Knicks transform from worst 3-pt defending team to NBA’s best during hot streak

Jalen Brunson, Aj Griffin, New York Knicks
Dec 7, 2022; New York, New York, USA; Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young (11) attempts a three pointer defended by New York Knicks guard Jalen Brunson (11) during the first quarter at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

New York coach Tom Thibodeau finally solved the Knicks‘ defensive woes.

Thibodeau cut his losses, replacing the athletic and long but inconsistent Cam Reddish with a healthy Quentin Grimes in the starting lineup and making the tough decision to bench his longtime player, Derrick Rose, in favor of a much younger and more defensive-oriented Miles McBride.

Those lineup tweaks, coupled with Mitchell Robinson regaining his old form, have tightened the Knicks defense.

Over their last four games, the Knicks have not allowed more than 31 points in each of the 16 quarters. Their perimeter and point-of-attack defense have drastically improved with the long arms and in-your-face defense of Grimes, McBride, and Immanuel Quickley.

Jalen Brunson continued to challenge shots on closeouts before going down with an injury, while RJ Barrett and Julius Randle have been playing with a better rhythm lately.

During their four-game winning streak, the Knicks have limited the Cavaliers, Hawks, Hornets and Kings to a combined 30-for-136 from deep for only a 22 percent three-point accuracy.

Before the streak, the Knicks owned the worst three-point defense in the league, giving up the most 3s (14) and attempts (39.5) per game for a fifth-worst 36.0 three-point defensive field goal percentage.

It’s a make-or-miss league, and Thibodeau has had enough of the Knicks’ early season struggles to defend the perimeter.

And it all starts from the point of attack.

Grimes has been clamping the opposing team’s best backcourt players and wings. McBride has been picking up opposing ball handlers full court. Quickley has tremendously made a defensive leap this season.

With their restructured backcourt alignment, the Knicks are no longer prone to blow-bys and have intentionally cut down passing and kick-out lanes. Hence the 39.5 attempts they gave up in their first 24 games have gone down to 34, and the 14 makes have been cut to almost half (7.5).

And more often than not, they have a hand in the face of the opposing team’s three-point attempts.

“There are some shots you challenge really well. And you make them miss and there are other shots you challenge well, and they make. And then there are other other shots that aren’t challenged well, that they do miss you know, and I think that same can be said for us.

Was it a good defense, or did they [just] miss it? I think it’s [a matter of] is it the right shot? Is it a rhythm phase, a drive, and pass, pass [leading to] a rhythm shot, and did you shoot it well? If you shoot it great, you’re missing half, you know.”

Tom Thibodeau Knicks-Hawks postgame via MSG Network

The Denver Nuggets, currently the best three-point shooting team in the league, is hitting at a 39.4 percent clip from beyond the arc. The league’s 3-point league average is 35.5 percent, so hitting half of the 3-point attempts is a great shooting night for any team in the league.

So far, the Knicks have held their last four opponents 13.5 percent below the league average, the best in the NBA by a mile during that span. The Milwaukee Bucks, the best defensive team throughout this season, are a distant second, limiting their opponents to 28.5 percent from behind the arc during this Knicks’ resurgence.

The Knicks are poised to continue their dominant defensive form against the Chicago Bulls on a back-to-back schedule beginning Wednesday. The Bulls are attempting a league-worst 28.6 three-point attempts this season, making only 10.3 per game, 27th in the NBA.

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