Why Knicks need starter Reggie Bullock to be a more consistent three-point shooter

Reggie Bullock handling the ball vs. Pistons
Reggie Bullock handling the ball vs. Pistons

Coming into this 2020-2021 season, it was clear that the New York Knicks were going to struggle from behind the three-point line.

Though they have exceeded expectations with an 8-9 record, everyone knew most nights would be a grind on offense. Ranking 27th in three-point percentage last season, the Knicks have improved slightly to 24th in the league. Still, that’s going to cause some rough scoring numbers this season.

Reggie Bullock was expected to be a possible solution to this problem, but he’s been inconsistent. The veteran has shot just 34.8 percent from three in 15 games this season.

Bullock’s last two games have been a microcosm of his time with the Knicks. After recording 12 points on 4-5 shooting from the three-point line against the Golden State Warriors on Thursday night, Bullock went scoreless in 21 minutes of action in New York’s 103-94 loss against the Sacramento Kings on Friday.

Bullock’s invisibility in Friday’s game — outside of a couple of intentional fouls on fast breaks that made him seem like he was pulling off his best Pablo Prigioni impersonation — can be problematic. New York needed a boost from the perimeter, as they were more icy than Gucci Mane, shooting a cold 5-22 from three (22.7 percent) in the loss.

It’s obvious that opponents know how poor the Knicks’ shooting would be this season. Teams have opted to pack the paint or play zone defense to slow New York’s offense down. With Bullock brought in to provide a perimeter shooting threat, it’s been a major disappointment that he’s been unable to knock down shots consistently.

The Knicks put out a starting lineup that is limited from the perimeter. RJ Barrett, Julius Randle and Elfrid Payton all are below average shooters. Playing with three ball-dominant players, and a non-shooting center like Mitchell Robinson makes it crucial for Bullock to contribute as a perimeter threat on the outside. A career 38.3 percent shooter from the three-point line, Bullock has failed to recapture the hot shooting he experienced earlier in his career with the Detroit Pistons. Over a four-year stretch, Bullock never shot below 37.7 percent from three in any season with the Pistons.

Bullock was added to provide a 3-and-D role for the Knicks. His defense has been solid for the Knicks. And based off of the numbers, he’s had a positive impact. Though it’s somewhat noisy, the Knicks have defended better with Bullock on the floor, allowing only 102.0 points per 100 possessions when he’s on the floor versus 106.3 points per 100 possessions when he’s off the floor.

In 44 games over two seasons with the Knicks, Bullock has shot just 34.4 percent from beyond the arc. A below average percentage, that’s just not going to get it done for this Knicks offense desperately in need for some spacing.

Though he was never expected to be a significant part of the offense, the Knicks and coach Tom Thibodeau should think about utilizing Bullock with off ball movement more to get him going. A vast majority of his three-point shot attempts are standstill catch and shoot opportunities, but he might be able to create more room and rhythm with pin-downs or dribble handoffs. Bullock, at times, has developed a solid chemistry with Randle that has led to some quality offense out of dribble handoffs and Randle’s improved passing against double teams and zones.

Bullock can’t routinely create his own offense or plays for others. Since he’s not going to do much with the ball, the Knicks should try to leverage Bullock’s qualities as an off-ball threat. In his previous stop with the Detroit Pistons, a good portion of Bullock’s outside looks came out of dribble handoffs with Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin and pin-downs.

Simply, Bullock has not been able to make enough open shots. He’s shooting just 37.3 percent on catch and shoot opportunities. After Bullock, the Knicks have a couple of options. Alec Burks (52.2 percent from three) is a solid shooter from deep, and he’s able to put the ball down on the floor and create his own shot. He could get a try as a starter if Bullock continues to struggle shooting. Third year forward Kevin Knox also could be another option. He’s shot a surprising 41 percent from three on 61 attempts.

For Bullock, his struggles from three would be less noticeable on teams with other perimeter threats. But for a Knicks team starved for shooting, his performance is going to stand out for the wrong reasons.