star. I don’t mean to imply he’s like Otto, or that’s his floor or ceiling. I mean that Porter is someone who is not a prolific scorer, highlight machine, or freak athlete. But unlike Porter’s teammates, he offers the Wizards a complete Swiss army knife skill-set. He offers a combination of interior + post defense, cross-position switching. He became someone who could play both the ball-handler and the roll-man in a pick and roll, could both grab-and-go or a fill the lane in transition, and of course, knock down jump shots and 3’s. Unlike some of the higher-floor, lower ceiling players that were drafted in and after his range, Knox at least has the potential to do all this and more. It’s possible he could become really really good before your casual fan even notices.
We want to see progress in the areas Jackson mentioned: court-awareness, aggressive contact seeking, ball handling and passing. He has been attacking the offensive glass lately, maybe it’ll translate to defensive rebounds soon, too.
Remember my fantasy? This is New York, I need to dream much much bigger. Fantasizing about Kevin Durant watching Kevin Knox play isn’t exactly dreaming big. The real scenario we should all spend more time daydreaming about is Kevin Durant, Kevin Knox and ME all on the Knicks, and we’re all tall and rich and best friends, and we hang out all the time!
I kid, but the truth is, Kevin Durant or other stars will absolutely be keeping an eye on our young players like Knox. Let’s check back in soon on their progress, hopefully with some highlights that knock KD’s socks off.
The metagame is an essential part of basketball that doesn’t get discussed nearly enough.
By definition, metagaming, or the game about the game, is any approach to a game that transcends or operates outside of the prescribed rules of the game; uses external factors to affect the game; or goes beyond the supposed limits or environment set by the game.
Basically, it’s just a fancy word for the mind games between opponents.
For example, if Tim Hardaway Jr. hits a three off the catch, the next time he gets the ball, his defender is probably going to play up on him a little more, since he remembers the previous play. That gives Hardaway the opportunity to blow past the defender and get into the lane.
Essentially, the basketball metagame is the context of every single possession — everything that has happened up to that point dictates how both teams react to a play, even if they’ve both seen it 10,000 times.
Here’s a perfect example. Early in the 3rd quarter against the Hawks, the Knicks ran an interesting variation on two of their most common actions (double pindown to the corner, and double drag screens at the top of the key).
The pass from Hardaway to Ntilikina was designed, and the subsequent action reveals the twist on this standard play — Tim Hardaway Jr. is actually the primary screener, with Mitchell Robinson playing the secondary role. That’s not a common role for Hardaway, and that’s exactly why Fizdale drew it up. This play represents a unique look that the Hawks might not have been prepared to defend. By doing so, Trae Young, an undersized rookie known for poor defensive tendencies, is forced to cover a situation he may have never seen in the NBA. That’s gonna lead to breakdowns. As a matter of fact, you can actually see Bazemore pointing for Trae to switch onto Hardaway as the play develops.
That’s good coaching, but I like the follow up even better. Here’s the very next play:
They ran the same exact play. This is an aggressive mindset — I’m gonna run this play until you stop me — but the cool thing here is how Frank Ntilikina and Tim Hardaway adjust this play because of what happened on the last one.
Let’s walk through their mindset (or at least what we could logically expect these players to think).
Hardaway Jr. just got a wide open three off a unique and pretty obvious play call. The Hawks are probably going to be better prepared this time, because they know exactly what’s coming, but this is where the metagame kicks in: The Knicks knew what the Hawks knew, and it altered their decision making, which in turn provided an advantage. One successful play led to another.
Instead of running the same play again, Frank Ntilikina makes it look like he’s running the same play, only to cut hard backdoor. To Trae Young’s credit, he was ready for it, but Ntilikina’s size is too much. Fortunately for the Hawks, Ntilikina misplays it and doesn’t get the easy layup he earned. However, as you may have heard before; process over results. The process here was outstanding.
This is important to me for two reasons: 1) because it’s pretty cool to see the metagame in action; and 2) because it shows me this team can play smart basketball. Young guys will make dumb plays; it’s basically guaranteed. We saw tons of it in this game alone. But in the long term, something like this represents a strong indicator of high basketball IQ.
