Of the many reasons the Knicks became one of the most dangerous offensive teams this season, perhaps the most overlooked was the screening ability of Tyson Chandler, Kenyon Martin and the team's veteran big men.
With their experience and old-school toughness, the Knicks' bigs treat each screen as a potential scoring opportunity -- not just a robotic court movement. They put effort and intelligence into each screen, and they've helped facilitate Carmelo Anthony's jump shots, Raymond Felton's and J.R. Smith's drives into the paint, and the team's ball movement to open shooters.
Now that the Knicks are in the playoffs, where play becomes more physical, Chandler and Martin's screening ability will help ward off the close contact. In games where each possession matters, their attention to detail with screens will be invaluable.
"Coaches cannot emphasize screening enough. It's crucial in the playoffs," a veteran NBA scout said. "Chandler and Martin are great screeners, so playing against physical, in-your-face defenses is right up their alley. When you have bigs that set solid screens, the offense is a lot more fluid and scorers move around easier."
In the first quarter of the Game 1 victory over Boston, Chandler's and Martin's screening helped account for four different scores: Felton's layup off a pick-and-roll, (Chandler); Anthony's 3-pointer in transition (Chandler); Felton's jump shot off a pick-and-roll (Chandler); and Smith's one-handed dunk down the middle of the lane (Martin).
Because Chandler and Martin are effective screeners, they're able to free themselves up for roll opportunities to finish at the rim.
"[Martin] sets really good screens," Smith said, "so whenever he sets screens, he's the majority of time going to be open."
So what is the science that goes into setting a great screen? A few essential factors are the speed to setting one, holding a strong and stable base, and making sure contact is made. Any unnecessary movement could lead to an offensive foul, but Chandler and Martin are hardly ever called for one.
Most importantly, it's about timing and reading the defense the right way, which leads to setting a screen in a certain direction that throws the opponent off. Chandler is especially good at that in transition, as he first applies his agility to get up the court, finds the closest shooter's defender, and if the shot isn't there, he quickly slips to the basket for the feed.
"Stance is a big key as well as knowing when and where to set it," a scout said. "If Melo's defender is trying to force him left, Chandler can set the screen where it allows Melo to go right. Chandler is really good at changing the screen angle. He could probably put on a screening clinic."
Martin, who learned some screening tips from 17-year veteran Marcus Camby and ex-Knick Kurt Thomas, said establishing contact is everything.
"A lot of times, guys slip a lot of screens," he said, "but I'm trying to make sure I get a piece of him, no matter what -- whether it's making him go around me or just to let him know that I'm there. So if you set a good screen, nine times out of 10, guys are going to be open."
NBA teams typically harp on screening formations in practice, and that's especially been the case with the Knicks. During the season, Mike Woodson unveiled more creative double- and triple-screen sets for shooters to get open, and his veteran roster has had the basketball knowledge to retain new information quickly.
As the Knicks continue their postseason journey, the art of screening will be a major part of their success.
You can follow Jared Zwerling on Twitter.