5 thoughts on the loss:
1. As these frustrating losses mount, Jeff Hornacek continues to send out signals pointing to the malfunction in the team that needs to be fixed. This is not a team loaded with talent, but they have shown a resiliency and a work ethic that should help them win more games than they lose.
But late-game possessions are critical and when the Knicks get to crunch time, they struggle with execution.
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Today’s NBA is all about two things: dribble penetration and three-point shooting. The Knicks struggle at both. Here was yet another game in which the Knicks took a low amount of threes (5 for 13) and had to work extra hard just to get open shots.
“Most teams get it off transition and someone penetrates and kicks it out,” Hornacek said of the lack of three-pointers. “We aren’t great at either of those categories.”
Even in the wake of the Triangle Era, the Knicks still take an inordinate amount of mid-range shots (they lead the NBA in shot attempts from 10-19 feet) and are one of the slowest teams in pushing transition. Both could be a result of missing Tim Hardaway Jr., but really the Knicks aren’t as far off from being an excellent offensive team.
Why can I make that statement? Simple: the Knicks offense right now is very inefficient because 15% of their offense is contested shots. That’s the highest frequency of any NBA team by far.
However, they are 5th best in the NBA in spot-up shooting but take the second-fewest spot-up attempts.
So the numbers tell you that, without any one-on-one players outside of Michael Beasley, the Knicks are actually built — yes, including Kristaps Porzingis — to be a drive-and-kick team. What they’re missing is the driver who kicks.
“We’ve got to continue to work on that and find guys that can penetrate and kick it out,” Hornacek said. “We’ve tried to go over that and say, sometimes you go in [the paint], the idea is to get it in the lane and then kick it out. You might have a good shot, let’s get a great look.”
Jarrett Jack isn’t a drive-and-kick point guard, not because he lacks the willingness but the vision and passing ability. Frank Ntilikina is trying to learn how, but his issue is getting into the paint. One thing you have to respect is the guards in the NBA who have this skill are immensely talented and to have the vision to find players on kick-outs in all that traffic is a special ability.
So the search goes on as the G-League 10-day contract season has opened and the Feb. 8 trade deadline approaches to find a player who can unlock this offense.
2. The Knicks didn’t lose this game because of officiating, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be discussed. The most critical call came with 10.1 seconds left in overtime with the Knicks down by two. Jack missed a short jumper and Beasley battled James Johnson for the rebound and the ball was deflected out of bounds. The original call was the Knicks had possession, but the officials weren’t firm on the call — this was a trend in the game for Marc Davis’ crew — and they went to video review.
Fans need to understand that once this goes to review, the call isn’t made in the arena. It’s made at the NBA Replay Center in Secaucus, NJ. It was determined there that Beasley last touched the ball before it went out. Hornacek held his tongue after the game but was clearly angry with the call.
[Beasley’s] fingers don’t ever move forward,” Hornacek said. “So I don’t know how he knocked it out.”
The guess here is the NBA saw Johnson knock it off Beasley’s hand and out of bounds.
3. What’s going on with Enes Kanter? Since his dominating 31-point, 22-rebound performance on Christmas Day, the Knicks big man is not getting a lot of playing time. In six games after Christmas, Kanter is averaging just 19.8 minutes and 10 points and 7 rebounds.
Hornacek seems to be gravitating to small-ball lineups and a desire to use Kristaps Porzingis at center. Kanter does almost all of his work in the first quarter and is among the NBA’s top performers in the first 12 minutes of the game. He averages 4.5 points and 3.4 rebounds per game in the first quarter this season and his season averages are 13.4 and 9.9 rebounds.
What’s odd is the Knicks have played some big front lines lately (Spurs twice, Pelicans, Bulls), but Kanter’s minutes have gone down. Against the Heat, which has a front line of 7-footers Hassan Whiteside and Kelly Olynyk, Kanter played just 25 minutes and was nowhere to be found in the latter stages of the game.
Erik Spoelstra followed the same pattern and went away from Whiteside (23 minutes) in the second half.
4. The Knicks didn’t get much out of the three-point arc once again, but they did force overtime on a last-second three by Doug McDermott (2-for-4 from downtown) from the Ray Allen corner.
