Yesterday, ESPN’s Beckley Mason emailed the TrueHoop Network asking us to point out any new skills or plays we have seen throughout the preseason. He turned our responses into a post for TrueHoop, and the following play was my contribution.
When running pick-and-rolls (really, when running any offense) last season, the Knicks often struggled to incorporate all three of their superstar-caliber players into the same action. More often than not, either Amar’e Stoudemire or Tyson Chandler would be the screener on a particular possession, while the other stood off to the side, uninvolved with the play in any way, and Carmelo Anthony would simply be spotting up on the weak side. Because of Chandler’s lack of shooting range, it was usually Stoudemire who was assigned to the “stretch the defense” role in these pick-and-roll plays. The point guard of the week – whether it be Toney Douglas, Iman Shumpert, Jeremy Lin, Baron Davis or Mike Bibby – would run a high pick-and-roll with Chandler, and Stoudemire would slide in behind, settling around the elbow and waiting for a catch-and-shoot jumper. And Anthony would be in the weak side corner – entirely absent from the play; a waste of his scoring skills and the defensive attention said skills draw.
These possessions mostly ended with an opportunity for Chandler in the lane, a contested elbow jumper for Stoudemire – who clearly had lost half a step and as a result was crowded on the drive – or an off-balance shot from the point guard after missing an opportunity to hit the dive or outlet man due to lack of court vision or not reacting correctly to the defense.
This season, things should be at least slightly different when the Knicks get into their pick-and-roll sets. Though he was a less effective pick-and-roll player in Portland last season, Raymond Felton scored and passed very well (INSERT MIKE D’ANTONI CAVEAT HERE] when running this action in his short stint with New York during the 2010-11 season. His 0.82 points per possession (PPP) ranked 82nd in the league, per mySynergySports. He also dished out 231 of his 488 assists as a Knick out of pick-and-roll plays.
Though his PPP went down with Portland, he actually shot just about the same percentage from the field on pick-and-roll plays as he did with New York. However, his turnovers skyrocketed from 13.4% to 21.6%. If he can get those back under control, he should be a positive pick-and-roll contributor again this season. At the very least, he’ll be more competent running pick-and-rolls than Douglas, Shumpert, Davis or Bibby, even if not quite as good as Lin, though there is a chance.
Chandler has been an excellent pick-and-roll finisher over the past few seasons, and indeed for most of his career. Last season, he ranked 18th in PPP as a roll man with 1.18, made 66.1% of his shots and drew shooting fouls on 28.3% of his pick-and-roll possessions, and the season before he ranked 2nd in the league with 1.39 PPP, finished 69.4% of his shots and drew shooting fouls on 16.1% of his possessions.
All of this bodes well for the primary action the Knicks seem to be running on this particular play. They start out this possession with Felton dribbling above the top of the key, James White and Carmelo in opposite corners, Amar’e just outside the 3-point line at the left elbow extended, and Chandler just above the free throw line. They’re setting things up for a high pick-and-roll between Felton and Chandler.
However, rather than run the traditional pick-and-roll, Mike Woodson designed the play for Felton to immediately swing the ball back around to Stoudemire at the weak side elbow extended.
From there, Stoudemire went right into a dribble handoff pick-and-slip play with Carmelo.
Immediately, this is better than almost any pick-and-roll play the Knicks ran last season, because they’ve gotten all three of their star players involved in the action within the first six seconds of the shot clock.
Both Stoudemire and Anthony, who far too often were turned into spectators when the Knicks ran pick-and-rolls last season, are involved in the primary action on this play. It’s a designed roll-and-replace situation, where Chandler’s roll through the middle of the lane off the initial high pick-and-roll action opens up space for the side pick-and-slip between Anthony and Stoudemire.
Carmelo, even with his relative struggles last season, was still extremely effective playing out of the pick-and-roll. As a ball handler in those plays, he registed 0.96 PPP, good for 18th in the league, and shot 50% from the floor. He also registered 69 of his 211 assists last season out of the pick-and-roll. For all the flak he takes for not passing the ball enough, Melo can be extremely effective dishing the rock when he sets his mind to it.
And Stoudemire, even with his struggles last season, was again a dominant finisher out of the pick-and-roll, just as he has been in nearly every season of his career. His 1.22 PPP ranked 12th in the league (even better than Chandler), and he finished 60.2% of his shots.
Here’s the play in real time.
Plays like this that are designed to get Carmelo on the move toward the middle of the floor, with two big-time finishers drawing defensive attention, are exactly the kinds of things the Knicks envisioned when they signed Stoudemire, traded for Athony and then signed Chandler. Though the skills of their frontcourt trio are not a perfect fit on the offensive side of the court, there are ways Mike Woodson and his staff can take advantage of the different things they can do on the floor.
This kind of action is really not all that complicated. For most teams, this is a basic offensive set. But the Knicks last year rarely went to the second and third options built into most pick-and-roll plays. It was generally one pass – or no passes – followed by a shot attempt. Quick-hitting passes, side-to-side ball movement and getting everyone involved can only help. For all the supposed firepower in New York, the Knicks finished just 19th in points per possession last season, per NBA.com. Though it’s only preseason, working in more plays like this when Stoudemire gets back from his latest injury would be a step in the right direction.