Knicks Need More From Downtown To Compete

There is video that surfaced on social media of Mitchell Robinson the night before his 21st birthday.

He was up late and out. He was downtown, in fact, and doing things you just don’t expect him to do.

He was shooting threes.

The scene takes place in the Knicks practice facility, sometime before midnight. Robinson, the shot-blocking, lob-dunking rookie phenom, was outside the arc lofting threes. The next day, he didn’t take a single one, but you get the sense it’s coming.

Meanwhile, along with 14 points, 10 rebounds and 3 blocks, Robinson added a season-high 4 assists thanks to red-hot three-point shooting by his teammates. He started once again next to another 7-footer, Luke Kornet, who was 5 for 7 from three in the game.

“I love the way he shoots,” Robinson said of Kornet.

It’s a dimension the Knicks have lacked, at least consistently, all season and is clearly a need to address in the offseason. This game was an anomaly for the Knicks, as they went 18 for 38 from three (47.4%). Along with Kornet, Damyean Dotson (6 for 7) was, as Wally Szczerbiak would say, a “flamethrower” from beyond the arc. It was the second-most made threes in a game on the season for the Knicks and third-most attempts. It was also their most prolific three-point performance since going 20 for 34 in the overtime win against the Bucks back on Dec. 1.

I call it an anomaly because the previous four games, the Knicks shot 25.6% from three and made just about 8 per game. Overall, this season the Knicks are shooting 34.1%, which is 27th in the league.

This performance was based on a hot night and a rag-tag lineup the Bulls threw on the floor that was not as well-versed in defense as the previous playoff-bound opponents the Knicks have faced. They took advantage of it and were able to get into a nice rhythm to hit 11 of their first 18 from downtown and score 64 points at the half.

But in a season when the NBA has set new records in three-pointers attempted (73,998) and made (26,245) for the seventh straight season, the Knicks are still among the bottom-third of the Association in both categories. They are on pace to set a franchise record for attempts this season, but unless they go on a torrid run to finish the season, it’s unlikely they will break the franchise-record for makes in a season.

Before Phil Jackson arrived, the Knicks were among the league leaders in using the three-point shot, which came from the Mike D’Antoni years and sustained when Mike Woodson took over as coach. But Jackson, with a devotion to the Triangle offense and a focus on working from the post, didn’t believe in the shot or the obvious trend in the league. So, the Knicks put less emphasis on the three-point shot and their personnel decisions showed it. But while D’Antoni’s Houston Rockets are all about volume when it comes to taking threes (with the formula that shooting 35% from three is equal in points to shooting 50% from two), there is an argument to be made that it’s more about making them than taking them.

And it doesn’t matter what system you run when you have good shooters. Good shooting wins.

For instance, playoff-bound teams like the Spurs, Pacers and Clippers are 30th, 29th, and 28th, respectively in the league in three-point attempts. But when it comes to shooting percentage from three, they rank 1st (Spurs), 2nd (Pacers) and 5th (Clippers).

And of the top 10 three-point shooting teams in the league this season, eight are playoff-bound teams.

See? Good shooting wins.

Dotson has proven himself to be a capable, though streaky, three-point shooter (38.6% since all-star break) once he received regular playing time. Kornet offers somewhat of a Ryan Anderson-like potential when he gets into the mix (43.3% as a starter). Allonzo Trier, who has been out with a calf strain, would be over 40% on the season if not for a 1-for-11 run in December before he went out with a hamstring injury.

There’s value in shot-making and these three have it. But as the trend is proving in the NBA, the Knicks need more of it to compete in this league.

NOTES:

Dennis Smith Jr. was a late scratch from the lineup after his lower back, which caused him to miss six games, flared up on him during the pregame workout. With just six games left, does it make sense for Smith to play?

Kevin Knox had 19 points, 9 rebounds and 3 assists in 40:25. He scored 11 points in the first quarter mostly on attacking the rim against this undermanned Bulls team. For Knox, however, the issues remain the same. He shot 6 for 15 from the field, committed five turnovers and three very soft fouls.

There’s a lot of potential here and he has a summer to make himself more physically ready for the NBA and more efficient with his shooting. He needs to develop a go-to move that every scorer has in his bag when you need two points. But how do you work on defense in the offseason? For Knox, it’s usually a penchant for reaching in or waving at the ball and making minimal contact that the referees are going to call every time.

– Robinson had three more blocks and was 4 for 4 from the field. As Tommy Beer of Forbes noted, Robinson has more blocked shots (150) than missed field goals (80). Incredible stat.

– Former Knick Robin Lopez had 29 points for the Bulls on his birthday. He not only shares a birthday with Robinson, he clearly shares an appreciation for his defensive game. The two were seen engaged in a jovial conversation throughout the game and Lopez once even dapped up the Knicks rookie. He then went at him a few times on the low post with some nice footwork moves.

Kadeem Allen took a hard hit to the head in the second quarter and stayed down for a while as the play went the other way up the court. He did not return to the game. David Fizdale said Allen was getting checked out by the team doctors. The Knicks are already thin at guard due to injuries.

[Watch the Knicks Take On the Magic Wednesday at 6:30 PM on MSG & MSG GO.]

The Garden of Dreams Foundation helps kids facing obstacles in the Tri-State area, including Rangers fan Taylor Ryan who is battling a rare blood disorder called Langerhans cell histiocytosis.