Kyle O’Quinn Hindering Knicks Chemistry

The New York Knicks have a Kyle O’Quinn problem.

O’Quinn’s been the top option at backup center so far. Kyle has played 34 minutes this season or about 35% of New York’s first two games. Head coach Jeff Hornacek could reduce O’Quinn’s minutes by splitting the team’s center minutes between Kristaps Porzingis and Joakim Noah. If he staggers them correctly, the duo could still play together for stretches while still optimizing the position for a full game.

While O’Quinn’s per minute stats have always been solid, posting quality rates across multiple categories, he does have his weaknesses. On defense, O’Quinn struggles to protect the paint, and doesn’t have the foot speed necessary to defend smaller fours. That leaves him guarding the opponents’ biggest player, putting him closest to the hoop where his inability to wall off the rim can be exposed. For O’Quinn to be a successful defender he has to be near perfect from a mental standpoint – reading and anticipating plays by taking away angles. He lacks the physical tools to make up for mental mistakes.

O’Quinn also hurts the team on the defensive glass. The Knicks rebounded worse with him on the court last season and the trend has continued early this season. On the offensive end, O’Quinn can’t create shots and isn’t able to punish smaller players in the post.

Perhaps O’Quinn’s skillset is just ill-fitted for this team, and his style of play pushes them away from the characteristics needed to get the most out Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis. O’Quinn’s court presense alone is taking time away from Porzingis playing at center. He forces the second-year forward farther from the rim defensively instead of allowing him to maximize his length near the basket.

O’Quinn needs another big man next to him with his defensive deficiencies, hence has played 23 of his 34 minutes paired with either Porzingis or Willy Hernangomez (KOQ and Hernangomez should never ever happen – there’s not a worse pairing of players to put together on the roster). This harms Carmelo, as Anthony benefits from the ability to play the 4 where it suits him.

A smaller role for Quinn might be with Noah. Playing two bigs with Joakim can work due to his passing ability. Noah can make up for the lack of physical space with superior ball movement.

Hornacek should grasp what O’Quinn is as a player and how his role affects the team’s on the floor chemistry. It’s not just that Porzingis and Noah are both better than KOQ, but keeping one of the two at center pushes the Knicks towards more athletic, versatile groups. Reserves such as Justin Holiday, Lance Thomas, Ron Baker and Maurice Ndour are all capable of guarding multiple positions. The Knicks’ coach should realize he can make the team more cohesive with some of the other options on the bench.


Why the New York Knicks Made a Mistake not Keeping Maurice Ndour

I’ve been quite vocal about the New York Knicks decision to not keep undrafted rookie Maurice Ndour in the fold.

According to Ian Begley of ESPN New York, Ndour received a three-year contract from the Dallas Mavericks, year one fully guaranteed, second year partial and third year not guaranteed. President of basketball operations Phil Jackson and general manager Steve Mills decided it was too rich for them.

I disagree with this sentiment as I see the 23-year-old out of Ohio University as someone with the attributes and baseline skills worth a potential low risk/high reward minimal investment.

Before the Knicks signed Ndour to their Las Vegas Summer League team I had never heard of him. When news of the signing broke I headed to his page at draftexpress.com, and learned at the Portsmouth predraft camp he measured at 6’8’ without shoes, plus had a 7’4’ wingspan and 9’1’ standing reach.

According to sport-reference.com, Ndour’s senior season with the Bobcats was only one of four since 1996-1997 to average over one steal, two blocks, shoot over 40% from three and 75% at the free throw line.

The other three?

Shane Battier twice and Danny Granger once.

This was the first video I watched of Ndour playing.

You never want to take much form a highlight video, but between the physical attributes, stats and a tiny bit of YouTube viewing Ndour became someone I wanted to watch a little closer when New York entered summer league action.

