A deep dive into the film and numbers for the Knicks third game of the season against the Detroit Pistons.
This was a VERY winnable game.
Against a Detroit team missing their second most important player in Reggie Jackson, the Knicks had an opportunity to steal one in Detroit. This is a game playoff teams win. The opportunity was there, even after a dismal opening half on the defensive end. And the Knicks blew it.
Despite a generally bad showing for the first 42 minutes, the Knicks cut the lead to 5 with 5:30 left to play. At that point, it was all downhill, all thanks to some seriously atrocious offense when they needed it the most. The defense actually wasn't too much of a problem after a porous first half; Detroit was basically shut down after the break, thanks to a solid gameplan, some regression to the mean, and strong execution (outside of KP, Jennings, and O'Quinn -- more on that later).
The Knicks made a point to shoot themselves in the foot as well, putting themselves on the losing end of almost every single "swing play" in this game. A swing play is when one action, usually bad, causes a major swing in the flow of the game. Here's a perfect example, where Joakim Noah tries to save the ball but instead ends up gifting the Pistons 3 points.
I counted 4 such plays in this one, including one instance where Porzingis had a Stanley Johnson airball land directly in his hands, only for him to drop it. Jon Leuer grabbed it instead, and put it in for an easy layup. In the most blatant example, Melo gave up a layup to Marcus Morris in an isolation scenario and followed it up with a terrible shot to try and get back at him. The early shot clock brick led to a long rebound, which allowed the Pistons to run out and get another bucket. Assuming the Knicks normal offense gained about 1 point per possession, the entire sequence was a 5 point swing in itself.
Combined with 10 offensive points in the 4th quarter, it was clear that the Knicks shot themselves in the foot. After a Rose bucket and drawn charge late in the game, the Knicks were down 89-94 with possession of the ball and five and a half minutes left. They did not score another field goal, and lost 89-102.
My apologies for the quality of the GIFs, but you'll have to take it up with the NBA, who won't allow me to access the actual game film on League Pass (even though it was two days ago and I paid $200 for this exact purpose).
Not great. New York shot 40.7% from the field, and only managed to conjure up 32 points in the paint. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was great defensively for Detroit, but the rest of their defensive personnel is not impressive, and the Knicks were slow and disjointed once again after a fairly good showing against Memphis.
Derrick Rose was fairly effective, but it's become obvious that it's going to be tough for Rose to score efficiently considering his current skillset. He's been getting a tough whistle for years (which drives me crazy after watching the other big-time small man, Isaiah Thomas, get free throws for jumping into dudes), so expecting that to change is probably a bad idea. We all know he can't shoot 3's. Rose is still a huge upgrade over Jose Calderon, but he plays at top speed at all times, which can be bad. He needs to make an effort to slow down and play with poise, and I'm not too confident that he will be able to do so considering his career up to this point.
Here's a good example. If Rose had slowed himself down after making a nice move off the dribble, he may have noticed that Ish Smith and Tobias Harris were both giving him their undivided attention. Of course, this means Porzingis is wide open behind the arc. Rose should have changed pace right after beating Harris off the dribble, forcing the defense to commit in one way or another. Give CP3 this same opportunity, and the Knicks get a bucket one way or another. Rose was able to trigger the first step for breaking down a defense (drawing multiple defenders), but didn't make the correct decisions in order to have that commitment pay off.
Rose has been better about kicking the ball out since the opener, but he's erratic, and his jump passes are the embodiment of this. He's kept his turnovers in check since the Cleveland game, which is obviously a good thing, but his jump passes REALLY hurt when they are inaccurate. Again he draws three defenders, and again the Knicks get nothing out of it. He's not even looking at Lance Thomas when he makes this pass.
These plays are even more baffling when you consider that he passed up open shots at the rim in order to kick the ball out. His decision making off the dribble is definitely the biggest concern for the Knicks offensively. If he can't get settled, the Knicks are probably screwed, and his bank account won't be too happy, either.
The good news is that he's been pretty effective scoring inside of 16 feet, and his midrange pull up looks pretty good. That's just not enough for a starting point guard, though. Rose has all the physical ability to keep this offense humming, but he needs to get his mental game on the same level, because his backup hasn't been doing much better.
Brandon Jennings actually put together a nice box score for once (5/10 for 12, 2/4 from 3, 3 ast, 2 reb, 0 TO) but his actual impact was a LOT worse than those numbers imply. He had a -12 on the night, and it's pretty obvious why. His decision making on offense is still bad, his defense might be the worst on the team (and that's really saying something), and some of the plays that look good are actually not ideal.
For example, Jennings hit his first pull-up trey, but even that play was undermined by bad decision making.
Look at Justin Holiday. He's wide open for a catch-and-shoot 3, which he has been hitting at a good clip all season. Brandon Jennings has been shooting literally 0% on pull-up 3's so far this year. The shot went in, but this is not a good play. That's why I wasn't surprised when Jennings wasted a 5 on 4 offensive possession in order to chuck up the same shot about 30 seconds later.
Some of Jennings struggles are a bit more subtle as well. He'll get a step on his defender as he attacks the rim, but instead of pressuring the defense, he'll pull back and allow his defender to reset. Jennings also likes to do this (extremely annoying) thing where he makes the correct pass half a second too late, giving the defense extra time to recover and turn a potentially wide open look into a contested look.
If Jennings makes that pass off two dribbles instead of three, Leuer has to deal with a significantly higher degree of difficulty on his closeout. Whether or not Lance's shot is falling is irrelevant; hitting him late is not helping. This should have been a wide open catch and shoot 3. Pause the video right as Jennings is about to take his third dribble and watch Jon Leuer's momentum; this is a very subtle but very common error for Jennings.
