The stunning three-for-all that ended Friday's resounding 113-96 win over the Hornets in New Orleans somewhat overshadowed the shot that started the six-gun barrage. Chris Paul dropped under the screen on the umpteenth high pick-and-roll the Knicks called in the game, and it gave Chris Duhon miles of space (not to mention time) to get a clear look at the basket from a good 24 feet away.
Duhon buried the three-pointer against the sagging defense - which had been carved up by the quick rolls and deft ambidextrous finishes by David Lee - to give the Knicks a 98-96 lead with 4:43 left in the game.
Duhon's shot began a game-ending 18-0 stretch in which the Knicks shot 6-for-7 from three-point range. No one knew then that it would be the winning basket, not with all that time left and CP3 with the ball in his hands. But as much as Jared Jeffries' defense on Paul (with a nod to Larry Hughes for his effort, not to mention how Lee held his own on random switches), it was Duhon's shooting that clinched a galvanizing fourth straight win for this suddenly emerging Knicks team.
It had been a brutal start for Duhon, who does hear everything said about him and his game and did notice that opposing defenses were practically ignoring him on the perimeter and putting a greater focus on stopping the effective pick-and-roll play. Duhon shot just 24.1 percent from the floor in the first 10 games of the season, and that is directly related to the franchise-worst 1-9 start.
Duhon shot 39.8 percent (his career shooting percentage is 39.1) in the subsequent 13 games, in which the Knicks went 7-6. In the last six games - five of which were wins - he shot 43.3 percent.
"Once I make those shots, it just opens up everything," Duhon said after recording 22 points and nine assists against New Orleans. "Then everybody is into the game and David and I can do what we do best. That's what I gotta do. I've got to be confident each night and take the shot."
With the pick-and-roll, you don't need a traditional playmaking point guard as much as a good combo guard who has the ability to see and execute passes.
Actually, Nate Robinson should be effective in this play because of his ability to knock down the perimeter shot. But he doesn't often put the ball in the right place to the rolling player and struggles to recognize the open man as opposed to looking for his own shot. Thus Mike D'Antoni's decision to go with the struggling Duhon and banish Robinson to the bench.
With Duhon's contract up at the end of the season, the Knicks will be looking for a point guard next summer and obviously need to find one who shoots a higher percentage. In fact, it might not even need to be a traditional point guard in that role at the top of the key. You could pair Lee or, say, pending restricted free agent Rudy Gay with Joe Johnson, and that two-man game would be a handful to defend.
As defenses sag into the middle to help on the roll, it opens up the three-ball for a shooter in Danilo Gallinari or a cutter in Wilson Chandler. Put LeBron James or Dwyane Wade in that spot with Chris Bosh or Amare Stoudemire and you have a devastating 1-2 punch that immediately would put the Knicks in the NBA's elite.
The Knicks currently are working to develop rookie Toney Douglas' game so he learns how to make that pass on the roll and how to recognize when the defense is drawn in enough to fire the pass to a wing player for an open shot. He certainly has the ability to hit the jumper if the defense goes under the screen but so far has not entirely grasped the concept of reading the defense and the passing lanes. That should come with time, repetitions and videotape.