The New York Knicks have a plethora of problems, and that’s their biggest problem — there’s so much to fix it almost can’t be done. However, while their offense resembles a depressed cousin of last year’s elite scoring machine, the defense is currently slightly worse, coming in at 26th in the NBA in defensive rating. Per 100 possessions, the Knicks are 104.8 points. The Knicks allow opponents to score 98 points per game on 45% shooting. Those aren’t very good numbers, especially considering the Knicks play at a slower pace than most teams in the league.
Part of the problem is that point guards can have a field day breaking down the Knicks’ defense. The Knicks simply can’t defend point guards. Thus far, the Knicks have faced some pretty talented point guards. Among those include, Ricky Rubio, Kemba Walker, Jeff Teague, Tony Parker, Jeremy Lin, John Wall, Damian Lillard, Chris Paul, and Ty Lawson. In 11 games vs. those point guards (one iffy game from Teague was removed), the Knicks have allowed these opposing point guards to average: 21.3 points on 44.8% shooting, 4.5 rebounds, and 6 assists per game. Here are some NBA players that average similar numbers:
- James Harden: 23 ppg, 44.2% FG, 4.5 rpg, 5.5 apg
- Russell Westbrook: 21.3 ppg, 38.9% FG, 4.7 rpg, 5.5 apg
- Eric Bledsoe: 20.3 ppg, 51% FG, 4.7 rpg, 6.3 apg
- Dwyane Wade: 18.6 ppg, 52.7% FG, 4.8 rpg, 5.5 apg
The point in all of this? Well, basically, it’s tough to win games when the defense allows opposing point guards to play like perennial All-Stars. Of course, Bledsoe hasn’t made an All-Star Game, and Harden’s only been to one, but no team wants to be facing those types of players nights-in and nights-out.
The defensive breakdowns almost always begin with a simple pick or lazy transition defense. Bad positioning or bad pick navigating usually causes either two Knicks to switch men (creating a mismatch), or for a big man to send help to a Knick point guard because the guard is lost on a screen or already trailing his man. When that Knick big man sends help, it either leaves his own big man wide open or another opponent wide open as a third Knick sends help. It sounds complicated, but it really isn’t when watching the games, or for anyone who has ever played team basketball (most NBA players have). Seth Rosenthal of Posting and Toasting detailed the Knicks’ defensive woes himself. It’s a helpful guide to anybody who wants to visualize just how easily the Knicks fall apart.
Back to the main point: allowing point guards free reign creates problems. The Knicks have gotten lucky that teams haven’t exposed the terrible pick-and-roll defense more frequently — this is either out of fatigue, ignorance, or pity. For instance, two examples that come to mind are Jeff Teague and the Hawks and Damian Lillard and the Trailblazers. Both teams got whatever they wanted when the two point guards initiated a pick-and-roll. Teague flew his way to the rim for layups and floaters, and Lillard completely embarrassed the Knicks by literally gliding down the lane for completely open, uncontested dunks. If a team has a speedy point guard with the ability to dribble and jump, they will score against the Knicks.
Furthermore, the inability to guard point guards plays right into opponents’ hands. It creates opening on the perimeter for three-pointers or it allows for easy baskets in the paint. The Knicks weirdly guard the three-point line well as opponents only shoot 32.9% from beyond the arc. In addition, they allow fewer field goal attempts in the restricted area; however, the Knicks allow a very high 62.7% shooting in the restricted area, according to NBA.com/Stats.
The Knicks could try to stop this bleeding, but the effects may be limited. Both Raymond Felton and Beno Udrih have been career-long lousy defenders, and they won’t be fixing up any time soon. Pablo Prigioni is a good team defender and has a positive effect on the Knicks’ defense when he’s on the court, but he doesn’t have the foot speed or strength to contain point guards. The Knicks could turn to Toure’ Murry off the bench, but probably not for long limits as he’s an inexperienced rookie. Iman Shumpert guards point guards well, but it creates a mismatch for the Knicks’ point guards who then have to defend bigger shooting guards.
It won’t get a whole lot better for the Knicks in December as they’ll face Jrue Holiday, Deron Williams, Kyrie Irving, Teague, Wall, and Westbrook, among others.
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