As you may or may not have heard because it's been obscured by the 30th birthday of international sensation OJ Da Juiceman, the New York/Manhattan Knicks come to Brooklyn this evening to take on the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center. This is the first official game between these two teams, rescheduled from November 1st in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Here's an analysis of the Nets offense versus the Knicks defense, and how the game might develop on that end.
By the Numbers:
Brooklyn Nets offense scores: 104.5 points per 100 possessions
New York Knicks defense allows: 101.2 points per 100 possessions
Pace: Brooklyn Nets 90.88 possessions per game, New York Knicks 93.50 possessions per game
Brooklyn Nets offense:
.293 FT Rate
14.9% turnover rate
30.4% offensive rebound rate
New York Knicks defense:
.266 FT Rate
17.6% turnover rate
26.1% offensive rebound rate
The Knicks' free throw rate of .266 rises to .293 on the road, the same as the Brooklyn Nets' overall number (which bumps up to .320 when the Nets are at home, meaning the Nets hit .32 free throws per field goal attempt at home). If the Nets can get to the line, get starters in foul trouble... all the better. Additionally, the Knicks give up significantly more offensive rebounds and force fewer turnovers on the road than at home. So those are good signs.
Avery Johnson frequently likes to say that the NBA has become a pick-and-roll league. That's certainly true of the Brooklyn Nets -- in any one play you're bound to see Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, or C.J. Watson run off at least one or two screens with the ball in their hands.
The Nets get a fair amount of different looks from pick-and-roll actions (more on that later), but have experienced a mystifying lack of success when trying to create within it. Despite employing Deron Williams and Brook Lopez -- who you'd think of as a natural pick-and-roll tandem -- the Nets rank near the bottom of the NBA in scoring in the pick-and-roll; the Nets screeners rank 23rd out of 30 NBA teams in points per play in pick-and-rolls (0.783 points per play), and ballhandlers are even worse, ranking 29th (a paltry 0.612 PPP).
Williams has been solid but tentative, hitting shots when he gets open looks but turning the ball over frequently on bad passes and loose dribbles. Williams has lost more than his fair share of turnovers simply by pounding the ball into the court and watching it fly beyond his grasp. The rest of the ballhandlers have been awful -- Joe Johnson hasn't found a rhythm and C.J. Watson is in the bottom 1% of all pick-and-roll scorers this season.
As for the bigs, Lopez and Humphries have struggled to create in the pick-and-roll -- Lopez has found his touch a little more in the last few nights and Humphries had some nice finishes on Sunday against Portland, but the pick-and-roll chemistry isn't there yet. Defenses are still locking them down with ease.
Defensively, the Knicks have struggled this year, as Tyson Chandler has not been the lockdown defender he was last season. By the numbers, they've been poor to average defending the pick-and-roll. If Chandler looks more like this season than last and the Nets don't build on the last few days, the Nets may find trouble trying to force shots where there aren't any.
That's not to say that the Brooklyn Nets have struggled entirely out of those ball-screen sets. Often, the Nets use the pick-and-roll to draw in additional defenders, leaving spot-up shooters like Joe Johnson open for clean looks. Indeed, the highest percentage of the Nets offense this year has come in spot-up situations, with varied success. The guards have been hitting -- Joe Johnson has started to come back up to earth after a hot start, and both Deron Williams and C.J. Watson have hit enough spot-up threes to be a threat. But outside of those three, the team has struggled to find many good spot-up looks (unless you consider wide-open Keith Bogans corner threes good looks, which is sadly debatable).
The Knicks, historically, have done well swarming spot-up shooters, again thanks to Tyson Chandler. Through today, They're tenth in the league at limiting spot-up points and rank eighth in opponent field goal percentage.
That said, there are few spot-up options in the league like Joe Johnson, especially as Johnson regains his shooting touch. If the Nets stick with their two-point guard set, Johnson is a significant mismatch for Jason Kidd -- and any switches the Knicks make will create further mismatch issues down the line. If the Nets want to win tonight, finding successful open spot-up looks may be their best bet, but without a solid pick-and-roll game that draws defenders and puts the Knicks in foul trouble (just spotting up won't), they could be in for trouble.
This is the bread-and-butter matchup: Brook Lopez, one of the best post-up and low-cut big men in the league, versus Tyson Chandler, the reigning defensive player of the year. Chandler won the DPOY because of his ability to rove, limiting easy opportunities near the basket for anyone, but remains one of the stingier post-up defenders in the league. Lopez, whose post arsenal this year relies on a high right hook and his ability to draw fouls, ranks in the 94th percentile of the NBA posting up. Chandler, who's similarly long but has quicker hands and feet, ranks in the 89th percentile defensively against post players.
There are other post-up matchups between these two (Joe Johnson should abuse Jason Kidd, and Deron Williams will assuredly want to outmuscle Raymond Felton), but how Lopez plays Chandler is the important test. Lopez's best bet may be to tempt Chandler with his patented rip move.
Statistical support for this story was provided by Synergy Sports Technology and NBA.com.