Three days after an early-week disaster that saw the New York Knicks virtually wave away their playoff hopes, we’re back again, crossing our fingers. After blowing a 17-point lead against the Cleveland Cavaliers and then puking all over the court in a blowout loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, it seemed the Knicks were done. But as the Atlanta Hawks continue to squander their own playoff hopes (perhaps purposely), the Knicks sit just 1.5 games out of a playoff spot.
This, of course, makes each of the Knicks’ remaining 10 games must-wins. Doing that is tricky, however, because a.) the Knicks aren’t a good team, and b.) the Knicks play several playoff teams over the remainder of their season. If the Knicks are to sneak into the playoffs (they’ve got to go at least 6-4 over the final 10, right?), winning these games will happen on one end of the floor: the offense.
Though the Knicks have been an unmitigated disaster on the defensive end, they’ve quietly jacked up their production on the offensive end. They’re currently 10th in the NBA in offensive rating, and since the start of March, they’re 1st in offensive rating, averaging a whopping 112 points per 100 possessions. Some of this offensive resurgence has come from individuals; Carmelo Anthony has continued his torrid scoring, J.R. Smith is slowly returning to normal, and Amar’e Stoudemire has had a resurgence since joining the starting lineup. Some of it has to do with hot shooting, too; the Knicks are 39.4% from beyond the arc during March, seventh best in the NBA.
An interesting crinkle in their offense — one that many would decry — is their use of the midrange jumper. The midrange jumper has come under fire in recent years (though not as much as the long two) for its inefficiency. The three-pointer is obviously worth more, so its further distance is excused, and shots at the rim are much easier than midrange jumpshots, so modern offenses have strayed away from them.
The Knicks are not one of those teams. For the season, the Knicks are fourth in the NBA in attempted mid-range jumpers and they’re fifth in percentage, knocking down 41.6% of their attempts. In March, the league’s hottest offense (the Knicks!) are third in mid-range FG% at a solid 43.5%. It’s not a shot an offense should base their attack on, but the Knicks are utilizing it well, hitting it at a solid clip.
A lot of it depends on a team’s personnel. When looking at some of the other league leaders in attempted mid-range jumpers, some good teams pop up, like the Portland Trailblazers, Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Clippers, and Dallas Mavericks. All of those teams have viable weapons from the mid-range — LaMarcus Aldridge, David West, Blake Griffin, Dirk Nowitzki, to name a few.
The Knicks possess similar weapons in Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire. According to Carmelo Anthony’s shot chart on NBA.com, he’s taken 689 shots from within the arc, outside of the paint this season, knocking them down at a 44.4% clip. In the month of March, he’s been even hotter, going 69-146 from mid-range or 47%. Amar’e Stoudemire’s hot March has seen him go 26-57 from mid-range, good for 45.6%.
Both Anthony and Stoudemire have the ability to face up from mid-range and simply knock down a shot over a defender, but they both succeed in the pick-and-pop, too (Stoudemire does the latter far more than Anthony). And, with the attention defenders must give to their mid-range accuracy, it opens up the opportunity for drives to the rim on those face-ups, or even open three-point opportunities as a defense keys in on them.
Other Knicks generally shoot well from here, too. Although he’s only taken 10 attempts in March, Iman Shumpert has shot 50% from mid-range. Raymond Felton, while a generally lackluster shooter in general, can make a huge impact if he can knock down the mid-range shot coming off the pick-and-roll. Opponents tend to go under screens when Felton operates in the pick-and-roll, granting him the jumper and denying the roll. If Felton can knock down a few attempts, it opens up the rest of the offense.
It’s not a particularly commendable approach to an offense, especially given the aforementioned awareness of the inefficiency of the shot, but the Knicks are making it work. As mentioned, if they hope to win enough games to sneak into the playoffs, their offense will have to remain piping hot. If Anthony and Stoudemire, and the rest of the Knicks can continue to shoot the ball well from the mid-range, it gives them the chance to simply out-gun their opponents and possibly make it to the postseason.
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