DOUBLE DRAG SCREENS, AKA JEFF HORNACEK LIVES ON
While we have you here, let’s throw in a bonus film note about an offensive set that carries over from the Jeff Hornacek days.
The double drag screen action is a standard play. A ton of NBA teams run it. We saw a variation of it in the previous section, but here’s a pretty standard example of the play:
If you remember Sasha Vujacic and Brandon Jennings, you probably remember this play. The Knicks have consistently used this play since the drafting of the OG Unicorn. And for good reason — with an elite shooting big man like Kristaps Porzingis, double drag screens can cause havoc for opposing defenses.
This play is from the Hawks game, with Noah Vonleh filling the role of KP:
This play is from the 2016-17 season (trigger warning, Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose are present in this clip). Look familiar?
Vonleh obviously isn’t Kristaps, despite a stellar impression in the first quarter of this game. But this staple of the Knicks offense in past years remains in place despite a complete changing of the guard, and it’s not a bad decision to do so. Best of all, it’s going to get substantially more effective with the return of the Porzingis.
The Knicks are off to the start we expected for a young team that is developing. While there are areas of concern, there are also little glimpses in the film that suggest a coach and team coming together to form a more structured unit. That’s all I have for now. Until next time!
The Knicks had a real nice win for a young team on the road on Friday in Dallas. Typically, young teams will struggle on the road, particularly on defense — even against a moribund, sad, and largely unwatchable Mavs squad, so this was a nice win.
The best part, of course, is watching the game-to-game improvements of a literal (figurative) horde of young players. It’s a lot to manage, actually, and it’s making film review tough as hell. Having Courtney Lee playing rotation minutes was nice because you could … well … pretty much completely ignore him. You know who he is; you don’t need to watch vets like that very closely.
Now we’ve got seven or eight dudes who are all worth monitoring. In a basketball sense, it’s awesome. But let me tell you … the coaching staff has to have their hands full trying to monitor the development of these guys across the board. They’ve done a great job this season.
And with that, let’s get into some of the interesting tidbits I found upon rewatching Knicks @ Mavericks.
DAMYEAN DOTSON’S SHOOTING
Dotson has been a consistent and steadying force since arriving in the starting lineup. He’s been largely exceptional on the defensive end, he’s hitting his shots, and he’s doing it without the ball.
The interesting thing is, watching Dotson on film has me constantly thinking of a guy I already mentioned — Courtney Lee. Now, Lee is a pretty uninspiring player, so I should immediately make it clear that the similarities are in playing style and role ONLY; this isn’t a straight comparison. But look at these plays. These are the kind of plays Jeff Hornacek used constantly to get Courtney Lee great looks at will:
It’s hilariously ironic, to be honest. Hornacek ran these exact plays for the real Lee while he stapled the turbocharged version of Lee to his bench. Great stuff!
The main difference between the two, though, lies in the overall aggressiveness Dotson brings to the table on both ends of the floor. Obviously, Dotson is more athletic than an older Courtney Lee. But it’s deeper than that. I want to focus on the offensive end; specifically, the 3-point shooting.
Despite having slightly higher percentages, Courtney Lee was always hesitant to shoot 3’s unless he was wide open (to his slight credit, Hornacek was constantly harping on that exact thing when speaking to the media). Dotson does not have that problem, and it really changes the game for him compared to Lee:
That shot, while simple, is a big deal for a 3-point shooter. If you can hit that shot consistently (which Dotson has done so far), defenses need to guard you COMPLETELY differently. That’s when you get special attention as a shooter. That closeout from Harrison Barnes really wasn’t bad; Dotson made him pay anyway. When you make them pay anyway, defenses get panicky very quickly.
Of course, hitting those shots has a snowball effect. Defenders will close out harder, they’ll close out faster, and they’ll be hyper vigilant whenever they consider helping off Dotson. The extra spacing isn’t gonna help much right now due to the way the rest of the team is built, but the extra hard closeouts allow Dotson to get in the lane despite a generally subpar handle.
