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Breaking down the New York Knicks improved NBA defensive rating

Defensive block at the rim by Julius Randle

The New York Knicks have made significant improvements on the defensive end of the court this season, resulting in them becoming the second-best defensive team in the league, based on their NBA defensive rating over the last 16 games. This is a significant improvement from last season. The Knicks ranked near the bottom of the league in defense efficiency.

The Knicks have been able to achieve this success through a combination of improved defensive play from individual players, such as Julius Randle, as well as solid team defense and a strong defensive game plan implemented by head coach Tom Thibodeau. The team’s commitment to defense has played a major role in their success this season, and if they can continue to play at this level, they could be a serious contender for a playoff spot.

Knicks continue to improve in the rankings

Per MSG, the Knicks have climbed the NBA ranks significantly following the first 23 games of the season.

CategoryFirst 23 Games
Last 16 Games
Net Rating25th2nd
Def. Rating26th2nd
Off. Rating12th6th
Total Rebounding %15th1st
Def. Rebounding %27th1st
Off. Rebounding %6th1st
Stats provided during Knicks v Raptors game on MSG broadcast

The Knicks turned their season around on December 4th, 2022 by committing to a 9-player lineup and benching Cam Reddish and Evan Fournier. Following a 121-100 loss to the Dallas Mavericks. The 9-player rotation has allowed for more consistency and better chemistry among the starting lineup, and the benching of Reddish and Fournier allowed for the team to focus on their defense and rebounding, which have been the team’s strengths this season.

A big part of the Knicks success has been the improved effort and physicality of the team, which has helped them to control the tempo of the game and limit their opponents’ scoring opportunities. Oh and of course, the incredible play of Jalen Brunson in clutch time.

How do we explain the improvement in the Knicks defensive rating?

To begin, the best place to start is to understand what defensive rating is and how it is calculated.

What is NBA defensive rating?

The NBA defensive rating is a statistic used in basketball to measure a team’s or player’s effectiveness on defense. It is calculated by taking the number of points allowed per 100 possessions by a team or player. A lower defensive rating indicates that a team or player is doing a better job on defense.

For example, if the New York Knicks have a defensive rating of 105, that means they are allowing 105 points per 100 possessions. In the 2022-23 season, a team with a defensive rating of 114 would be considered average, while a team with a defensive rating of 110 would be considered very good defensively, per Statmuse.

In summary, the statistic tries to measure how well a team or player defends by taking into account the number of points they allow per 100 possessions. The formula used to calculate it is quite complex, but in layman’s terms, it’s influenced by several defensive factors.

How is it calculated?

Calculating NBA team defensive rating

The formula for calculating team defensive rating in the NBA is:

Defensive Rating = (Opponent Points / (Opponent Possessions + (Team Fouls / Opponent FGA * .44))) * 100


  • Opponent Points: The total number of points scored by the team’s opponents
  • Opponent Possessions: The total number of possessions for the team’s opponents
  • Team Fouls: The total number of fouls committed by the team
  • Opponent FGA: The total number of field goal attempts by the team’s opponents

One of the main factors is the number of points a team allows. If a team allows fewer points, their rating will be lower. For example, if Team A allows 90 points per game and Team B allows 100 points per game, Team A will have a better rating.

Another factor is the number of possessions a team has. More possessions means more opportunities for the opposing team to score. If a team plays at a faster pace, they will have more possessions and therefore, more opportunities for the opposing team to score. This will lead to a higher rating.

The overall quality of the opposing team can also influence the defensive rating. If a team plays against stronger opponents, it will be harder for them to maintain a low defensive rating.

In summary, this rating takes into account the points allowed, the number of possessions and the overall quality of the opposing team, to give a general idea of the team or player’s defensive effectiveness.

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Calculating player defensive rating

NBA Defensive Rating = (Team Points Allowed per 100 Possessions * Team Possessions) / (Minutes Played / (5 * Team Games))


  • Team Points Allowed per 100 Possessions: The number of points the team allows per 100 possessions while the player is on the court
  • Team Possessions: The number of possessions the team has while the player is on the court
  • Minutes Played: The number of minutes the player has played in the team’s games
  • Team Games: The number of games the team has played

This formula takes into account the number of points the team allows per 100 possessions while the player is on the court, the pace of the game, and the number of minutes played by the player to give an overall measure of the player’s defensive effectiveness.

Keep in mind that this is just one way to calculate the efficiency of a teams’ defense and other organizations or analysts may use different methods, also as with team defensive rating, player defensive rating is just one of the many statistics used to evaluate a player’s performance and it should be used in conjunction with other statistics and observations to get a complete picture.

How do we explain the Knicks improvement in defensive rating?

If we break down the team formula, we can get a sense of how the Knicks have improved over the course of the season.

Knicks team points allowed per 100 possessions

In the last 20 games, since the change to a 9-man lineup was implemented, the have 110.23 opponent points per 100 possessions, per Statmuse. During this period, the Knicks have gone 14-6. Prior to the change, the Knicks averaged 115.72 opponent points per 100 possessions. A drastic 5+ point improvement from the beginning of the season.

Knicks opponent possessions per game

It has been difficult to find reliable numbers for opponent possessions per game. Although, in the last 20 games, the Knicks rank last in team possessions per game at 95.48. Compared to 99.06 for the 2022-23 season per Statmuse.

Using these numbers, we can infer that the Knicks have significantly slowed the pace in the second quarter of the season. This slowdown in pace is sure to have had an impact on the number of possessions allowed, a major factor of the defensive rating formula.

Team fouls per game

The Knicks have done a modest job controlling their fouls this season and sit in the middle of the pack for team fouls per game. Averaging 20.8 fouls per game, compared to 21.4 by their opponents, per Basketball Reference. As you can see, lowering fouls has a positive impact on the teams defensive efficiency.

Opponent FGA per game

During the 2022-23 season, the Knicks average 90.6 field goals attempted, while only allowing 88.6, per Basketball Reference. As mentioned earlier, the Knicks have been controlling the pace of play. They are forcing the opposing team into their style of play and limiting their opportunities to score. Less attempts, means less points and therefore a greater defensive rating.


In conclusion, the New York Knicks have seen a significant improvement in their NBA defensive rating this season. This can be attributed to two key factors: first, the team is allowing fewer points per game. This can be credited to the team’s increased focus on defensive strategies and improved individual defensive efforts by players. Secondly, the Knicks have been able to slow the pace of play, which allows them to better control the flow of the game and limit their opponents’ scoring opportunities. The combination of these two factors has led to a significant improvement in the team’s defensive rating and has been a key contributor to their success on the court this season.

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