New York Knicks: Isolation basketball isn't working anymore
Dec 25, 2016; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks guard Derrick Rose (25) shoots the ball against Boston Celtics guard Avery Bradley (0) during the second half at Madison Square Garden. The Celtics won 119-114. Mandatory Credit: Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

Defense is the biggest gripe about the New York Knicks, and rightfully so. But their offense needs some fixing too.

“We have to stay with it. If something is working, you don’t want to go away from it.”

That was New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony talking to The New York Post after his team’s Christmas Day loss to the Boston Celtics. Anthony was talking about his team’s one on one offense.

What game was he watching?

The New York Knicks (16-14) made 270 passes in their Christmas Day loss to the Boston Celtics. It led to a pathetic 11 assists. Their division rival made 365 passes, leading to 25 assists. Defense is the easiest target when it comes to the cause of the Knicks struggles, but Sunday exposed another. Their lack of ball movement.


New York Knick’s offense stagnates, particularly against the good teams, and relies too much on isolation basketball. Carmelo Anthony shoulders all of the blame, but if the problem is to be fixed, it will need to be a team effort.

New York Knicks

The Knicks are trying, but it’s been in vain. Their lack of efficiency, which reared its ugly head against Boston, has been an unfortunate trend.

New York is fifth in the league in passes per game but only 19th in assists, making them 23rd in assist to pass percentage (via NBA.com).

They haven’t been careful with the ball either. The Jeff Hornacek-led squad is 22nd in turnovers per game and 18th in assists per turnover. The problems can be traced back to the team’s overreliance on isolation play.

The Knicks are third in iso possessions behind only the Dallas Mavericks and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Dallas is one of the NBA’s worst teams, and Cleveland (with their roster) is one of the few teams that can make that offense work.

Anthony leads the team with 153 iso possessions and takes strong criticism because of his inefficiency. Melo is just in the 63rd percentile of efficiency in points per possession on iso possessions.

Let’s look at some clips from Anthony’s Christmas Day performance against Boston. On both possessions, he goes one on one with two of the best on-ball defenders in the NBA and makes the shot harder than it needed to be.

In the first possession, it’s Avery Bradley. Melo isolates the smaller player in one of his favorite spots, on the elbow.

The second features Anthony going up against his nemesis, Jae Crowder.

Melo takes the ball at the three-point line, clears out, and takes four dribbles attempting to back Crowder down before missing a well-contested shot.

The Knicks need to run more pick and roll. Right now, They’re an inexplicable 24th in pick and roll possessions, despite Derrick Rose‘s skill in the league’s most popular play.

Per NBA.com, in 172 possessions as the ball handler on the pick and roll, Rose is in the 82nd percentile of efficiency in points per possession. He’s ranked 21st in the league in that play type but should be in the top-10.

New York Knicks

Rose hasn’t been much of a passing threat this season, but when he’s been in the p-and-r, he’s been at his best. Check out these clips of how he expertly manipulates the screen.

In the first, he alters his path to the rim and uses his body to shield the ball from defender Elfrid Payton until drawing Nikola Vucevic away from Kyle O’Quinn.

When Rose knows O’Quinn has an open look, the former MVP pulls the trigger.

And this is the dream. Rose to Porzingis for the layup. Why doesn’t that happen more by the way?

Rose has 114 total assists in 2016-17, and according to NBA.com a majority of them have gone to Porzingis (29).

Porzingis is shooting 45.0 percent on passes from Rose and 44.1 percent from downtown. But he’s only attempted 80 of his 481 total field goals (16.6 percent) on passes from Rose. Conversely, Melo’s number is 22.4 percent.

If the Knicks are going to become a more fluid offense, one that can make them a more serious threat in the playoffs, they’ll need to get Rose and Porzingis in sync.

The quickest way to putting up points, without a dominant scorer, is piling up assists.

Five of the teams in the top 10 in assists per game are also in the top 10 in points scored per 100 possessions.

Jeff Hornacek has shown a willingness to adapt. He’s a smart guy and a good offensive mind. Eventually, he’ll take note of this problem if he hasn’t already.

  • All of my stats are from Basketball-Reference unless otherwise noted.

New York Knicks

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