Gaming & E-sport

The Knicks botched a fastbreak because of poor fundamentals, not analytics

It feels like every professional sports league will have go through its statistical revolution and the residual damage that comes with it. Major League Baseball was the first site of this battleground in the wake of ‘Moneyball,’ which had baseball fans arguing with each other about whether walks are good (yes!) and bunts are bad (usually!). This has trickled down to the NFL on when to go for it on fourth down vs. a punt/field goal or when to try for the two-point conversion vs. the extra point.

In the NBA, the debate is all about three-pointers.

The NBA shoots significantly more three-pointers now than it did 10 years ago. The percentage of shots teams shoot from three basically goes up every year. Traditionalists bemoan all the three-pointers for ruining the flow of the game, with the harshest critics sometimes proposing that this is all Stephen Curry’s fault.

The debate popped up again on Tuesday night during the New York Knicks vs. Indiana Pacers game. At one point in the fourth quarter, with New York leading by three, young guard Immanuel Quickely passed up a potential layup to sprint back to the three-point line to jack a three-pointer.

That’s a bad basketball play on numerous levels, and not just because it ended in a missed three. This is less about the current influx of three-point shots around the league, and more about botched fundamentals and not knowing your personnel.

When Knicks big man Obi Topping dribbled across halfcourt after getting a steal, the Knicks had a two-on-one break. That should result in a layup 100 percent of the time if properly executed. The Knicks did not properly execute. Let’s go through the many problems:

  1. Toppin needs to pass this ball sooner. It felt like he was attempting to finish the play himself before the Pacers tried to set him up for the charge. By the time he eventually dished the ball to Quickley, Indiana had another defender downcourt to challenge the shot. Toppin also threw the pass slightly behind Quickley, which killed whatever momentum he would have had going to the basket.had going to the basket.
  2. Quickley could have helped his own cause but taking a wider angle to the basket. By filling the lane so closely to Toppin, Quickley gave the defense an easier route to challenging the shot. If he runs the floor closer to the right sidelines and then darts in, then Knicks probably have a layup.

Here’s where Quickley caught the ball:

Maybe he could have gone up right away, but with the pass behind him, it’s possible he would have gotten blocked. A couple other things to keep in mind here:

  • It seems like Quickley was concerned Domantas Sabonis was going to block his shot. Sabonis is a very good player, but he’s not exactly a great rim protector. If Quickley goes up with his right, it’s pretty likely Sabonis is either fouling him or whiffing on the contest.
  • Quickley himself isn’t a great finisher. He’s making only 54 percent of his attempts at the rim this season, and takes just eight percent of his attempts within three-feet. Quickley is in the league because of his pull-up shooting ability … but he’s also having a down year shooting the ball in his second season compared to his rookie year.

Quickley then takes a three-pointer with zero teammates under the basket to get a rebound. Not ideal.

This isn’t ‘analytics ruining the game’ as much as it is just a poorly run fastbreak. Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau is going to be fixated on this for days. Fortunately, the Knicks won anyway, 104-94, with Quickley pouring in 11 points (on 3-of-10 shooting).

This is certainly bad basketball. Just don’t blame math too much for it.

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