Kemba Walker on Knicks’ poor transition defense: ‘It’s fixable’

Alder Almo
knicks, kemba walker

After a poor start to the season, new Knicks point guard Kemba Walker has started to pick up things offensively and is leading the league in three-point accuracy with a 56.8 percent clip, a career-high if he could maintain it.

The addition of Walker and Evan Fournier has catapulted the Knicks’ offense near the top of the league due, in large part, to their ability to hit the three-point shot and make plays off the dribble. Through seven games, the Knicks have the no. 2 offense, producing 115.9 per 100 possessions, according to Cleaning The Glass. That number excludes garbage time and possessions at the end of quarters that are highly likely to end up in a heave.

Walker’s backup Derrick Rose is tied for seventh in three-point accuracy with 50 percent, while three more Knicks players in their regular rotation are shooting above 42 percent from the outside. The Knicks lead the league in three-pointers made with 16.6 per game, up from 11.8 (21st) from last season.

But their supercharged offense came at the expense of Thibodeau’s trademark defense.

When their shots fall, they are a joy to watch. But when they’re not falling, so is their energy on defense. They played with fire in close wins and got burned in a couple of games against lesser opponents— a young, rebuilding Orlando Magic team and an undermanned Toronto Raptors team— both at home.

The common theme was poor transition defense.

Their once-vaunted defense suddenly became vulnerable and penetrable. The Knicks are allowing 109.5 points per 100 possessions, which currently ranks 20th in the league, per the filtered stats of Cleaning The Glass. But when you compare it to last season, it’s not worrisome as their fourth-ranked defense then allowed 108.4 points per 100 possessions, per Cleaning The Glass.

What’s concerning is their lack of bounce and energy in getting back to defense after missed shots and turnovers.

The Knicks are allowing 15.1 fastbreak points per game, ranked 25th in the league. Last season, they had the second-best transition defense, allowing only 10.5 per game. In their previous two games, they have allowed 23.5 fastbreak points to the Raptors and Pelicans.

Their poor transition defense is the main culprit behind their lousy habit of squandering big leads.

Thibodeau points out the league’s penchant for shooting 3’s as a big reason why teams can make up ground quickly.

“You let your guard down and you give up three 3s in transition in a minute, that’s 10 points. It can go quickly. So no lead is safe,” Thibodeau explained Tuesday.

 

They were always on their guard last season, perhaps aware they don’t have the talent to outshoot their opponents.

It’s still too early to pass the judgment. The Knicks have added new offensive weapons and are missing one vital piece of their defense in Nerlens Noel. Thibodeau said the starting unit is still learning to play with each other.

Walker agrees.

“I think we can be better in our transition defense,” Kemba Walker said.

This Knicks team has the talent. Last year’s Cinderella team didn’t have so much. But they made up for it with a lot of effort, which this current Knicks team lacks.

“I thought we’ve had some really good defensive games over the last couple of games,” Walker said. “[Monday] night, not so much. “But that’s on us. It’s fixable.”

And they have to start fixing that against an Indiana Pacers team that had just snapped out of a four-game losing streak with a 131-118 victory over San Antonio Spurs.

The Pacers used a balanced scoring attack to get out of the funk. And they will have a boost against the Knicks as they are expected to welcome back Malcolm Brogdon.

The Walker-Brogdon will be an exciting matchup from the point of attack. Brogdon’s teams have the upper hand, winning six of their 11 head-to-head matchups. They split their last two meetings over the last two years, with the last one in February going Walker’s way. Walker led Boston to a 118-112 win with a game-high 32 points on 10 of 19 shooting, three rebounds, and six assists. Brogdon struggled for 12 points on 5 -f 17 shooting while handing out six assists in the loss.

The Pacers’ starting five of Brogdon, Chris Duarte, Caris LeVert, Domantas Sabonis, and Myles Turner will be a handful.

The Knicks have the talent and depth to counter that. But they need to match it with effort.

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