Knicks must use Strategery to Succeed

At the end of the Saturday Night Live debate between Darrell Hammond’s “Al Gore” and Will Ferrell’s “George W Bush”, they’re each asked to sum up their candidacy in one word.  “W” says “Strategery”, a non-word that I now use when it’s time to think, let alone speak, differently.  And if there was ever a time that the Knicks could use Strategery, it’s now.  They also need to be less “green”.

To address that last statement first, I haven’t had to write much new material lately.  I just recycle stuff that I wrote a few weeks ago; a few months ago; or last season.  The same situations keep coming up.  I doubt that I’m the only Knicks blogger to experience this and I know that the fans that I follow on Twitter recognize the recurring patterns of problems as well.  And as much as I like to get extra mileage out of my writing efforts, I hope that ongoing problems will finally be taken care of and I’ll be forced to work as hard in the future as I’m actually working on this one.  

I’ve been able to recycle late January’s “3rd qtr blues” article (w/minor modifications) a bunch of times over the past few weeks.  In the past couple of days, I’ve recycled last season’s post about the need to distribute the ball differently.  And this article will draw from December’s “Quick Fix For Sick Knicks“; mid-January’s “Breaking a Shooting Slump is as easy as ABC“; and late January’s “Melo-Shooting Less w/out Limiting His Shots“.  If I was making any money from this, I’d have to pay the Knicks residuals… 

Recycling is great, but not like this.  The Celtics are green; the Knicks can’t afford to be.  Not if they want to make the playoffs.

Today’s topics are: substitution patterns; reducing turnovers; getting better shot distribution, and getting Melo and the offense in sync.  Trust me, there are overlaps here…

Substitution Patterns

A lot has been made of this recently, particularly because Melo sat for longer than expected while the 2nd unit brought the Knicks back against the Bucks.  There have been a lot of calls for Mike D’Antoni to reduce the rotation.  I say here that it’s better that he keeps playing who he’s playing but maybe to change his system for substitutions.

For years, a rap on MDA is that he plays too few people and runs them into the ground.  He’s much more comfortable with a shorter rotation.  But this season, between the injuries, the team’s needs, and the compressed schedule, he’s been going 9-11 deep on a regular basis.  This needs to continue, it just needs to go a bit smoother.  Personally, I think MDA deserves props for being flexible.  If he has a bit of a learning curve, remember that he’s human, too.  His detractors on Twitter are quick to point that out.

If Melo sat longer while the 2nd unit stayed Hot in Milwaukee (not starring Betty White), he should have.  As a coach, you don’t want to break up a hot group because of an inflexible method for substituting players.  Against the Bucks, Melo sitting longer at that juncture made sense.

But against the Sixers, he may have sat too long in the 2nd qtr, particularly because he was so hot in the 1st.  Instead of cutting back to 8 players, as has been suggested by a beat writer or two, the Knicks should revamp their system for tracking minutes and for notifying MDA of when a player’s gotten the desired amount of rest.  No way a head coach should be juggling all that stuff in his head while he’s also directing the team.  Here’s a suggestion for what they might try out:

Map out an “ideal” game substitution pattern and commit it to paper.  Using Melo as the example, we know that he tends to sit at the beginning of the 2nd qtr and, ideally, goes in around the 7-8 minute mark rested and ready to go.  If this is mapped out, an assistant coach (or other Knicks game support staff member) can use this as a guide to let MDA know when Melo’s rest period is about over.  At that point, MDA can make a head coach decision and either sub him in or, if the team on the floor is hot, defer.  If he defers, the assistant must remind MDA again in a minute of clock time that Melo’s ready to go; and continue to do so if Melo continues to sit.  This way, Mike D’Antoni gets to make command decisions, which he should be making, while having details tracked by a subordinate, where they should be tracked.

There’s probably something like this already in place and it just needs tweaking.  If there’s a desire to play 11 players (and there’s a great case to be made for each of these 11 getting their minutes), maybe subbing a few at the same time as a group will make it easier.  I suggested a “blue team” in “Quick Fix For Sick Knicks” and said that the bottom 5 guys could get subbed as a unit and press like mad for 4-5 minutes.  There are a lot of reasons something like that could help out.  What a blue team does with their minutes can vary but “1 unit of 5” is easier to juggle mentally than subbing those 5 at different times.  Just a thought.