Watch how hard the Mavs are trying to recover to him in these clips, and as a result, how easy it is for Dotson to get in the paint:
That first play in particular is illustrative of what I’m trying to describe. Doncic is RIGHT THERE, in a solid position to contest, when Dotson catches the ball. But he hops out an extra step as soon as Dotson shows the ball, because he already saw Dotson shoot over that kind of contest earlier in the game. That extra step, combined with the change in momentum, gives Dotson the ability to completely blow by him. If that was Courtney Lee, there is NO WAY Doncic takes the extra step towards him, which means there’s no way he gets to the rim.
I applaud Dotson for taking those tough shots (and making them). Continuing to do so will be a game changer in the long term.
MITCHELL ROBINSON’S POTENTIAL
Pretty obvious breakout game for Big Mitch. I’m not here to throw the obvious stuff in your face. He’s improving at an astronomical rate — after seeing him in Summer League, I wrote a whole article about how he might need to start off in the G-League. David Fizdale alluded to the same idea before the start of the season.
That’s not gonna happen.
One of the biggest issues I had with Robinson in Summer League was his proclivity for really dumb fouls. He loved to reach on EVERYTHING, and he bit on EVERY pump fake. It was actually funny at points. I thought he would be fouling out in literally five minutes, barring a big change. Fortunately, that change has already begun, and it’s making a huge difference.
(Notice how he does kinda reach in a bit at the end? He’s still not quite there. But it’s been, like, 4 months. This is great progress).
Later in the game, he stayed down on JJ Barea and cut off the driving lane. Unfortunately, his muscle memory kicked back in two seconds later, as he reaches in on Harrison Barnes driving the lane and gives up the make plus one.
These are growing pains, and it’s totally normal. The same goes for the other end of the floor; Robinson, while having improved exponentially since Summer League, is still pretty bad at understanding the complexities of setting screens in the pick and roll. There were several examples, but this was the most egregious:
In this case, the focus needs to be on what Mitch Rob ISN’T doing. In that situation, with the defense forcing the ball handler away from a screen, Robinson should look to reverse the screen. Instead of setting the screen parallel to the sideline, Robinson can step across and screen parallel to the baseline, which provides a much more effective angle against a defense that chooses to defend the pick and roll that way (it’s called ICE, by the way). Here’s a great video that provides an overview of some effective counters to an ICE defense.
Of course, reversing the screen isn’t the only way to counter that kind of pick and roll coverage. In fact, if you watched far enough into that video, you saw a reference to the short roll, which is what the Knicks appear to be trying here. But even if that’s what they were instructed to do (which I don’t know — that would be a good postgame question for Fizdale), the spacing on the play is wildly off, which ties into Robinson’s inexperience anyway. ICE defense is a common defensive coverage in the NBA, and Robinson still doesn’t know how to correctly attack it.
(As a slight aside, it should be noted that Hardaway deserves some blame here as well; neither of them seemed particularly interested in running standard counters to ICE coverage. But we already know he’s not a lead ball handler. For the purpose of this review, we should focus on Robinson).
Anyway, I don’t say this to denigrate Robinson. The guy has played like 15 games against college and NBA competition combined; this type of stuff is expected. Even so, his performance was awesome, and highly encouraging on every level. I say this to point out that, despite his stellar showing, he still has SO MUCH TO LEARN. It’s mind blowing.
Watching him night to night will literally be watching a guy learn how to play NBA basketball. It’s going to be so much fun. Robinson still moves with a herky-jerky weirdness that clearly indicates a level of uncertainty when it comes to where, and when, he should be moving. But there are stretches where that goes away, and you really see the peak of his eye-popping athleticism, along with a glimpse of what he could be long term.
What makes the coaching staff happy, and what makes me happy, and what should make you happy, is that despite so many mistakes, he’s getting better every day. The sky really is the limit.
Michael DeStefano played basketball at the high school and college level, trained and coached AAU throughout Westchester, and has worked as a certified referee all over the New York metro area. He makes his Film School debut on the Pacers 9-0 run last night.
