The New York Knicks have some issues with developing a rotation. The attempt of this without stakes is much easier than implementation; however, nothing is ever easy in New York. By removing ego and taking an absurdly objective look at this team can bear fruit out of season.
Everyone on this team, despite having different goals, all stand to gain from the same thing. This one thing should bring this team together for no other reason than it literally benefits all of them. Whether anyone’s future is with New York or being utilized by other cities in their individual careers, all futures are brighter if the Knicks begin stringing some wins together.
Call it desperation, call it impatience, or call it the pressure of facing the media scrutiny but this team needs to think less and play within themselves. This is accomplished by establishing roles for players for the singular focus of winning games. With a team with as many questions as New York, the task is not for the faint of heart.
To start or not to start?
The notion of starting and the importance of those making the most money to start is frankly nonsensical. Looking at the Eastern Conference at some of the salaries of non-starting, in some cases out of the rotation, $10-25M players. Whether those players are properly paid is another thing, but the point is they’re not starting. This can be replicated and even optimized for the Knicks roaster to help produce wins. With this approach there are other pitfalls, knowing when to keep a rotation on the floor or pull them to name a potentially glaring one.
Now at the start of the game, there will still be five players on the court and that should remain consistent unless unhealthy. This is to give the Knicks the best chance to establish themselves at the start of games. There will be disagreements but this isn’t meaning the players getting the most time by any means. That being said, the starting five should be Frank Ntilikina, Damyean Dotson, RJ Barret, Marcus Morris, and Taj Gibson/Mitchell Robinson.
Figuring out if Mitchell should start over Taj is a bit hard to sift through but with Robinson being foul prone, Taj is more likely to start games more often than not. If Robinson can figure out how to avoid careless fouls than he should be able to earn those starting responsibilities. Now for the most notable and highest-paid exception to the starting line-up, Julius Randle.
The Julius Randle Debate…
Julius Randle over the off-season claimed he wanted to take a leadership role and take a lot of the younger players and use his experience to share his adversity to right the ship during downtimes. He got the biggest contract and the responsibility seems to be getting to him in a way it may have never had before. Randle has faced adversity in his career with a terrible injury, not being valued by his drafted team and has overall been a bit undervalued based on his unweighted production. Whether a Knicks fan still has faith or wants him as the first name on the trade block, taking the most radically objective scope of his NBA career, Randle has seen most of his time coming off the bench.
First, if he thrives and the team begins to win with him coming off the bench could spark a discussion about roles within teams. Acknowledging him coming to a new city, with an expanded role, and more scrutiny than he’s faced in this role, it’s a little easier to understand his visible struggles. Second, it sets an example to the rest of the guys about shared sacrifice and putting the wants of the individual behind the goals of the team. Third, we already know what that second/other rotation would be and it would include who Randle recruited for the Knicks this off-season in Wayne Ellington. The rotation featuring Randle would be Dennis Smith Jr./Elfrid Payton, Wayne Ellington, Kevin Knox, and Mitchell Robinson/Bobby Portis. Assuming no foul trouble or fatigue, we want to get as much time as we can for Mitchell Robinson. The ultimate goal would be for him to be the Knicks franchise big for the next decade.
As far as guard rotation, most guards have had an injury history and so players like Payton and Trier can fill those roles or as a scorer off the bench to get the offense going. Touching back to Bobby Portis, he’s going to see time on the court. Putting it simply, Robinson is foul prone and Taj Gibson is the oldest player on this roaster, and maintaining production throughout the year in a veteran role would be where he’s most valuable. He’s there to keep Robinson, Portis and Randle to an extent on their toes so if their not playing well he can step in to center the team again.
That being said the second line-up is quite poor defensively, they still maintain offensive versatility. Ellington is a career 38% (35% this season) three-point shooter and Portis is currently converting close to 42% of his three-point attempts as well. Despite his recent games, Knox is still converting almost 39% of his three-point attempts. Whether it’s Dennis or Elfrid, they both have run an offense, Elfrid and Julius have established report, and a Dennis/Robinson pairing as a pick and roll threat can keep a defense guessing. Working off theory isn’t always reliable but neither is the offense of the team as it’s currently being put back.
Now with the roles being addressed, we can look to our players’ respective careers to see what allows them to thrive and play their best basketball to add up numbers in the win column.
The Oldest Play in Basketball…
The pick & roll (P&R). Not trying to reinvent the wheel here because there’s a truth to running an offense with all new players and the struggles that arise. That being said, there is no reason to not be utilizing the oldest and most useful play in basketball. It’s criminal when the highest-paid player on your team is best when playing in a P&R heavy offense. This becomes borderline treasonous when Mitchell Robinson is easily a top-five roll man in the league. This isn’t about creating a whole bunch of set plays for certain players which should be done too but using the play everyone knows. Even if there are players who could struggle on the consistent execution of P&R, it’s not the oldest play for no reason.
The ideas are simple, and it’s frankly about execution. In fairness the Knicks seem to run an option sets for Morris (who’s earned it), establishing a heavier P&R offense not only takes advantage of the current talent but makes other plays run more effective because they’re seeing those plays less often.
Now there’s been a lot of mentioning the simplicity of a P&R but while it is falsely marketed as “one play.” Just from the offensive perspective, there are four options alone looking a the ball handler in a vacuum. If the defense is not switching, either the roller and ball-handler should have created a step or separation with their defenders. Now that’s not always going to generate points, but this is about creating the most effective environment for the offense to thrive. This not mentioning back cuts if an off-ball defender is caught ball watching, and then there’s the threat roll/pop man the represents.
Ran correctly and with emphasis, the P&R offense it can stabilize and “right the ship” in a slump and extend scoring runs. If the defense is switching, isolating and taking advantage of a mismatch leads to a more effective offense.
There’s one more thing about running and incorporating more P&R that has nothing to do with the offense. Typically, and of course there are outliers, the players that hold the offensive burden tend to save themselves on defense.
The simple reason is whether it’s facilitating the offense or committing to defense, it requires energy. By not attacking these players especially if they’re undersized or minus defenders, they’re allowed to thrive with what they’re good at and not be punished for the skills or size they lack. There’s no reason for the Knicks not to put undersized players in more mismatch advantage situations. It forces them into a choice, to save themselves defensively which increases the mismatch advantage or tries harder on defense. Over the course of the game that takes a toll, and it can serve to keep that player out of rhythm. It makes the offensive facilitator(s) or minus defenders tired sooner and thus affect their offensive production on the other side of the ball. See how effective it can be when other teams run it against our minus defenders (our dogs?).
It could be putting Randle or Portis in motion to create an advantage against minus defenders. It’s been used a lot to get Frank off their ball handlers and run the offense from a point of direct size advantage (guard verse big) or just giving them the better guard option to run the offense against (i.e, not Frank). The weeds have been dug up but to finish, imposing physical will on mismatches has a ton of effects, generally positive for the team running them and deflating for the defensive team. It’s a phenomenon of hopelessness shared by this fan-base in seeing a lack of cohesion on offense considering the tools Knicks players have in running the P&R.
This was iterated above, but it bears repeating: That being said, there is no reason to not be utilizing the oldest and most useful play in basketball (P&R). It’s criminal when the highest-paid player on your team is best when playing in a P&R heavy offense. This borders treasonous when you have Mitchell Robinson, easily a top-five roll man in the league.