Knicks 114, Bucks 108
I take it you’re here to read about Toney Douglas?
Tonight, Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups made their Knicks debuts. Both shot poorly from the field (10/25 and 4/12 respectively), but each made key contributions in the fourth quarter as the Knicks held on for a 114-108 win over a Bucks team that is just 8-22 on the road. On most nights this wouldn’t have been good enough, but the Bucks missed enough open looks and made enough telegraphed passes for the Knicks to keep their noses out in front. And Toney Douglas, who…wait this sentence needs it’s own paragraph:
Ahem. And Toney Douglas, who, all of 20 months since the day he was drafted, is now THE LONGEST TENURED NEW YORK KNICK, took care of the rest.
Douglas made all 7 of his two point attempts and 3 of his 5 three point attempts en route to 23 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals in his 29 minutes. Bigger perhaps than any of Douglas’ makes, though, was a full-speed, sprinting, leaping offensive rebound in the final minute that allowed the Knicks to burn an initial 24 seconds off the clock and, ultimately, allowed Carmelo Anthony to knock down an 8-foot jumper and play the role of hero on his first night as a Knick.
But we’re not here to talk much more about Douglas. As soon as news broke that he would be making his debut tonight, the game became about Carmelo Anthony and, to a lesser extent, fellow newbie Chauncey Billups. To the extent that we focused on the incumbent Knicks, we did so with an eye towards how they looked alongside their newer teammates.
‘Melo put up numbers — 27 and 11 in the end — and did well to limit his turnovers (he had two), but his shot was off all night and it was well into the second half before he knocked down a jumper. Once he did he looked far more comfortable, putting up 11 fourth quarter points — the two most important of which came on the tail end of the play detailed above. Melo’s first step and dribble penetration were there — even spectacular on a couple of occasions — and he was able to create plenty of space for himself. But whether it was jetlag, unfamiliar surroundings, or nerves, he just didn’t have his aim. He’ll never be a hugely efficient scorer, but he’s not gonna shoot 40% every night either. He’ll be fine on offense.
Defensively…ouch. It was as bad as advertised. ‘Melo was completely indifferent in switching on even the most straightforward Bucks ball movement, and he consistently floated off of his man to rim-hang and look for rebounds. Let’s hope he was tired and conserving his energy, but it was not an encouraging performance (despite a couple of steals).
Billups was more impressive, though he suffered from the same shooting maladies (4/12) that afflicted his fellow debutante. Chauncey made up for it with a well-rounded game — 21 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds, and only 2 turnovers — and a barrage of late game free throws (12/12) that helped secure the victory. Defensively, he frustrated Brandon Jennings with physicality and got a couple of steals — nothing spectacular but he more or less held his own. He was beaten a couple times by the much quicker Jennings, who would have had a better-looking stat line if not for a few bad misses at the rim.
Amare Stoudemire had a night to forget, seemingly as a result of his determination to make it a night to remember. He looked overenthusiastic all game, consistently shooting too strong, committing needless fouls to the point of disqualification, and ultimately registering his 15th technical of the season. He was, at least, 7 for 7 from the line — the sole highlight in an otherwise uninspiring stat line. He and Chauncey played reasonably well together; hopefully they’ll click much faster than did STAT and Felton, who needed a couple of weeks to get in rhythm back in November. He drew a foul off of one really great entry pass from Anthony as well — the ability of these two to coexist and enhance each other is obviously the rock upon which the Knicks have built their Church and we saw flashes of it tonight, although it will need to get much more consistent.
I don’t want to draw a bunch of conclusions from one game. Instead, I’d like to focus on what I expect from the new-look Knicks and comment on where tonight’s game matched those expectations.
1) Overall: Concerns over the efficacy of the Knicks’ “new” offense are premature and, at least in my opinion, pretty unconvincing. Essentially, the trade combined key pieces of the league’s 1st-rated (Denver) and 7th-rated (Knicks) offenses, while eschewing several of the more defensively competent members of each team (Nene, Afflalo, Anderson, Felton, Chandler). Does every single piece fit perfectly? No. Do I expect this group to make beautiful music from the get-go? Not really. But this will pretty immediately be a well-above-average offense with elite potential depending on how the personnel clicks and whether any additions are made. There’s just too much talent for that not to happen.
