NEW YORK – The New York Knicks are now 4-0 after Friday’s 104-94 win over the Dallas Mavericks. They’re the only undefeated team left in the league and should remain so for a while, with only a game against the Orlando Magic between now and next Thursday’s visit to San Antonio.
Friday’s victory wasn’t nearly as comfortable as the previous three, which came by an average of 19.3 points. And it was against a Mavs team missing two of their best players, a far cry from the full-strength Miami Heat, who the Knicks crushed a week earlier.
But this one was arguably the Knicks’ most impressive win of the four, because they didn’t shoot well.
In their first three games, the Knicks’ offense lived on jumpers. Only 32 percent (79/245) of their shots had come from the paint, easily the lowest rate in the league and well below the league average of 47 percent. As a result of their excessive jump-shooting, they weren’t getting to the free throw line or getting many offensive rebounds.
The Knicks were shooting a red-hot 45.3 percent from 3-point range though. Their 43 3-pointers were the most any team in NBA history had made in its first three games. It made for some entertaining basketball, but it was a style that was obviously unsustainable.
Still, Knicks coach Mike Woodson seemed unconcerned before Friday’s game.
“All our longs shots have really been good shots,” he said. “Nobody’s really forced anything. So I’m pleased with the way the offense has been flowing.”
But the shots stopped falling on Friday. The Knicks shot just 15-for-43 (35 percent) from outside the paint, including 8-for-22 from beyond the arc, against the Mavs. Their *effective field goal percentage on shots from outside the paint was 44.2 percent, right around the league average and well below their 55.1 percent mark from their first three games.
*Effective field goal percentage = (FGM + (0.5*3PM)) / FGA
It wasn’t a very pretty shot chart.
The Knicks still scored an efficient 104 points on 95 possessions on Friday, because they took care of the ball, got to the basket and to the line. Raymond Felton and Tyson Chandler had the pick-and-roll working. Ronnie Brewer was making great off-ball cuts to the basket. Carmelo Anthony attacked off the dribble. Heck, even Steve Novak even ran a back-door cut on Friday.
Of the Knicks’ 84 shots, 41 came from the paint. And their free throw rate (FTA/FGA) of 38/84 (0.45) was more than twice their rate in their first three games (0.21).
Though it wasn’t nearly as explosive as what we’d seen previously from the Knicks, it was an offense that’s much more sustainable over the long haul. It’s one thing to drain jumpers all night, and it’s another to grind out a win when those jumpers aren’t going through. As important as the Knicks’ shots in the paint was how well they defended in the fourth quarter, allowing just 16 points on 23 possessions.
The question now is whether the Knicks can keep taking care of the ball as well as they have. They had just nine turnovers on Friday (another huge reason for the win) and have turned the ball over on just 12 percent of their possessions, a ridiculously low rate, through four games.
Turnovers were the real problem last season, when the Knicks regressed offensively more than any team but the Charlotte Bobcats. So if they can continue to rank near the top of the league in turnover rate, the Knicks can get back to being a top-10 offensive team.
It’s still very early, but the Knicks have now shown that they can win in more ways than one. And that puts some more substance behind that 4-0 record.