Knicks Finding (Again) That Two Point Guards Are Better Than One

 

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…

Knicks efficiency

Timeframe W L OffRtg Rank DefRtg Rank NetRtg Rank
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.

Knicks efficiency

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
Two PGs 1,346 110.2 103.2 +7.0 +163
Only Felton 837 108.2 108.0 +0.2 +18
Only Kidd 559 102.9 102.8 +0.1 -20
Only Prigioni 650 105.6 97.9 +7.8 +63
One PG 2,046 105.9 103.4 +2.6 +61

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
Two 324 868 37.3% 37.8%
One 422 1152 36.6% 33.5%

%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.

15 Comments

  1. Antal says:

    “…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…”

    No one except those who knew Pablo before leaving Europe. He deserves what he’s getting now.

  2. Patty says:

    WOODSON IS THE COACH THAT NEW YORK KNICKS NEED.

  3. NY Vlad says:

    first 23 games of the season knicks were basically the best team in the league because they were beating teams by 20 points and that includes miami among others.
    A big reason for that was rasheed wallace who went down and the knicks became a .500 team ( they lost a lot of close games including 2 at the buzzer)
    our 20 million dollar man amare has been out pretty much the whole season and when he did come back for a short stretch he was he was the most efficient player on the team WHILE he was working himself into game shape.
    now we have no rasheed wallace we have no amare stoudamire and we have no tyson chandler who is going to be a huge question mark come playoff time.
    kurt thomas got banged up real quick because of the increased playing time…this team was ment to be deep at every position because thats the only way it would work with all the seasoned veterans on the team
    my final point is that i would take our team into the playoffs against ANYONE if they were healthy (including rasheed wallace) with supreme confidence.

    • TruKnicksFan says:

      I’m glad to see someone else that see’s the same potencial in knicks the way I see it. Nicely said

  4. Well duh! but still more than couple teams are better in the East

  5. knicks fan says:

    the knicks need to make sure not to play the bulls in the first round even if it means getting a lower seed

  6. WHAT!! says:

    Knicks are going to fall off in the standings and then lose in the first round of the playoffs. It’s too bad.

  7. NYK says:

    J.R. Smith has been a very big contributor. Even last year. #8 has the heart to win!
    Their line-up is just so good. Not as super as Miami, but well-balanced. Plus K. Mart, and Shumpert slowly getting back…oh man. Just keep them healthy, and work on better defense. T. Chandler and Amare should be ready in the playoffs.

  8. Spurs Logic says:

    Net r still better

  9. Sebastian says:

    Lin what? Prigioni FTW

  10. Knicks in the finals against