Oh yes, you remember the Ray Allen corner, right?
It was Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals and the Spurs appeared to be on the verge of winning their fifth title. They were up five with 28 seconds left and during a timeout, NBA security rolled out a yellow rope around the court to prepare for the postgame celebration.
And so many Heat fans headed for the exits.
That’s when Gregg Popovich made a fateful decision: he took Tim Duncan out and replaced him with Boris Diaw. The idea was to have more mobility on defense to switch on pick-and-rolls. But what the Spurs needed was rebounds.
[As we mentioned in the previous note on Kanter, this is the dilemma that coaches deal with in today’s NBA: the versatility of small-ball vs. the reliability of bigs for rebounding].
LeBron James hit a three with 20 seconds left to cut it to a two-point game. Kawhi Leonard then was fouled with 19.4 seconds left with the chance to essentially ice the game by making it a four-point lead. But he missed the first of two free throws. The lead was just three.
On that final possession, LeBron missed a three with 7.9 seconds left. But the long rebound was up for grabs and the Spurs didn’t have the size to get it. Leonard just missed the ball as Chris Bosh snared it with 6.3 seconds left and spotted Allen in the corner.
Tie game. Overtime awaited. Thousands of Heat fans tried desperately to get back into the building as the Heat went on to win. They took the title in Game 7.
OK so McDermott’s shot wasn’t nearly as dramatic, but it served as a moment of deja vu for anyone in that building.
5. Michael Beasley led the Knicks once again in the box score with 20 points and 10 rebounds off the bench. He was back in Miami, where his NBA career began after he was drafted No. 2 overall in 2008.
Perhaps a big part of why Beasley’s career looked, for years, like a bust was how the Heat dumped him so unceremoniously at the age of 21, just two seasons into his career, to make room for the arrivals of LeBron James and Chris Bosh.
Yes, it worked out great for Miami, who went on to four straight NBA Finals appearances and won two titles. But what about the kid whose career was left neglected? He went from a stable organization with an excellent development structure to Minnesota, which, at the time, was in constant turnover and had very little leadership in place. He bounced to Phoenix and then wound up back in Miami, then to Houston and Milwaukee. Along the way, he spent time in China, where he earned MVP status and seemed to find himself as a basketball player.
In pro sports, players often disappear into faceless images replaced by the next thing, or the better thing. And if you think it doesn’t have an emotional and mental impact on those players who are cast aside, think again.
“I feel I could’ve gotten more out of that organization,” Beasley said of the Heat, via the New York Post.
Beasley went on to say coach Erik Spoelstra “could’ve believed in me a lot more than he did.”
You can’t deny the reality of the situation. The Heat needed to move salary to fit the free agency additions of LeBron and Bosh. Pat Riley had to work a lot of magic in that summer of 2010 and one of the salaries he had to move was Beasley’s $4.9 million for the 2010-11 season.
And as the Heat went on to prolific success, Beasley endured seasons of 17 and 26 wins in Minnesota. In Phoenix, he was on a team that won 25 games.
He did get to experience the final year of the Heatles, but in a limited role. He appeared in four playoff games in their last run to the Finals and the loss to the Spurs.
That’s when it was off to China, where he earned MVP status, but not much respect from Heat teammate Dwyane Wade.
“I want to know who he’s playing against,” Wade said at the time.
Beasley had a $15 million offer to sign a three-year deal to return to China this past summer, but he wanted one more crack at the NBA. So rather than taking the money, Beasley took a veteran’s minimum $2.1 million to join the Knicks and he’s turned into one of the best bargains in the league.
“We all root for Michael,” Spoelstra said before the game. “He’s one of those guys you like having around. He’s got a great personality. When he comes into the gym, every single day, it’s with a smile on his face. He’s working, he loves the game. I like being around guys like that.”
Not all stories have happy endings and not all stories have happy beginnings, either. Beasley will turn 29 on Tuesday and this season it seems he’s finally reaching the potential he had as a second overall pick.
Last season the Knicks had the No. 1 pick from the 2008 draft, Derrick Rose, who was clearly trending down after a brilliant start to his career. This year, they have the No. 2 pick from that draft and perhaps his best days are still ahead.
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