THE KNICKS ARE 2-6, AND NOT FOR THE REASONS YOU THINK
It used to be the third quarter. At least that has improved.
In four close losses, it’s the fourth quarter that’s been the problem. And while there has been some bad luck – Tatum turning two consecutive broken plays into buckets, a Bogdanovic airball-turned-hockey-assist for the dagger – and more bad defense, neither of those is most responsible for the Knicks’ inability to close games.
The offense is the issue, and you need to look no further than last night’s game-changing 9-0 run for confirmation.
NY held a 97-94 lead with 2:59 to go. Domantas Sabonis made two FTs, and the Knicks took possession up 1.
Hardaway should not be the primary PnR ball-handler at this stage of the game.
Oladipo is an excellent defender who had just picked his dribble and leaked for an easy bucket only four minutes prior to this play, and Tim’s strength is not his handle. Plus, he’d been scorching hot playing off the ball – five of his seven threes were catch-and-shoot jumpers as a result of other ball-handlers forcing Oladipo into help (or halfway) situations.
In crucial late-game situations, the offense needs to see more of Hardaway off the ball, getting him looks through some of those nice staggered actions they’ve been running, or simply through someone else creating drive-and-kick opportunities.
With that said, they could’ve made something out of the play highlighted above. We won’t know if the fault’s with Vonleh or Coach Fizdale’s system, but that screen needs to be set. Instead, Vonleh slips, Oladipo beats Hardaway to his spot, and the rest is history.
Hardaway had exploited switches all night, and even if they don’t switch, a hard screen frees him up for anything he wants (Kanter had set a solid screen on Oladipo in the third, knocking him to the ground and freeing Tim for his sixth triple – that’s what you need here).
The Knicks work a lot of slips and soft screens into their offense, but if you’re going to close out games, you need to play situational basketball. And in that situation, Oladipo needs to feel the screen.
97-98, 2:43 left
Again, they run basic offense. Nothing special to execute. It goes nowhere. From a philosophical standpoint, this is fine: some coaches just want their players to run what’s worked all night (though you can argue: they had only scored 14 in the fourth to this point, so was it really working?), and while a young team might benefit from something concrete drawn up in a big spot, this is a perfectly acceptable way to run your offense.
What’s not perfectly acceptable is Lance Thomas being on the floor.
We thought Fiz had seen the light with Lance only playing 9 minutes vs. Brooklyn, but last night he was back up to 16 and on the floor in key moments. We cannot blame Lance for taking that shot, or for the fact that Thaddeus Young closed high and anyone with a left hand would’ve taken the entire baseline and either finished at the rim or drawn a foul. He’s simply not capable, so the blame has to fall on the coach.
Why is he in the game? You can’t tell me defense – we gave up 30 in the fourth and got murdered inside all night. You can’t tell me matchups – even if Lance is the ideal matchup for Young (who low-key killed us), we were switching the entire game. And you can’t tell me he’d played well – he was the Knick to play less than 20 minutes and still have a negative +/-.
Fiz himself realized the error, just one play too late.
97-100, 1:55 left
Out of a timeout, with Trier in for Thomas, the Knicks struggle to get the ball inbounds. After finally doing so, a standard dribble handoff between Frank and Tim leads to another Tim-as-ball-handler / Vonleh-as-screener scenario.
Once again, no screen is set. Fizdale actually talked about this play in the postgame, saying the Knicks ran the wrong play out of the timeout.
Very interesting: @reidgoldsmith asked about the contested three Hardaway took after a timeout with ~ 1:30 to play
Fiz said they ran the play wrong & they had about 5 of those tonight, on plays they should know, so he took the blame for not having the players focused in huddle pic.twitter.com/WybNYw4jim
Having run the wrong play, Tim resets with 13 seconds on the shot-clock and, with the entire paint wide open, settles for a deep contested three-pointer.
Tim played a great game, but he deserves blame here. Once the drawn up play didn’t happen, he still had plenty of time to make a pass, which could lead to another pass, which could lead to another pass, which could lead to either something better or the same exact shot. And if he’s not going to move the ball, he could’ve worked for a better shot. But this is Bad Timmy, the one who takes horrible shots, and this one came at the worst possible time.
