The Knicks Should Push the Tempo on Offense


Over the past seven months, beginning with the resignation of Mike D’Antoni, almost all of the Knicks’ personnel moves have hinted at designing a team geared for a slow-pace, half-court offense. Mike Woodson took over and gradually slowed and implemented his unhurried style into the Knicks, allowing, mainly, Carmelo Anthony to isolate and work on the wings, much to his pleasure. Jeremy Lin, a man who set NBA records in Mike D’Antoni’s fast-pace, free-flowing offense, was not retained. The Knicks re-acquired veterans like Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas – not exactly leaping, bounding veterans.

Oct 22, 2012; Syracuse, NY, USA; New York Knicks small forward Carmelo Anthony (7) talks with New York Knicks head coach Mike Woodson during the third quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-US PRESSWIRE

And so far in the preseason, the Knicks have evidenced what their moves suggested: this team would score the ball in slow, half-court fashion. And so far in the preseason, the Knicks have scored over 100 points just once.

Granted, preseason, especially for the Knicks, has been five games of trials and repetitions with injuries slowing down key rotation players, and a gracious number of minutes having been lent to roster-hopefuls like Chris Copeland, Mychel Thompson, and John Shurna. However, the offense hasn’t given much indication of being a particularly potent or effective one.

On occasion, the Knicks’ offense has looked like a functioning, motion-based half-court system with lots of pick-and-rolls, cross screens, down screens, and post-ups. At it’s worst, it’s produced awkward, lackadaisical confusion with lots of bail-out three-point attempts and isolations from Carmelo Anthony.

The Knicks, especially without the help of Amar’e Stoudemire or J.R. Smith, possess very few players who can create their own shots or spread the floor. Last night’s starting lineup, for instance, contained Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd in the back-court, with Ronnie Brewer, Anthony, and Tyson Chandler upfront. With Anthony being the only potent offensive threat, with Kidd, Felton (though he made his three-pointers last night), Brewer, and Chandler as limited, inconsistent threats, the offense produced only 13 points in nearly 8 minutes (only 19 points had that lineup played the whole first quarter at that offensive pace). The Philadelphia 76ers’ intentions were clear early on: double Anthony and make other players step up. With the exceptions of Steve Novak, Stoudemire, and Smith, the Knicks contain inconsistent shooters and iffy (at best) shot-creators off the dribble.

The Knicks’ roster actually has great personnel to be an uptempo team.

Raymond Felton was nearing All-Star status under Mike D’Antoni in 2010-11 when he was averaging 17 points, 9 assists, though with a sloppy 3.2 turnovers per game. Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith both haven’t recreated the same offensive potency with the Knicks as they had with the Denver Nuggets who were usually in the top five in pace. Tyson Chandler had one of his best seasons on offense last year when the Knicks were fifth in the NBA in pace. Ronnie Brewer’s two best seasons scoring the ball came in 2007-08 and 2008-09 when the Utah Jazz were tenth in pace. And Amar’e Stoudemire isn’t too shabby in an uptempo offense either. (Pace stats provided by Hoopdata).

Furthermore, increasing the tempo of the offense allows Jason Kidd to unleash his passing ability (by far his greatest asset at this point) on unset defenses, and allows Steve Novak to spot-up beyond the arc before defenses can key in on sticking to him.

This is not to say the Knicks need to move at D’Antoni-Phoenix-Suns or Don-Nelson-Golden-State-Warriors speeds, but a faster offense actually suits the talents of the team much better. Of course, an immediate flag goes up as Carmelo Anthony abandoned such a system last year; would he suddenly buy into one now? His time with the Nuggets and the Olympic teams suggest his game fits a quicker pace, so it may just be a matter of where he’s positioned in the offense and how often the ball is in his hands.

If the Knicks want to play at an elite level, their offense and their defense both need to be among the best in the league. The defense, while still shaky has the potential to get there, and likely will given the recent trends and the make-up of the roster. The offense, as currently run, will likely fall short.