The 2009 draft class has turned out to produce some of the NBA's brightest young point guards: Tyreke Evans (No. 4 pick; this season, he's averaging 19.7 ppg and 5.7 apg and 5 rpg), Stephen Curry (No. 7; 21.7 ppg and 6.8 apg), Brandon Jennings (No. 10; 15.3 and 6.3 apg), Jrue Holiday (No. 17; 14.5 ppg and 6.8 apg), Darren Collison (No. 21; 16.7 ppg and 4.7 apg) and the Knicks' very own Toney Douglas (No. 29; 14.2 ppg), who really plays more like a combo guard. He's only at 2 apg, but he averages the most three-point attempts out of everyone in this group (5.4, making 1.6 of them).
While Douglas and Raymond Felton are putting up solid numbers for the Knicks (Felton is averaging 14.8 ppg and 7.6 apg), two of the above point guards have hurt the Knicks in back-to-back nights. First it was Jennings on Tuesday (19 points and six assists); then it was Curry last night (25 points and eight assists), which makes you rewind to 2009 and think what if. While Curry nearly fell in the Knicks' lap at the eighth spot, Jennings, Holiday and Collison were all available when the Knicks were on the clock. In addition to Curry, the Knicks also wanted Ricky Rubio. Now, the player the Knicks drafted, Jordan Hill, is not even with the team anymore (he's on the Rockets).
Back to Felton and Douglas. While each has brought a respectable 14 points to their unit -- the starting five for Felton and the second team for Douglas -- against the Bucks and Warriors, they showed they weren't able to keep up with the foot speed of Jennings and Curry on defense. It's also a sign that they have to defend the pick-and-roll better. Not only were Jennings and Curry able to get into the lane, their teammates were also a step faster than the Knicks' defenders. For example, last night, Dorell Wright (15 points) consistenly beat Danilo Gallinari to the basket and David Lee (28 points) spun his way around Timofey Mozgov easily in the post several times. Moving forward, the Knicks have to work on their footwork and reaction time to close out quicker point guards. Here are three other improvements they need to make:
Attacking the paint late in the fourth quarter when the game is close. This is what the Knicks' shot selection looked like in the last 1:36 of yesterday's game: Douglas misses 25-foot three point jumper (1:36), Gallinari misses 25-foot three point jumper (1:23), Gallinari misses 4-foot jumper (1:07), Gallinari misses 27-foot three point jumper (0:21) and Wilson Chandler misses 26-foot three point jumper (0:03). Only one shot was inside the three-point line. If the Knicks' main perimeter playmakers -- Felton, Chandler and Douglas -- can penetrate, with the help of the bigs setting harder screens, they'll be able to catch the defense off-balanced more. Because of the Knicks' ball rotation around the wing at the end of the game, it allowed the Warriors to get in better rebounding position and push the ball up the court to give them an opportunity to score.
More back-door cutting, especially when the shot isn't falling. Building off the first point, the Knicks need to play more like Landry Fields, who does a fabulous job roaming the baseline and cutting to the basket when the guards penetrate. His basketball IQ is tremendous. Because in Mike D'Antoni's halfcourt system the emphasis is on Felton and Stoudemire, the other players are stationed on the perimeter prepared to take the three-point shot. Against the Bulls last week, the Knicks were incredibly hot from long range, which enabled them to win. But in some games, the Knicks' shooting will be off, so they'll have to be savvy enough to create more movement on the court to score closer to the basket.
Finally, Stoudemire needs to cut down on his turnovers. STAT is now averaging a career-high 4.5 tpg, and last night he had six. That has to stop, especially when the game is close in the fourth quarter and the Knicks need him to get going. What's happening is that he's catching the ball further away from the basket and he's being forced to take more dribbles. When he played with Steve Nash in Phoenix, he would only need to take one dribble to be able to score. One reason for that is the Knicks need Stoudemire to be more of a face-up scorer like Kevin Garnett. But it's also a credit to Nash who does a better job of playing off the pick-and-roll and weaving through the defense than Felton. Nash forced opposing big men to come out on him, which gave him an easy dish to Stoudemire for the dunk.
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