If we look deeper into the decision, though, it actually says something positive about his self-awareness as a basketball player. Even he knows putting the ball on the floor against an All-NBA defender in this situation is a recipe for disaster, which is why we come back to the execution as a whole, which we found out after the game, simply requires the Knicks to follow instructions out of the timeout huddle.
Oladipo would cap the Pacers late 9-0 run with a three of his own on the next possession, and even though Indy still needed some luck/lack of defensive awareness to get out of MSG with a win, the three possessions highlighted above was where the game was lost.
Every close defeat to this point has seen stretches, or even single crucial individual possessions, like the ones above. This is why the team is 2-6, and not 5-3. It’s not for lack of effort, and it’s not even for lack of talent, despite having three key players sidelined.
No, the reason the Knicks are meeting expectations instead of being the early surprise of the NBA season is their inability to play and execute situational basketball when it matters most.
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!
@FrontOfficeEye explains how Frank Ntilikina used “pace” to spur his scoring run against Brooklyn.
Frank Ntilikina sparked a Knicks run against Brooklyn with seven consecutive points during the third quarter last Friday. Let’s take a look at how he did it.
But first, something needs to be said about playing with pace. Guys like Jrue Holiday, Shaun Livingston, Chauncey Billups, etc., all played with great pace. They weren’t necessarily blowing past defenders on every possession, but they did a nice job of surveying the court to create good looks.
Frank Ntilikina has shown an ability to play with good pace, helping his pick & roll game. Over the past two years, we have seen him not only get to his spot in PnR, but make proper reads and hit rollers with accurate passes.
Ntilikina can be overly cautions in picking his spots, which is good and bad: it’s good because he doesn’t force things that aren’t there; and bad because it allows the defense to sag off him too often. We saw against Brooklyn how he is starting to take advantage of the defense sagging back.
Below is a thread of videos that showcase Ntilikina’s ability to use pace to his advantage in the pick & roll.
Example of pace in PnR and passing.
– leaves very little room between pick and himself (nice screen) so Kurucs gets caught
– brings ball up as if he’s going to shoot, getting Allen to bite
– perfect bounce pass to Kanter on the roll pic.twitter.com/0suB11hidS
Double screen for Frank.
– Change of pace to start.
– Frank uses double screen. LeVert caught in Lance’s and Enes taking LeVert on second screen to the paint.
– Frank sees Allen too far back, he pulls from three. pic.twitter.com/Qfp3lLvXou
Double screen for Frank
– Frank liked what he saw a minute earlier, so he calls it again
– Change of pace to start
– Uses screen well, leaving less room than before. LeVert caught.
– Head up going around the screen looking for help. Nobody comes, he pulls from the FT line pic.twitter.com/vvOgtDrDLa
Same play again.
– Frank starts off with the hesi to get Harris biting.
– Uses screen well, Harris caught.
– Russ digs, so Frank crosses to left. Harris comes from left, Frank crosses back.
– Frank in spot, and unloads with a floater. pic.twitter.com/KF6SCNcT65
Nice screen from Kanter, but also watch the angle Frank takes – he’s not going E/W, he’s way more N/S going towards the rim. He missed the shot, but again he got to his spot. pic.twitter.com/NxJhNFZf44
While the Knicks continue to experiment with Frank in different positions, it seems that if they give him enough opportunities in the PnR and let him actually run an offense in the halfcourt, he would thrive.
Zach DiLuzio provides us with some film notes after rewatching the Knicks win over Atlanta.
The Hawks are trash, but trash teams still win 20-30 games, unless you’re the prime Process Sixers. Winning a game is something to celebrate regardless of who it’s against. The Knicks played well, and blew the Hawks out of the water. That’s a great start to the Fiz era!
Now we officially have 48 minutes of game film to break down. That means it’s time to pick it apart, isolate stuff we can learn from, and form a knowledge base that we can build off for the rest of the season. This is something I’m hoping to do on a fairly regular basis; normally, I’ll be including good stuff, bad stuff, and everything in between. But on Wednesday night, there really wasn’t much bad stuff. Let’s take a look.
