HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — After three full months of mediocrity, the New York Knicks have seemingly woken up. They’ve won seven straight games after Friday’s 111-102 victory over the Bobcats, keeping themselves a game in the loss column ahead of the Indiana Pacers for second place in the Eastern Conference.
All seven wins have come without defensive anchor Tyson Chandler, and the one that got the Knicks started on this run – a critical victory in Utah on the second night of a back-to-back – came without Carmelo Anthony.
The streak hasn’t come against the toughest schedule – four of the wins have been over Toronto, Orlando and Charlotte – but it has included a win in Boston and a win over the Grizzlies. And it’s mostly been an offensive run, though the Knicks’ sketchy defense has held three of the seven opponents under a point per possession…
|Through Dec. 16||18||5||111.1||2||102.3||16||+8.8||3|
|Dec. 17 – March 17||20||21||104.6||11||103.8||15||+0.8||11|
|Since March 18||7||0||117.1||1||101.9||8||+15.2||2|
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
The Knicks’ resurgence has been keyed by a couple of unlikely contributors. Kenyon Martin wasn’t in the league five weeks ago, but has filled in admirably for Chandler as a 6-foot-9 center. And Pablo Prigioni, a 35-year-old rookie who was signed last summer to be the third-string point guard, has stepped into a role no one could ever have imagined him playing.
Both Martin and Prigioni have started all seven games of the Knicks’ winning streak. But the winning started when Prigioni started, for the first time in his NBA career, alongside Raymond Felton in a two-point-guard lineup.
Two point guards playing at the same time is nothing new for the Knicks, who started Felton and Jason Kidd for 22 of the first 28 games this season, mostly because they didn’t have another shooting guard to start. And as long as both were healthy, Mike Woodson basically started Felton and Kidd together through the end of February.
But Kidd really struggled at the end of that run, shooting a brutal 7-for-52 (13 percent) from 3-point range between Jan. 26 and March 1. So Woodson went with just one starting point guard for a stretch of 10 games. And because he refuses to start J.R. Smith under any circumstances, he had either James White or Chris Copeland in the lineup.
To no one’s surprise, that didn’t work too well, so Woodson decided to go back to the two-point-guard lineup, this time with Kidd coming off the bench and Prigioni, who had been given three DNPs earlier in the month, starting.
So far, so good. The Knicks are now 30-13 in games in which they’ve started two point guards and 15-13 in games in which they’ve started just one. Felton’s 12-game absence in December and January has something to do with that mark, and starting lineups sometimes play no more than 10 minutes together, but the Knicks have proven to be much better with two point guards on the floor, whether they’re starting together or not.
|PGs on the floor||MIN||OffRtg||DefRtg||NetRtg||+/-|
|Felton + Kidd + Prigioni||17||159.6||70.6||+89.0||+29|
|Felton + Kidd||1,003||109.6||103.3||+6.3||+106|
|Kidd + Prigioni||204||107.1||103.8||+3.3||+10|
|Felton + Prigioni||139||119.4||101.4||+18.0||+47|
Note: The three-point-guard numbers are obviously a small sample size, and they’re a bit skewed by a crazy 3:27 stretch at the end of a Dec. 21 loss to the Chicago Bulls. Anthony, Chandler and Woodson had all been ejected and the Knicks scored 21 points in the final 3:27 with a lineup of three point guards, Copeland and White, turning a 13-point deficit into a more respectable, four-point loss.
The big difference between two-point-guard lineups and one-point-guard lineups has been on offense. And the key has been turnovers and 3-pointers.
The Knicks lead the league in turnover ratio, coughing the ball up just 13.2 times per 100 possessions. And that number is even lower – 12.9 – when they’ve had two point guards on the floor.
And when they have two point guards on the floor, they shoot and make more 3s.
Knicks 3-point shooting
|PGs on the floor||3PM||3PA||3PT%||%3PA|
%3PA = Percentage of total FGA from 3-point range
Even though Kidd’s shooting went into the tank in February, the Felton-Kidd combo still has great numbers over the biggest sample size of any of the combinations. And the new Felton-Prigioni combo has only been better, though in just 139 minutes. Kidd, meanwhile, has shot a more respectable 34.4 percent from 3-point range since being benched on March 1.
Amazingly, Prigioni has the best per-possession plus-minus on the team, with the Knicks having outscored their opponents by 9.7 points per 100 possessions when he’s on the floor. And it’s been on defense where Prigioni has made the biggest impact.
The Argentine is just 6-foot-3 and rather slight, but he’s a real pest on the ball and in the passing lanes (a few examples here, here and here). The Knicks have forced 18.0 turnovers per 100 possessions when he’s been on the floor, a rate which would lead the league by a good margin (the Clippers are No. 1, forcing 17.4).
Woodson alluded to Prigioni’s plus-minus when asked about his newest starter this week.
“He’s a student of the game and the fact that he’s kind of waited and he’s watched and he’s learned,” Woodson said. “He’s played the minutes that I’ve given him. His minutes have always been pretty positive. If it was five minutes, it was five good minutes. And I think the fact that he is very knowledgeable of the game, he has patiently sat and waited and now his minutes have grown a little bit, and he still looks like he belongs.”
The Knicks’ schedule is about to get much tougher, with their next five games against playoff teams, a stretch that includes visits to Miami and Oklahoma City. Chandler’s continued absence (with a bulging disc), meanwhile, isn’t exactly encouraging.
But the Knicks are certainly rediscovering their offensive rhythm at the right time, which has helped them stay comfortably on the right side (the 2-3-6-7 side) of the Eastern Conference playoff bracket. And while they certainly can’t maintain the level of offense they’ve been playing over the last seven games, this run has certainly established both Martin and Prigioni as valuable contributors going forward.