The Knicks Fix: Two Guard Depth, Too Little Production

If there was one area the Knicks entered the season with good depth, it was at the two guard position, also known as “shooting guard.”  In fact, the concern was how Derek Fisher

would be able to get minutes for Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith and Tim Hardaway Jr.

But almost a quarter into the season, all three have yet to make enough of an impact offensively to command the bulk of the minutes or a regular spot in the rotation.

After 18 games, the three players combined are shooting 41% from the field (190-for-463) and 32.5% (56-for-172) from three-point range. And we’re not seeing an upward trend, either. Over this four-game losing streak, the three “twos” are shooting a combined 28.8% from the field and are just 6-for-41 from three-point range.

Shumpert has seen the most minutes at that position, despite his shooting woes, because of his defense. Conversely, it’s defense that has seen a limit to Hardaway Jr.’s minutes, especially late in games.

But according to advanced stats, there isn’t much of a difference between the two on the court, as Shumpert has a minus-4.4 Net Rating (the difference between a player’s Offensive Rating and Defensive Rating) while Hardaway Jr. has a minus-4.7 Net Rating.

Smith’s numbers are concerning on both sides of the ball. On defense, Smith is a team-worst minus-87 overall on the season with a Net Rating of minus-11.5. On offense, he has not been near the same player he was when he won the NBA Sixth Man of the Year award in 2012-13. Smith is shooting 39.7% from the field and is attempting almost half (8.6) the field goals he took in his Sixth Man year (15.6).

And since his throwback 28-point performance in the Knicks’ win over the Nuggets on Nov. 16 — a Sunday afternoon game, we remind you — Smith has fallen into a slump. He’s shooting just 29.5% from the field (18-for-61) and 5-for-20 from three-point range. And over that span of games, Smith is minus-70 with a Net Rating of minus-24.2.

Two weeks after his dynamic performance as a supporting scorer for Carmelo Anthony, Smith was 0-for-4 and played less than six minutes in Sunday’s loss to Miami. (Fisher said Smith was under the weather.)

Smith, Shumpert and Hardaway Jr. combined to shoot 4-for-22 from the field in the game. That is a big chunk of the 26.5% shooting from the supporting cast around Melo and Amar’e Stoudemire (18-for-39, combined for 50 points) in that game.

JINXED IT

After a 14-for-28 performance from three-point range last Wednesday in Dallas, the Knicks sat atop the NBA in three-point shooting percentage at 40.5% and had run off five straight games at 42% shooting from downtown. So naturally, we featured it in Knicks Game Night on MSG Network before Friday’s game in Oklahoma City.

And sure enough . . .

The Knicks went 2-for-19 against the Thunder. Then were 3-for-24 against Miami for a two-day total of 5-for-43.

That’s 38 misses out of 43 attempts.

The Knicks dropped to 7th in the NBA in three-point percentage, which is now at 36.8%.

Our bad.

COLD OUTSIDE? GET INSIDE!

OK so if the Knicks are struggling from the perimeter, why don’t they just go to the basket? Easier said than done.

And it’s not the Triangle Offense that’s causing the Knicks’ lack of Points in the Paint (NBA-low 31.4 per game). Actually, if you recall the Bulls and Lakers teams, the Triangle has a lot of cuts and back-door plays as “pressure release” options that encourage scoring at the rim. But you need two things: 1. good spacing and recognition and 2. players who are willing and athletic enough to finish at the rim.

The Knicks did make some changes to the roster from last season, but the core is somewhat the same and the players added do not fit the description above. So what we find is the same result as last season, which was in a much different offense, when the Knicks produced an NBA-low 33.5 Points in the Paint per game.

This season, the Knicks are attempting 28.4 shots per game within 10 feet, slightly lower than last season’s 29.9 per game, which both were among the lowest in the league. (And that 1.5 per game difference? Could be attributed to the absence of Tyson Chandler, who mainly finished with dunks.)

FOUL MOOD

Statistics show the Knicks defense is, albeit slowly, improving. But one area that remains an issue is fouls, where they have the second-highest rate in the NBA (24.2 per game).

Can you be a good defensive team and yet foul at a high rate? Two teams say you can, as evidenced below (NBA rank in parentheses):

Team PFs Opp. FTA D. Rtg. Opp. PPG
Nuggets 24.8 29.7 (1) 105.5 (24) 105.5 (26)
Knicks 24.2 27.2 (4) 107.2 (26) 99.2 (16)
Suns 23.7 29.1 (2) 102.8 (12) 103.3 (25)
Rockets 23.5 23.7 (14) 96.2 (2) 92.8 (3)
Kings 23.4 24.9 (11) 104.4 (18) 100.6 (21)
Thunder 23.4 23.2 (16) 100.4 (8) 93.2 (4)

It also begs the question, can you be a good defensive player and foul a lot? We showed in a recent pregame Knicks Fix that the only guards to even win Defensive Player of the Year — Michael Jordan, Alvin Robertson, Gary Payton and Sidney Moncrief — averaged over 2.6 fouls per game in the year they won the award. In fact, Robertson averaged 3.6 per game when he won it in 1985-86 and Jordan fouled 3.3 times per game when he won it in 1987-88.

And that’s when the NBA allowed hand-checking.

Iman Shumpert has developed a reputation as a defensive player, though he still has some work to do on curbing his penchant to gamble for steals, which often results in him being out of position. He averages 3.2 fouls per game in 27.5 minutes per game, which is the second-highest rate on the team (Stoudemire: 3.3).

That puts Shumpert fifth among guards in the NBA in fouls per game, behind a few players who also have a defensive reputation:

Mario Chalmers (MIA) 3.6
Tony Allen (MEM) 3.5
Kyle Lowry (TOR) 3.4
Patrick Beverley (HOU) 3.4
Iman Shumpert (NYK) 3.2

AMAR’E SOUNDS OFF

Stoudemire has his faults, but from the day he arrived in New York as a free agent in 2010, he has always been a professional. After Friday’s loss in OKC, Stoudemire sounded off about the lack of urgency he saw in players and demanded a better effort. He then followed up his words with a workmanlike effort against Chris Bosh and the Heat on Sunday night (19 points, 12 rebounds in a season-high 37 minutes).

A candid Amar'e Stoudemire says the Knicks' intensity level must be a step higher in order for them to end their losing streak.

Then afterward, he had more to say about some teammates who he feels are not fully committed to the effort to win.

“At this point, I think we just got to look at ourselves in the mirror and see if we put forth the effort that we need to win, individually,” Stoudemire said. “We’ve got to take it upon ourselves to see if we’re bringing forth the effort and getting ourselves prepared for the game or have the right mentality to play the game at a high level.

“Individually, we’ve got to take a look at ourselves and see if we are able to compete at a high level.”

Those were pointed words from a veteran player who is seeing some things that he feels must be publicized.