Bing Bong: By adding a 3 point focus to a relentless defense, the New York Knicks are a dangerous team

When the New York Knicks hired Tom Thibodeau you knew their calling card would be relentless defense. Last season that proved to be true as the Knicks had the top defense in the league.

The downside to Thibodeau’s relentless defensive minded pursuit has always been wearing down the star players and having an unimaginative offense.

That also proved to be true last season, particularly in round 1 were they were over matched by Atlanta’s high powered offense.

Heading into this season, with newly acquired Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier, now the Knicks have modified their DNA.

And at no point was that more apparent than during Tuesday’s second-quarter run against the Philadelphia 76ers.

Walker had his best game as a Knick and maybe his best game in a calendar year? Walker, who finished with 19 points hoisted 11 3-pointers against the Sixers and made five of them. His ability to hit pull-up 3’s adds a wrinkle to the offense that the team simply didn’t have a year ago.

The rest of the Knicks, meanwhile, shot 16 of 37, a season low in attempts. Through four games they’re second in the NBA in attempts per game (46.0, up from 30.0 a season ago), and they’re sinking a respectable 38 percent of those looks.

There is an obvious theme to all of this: pull-up 3s, corner 3s, spot-up 3s. Tons of 3s. All over. The Knicks can’t stop, won’t stop taking them.

But is the hot shooting sustainable?

Only 34.7 percent of the Knicks’ shots last season came from beyond the arc, 24th in the league. Through four games this season, that ratio has jolted to 48.4 percent, second in the NBA. Can this be sustained?

The Knicks believe so.

The personnel has changed. And so has the philosophy.

This group believes in its process.

The Knicks are easing into 3s. The spot-ups are coming often after someone like Walker, Randle or Barrett swivels to the middle and then sprays to the outside. They’re shooting 26.5 catch-and-shoot 3-pointers a game, sixth in the league, up from 25th last season.

But the real change has come with the new signees, Walker and Evan Fournier, who flaunt an off-the-dribble verve that last season’s group couldn’t boast. The Knicks are shooting the most pull-up 3s in the NBA: 19 a game, according to data-tracking site Second Spectrum. No Knicks player fires off the bounce more than Walker, yet six others also have free rein to take those shots from deep: Fournier, Randle, Barrett, Derrick Rose, Immanuel Quickley and Alec Burks. Last season, only three players — Quickley, Randle and Burks — held that privilege.

“I think it’s important for everyone,” Thibodeau said. “We saw it last year, (what) the value of the 3 added to Julius’ game. … What we’re seeing in the NBA today is the premium that’s put on shooting.”

The Knicks have clearly reprioritized their offense. And parts of this, especially the new off-the-dribble feature, don’t seem so flukish. Walker and Fournier are shooting more pull-up 3s than any other Knicks — at 4.3 and 3.5 a game, respectively — but this isn’t new for them. Their current volume is in line with last season’s. It’s one of the reasons they’re in New York.

Think about it like this: Walker and Fournier have coupled to take 31 pull-up 3s through four games. Their incumbents, Elfrid Payton and Reggie Bullock, combined for 40 all of last season.

Priorities have changed. The Knicks are now hunting 3s, not settling for them. They’re flinging them off the dribble when they could look for another play instead. They’re unleashing them early in possessions. They’ve nearly doubled the amount of 3s a night they’re taking with 15 or more seconds remaining on the shot clock. About 30 percent of their deep balls are coming less than 10 seconds into a possession.

These aren’t aw-shucks 3s. They are prey. The Knicks are stalking them. That’s why even if heaving 46 3s a game is ambitious, a significant leap from last season’s average is realistic.

This wasn’t a preseason idea that immediately evaporated once the game became meaningful. Thibodeau is all in and so are his players.

If the Knicks keep this formula, they could be a dangerous team all season long.

Leave a Reply