A deep dive into the film and statistics from the Knicks' first home win against the Memphis Grizzlies.
You can read the previous instance of postgame analysis, 10/25/16 vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers here.
This was a big win for the Knicks. As big as it gets this early in the season.
After getting blown out by the defending champs in the opener, the Knicks needed to get their confidence back. A matchup with Memphis, who has been sporting a long list of injuries but remains a competitive team, was about as good as it gets. The crowd at MSG had been anticipating the opener all summer, and it showed, as the Knicks (particularly Joakim Noah, which is not surprising at all) fed off the crowd to play with remarkable energy.
New York came out the gate blazing hot, building a lead that peaked at 18 thanks to stellar play on both ends of the floor. Despite Memphis' ability to control the pace and slow the game down in the 2nd half, the Knicks were able to hold on late for their first win of the season.
We now have two games of play to draw from. The sample is still small, but we have seen a lot of improvement from the roster already - a very good sign.
Different format this week - since we are starting to get a better feel for individual players, we'll look at the team from a macro perspective and branch downwards rather than looking at certain plays and building upwards from a micro perspective. We'll start with the team offense, move on to the team defense, and finally pick a player of the game. I will take note of certain guys, good and bad, when necessary, but the objective here is to draw conclusions about the Knicks as a whole.
Very encouraging performance on a lot of levels. It starts with Rose, who I ripped in the previous entry of this series for overdribbling and missing his teammates during the opener on Tuesday. Derrick came out early with an intent to move the ball and create openings for his teammates - after a couple of questionable shots early in the 1st quarter, Rose often ignored the hoop on his drives to the rim, opting to kick the ball out instead. This was a jumpstart for a Knicks offense that has been starved for consistent dribble penetration since Raymond Felton was traded.
A lot of Rose's success came out of Triangle sets as well, like the one above, which is relieving. Derrick's lack of shooting makes it difficult for him to be a perfect Triangle guard, but he can make up for it with elite speed and quickness. Rose was tied with Brandon Jennings in potential assists last night, and also generated two hockey assists to boot. He did so while taking only 13 shots - he hoisted 17 in the opener.
Late in the game, Rose's passing actually opened up shots for him at the rim as the Grizzlies defense collapsed into the paint a bit slower than they would have if he continued to force up shots. Rose did not take a single jump shot classified as "guarded", which is exactly what the Knicks will need from him. Derrick was also able to get into a nice rhythm, beating Memphis defenders like a drum off the dribble and getting to the rim with ease. All of this contributed to his nice second half showing, where he helped close out a frisky Memphis squad with some pristine finishes in the paint.
I'll again refer you to my preseason scouting report of Rose, and I'll again pull up the relevant portion for the lazy:
For Rose to have a truly game-changing impact on the Knicks' offense next season, he will have to focus almost entirely on collapsing the defense, drawing help defenders, and kicking the ball back out to the perimeter. The last Knicks point guard to do so effectively (Raymond Felton) coincided with the winningest season in the last 15 years for the Knickerbockers.
This was a huge step in the right direction. Rose's box score numbers don't reflect his true impact in this game, and it will only get better as he and his teammates continue to develop chemistry and understanding.
Rose got some assistance with his playmaking workload from his lifelong teammate Joakim Noah, who had his own breakout game after a worrying opening performance.
Jo has a very unorthodox style that can be unbecoming to those who don't fully understand the value of his skillset on both ends of the floor. Last season, Noah struggled with knee issues and looked washed up in Chicago, leading to the malignment of his massive new contract in New York. Fortunately, Noah looked pretty much exactly the same as old Jo - he only took two shots (both makes), but racked up ten boards and seven assists in only 22 minutes of action before fouling out.
Noah's value as a passer at the center position is difficult to overstate. He's easily one of the best passing big men of our generation - combined with his handle (much like the rest of his game, it's ugly, but effective), Noah becomes a roving madman with the ball in his hands, looking to create offense for teammates with pinpoint passes and consistently illegal screens that never get called.
The ability to make simple passes with accuracy, touch, and consistency really ramps up the difficulty for opposing defenses. When Noah has the ball in his hands, defenders must take special care to stay between their man and the basket - if they get too far upcourt in an attempt to pressure the ball or deny an entry pass, Jo will make the perfect pass to exploit it. And opponents know it - check out this play, where Noah brings the ball up and looks to hit Porzingis with an over-the-top pass for an easy layup. Because Noah had already made the pass to Porzingis inside with little trouble earlier in the game, Melo's defender takes a step towards the paint to deny that exact look, leaving Carmelo with an extra foot of space on the wing. Noah reads all of this quickly and makes the correct pass, leading to an easy catch-and-shoot trey for Melo.
Just the threat of the pass opens up other aspects of team offense - screens become more effective when opponents (especially bad defensive teams) are terrified of giving up backdoor cuts.
The addition of so much playmaking (Brandon Jennings has been fairly effective as well when he's not too busy chucking off-the-dribble air balls) to a roster that featured Jose Calderon and Robin Lopez at the same spots a year ago has had a snowball effect on the rest of the roster - especially Porzingis, who finished with 21 points on 11 shots despite some mind-numbingly bad decisions late in the 4th quarter. Opponents are showing cracks in defensive alignments earlier in possessions, and better shots are easier to come by. After only two games, numbers like offensive rating are pretty useless, but the Knicks only scored 111 or more in 10 games last season. For the second game of the season, the results are encouraging so far.
