New York Knicks head coach Mike Woodson has never exactly been known as an offensive savant; he was, after all, the purveyor of Iso Joe for years in Atlanta. He brought that offense with him to New York last season after taking over for the departed Mike D’Antoni, but this season has seen a drastic change. Woodson’s offense has shown a lot of creativity, especially in its use of off-ball screening and hand-off plays. Notably, Woodson has drawn up some excellent out of bounds plays. His Knicks currently sit 5th in the league in points per play (PPP) after timeouts according to mySynergySports, and yesterday against the Nuggets he showed off just one of many creative sets he has in his arsenal.
The Knicks start the play with JR Smith taking the ball out of bounds, Steve Novak in the near corner, Tyson Chandler on the far block, Jason Kidd on the far wing and Carmelo Anthony at the near elbow. The Nuggets begin in a sort of odd defensive alignment, with point guard Ty Lawson on Novak, Andre Miller on Kidd, Kenneth Faried on Chandler, Danilo Gallinari on Carmelo and Andre Iguodala on Smith, the inbounder. (Note: I say it’s odd because the natural alignment seems to be Lawson on Kidd, Miller on Smith, Gallinari on Novak and Iguodala on Carmelo. Right?) Carmelo initiates the action by flashing from the elbow to the top of the key, where he receives the ball from Smith.
The next step is Chandler flashing from the block to the elbow and receiving the entry pass from Carmelo. This is not unusual for the Knicks this season, as they’ve run plenty of action through an initial pass to Chandler at the elbow and then sending cutters around him, usually looking for a hand-off play.
That’s exactly what happens here. Carmelo runs directly at Chandler to receive a hand-off. This is where the Nuggets begin to get confused, because…
…as Carmelo is coming across to receive the hand-off (and a screen on his man, Gallinari, boxed in black) from Chandler, Kidd starts moving across in opposite direction, ready to get a hand-off of his own. If you look closely, you can see Miller pointing to Gallinari as if calling out for a switch. Miller wants to take Anthony coming off the screen and hopes Gallo will pick up Kidd coming back the other way.
But that’s not what happens. Miller and Gallinari both chase after Carmelo, which sets off a disastrous chain of events for the Nuggets. Because neither Gallo or Miller covers him coming off the hand-off, Kidd is easily able to turn the corner, driving to a point just above the free throw line.
That’s when Faried makes the biggest mistake of all. Rather than trusting that Iguodala could cut off Kidd’s dribble penetration and force a kickout, he momentarily leaves Chandler to take a half-step into Kidd’s driving lane. That gives Chandler enough of a head start to head right past him to the rim, where Kidd hits him with a perfectly timed alley-oop pass.
Usually on this type of action – which really amounts to a modified pick-and-roll when it’s all said and done – teams will have a guard crash into the lane to tag Chandler on his roll to the rim, especially if they know the big man guarding Chandler is going to step into Kidd’s driving lane. Because of all the maneuvering that came before-hand, the most likely candidate for that role here is Lawson (although Miller is closer, he’s been taken out of the play by Anthony, who he drew on the aborted switch with Gallo, which caused Faried to step up, and… well, you get the picture) but there are two problems with that assignment: 1. he has way too much ground to cover coming from the right corner to the left side of the lane; and 2. if he were to crash down far enough to cover Chandler’s roll to the rim, he’d be leaving Novak open for a corner 3, which is almost like giving the Knicks a free three points.
Instead, Lawson stays home, Iguodala cheats off of Smith into the lane only a little bit, Faried comes off Chandler for just an instant, Kidd throws the lob, and Tyson slams it home. It was a beautiful play design by Woodson, and the Knicks executed the play to perfection.