Paint by Number

Thibs has told us what he wants the Knicks to be all about. Here are some folks who can help him get there.

News & Notes

  • According to Ian Begley, Dennis Smith Jr. still has “significant support” within the team, and they want to give him a real chance to rebound from the disaster that was last season.

    As I wrote last season, this front office seems set on treating everyone in the building as a potential asset. Tossing away DSJ for a middling second rounder (if they could even get that much) doesn’t make much sense anyway, so this is refreshing to hear.

  • Julius Randle is a fan of Tom Thibodeau so far, writes Stefan Bondy. More importantly, Randle did a really cool thing last week, partnering with JBL to deliver 500 pairs of headphones to students in Kentucky and New York. Both in school buildings and at home, headphones are immensely important to a successful remote learning experience, so this was great to see.

Read This:

New Strickland contributor Derek Reifer penned a really insightful piece on RJ Barrett. I was a bit harsh on him in my breakdown earlier in the offseason, and this definitely gives more reason for optimism without being unrealistic in any way (as many pro-RJ pieces I’ve seen tend to be). Definitely worth your time.

Random Stat of the Day

New Newsletter Category!

Over the course of writing these babies, I come across all kinds of stats - some useless and others less so - and many get left on the cutting room floor. So I figured I’d start putting them here instead.

Today’s stat: over the last dozen games the Knicks played last season, Mitchell Robinson played 277 minutes, and New York outscored its opponents by 20 points during that time.

In the 304 minutes he sat, they were outscored by 81.


Paint By Number

Two weeks ago, Tom Thibodeau held a post-practice press conference in which he gave very little by way of plans for this upcoming season, but did offer a glimpse into a few things that he hopes will come to define his team: Defense, rebounding, low turnovers, and sharing the ball.

He also mentioned hunting more easy shots, and specifically corner threes, as something every team did nowadays, and that New York would be no exception.

In other news, the Knicks are likely to enter the offseason with more cap space than any team in the league outside of the Hawks. They will have some holdovers on the roster (and Mike Vorkunov recently did a great job spotlighting how some of Thibodeau’s desires may be quenched from within), but for the most part, the answers will come from the outside.

Today, with the help of the fantastic Cleaning the Glass, I’ll look at Thibs’ Tenets and find some free agents that they can spend some of those gobs of cash on who would check one or more of the boxes he named. Before I do though, a word on the man who would sop up a lot of that cap space in an instant.

Chris Paul: Super Box Checker

I’ll work on the name, but the point remains clear: Paul can do it all.

Here’s where CP3 ranks in comparison to the rest of the league in the four categories Thibs mentioned:

  • The Thunder gave up 0.1 fewer points per 100 possessions with Paul on the court (51st percentile), but OKC had the 8th ranked defense overall

  • Paul rebounded 14.9 percent of opponents’ missed field goals (90th percentile)

  • The Thunder turned it over 2.2 percent less with Paul on the court (95th percentile) and he had an individual turnover percentile of 11.8 (76th percentile)

  • Paul assisted on 32.2 percent of Thunder makes (65th percentile, although it should be noted that last season - playing alongside two other nominal point guards - was the first time in his his career Paul wasn’t in the 90th percentile)

The only area where Paul falls short is in corner threes, which he rarely shoots.

Moving along…

Defense Wins Championships

There are two free agent big men who played over 1000 minutes last season and ranked in the top ten percent of the NBA in on/off differential for defensive rating: Paul Milsap (93rd percentile) and Carmelo Anthony (94th percentile).

With all due respect to Melo, his presence here is why advanced statistics should never be taken out of context. Anthony-led lineups in Portland still gave up 113.5 points per 100 possessions. He’s also ranked in the bottom third of the league in on/off defensive differential during 11 of his 17 seasons).

