By John Schmeelk
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The Knicks had one of their worst losses of the season Wednesday night against the Chicago Bulls. They fell back to three games under .500 after losing in their own building to a team with one of the worst records in the league. With a seven-game road trip starting next week, games like Wednesday’s are must wins. It was a loss that should have showed the Knicks’ front office and coach everything that ails their team.
Do As Hoiberg Does
Coach Jeff Hornacek should watch tape of how the Bulls got Lauri Markkanen so many open shots. If you didn’t watch the game, I’ll summarize simply: Very few, if any, came with Markkanen going one-on-one with someone after catching the ball more than 15 feet away from the basket. The Bulls let him screen in the pick-and-roll. Teammates screened for him off the ball to get him open looks. It is exactly what Hornacek should be doing for Kristaps Porzingis off the ball to get him easier shots.
Instead, Porzingis continually catches the ball 15-plus feet away from the basket and is asked to score in isolation. The result is usually a tough contested, midrange jump shot that doesn’t have a great chance of falling. The most frustrating part of it is that Hornacek has seen how much more efficient Porzingis can be if used right. At the end of regulation and one of the overtime periods Wednesday, Hornacek got Porzingis a dunk and an open 3 by setting up good off-ball action. Porzingis also got a dunk off a pass from Jarrett Jack in a high screen-and-roll in overtime. Those things don’t happen enough. Until they do, Porzingis’ shooting percentage will continue to plummet toward 40 percent.
It is important to note that this isn’t just on the coach. When Porzingis does get the chance to set a screen, he needs to set better ones. Too many times he doesn’t make enough contact with the defender. If defenses switch, Porzingis is also too willing to catch it 15 feet away in a post-up mismatch, rather than dive to the basket to get an easier shot.
Playing Big Is A Bad Idea
Hornacek had teased the possibility of playing big at the end of games more. So it shouldn’t have been a surprise when we saw Michael Beasley, Porzingis and either Kyle O’Quinn or Enes Kanter out there together. Hornacek could only stick with Kanter on the floor with Beasley and Jack for so long for defensive reasons, but he went right to O’Quinn instead. O’Quinn struggled in both overtime periods.
It worked for a few possessions because Beasley got to post up an undersized Justin Holiday at small forward, but when Hoiberg went with Christian Nwamba instead, the mismatch was gone. Hornacek stayed with the lineup anyway despite the other issues it causes.
Playing Beasley at small forward forces him to cover wing players far away from the basket, where he often gets lost and allows open 3s. Hornacek also had Porzingis on Markkanen for most of the game, which either pulls him away from the basket, where he can’t protect the rim, or leaves Markkanen open when Porzingis does help.
Take The 3!
The Knicks and Bulls both shot 45.5 percent from 3-point land, but the Bulls took 33 of those shots compared to just 22 for the Knicks. The Knicks do not shoot enough 3s. Part of that equation is Tim Hardaway Jr.’s absence and the Knicks point guards not being prolific 3-point shooters (or being able to draw the D and kick out for open 3s), but the other part is the coaching. Too many plays are run to set up 2-point shots in the midrange rather than 3s. The Knicks are 18th in the league in 3-point percentage (35.8 percent), yet they shoot fewer 3s per game (21.2) than any other team in basketball. It’s very difficult to win consistently in the NBA when you are taking such few 3-pointers.
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