Ten games into the season is too early to draw any long term conclusions, but not short enough to ignore what has happened already. Undoubtedly any team evaluation must begin with the four factors. For those that are new to the site and unfamiliar with them, the four factors are a way to statistically break down how a team performs in certain aspects of the game. These areas, namely shooting, turnovers, rebounding, and free throws, strongly correlate with winning. You can learn more about them at Basketball-Reference, or from the source himself, Dean Oliver.
Despite D’Antoni’s reputation as an offensive-minded coach, it’s the Knicks defense that is leading the team. New York is 11th in defensive efficiency, a huge improvement over last year when they tied for 27th. Breaking that down into their four factors, the Knicks aren’t doing well in getting opponents to miss shots (50.5 eFG, 21st). However they are average or better in forcing turnovers (16.9 to rate, 9th), grabbing rebounds (26.6% reb%, 13th) and giving away free points (23.7 ft/fg, 15th).
I won’t attempt to figure out who individually is responsible for the team’s poor showing with regards to opponent shooting percentage, although this is a considerable improvement over last year’s 29th ranking. Among the public, the big story this year is how New York has become a good shot blocking team. Unfortunately turning back shots hasn’t helped them in the most important aspect of defense, lowering their opponent’s ability to score from the floor.
On the other hand turnovers, fueled by the Knick point guards, is helping them keep opponents at bay. Kleptomaniac Toney Douglas is leading the team with a sizzling 2.8 stl/36, and Raymond Felton is behind him with 1.5 stl/36. When I interviewed Douglas this summer, he insisted that he was “going to be a way better defensive player this year, especially off the ball.” So far, he’s lived up to his claim.
Surprisingly, defensive rebounding is a team strength this year as well. Oddly enough it’s not from the overhauled front court. Amar’e Stoudemire (8.5 reb/36), Ronny Turiaf (5.2 reb/36), and Timofey Mozgov (6.5 reb/36), along with developing youngster Danilo Gallinari (5.4 reb/36) haven’t contributed much in this area. Instead the team has received strong glass work from the smaller spots. Chandler (7.6 reb/36), Fields (7.5 reb/36), and Douglas (5.1) have all been grabbing defensive boards at a substantial rate.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Knicks are feebly ranked 25th. Their only positive attribute is their free throw shooting, fueled by Amar’e Stoudemire (7.7 fta/36) and Danilo Gallinari (6.0 fta/36). Shooting has been a problem, and a good portion of that is tied into poor three point shooting. From downtown the team has gotten killed by Chandler (29.4%, 5.9 3pa/36), Gallo (32.7%, 6.0 3pa/36), and Toney Douglas (28.8%, 7.2 3pa/36). Amar’e also shoulders some of the blame for poor shooting on the floor (46.9% eFG%), despite his strong ability to get to the line. Another counter-intuitive point is that turnovers aren’t singularly hurting the team. Being tied for 18th isn’t awful, rather it’s merely below average. The main offenders here are Amar’e (4.3 to/36) and Mozgov (3.9 to/36).
So what does this all mean? First the Knicks are doing well on defense. If before the season you told me they’d be a stone’s throw from cracking the top 10, I’d be thrilled. It was clear that Walsh’s acquisitions had an eye on the defensive side, and credit D’Antoni here for keeping the team motivated on that end of the floor.
However as much credit as D’Antoni gets for the defense, he shoulders that much blame for the poor state of the offense. His first priority is to fix the three point shooting mess. Why are Gallo and Douglas struggling so much? Is it the situations they are getting the ball, the spots on the floor, or something else? As for Chandler he needs to be shown the red light & have him take the action to the hoop. Heck even seldom used Roger Mason is shooting 9% eFG, and hasn’t made a three all year. New York has looked mechanical running the weave-like plays that D’Antoni features, and the pick & roll has been erratic. There’s obviously something amiss with how the Knicks are playing on offense, and it’s up to the coaching staff to figure out what adjustments need to be made to get the offense clicking.