Bobby Portis, Mitchell Robinson
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images, AP Photo

The New York Knicks are the best offensive rebounding team in the NBA, but the team’s toughness inside isn’t translating to wins.

Danny Small

NEW YORK, NY—There’s a running theme in the bowels of Madison Square Garden. When opposing head coaches field pregame questions about the New York Knicks, they all point to one thing: offensive rebounding.

It’s no surprise. New York is the No. 1 offensive rebounding team in the NBA and ranked fourth when it comes to offensive rebounding percentage. The Knicks struggle in so many areas, but cleaning the offensive glass does not fall in that category.

“We’re playing against a team that’s a great rebounding team,” New Orleans Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry said before Friday’s game. “They’re No. 1 in offensive rebounding in the league so it’s going to be key for us. That’s one of the things that have hurt us in the past so we’ve got to do a good job of keeping those guys off the boards and not allowing those second-chance points.”

The Knicks packed the paint in the offseason with a plethora of power forward signings, but their best offensive rebounder is a homegrown product: Mitchell Robinson.

The rangy big man uses his athleticism and length to dominate the offensive glass. Following the loss to the Pelicans, Robinson ranks eighth in offensive rebound percentage, 13th in total offensive rebounds, and 14th in offensive rebounds per game.

“I think the one thing is you have to put a body on him,” Gentry said of Robinson. “If you’re going to let him roam and if you’re going to jump and he’s going to jump, he’s probably going to win that one nine out of 10 times. We have to physically put our body on him and box him out. We’ve got to be between he and the basket when that ball goes up.”

Robinson leads the team with three offensive rebounds per game, but he’s hardly the only threat to impose his will on the inside. New York has seven players in total averaging at least one offensive rebound per game.

“But not just him,” Gentry added. “Morris, he’s a good offensive rebounder. Their backcourt players are good offensive rebounders. When you’re No. 1 in the league it’s more than just your big guys doing it.”

On Friday, the Knicks outperformed their per-game average by scooping up 14 offensive boards, but those rebounds resulted in only 12 second-chance points on the night. Generally, the Knicks are slightly better at converting offensive rebounds into points. They are third in the league with 14.6 second-chance points per game.

The front office set the mandate for this season way back in July during free agency. The Knicks were going to be a more rugged group in 2019-20 with a grittiness that New Yorkers could embrace.

There’s no doubt this is a tougher group that can bang in the paint, but this team is only marginally better than it was last season. That begs the question: Was the offseason philosophy misguided?

There’s a strong case to be made. While the Knicks focused on beefing up the interior, they have made no sizable improvements on the perimeter, offensively or defensively. The Knicks have upped their three-point percentage from last season by just 0.3% and they’ve taken a giant step back at defending the three-point line. Teams are shooting a jaw-dropping 38.8% from deep against the Knicks.

The team is better under interim head coach Mike Miller than it was under David Fizdale. That’s undeniable. The offense is running smoother sets and his late-game tactical decisions are night and day when compared with his predecessor.

However, that doesn’t change the fact that Miller is coaching a poorly constructed roster that emphasizes packing the paint over all else. Team president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry wanted to bring back toughness to Madison Square Garden, á la the 90s Knicks. But it’s 2020 and the game is played behind the three-point arc.

It doesn’t matter if every opposing head coach that comes into the Garden worries about keeping the Knicks off the glass. New York is 5-13 at home with a Sunday matinee (3:30 p.m. ET) against the Miami Heat looming.

For what it’s worth, Miami is second in three-point shooting this season and 14th in overall rebounding. The Knicks clearly possess an advantage on the boards, but this advantage has seldom translated to wins.

If recent history tells us anything, Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra is going to voice his concern about the Knicks’ offensive rebounding, and New York will still lose after allowing Miami to shoot with impunity from beyond the arc.

Rebounding isn’t an issue for these Knicks, but it won’t mask the major deficiencies that are causing the team to lose games.

NY/NJ hoops reporter (NBA/NCAA) & sports betting writer for XL Media. Never had the makings of a varsity athlete.