Knicks Choose Unknown Over Known

Since the turn of the century the Knicks have won 50 games once. They have made it past the first round of the playoffs once. It doesn’t take much brain power to grasp that whatever methods the New York Knicks have used to operate in recent years has failed miserably. In an attempt to try to break their string of failures, Phil Jackson was hired to oversee the basketball operations department this year.

Jackson’s method is singular, in that he has a certain culture and style of basketball that he has implemented wherever he has gone. Phil has had nothing but success with his beliefs, and he’s currently trying to institute the same policy with these New York Knicks.

The Knicks have had precisely one successful season in the 21st century. During that glorious 2013 season (as Knick fans, we have an extremely lower tolerance for what constitutes glorious) New York found an identity. New York thrived using some pretty basic alignments, playing Carmelo Anthony at the four with a defensive minded center whose main role on offense was to set ball screens and dive to the rim. To fill out the rest of the lineup New York used point guards and wings who supplied ball movement, penetration, and spot up shooting.

There are situations in basketball when a team fits together well, each individual player’s skill set complements the others and as a unit can be better than expected. Those Knicks fell under this umbrella, and the philosophy was effective.

Unfortunately, ever since 2013 the Knicks have done whatever they possibly could to avoid the type of basketball which gave them that success. A simple plan for the Knicks after the 2013 season would have been to sink all of their available resources into re-creating that same dynamic. However this isn’t what happened, which brings us to where we are today.

When Jackson decided to pay Melo over the summer, he put his Knicks legacy (the second one) in Anthony’s hands. Now Jackson (and Fisher) have a choice on how to build the identity of the current roster. They can continue with what they know best, or deviate from it in an attempt to best optimize the player they chose to build their team around.

Running the triangle with Kobe/Shaq or Jordan/Pippen worked wonders for the Zen Master, but we don’t know how that will play out with Anthony. Carmelo’s skill set and strengths differ from all of these players. In 2013, Anthony was able to raise his level of play on the offensive end with the Knicks by shooting a higher volume of three pointers and doing it at a better percentage than he did earlier in his career. He attempted 6.0 three point shots per 36 minutes, almost double his current career average of 3.1.

Melo at the four allows him more outside shots against slower footed players less suited to defending beyond the arc. It can also create switching and confusion as teams try to adjust their lineup to match-up defensively. Melo fits extremely well in a spread pick and roll system with a lead guard that can break down a defense off the dribble.

Playing power forward also helps hide Anthony’s flaws defensively. Instead of chasing guys around on the perimeter through screens and closing out on a three point shooters, he can defend posts up and do his wavy-reachy-arm-stuff that has become weirdly effective.

To this point Fisher has decided to use mainly traditional lineups with Anthony at the small forward position (65% of the time according to basketball-reference.com) and has cut way back on the amount of PnR the Knicks run.

New York has started the season 3-8 and the reasons are more widespread than Carmelo not playing the four often enough. I do think they would be better in those alignments, but with the lack of a strong defender at the five, those lineups have more room to get exposed.

It’s only been 11 games, and I’m not saying what Fisher and Jackson are trying to accomplish will fail. The Knicks will have five years to find out if trying a different method to win with Carmelo Anthony will be successful. As more talent gets infused to the roster it very well could end up working. On the other hand the 2013 season provides a template for success with Anthony as the fulcrum. So in an contradictory way, by playing it safe and doing what he has historically done, Phil Jackson is taking a risk. What Jackson wants to do is known to him, but it’s an unknown for the Knicks with Carmelo Anthony as their best player.

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bgibberman

Representing all Knicks fans of Arizona. This is unfortunate for all of them. Unabashed lover of J.R. Smith.

53 thoughts to “Knicks Choose Unknown Over Known”

  1. good piece. i’ve been troubled by this very idea since that quote from a week or so back of ‘has the nba moved passed the triangle and phil doesnt know it yet?’ It seems like we’re well-suited for a spread p&r offense..particularly with Amare back and healthy. Even if you dismiss Amare under the auspices of ‘he’s not going to be here next year so dont play to his strengths’, we managed 2013 without him. I do find myself worried about this triangle. I know our biggest weakness right now is defense, but i think that will come along with time and prioritizing that end of the floor with our 2015 cap space and draft pick. But our #1 asset is an offensive guy and we’ve seen him play a system that worked really, really well. Imagine 2013 with health and defense???

