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Old 08-29-2013, 02:05 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Fact: Andrea Bargnani hasn't shot above 35% from three-point range since 2009-2010. Another fact: He shot 29.6% and 30.9% from beyond the arc in each of the last two seasons.

This would appear to be bad news. The Knicks gave up one of the game's best shooters in Steve Novak for a non-rebounding, non-shooting seven-footer who also happens to be allergic to defense. Oh, and he'll cost $11.8 million this upcoming season and $11.5 million the following year, assuming he doesn't (he won't) exercise his early termination option.

So what's the good news? There's that fresh start/less pressure/optimism abound thing, which could work. But more reliable than some return-to-form miracle is Bargnani's league-wide reputation -- meaning teams still regard him as a knockdown shooter, even if he might not be. And this matters for a number of reasons, but most importantly because he can actually space the floor.

The One-Trick Pony Problem

What does that mean, exactly? A basketball team can't just stick shooters around a great dribble-driver or isolation player; if the shooters are incapable of other offensive moves, namely pump fakes and drives/pull-ups on hard closeouts, weak side defenders guarding the shooters can cheat more towards the strong side.

Think of it in terms of Steve Novak: A common misconception about his ability to space the floor lies within how defenders guard him. We typically assume that they just latch onto his hip and stay attached to him all over the floor -- any kind of space and he's lethal. This is true, to some degree, particularly when Novak is close to the ball.

Here's Novak on the same side as a Pablo Prigioni drive to the basket. After Prigioni turns the corner on the pick-and-roll, both defenders get caught up Tyson Chandler. There's now a gaping hole straight towards the rim, with only Chris Bosh capable up stepping up.

Except he doesn't, because Steve Novak is his man, on the strong side and in the passing vicinity. So Bosh feigns help defense, opting for a deterring lunge towards the paint, followed by a quick scramble back. Prigioni walks in for a layup.
Though we actively attribute this effect to Steve Novak, it's a common NBA theme these days to shut down the three-point line instead of playing help defense. Teams typically rely on weak side rotations to cover this void, and would rather force penetrators to make longer and more difficult passes to the opposite perimeter or corner. This is why the loss of Novak isn't actually all that detrimental; the defense-siphoning role Novak fills can be handled by any capable shooter.

But the real problem surfaces on the weak side. See here, when Novak is in the opposite corner in transition (not pictured, but he's in the right corner), while his defender, Donald Sloan, is light-years away.
And that's the Novak problem, in a nutshell. The inherent spacing value his shooting brings is undermined by his inability to capitalize on overzealous closeouts. Defenses know this, and actively run him off the three-point line with full sprint closeouts and without consequence. And because they're running at top speed, they can stretch their coverage distance. The result is more help on the strong side, reducing the threat of a, say, Carmelo Anthony drive. Novak's essential spacing purpose is rendered moot.

Enter Andrea Bargnani. Say what you will about his offensive repertoire, but at the very least he's fully capable of punishing defenders who rush towards him too quickly.
How else can New York utilize Bargnani?

The constant comparisons to Steve Novak aren't mean to undervalue Bargnani's role; it's that in the Knicks offense, he'll never serve as a primary scoring option -- either on the first or second unit. But in the Novak role, Bargnani can be much more effective than Novak ever was.

With one caveat, though: as long as the Knick use him as a power forward or center. Bargnani's value isn't relative to his shooting; it's relative to his size as a shooter. Because he's seven feet tall, opposing defenses will be forced to use power forwards and centers to guard him. If he lingers on the perimeter, he can draw out basket-protecting bigs into uncomfortable perimeter territory and reduce the defense's dribble-drive help capabilities. This is what Mike D'Antoni used to revolutionize the league, and is "small ball" in its most literal sense. Four wing players around one big, spacing the floor and stretching defenses. But the "stretch" four isn't "stretch" if he's not being guarded by a big.

This is especially key in pick-and-roll situations. The Knicks have avoided Guard-Novak pick-and-rolls the last two years because Novak isn't a particularly strong pick-setter. Here, he starts setting a pick on Nic Batum well before any contact is even possible. Batum uses the extra moment to slide under the screen, and Novak begins releasing before Batum has even moved past his shoulder.


Last edited by jeffb; 08-29-2013 at 02:09 PM.
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