The resurgence of the Knicks over the past several weeks has drawn particular attention to importance of the teams bread and butter Pick and Roll offense. The effectiveness of the play has generated plenty of articles. Articles discussing the growing chemistry between point Raymond Felton and Amar'e Stoudemire. Some discussing the importance of the shooting from the arc by the teams wings. To others discussing the philosophical and historical aspects of the play that has become the axis of the Knicks offensive attack.
All this Overload of information on the Knicks bread and butter play has given me pause. Pause to think why it's working now so effectively. Why it is that if is so tailored towards a fast pace offensive attack. To borrow a term (coined by our resident Fanatic Lives) the Pick and Roll (P&R) creates what can be deemed a "secondary break."
A simulation and Extension of the Fast Break:
Think about how an initial fast break opportunity 1-1, 2-1, 3-2 usually has a defender on his heels back peddling. How the pressure from the man pushing the ball up the court draws in the defense to pack the paint. Think of how that drawing in of the defense leaves space open for others to fill the lane or a kick out pass to the arc for a uncontested three pointer. Now think what an effective P&R set creates in a half court set. In essence it simulates the collapse of a teams defense while in the formality of a half court possession.
However, the right personnel is also key to the ignition of an effective P&R attack. An unwilling or undeft passer can stifle the fluidity of the set. An uninspiring guard who can be accounted for leaves a defense more likely to cheat to contain the man on the roll. A roller who cannot finish or draw fouls effectively as he goes to the basket limits the effectiveness of the play.
Unlike previous years where the Knicks sent Chris Duhon on the court or played more below the rim with less explosive offensive front line players (Zach Randolph, Jared Jefferies, David Lee) the Knicks this year have a tandem that must be accounted for on the Pick and Roll sets. In Felton the Knicks have a guard who packs a small arsenal of pull ups, floaters and shifty nimbleness to be a genuine threat to finish at the rack. In Stoudemire the Knicks have an aggressive relentless above the rim player who can either finish at the rack or draw fouls as he motors towards the goal.
With the ever improving group of shooters surrounding the Stoudemire and Felton pairing the Knicks P&R becomes not only symbiotic relationship between the two men at the outset of the play. It also encompasses a centripetal and centrifugal force drawing defenses in and having them have to gather to recover out on the Knicks long shooting wings. A whirling force not unlike the famous cyclone of Coney Island fame.
Well we all know how the play has helped bring the Knicks back to respectability. But you might then ask how is it that the P&R, a fast paced attack or teams made up of less plodding personnel has inspired other turnarounds or revivals elsewhere? Well let's take a look as the Knicks take their whirling derby in the coming days to the eyes of storms in the country's hurricane and tornado alleys.
Aspects of Speedball spark a resurgence throughout the league?
South of the Mason Dixon in the Sunshine state of Florida both the Heat and the Magic are experiencing turn around and revivals. Turnarounds in the midst of seasons that have started slow or gone off the typical beaten paths of success.
In Miami, the Heat bring a skilled big and two of the most lethal wings in the game. A triumvirate who have found an identity as a fast break team that has deftly utilized the P&R to punish elite teams such as the Lakers. With wings who can crash the boards and are a terror on the break and the 2nd break when set up via the P&R. The Heat turn the whirling derby into a full force Hurricane offensively. Certainly the Heat's effectiveness resulting from some of the staples of D'Antoni ball would put a smile on Mr. Mustache's face if he didn't have to coach against them so often.
In Orlando, the Magic executed a trade several days back. The multi team trade involving Phoenix and Washington jettisoned Marcin Gortat, Vince Carter, Mickael Pietrus and Rashard Lewis. In exchange the Magic reacquired Hedo Turgkoglu and obtained Jason Richardson and Gilbert Arenas. The trade was intended to provide a shot in the arm to a Magic offense that had been stagnating with the recently expedited cast of characters.
The trade was deemed a tactical sacrifice/gamble aimed at forcing a stalemate with the other powers in the Eastern Conference. The trade is also credited with increasing the tempo of the Magic's offensive attack. A higher octane arsenal with a possibly revived Hibachi and the open court threat posed by Richardson. More ominously the Turkoglu/Howard P&R with shooters like Nelson, Richardson, Arenas and Reddick looms to reemerge.
In the Lone Star state the San Antonio Spurs are also experiencing a revival after two straight seasons where they exited the the playoffs earlier than expected. An article discussing the Spurs credits the resurgence to the teams more fluid use of a fast paced running attack and a heavier dose of P&R plays. The Spurs who many once viewed as an atypical Eastern Conference half court team stranded in the Western conference have turned to elements of the D'Antoni ball to keep Tim Duncan fresh.