Milsap is a different story. He’s ranked in the top 30 percent of the league in on/off defensive differential in 10 of his 14 seasons, so last year is no fluke. He also had quite an effect on helping prop up Nikola Jokic to a level of respectability:

In other news, Milsap is an unrestricted free agent, took eight percent of his shots from the corners last year and hit 44 percent of them - the fourth year in a row he’s been between 43 and 52 percent from those spots on the court.

(He’s also not the passer he used to be, when he was in the top 15 percent of big men in dropping dimes for seven straight years in the middle of his career, but his 9.3 assist percentage last year was still more than acceptable)

Milsap is 35 years old, which sounds antithetical to where the Knicks are at right now, but would probably make him more open to a one-year balloon deal. There’s also a history with new Knicks assistant GM Walt Perrin, who plucked Milsap in the second round back in 2006.

Bounding and Astounding

The Knicks were actually one of the better defensive rebounding teams last season, finishing 7th in defensive rebounding rate and first in offensive rebounding rate.

Those numbers are a microcosm of the unique beast that is Mitchell Robinson. He’s a monster on the offensive glass, but his defensive rebounding percentage of 16.2 ranks in the 36th percentile league-wide. Thankfully, New York had Elfrid Payton (86th percentile), Julius Randle (81st percentile) and RJ Barrett (78th percentile) to make up for it.

But Elf is almost certainly gone and Julius may join him depending on how the offseason shakes out. If that’s the case, the Knicks may look to add some additional rebounding on the margins because of their center struggles (Gibson was in the 33rd percentile, and if I had to guess, he’ll wind up being the backup five).

Enter Pat Connaughton. Paddy is the 27-year-old energizer bunny who has come off of Milwaukee’s bench over the last few years to generally wreck havoc on games. He’s also an unrestricted free agent.

Last year, Connaughton rebounded 15.0 percent of opponent misses, which placed him in the 91st percentile of the NBA. The previous year he was in the 90th percentile. He’s also a beast on the offensive glass, ranking in the 94th and 89th percentiles for that category over the last two years.

Connaughton is not a great outside shooter though, and his 54.5 effective field goal percentage is propped up by how often the Bucks’ scheme got him good looks around the basket. But that also means he won’t cost a lot, and could probably be had on a short-term deal.

Dark horse I’ve talked about before, should the Knicks move on from Randle: Derrick Favors. He was in the 89th percentile in defensive rebounding last season, and is consistently one of the better defensive bigs in the NBA (although he’s really more of a backup five at this point)

Hold on to the Ball

The Knicks were right in the middle of the pack in turnovers last year, and their primary ball handlers were a mixed bag to put it politely. Elfrid Payton (55th percentile) was fine, Frank Ntilikina (22nd percentile) was less so, and DSJ (8th percentile) was abysmal.

(For those wondering, Julius Randle: not abysmal! Only 40th percentile. RJ Barrett, in the 30th percentile, was actually worse.)

Before we get to players who could help here, there’s one guy who is oft mentioned as a Knicks trade target that won’t: Lonzo Ball. Ball was in the LAST percentile in the NBA in turnover percentage, giving it away 18.3 percent of the time his team had the ball.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the best available point guard in this category (after Trey Burke and Detroit-version Reggie Jackson, neither of whom had significant sample sizes) is D.J. Augustin, whose 12.0 percent turnover rate ranked him in the 70th percentile league-wide. He was also excellent at taking care of the ball during his one season in Chicago under Thibs.

Again: I’m banking on Augustin being a Knick next year more than any player in the league who isn’t currently under contract with New York (and more than a few who are as well). Mike Conley also ranks highly here (67th percentile), for those who want to believe there’s something to those trade rumors.

For those who are sick of Randle giveaways and want a new starting four, both Danilo Galinari and Jerami Grant rank in the top 10 percent of the league here as well. Better than both of them though? Restricted Toronto free agent Chris Boucher, who gave it away on only 6.9 percent of the time. Sign me up for an offer sheet to him over an overpay for Christian Wood (who gave it away almost twice as much) any day of the week.

