Monday's nationally televised battle of New York, played at the Barclays Center, served to spotlight a new era in the rivalry between the Knicks and the Nets now that the latter have moved from New Jersey to Brooklyn. After the game, a gleeful Jay-Z--a minority part of the Brooklyn ownership group--took to Twitter to declare the city "under new management."
Such a shift might not have happened if not for injury. The game also highlighted how dependent New York is on guard Jason Kidd, who missed the game due to lower back spasms that also kept him out of Wednesday's win at Milwaukee (not included in these numbers). Without Kidd, the Knicks' league-leading offensive attack sputtered. Even with the extra overtime session, their 89 points barely surpassed their season low of 88, set against an Indiana Pacers team that ranks second in the NBA in Defensive Rating.
Basically, New York has had two different teams this year. The starting lineup of Kidd, Raymond Felton, Ronnie Brewer, Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler has been a dominant offensive group. Per NBA.com/Stats, the Knicks' starters have averaged 124.6 points per 100 possessions, far and away the best mark of any regular unit. Among lineups that have played at least 100 minutes together, it's the Nets with Keith Bogans at small forward that rank a distant second with a 114.1 Offensive Rating.
Because Mike Woodson's rotation has been consistent most of the season, looking at individual plus-minus doesn't do much to divvy up the credit for how well New York has scored, other than removing Brewer from the equation. Chandler has the team's best net offensive plus-minus (+18.5 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com/Stats), followed by Felton (+18.3) and then Anthony (+16.6) and Kidd (+14.0).
Nonetheless, Kidd's absence offered a window into his importance. Without a second ballhandling option on offense, the Knicks had to rely on Felton during a night that was reminiscent of his lost season in Portland. Felton shot 3-of-19 from the field and had as many turnovers (five) as assists. His mistakes down the stretch were costly in a tight game.
What played out Monday in Brooklyn has been happening on a smaller scale all season. Felton has been a totally different player with Kidd next to him in the backcourt. Playing with Kidd improves Felton's three-point percentage from 29.4 percent to 48.7 percent and cuts his turnover rate from 17.7 percent to 11.6 percent. More improbably, Felton even averages more assists when playing with Kidd--9.5 per 40 minutes as compared to 6.8. As a result, his assist-to-turnover ratio, slightly less than two when alone at guard, nearly doubles to 3.7 (a mark that would be good for fifth in the league; Kidd leads by a mile at 5.1).
While Kidd's presence impacts Felton most dramatically, most of his fellow starters have been more efficient when Kidd has been on the floor:
2P% 3P% TS% SORtg
Player w/o with w/o with w/o with w/o with
Felton .354 .442 .294 .487 .401 .539 66.0 95.3
Brewer .353 .567 .400 .421 .462 .581 89.5 111.9
Anthony .415 .527 .370 .475 .519 .615 93.2 105.9
Chandler .706 .702 - - .755 .728 135.1 126.5
Smith .375 .478 .538 .333 .546 .529 104.5 92.0
Novak .214 .667 .404 .353 .516 .608 98.4 121.6
Wallace .500 .462 .355 .250 .542 .444 102.2 85.6
The numbers largely mirror what we saw on Monday, which makes sense because that's about a third of the data for most starters with Kidd off the court. Chandler, who was effective as the roll man with Felton, has played well either way. (The difference in his True Shooting Percentage and Simple Offensive Rating, which is points scored per 100 plays used, is entirely due to free throw shooting--probably out of Kidd's control.) The other starters have been much more efficient playing with Kidd. The bench pretty much does what it does, though Steve Novak has been better with Kidd.
One common factor is that Kidd's presence leads to more spot-up opportunities beyond the three-point line. Felton, Brewer and Anthony all shoot more threes with Kidd, in addition to making them at much better percentages. Surprisingly, the numbers don't show the Knicks assisting more frequently when Kidd is on the court--according to Basketball-Reference.com's splits, their assist rate is virtually identical either way--but the open looks seem to be indicative of better ball movement on the perimeter that is obvious watching the team.
While New York still isn't getting many assists overall, at their best the Knicks whip the ball around, getting defenses into scramble mode and making the extra pass that leads to a wide-open three instead of merely an open one. That happens more frequently with Kidd, who has also been the beneficiary himself, making 51.8 percent of his tries from beyond the arc.
The other interesting factor in the numbers is that everyone but Chandler and Rasheed Wallace has been better on two-point attempts playing with Kidd. The obvious assumption is that they're getting more close looks in these scenarios, but NBA.com/Stats' shooting splits don't bear that out. Instead, when Kidd is on the bench players are shooting more frequently at the rim and making a smaller percentage of those shots. This could be connected to the superior shooting with Kidd on the floor, which means less help defense when the Knicks are able to get to the rim.
In the long run, relying so much on a 39-year-old player who is likely to deal with more minor injuries is surely not ideal for New York. Steve Kerr pointed out another way the Knicks missed Kidd late in Monday's game. Ordinarily, Mike Woodson would have finished with a perimeter group of Felton, Kidd and J.R. Smith. Instead, he was forced to choose between Ronnie Brewer's defensive presence and Steve Novak's shooting. New York will eventually have another alternative option in Iman Shumpert when he gets back in the lineup, and while Shumpert's shooting is a concern as well, he may bring more balance to lineups without Kidd if he's able to get back to full health.
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Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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