A deep dive into the numbers and film from the New York Knicks victory against the Chicago Bulls.
Finally, a nice win. Not an easy win, but a nice win, and an encouraging performance overall.
The story of this game is the Knicks defense. Due to some fluky stuff (Dwyane Wade making 5 out of 5 pull up 3's), it looks like the Knicks weren't great, but overall they did a nice job. Good defense let the Knicks get out in transition again much like the Memphis game, especially in the first half, but in the 4th quarter the defense was the difference maker.
We should start with the two best ball handlers on the roster, Derrick Rose and Brandon Jennings, who collectively provided the best overall PG performance for the Knicks in about 3 years. Both guys did an excellent job getting in the paint and focused on making plays for their teammates instead of chucking up questionable shots as they did earlier in the season -- Rose and Jennings combined for 18 assists to 4 turnovers. Drive and kick has always been the ideal strategy for this roster, and for the first time, the Knicks as a team executed it very effectively.
Rose and Jennings were pretty ineffecient, but it's pretty hard to overstate the impact dynamic guard play has had on the rest of the offense. The mere threat of Rose or Jennings attacking the paint, compared to Calderon and Afflalo, has identical offensive sets throwing defenses out of alignment regularly.
Porzingis was the biggest beneficiary, as the Bulls had trouble managing the paint defensively while keeping track of KP. Off misses and steals, Chicago struggled to crossmatch effectively, leaving KP with a mismatch due to offensive pressure provided by Rose and Jennings. After the loss to Houston where KP went 0-4 from the field, talk of "misusing" Porzingis was inevitable, but it's become obvious the Knicks have not frozen him out. He struggled to find his spots against Houston, but had no such issues tonight, as the Knicks got him involved early in all kinds of offensive sets. He also continues to make plays out of routine offense thanks to his unicorn skillset -- here, he fades off a standard elbow screen after reading his defender helping off. We saw this a bunch of times in preseason, and it's difficult to defend due to KP's incredibly unique skills.
Because of the defensive play, New York was able to get into early offense pretty easily -- the Knicks did not run much Triangle, and both offensive ideologies were effective against a limited Bulls defense that will probably finish in the lower half of the league. We did get another glimpse of the modified Blind Pig set out of the Triangle playbook, showing that Hornacek has had free reign to make modifications to the offense as needed.
Again the Knicks focused on getting Courtney Lee going early, much like the Clippers do for JJ Redick over in LA. We've seen this staggered curl for Lee like four times per game, and it's a very effective play -- Lee can attack off the catch if his defender is trailing, and if his defender goes under the screens, Lee can pop for the catch-and-shoot 3.
New York's offensive coaching staff deserve a lot of credit for helping to secure this win as well. With the Bulls making a final run to stay in the game, the Knicks came out of a timeout needing an easy bucket to stay comfortable. The coaches delivered with an interesting variation on a high pick and roll involving Rose attacking, Noah rolling, and Melo popping after setting a back screen for Noah (screen missed on this one, but the play worked anyway, as Butler vacating the paint to stay on Melo left Noah open for the easy finish).
Right after that, they ran it AGAIN to the other side, and generated an open 3 for Carmelo. Placing stress on a defense increases the odds of a defensive miscommunication, which is exactly what happened on this play. The Bulls overcompensated for the last play, as Gibson and Butler both stay in the paint, and in the confusion Melo pops out to 3. He misses, but this is a good play. I especially love the fact that the Knicks ran it twice in a row -- I'm a big believer in running a play until the other team actually stops it.
Only one problem on offense in this game: the Knicks got extremely stagnant for 3 straight possessions as the Bulls tried to make a desperate run back into the game. The Bulls were not switching, or playing good defense -- these guys were just sort of, well, standing around. It seemed like nobody knew what they were supposed to run in the halfcourt. Watch everyone pointing at different spots, trying to communicate. Melo, Noah, and Rose all point for their teammates to move, while Jennings and Lee lift their arms in a semblance of a shrug.
That's a real dangerous game to play. Against a better team, this kind of stuff just won't fly. It's still early, though. If it's still a problem after 20 games, then we can start to worry. Also, Porzingis didn't play much in the 4th because the lineup on the floor was doing a great job closing out. There was no need to disrupt their flow to get KP back in the game.
