With the playoffs in sight and the Miami Heat on a roll analysts everywhere have been examining what type of teams have a shot at beating the Heat. Since the season began the Heat were considered front runners by an extremely wide margin. That margin would only get wider as the season began to unfold with the Celtics hovering around .500, Derrick Rose still out for the Bulls, and the Indiana Pacers struggling initially.
The only team that a lot of people thought were in competition were the New York Knicks. The Knicks showed that they can beat the Heat by beating them twice in convincing fashion by 20 points in each game.
Still, a lot of people didn’t take them seriously in those games because they were scorching hot from beyond the arch. They were shooting over 40% from three at the time with many players who weren’t very remarkable three point shooters. Certainly, the law of averages would have to catch up to the Knicks soon enough. Surely enough it did. Now, at this point in time in the regular season they’ve fallen to 3rd place in the East as opposed to 1st where they were initially.
Since then, the Pacers have overtaken the Knicks and the Chicago Bulls have caught steam as well. Those are the teams who look to have a shot at taking down the behemoth in South Beach because of their complex defensive schemes. They both take away the elbow shots and the corner threes that the Miami Heat flourish off of. The Knicks have fallen off defensively since the first week or so of the season when they were top 10 in defensive efficiency.
With the Miami Heat, you’ve got to abuse them in the paint. The Bulls and the Pacers look to do that on both ends of the floor. The problem is that their guard play–especially for the Bulls without Rose–is subpar. Miami has a way of defending the post where they usually will front posting bigs and deny them the ball. That’s something that the Pacers struggled with last season and the Bulls guards will have problems with as well. It’ll lead to turnovers and the Heat feast off of those.
The Knick’s offensive strategy is different and very well suited to defeat Miami. In the offseason, their focus was devising a way in which they could counter the Miami Heat’s aggression on defense. Many teams run away from that and play it coy, but the Knicks chose to attack it head on.
They run a 4 out/1 in pick and roll system in which the floor is constantly spread and they’ll run the pick and roll through either one of their bigs. When they go through Carmelo Anthony in the post its effective, but against the Heat it won’t work. Instead, the Knicks will run high-spread pick and rolls with Tyson Chandler to force the defense to collapse and then they’ll either hit the diving Chandler or find an open three–maybe even both.
What the Knicks do extremely well is take care of the ball while firing it all over the floor. They average a league-low 11.7 turnovers per game. That’s important against the Heat because of the league leading 1.24 points per possession that they put up in transition. Taking care of the ball comes at a premium.
Getting in to how they use Chandler to penetrate and expose the Heats aggression, I’d like to present to you a high pick and roll between Raymond Felton and Tyson Chandler. Felton sees the trap coming after Bosh comes over the screen to help the guard. He then gets the ball over the trap and between the double team to Chandler about 10-12 feet away from the rim. Take a look:
Shane Battier comes over and tries to force a turnover by taking a charge on a rolling Chandler, but there is no conclusive call. Chandler sees his options and instead of forcing it to the rim he makes the right play and kicks it to Carmelo Anthony. You can see it here in a photo below.
Now, Anthony hesitates and drives to the basket, but the rest of the defense collapses on him because of the chaos in the paint. He then kicks it to Iman Shumpert for a wide open three that would end up being a miss. Even though it was a miss, they had two great looks on one possession because of a Chandler roll.
The fact that Chandler is such a great decision maker on the catch benefits the Knicks greatly. He knows he isn’t effective off of the dribble so he never tries to be. He isn’t going to post anyone up and take two or three dribbles to back someone down. Instead, he’ll get the ball already in motion, use one dribble to eat space if needed, and he’ll finish at the rim or pass the ball out quickly. This will be explored later in the post as well.
Meanwhile, in this next clip we have Tyson Chandler giving another high screen with Felton as the ball handler. The key here is the passing triangle that the ball goes in. Because Bosh tries to trap Felton at the top again, he forces him to make a decision. Felton doesn’t have an angle to hit Chandler straight on because of the great job that Norris Cole and Chris Bosh do in smothering him. Take a look at what Felton does below:
He knows that help is going to come from the wing because if it doesn’t, Chandler will have a direct path to the rim. The defense isn’t going to just willingly give a 66% shooter from the field. So Felton sends the ball to Jason Kidd on the wing as Dwyane Wade flashes over to help, but since Kidd was hitting threes at this point in time, he Wade couldn’t just abandon him. Kidd gets the ball and immediately passes it to a rolling Chandler on his way to the rim. He gets a guard instead of a big on him and that’s an easy bucket for the Knicks. Here’s a photo for easier understanding:
In this next clip, I’d like to get back to Tyson Chandler as a passer. He’ll work the side pick and roll with Raymond Felton who gets trapped on the wing again. He’s able to get the pass over the double team and hit Chandler. Chandler is close enough to the rim that LeBron James is forced to come off of his man and rotate under the rim to try to deter Chandler. Take a look:
One of Chandler’s strengths is how he looks for open teammates on the roll as opposed to just trying to force his way to the bucket. This facilitates an open three for J.R Smith and that leads to a ball swing to Carmelo Anthony that results in a three point attempt by Carmelo Anthony in which he drew a foul and three free throws.
Finally, another way that Chandler provides New York with great strength is in his free throw shooting. Its rare for a seemingly offensively challenged big man to showcase skill in free throw shooting, but he’s relatively close to 70% territory for a center–shooting 69% exactly. Fouling him is probably a wise option, but it isn’t always productive. In this next clip, Chandler gets to the rim and is fouled by Udonis Haslem. Take a look:
In the clip above, Miami had a big under the rim with Chandler. That’s probably the best scenario that you’d like to have. However, he was fouled and ended up making both of the free throws. It was a necessary risk that Miami was willing to take, but it didn’t end up paying off.
Tyson Chandler may not be the most graceful offensive player in the league, but he gets the job done. His 69% True Shooting percentage is something that teams have got to be aware of. He’s a great finisher under the rim and a willing passer. The defense has to respect him rolling to the rim and Miami is going to aggressively try to prevent that. They’ll send help from the wing to the paint and that will open up a lot of opportunity for New York from deep.
In a way, what the Knicks were doing to the Heat early in the season wasn’t just a fluke–it was by design. Even though they were hitting at an unsustainable percentage, the Knicks are going to be able to hang with the Heat using this same strategy. So if we see these two in a series, don’t just assume that its a done deal and the Heat are going to win. The Knicks have more than a tiny shot at taking them down.