Knicks guard Tim Hardaway Jr. shoots against Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum on Nov. 20, 2018, at Madison Square Garden.

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Schmeelk: It's A Make-Or-Miss League -- And The Knicks Miss A Ton

In Age Of Advanced Metrics, Shooting Is Still King

John Schmeelk
December 07, 2018 - 10:35 am
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Pat Riley used to say, “It’s a make-or-miss league.” Jeff Van Gundy has made it popular today as ESPN’s best game analyst. There are countless advanced statistics in the NBA, but it really is a simple formula: If you make shots, you win games.

Tom Haberstroh wrote a recent column for NBC Sports about which box-score statistic best determines whether an NBA team wins or loses a game. The answer? Field goal percentage.

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Want to know why the Knicks lose a lot of games? They only make 43.6 percent of their shots. Only two teams, the Heat and Pistons, shoot worse (43.2 percent and 43 percent). The Knicks are 22nd in the league with a 34.4 3-point percentage. Of the more advanced statistics, effective field-goal percentage, which weighs 3-point shooting more heavily, doesn’t help the Knicks much at all. Naturally, their raw number jumps to 49.2 percent, but it is still the third worst percentage in the league behind the Piston and Cavaliers.

The Knicks' 24.4 free throws per game (ninth most in the league) help mitigate their shooting issues a little bit, but not nearly enough. The fact of the matter is the Knicks can’t shoot. Just imagine if Enes Kanter, who has taken the second most shots on the team, wasn’t shooting 54 percent from the field? There is plenty of blame to go around.

Tim Hardaway Jr., who has a permanent green light while launching 18 shots per game, is shooting under 40 percent from the field. Trey Burke, who shoots the third most shots per game on the team is at 42 percent. Kevin Knox and Frank Ntilikina are both under 34 percent. Mario Hezonja is at 38 percent. It’s a brick fest.  

Shot selection, especially from Hardaway, Burke and Knox, are a big part of the problem. All three shoot long-contested jump shots far too often. According to NBA.com, only six teams shoot more shots between 15 and 19 feet than the Knicks do. They also don’t create many open looks via ball movement, with the team averaging only 19.2 assists per game, the second lowest number in the NBA.

MORE: Schmeelk: Frank Ntilikina Needs To Play

Of course, if a team can keep its opponents from scoring, it has a chance to stay in and win some games. The Knicks don’t do that, either. Their opponents are shooting 47.6 percent from the field, better than only three teams (Cavaliers, Spurs and Suns). Only four teams allow opponents to shoot better than the Knicks do from behind the 3-point line (36.7 percent). The Knicks are fourth worst in the NBA in effective field-goal percentage against, too (49.2 percent).

The Knicks have few true two-way players. Damyean Dotson and Noah Vonleh are probably the only two on the entire roster that can play offense and defense. Allonzo Trier is on the fence with his defense. Frank Ntilikina, Mitchell Robinson and Lance Thomas can’t score, but they defend well. Hardaway, Burke, Knox, Kanter and Emmanuel Mudiay can score to some extent, but all struggle defensively. It puts Knicks coach David Fizdale in a bad spot.

The Knicks are never going to be a great shooting team, so they are much better off playing their better defensive players together, like they did when they started Ntilikina, Dotson, Vonleh, Robinson and Hardaway. Hardaway provided the scoring, but the other four all defended. That lineup has an excellent plus/minus and a defensive rating of 98.5, which is elite.  

The Knicks' struggles are reflected in their net rating, which calculates the difference in their points scored and allowed per possession. Only four teams are worse than the Knicks at minus-5.8 this season. When all is said and done, if you can’t hit a high percentage of your shots, or keep your opponents from doing it, you aren’t going to win a lot of games. It’s a make-or-miss league. And the Knicks are doing the missing, while their opponents are doing the making. It’s a good formula for a top-five lottery pick.

Schmeelk’s Snippets

Fizdale needs to go away from the starting lineup he's been employing lately -- including in Thursday night's 128-100 loss to the Celtics. Despite the team’s recent three-game winning streak, the starting five of Vonleh, Hezonja, Kanter, Mudiay and Hardaway, has been outscored on a consistent basis. It now has a minus-18 rating this season and a 110.4 defensive rating, If Dotson replaced Hezonja in the starting five, it would add a little more balance and potentially give Hezonja time to handle the ball more with the second unit.

You can follow me on Twitter for everything on Knicks, Giants and the world of sports @Schmeelk.​