The New York Knicks are still in the midst of a head coach search that will likely help reshape the form of the team. With Phil Jackson at the helm and James Dolan supposedly ceding control, the Knicks will be headed in a new direction from their relative success over the last three years.
Former head coach Mike Woodson could be criticized for many things during his two-and-a-half-seasons tenure with the Knicks: poor player development, poor defensive philosophies, poor player management. But give credit where credit is due: for two years as the Knicks’ head coach, Woodson helped create efficient, explosive offenses.
In 2012-13, the Knicks ranked third in the league in offensive rating, putting up 108.6 points per 100 possessions, and in this previous season, the Knicks finished 11th in offense rating, averaging 105.4 points per 100 possessions. In fact, if not for a slow start to the season, the Knicks would’ve been one of the most elite offensive teams in the league in 2014. From the All-Star break to the end of the season, New York was sixth in offensive rating, scoring 108.4 points per 100 possessions.
Their offensive success could be pointed to a number of things: dual-point-guard lineups in ’12-’13, Carmelo Anthony at the four both seasons, an abundance of three-point attempts. One common thread was the Woodson and the Knicks’ use of the spread pick-and-roll offense.
The spread pick-and-roll has become a commonly used offense around the NBA. Mike D’Antoni helped encourage it with his Phoenix Suns teams in the mid-00s by playing smaller lineups, complete with a pick-and-roll savvy point guard, shooters to spread the floor, and a big man in the middle to finish around the basket with plenty of space. Lots of teams play variations of it now as it’s proven an efficient system of offense. (Note: not claiming D’Antoni invented this style, just that he helped popularize it).
The Knicks utilized this style with some of the aforementioned aspects — two point guards sharing the floor, Anthony at the power forward, creating good ball movement and spacing to surround the pick-and-roll attack of Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton (or any other guard-big combination).
Phil Jackson has stated that he wants to establish an offensive system with the Knicks, and thus far, it seems to be leaning towards the triangle offense. While Jack and the triangle have had great success, the Knicks don’t necessarily possess all of the players to create a successful triangle offense. Instead, the Knicks should continue to put an emphasis on the pick-and-roll, even if it means blending elements of the triangle.
Besides for running an efficient offense, several of the Knicks thrive in the pick-and-roll. According to Synergy, as a team, the Knicks’ pick-and-roll men averaged 1.05 points per play (ppp) running the play, fifth best in the league.
Additionally, Tyson Chandler and Amar’e Stoudemire both thrived in the PnR as roll men, scoring 1.23 and 1.22 points per play (ppp), eighth and ninth best in the league, respectively. Stoudemire has far more offensive skill than Chandler, but it’s good for Stoudemire to mix in easy baskets with his post-up and face-up game. Even Carmelo Anthony, who utilizes isolations, spot-ups, and pick-and-pops far more often, still averaged 1.05 ppp as the roll man, though he only played the part 2% of the time according to Synergy.
On the ball-handling side of things, the Knicks don’t fare as well, but that’s a testament to how good their roll men are to help make their offense so efficient. Raymond Felton suffered through a miserable 2013-14 campaign, but has proven competent in the pick-and-roll before. His disappointing season is likely a big cause for the Knicks’ recession in offensive efficiency this past year. Pablo Prigioni, while not a scoring threat in the pick-and-roll, still managed .83 ppp, 66th in the league, and shot 51% from beyond the arc. The Knicks are also in the market to improve their back-court. If they can find a way, either through a sign-and-trade or free agency, to acquire a better point guard, they could further improve their offense.
Ideally, in blending both systems, the Knicks would get a point guard capable of spreading the floor, getting to the hoop, and finding big men rolling or shooters on the wings. This, of course, is ideal to most teams, but given the weapons the Knicks possess in spot-up shooters and talented roll men, they’d become an elite offensive team if they could get the right point guard.