The Knicks have played 20 games and are thus roughly a quarter of the way through the season. Their current .750 winning percentage would, extrapolated out for the year, give the Knicks 61-62 wins, their finest win total since the Pat Riley coached 92-93 squad took the Bulls to six in the Eastern Conference Finals (dunk it Smith!). As a matter of fact, if the Knicks continued at this clip, they’d be the winningest team in franchise history.
So, so far, so good. How has this happened?
Let’s take a look at what the Knicks are really good at, and this won’t come as a surprise to a lot of you.
- The Knicks have the best turnover rate in the league – they turn the ball over on only 11.7% of their possessions.
- This naturally means that opponents don’t get easy baskets off of turnovers: just 12.1 per game.
- The Knicks are ball-hawks too, ranking fourth in opponents’ turnover rate (17.4%).
- The Knicks also shoot (29.4) and make (11.9) more threes than any other team in the league (pace adjusted numbers, e.g, per 48 minutes). As a matter of fact, no team in the history of history has shot more threes than the Knicks have so far this year, and more than a full third of their points come from behind the arc. Their 40.5% clip is good for third best in the league.
- Combine the threes with the lack of possessions squandered to turnovers and the Knicks come in second to the Thunder in offensive efficiency for the first quarter-season (110.2 points per 100 possessions).
- The threes, the careful wardship of the ball, and the squad’s ball-hawking ways also likely mitigates their awful rebounding. The Knicks corral 47.6% of available boards, which ranks them 3rd to last in the league. However, despite the poor rebounding, the Knicks still rank first by a wide-margin in “extra scoring chances per game“* at 5.5.
And as is always true of sports (and politics), there’s a bit of a narrative around this squad – mainly regarding their passing and their defense. Don’t get me wrong, the Knicks aren’t unselfish, and they aren’t a poor defensive team, but if you just judged by ESPN radio or talking heads on TNT you might think that these areas represented Knicks’ strengths. They don’t.
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- The Knicks assist on 16.1% of their makes – good for 24th in the league. Not sure what to make of that number – since my eyes don’t really tell me that the squad over-relies on ISO. But the Knicks just don’t assist. They’re first in unassisted 2 pointers (61.3% of their twos) and second in unassisted threes (46.4% of their threes). They’re second to last in unassisted FGM. And for all of the accolades ‘Melo has gotten about passing out of double teams and whatnot, his assist rate is at a career low by far (7.1%) (same with Felton).
- The Knicks D may be a touch overrated too. We’ve all seen the D dominate, but especially during the early part of the year. Has that really been the case lately? The Knicks currently allow 101.1 points per 100 possessions to opponents, which is good for 12th place. Solid, but not spectacular. Here’s how that number has evolved over the course of the season.
- Rank, games 1 -5: 3
- games 6-10: 14
- games 11-15: 15
- games 16-20: 13
- Seems that after a hot defensive start, the team has leveled off and is playing league-average D.
- Fortunately, the Knicks’ 9.0 margin between ORtg and DRtg is second best in the league.
* Sorry but J.R.’s game drives me nuts. The Bobcats game was a perfect example – with the score tied and a handful of seconds left, the Knicks forced a turnover and had a two on one. Instead of taking advantage and spreading the defender thin to cover two the two breaking Knicks by sprinting towards the basket, Smith ran back to the three point line. Why, why, why? Of course, shortly thereafter Smith hit a step-back, defended, buzzbeater to send the Knicks home with a victory. He got all the accolades, and good for him, I guess. Smith’s supporters often say “I’ll take the bad with the good”, but you have to wonder, as I have in the past, if you’re better off without knuckleheads like this. The numbers seem to suggest it, as the Knicks offensive efficiency with Smith on the court is vastly inferior to their efficiency with him off of it (105.2 vs. 120.5).
*As noted above, I’m perplexed at how the Knicks appear to be playing so unselfishly yet rank so poorly in assist ratio. Some numbers on how the Knicks’ leading scorers’ score: ‘Melo, as one might expect takes more shots than anyone on the team, or in the league for that matter (20.2). Of those 20.2, he makes 9.2, and of those 9.2, 56% are unassisted. Similarly, Smith takes 12.7, makes 4.9, and is unassisted on 61.2% of those. Felton’s baskets come unassisted 69% of the time, and he’s second on the team in both makes (6.5) and takes (15.7).
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These three are, and have been throughout their careers, guys who haven’t been shy about looking for their shot, so the trends are merely continuing, but it just hasn’t looked like it, at least to me.
Stats taken from Basketball-Reference, NBA.com/Stats, Hoopdata, and Teamrankings.
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