By John Schmeelk
» More Columns
The Knicks started their stretch of 16 of 20 games on the road in the worst possible way.
They lost Wednesday to team they are more talented than and one they led comfortably for most of the night. It would be hard to imagine a more deflating way to start a stretch of games that will define this season.
The Knicks executed poorly and Jeff Hornacek did them no favors down the stretch against the Chicago Bulls. The following is a fair sampling of what went wrong in the fourth quarter:
— Hornacek was correct in his assessment that Jarret Jack would have issues with the Bulls’ athletic point guards, so he went with Frank Ntilikina down the stretch. The problem was that he went to Ntilikina with 6:46 left in the third and made him play the rest of the game. Asking a player to play 19 straight minutes, especially when the final few come in crunch time when you want the player at his best, isn’t good player management. It would have been easy to give Ntilikina a quick blow to start the fourth.
— There were few imaginative sets at the end of the game. Hornacek (wisely) matched Fred Hoiberg by going small with Kristaps Porzingis at center. Hornacek then for some odd reason did not try to use Porzingis in the pick and roll, instead using Lance Thomas as a screener for Ntilikina. The Bulls were switching screens, but the Knicks could have still run the set to get a mismatch for Porzingis, feed him in the post, and then find an open shot if the Bulls double-teamed. They did get Porzingis a decent look on one post-up, but otherwise possessions deteriorated quickly and ended in poor shots.
— Lance Thomas checked into the game with 3:38 remaining and the Knicks scored only one point on a Jarret Jack free throw the rest of the way. What followed was mostly awful. There was the aforementioned Porzingis turnaround fadeaway from 16 feet. Ntilikina took two contested low-percentage shots in the lane after plays broke down. Doug McDermott turned it over once. Courtney Lee missed a 21-foot step back as the shot clock expired. Jack only got to the line because of an ill-advised foul by the Bulls. The offense was a disorganized mess.
— The final possession was no better. For some reason Hornacek had Michael Beasley inbounding the ball, the same player that was called for a five-second violation in the prior game. He is not a good passer nor is he a good decision maker. Enes Kanter was on the floor despite the fact that the Knicks needed to put up a 3-pointer. Then Hornacek ran a play for Doug McDermott after a screen from Kanter, instead of getting the ball to Porzingis, his 7-foot-3 3-point shooter who can see over the defense and let it fly over pretty much everyone in the league. The play turned into an open 3-point attempt for, wait for it, Kanter.
If the Knicks want to stay afloat during this road trip games like Wednesday’s are ones they must win. The head coach and players need to figure out a way score points and execute late in the fourth quarter. The best way to do that is to put your best player in position to get the easiest shots possible. The way you do that is to use Porzingis as a screener in the pick and roll.
The attention he draws will either open up lanes for whichever guard is handling the ball, or get Porzingis shots crashing to the basket or spotting up on the perimeter. It’s a very difficult play for defenders to guard, especially when Porzingis is playing center, like he was at the end of the game against the Bulls. It should be the Knicks go-to play at the end of the games. It’s too easy for teams to neutralize a Porzingis post up, either with physical play that won’t get called a foul or with double teams.
If the coaching staff doesn’t trust Ntilikina to run those plays yet (they should), Lee, Jack or eventually Tim Hardaway Jr. should handle the ball in those situations. It’s a simple answer for a simple problem. Until the Knicks do it, they will have trouble winning any of the road games that are close in the fourth quarter.
— Kanter gets a lot of his points “big-boying” people on the offensive glass. He uses his strength to push guys around to get position and create second-chance opportunities. On Wednesday night, Robin Lopez would have none of it. Kanter had just one offensive rebound and four points.
— Jerian Grant has turned into a solid NBA point guard. He dished out six assists in only 16 minutes on Wednesday and has improved his jump shot. The Knicks could have him as a young point guard on their roster with Ntilikina, along with Lopez, if not for the ill-conceived trade for Derrick Rose two summers ago. The Knicks would also not be plagued by the onerous Joakim Noah contract. It’s an awful trade that keeps on taking.
For everything Knicks, Giants, and the world of sports, follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk