Toeing the Line
The Knicks will need to improve their three point shooting if they want to be a winning club.
The Knicks have not shot the ball incredibly well this year. They are shooting 42% from the field, which stands at 27th in the NBA. Their high volume shooters, namely Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis, haven’t hit at an efficient clip.
Melo is shooting under 41%, and considering that his career percentage exceeds 45%, it’s reasonable to think that he’ll get that up a couple points in the near future. Porzingis has already seen his percentages improve dramatically, and he now sports a respectable 43.2% from the field. You can blame poor shot selection, a lack of spacing, the Triangle, or any other combination of factors for the lack of efficiency. Save it for another day. What I want to focus on is this team’s forays beyond the arc.
I shouldn’t need to explain to you how important the three point shot is in today’s NBA. The best team in the league (NBA history?) shoots the most threes, while the reigning MVP is the most proficient three point shooter the league has ever seen. Stephen Curry is making 5.1 threes per game. Take a moment to really consider this. If Curry only made and attempted threes, he would average 15.3 points, which would put him comfortably as the 53rd highest scorer in the NBA.
The damage that can be done from that thin, seemingly inconsequential black line has become more and more recognized by people within the league. The numbers show that they love a classic Mike Breen “bang” more and more as the years go on.
In 1979–80, the first year that the NBA instituted the three point line, teams attempted 2.8 per game (about 3% of all total FG attempts). Today, teams attempt 23.8 per game (28%). And this number will continue rising. Even just 10 years ago, teams only attempted 16 per game (20%).
Coaches run sets to get their three point shooters open, and players that can shoot are instantly more valuable. Let’s take a look at how the Knicks stack up. The average percentage for a player beyond the arc over the last five years has been 35.3%. Two percentage points will be the cutoff, and a player must have attempted at least 50 threes in their career to qualify.
- ABOVE AVERAGE: Jose Calderon (41.1%), Arron Afflalo (38.5%), Langston Galloway (37.4%)
- AVERAGE: Sasha Vujacic (36.5%), Carmelo Anthony (34.5%)
- BELOW AVERAGE: Kristaps Porzingis (32.7%), Lance Thomas (32.0%), Derrick Williams (30.0%), Cleanthony Early (26.1%), Kyle O’Quinn (22.6%)
Porzingis will probably end up in that middle category by the time this season is all said and done, so don’t put too much stock into him being in the “below average” field. Anyways, you look at that and say “Hey, 4 out of the 5 Knicks’ starters can shoot at an average or better clip from beyond the arc!” That’s true! They haven’t really been knocking down their threes with a ton of efficiency though, shooting 33% as a team. I think you’ll see a small uptick in this number as Melo settles in, so I would expect the final figure to fall in the 34–35% range.
Here’s the problem: They don’t shoot that many threes (21.8 per game, 23rd in the league). A major reason why is because they do not break down the defense through dribble penetration. They are last in the league in drives to the basket. I talked about that here, so I won’t go too much into detail with that. Another reason why is the offense that they play in. As I and many others have talked about tirelessly, the Triangle is built upon teamwork and midrange shots. It’s not incredibly conducive to the three pointer. It is not built to create looks from three, and a three pointer is almost a byproduct that the system spits out when it malfunctions. It is a secondary option; Buzz Aldrin and the late 80’s Buffalo Bills of the system, if you will. When the Knicks do create looks from deep and knock them down, they win.
The first? The Knicks’ three point shooting percentage in wins.
The second? The Knicks’ three point shooting percentage in losses.
In all honesty, I’m not a big fan of the Triangle. I think it’s a system that can definitely work, but there are simply better offenses to run. I sit up at night thinking about the possibilities of a spread pick and roll offense with Porzingis and Carmelo at the helm. The threat that Porzingis would present coming off of the screen… Will he shoot the three? Will he drive? Will he dunk on you? Will he talk trash to Nets fans? All are options that make my toes tingle. You know how sometimes you can’t sleep because that you can’t stop thinking about that one person? That’s me with Kristaps.
…Okay, enough of that.
Melo is a good pick and roll player, but he simply doesn’t run it that much. Thankfully, the team has incorporated more pick and roll sets into the offense, opening it up a bit. I don’t think it will happen, but I think taking the ball out of Calderon’s hands and putting it in Melo’s more to run the offense would be intriguing. He gets a bad reputation as a selfish player, but I think any Knicks fan knows this isn’t true. It’s a pipe dream, but damn, if it wouldn’t be awesome to watch. I think that type of offense would open up the floor and allow some of these stronger three point shooters to get some decent looks. There is a direct correlation between a Knicks win and an above average three point percentage. Keep an eye out for that moving forward.
Zach Lowe did an awesome piece on the Knicks, you can read that here. I learned a lot about this team from reading that piece, and I strongly suggest you do the same. You’ll be surprised at the things you didn’t know because you weren’t watching close enough.
Lowe also did a podcast with the Wall Street Journal’s Chris Herring, which you can listen to here. Really cool stuff from two incredible basketball minds.
Battle of the Boroughs tonight as the Knicks try to get back to .500. I feel like they’ll be toeing that line all year, so this is absolutely not the last time they’ll be pushing for the ultimate benchmark of mediocrity. Game tips off at 7 at the Garden.