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Are The Knicks Too Dependent on Threes?
Posted By Tommy Beer On August 30, 2013 @ 12:00 pm In Main Page,NBA | No Comments
Last week in this space we examined the recent and dramatic increase in three-point shooting throughout the NBA. As was detailed in depth, the all-time three-point shooting record books have been rewritten in recent years.
Yet no team attempted more three’s than the Knicks. In fact, no team in NBA history attempted more three-pointers than did Mike Woodson’s Knicks in 2012-13.
30 years ago, during the 1982-83 NBA season, there was only one player in the entire league (Mike Dunleavy) who attempted more than 50 threes… Last season in New York, eight different members of the Knicks attempted at least 50 three-pointers. Yes, of the nine Knicks that appeared in 50 or more games, every single one of them jacked up at least 50 three’s, all except for starting center Tyson Chandler.
Interestingly, Mike Woodson arrived in New York with a reputation as a ‘grind-it-out’ defensive specialist. As an assistant coach with the Detroit Pistons, he was credited with helping to formulate their punishing defensive gameplans. And as the head coach of the Atlanta Hawks from 2004-2010, Atlanta consistently ranked near the bottom of the league in three-point attempts and makes.
He was brought to New York to effectively serve as a “defensive coordinator” for then head coach Mike D’Antoni. Many believed Woodson was essentially tasked with trying to convince D’Antoni to slow down his famed ‘seven seconds or less’ offensive attack. However, once D’Antoni was canned and Woodson moved over one seat and took over the team, he has wholeheartedly embraced the controversial “live by the three, die by the three” creed.
To be fair, much of this was the result of Woodson making the most of the roster he inherited. The team Woodson had to coach was built and constructed under the assumption that D’Antoni would be calling the shots. Nonetheless, Woodson has clearly embraced a reliance on long-distance gunning.
While it is indisputable that the Knicks have taken, and will continue to take, an exorbitant number of three’s, the questions is: Do the Knicks put themselves in the best position to win by playing this way? And, more importantly, can they be considered serious contenders for the crown if they continue to rely so heavily on shots from 22-plus feet away from the basket?
Examining the game log from last season reveals some interesting results. The Knicks attempted more than 32 three’s in 22 regular season games, and won 19 of those 22 contests, which equates to a .863 winning percentage.
Similarly, New York won 29 of the 34 games in which they nailed at least 12 three-balls (.852 winning percentage).
Conversely, the Knicks posted a 17-20 record (.459 winning percentage) when they knocked down fewer than 11 three-pointers.
There was a clear positive correlation between the number of three-point attempts/makes and Knick wins during the 2012-13 regular season.
However, as many suspected would be the case, the Knicks struggled in the postseason, as the pace of play slowed down. Both the Indiana Pacers and Boston Celtics focused on chasing the Knicks off their spots and closing out hard behind the arc. Yet, before making too much of this small sample size, it should be pointed out that the Celtics and Pacers were two of the better defensive teams in the NBA last season, particularly the Pacers, who led the NBA in defensive efficiency rating and allowed the fewest three-point makes during the regular season.
New York knocked down more than 10 three pointers in just two of the 12 postseason contests they played. In addition to the stellar defense, many of the Knicks best shooters went cold at the worst time possible. J.R. Smith, in particular, played arguably the worst basketball of his career. In fact, Smith became just the second NBA player in the last 50 years to appear in at least 10 playoff games and attempt 160 field goals, yet shoot below 34 percent from the floor. After shooting nearly 36 percent from long-range during the regular season, Smith shot just 27.3 percent on triple tries in the playoffs. Similarly, Carmelo Anthony converted 38 percent of his three-point attempts during the regular season, yet saw that number dip to below 30 percent in the postseason.
When asked about the Knicks reliance on the three-ball in the past, Woodson has not apologized for his team’s risky infatuation with long jumpers. And considering the way Glen Grunwald has continued to construct the roster, by adding shooters to space the floor, it doesn’t appear Knicks fans should expect a drastic change in philosophy anytime soon.
By trading for former number No. 1 pick Andrea Bargnani, Grunwald and company are clearly willing to live with a lack of rebounding and interior toughness in order to add another talented offensive threat. Consider this: Last season, Bargnani became the first seven-footer in NBA history to play more than 28 minutes a night, yet average fewer than four rebounds per game. On the other hand, he is also one of only two NBA players listed at seven-feet to have ever made more than 120’s three-pointers in a season (Dirk Nowitzki being the other).
Metta World Peace, the Knicks new small forward, attempted a career-high 5.5 three-pointers per game last season. Next season we can safely assume he will frequently camp out on the weak-side corner, ready and willing to launch a three off a skip pass when Melo is isolated on the opposite side of the floor.
So, going forward, can the Knicks be considered a legit threat in the heavily-stacked Eastern Conference? History tells us that it is very rare for a team to lead the league in three-point attempts and go on to claim the crown in the same season. In fact, the Rockets in both 1993-94 and 1994-95 are the only teams to ever pull the difficult double-double.
However, recent data suggests that successful teams are attempting more three-pointers than in years past. For instance, 11 of the past 13 NBA champions have averaged above the league average in terms of three-point attempts per game. Only one of those 13 champions averaged fewer than 15 three-point attempts per game (the 2003-04 Detroit Pistons). In addition, as noted previously, last season the top two seeds in each conference (the Miami HEAT, New York Knicks, San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder) all finished in the top-five in three-point percentage.
In 2012-13, the world Champion HEAT finished third in the NBA in three-point makes, finishing behind only the mad-bombing Knicks and Houston Rockets. Miami made a total of 717 three’s last season, becoming the first NBA champion ever to make more than 700 three-pointers (and attempted more than 1,800 three’s) during the same season they went on to win the title.
Furthermore, nine of the ten teams that attempted at least 610 three’s last season made the playoffs. Conversely, ten of the 14 teams that finished the season with fewer than 550 made three’s did NOT qualify for the postseason.
The Knicks will certainly be amongst the league leaders in three-point attempts and makes next season, but will they be one of the final few teams left standing next June?
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