Sharing is Caring

Aside from shooting (and maybe as much as shooting), willingly distributing the ball to others is perhaps the quality that recent Knick teams have lacked the most. They’ve been bottom-10 in assist percentage for five years straight, and bottom-five the last two.

Because this is so important to getting Thibs tenure off on the right track, I’m listing every player who is a) entering free agency, b) played at least 500 minutes, and c) was in the top 15 percent of the league in assist percentage, sorted by category:

Points / Combos

  • Jeff Teague - 94th percentile

  • Matthew Dellavedova - 88th percentile

Wings

  • DeMar DeRozan (player option) - 97th percentile

  • Jordan Clarkson - 90th percentile

  • Jordan McRae (RFA) - 88th percentile

  • Bogdan Bogdanovic (RFA) - 87th percentile

  • Alec Burks - 86th percentile

Bigs

  • Mason Plumlee - 96th percentile

  • Harry Giles - 86th percentile

I should also note that both Julius Randle and Elfrid Payton appear in the top 15 percent, which shouldn’t be surprising. Assist percentage measures the percentage of your team’s assists that you were responsible for, so the fact that the Knicks were one of the lowest assist teams in the league made it easier for both of these dudes to rank highly.

They also deserve some credit. Payton’s willingness as a passer is generally fine, and Randle, for all his faults, is able to make some nice reads.

But I’m still far more impressed with the two guys on the above list who came from teams that were near the top of the league in passing: Denver’s Mason Plumlee, who played for the fifth-best dishing team, and Alec Burks, who hit that percentile during his time with the top-ranked Warriors before getting traded to Philly (who are themselves a pretty good passing team)

Burks is the opposite of a sexy name after failing to live up to his status as the 12th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. The market soured on him, and he’s spent time with five different teams over the last two seasons as a result.

I’d argue he may now be undervalued. Last season, Burks put up 20.4 points, 5.8 boards and 3.9 dimes per 36 minutes, just missing out on the 20/6/4 per 36 club that was populated exclusively by current or recent All-Stars (and Jusuf Nurkic, who is quite good). If you add in the qualification of at least 38 percent from downtown (Burks was at 38.5), the list whittles down to Khris Middleton, Paul George, Karl-Anthony Towns and Brandon Ingram, with Kawhi just missing the cut.

Burks obviously isn’t in the same league as any of these players, but as a useful cog in the right role who will help move the ball and probably won’t cost a lot, the Knicks could do worse (he also attempted just under one corner three per game last year and converted 47.4 percent of them).

One more note here: Al Horford, who some Knicks fans advocate looking into as a possible salary dump acquisition, was in the 95th percentile for assists (he’s also 89th percentile in turnover rate. Just sayin’)

Only Thibs Puts Baby in the Corner

Last but not least, we turn to the most efficient shot in basketball that isn’t a free throw.

Funny enough, the Knicks currently employ one of the only guys who played over 1000 minutes last season and ranked in the top 20th percentile in both corner 3’s attempted and made. His name, of course, is Frank Ntilikina. As if I needed another reason to stan for the kid.

On the free agency market (again, among players who saw at least 1000 minutes of action), there’s only one player in the top 20th percentile in both categories, and I already had him on my list of top free agent targets a few weeks back.

Say hello to Once a Knick, Always a Knick (and maybe a Knick Once Again), Langston Galloway, who was the only player in the NBA last year to hit that minutes threshold and finish in the top 10 percent of frequency and conversion rate of corner threes. Nearly one out of every four shots Galloway took were from the corners, and he hit more than half of them.

He’s also elite at taking care of the ball, giving it away on just seven percent of his possessions (95th percentile) and as I detailed a few weeks ago, he’s a serviceable if unspectacular defender.

Of everyone I’ve mentioned here, I think Galloway would be the likeliest to accept a fairly team-friendly contract, and could be a nice supporting piece for what the Knicks are trying to build. If he wants to come back to where it all began I’d be more than game.

That’s it for today! See everyone tomorrow for the Friday edition. #BlackLivesMatter. #VOTE