It’s important to note how I go about watching these type of exhibition games. The way I analyze summer league goes against my typical process of coming to conclusions regarding basketball. In this setting I ignore all statistics. I couldn’t tell you any team or individual stat from the New York’s time in Las Vegas. I simply look for skills I think can be transferable to successful NBA careers understanding the context of the competition.

Within seconds of Ndour stepping on the court for his first action in the Knicks opening game against the Spurs he created a positive impression.

A simple alley-oop dunk, filling the lane on a delayed fast break might not seem like anything to get excited about, but let me remind you the Knicks averaged the least amount of fast break points per game last season at 8.8 (per 100 possessions) and had the fifth least total dunks as a team (213).

Athleticism with the ability to get easy baskets is a trait New York’s roster desperately needs, yet more exciting was Ndour showing off a more polished offensive game than I expected in the half court.

He was able to knock down mid range jumpers off the catch.

Couple of important points here:

  • Note the arc and touch on the jumper.
  • Wingspan is often thought off when it comes to defense (getting to that later), but it’s also a factor on offense. This was a highly contested shot and it doesn’t matter because of Ndour’s release point and massively long arms.

Based on the college free throw and three-point shooting to see him shoot well from 12 to 18 feet wasn’t much of a surprise. What caught me off guard was the creating/shooting off the dribble, body control when attacking the rim and the passing.

Step-Back Jumper

This is another contested shot he is able to get off for the reasons listed above. As with most of the offensive production in the Philadelphia game some it has to be taken with a grain of salt because it’s getting accomplished versus slow-footed defenders Ndour wouldn’t deal with in a regular season NBA game. The fact he’s able to flash this type of ability in this setting is still a positive for his long-term prospects.

What A Dreamy Shake!

Being able to beat Furkan Aldemir off the dribble isn’t any sort of special accomplishment — Ndour attacking the rim with his left (off-hand) and having the patience, plus foot work to pull off that type of high-level move still does stand out.

Finishing As The Dive Man In Pick and Roll

As much as Ndour worked as the pick man and diving in PnR during these games he didn’t get much of a chance to showcase his finishing ability in these situations. Jerian Grant, Langston Galloway, Cleanthony Early and Ricky Ledo didn’t do a great job seeking out Ndour for many opportunities running PnR.

Once again you see a sense of patience he has in a crowded area that I wouldn’t expect from someone in Ndour’s position. He catches, gathers, uses a slight hesitation move to get Larry Nance Jr. off the ground and finishes around Julius Randle.

Ndour flashed the ability to score buckets in a variety of ways and then he also did a tremendous job setting up his teammates. I’d say this was the most shocking attribute considering his 1.6 to 2.9 AST/TO ratio during his senior season at Ohio.

What jumps out in this specific play and most of Ndour’s passing is the decisiveness. He isn’t holding onto the ball for long, it’s quick decision making leading to positive plays. For this example, it’s a solid read out of PnR, while up next you see him do a great job on a prototypical triangle action.

Another perfect, fundamental read without having the ball in his hands for even a full second. These plays are getting made with limited practice time to get comfortable working with teammates he’s never stepped foot on a court with before.

All of this offensive skill is a nice bonus, but where Ndour can derive his real value in the NBA is on the defensive end. He is not only fluid navigating the court offensively, he moves well laterally and is cognizant of team defensive concepts.

Ndour’s foot speed and length brings the potential for the rare combination of being able to defend wings, bigs and provide rim protection.

During the Spurs game, Kyle Anderson gave Ndour the business a little bit and he had some trouble with James McAdoo and Kevon Looney in the Warriors matchup, but there are many tools to work with here.

That’s not some summer league scrub Ndour ate up and spit out, mind you. That was a former lottery pick in Kentucky’s Julius Randle. Ndour was able to push him towards the baseline and when Randle tried to overpower him to get a better angle at the rim he failed miserably. You know what’s good about having 9’1’ standing reach? Sometimes jumping isn’t necessary and you can still tell your opponent to get the hell out of here.

