KFS Video: Knicks vs Wiz

Spencer Pearlman kicks off the KFS video work for the year with a Twitter thread featuring lots of stuff you may have missed from last night’s Washington game. This thread highlights some basic actions and reads, but check back all season long for some more creative video use from Mr. Pearlman.

Did Frank Ntilikina play good defense despite James Harden’s 61 points?

James Harden scored 61 points to tie Kobe Bryant’s visitor scoring record at Madison Square Garden in the Rockets win over the Knicks on Wednesday night.

But if you look at how the Knicks defended him throughout the game, there were surprisingly some bright spots from Frank Ntilikina and the team defense behind him. Harden shot only 1-6 with Frank as the primary defender, while committing 4 turnovers, per Second Spectrum tracking data. He shot 17-38 on the night, overall.

It’s hard to know, for sure, what the Knicks strategy was in trying to defend Harden, but it appeared in watching the film as if Ntilikina was trying to force Harden to the left side of the court, relying on help from a swiping wing defender and an interior man cheating off the worst three-point shooter on the floor at the time.

The Knicks started Noah Vonleh at center in place of Enes Kanter. They inserted Lance Thomas into the lineup at power forward to defend P.J. Tucker. The game plan appeared to be to use Vonleh (and later Mitchell Robinson) to cheat off the Rockets’ big man to trap Harden when he crossed half-court. They then tried to rotate behind the help, to moderate success.

Despite the Knicks’ best efforts, Harden went to the line 25 times and was just too much for the young defense (let’s face it, ANY defense) to contain.

Film Study: Analyzing Frank Ntilikina’s shooting form

Frank Ntilikina has struggled with his shot this season. It stands to reason that if he were hitting better than 28.9% from three, he might have avoided some of the benchings and trade rumors he has recently endured.

The margin between success and failure in the NBA can feel pretty slim. If Frank had hit ten more threes than the 28 he’s hit on the year, he’d be at an elite level of over 40 percent. If he’d hit just six more. he’d be at a very respectable 35 percent. Going from bad to good over the next 100 attempts may be a matter of subtle fine-tuning and not some dramatic overhaul.

Free Throws as a Petri Dish

If you want to predict three-point success at the NBA level, surprisingly, using college statistics, free throw percentage is a better indicator than three-point percentage. Part of this might be because it acts like a petri dish in a lab and allows scouts a way to put aside many variables inherent in the sport, like defense or footwork, and simply track a shooter’s form.

Frank shot 27/42 from the line in France (64 percent). So far in the NBA, he is shooting 74.5 percent from the line. But he’s trending up. This season he’s up to a career best mark of 80.8 percent. The video above will show you why he’s making more from the line this season. Hint: he’s more disciplined in his follow through.

When translating to three-pointers, Frank is a better shooter the more closely he uses his free throw form. If you’re skeptical, like me, you can watch the video and say “c’mon Dave, he’s wide open on a lot of the 3’s you included, everyone is better like that.”

And this is fair. But why would this be? Because the closer a defender is, the more it can cause a player to change his shot. Variance, the number one enemy of great shooters, increases as we try to gauge different levels of power, arm drift, or depth perception.

It’s important for Frank to practice using the same form he uses on his free throws, even when we introduce new elements like dribbling, footwork, and a contest from a defender.

The benefit to a good follow through is that it allows a shooter to seek consistency with respect to depth perception. Frank misses lots of shots short, which is not a coincidence since he often drops his follow through, sometimes swings his arms back, or begins heading backwards on defense before his shot even reaches the basket area. Frank doesn’t do any of these things on his free throws.

For a great look into Frank’s foot-work, here is an awesome breakdown by Steve Dagostino, an NBA development coach, who works with Atlanta’s rookie sharp-shooter Kevin Huerter. Frank is still very young and may not even know which of his footwork choices will wind up being the best for him, although it appears he’s more comfy stepping into a shot rather than waiting with a foot planted (except on corner threes, where this changes).

