Last week when introduced, Phil Jackson said he wanted a team that emphasized sharing the ball, like, the way those famed championship Knicks teams did. Well, based on this year’s numbers Jackson has a lot of work to do.
The Knicks are 26th in assists per game with 20.33. There are two players on the roster who average at least 6 assists per 36 minutes, Raymond Felton (6.5) and Pablo Prigioni (6.3) and the leader in this category; Beno Udrih (6.7) was bought out earlier in the season. The same can be said for assist percentage Only Felton and Prigioni have a percentage above 25% (27.8 and 25.1 respectively) and Udrih had 28.7%.
On the season, when the Knicks have below 20 assists per game they are 7-19 and 22-21 when above. They are 15-11 when over 23 dimes and on this eight game win streak, have been above 23 four times and over 20 six times. While records like 22-21 and 15-11 aren’t great, they’re a whole lot better than the 7-19 clip the Knicks put up when sharing the ball becomes even less a priority than normal.
A winning percentage of .577 (15-11) would have put the Knicks in third in the Eastern Conference and 5.11 (22-21) would have them in 7th. Both are better than the 9th spot they occupy now and four out in the lost column with twelve to play.
Part of the problem is the heavy emphasis on isolations in the Knicks offense, and another part is the free lancing by players such as J.R. Smith but the point guards need to do a better job of creating points with their passes. Raymond Felton is 46th in the NBA in points created off assists per 48 minutes with 20.4. The leader, Chris Paul, averages 34.3.
In fact, Felton, Prigioni, Toure’ Murry, and J.R. Smith are the only Knicks who even have their totals above ten points. The problem with this team has been the same all year long, the ball doesn’t move.
The Knicks have improved their offense to 11th overall in offensive rating, way up from the doldrums of the high 20s they were in earlier in the year but below where they need to be, especially when typically you need a top 10 offense and defense to be a title contender.
Phil might opt to take a wait and see approach to Felton’s trial and get guys off the scrap heap for next year, especially if Carmelo Anthony comes back and is sold on the wait until 2015 plan (the only viable sales pitch Jackson really has at the moment).
In 2015 though Prigioni may be the only point guard on the roster and he will be 39 by then. The team may have to forgo making a splash with a max player and instead trying to get solid production from both point guard and center assuming Tyson Chandler, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Andrea Bargnani all leave for other teams in free agency.
While it’s likely that Jackson wants to address the assist and ball movement problem with the Knicks, it will be fairly difficult to do, at least right away. For many Knicks fans, the first step is bringing Anthony back and if Jackson can do that, it’s up to him and his management team (hopefully not Steve Mills) to figure out how to get a starter level point guard and fill the holes left by the big men all within the salary cap.