Heading into Tuesday night's game against Indiana at Madison Square Garden, Joakim Noah is still confident things will work out despite his underwhelming play that has faced serious criticism.
What's been obvious to me in watching the team play is that Noah and Courtney Lee -- the player Noah helped recruit here -- have had trouble clicking in the lineup together. Noah seemingly has more chemistry, and the team does as a whole, with Justin Holiday instead of Lee at the shooting guard position.
While they may be incomplete, the stats tallied on 82games.com seem to agree with this as the starting five of Derrick Rose, Lee, Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis, and Noah have a combined plus/minus of -24 with a 1.06 offensive rating and a 1.11 defensive rating. Swap Holiday out for Lee and the Knicks are +18 and the offensive rating leaps to 1.30 with an improved defensive rating of 1.03 -- albeit in significantly less minutes.
Let's drill down deeper.
Holiday is, to me, a great cutter off the ball and finisher at the rim, so he'd naturally be a better fit for the pass-first Noah who likes to throw backdoor passes to cutters like Holiday. Their minutes are limited -- only 4.4 percent of Holiday's passes come from Noah (0.8 per game), but he's shooting 71.4 percent from the floor in those situations. Conversely, Lee is getting a higher volume of passes from Noah, 5.6 per game (16.3 percent) and is shooting just 40.5 percent from the field.
The case for starting, say, Willy Hernangomez over Noah is only compelling if you're looking for more touches for Kristaps Porzingis, but the risk there is competing against legit NBA starters every night instead of the reserves they see in their minutes together.
Having veteran NBA players prep for the young dynamic duo will certainly limit them and you want to keep the positive momentum going with Hernangomez as he progresses through his first NBA season. Hernangomez has thrived on the offensive glass, where he's scored most of his points as he develops a capable pick-and-pop game. In terms of makes, he's only made three shots outside of the paint and he's shooting just 33.3 percent from two-point range in "catch and shoot" or "pick and pop" situations.
Tossing Noah to the side, as many fans want to do, is senseless. His 13.1 rebounds per 36 minutes has helped the Knicks remain a solid offensive rebounding team (seventh overall), and they are an above average rebounding team when Rose is in the lineup.
Noah's had rebounding games of 18, 15 and an impressive 10-rebound effort against Hassan Whiteside in Miami, but the reality is he has to play better if he's going to stick in the starting lineup. With the Knicks expected to get Rose back in the lineup on Tuesday, head coach Jeff Hornacek may want to consider going with Holiday early with Noah to see if they can get some easy baskets off back-cuts to get the Knicks going in the first quarter before replacing Noah with O'Quinn or Hernangomez.
Noah has been so used to playing with Rose that it's key the two continue to play together. And there's no chance Hornacek would voluntarily take Rose out of the starting lineup. We've seen them thrive together in perhaps their most impressive win of the year. That, ironically, was arguably Lee's best game of the season, finishing with 17 points on 8-10 shooting and a +22 in the Knicks' 117-104 win in Chicago.
When Lee is able to knock down shots and spread the floor early, the Knicks have been able to have a fully-functioning five-man unit. And when that happens we've seen the results. When Rose is out and Lee and Noah are struggling, it's hard for the Knicks to just depend on Porzingis and Anthony for all the scoring considering they aren't adept getting consistent stops.
Ultimately, Noah and Lee are the glue that holds the starting five together, and we'll see if both can step forward against the Pacers and help snap the Knicks' current three-game skid.