While the Knicks are in the midst of a 3-1 stretch, they've been torched by the opposing starting point guard in each of those four games.
The Knicks allowed an abysmal average of 44.5 points in the paint per game, and are giving up 0.854 points per play to pick-and-roll ball-handlers -- fifth-worst in the NBA -- on the season. On Friday night, they face Brandon Jennings, who is averaging 18 points and 6 assists on the year.
"(The pick-and-roll) is the most difficult thing to guard in this league," a veteran NBA scout said. "Point guards are not only good scoring out of pick-and-rolls, but they know how to create mismatches. They go after the weakest defender and then they try to force a switch."
But the Knicks have some of the key perimeter personnel to make pick-and-rolls easier to contain. They have defensive-minded wing players and the active Tyson Chandler to assist. The biggest current issue stems from their backcourt. Raymond Felton and Iman Shumpert's lateral movement is still not there yet since returning. Shump, especially, will need more time because he had his ACL reconstructed.
"They're just bringing him back slowly," one GM said. "They don't want to put that much pressure on him yet."
So how can the Knicks improve their pick-and-roll defense? Here are six insights from two veteran NBA scouts:
1. Be prepared for more creative pick-and-rolls. The days of the basic pick-and-roll are over. "I think you have a lot more double and small pick-and-rolls, where you have like the one and two guards together," one scout said. "Even with some of the bigger guys being more versatile, you see big pick-and-rolls."
2. Don't let the point guard turn the corner. This is where Chandler comes in handy. "Your big has got to be able to show and impact the ball," one scout said. "(The center) can't be always running back and dropping. The really good point guards will get around screens and pull up for the mid-range jumpshot."
3. Full-court pressure provides a boost. Pablo Prigioni is a master at this. "I think more teams should do that," one scout said. "(Avery) Bradley does it in Boston. He helps take eight seconds off the clock and takes (the other team) out of their offense." Said the second scout: "The more you can make a point guard work, the better off you are down the line."
4. Half-court trapping and rotating quickly is key. The Heat have set the blueprint, facilitated by defensive specialist Pat Riley. "Miami is probably the best pick-and-roll defensive team in the league," one scout said, "just because they're not only aggressive and rotate so well, they swarm on the ball so well. And they play weak-side defense so well."
5. Knowing a point guard's tendencies is critical. One scout said it's very important for teams nowadays to use more analytics to break down point guards because they can drive and shoot. "That's when you start looking at stats and say, 'OK, is he better at driving to the paint or as an outside shooter?'" the scout said.
6. Switching is not always the answer. Teams that do it a lot -- for example, Denver and OKC -- usually have defensive-minded forwards who are mobile, and have long arms and quick feet, such as Andre Iguodala and Thabo Sefolosha. "That's why Phil Jackson always liked big guards," one scout said. Because the Knicks have more of an offensive-minded frontcourt -- without Rasheed Wallace and Marcus Camby -- they need to be careful with their switches.
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