Randle wasn’t the only lottery pick to find himself in a bad position against Ndour.

Yup, that was Jahlil Okafor, the number-three overall pick in the 2015 draft. Ndour almost swatted him with his wrist.

And yes, you’d be well within your rights to scoff and mutter something to the effect of, “Randle and Okafor aren’t that athletic from a vertical jumping stand point so I’m not all that impressed.” Fair enough, but…

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There aren’t many 6’8’ players with the ability to protect the rim from the weak side and then shut down entire possessions using different skills like this:

It starts with Ndour cutting off the possibility of dribble penetration out of the PnR by Jordan Clarkson and a quick recovery to Nance Jr. Even with a foot on the foul line, he’s able to use his length to deflect the ball out of Nance’s hands despite him having both of his feet outside the top of the key. Once Nance finally gets the ball back he tries to create a shot for himself and isn’t able to get a clean look due to Ndour beating him to his spots with lateral quickness. He also closes out the possession getting the rebound.

Ndour’s work on the boards is solid at both ends. He’s not afraid to mix it up boxing out and does a good job trying to grab the ball at its peak. I’d like to see him improve corralling boards on the offensive glass where he seemed to get his hands on a lot chances, but wasn’t able to finish off the play.

His length also allows him room for error when he makes mistakes.

On this possession Ndour gets overaggressive and a little jumpy. This is a pattern and a flaw that needs some work. Because of Ndour’s wingspan he’s able to get away with it as he uses his length to deflect the ball away from Nance trying to dribble into the paint.

Another place where Ndour’s foot speed and length comes in handy is defending the pick and roll, especially with how the Knicks like to “ice” them.

His size and speed allows him to cover and cut off space many don’t have the ability too. Ndour makes this look extremely easy, but it really isn’t. Part of the issue is poor spacing by the Golden State, but Ndour’s positioning put a stop to any possibility of a dribble attack. Even against more in-sync offense he’s going to be able to limit passing angles as he leverages his arms in smart ways. Ndour immediately locks back in on his man after Grant recovers almost causing a turnover with his anticipation before a foul was called.

Ndour’s play on both ends made him the best player on the Knicks summer league team. He showed more upside and well-rounded skills than Cleanthony Early, Travis Wear and Thanasis Antetokounmpo. Ndour expanded and took his game to a point outside the bubble he’s going to be asked to operate on an actual NBA roster. Situations arise in a game based around a 24-second shot clock where you’re forced into pushing past what your role is specified to be. Ndour constructing the ability to handle more than shooting open jump shots on offense gives hope three or four years down the line he might have a little bit more in him.

On the defensive end he needs to keep fine tuning and learning how to use his physical gifts. Ndour can get caught ball watching and can try to do too much. This is more preferable to a player who is oblivious to what’s going on around him — Ndour has the right intent and in time can grasp a better understanding of the balance necessary to perform within a defensive scheme.

Finding high-level talent in the second-round or undrafted can fundamentally change the way you’re able to build a team. We saw it happen with the Houston Rockets and Chandler Parsons, and this is why the Philadelphia 76ers operate like they do now with second round picks.

For years the Knicks have spent stupidly and irresponsibly. It’s without question a positive that Jackson and Mills are showing more restraint. They’ve also shown a weird penchant for being cheap in an unnecessary way around the margins. Dealing a future second-round pick instead of buying out Travis Outlaw was a strange move. Yes, you can buy another second round pick with ease, but there’s no limit to how many of them you can have — the more the better.

With roster spots open and roster spots filled by players clearly less talented than Ndour, to lose him over what probably amounts to under 1% of what the 2016-2017 salary cap is a ridiculous decision.

At best you found an under the radar steal with the defensive ability that fits perfectly next to your star in Carmelo Anthony.

At worst you buy him out for pennies and could add a player on a veteran minimum salary for more than you’re paying to waive Ndour.

This was a chance worth taking for the New York Knicks and they blew it.