This guy really is something. We all saw the highlight dunk. His scoring ability jumps off the page. I’m not here to tell you the obvious stuff. What we’ve seen from Trier, from Summer League until now, is a player in search of balance. Toeing the line between selfish scorer and Ron Baker. If (when?) Trier finds that balance, he’s going to make a pretty significant leap.
To illustrate this: watch this play.
Notice how Trier, after driving baseline, has drawn two defenders to his immediate vicinity, and an another dude is cheating off Knox in the corner.
As a general rule, if you see three guys within five or six feet of you, that means one or more of your teammates is WIDE OPEN. With 15 seconds on the shot clock, nobody should be taking that shot. Trier did. That’s the kind of stuff Trier showed in Summer League that had us all mad as hell.
Literally one possession later:
The window dressing is different, but this is almost exactly the same situation. Trier drives baseline and brings two defenders with him. This time, he makes the right decision and finds an open teammate. It’s a snowball effect from there — Hezonja attacks the closeout well, draws the help, and dumps the ball off to Vonleh for a dunk.
Trier’s box score did not change from this play. But this is the exact type of play he needs to learn from. I hope the video coordinator pulled this clip and made Trier’s screensaver. If Trier can edge away from play #1 in favor of more stuff like play #2, his ceiling rises quite a bit.
OFF BALL DEFENSE
A big reason the Knicks played such effective defense (when the game actually mattered) was because of excellent ball denial by several players throughout the entire game (Lance, Burke, Baker, and Ntilikina) that kept Atlanta from getting into an offensive rhythm.
Here’s an overly simplistic but useful example:
All that happens is Baker getting his hand in the passing lane, which forces the ball to the other side of the floor. But this is super helpful, for a bunch of reasons:
1. It forces the ball away from the playmaker (in this case, the primary playmaker in the Hawks’ lineup, Jeremy Lin). Get the ball away from the primary playmaker, and that’s a win. Dorsey got open here after an apparent miscommunication, but in the aggregate, doing this kind of thing makes a big difference
2. It can potentially ruin an opposing playcall. A lot of plays rely on the initial swing from one wing to the other. Disrupt that, and you can disrupt the entire play; at the very least, you can potentially make the timing all screwy. Smart teams can avoid this, but they can’t avoid it forever, and even tiny delays add up over the course of a game. Disrupting rhythm is hugely important on the defensive end.
3. It just flat out wastes time. Pressure a ball handler full court and deny the swing pass, and all of a sudden the opponent’s secondary or even tertiary ball handler has the rock with 14 left on the shot clock and no play to run.
Cheating too far can backfire — that’s how you get back cuts for layups — and that will happen (and did). But this is something the Knicks basically never did as a team under Jeff Hornacek. I like the aggressive mentality on defense.
FIZDALE’S PET PLAY
The first regular season game means we get to see the first assortment of regular season plays. I always love looking for a coaches pet play — Jeff Hornacek, for example, LOVED to bring double drag screens in transition. That was his thing. And I think I’ve already figured out Fizdale’s.
If you’re gonna have a pet play, it’s gotta be reliable, versatile, and effective. This one fits the bill. It’s a simple one — it’s essentially a double pindown to the corner from a small and a big. But it has a decent amount of reads built in, ones that account for several potential defensive coverages. The more shooters involved, the better. You can run this for any ball handler on the team, to either side, and it doesn’t require much organization, so it’s something you can use in transition as well.
The above play is the cleanest view I saw of it unfolding in real time. In that one, Knox probably could have dumped it off to Vonleh for a dunk, so I’d consider it a success despite scoring zero points. But you can see from the various ways that same set played out during the game that there’s a ton of potential reads and secondary actions you can move to, depending on how the defense reacts.
This is something I’m looking forward to monitoring the rest of the season. This play becomes exponentially more difficult to defend with a floor spacing screener, so I’m excited to see what happens once Kristaps is incorporated into the fold. Maybe Fizdale throws Luke Kornet out there one of these days if the offense is a complete disaster.
