Let’s be honest. Things haven’t gone well for the Knicks this week.
Before last night’s victory in Portland, the Knicks had lost their last four games and 8 of their last 10. Questions are being asked as to whether the Knicks early season flirtation with the playoff picture was just a mirage.
The Knicks offence has been weak. Performances like that at Utah this week may make solutions seem hard to come by. One issue clear in Thursday’s loss to the Kings was that the Knicks go large periods without involving their star rookie, Kristaps Porzingis, directly in the offence. While he gets plenty of touches – he gets the third most per game on the side behind Melo and Calderon – many of these are simply facilitative, not designed to create opportunities for him.
So how can the Knicks get him more involved?
- More catch-and-shoot opportunities:
Porzingis has excelled on offence when he’s been given an opportunity to exercise his gorgeous stroke. For a guy who is 7’3, he sure can run a curl screen like Rip Hamilton. His relative quickness combine with his height allow him to get off his shot regardless of who is trailing him. His percentage on catch-and-shoot looks (44 per cent) is second only to Calderon (47 per cent) and better than Melo (42 per cent).
Looking for more catch-and-shoot opportunities for Porzingis could have benefits to the rest of the offence. The Knicks prevalence of big men make setting a weak-side screen for Porzingis an effective off-the-ball action. Asking Lopez/O’Quinn/Seraphin to screen away from the ball for a Porzingis curl cut gives them something else to do, other than post up, creating space for the guards to get to the rim, as well as potentially creating a shot for the Latvian.
- Get him the ball down low.
Porzingis could also use the ball in the post more often. His field goal percentage in the post is 62 per cent on the 2.8 post touches he gets each game. Compare that to the fact that Robin Lopez is shooting 51 per cent in the same amount of touches, and you can see that the Knicks are underutilising the rookie in this space.
Porzingis at this stage is too reliant on his turnaround jumper, which is probably why he doesn’t get more opportunities here. But if he can continue to develop, he will become ever more effective here.
- Hit the roll man, man.
The Knicks also need to make better use of Porzingis as the roll man when he screens for ball handlers. Part of the difficulty in getting him open as the roll man is the lack of threat of the players he is screening for – no one is concerned that Jose Calderon is going to the rim, which allows the man guarding Porzingis to stay on him rather than help to stop penetration. Porzingis scores 1.05 points-per-possession on these plays.
- It’s the Line-Ups Stupid
Ultimately though, these changes can’t be implemented without line-up changes. While running Porzingis on curl cuts around screens may be possible, getting Porzingis the ball down low is difficult when he’s playing alongside Lopez or Seraphin. Hitting the roll man becomes more likely when the person he’s setting it for is a threat to drive.
Coach Fisher should look at including backup guard Langston Galloway in line-ups with Porzingis at their centre. The Knicks best line-up statistically this season has included Galloway and Calderon in the back court together with Porzingis and Lopez in the front court – its outscored opponents by 22 points per hundred possessions but has only played 29 minutes over 10 games. It’s worth giving this unit an extended run to see if this success is a statistical anomaly.
Playing Porzingis by himself in the front court also allows that other strength of recent Knicks teams to be fully exploited – getting Melo the ball down low.
 There are many others.
 He has the lowest average time-in-possession on those touches is lower than anyone on the side outside of Lou Amundson.
 All stats per NBA.com