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Knicks incorporating more three-point shots into offensive game plan

Knicks guard RJ Barrett goes to the basket

Knicks guard RJ Barrett goes to the basket against Wizards center Daniel Gafford during the second half of an NBA preseason game on Saturday in Washington. Credit: AP/Nick Wass

First, let’s begin this story with a disclaimer. Any discussion of the Knicks creating a potent offensive attack under Tom Thibodeau will always include a "but the defense is most important" reply from Thibodeau and his well-trained players.

But through two games, albeit preseason games and one without Julius Randle, it’s hard to deny that Thibodeau -- whose preferred style for a game always leaned toward a street fight -- has pushed for something new in New York, and the plan seems to be working.

In posting one-sided wins in each of their two games, the Knicks scored 125 points in the opener against Indiana — 101 through three quarters, when the starters called it a night — and followed that up with 117 points in Washington on Saturday night, with Randle taking the night off. But more than just the point totals, it’s how they have done it.

When camp began, Thibodeau stated a goal to the team to put up 37 to 40 three-point attempts per game, and in the opener, they launched 37. In Washington, they had 52 attempts and converted 24 — a total that would have shattered the franchise record for made threes in a game (20) if this had been a regular-season game.

"Oh, wow," Derrick Rose said after the game when the numbers were relayed to him. "I mean, they were double-teaming or having their big come up quick so that we couldn’t get in the paint. We work on that every day with a hundred passes where certain guys on the team, if they get hot, like Kemba [Walker], they’re going to double-team him and we’ve got to make sure that we give him all the outlets that he needs. The big guys, Taj [Gibson] and Jericho [Sims], did a great job tonight with getting the ball inside, kind of giving them the freedom to make plays and make the game simple, especially if they’re putting two people on the ball."

It certainly helped that the Knicks spent the offseason boosting their offensive talent, signing Walker and Evan Fournier. But it’s not just the boost in talent. It’s a plan to align with the direction in which the game is going by a team that has lagged behind in recent seasons.

Thibodeau is renowned as a defense-minded coach, but he did strive to push the Knicks in this direction (and though they often won in slugfests, his teams in Chicago and Minnesota were underrated offensive forces).

"To be a good team in this league, you have to be strong on both sides of the ball," Thibodeau said. "We felt last year we improved significantly on the defensive end. We felt we improved with our shooting overall. We shot a very high percentage, and that put us in a position to win. And this year it was a continuation of that."

RJ Barrett has put up the most attempts from beyond the arc with 14 in the two games, converting half of them. But the Knicks have eight players who are averaging at least four attempts. Kevin Knox came off the bench and hit four threes Saturday.

"That was one of the things that we worked hard at the last two years and over the summer," Thibodeau said. "Also, the guys that we brought in, they’re very efficient at shooting them, so their shot profile is right. Making the right reads, that’s probably the most important thing — the ability to go off the dribble, attack the rim and make the proper rim read.

"Hit the open man. If guys make the extra pass, we’re going to have good rhythm threes. We also want to push the ball more. That’s something we continue to work on. But overall, I thought we had some good things. Obviously, we’re nowhere near a 48-minute team, and that’s what we have to strive toward."

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