By John Schmeelk
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Amongst a lot of bad losses against bad teams and all the talk about the triangle offense, something has been quietly happening over the Knicks’ last 10 games. The Knicks’ offense is getting better, now ranking 16th in the league in offensive rating.
Over their last five games, the Knicks have the seventh-best offense in the NBA. The Knicks have the best True Shooting Percentage and fourth-best Effective Field Goal Percentage over that stretch.
In their last 10 games, the Knicks rank 11th in offense, including the seventh-best Effective Field Goal Percentage and 11th-best True Shooting Percentage.
Most of those offensive numbers have also come without Knicks starting point guard Jose Calderon. If he stays in the lineup going forward, the offense should be able to hang around the upper single digits in terms of offensive rating in the NBA. It is worth noting that the Knicks have played a stretch of games against opponents that are unlikely to make the playoffs. Whether or not that type of offensive success can be sustained against better teams is a question worth asking.
Chris Herring, The Wall Street Journal’s Knicks beat reporter, wrote a fantastic article wondering whether the Knicks can be a good offensive team based on the lack of three pointers they shoot and pick-and-rolls they run. He could not be more right, and the Knicks would be better if they spaced the floor better, shot more threes and ran more pick-and-rolls with players like Amar’e Stoudemire.
Working within the parameters of the triangle, which focuses more on post play than three-point shooting, better use of Stoudemire could propel the Knicks’ offense into the top 10 permanently. In his 22 minutes per game, Stoudemire is averaging just 8.8 shots per game, less than J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert. Stoudemire is shooting 54 percent from the field, and is the only Knick not named Carmelo Anthony who can create his own shot from the post and the paint. He is also second on the team in free-throw shooting despite limited minutes.
The Knicks love to activate their triangle offense by going into the post to players like Samuel Dalmbert, Jason Smith and Quincy Acy. They are not threats and make simple perfunctory passes that accomplish little. If Stoudemire receives that first pass, whether on the strong or weak side, he can make something happen with the ball.
The triangle also affords the offense the option of running a pick-and-roll on the weak side of their offensive sets, but the team rarely takes that option. Stoudemire is still extremely effective as not just a pick-and-pop guy, but also as one of the best roll men in the NBA. It’s a way to get shots that aren’t mid-range jumpers, which the Knicks take way too many of.
Stoudemire has, much to everyone’s surprise, managed to stay healthy this year, and the Knicks need to take advantage of that. Everyone knows what a disaster he is on the defensive end, and for that reason (and his knees) his minutes must be limited, but only to a point. Stoudemire’s rebounding numbers also suggest that he could play more (perhaps between 25-28 minutes a game) since he has the second-highest rebounding percentage on the team (both offensive and defensive) to Cole Aldrich.
Here’s a fact that most Knicks fans won’t believe: The team’s defense is almost identical when he is on the court as compared to when he’s off (a .4 difference in terms of defensive rating). On offense, meanwhile, Stoudemire has the third-biggest positive offensive impact on the team when he is on the floor, behind only Anthony and the hot-shooting Shumpert. (+1.9 offensive rating on the court vs. off).
In other words, the Knicks’ defense is awful without Stoudemire, and it is awful with Stoudemire. Jason Smith, for example, has a far more negative impact on the team’s defense than Stoudemire does. But their offense is better when he plays, even with him not getting a ton of touches, which needs to change.
With Andrea Bargnani coming back, he can’t take away minutes or touches from Stoudemire. Maybe Stoudemire can’t play many more minutes due to his knees, but that doesn’t mean he should be used more when he is on the floor. No one knows how long Stoudemire will stay healthy, but the Knicks must take advantage of his skills while he is.
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