Prior to Wednesday’s game, we ran a roundtable discussion with your very own Kevin McElroy, as well as HawksHoop’s Bo Churney and Cole Patty. Most of what we covered in that conversation is still germane to tonight’s game, so we encourage you to check that out for some background information that will inform much of what is discussed below.
Since the roundtable was posted on Wednesday morning, each team has played two games – they squared off against each other Wednesday night (obviously), the Knicks fell to Houston on Thursday, and the Hawks beat Philadelphia in Atlanta last night. As if often the case in the NBA, especially with two teams either battling injuries or seeing players return from injuries, some things have changed over the last three days.
Lou Williams and Gustavo Ayon Return
The Hawks got two key rotation players back Friday night – Lou Williams played in his first game since tearing his ACL in January, and Gustavo Ayon returned from his pre-season shoulder injury. Ayon has been active for a week but saw his first action last night. Williams was on a strict minutes limit, but looked good in his 16 minutes of action. Along with Jeff Teague and Dennis Schröder, he gives Atlanta another quick ball-handler to attack New York’s suspect pick-and-roll defense.
Andrea Bargnani: Productive Player
Bargnani is the midst of one of the best stretches of his career, averaging 21 points and six rebounds over his last four games, but most encouragingly, is sporting a True Shooting Percentage of 63.2%. Playing him as a center next to Carmelo Anthony has provided him space in the middle of the floor to get open looks at the basket, and he’s been knocking them down. He even played good defense Thursday night against Houston, containing Dwight Howard very well. He struggled Wednesday against Atlanta however, including this play:
Paul Millsap Off The Bench
The Hawks opted to use Millsap off the bench Friday, his first time coming off the bench since the 2011-2012 season. There was no official reason for the decision, but one possible explanation was that with Lou Williams returning, coach Mike Budenholzer wanted to have a pick-and-roll partner for him on the 2nd unit. Ayon started in Millsap’s place Friday, and if he does again tonight, the Knicks will have a clear speed advantage among the starting units.
Knicks Return to Previous Trends
After opening the season struggling to knock down jump shots and turning the ball over at a high rate, the offense has reverted back to its form from last season in many ways – they’ve combined to shoot 20-for-54 (37%) from three over their last two games, and have turned the ball over just 12 times in 180 possessions (6.6%). The Hawks have had trouble defending the three-point line so far this season, ranking 27th in the league in opponents 3-point accuracy entering Friday’s games.
The Knicks’ defensive struggles over the last two games haven’t been a function of surrendering open shots. In fact, they’ve actually done a good job preventing three-point looks – they held the Hawks for 5-for-24 shooting on threes, the Rockets to just 9-for-28, just 26.9% combined over those two games. The problem the Knicks have had is allowing dribble penetration and then committing fouls as they scramble to recover. On Wednesday night, they consistently allowed Jeff Teague to get to the middle of the floor on pick-and-rolls, and he ended up shooting 14 free throws. The problem became even more of an issue Thursday night – James Harden got to the charity stripe 18 times, and Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons chipped in with six each. If New York wants to solve their defensive issues they need to become better at defending without fouling.