The New York Knicks and David Fizdale must modernize the offense. It’s time to see the “Spain” pick and roll set in Madison Square Garden.
The New York Knicks desperately need to update their offensive schemes. David Fizdale comes to town with that as a top priority. Decreasing shots in the mid-range, while increasing shots at the bucket and behind the arc is a crucial change that will have a huge impact on the team.
The “Spain” pick-and-roll is one offensive set that, when used properly, emphasizes shots at the rim or behind the arc. It’s been utilized throughout the league for the past few seasons and is quickly gaining traction as one of the most effective uses of the pick-and-roll.
First, this action’s name is the “Spain” pick-and-roll because it first came to prominence in Spanish leagues. It later made its way stateside and now it’s becoming one of the most popular and innovative offensive sets in the game.
This set uses spacing and multiple screens to attempt to confuse the defense and force tough decisions regarding who should garner the most attention.
It starts with a high ball screen with the ballhandler looking to get downhill and attack the rim. The initial screen is usually set by a big man who turns and dives towards the rim.
As the roll man turns and attacks the rim, a second screener—usually a guard, but not exclusively—picks the roll man’s defender and subsequently pops out to the top of the key.
There are three main looks teams want to get out of this offensive set. Either the ballhandler attacks the bucket for a layup, the diving big man gets a lob or a dump off inside, or the ballhandler kicks out to the top of the key for a three.
Of course, the other two players on the court occupy the corners to start. Sometimes, defenders covering the corner three will sag into the middle to provide help amidst the chaotic switching. If this happens, the shooter must find the open spot behind the arc and the ballhandler must be able to make the proper kick out or skip pass for the open look.
There are multiple options out of this play and each option emphasizes a look at the rim or from behind the arc. Of course, mid-range shots are bound to happen from time to time, but overall, the goal of the “Spain” pick-and-roll is to take high-efficiency shots.
Why this would help the Knicks?
This had a lot to do with his personnel no doubt. Kristaps Porzingis was second in the league in mid-range attempts per game (6.8) and Trey Burke was not far behind him (4.6).
Part of Fizdale’s allure is that he’s a forward-thinking coach. Adding this pick-and-roll set to the offensive repertoire will go a long way towards de-emphasizing the mid-range game.
What does the personnel look like?
The Houston Rockets are probably the best in the league at using the “Spain” pick-and-roll effectively. Unfortunately, the Knicks don’t have the luxury of having James Harden as the ballhandler, Clint Capela as the roll man, and Eric Gordon as the pop man.
But Fizdale can still get creative with his lineups to best utilize this offensive set. He has a number of players that can fit into multiple roles.
Let’s start with the ballhandler. The first guy that jumps off the page is Trey Burke. Last season, Burke showed promise in the pick-and-roll. Burke scored .98 points per possession as the pick-and-roll ballhandler. That put him in the 87th percentile in the league per NBA.com.
Although he’s undersized, he can get downhill and attack the basket, thus forcing the defense to make a decision. His aggressiveness is exactly what’s needed to kickstart this set. The worry is that he’ll settle for mid-range shots, as he’s prone to do. The hope is that rather than utilizing a basic two-man pick-and-roll, the “Spain” pick-and-roll will coax Burke into looking at one of the three main options—a layup for him, a pass to the diving big, or a kick out for the pop man.
Other options to handle the ball are there as well. Frank Ntilikina only scored 0.67 points per possession as the pick-and-roll ballhandler last season, but the 20-year-old is still adapting to the NBA. Perhaps this offensive set is exactly what he needs to unlock an attacking mindset that he was lacking in his rookie season.
Emmanuel Mudiay is the third member of the Knicks’ point-guard triad, but he was even worse than Ntilikina as the pick-and-roll ballhandler at 0.62 points per possession.
Even Kevin Knox could see some time as the ballhandler in this set. At this point, he probably lacks the vision needed to effectively run this set. But if Fizdale is serious about playing “positionless” basketball, he’ll give Knox a chance to handle the ball at times.
In terms of the roll man who sets the high ball screen, Fizdale is limited in who he can employ. If Enes Kanter or Mitchell Robinson is on the court, they must set the high screen. It’s unwise to use them as the second screener or sticking them in the corners because their defender could easily sag in to clog the lane without having to worry about a kick out or skip pass. Neither is a threat from behind the arc.
That being said, both could be effective as the roll man. Kanter isn’t much of a threat for the lob, but he has a knack for finding space inside for dump off passes. Robinson is the wild card with freakish athleticism. Perhaps he can channel his inner-Clint Capela and thrive as the roll man in this set.
Obviously, the best option to set the high screen is Kristaps Porzingis. He’s always a threat for the lob and he’ll garner so much attention from the defense that it will create looks for the ballhandler or the second screener popping. But for the time being, Fizdale won’t have the luxury of using KP.
The final piece of the Spanish puzzle is the second screener. Tim Hardaway Jr. is the obvious choice here despite his struggles from behind the arc during the 2017-18 season. He only shot 31.7 percent from three, but he’s poised for a bounce-back year in a new system with a new coach.
Courtney Lee is another option as he shot over 40 percent from three last season, but he’s already the subject of trade rumors and it’s unclear how much longer he’ll be a Knick.
Kevin Knox is an option as well. The versatile wing will get a chance to do a little bit of everything next season. Who knows just how consistent he’ll be from behind the arc, but in this set, he should see a plethora of open looks that may help him build up his confidence.
Once KP returns to the squad fully healthy, Fizdale can get very inventive with his lineups. Porzingis can play either the high screener or the pop man and Kevin Knox can play all three positions. This type of pick-and-roll action lends itself to creativity and outside-the-box thinking. It would be a refreshing change of pace to see this run by the Knickerbockers.
It’s time for David Fizdale to commit to modernizing the offense. Implementing the “Spain” pick-and-roll is a sure-fire way for the Knicks to get with the times.