How the New York Knicks Are Exploiting Defenses with the Corner Three

Jared DubinFeatured ColumnistDecember 3, 2012

November 23, 2012; Houston, TX, USA; New York Knicks small forward Steve Novak (16) attempts a shot during the fourth quarter against the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Knicks currently lead the NBA in both three-point rate (the percentage of field goal attempts that are three-pointers) and three-pointers attempted per game, and sit second in the league behind only the Miami Heat in three-point field goal percentage, according to HoopData.

Despite playing at the league’s third slowest pace, the Knicks also rank second in the league in corner three-point attempts (and their 45.3 percent success on those shots ranks fourth in the league), per’s stats tool.

The corner three-pointer is such a dangerous weapon because it is the closest three-pointer on the court, making it an easier shot to hit than other three-pointers while still being worth the same amount.

Research has shown that corner three-point attempts are strongly correlated with efficiency, so the fact that the Knicks take so many per game even while playing at such a slow pace likely plays a large role in their league-leading offensive efficiency thus far, especially given their prowess at making those shots.

Against Washington early in the season, the Knicks exploited the Wizards' help defense on post-ups and especially on pick-and-rolls, peppering them with left corner threes. The Knicks made six out of their 10 attempts from that spot, accounting for half of their three-point makes on the evening. 

Early in the game, Carmelo Anthony got the ball on the right block, one of his favorite places to catch and attack the basket.

When he drove to the middle of the lane, not only did Washington send Tyson Chandler’s defender at him to help, but Ronnie Brewer’s man crashed in from the weak side corner to cut off his driving lane as well.

This is a familiar defensive strategy that Carmelo has faced a lot this season, and he’s been more willing than ever to pass out and find shooters across the court. This was yet another case where the cross-court kickout pass was the easy read for Carmelo, and he exploited it to find Brewer wide open for a jumper. 

Washington also sent that left corner defender as the help man when Carmelo was running pick-and-rolls. Using the weak side corner man as the help defender is a common strategy because the pass back across the court is a difficult one to make, and there is usually enough time for that defender to scurry back over to his man to contest the shot.

That’s not the case when the Knicks station quick-release guys like J.R. Smith or Steve Novak in that corner, though, so when that defender crashed down, the Knicks were able to exploit the open space repeatedly. 

Here, Smith’s defender has both feet in the lane when Carmelo makes the cross-court pass, so he has eons of time to catch-and-shoot. This is about as easy as it gets for shooters of Smith’s caliber. Even in the midst of a shooting slump, J.R. sits at 45.7 percent from three-point range this season.

It wasn’t just Carmelo that the Wizards defended this way, either. When Smith ran the pick-and-roll with Rasheed Wallace early in the second quarter, Washington again had the left corner defender crash down into the lane hoping to cut off Smith’s drive and Wallace’s dive to the rim.

Again, the Knicks exploited the over-eager help and turned it into a left corner three-pointer, this time for Pablo Prigioni. 

On and on it went like this throughout the game for the Knicks. Washington kept sending the same help defender from the same spot, and the Knicks just kept hitting him with a cross-court pass. They took 10 shots from the same spot on the floor, making six in all.

That cross-court look isn’t the easiest to make, but when you know where the help is coming from and are actively looking to make the pass, it often results in easy spot-up opportunities. The Knicks have been doing it all season long, and they bludgeoned Washington with it repeatedly last week.