There are plenty of other principles to look at in examining Frank’s shot, including his guide-hand, a slight “tilt” in the positioning of his feet, which some longer armed shooters enjoy, but this video/post was meant to simply point out one area he may be able to improve upon right away.

Go ‘head and pose for us, Frank. You’re better when you’re a bit cocky anyway. Follow through and freeze through the entire shot and don’t go back on D until the ball is long gone from your hands. Give us a chance to take some photos.

Enjoy and let us know what you think in the comments or on twitter.

Happy 2019 folks. Here’s to better form on all of our jump shots.

Noah Vonleh, the Giannis stopper

Ok, so nobody stops Giannis Antetokounmpo, but Noah Vonleh has done a pretty good job of slowing him down over the four games the Knicks have played Milwaukee this season.

You might ask how this is possible considering the MVP candidate is still averaging 31.3 points on 52.9% shooting vs New York?

  • What the stats say: Giannis is shooting 52.1% on possessions he is guarded by Vonleh, who has defended him more than any other defender in the league. This is a drop from the 58.1% he shoots vs everyone else. Vonleh has also forced 7 turnovers and blocked 3 shots. He might not be shutting him down, but he is making a difference on the defensive end. [NBA.com/stats]
  • Why this could matter: Noah Vonleh is a free agent after this season and the Knicks don’t hold any Bird rights to sign him to a significant deal over the cap. If the team wants to preserve cap space to chase a star, it might be difficult to keep him in New York. However, before worrying about what happens in July, they could look to acquire extra assets from an Eastern Conference playoff team looking for someone they can put on Giannis in key situations. The Knicks could always trade him as a rental and bring him back over the summer, but with more assets to show for it.

Knicks Film School: How the Knicks are getting creative for Kevin Knox

Kevin Knox is scoring in a variety of ways on his way to averaging 20.4 points and 6.5 rebounds over his last eight games. He is scoring in transition, knocking down threes, and driving to the rim with an increased intensity.

As I was looking through the film to see what Knox has been doing differently during this scoring stretch, and you can read more about that here, I came across a few interesting plays that offer a glimpse of how Fizdale is being more creative in getting Knox involved in the offense.

Let’s take a look.

Setting up Knox from dummy action

During Knox’s breakout game against Charlotte, I noticed the offense using “fluff” action, or making it appear they were going to run one of their preferred actions to get Knox the ball coming over the top, only to run something different that resulted in an open look for the rookie.

EXAMPLE 1: The Knicks start in a dribble hand-off (DHO) look, but they really want their primary action to start by focusing the defense on the mismatch in the post between Tim Hardaway Jr. and Tony Parker. Once the Hornets react to this mismatch by sending help, the Knicks anticipate this and create an open look for Knox when his man helps the helper.

The only reason the Knicks show this DHO action to start the play is so Knox can move his man with him toward the top of the key and closer to where he would help the helper when Hardaway Jr. gets the entry.

As the Knicks move the ball to the other side of the court and make the entry to Hardaway Jr., Knox slowly creeps to the three-point break where he will find himself wide open to receive the pass from THJ for the open look.

EXAMPLE 2: Again, the Knicks set their offense as if they are going to run something different than what they ultimately show. Mudiay and Vonleh set themselves in position to set the stagger screen for Knox, fooling the Hornets, and in particular, Malik Monk, into thinking Knox will be coming over the top to receive the ball from Tim Hardaway Jr.

Instead of Knox coming around the stagger screen, as the Hornets expect, Knox cuts to the basket. With Dotson on the far corner, THJ handling the ball high on the perimeter, and Knox’s two remaining teammates set-up for the screen near the three-point line, the floor is spaced so there are no defenders to help inside.

You can see Monk is completely fooled below, as he is so concerned with fighting his way to the top where he expects Knox to be after running around the screens, he doesn’t even realize Knox is under the basket waiting for a pass until it is too late.

You can watch both plays in motion in the video below.

Film School: Kevin Knox shows off his offensive repertoire vs Philadelphia

Kevin Knox became the first Knicks rookie since Patrick Ewing to post at least 15 points in six consecutive games when he scored 21 points in the Knicks loss to Philadelphia.

