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Thursday, January 3, 2013
Opening Tip: Where's the ball movement?

By Jared Zwerling

Every weekday throughout the season, ESPNNewYork.com will tackle a burning question about the Knicks in our "Opening Tip" segment.

Today's Burning Question: How worried should Mike Woodson be about the Knicks' ball movement in their half-court offense?

While it's something he hasn't discussed directly with reporters, he alluded to it in these comments after the Knicks' loss to the Trail Blazers on Tuesday night: "[Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni] are going to have to start being a little bit more aggressive offensively."

That was Felton's biggest boost to the team, as he attacked well off pick-and-rolls and got deep penetration, where he was able to finish -- or, by drawing the defense in, facilitate quick ball movement around the perimeter to wide-open shooters. When he was on the court, the Knicks clearly benefited. They had a plus-4.8 plus-minus and scored 79.5 points per 36 minutes. But when he was on the bench, they were at a negative-1.9 and only scored 71.1 points.

Fortunately for the Knicks, J.R. Smith orchestrating pick-and-rolls, and Tyson Chandler and Amar'e Stoudemire finishing as roll men, have been very helpful. In fact, from the team's first 28 games to their last three, their pick-and-roll ball-handler and roll man numbers have actually been better recently. Even Carmelo Anthony has scored in isolation less. Take a look:

Pick-and-roll handler

First 28 games -- 16.9 plays per game, 0.77 points per play and 39.3 percent shooting
Last three games -- 16.0 plays per game, 0.92 points per play and 51.7 percent shooting

Pick-and-roll man

First 28 games -- 7.5 plays per game, 1.20 points per play and 57.1 percent shooting
Last three games -- 8.0 plays per game, 1.25 points per play and 63.6 percent shooting

Anthony in isolation

First 28 games -- 7.6 plays per game, 0.87 points per play and 38.8 percent shooting
Last three games -- 5.0 plays per game, 0.80 points per play and 40.0 percent shooting

However, Anthony and Smith's huge performances on Tuesday night indicate the Knicks' current offense is too centralized. Against the Trail Blazers, they accounted for the team's final 14 points of the first half and their final 27 out of 29 points in the fourth quarter.

The Knicks need to get back to being a fluid drive-and-kick team. If not, the Spurs, who are one of the best at it with Tony Parker at the helm, will give them a rude awakening on Thursday night.

Without their main floor general in Felton, Woodson will have to rely on a deeper cast of playmakers. It may take some time for main ball-handlers Kidd, Prigioni, Smith and Anthony to get the team clicking on all cylinders. Not only do those guys need to develop chemistry and consistency in terms of who's leading the offense at different times, but also their teammates need to be on the same page with them.

Hopefully Kidd and Co. can make things happen because the Knicks have been taking more contested 3-pointers lately. Those looks haven't been as available because the ball has stalled a bit. While their pick-and-roll and isolation games are still in tact, they need more catch-and-shoot opportunities.

And, of course, they need to D up a lot better. But that's a whole other conversation.

How concerning is the Knicks' ball movement looking ahead? Leave us your comments below.

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