The Knicks have evened up their series against the Indiana Pacers 1-1 as the scene shifts to Indy for Games 3 and 4. While New York rang up a convincing blowout victory in Game 2, the distribution of minutes is growing into a legitimate concern. For reasons unknown, Mike Woodson hasn’t utilized Iman Shumpert and Pablo Prigioni for extended minute, despite the fact that they’re playing some of the best basketball on the entire squad.
Browsing through the on/off ratings in this postseason I found that of players that have played at least 150 minutes thus far, Prigioni and Shumpert have had two of the leading three greatest positive impact by a Knick on the team’s performance. With Prigs on the floor, the Knickerbockers own a NetRTG of +24 and with Shump a +12.4. Separating the two is Tyson Chandler with a +14 impact.
What is the cause of this uptick in productivity? For one, Prigioni and Shumpert are the two best perimeter defenders on the team. Iman’s defense has been the meat and potatoes of his basketball since the second he draped a Knicks jersey onto his ridiculously athletic 6’5″, 212-pound frame. Although he struggles at times when chasing players off the ball and on the offensive end, his one-on-one defense as a second-year player coming back from a brutal ACL tear has been stupendous. To add on to his astounding play in isolation, his hands have never been more alert and active, reaching into passing lanes and throwing a serious wrench into the opposing team’s offensive sets. Shump’s been especially adept in this Pacers series at coming over from the weak side to strip one of Indy’s bigs at the foul line.
Prigioni doesn’t have Shump’s athleticism, but his game is built on craftiness and peskiness,and while Prigs won’t out-run many guards in the league, he has the stamina to pressure them from one end of the court to the other; his feisty pursuit of the basketball just as much of hindrance as Shump’s speed to the ball.
And it’s not all defense we’re seeing from the ‘Bockers’ dynamic duo. To our surprise, they have been two of the most reliable long-distance marksmen on the team. Pablo Prigioni has made 47.6% of his threes in the Playoffs and Iman Shumpert 46.2%. Prigioni has long been known to be a terrific distributor, but during the season he had turnover troubles, giving the ball away in 27.1% of his possessions. In the postseason he’s made the easier and smarter pass, and his TOV% has dropped to just 12.9%.
Want more? Iman has made it increasingly difficult for opposing defenses to match up with the Knicks’ small ball scheme with calmer and more controlled drives to the basket. With Carmelo Anthony feasting on the slower fours guarding him, opponents have been trying to “hide” said burly interior player on Shumpert while having a quicker small forward check Anthony. With Shumpert finishing deftly at the rim and locating cutting bigs when the defense rotates, opponents have to pick their poison. Notice Shump’s shooting percentage right at the basket during the regular season compared to during the Playoffs.
So, the question remains: Why aren’t Shump and Prigs getting more minutes? Iman Shumpert has averaged 29 minutes per game in the postseason and Prigioni just 22.1 minutes a night; fourth and seventh in MPG despite being arguably the fourth and fifth most important Knickerbockers in this playoff run. One counter-argument could be that there aren’t any players ahead of them whose minutes could justifiably be cut, but I’d retort…
J.R. Smith and Jason Kidd have played 31.9 and 24.9 minutes a night during the postseason, despite the fact that they’ve ranged from adequate to atrocious. Smith, the Knicks’ second leading scorer this year, has a shooting percentage line of 34-30-68. 34% from the field, 30% from downtown and 68% from the charity stripe. The only Knick to fare worse ? Jason Kidd, who has made just 3 of his 21 field goal attempts.
The Knicks have an infuriating habit out of deviating from what’s worked in this postseason, and it cost them a sweep in the opening round and home-court advantage in the second round. If they hope to reach the Eastern Conference finals, Mike Woodson has to cede floor time to actual postseason contributors instead of sticking with “his guys”/waiting for a return to form from J.R. and Kidd that may never arrive. If not, this postseason may be over much sooner than any of us would like.