New Year, New Knicks

As the New Year began, the Knicks’ outlook was fairly bleak. Not anymore.

via @nyknicks

The Knicks managed a victory over the Pistons a couple days before the ball dropped, but promptly got smacked by the Bulls on New Years’ Day. They seemed to be in a bit of a funk.

How quickly the narrative can change!

Since then, the Knicks have embarked on a nice little three game winning streak against some tough Eastern Conference opponents, and have shown the fanbase that they have more to offer.

They’ve looked great on both ends of the floor, averaging 105.3 points while surrendering just 96.0 over the three game stretch. An improvement to 18–19 has them sitting only a couple games out of a playoff berth. The way that this team has played, they’ll probably go out there and lose four of their next five and make us all question if what we had just seen was a mirage. Every time they win two, they lose three. Then they’ll win three, and lose two.

Chris Herring talked about this recently, and it really is crazy. They bucked that three game trend recently, but the lack of consistency is still worth noting. If they can continue to play this new brand of basketball, however, they could string the streak into something bigger.

First of all, it’s great to be back. The whole Knicks Wall team is really excited to get back into the swing of things as the holidays are past us. It was a hectic time for all of us. Keep an eye out for some great content coming up in the next few days.

Moving on, how fun has this team been to watch the last few games? Seriously, it’s been a blast. Robin Lopez is coming into his own, Carmelo Anthony has been facilitating and scoring somewhat efficiently, and Afflalo has been en fuego.

The starters have really been firing on all cylinders. The coolest thing with all of this is that I genuinely feel like Melo likes these guys. That’s why he’s been willing to give up the ball in situations where he previously would not have been willing to relinquish control.

Him and Afflalo have always been buddies. RoLo is hilarious. Melo seems to enjoy the idea of taking Kristaps under his wing. Jose Calderon has been a beloved teammate for his entire career. Galloway, O’Quinn, Lance Thomas, Grant. These are all guys that have positive reputations across the league.

I commend Phil for not only improving the team talent wise, but surrounding Melo with guys that harbor a good team environment. Looking back, it’s insane to think about the egos that personified the early 2010’s Knicks. Between J.R., Shump, Chandler, Amar’e, and Melo, wow. A lot of ego there.

I’m not a big fan of speculating about the relationships that athletes have with each other, because we only know what we can see. So much goes on behind the scenes. But I can safely say that the team this year is fun and I think that they actively enjoy playing with each other.

A big positive that Derek Fisher has incorporated into the offense is throwing Kristaps in there as the backup center in lineups run by the second unit. I absolutely LOVE that he has done more of this. Yes, Kristaps, I feel the same way when you are the centerpiece of the offense for stretches:

Putting Porzingis at the center spot opens up the floor, and allows the Knicks to get away from the Triangle for a bit. As a noted critic of the system, I like when the Knicks mix it up and throw some pick and roll stuff at opposing teams. Since the Triangle is so predicated on set plays and specific sequencing, teams can plan against it and predict what is coming. Here’s a couple of quick sets that proved to be effective over the last couple games:

A quick slip screen from Porzingis makes the guy with a 9.5 assist ratio look like Rondo. As far as the other two clips go, defenders drop back on Grant constantly because they know his shot is his biggest weakness. They dare him to shoot. They double dog dare him. They triple dog dare him with a cherry on top. You know what all of this daring does? Oh, I don’t know, just leaves Kristaps open at his FAVORITE SPOT ON THE FLOOR. He loves threes from the top of the key, and while his efficiency from the spot has dropped, he continues to gravitate there. Both of these plays show how work within the Triangle can create more opportunities for Porzingis and Grant alike. Aspects of the Triangle are still involved, but throw in a quick pick and roll, and the floor opens up for shooters. Big men don’t want to go out to the three point line, but shoving Kristaps at the 5 forces them to make the journey.

After the first win against the Hawks on Sunday, Jerian Grant made a comment about the Knicks’ escapades at the opposing hoop: “The offense we run, some teams are starting to read what we’re doing. So to change things up a bit to make me more comfortable, I think it helps us out.” (You can find this quote and more about Grant/Porzingis in this article by the aforementioned Chris Herring).

That’s the beauty of Grant vs. Calderon, the backups vs. the starters. Grant and Calderon are essentially the opposite player. Calderon is a knockdown shooter that couldn’t get to the rim even if he was promised a night with Penelope Cruz upon arriving.

Grant gets to the rim at will, yet can’t seem to find his shot on a consistent basis. Having this juxtaposition gives the opposing defenses different flavors of offense and keeps them on their heels. People still give Calderon a lot of hate, and I can’t be too critical of the points that these people make. They’re valid. His shortcomings are obvious. Honestly, though, when he shoots, I expect it to go in. 100% of the time. When he lines up a jumper, that ball is going through the hoop in my mind. I’m shocked if it doesn’t hit the bottom of the net. I hear you, haters, but don’t forget the positives that this man brings to the floor.

Grant has been getting the second unit out in transition, which he absolutely should be doing. A lineup of Grant, Galloway, Thomas, Williams, and Porzingis can blitz fools on opposing second units up the floor. Check out how easily Grant can finish over and around defenders:

Getting out in transition has been a problem for the Knicks, as they are last in the league with only 8.2 points in transition per game. Calderon obviously never pushes the pace, and since he sees the most minutes at point guard, it makes sense that this number is low. It’s not a bad thing that the Knicks don’t push the pace, but doing so can mix up the offense, just as getting out of the Triangle for a bit to focus on some pick and roll action does. As long as Grant keeps being aggressive and his minutes solidify, we could see this figure go up.

Derrick Williams is also a complete menace in the open court. The dude is SO athletic. He’s another guy that has seen his role clearly carved out over the last several games, and he has responded well. Fish has especially liked his effort on defense. If you’re as athletic as Williams is, there is no reason you shouldn’t at least be a competent defender. Offensively over the last 13 games, he’s averaging a little more than 10 points in just 17.7 minutes. He can flat out score, especially in transition and around the rim. He needs to stop shooting threes, though. Mr. Williams, please read:

Derrick, buddy, you’re endearing yourself to Knicks fans.
We’re starting to like you and your insistence upon committing assault on rims at least once every game. We are even coming around on your Cheetos based hairdo. But, uhm, YOU CAN’T MAKE THREES. I know you make one every once and while, and you think that means you have the green light from deep. Trust me though, just bring it to a halt. It’s the Josh Smith syndrome, man. You’re better than that. Keep it up though, cheesehead. There’s a 57% chance I’ve been calling you cheesy all year instead of Derrick.
Matthew Thomas Spendley and All Knick Fans

The Knicks get the Spurs in San Antonio later tonight, where the Spurs have not lost this season. They haven’t lost in San Antonio in a regular season game since March 2015. It’s a toughie. Let’s just hope to see some positive signs, see the Knicks continue to do the same things that they have been doing during this mini winning streak, and move on to Milwaukee.

via @derekfisher