Ian Begley, SNY.tv | Twitter |
A few Knicks notes as the club enters a stretch of 11 games against teams that made the playoffs last season, starting Wednesday in Philadelphia...
(Though, not all of the Knicks' next 11 opponents are setting the world on fire this season. Entering play Wednesday, six of the 11 were in the top five in their respective conferences. The other five were a combined 19 games under .500.)
Those old enough to remember the 1990s Knicks teams know that those teams relied on a gritty effort on defense to win. (Back then, the 'De-Fense' chants in Madison Square Garden had a little more meaning).
This year's club certainly isn't a defensive juggernaut. And, preseason rhetoric aside, no one would compare them to those 90s Knicks teams in any way shape or form.
But some numbers suggest that David Fizdale's team has made some progress on defense lately.
Over the past six games, New York is allowing opponents to shoot 43.7 percent from the floor. That's tied for the tenth lowest mark in the league. Prior to that, Knick opponents were shooting 46.4 percent from the floor (22nd in the league).
New York, which is 3-3 in that six-game span referenced above, has played some zone lately. The club also has given heavy minutes to Frank Ntilikina, widely recognized as its top perimeter defender.
Individual defense is tricky to quantify, I think, because there are so many variables beyond one player's control that go into success or failure on that end of the floor.
But it's worth noting that the Knicks' overall net rating with Ntilikina on the court is -1.6. (Net rating measures points scored and allowed per 100 possessions.) The Knicks' net rating with Ntilikina off the court is -12.0. Their overall net rating -- independent of Ntilikina's presence -- is -7.2.
So that suggests that Ntilikina has had a strong impact on defense.
The lineup they've used most often over the last six games features Ntilikina, Marcus Morris and Taj Gibson -- three players with solid defensive reputations.
The Knicks have also gotten Mitchell Robinson back more recently, which can only help them on defense. New York enters play Wednesday ranked 19th overall in defensive efficiency, so again, no one is suggesting this team is elite on that end of the floor. But the recent progress is something to keep an eye on.
As Damyean Dotson (another player who has seen more minutes in the past six games) explained on Monday, the Knicks' overall strategy is to control the paint.
"That's the plan, try to protect the paint and make them spread out," he said. "Our whole goal is to protect the paint."
The Knicks rank in the top 10 in defensive rebounding and points allowed in the paint. They also rank in the top 10 in steals. But the protect the paint strategy seems to have left them susceptible to the 3-point shot. Entering play Wednesday, New York ranked 19th in opponent 3-point field goal percentage and was allowing the fifth-most 3-point attempts per game in the NBA.
With Elfrid Payton out for at least the next nine days with a hamstring ailment, Fizdale has no plans to change his starting lineup.
"The team is starting to show some consistency," he said Tuesday. "I think guys are starting to feel comfortable in the place they are playing at. Hopefully we can keep building on that."
Players have also referenced the progress the team has made lately.
"We've been playing really good basketball the past three games now and we just kept building on that (Monday)," RJ Barrett said after the win over Cleveland.
It seems clear that Ntilikina, Barrett, Morris, Julius Randle and Gibson will continue to start for the foreseeable future.
As you know, Fizdale has been searching for the optimal Knick lineups all season.
It will be interesting to see if he goes back to Payton as his starting point guard when he returns.
The coach said earlier this month that he wouldn't change the lineup if New York was having sustained success. So as long as the Knicks are winning/not getting blown out, Ntilikina should continue to start. Since we noted Ntilikina's net rating above, it's worth pointing out that the Knicks' net rating with Payton on the court is +1.4. Because of his injury, Payton has played 102 minutes to Ntilikina's 330.
Fizdale has been effusive in his praise of Doston lately.
"Last year I played him only in the fourth quarters and preseason and before I knew it, I felt like out all of the young guys he was the most consistent and here he goes again. He's falling right back into his groove," Fizdale said this week.
Dotson has played at least 20 minutes in four of New York's last five games and seems to have emerged as the club's backup shooting guard ahead of Wayne Ellington.
Again, a look at the net rating for Dotson suggests he's making a positive impact.
With Dotson on the court, New York's net rating is +5.9. When he's off the court, the net rating is -10.2. He's played 129 minutes -- a number that should continue to grow in the coming weeks.
Dotson spent the offseason rehabbing a shoulder injury that required surgery. He returned to the court ahead of the Knicks' timetable but he said Monday that he's still getting his conditioning/rhythm back.
Because of the dense nature of the schedule, it's challenging to work on conditioning during the season. But Dotson, Dennis Smith Jr. and other Knicks who have been out or haven't played a ton arrive before practice -- or stay after it -- to work on conditioning.
Fizdale has seen that work pay off for Dotson.
"He had to get his conditioning going and get his body moving again," Fizdale said. "And now that he sees his legs getting underneath him, he's a real contributor to helping us play good basketball."
Fizdale continues to praise Marcus Morris for his leadership.
"I've been around some great basketball leaders and he is an excellent leader. One of the best I've been around," the coach said Tuesday. "All these guys respect him. His way of going about it is very selfless. He always owns his own stuff first before he tells someone else what to do."
Morris texts Fizdale to check in about the next day's goals.
"I almost expect to get a text from Marcus at night. 'Coach, what do you need for the next day. What do you need for shootaround. What do you need for practice. Is there anything else I can be doing to help?'" Fizdale said of Morris' message.
Morris feels the Knicks are on the right track after their ugly start to the year.
"We're 14 games in, we've got a hundred more," he said Monday. "… We're going to continue to get better and I think we're going to keep taking steps in the right direction."