As much as Knicks fans talk about Frank Ntilikina’s confidence (or lack thereof), it is something everyone has been tracking with Kevin Knox, too. The 19-year-old has a challenging set of expectations to manage in basketball’s biggest market. The lottery pick had a breakout Summer League, followed by an early season injury and slow shooting start that had some doubting his game.

As crazy as it sounds, it might take more than a few weeks for a teenager to get acclimated to the NBA, and we are starting to see Knox do that now. Over his last 10 games, he is averaging 17.0 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 1.6 assists on 41.4% shooting. He is shooting 43.6%, including 41.2% form three over his last five games.

His offensive repertoire came together in his performance against the Sixers. He was knocking down threes, scoring in transition, and driving, both left and right, to the hoop.

We are seeing a more confident Kevin Knox that can be measured through his scoring numbers, but if you watch how he is racking up those points, you can see he is starting to learn how he can score in an NBA offense.

Last night didn’t exactly start like it would be an efficient shooting night for Knox. He was blocked on his first two attempts, but I liked what I saw on his very first shot.

Knowing where to be on the floor to look for your shot is an under-appreciated skill that comes natural to NBA players who have been in the league for a while. It’s something that every basketball player knows how to do in a comfortable environment – I know the spot on my driveway where nobody can stop me. But translating what was once comfortable in high school or college to the professional setting, where the offense is different, defenses are more complex, and defenders are quicker and longer, is not an easy task.

It’s why it’s no coincidence that Knox is making more shots as he is becoming more comfortable at finding his place to shoot in the Knicks offense.

While Ben Simmons made a great recovery to block the shot above, in a somewhat broken play, I like how Knox read the situation and maintained his position in the corner to get the “open” look until the super tall Australian came out of nowhere.

Below is another example of Knox finding the right spot on the floor to shoot. Mudiay draws the double in the post, keeps his dribble, and patiently waits for a Knick to get open. Watch how Knox starts in the corner and rotates up to create a passing lane for Mudiay. This subtle movement is the difference between getting an open look and Mudiay never seeing him.

Here’s another example that didn’t turn into points, but I almost like these plays more because they show how Knox is doing the right things beyond what is shown on the score sheet.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. The dunk attempt was sick. But look at the cut before he gets the ball. This is what makes the entire highlight attempt possible.

As promising as it is to see Knox finding scoring options without the ball, we saw him do what he does best with the basketball last night, too.

Fizdale likes it when his wings move the ball in transition, and that’s why Kevin Knox’s rebounding becomes so important. When he gets the ball off a miss, he finds better shots.

In fact, Knox connects on 41.4% of his two-point attempts on possessions following an opponent miss, versus only 28.6% on possessions after an opponent make, per PBP Stats.

As we see in the example above, and common sense will tell us, it is easier to score in transition when defensive match-ups aren’t always clear and the spacing is already set for an athletic player like Knox to make a play to the rim. Knox finds the rim on 29.9% of his shot attempts after an opponent miss, versus only 17.9% after an opponent make.

When the Kentucky product is running the floor in transition, points are going to come.

As I said earlier, what impressed me most about Knox’s performance against Philly was the range of ways in which he scored. He made threes, he scored in transition, and he did what we saw him do in Summer League, and that is, drive to the hoop out of half-court sets.

We know he can drive right and the caveat that always comes with that is whether he can do the same thing going left. The play below is a promising sign of his progression driving left, where his handle is often too high and prone to turnover. Notice how he is forced to gather the basketball on the swipe, but still keeps his composure, drop steps, and converts on the little floater.

While nobody should have overreacted to Knox’s slow start to his rookie campaign, it’s important not to overreact the other way: just because he has played well for a stretch of games doesn’t mean he is going to be the next great Knick.

So this is where incremental development comes in. The Knicks are losing a lot of games, but we can watch to see how the young players are developing in different aspects of their game. And we are seeing promising signs in Knox, from learning where to locate his shots, to taking advantage of transition opportunities, to improving his ability to drive in both directions to the hoop.