From a coaching perspective, the Knicks continue to mix Triangle with more traditional offensive sets. For the first time since learning what it was, I witnessed the Knicks run a Horns set, and lineups featuring Porzingis at center featured a lot of 1-5 high pick and roll - a staple of Hornacek's offense in Phoenix during his breakout 2012-13 season. This was something I've advocated for all offseason; the Knicks execution still requires some fine-tuning, but it should be a very difficult set to defend for every team.
The Knicks have also shown that they will use anyone to set up a weakside pin-down for Porzingis (we saw it from Melo in the preseason), and it has continued to work extremely well. Here's one from Rose, who catches Vince Carter sleeping and springs KP for the easy three.
Finally, the Knicks actually executed the Triangle quickly and effectively (mostly), and it led to a pretty good amount of buckets in the halfcourt.
I still want to see more creative plays designed to leverage KP's nonsensical skillset, but it's a good start.
It's still a little difficult to get a feel for the Knicks defensively, especially on the perimeter, but the odds of maintaining one of the best interior defenses in the league are steadily rising. Joakim Noah looked springy and battled hard down low, as he is wont to do - combined with Porzingis' Mr. Incredible arms, opponents will find it difficult to finish in the paint when one (or both) of them are present.
Outside the paint, things get a little dicier. Joakim Noah showed great agility and reaction time after a disappointing defensive showing against Cleveland, so the Knicks may be a bit better at defending pick and rolls that initially thought - Noah, in his prime, was a monster ICE-ing pick and rolls in Chicago, and the Knicks have used him in the same way. Courtney Lee can fill in the guard role of the ICE strategy, as long as his man doesn't have a notable size advantage, but Carmelo and Porzingis continue to struggle with managing shooters. Both will lose their man a couple of times a game, and both have major issues closing out - especially Porzingis, who has notably been beat multiple times a game by rangy power forwards who can shoot OR put the ball on the floor.
Porzingis needs to focus on contesting with his length instead of overcommitting with his body - when he stays down on pump fakes and manages space well, he can get by quite well. It hasn't happened very often, at all, but Porzingis' notable self-awareness and drive to improve leads me to believe this habit will be gone pretty soon.
On the other hand, Carmelo is getting older, and was never the most mobile guy in the first place. I think he can still get by defending power forwards in small lineups, but at the 3, Melo will continue to be a liability. Derrick Rose had a solid defensive performance against the Grizzlies - Lee took the brunt of the primary assignments - and has the ability to play solid defense when he's locked in, but Rose is too small to guard some of the bigger players at his position, and his size also limits him in situations where the Knicks want to switch.
The Knicks can bring in some defensive specialists off the bench (Justin Holiday and Lance Thomas have excelled on that end of the floor), but doing so will sacrifice offense. Finding a balanced lineup will be key moving forward.
Overall, I feel safe saying the Knicks look like a fairly average defensive team at the moment. It's really hard to defend the perimeter effectively in the pace and space era (which is exactly why teams continue to move in that direction) without switching most actions, and the Knicks just don't have the personnel to do that. It's looking like a possibility that New York can defend the pick and roll at an above average level thanks to the mobility, intelligence, and instincts of Joakim Noah, but we'll have to wait and see if that continues.
Defense is just as reliant on chemistry as offense. Defense is more of a team concept than offense. It will take some time to get everyone up to speed.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Courtney Lee - 16 pts, 1 ast, 3 reb, 1 stl, 0 TO. 6/11 FG, 2-4 3PT, 2-2 FT
You'd think the Grizzlies, who rostered Lee for a big part of last season, would know exactly how to keep him contained. That was not the case, as Lee shredded Memphis early, hitting his first 4 shots - mostly without the ball.
Lee excels as a complimentary player - he can do some secondary ball handling in the pick and roll, but most of his best assets come when he can use his basketball IQ and tact to roam a forest of screens and come out wide open on the other end. Lee did a great job leading his defender into screens, taking what the defense gave him, and filling space when the defense collapsed into the paint. Three of Lee's four attempts from beyond the arc were wide open by virtue of his feel for the game; those shots will be there all season long. Lee is not going to average 16 a game, but this sort of performance is pretty standard.
Lee's impact was felt even more on the defensive end, where he spent a lot of time guarding Memphis' lead ball handlers as the Knicks' primary defensive stopper on the wing. This was a good matchup for him - Conley isn't a physical player who can exploit Lee's smaller stature, and the rest of the Grizzlies ball handlers were about as threatening as a pile of toilet paper - but he executed and helped contain Conley to 11 points in 24 minutes.
Next up: Andre Drummond and the Detroit Pistons come to town on Tuesday, November 1st. The Pistons are missing starting point guard Reggie Jackson, and Ish Smith is fun, but limited. Drummond makes an imposing opponent, but some may recall Robin Lopez shutting Drummond down last season - he can get psyched out by physical play at times, and as it turns out, Joakim Noah is pretty damn physical.
Jo will have his work cut out for him, and Tobias Harris will make life difficult for KP on the defensive end. The Pistons have played tough defense so far this season, but have yet to beat a quality opponent (Magic, Bucks). This is a winnable game against a good team, but it might be tough to watch - for some reason, Knicks-Pistons games have been pretty ugly overall these past few years. If the Knicks take this one, heads will start to turn, as both Memphis and Detroit are expected to make the playoffs.
The next day, the Knicks will stay home to take on the offensive juggernaut known as the Houston Rockets, who laid down a drubbing in the preseason and sports a high-powered, fast-paced offense led by former Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni. The Rockets also sport what will almost certainly be one of the worst defenses in the league. This will be a tough matchup - I'm expecting a loss - but crazier things have happened. Courtney Lee will be the player to watch in this one as he attempts to slow down one of the league's best players in James Harden.
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