As for the rest of the starters: Carmelo looked great, and despite one very obvious two-way gaffe in the late second quarter, he was a consistent force on offense for most of the game. Before everything fell apart late, he was shooting within the flow of the offense and picked his spots for isolations well. At one point in the 3rd quarter, he was 7/11 with 22 points, but the Knicks offensive execution down the stretch was horrible, so it shouldn't have been a surprise that he started taking bad shots.
Porzingis had himself a nice 3rd quarter after a dismal start, but opponents have been catching onto his tendencies. He'll need to really establish his catch-and-shoot jumper moving forward, because defenders are playing him as if he's going to pump fake and drive every single time. With under 10 seconds on the shot clock, he needs to take those shots to make opponents realize that they must contest his jumper. If he can do that, it'll open up his off-the-dribble game.
Noah continued his remarkable playmaking as a big man. If we could copy and paste Noah's passing instincts into Brandon Jennings, we would have an actual playmaking guard. Noah's passes are simple and effective, and he still leads the Knicks in net rating despite also leading the Knicks in ugly ass plays per game.
This bench is bad. The only guys with scoring chops can't play a lick of defense (O'Quinn, Hernangomez, Jennings, Kuzminskas), and of the theoretical two-way players, only Holiday has been playing well offensively. Lance Thomas has to be leading the league in in-and-out shot ratio at this point, and I am willing to bet he won't be this bad on offense all year. Even when Thomas gets his touch back on offense, though, the Knicks will have exactly two guys off the bench who can play both ends of the floor, and that is a very bad look.
It wasn't as bad as it looked.
Jeff Hornacek clearly game planned to keep Drummond in check on the offensive glass; Joakim Noah and KP were extremely reluctant to leave Drummond to help on other players, and the entire team made a concerted effort to constantly knock Drummond out of position when they ended up near him on defense. It worked pretty well; Drummond only had 2 offensive rebounds, and the rest of his offense came from an array of questionably effective post moves. I don't think he got a single ally-oop dunk. He was the only Pistons starter with less than 10 points.
Derrick Rose and the coaching staff also deserve credit (albeit very little, because it was the most obvious adjustment in the world) for constantly ducking under screens for Ish Smith. Rose mostly kept him away from the juicy part of the paint, forcing him into long jumpers, and Smith finished 5-14 from the field with 10 points.
The first half was the real problem, as Detroit finished with 64 points, and the issues there were pretty straightforward. The transition defense was terrible (crossmatches and miscommunications led to missed assignments and at least 8 Detroit points), and the perimeter defense was equally terrible. Porzingis continues to struggle guarding rangy wings with shooting and ball handling, and it's become a real problem. Even worse, with Porzingis defending on the perimeter, the Knicks interior defense suffers as well.
Besides that, it was actually OK. Marcus Morris was impossibly hot in the first half despite mostly good defense from Melo (outside of one very bad sequence) and Lance Thomas, and he regressed to the mean after the break. Caldwell-Pope broke out of his slump, because of course he did, draining 4 of his 6 looks from beyond the arc after shooting 15% up to that point (most of which came in transition). The Pistons bench was mostly neutered completely. A lot of credit has to go to Lance Thomas, who played a fantastic defensive game despite struggling on offense.
My defensive personnel concerns through 3 games, in no particular order: Kristaps, Jennings, O'Quinn, Melo, and Hernangomez.
Hornacek tried some interesting stuff. The Pistons, despite their performance in this one, are actually a pretty bad jump shooting team, so Hornacek opted to throw in a random 3-2 zone to try and goad the Pistons into chucking some bricks. Unfortunately, Tobias Harris drained his first look, and the Knicks did not try it again. I like the gamble, though -- at that point, the Knicks had been unable to generate stops, and random zone defenses have thrown opponents for a loop fairly often. The Grizzlies tried a similar tactic on Saturday, and Rick Carlisle has been known to do the same.
We saw a new Triangle set as well; this is a modification on the standard Blind Pig action.
Instead of the typical two-man game with Lee and Melo, Joakim Noah comes across to set a ball screen for Melo, who has yet to take his dribble. This generates a good shot, and Drummonds apparent fear to leave the paint makes it even easier.
Hornacek also adjusted the rotations. We saw an all bench lineup for a short stretch in the 1st half, but it was banished to the netherworld after falling flat once again. Hornacek also opted to keep Kyle O'Quinn on the bench in the second half -- another good decision, because O'Quinn was absolute trash in his limited minutes (don't let his blocks fool you, he has no clue what he's doing on defense). Hernangomez was not better, but there's at least an element of accountability here.
The Knicks also tried to use Rose in the pinch post at one point, which was...interesting. It didn't really work, but I like the creativity here, and I think it bodes well for Hornacek's future. Trying and failing is better than not trying at all -- too many coaches don't have the balls to try something like that.
When it comes to Hornacek, it is very important to remember that he doesn't have much to work with at this point in time. There are very few consistent two way players on this roster at this point, and too many bench guys are unplayable at the moment. There's not much he can do.
I'm behind on these, so the Knicks already played Houston, which was a predictable blowout. No effort, no pride, no competitiveness. That kind of play pisses me off, and I will not be reviewing that game, as I am not sinking 5 hours of time into a game that will inevitably get me angry.
Next game is Friday @ the Chicago Bulls, which will obviously be a homecoming for Rose and Noah. Chicago has been hot out the gate, but I'm not convinced they are a good team just yet. The Knicks have played four probable playoff teams so far, with 10 new players, so don't get too down on them just yet. I expected a blowout against Houston, but I do not expect one against Chicago, even though it's not a great matchup.
We'll have a much better feel for this team in a couple more weeks.