That’s all for now! As always, I’d love to hear any thoughts on any of the above. Hopefully we’ll have a lot more good to unpack after the double slate this weekend.
@FrontOfficeEye worked with the Tulsa Shock in their front office helping with analytics, contracts, and scouting (with some help given to the coaching staff, when needed). Today he helps us breakdown Kevin Knox attacking the rim.
Kevin Knox had many question marks after his time at Kentucky: motor issues, defensive ability, shot consistency, offensive awareness, inability to use length, why did his athleticism look “meh” in college, etc.
The one that really intrigued me was his reluctancy to attack the rim. In half court settings, Knox only had 66 shots around the basket vs 61 runners. For someone his size, with his length and athleticism (while not elite, is still good), those numbers scared me a bit. Why was he avoiding the rim even though he had the advantage? Digging into it the numbers a bit more, and you saw that he was in the 70th percentile on runners, but only the 62nd around the basket. Did it make sense that he was going to the runner more? No; that 70th percentile on runners was still more than .3PPP less than what his PPP was around the rim was — basically, even though the percentile rank was higher, it was still the less efficient shot. He had the size advantage attacking the rim in college, but shied away from it.
Throughout Summer League and the preseason, one of the main things I focused on with Knox was his mentality attacking the rim. Was he going for runners too often, or was he being aggressive attacking the rim looking to finish over the big or get fouled? I was in Las Vegas for Summer League, and had the opportunity to watch Knox up close. While at the games, I was also able to discuss what I saw with scouts from various teams. They all agreed he looked like a different player, one with a different mentality, and one who was taking advantage of the pace and space the NBA offered. The key stat for me during Summer League: 22 shots around basket, 5 runners. He was becoming more comfortable attacking the rim, and even though the results were not there finishing (6/22), the aggressiveness was. Fast forward to preseason: 11 shots around basket, 5 runners. Again, the results were not there finishing (1/11), but, as you’ll see below, it’s not as bad as it may seem.
I pulled all of Kevin Knox’s Synergy clips (jumpers, around the basket, and everything between), and watched them, paying close attention to his mentality while attacking the rim. He was attacking the rim well, but why was he hitting so few? I uploaded some of the clips below, and broke them down. As you will see, even though it is hard spinning a 1st percentile ranking around the basket into a positive (even for someone in the legal field), there are some good things to take from his aggressiveness.
Many people will look at the clip below and think it was a nice take, but was blocked. However, this take was more than just a nice fake to Lance in the corner getting Wall to bite and getting blocked at the rim; it was an aggressive take against a rim protector. This one simple clip goes against the perception people (including myself) had of Knox going into the season — that he was soft and would not take it hard to the paint.
He did a nice job being assertive in attacking the rim.
He did not often shy away from contact, although I did put one clip below showing an example with two issues.
He has issues seeing the whole court as he’s driving, missing open teammates and forcing up inefficient shots instead.
He often begins his drive too soon/before the help defender clears, leading him into multiple defenders or early help.
All in all, coming off his over-reliance on the floater in college, seeing him attack the rim was a positive sign.
In the clip below, he’s simply attacking Mahinmi in transition. Showcasing some grab and go ability (after a sub-part rebounding percentage in college), aggressiveness taking the ball at the shot blocker, and the really nice baby hook off the glass.
In the clip below, off the fake, Knox attacks the rim once again. Russell comes over to help, and instead of stopping short, Knox continues to the rim for the nice finish. There isn’t any remaining help defense, but I like the aggressiveness.
Below, we see some faceup ability as he’s guarded by Diallo. Diallo, a pretty quick and energetic big, does a nice job staying in front of Knox . Knox doesn’t back down from Diallo (who admittedly is not a particularly strong big), and finishes through the contact.
As of now, Knox doesn’t have the best feel for passing out once he gets into the paint. What this leads to is some poor shot attempts in traffic with teammates standing open.
In the clip below, Vonleh levels Green in the DHO.