Since I really make an effort to remain grounded in reality, and I was never a fan of the Bulls' roster in the first place, it's important to note that Chicago is probably not going to be a good defensive team. Therefore, it's prudent to pump the brakes -- expecting this sort of performance moving forward is probably a bad idea. But this is a good sign nonetheless, and games like this will get the team more comfortable on offense moving forward. It's still too early in the season to draw long-term conclusions.
Much better after being the biggest disappointment through the first 4 games.
The Knicks came in with a smart game plan, and executed it well. That's always a good combination. New York took advantage of Chicago's lack of shooting in all kinds of different ways, especially when it came to Rajon Rondo (-16 on the night) and Robin Lopez.
This is a strategy Knicks fans may recognize from last year -- whenever Robin Lopez is involved in a pick and roll, his defender can sag back in the paint. Lopez doesn't have the passing instincts or touch to make plays on a short roll, and everyone knows it, so he's not getting the ball on the roll unless he's WIDE open. This allows the Knicks bigs to sit back and deny forays to the rim, conceding the midrange pull up, one of the least efficient shots in basketball.
This strategy can backfire when opponents have knockdown shooters off the dribble, but Chicago does not have that. Butler, in particular, had a difficult time creating good looks out of these actions, and even when the shots fell, the Bulls offense remained extremely stagnant -- Knick defenders mostly stayed home on perimeter players, limiting catch-and-shoot opportunities from behind the arc.
Lopez is limited, but Rondo is way worse -- with Rondo on the floor, the Knicks were free to switch a ton of off-ball actions.
The idea behind switching is that, when executed properly, it nullifies most offensive sets -- a pick and roll does nothing if the two defenders involved can switch intelligently. The downside to switching is that it generates mismatches for opponents to attack one-on-one.
When the Knicks switched any action, as they do on this play, they didn't have to worry about mismatches. If Chicago went to the low post to take advantage of a size mismatch, the Knicks sent a double. Normally, this is dangerous, as a quick pass out of the double can leave the rest of the team in a bind -- three guys trying to defend four opponents is a recipe for disaster against good ball movement. But when one (or more) of those guys can't shoot at all...it's a lot easier to double and recover.
The Knicks took full advantage. Here, Jimmy Butler gets Rose one-on-one down low thanks to a switch, but Noah doubles as Butler makes his move. The Knicks rotate well behind Jo, leaving Rajon Rondo wide open on purpose. Rondo can't shoot, of course, so he passes up the easy look and turns the ball over.
The other benefit of switching is that it induces one-on-one play by design. As the Knicks began to switch everything, Chicago was forced to attack individuals, and they just couldn't do it effectively enough to make a stand in the 4th. Their offense became extremely stagnant as a result, which is exactly what the Knicks wanted. After you absorb the entire play here, please focus on Brandon Jennings, who appears to have confused Mirotic by defending him with his back turned. Literally.
Once again - turn 2 of those Wade step-back 3's into bricks, and the Knicks dominate this game. He went 5/5. He will never again do that.
The sole complaint I have on defense is the glass, where the Knicks have had trouble throughout the year. Coming into this game, Chicago had the best offensive and total rebounding percentages in the league, but you need to see better from Joakim Noah and Kristaps Porzingis. The Bulls grabbed an absurd 15 offensive rebounds, which is 15 extra chances to score in the halfcourt. It will be imperative to clean it up and focus on boxing out as the Knicks continue to progress.
A great performance, and a very big win. The November schedule is looking very, very tough at this point, so the Knicks will have to beat the lower tier teams to keep their head above water. The offense looks fine (even good), especially for the starters, but the bench has continued to be a very big problem. Hornacek clearly wants the bench to get going in order to keep minutes low for his injury prone starters, but it's going to be tough with the way the bench has been performing. Staggering will be key, but that limits the time the starters will spend together, and the starters have played quite well so far.
Justin Holiday has been a great two-way asset, and is ironically the exact type of player the Bulls need really badly. Lance Thomas has been solid-to-good on defense, and even if his offense doesn't return to the same level he was at last year, he'll get better. Jennings will always be a bad defensive player. But Kyle O'Quinn has been terrible, Hernangomez hasn't been much better, and the rest of the guys are either bad (Vujacic, N'Dour, Plumlee) or glued to the bench (Baker, Kuzminskas). The Knicks will need to get something out of the other 7 guys on the roster if they want to stay healthy and compete all year.
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