The New York Knicks have sported one of the league’s most efficient offenses for much of the season, but that hasn’t been the case since the All-Star break. New York has scored 102.7 points per 100 possessions (pts/100) in their six games since February 14, per NBA.com. That number would place them 14th in the league over the course of the full season and represents a steep drop from their full-season mark of 108.1 pts/100 (3rd in NBA).
The team that blistered opponents from three with a full serving of spread pick-and-roll and a dash of Carmelo Anthony isolations and post-ups on the side in November is a distant memory. The Knick offense we’ve seen over the last two-plus weeks has more closely resembled what we’ve come to expect from teams coached by Mike Woodson over the years; lots of isolation, and very little movement of either players or the ball (yesterday’s first half against the Heat excepted).
With the Knicks looking for new ways to score that don’t involve Melo or JR Smith breaking their man down off the dribble, they’ve come up with a nice set for Amar’e Stoudemire that gets everyone on the court involved through constant moving and screening. The cyclical motion creates confusion in the defense and opens up multiple options; it’s not just up to one player to make something happen.
On the opening play of the second quarter in their February 22 loss to the Toronto Raptors, the Knicks broke this set out for the first time. JR Smith took the inbounds pass as Tyson Chandler, Steve Novak, Pablo Prigioni and Stoudemire lined up from left to right at the free throw line.
As Smith dribbled above the top of the key, Stoudemire took off from his position at the right elbow and headed to the opposite corner while looping around a screen from Chandler.
Just after Stoudemire started his route, Novak took off from the second position on the left elbow, rubbed off a screen from Prigioni and headed for the right corner. The two routes mirrored each other, setting the stage and foreshadowing the next step in this play.
Leaving enough lead time so that they would meet Stoudemire and Novak in the corners just as they got there, Prigioni and Chandler criss-crossed at the elbows and set dueling pin-down screens to free the shooters moving up toward Smith.
Here’s how it looked in real time:
Though Amar’e missed the elbow jumper here, he was wide open from about 15 feet from the basket. That spot right around the left elbow is one from which Stoudemire has connected on 268 of 581 (46.1%) of his tries during his 11-year NBA career. That’s a high value shot for one of the offensive hubs of the team’s second unit, so even though they didn’t get the result they wanted on the first time they ran the play, the Knicks have gone back to it once a game in three of their last four.
Late in the first quarter against the Golden State Warriors, Jason Kidd brought the ball up the floor as the Knicks lined up with Smith, Carmelo, Raymond Felton and Stoudemire from left to right across the free throw line. They then ran the familiar action detailed above with Stoudemire and Smith heading for opposite corners as Carmelo and Felton trailed close behind to set them screens.
Stoudemire’s defender–Draymond Green–cheated into the lane as Kidd dribbled from left to right, so that by the time Stoudemire caught the ball at the elbow, he was way too far out of position. He closed hard at the elbow, to Stoudemire simply put the ball on the floor and went right around him for an easy dunk.
Late in the third quarter of their win agains the Wizards, Smith brought the ball up the floor with Anthony, Novak, Kidd and Stoudemire lined up left to route. Again the cycle of shooters and screeners started, and again Stoudemire wound up with an open jumper from the left elbow. He missed it, but the Knicks still liked the action enough in the first few times they’d seen it to break it out against the Heat.
Smith again brought the ball up the court, and Novak, Stoudemire, Kidd and Chandler situated themselves along the free throw line. After catching at the elbow coming off a Kidd screen, Stoudemire put the ball up the floor when Norris Cole abandoned Kidd to jump the catch. Spinning between defenders, Stoudemire saw Kidd out of the corner of his eye and hit him with a pass for the corner three opportunity.
Though they’ve hit Stoudemire at the elbow each time they’ve run this set (and that seems to be the primary goal), there are many other options the Knicks can pursue. Obviously, they can hit Novak for a wing three when he comes off the screen on the back side. That’s option number two.
But once Stoudemire catches the ball, there’s even more that can happen.
Stoudemire can hit Kidd in the corner, as he did against the Heat. Chandler can roll to the rim after setting a screen for Novak, where he’ll either be open or draw another defender away from somebody else. Smith can come back around Stoudemire for a dribble hand-off. That can seamlessly turn into a side pick-and-roll, for which the floor is already spaced with Kidd in the corner and Novak on the wing, and Chandler is in position to crash in on the weak side baseline.
Plays with multiple options built in are always better than those that crash and burn once the first option gets shut down. For a team that’s been struggling to score–relatively–for the last few weeks, it’s important to get everyone moving and everyone involved. The Knicks have turned this play into five points on four possessions so far, and they’ve only pursued two of their five or six options built into the set. If they keep going back to it, they’ll discover more and more ways they can get points through the well-designed motion, screening and ball movement.