Mahinmi, trusting his quickness, comes up to defend Knox. As Knox drives, Mahinmi slides well and Wall has a nice dig. In the first picture where Wall is digging, Knox has Frank open in the corner, Vonleh rolling behind, and THJr spacing to corner — Knox sees none of it, and ends up forcing a shot against a rim protector in perfect position.
As he continues to get a better feel for open looks in the paint, I expect him to hit one of the open guys. Frank would have been an easy paint pass, Vonleh could have been an easy pivot and pass, and THJr could have been hit with a similar move (or on a secondary pass after Vonleh).
In the clip below, Knox again drives into traffic because he begins his drive too soon. Instead of waiting for Mahinmi to clear, he attacks too soon, leaving an easy contest and a missed opportunity on offense.
As THJr comes off the double pin down on the weak side and crosses the paint, he’s bringing Mahinmi with him. Instead of waiting for THJr to fully cross and have him clear Mahinmi from the paint, he attacks early directly at Mahinmi who was in great position. The picture below shows the position of everyone when he begins his attack.
I like the aggressiveness off of Wall’s defense, but I feel he was too eager to escape the pressure, leading to the poor shot attempt. Another option for Knox instead of the kick back to THJr, which would have been a difficult pass, would have been to draw Mahinmi up and kick it to Vonleh on the roll.
Knox attacking the rim is generally a good thing, but when you’re jumping from this far out, the results will not be positive. Knox isn’t athletic enough, or strong enough, to start his leap from that spot and expect to finish. If he’s looking for the call, well, chances are it’s not coming yet — you’re a rookie, not a vet. He should have continued downhill and took the ball straight at Allen’s chest, like you’re supposed to do against shot blockers.
This is just a secondary drive of a kick from Mudiay. No advanced reads here, just a simple drive.
However, just like above with THJr, he doesn’t wait until the lane is cleared before he drives. I cannot justify the attack left there, because even if Mudiay is cleared, chances are Clark is sagging off Mudiay enough to help on Knox’s drive. What he should have done is gone middle.
On the off chance Knox makes it through both his defender and Mudiay’s defender, he will be met at the rim. However, if he goes middle, he opens up an easy opportunity for a drive and kick to Hezonja. The puzzling thing about this play is instead of meeting the ball by pushing off his left foot and using that forward momentum to attack Young’s outside foot going middle, he sticks off his right foot, which essentially removed his ability to attack the outside foot without an easy recovery from Young.
Here we have Knox coming off a double pindown. As Kenrich closes high, Knox immediately recognizes that there will be a potential lane to drive down — he attacks. This was great. He was assertive, knew the lane that would be open, and attacked without hesitation. However, from there, it went downhill.
Diallo is in perfect position on defense — he recognizes that Knox beat Kenrich, and gets ready to stand his ground. Diallo takes away the passing lane to Kornet, leaving one of two options for Knox: (1) attack the rim; or (2) kick it to Dotson in the corner. Knox doesn’t see Dotson, and decides to attack. However, as in clip 6, Knox jumps from too far out. Here, instead of going into the defender, he doesn’t explode and veers away from contact. I do not recall any other “soft” takes in preseason, so it’s not a major cause for concern. However, I would have liked him to go right at Diallo, instead of conceding the shot at the rim before meeting him at the peak (where Knox did not even reach).
However, the lack of vision attacking the rim is a concern, and something to keep tabs on going forward.
Knox being in the first percentile is bad no matter how you cut it. However, just because it’s a bad ranking, does not mean you cannot take positive things from it. (Starting with the bad, and ending with the good.)
(1) Driving into multiple defenders and missing passing opportunities. As he continues to get more comfortable attacking the rim and the game slows down for him, his vision SHOULD open up — he’ll know where the help is coming from (watching out for digs), and where the open man usually is on angled drives (corners). This I expect his passing in these situations to improve as he gets more reps and the game slows down for him here.
(2) Feel (this includes attacking before a lane opens up)
(3) Jumping too early, and not going into the defender’s body.
(4) There were other examples in other actions / shot attempts where Knox missed the open man, but attacking his lack of vision was not the main point of this article — it was that even though the results were not necessarily there attacking the rim, the aggression was, and that is a great sign.