“We have a limited amount of resources that we can deal with,” team President Phil Jackson recently told reporters. “If you’re in an arms race and you go out and get a hydrogen bomb and it may not be enough and you got to go plutonium. It’s great if you get in an arms race. We’re not in an arms race. We’re in a skills race. So that’s what we’re working toward: getting players skilled enough to perform in this game. Unfortunately, the Lakers and some other team may have $60 million to chase with. That’s not where we’re at. We’re about getting quality skill players.”
It won’t be enough to just get
plutonium skilled players. The Knicks need the right skill players that can flourish in Hornacek’s version of the triangle offense, which, based on past interviews, will feature an up-tempo style of play that eschews the midrange jumper in favor of three-point shots and opportunities in the post. All likely happening within the first eight seconds of the shot clock.
“In the back of my mind I said, ‘Okay, do we have to run the triangle? What does [Jackson] really want?” Hornacek said in an interview on ESPN Radio’s “The Michael Kay Show.” “When we started to talk about basketball, and different plays that I think would be good for the guys on the team, things that we ran in Phoenix, he said you can run all of that out of the triangle set.”
The triangle offense has been around for decades but was brought to the fore when Jackson used it successfully to win multiple championships with the Bulls and Lakers. The key to making it work is spacing the defense enough that it has to defend both sides of the court, as explained here by the Coach’s Clipboard’s James A. Gels:
The basic structure of the offense is the “sideline triangle” on one side of the floor, and a “two-man game” on the weakside. The sideline triangle is formed by a post player on the block and two perimeter players, one in the corner and one on the wing, and can be set up on either side of the court (diagrams A and B). The “two-man” weakside offense consists of a guard at the top, and a player at the weakside elbow-extended area. Players can interchange, but it’s usually best to have two post and three perimeter players.
With Anthony and Porzingis, the Knicks should be formidable in the post.
Anthony averaged 0.92 points per possession during the regular season and was one of seven forwards with at least 300 possessions of this type. Only Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge and Dirk Nowitzki were more efficient. Porzingis acquitted himself well in his rookie season (0.82 points per possession) but was sensational when asked to pass out of the post, bumping the team’s offensive scoring to 1.31 points per possession.
Another hallmark of Hornacek’s Suns was eliminating the long two-point shot. New York led the NBA in midrange field goal attempts per game (27.8) last season, so any free agent addition to the Knicks will have to create their offense from elsewhere.
Rose will be key to driving the up-tempo offense. The Knicks ranked 24th in shot attempts per game in the first six seconds of the shot clock (12.3), with the Bulls slightly higher (14.3) when Rose ran the point. The Suns were seventh (17.2) in Hornacek’s last season with the team.
But Rose is not great defensively — he allowed 0.88 points per possession during the regular season — which means the Knicks badly need a defensive stopper in the back court to ride shotgun, making a “three-and-D” wing a priority in free agency.
One possible free agent pickup in New York is Kent Bazemore, who averaged 11.6 points and shot 35.7 percent from beyond the three-point line for Atlanta this past season. But Bazemore isn’t an ideal fit for the Knicks — he was average defensively (0.89 points allowed per possession) and struggled to defend spot-up shooters, who produced a 55.6 effective field goal percentage against him.
The Knicks should also steer clear of restricted free agent Evan Fournier. The 23-year-old was great at connecting from long range (40 percent three-point percentage) but awful defensively, allowing 0.95 points per possession, placing him in the bottom 20 percent of the league.
Unrestricted free agent Courtney Lee falls is a much better fit. He took 34 percent of his field goals from behind the arc during his time with Memphis and Charlotte this past season and made more than a third of those attempts (37.8 percent). His defense was solid (0.86 points per possession allowed) and his ball-hawking skills on the pick and roll (0.63 points per possession allowed, creating turnovers on 12.6 percent of the time) would be a perfect fit in Hornacek’s defensive scheme.
At center, the Knicks have been mentioned to be pursuing three of the best veteran options available: Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah. But all three will be pursued vigorously in free agency, and with New York better served splurging on a top-notch shooting guard, New York should bargain hunt at the center position.
One option could be Timofey Mozgov, who struggled during the Cavaliers’ championship run but is otherwise a solid center who could be had for a less-than-premium price.
Mozgov was strong on cuts to the basket (1.31 points per possession, scoring 65.1 percent of the time) and lethal as the roll man on the pick (1.21 points per possession), especially when he went strong to the rim.
It’s unclear if Hornacek and Jackson can get the final pieces they need to make the triangle successful in New York, but the team has surprised us before with their offseason moves, and may have to do so again to get this team into position to challenge for an NBA title.
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