The New York Knicks are a better team without Joakim Noah on the court. They can’t just go back to him when he gets healthy again.
“Joakim is somebody who has been on my list for a long time,’’ Jackson said. “Like to have this guy as a leader with the defensive attitude that he carries and likes to promote. Most players and a lot of coaches recognize this.”
That last bit about players and coaches was Jackson’s way of saying that the media criticism towards the Noah signing meant nothing because only a player or coach could understand the value of a guy like Noah. Nobody in the media could comprehend it. That was vintage Phil.
The decision to sign a big man with a bad injury history on the wrong side of thirty to a four-year, $72 million contract last summer was vintage Knicks. Overpaying for an aging veteran is a typical move for a franchise that hasn’t won a championship since 1973 and made it out of the first round of the playoffs only twice in this millennium. It doesn’t matter who’s running the show; things are always the same. Let’s take a closer look at the most recent flop.
The playoff-hopeful Knicks are ten games under .500 in the pathetic Eastern Conference. The franchise might be stuck with Noah for three more seasons, but that doesn’t mean he needs to play.
It’s an indisputable fact that the Knicks are better when Noah isn’t on the floor. The evidence is overwhelming. The Knicks had their best win of the season on Sunday against San Antonio while he watched from the bench. Noah has missed the last four games due to a hamstring injury. When he’s healthy again, the Knicks can’t go back to a player who only hurts them.
New York’s original starting lineup of Noah, Kristaps Porzingis, Carmelo Anthony, Courtney Lee and Derrick Rose has been a monumental flop. Per NBA.com, the five have a net rating of -5.2. There are 84 five man lineups that have shared the court for more than 100 minutes this season and the starting five that New York has trotted out in 28 games and shared the court for 396 minutes ranks 71st. The combined salaries of those five players make up over 77 percent of their payroll. The Knicks invested a lot of money in a unit that doesn’t work. It hasn’t been all Noah’s fault, but he should take the brunt of the blame.
The former Defensive Player of the Year has been far from the defensive anchor the front office hoped he’d be. Per NBA.com, the Knicks are outscored by 6.0 points per 100 possessions in the 1,015 minutes Noah has been on the court. That’s the second worst mark on the squad. The team allows 2.4 points per 100 possessions more when Noah is on the court and opponents are shooting 56.6 percent when he’s defending the rim. Out of the 77 players who defend four or more shots at the rim per game, Noah ranks 72nd.
As the glue that held Tom Thibodeau’s Bulls together, Noah commanded respect. Think Draymond Green. He finished fourth in Most Valuable Player voting in 2013-14 while averaging just 12.4 points per game. Since that remarkable season, Noah has been on a sharp decline. He’s missed 78 games out of a possible 220 after missing a total of 98 in his first seven seasons combined.
In his prime, Noah was the best post defender in the league. Multiple injuries have caused that skill to take a serious dip. Noah’s allowing opponents to shoot 51.0 percent on 65 possessions with their back to the basket.
Noah contributes almost nothing on offense to the point where the Knicks are playing four on five when he’s on the floor. His defense always made up for his lack of offensive skill in the past. In fairness, Noah’s not completely useless. He can still rebound. Noah leads the league in offensive rebound percentage. Unfortunately, that doesn’t produce many points.
Noah gets his hands on the ball a lot for putback attempts. According to NBA.com, he executes a putback play at a higher rate than any other player in the league (35.1 percent). Noah has only converted on 40 of his 93 attempts for 43 percent. That places him in the 16th percentile of points per possession.
The passing skills we heard about haven’t translated to his new team. Noah is averaging his lowest assist total (2.2 per game) since the 2010-11 season, and he’s showing very little creativity when he does distribute.
Noah has made 40.0 percent of his passes (via NBA.com) to former teammate Derrick Rose this season. Noah’s made 740 passes to Rose, and only 12 have resulted in assists. According to NBA.com, Noah has made 1,850 passes this season, but all that dishing has only led to 103 assists. He has assists on just 5.6 percent of his passes. Ouch.
Noah doesn’t stray outside the paint on offense (when he does things like this happen), so it’s not a surprise that 185 of his 202 FGA have come in the restricted area. The surprise is the alarmingly low rate at which he’s converting on those attempts.
Per NBA.com, Noah has made only 51.4 percent of his attempts in the restricted area and 47.4 percent of his layups. For context, the league averages are 60 percent and 56.5 percent respectively.
New York has started Noah in all 46 games of which he’s been available. Falling back into that pattern will be an easy mistake for head coach Jeff Hornacek to make. The extreme of removing Noah from the rotation altogether probably isn’t an option yet. He is a well-respected veteran, so he’ll get another shot to prove himself. That is something Noah will have to do because the bench has been showing him up all season long.
Rookie Willy Hernangomez has endeared himself to fans with his smooth post moves and hard work on the defensive end. Kyle O’Quinn is in his second year with the team and despite sporadic playing time has shown himself to be a more effective player than Noah.
The Knicks could go with either Hernangomez or O’Quinn in Noah’s place. The people’s choice would be Hernangomez. He started in the San Antonio win and posted 12 points and 9 rebounds. If Hornacek continues to resist the temptation to go small Hernangomez is the way to go.
The plethora of options to replace Noah isn’t what’s on trial here. Anyone would be a better choice than the two-time All-Star. There’s a reason Phil Jackson hasn’t spoken to the New York media since Sept. 22. He doesn’t want to talk about his mistakes and Noah is chief among them. You don’t need to play in the NBA to recognize this.