What's Different About These Knicks?
Let's get one thing straight: the Knicks' season is not saved. For all of the postives you can take from this past five-game winning streak, one could argue there just as many negatives still remaining with the team, like their balky FT%, their lack of a starting two-way PG, and the questionable basketball IQ that's been shown time and time again under the leadership of Mike Woodson.
That aside, the Knicks' five-game winning streak has some encouraging, and telling, trends.
Four of the last six Knicks wins have something in common - J.R. Smith took eight or fewer shots. One of those wins came with Smith on the bench the entire game, and the other, last night against Phoenix, saw him draw a -15 rating when he fired 11 times.
New York has gone 7-3 so far when Smith's limited himself to eight.
It's not surpsing they've thrived with less of J.R.'s constant stepbacks out of isolation, considering he's knocked down just 35% of his shots to date, and just 32% from 8-24 feet, per NBA Stats. His costly misses down the stretch of games (he's actually been just 32.4% from the field and 27.9% from three in the 4th Quarter this season) have given the opposition an opportunity to close the gap in the 4th, which has caused the Knicks to lose late games when they turn to hero ball with Carmelo Anthony. Iman Shumpert said after Thursday's win over the Heat that their ability to "be patient with the ball and wait for the right shot," was the key to their recent closing ability, and it's no coincidence J.R. Smith's tendency to shoot has decreased.
Selecting better shots has come from better ball movement, particularly in the case of Carmelo Anthony. In addition to his career-high in rebounds per game so far (8.8), he's passed the ball extremely well during this Knicks winning streak. In five of their last six wins, he has four or more assists. Like J.R.'s shot selection, this has also greatly affected the team; 11 of their 15 victories have come when this is the case, and they've lost just twice - by a combined margin of 4.
That's been due in large part to Amar'e Stoudemire.
Anthony is averaging 18 assists per 100 possessions with Stoudemire on the floor over the team's past 10 games, and is 10/13 from three. Why is that, you may ask? The pick and roll.
The Knicks, especially Carmelo Anthony, have begun to utilize one of the best pick and roll players ever in Stoudemire. While Anthony's shot and assisted to Amar'e on the traditional pick and roll a few times, they've consistently run a staggered screen-and-roll to utilize Stoudemire's P&R proficiency and get Carmelo Anthony open jumpers. What's more: it worked on the league's best defender.
Step 1: Carmelo Anthony sets high screen.
Step 2: With Carmelo already free, Stoudemire sets another screen to initiate a lower pick and roll to draw Anthony's defender in.
Step 3: LeBron James takes the bait just for a moment, and gets a bump from Stoudemire, giving Anthony plenty of space.
Step 4: Raymond Felton kicks to Carmelo Anthony, who drills wide-open jumper.
This play has been run repeatedly, and even twice in a row when it doesn't initially work, to get Carmelo space. It's succeeded multiple times, against LeBron James. Even if the defender is a split-second quicker to recognize the play, Stoudemire, rolling to the basket, has made enough contact with him to free Anthony up for a shot. In the event his defender closes out quickly, they either swing the ball to the corner or, if the P&R is not defended, score that way.
The pick and roll has been so effective for the Knicks that they've even been able to use that against guessing defenses who, here, are guarding against a dribble pitch (another version of the P&R). They fake it, and it gives Amar'e Stoudemire an extra step to the rim to finish with a dunk with an assist from Carmelo.
Upon review, Anthony's recent spike in assists have come off of the aforementioned double-screen play they ran frequently against the Heat, and out of double-teams. The majority of his assists have simply stemmed from two defenders closing in on him, whether it be in the P&R or in the post, and he's been able to make crisp passes to open players.
In addition to their offensive success with Stoudemire, It also shouldn't go unnoticed that the team's been allowing just 95.3 points per 100 possessions during their streak, nine-points better than their season average of 104.7. What's yet another common trend during this winning streak? Kenyon Martin has averaged 29 minutes per game. The team is 5-2 when he's logged more than 25 minutes this season, and he holds the team's best Defensive and Net Ratings this season.
It's great to have an asset like Martin, but it's not likely he'll be able to stay injury-free, at Age 36, for the remainder of the season. If Mike Woodson has learned from last season with Jason Kidd, however, he might limit his minutes slightly going forward. Of course this will be no easy decision, given Martin's importance, but if the team expects to make the playoffs a month from now, they'd be left with the choice of playing for seeding or playing for a title run.
That's jumping far too ahead, however, as this team's won six of seven, and stands 8th in the Eastern Conference. There are, however, things to be encouraged by, and if the team continues some of these winning trends, it could eventually help them to the top of a weak Atlantic Division.
Kenny Ducey covers the Knicks for WFUV. You can follow him on Twitter @KennyDucey.
Stats and Screenshots courtesy NBA.com/Stats