Tonight, the Knicks scored 114 points on — by my count — 99 possessions. That’s 115 per 100 possessions. Pre-trade, the Knicks averaged 109.8 per 100. Milwaukee, a strong defensive team, allows just 102.6 points per 100 possessions (5th best in the league). This all happened despite bad nights from the field by the Knicks 3 best players. The offense will be fine.
2) Field Goal Shooting efficiency: The knock against ‘Melo, as even a cursory review of our comment boards will reveal, is that he’s a volume scorer who doesn’t score efficiently. And his eFG% (.474) is not good — it’s actually slightly worse than Raymond Felton’s. Luckily for the Knicks, they’ve added Chauncey Billups, whose .536 eFG% is 34th in the league and 4th among point guards. And they still have the super-efficient Landry Fields, whose .590 mark has him 7th in the NBA and should only increase with better looks. Stoudemire is no slouch, with a .511 eFG% that is comfortably above league average. The trade also means more minutes (and, hopefully, more open looks) for Shawne Williams and Toney Douglas, each of whom has the potential to score with very high efficiency as a spot up shooter. Basically, the Knicks were 9th in the league in this category pre-trade and I would be surprised if they didn’t take a small step forward, although this relies somewhat on the Knicks bench players taking on bigger roles as floor-spacers.
Tonight, the Knicks put up a .550 eFG%, unsustainably high for a full team but certainly a nice first data point.
3) Free Throws: And this is where it could be awesome. There are 71 players in the NBA who play 30+ minutes per game and have usage rates above 20%. Of these 71, only 20 have free throw rates above 35 (i.e., they have 35 FTM for every 100 FGA). Of those 20, three are now Knicks. Billups, ‘Melo, and Amare will all spend tons of time with the ball in their hands, will use many of those possessions to get to the free throw line, and will convert the vast majority of these free throw attempts. As great as Gallo was at getting to the line, his usage rate was low enough that it didn’t have as big of an impact on the Knicks overall offense as it might have. That won’t be a problem here, and the Knicks may trail only the Thunder in terms of creating points at the line the rest of the year. It may seem unsexy, but this is likely to be the biggest immediate positive impact of this week’s trade.
Tonight was a promising start in this regard – the Knicks were 26 for 28 from the stripe, including a 12 for 12 showing from Billups, who didn’t even appear to have his legs under him yet.
It’s the flip-side of the point I made regarding offense — we’ve taken two already bad defenses (Knicks 21st in the league, Nuggets 23rd), largely shed the best defensive players from each side, and put them in the charge of the most offensively minded coach of his generation. The results will not be good, to be sure. But I’ve been kind of amazed at how heavily everyone has harped on this point. The Knicks defense was already pretty bad and it’s not like the guys we just gave away were dynamos. Billups is slower than Felton and ‘Melo has a rep for being a bit lazy on that end. But I also think the level to which Melo and Amare are invested in this monster of their own making will give them at least some extra motivation to work on that end. I see regression on defense, but not a ton. They couldn’t defend in the post before and they still can’t, they committed too many fouls before and they still will, they gave up too many second chances before and that will continue also. I think their switching will get a little bit worse, and their on-ball perimeter D will also take a step back unless Corey Brewer can carve out a spot on the rotation. But this isn’t life-altering stuff — It’s a C- turning into a D+.
Tonight they gave up 108 points on 99 possessions, which is right at their season average. Unfortunately, they did this at home against the worst offense in the league (Milwaukee typically scores 101 per 100). It was a bad night defensively, but both Billups and Melo looked exhausted and the group had no time to jell. Furthermore, the Knicks were opportunistic, creating 20 points off of 15 turnovers, including two steals each by the new arrivals. The one thing the Knicks have done well on defense all season is force turnovers — they did it again tonight, and they’ll continue to do it all season.
Overall, the method will change (more iso, less threes, shorter bench) but this team’s output shouldn’t change a ton on a per possession basis. They’ll be better once ‘Melo is in the flow of things, but even when their stars are clicking, the Knicks will still need big nights from role players to measure up to the league’s elite. When the stars are off, those same role players will have to save them. Tonight, Toney Douglas obliged.