Talk about counterintuitive! The recharged running Spurs according to the article have realized that their effective open court wing and guard tandem of Manu Ginobli and Tony Parker can be equally effective in the open court. A no brainer when you consider the tandems effectiveness as drivers and finishers in the Spurs once plodding offensive attack. Lastly in addition to keeping Duncan fresh for a late season push, the new faster paced attack provides a change of pace that has thrown defense (use to defending the plodding half court sets) off kilter.
So the combination of a faster pace on offense and the use of the simulated secondary break provided by the resilient P&R is reviving not only the Knicks. It's helped provide an offensive identity to the Heat. It's inspired an in season restructuring of the personnel in the Magic's offense. It has revived the once half court oriented Spurs towards the top seed in the Western Conference and its Southwest Division. Do we need further proof that aspects of D'Antoni's offensive and personnel philosophy can work?
Well there's some more in Texas when you look to the Mavericks who now benefit from a less plodding center clogging the lane and slowing the offense down. The Mavericks can confirm that with the serenades they've lofted at their fleet footed mobile running center in Tyson Chandler. A talent now paired with the up tempo leadership at the point from Jason Kidd, the hotter long ball shooting of Caron Butler to spread the floor on the Mavericks fast breaks and the lethal Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry P&R.
Substance beyond Style?:
Just to slow the koolaid I'll pose this question. Can that witch is accomplished by scheme surpass that witch is obtained by a mixture of skill, effort or substance/depth in addition to scheme?
Let me be clear there is skill involved in executing a play. As stated above an effective P&R requires certain types of players to run optimally. Certainly this year many teams in the league who possess a mixture of skilled or explosive point men and wings are now utilizing their personnel to those players benefit by pushing tempo via the break and the P&R. Point Forwards/Guards, Slasher and finishers like Ginobli, James, Parker, Turkoglu, Kidd, Terry and Wade now are working in tandem with skilled Forwards like Bosh, Wade, Nowitzki, Duncan Howard to punish opposing offenses by way of the play that has revived the Knickerbockers.
But it's pretty evident, however, that the greater degrees of success experienced by the Heat, Magic, Mavericks and Spurs presents elements that go beyond the uptempo and P&R offensively oriented attack that is a hit in Gotham. Take a look at the team by team statistical breakdowns throughout the league and you'll see that the four above mentioned teams are generally better defensive and rebounding teams than the Knicks.* Currently the Knicks rank 23rd in their defensive rating when compared to the Heat (2nd), Magic (4th), Mavericks (7th) and Spurs (9th).
As evidenced by the Heat's recent victory over the Knicks, good defensive teams can frustrate the success obtained by scheme. Teams with more offensive depth and players who can recover on broken plays can extend disrupted offensive sets as well. See the Heat's use of Chris Bosh's post skills to steady the game in the 3rd quarter during one of many attempted Knicks Rally's. Also look at Dwayne Wade's and Lebron's ability to finish on isolations that emerged when the Heat's initial sets were broken down.
Currently the Knicks are still a work in progress on many levels. Certainly they've emerged from the cellar and are a team that must be accounted for due to their relentless nature. But the Knicks still could improve in areas such as defense and rebounding. Elements of the game that many observers would point to being keys to a successful fast break attack. The Knicks could use a more skilled wing capable of recovering broken plays as result of that players skills as an isolation player. The Knicks could add depth and dimension to their P&R whirling derby by setting plays for their wings on the perimeter to get them cutting or screened to the basket once overzealous help defenders attempt to throttle Stoudemire and Anthony. Those defensive and offensive dimensions and alternatives come from a combination of defensive effort, offensive depth (in terms of the personnel on board) and the skill to design depth (via additional permutations to the Knicks basic offense and key offensive set).
* As of December 29, 2010:
Opponents Points Per Game: Miami 1 (90.84); Orlando 5 (92.81); Dallas 6 (93.45); San Antonio 16 (98.10); Knicks 28 (106.57). Point Differential Per Game: Miami 1 (+9.66); San Antonio 3 (+8.13); Dallas 5 (+6.03) Orlando 7 (+4.09); Knicks 14 (+1.33). Opponents Field Goal Percentage: Miami 1 (.424); Dallas 4 (.434); Orlando 7 (.438); San Antonio 19 (.461); New York 24 (.470). Rebounding Differential : Orlando 3 (+3.29); Miami 6 (+2.50); Dallas 12 (+1.21); San Antonio 13 (+0.90); Knicks 23 (-2.30)