There are plenty of reasons why the Knicks, once 18-5, then lost in the midseason wilderness, have managed to win nine straight.
The Knicks aren’t receiving a complete absence of production from 40 percent of their starting lineup anymore.
That would seem to be atop the list, wouldn’t it?
Consider that during the 18-5 start, Jason Kidd played shooting guard, Ronnie Brewer played small forward. Kidd was incredibly productive, shooting 43 percent from three and averaging 8.2 points per game in just over 29 minutes per game. And lest we forget, Ronnie Brewer was awfully helpful offensively as well, with six points on just under 35 percent three point shooting in 22 minutes per game.
Thus, J.R. Smith off the bench was value added, not just in to make up for a deficit.
But that soon changed. Brewer dropped to 21 percent from the field, lost his lineup spot, lost his rotation spot, and was soon shipped, Nermal-style, to Oklahoma City. Iman Shumpert, starting in his place, shot 31 percent from three, and only attempted 2.3 per game in his first 19 games back.
Kidd entered a long slump, shot below 30 percent from three over the subsequent 36 games, which doesn’t even fully capture his futility: from January 11 through March 1, Kidd shot 18.6 percent from three, and didn’t make more than two threes in any game.
I’m focusing on production from three in particular because a starting lineup filled with shooters is what allowed Carmelo Anthony to be so dangerous. No one could sag off of three point shooters who lurked dangerously; Anthony in single coverage is deadly.
So what has happened over the past nine games? Shumpert has been astonishing from three, just under 59 percent in more than three attempts per game. Kidd has been right around his career norms, 34.6 percent in just under three attempts per game. And Kidd’s minutes are down to a more manageable 25 per game; Pablo Prigioni has been starting, and giving the Knicks 20 minutes per game and 42.9 percent shooting from three.
The combo of Kidd and Prigioni in the game with Raymond Felton, to help with playmaking, has also seemed to revitalize Felton. After a 40.6 percent three-point shooting clip in the first 23 games, Felton (who, it must be said, also dealt with multiple hand injuries) dipped significantly. But he’s back to 41.4 percent from three during the winning streak, and better still taking just 8.6 shots overall per game. He doesn’t have to force the action. Smith and Anthony are scoring at will when left alone; the three-point shooters, Felton included, are taking advantage of double teams.
It is too simplistic to say that the Knicks are only effective offensively when their three-point shooters are making shots. They need an offensive ecosystem to produce well. And when they are, it makes Anthony, and now Smith, better. The full offensive environment is exactly where the Knicks want it, with only the re-addition of Tyson Chandler pick-and-rolls to complete the picture.
How good the Knicks will be come playoff time is still to be determined. But many of the necessary components for a deep playoff run have already fallen into place.