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Still working through Triangle offense, Knicks look to run

Fast breaks and big men playing inside could be key for New York

POSTED: Oct 30, 2015 11:20 AM ET

By John Schuhmann

BY John Schuhmann

NBA.com

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In their first two games of the season, the Knicks have already managed 36 fast-break points.

— If you've only watched the New York Knicks over the last few years, you might not have realized that, in this game of basketball, there is something called a "fast break."

These "fast breaks" happen when a team gets the ball and, via dribble or pass, transfers it from the defensive end to the offensive end of the floor in an expeditious fashion to take a shot before the defense has time to get set. A "fast break" can be a rather effective device in trying win basketball games.

SportVU data tells us that teams shoot best in the first six seconds of the shot clock. Effective field goal percentage drops by 10 percentage points after the first six seconds and further every six seconds after that.

League-wide shooting by time remaining on the shot clock, 2014-15
Shot clock FGM FGA FG% 3PM 3PA 3P% eFG%
19-24 13,081 23,521 55.6% 2,280 6,219 36.7% 60.5%
13-18 27,126 60,265 45.0% 6,276 17,020 36.9% 50.2%
7-12 26,515 61,091 43.4% 5,770 15,749 36.6% 48.1%
0-6 10,162 26,808 37.9% 2,445 7,721 31.7% 42.5%
Does not include shots after an offensive rebound.
via SportVU

New York has ranked last in the league in fast break points per game each of the last three seasons, going back to 2012-13, when they ranked third in offensive efficiency and won 54 games. That year, the lack of fast breaks wasn't a huge deal, because the Knicks had a potent half-court offense built around Carmelo Anthony and 3-point shooting, launching the most 3s in NBA history (at the time).

But last season, the lack of transition opportunities was compounded by the fact that the Knicks' half-court offense was rather brutal. There was a steep learning curve with the Triangle offense implemented by new head coach Derek Fisher, and Anthony hobbled through 40 games before ending his season after the All-Star Game, when most of the other offensive talent had already been traded away.

The 2014-15 Knicks ranked 21st in 3-point attempts, last in shots at the basket, and 29th in overall offensive efficiency, ahead of only the Philadelphia 76ers, who were historically bad on that end of the floor.

Though Anthony is now healthy and there's seemingly more talent around him, the Triangle is still very much a work in progress. It's still clunky at times, more mechanical than free-flowing. Some Knicks players are still thinking it through and defenses often deny the next pass because they know what's coming.

But this season, the Knicks have realized that they're allowed to run down the floor and try to score before actually having to run through the Triangle. The guards are pushing the ball, Anthony is leaking out, and the bigs are establishing early post position.

Fisher didn't tell his team not to run last season. He just told them to run the offense, and they took that to heart.

"I think it was difficult for all of us a year ago, trying to come in and implement a new system and a new way of playing basketball offensively," Fisher said Thursday. "And I think, in a lot of ways, we allowed the conversation about the Triangle to drive everybody's mindset."

So when the Knicks got the ball, they weren't thinking about scoring, they were thinking about which point of the Triangle they were going to be.

"This year," Fisher continued, "even though our offense hasn't changed, really, what we wanted to make clear to our guys is that, when we make people miss, the first objective is to go score as quickly as possible, before the defense gets set.

"There's no shape to that. You just go down and try to score as quickly as you can, but also trust the fact that we do have [an offense] that we can play out of if the defense is back. And I just think that helped our guys a lot, that we didn't over-emphasize what happens after the defense is back. Take advantage of what's there first."

Of course, transition opportunities generally require defensive stops. The Knicks got those in Wednesday's season-opening 122-97 win in Milwaukee, because the Bucks had a backcourt that can neither shoot nor take care of the ball. New York tallied 19 fast-break points, *more than they had in all but one of their 82 games last season.

* Their 2014-15 season-high was 27 in Sacramento on Dec. 27. Their next highest tally was 15.

In Thursday's wake-up call against the Atlanta Hawks, the Knicks' poor perimeter defense was exposed by Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder. Still, the Knicks tallied another 17 fast-break points. So their fast-break point totals this season would have ranked as the second and third highest totals of last season.

... The first objective is to go score as quickly as possible ...

– Knicks' coach Derek Fisher

The Knicks have taken 19.2 percent (28 out of 146) initial shots in the first six seconds of the shot clock, up from 10.7 percent last season. The Phoenix Suns led the league last year by taking 19.8 percent of their shots in the first six seconds of the clock.

Furthermore, 40 percent of the Knicks' shots have come in the restricted area, up from 27 percent last season. Fast breaks, along with big guys who prefer to play inside, produce more layups.

New York is doing one more thing differently this season. On some possessions, they'll space the floor and run a high pick-and-roll upon crossing the midcourt line. If the pick-and-roll produces an open shot by itself, they go with it. If not, they transition into their regular offense.

Fisher and team president Phil Jackson still believe in system basketball. The Knicks just aren't depending on it as much as they did last season.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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