As far as shortening the rotation, remember that a shorter rotation almost got Jeremy Lin cut.  We also might not have seen Steve Novak’s skills from behind the arc.  Etc., etc., etc.

Getting Melo and the Offense in Sync; Reducing Turnovers

Let’s clear something up right out of the gate.  This is about fitting Melo into the offense, not changing the offense to suit Melo.  If he was shooting 80% from the floor and only getting 10 shots per game, we’d be looking to do whatever it takes to get him 30 shots.  But he’s a 46% shooter for his career and is only shooting 40% this season, so changing everything on the rest of the team isn’t a good idea.  At the same time, Melo is a very dangerous shooter when he’s on and has a history of making shots in the closing seconds.  So something has to be done to let him take as many shots as are appropriate (and no more) and take them at places and times that give him and the Knicks a greater chance of success.

Some of this will help Stat and other shooters as well while, at the same time, cutting down on turnovers.  And it makes your laundry soft and smelling good, too.

When the play is run toward Melo, he can be given the ball where he likes to get it.  That depends on the side of the floor and is already something that he, Lin, and Baron Davis have probably discussed.  But when the play is run away from him, he and the other weak side Knicks tend to stand around, too far away to help out if there’s trouble and for too long a time to be effective if they actually do catch one of the bailout passes that get thrown high, low, or wide on a regular basis.

If the Knicks add in a weak side pick and roll (PnR), something to be executed right after the strong side PnR begins, it should free up the “roller” (flashback to Baron Davis’ “kiss” after his first made 3) and provide an option if the strong side PnR breaks down.  Depending on where the weak side roller goes (high or low), the weak side screener can do the opposite, positioning himself for an easy layup on occasion or flashing towards the top of the key to receive a pass if the strong side play is in trouble.  If they run this weak side PnR following the guidelines in “Slump Breaking”, the weak side player who eventually receives the ball should already be positioned to use the backboard if need be.

Three last things regarding “who shoots the ball when”: if someone’s shots are to be reduced, that needs to happen because he’s passed the ball fewer times, not because he stops and thinks about whether he should shoot it or not.  That’s not a “Melo” thing, it’s a “basketball player” thing.  See “Melo-Shooting Less w/out Limiting His Shots” for more on this and to allow me to recycle yet another prior article.

And for a real blast from the past on distribution, last season’s “What Goes Around Must Be Spread Around” points out that the Knicks are better when the keep Stat and Melo warm by getting them shots on a consistent basis (really, you want to keep all your players warm enough to make a shot when you need them to).  Against the Sixers, Amare didn’t get a shot in the 1st qtr.  Not a good thing based on him playing at least 9 minutes.  And against the Bucks, Melo came in around 7:45 of the 4th qtr after a long rest but didn’t get a shot until 3:something left, crunch time.  Not surprisingly, he threw up a brick.  But he hit his next one and I’ve got to wonder what would have happened if they’d gotten him a short jumper around the 7 minute mark, just to help him get on track.  Would he have been more ready to take over crunch time?

This is something that can be handled by the PG (Lin or Davis) recognizing that a play needs to be run for the returning player.  Better yet, it can be tracked on the sideline and a play called from there if someone’s getting too cold to be effective.

Conversely, the Knicks have had a habit since last year where a player comes into the game after a long rest and takes a 3 within a minute of getting onto the court.  I have no recollection of any of these shots being successful.  If you can find one, it’ll be the exception that proves the rule.  A cold player taking a low percentage shot is bad basketball.  It would be better for them to just throw the ball out of bounds.  At least then, the entire team has time to get back on D.  

In Conclusion

A slight change is strategery, combined with a slight change in tacticiousness, can bring significant positive changes to the Knicks in a very short period of time.  With just 25 games left, they need to make these changes right away.  Otherwise, the trip to the NBA Finals that was mentioned in the pre-season will only be accomplished with the help of Stubhub.

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