Knicks: How rebounding cost NY their season opener in Indiana

Nerlens Noel, Knicks. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Nerlens Noel, Knicks. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports /
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Dec 23, 2020; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Indiana Pacers forward Domantas Sabonis (11) shoots the ball while New York Knicks center Mitchell Robinson (23) defends in the second quarter at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports /

Rebounding gambles lost by the Knicks

Second chances were few and far between last night. Let’s review a few instances where the Knicks’ gambling led to nothing but more debt.

In this first example, Randle gets a good, albeit contested, look at the basket. Watch Mitch come crashing in for the offensive board, leaving him behind the play. On the other end, Reggie Bullock and Elfrid Payton put up zero resistance to the Oladipo drive:

This is not meant to be an indictment of Mitchell Robinson’s aggressiveness on the offensive glass. It just shows the risks that come with that aggressiveness. Part of Mitch’s development will be determining when he has a legitimate shot at snagging a board, and when it would be best for him to hustle back on defense. It’s a delicate balance considering that he brings a lot of value on the offensive glass. He also needs to be able to trust his teammates to stop the ball in instances when he is late to get back.

Elfrid Payton’s ball-watching

Here’s another example of a Knicks power forward driving to the basket, leaving both Knicks bigs under the rim. In those cases, it’s up to the guards to get back and tread water until the bigs can get back and protect the paint. Here, watch Payton standing at the free throw line just ball-watching:

Payton’s lack of hustle and urgency leaves Bullock on an island. This might be the Knicks’ biggest issue in transition defense. If the bigs are going to crash, the guards simply have to sprint back.

Poor positioning

On this play, the spacing is all off. Bullock buries himself under the rim when he cuts as RJ is driving. This prevents him from having any chance at getting back to stop the fast break. It doesn’t help that Mitch gives a half-hearted attempt at an offensive rebound then slowly jogs back on defense.

Also, watch how Toppin has the sense to start getting back on defense before the shot goes up. Burks, on the other hand, perhaps a little frustrated at not receiving the ball, takes a few moments before deciding to sprint back on defense. Finally, Barrett jogs back instead of stopping the ball, leaving Toppin to defend 3-on-1.

Just get back and play defense

There’s nothing fancy in this last example, and it may not even belong in this slideshow about offensive rebounding, but there’s just no excuse for this.

After the shot, everyone jogs and points but no one actually picks up TJ Warren. It’s unclear who Burks is guarding. RJ originally intends to pick up Warren until he realizes that no one is stopping the ball. Mitch is lackadaisical as he plods back.

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Thibs will need to really get back to fundamentals and stress that each player sprint back on defense if not contending for an offensive board. Energy and communication are bedrocks of sound defense and neither were on display last night.