  2. Nice writing piece, but I think the main point of this article is pretty obvious to anyone who surveys this site regularly. Yes, we know the formula that worked in 2013. Yes, we know Phil/Fish were brought in explicitly to go in a different direction. Obviously moving away from a known, somewhat successful quantity has an element of risk to it. Such is the case anytime a new coach/GM regime is implemented in almost any organization.

    If the roster is going to be 75% different next year, why bother lamenting that our current roster — the roster of a team in transition, comprised of shitty players, triangle players, 4-and-out-players, and melo — is poorly adapted to the triangle? It gets frustrating to watch, for sure, but let’s not pull too much hair out over deviation from the 2013 formula.

    Melo is playing the 4 down the stretch most of the time, and fish isn’t playing him 40 minutes per game bashing with bruiser 4s. How much of that is preservation in action and how much of that is fish wanting to strategically play melo at the 3 (which, theoretically, in the triangle isn’t as much of a problem) is up for debate though, and I guess that’s what this is ultimately about.

  3. Lost in the discussion of what offense the Knicks should run to emulate the success of 2012-2013 is the fact that offensive genius Mike D’Antoni had Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, Jeremy Lin, Steve Novak, Landry Fields, and the other scrub-tacular defensive players on the Knicks playing as the 5th best defensive team in the league. And when Mike “Switch on Everything” Woodson took over and went 18-6, the Knicks had a D-rating of 100 for those 24 games.

    Last year’s Knicks had a D-rating 109 (24th), without adding or taking away any significant defensive player (Bargs is bad, but he replaced Novak and Copeland).

    This year the Knicks are again 24th in D-rating.

    So the question isn’t what is Jackson/Fisher doing wrong. It is: what was D’Antoni/Woodson doing right? (And if the answer is “good” Tyson Chandler, then it seems pretty obvious Phil needs to find himself a good defensive center to play 30 mins a game or Triangle be damned!)

  4. I also think that the lockout shortened season in 2011-12 contributed to the Knicks’ defensive prowess. IIRC they were still not very good at defending the 3 line that year, but I think around the league 3P% was down and it didn’t kill them nearly as much. I could be wrong, but I thought that’s what I remembered.

  5. I think you are all correct but simply impatient. We can all agree on several things:
    1) This team hasn’t gelled. We haven’t even started our starting point guard.
    2) This isn’t the team we will put on the floor next season.
    3) The team has many 1-way players and too few 2-way players.
    4) We’re not winning the championship this season.
    5) Making it into the playoffs would be nice but we’ll get bounced early.

    In my opinion, drawing any conclusions at this point in the process is counter-productive. The team needs to focus on how to play the right way. Maybe we’ll see some improvement early in 2015.

  6. Being real:

    1) “Gel” can’t fix the problem of bad players. It will never fix the problem of bad players.
    2) Gel doesn’t matter because next year’s gel will be more important. Except this is nonsense.
    3) We have many bad players and too few good ones. This is reflected in the WL%.
    4) The Knicks will not make the playoffs this season.
    5) Making it into the playoffs would be nice, but the Knicks won’t make the playoffs.

    GoNyGoNYGo,

    Stop trying to make the playoffs happen. It is not going to happen.

    And did I read someone calling Kobe “still productive?” What part of “41 eFG% on league-high USG%” do you not understand, man.

  7. I still think this team will contend for the 7th or 8th seed eventually, but don’t really care if it happens or not. Would be perfectly happy coming out of this year knowing which players fit the new system/culture and with a lottery pick.

    Want no part of Kobe. I respect his body of work and how obsessed he is with his craft, but as far as I’m concerned he should stay in LA.

  8. Jowles, read my post again. I’m not hoping for the playoffs. I said “5) Making it into the playoffs would be nice, but the Knicks won’t make the playoffs.”

    Frank, I’m with you. A lottery pick would be nice, for once. And maybe we’ll draft someone better than Mike “I can’t stop eating all of the” Sweetney this time.

  9. “5) Making it into the playoffs would be nice, but the Knicks won’t make the playoffs.”

    fixed: “Making it into the playoffs would be nice, but the Knicks won’t make the playoffs, and getting swept out the 1st round in orderly fashion is not as useful as preceding an offseason of hopeful retooling with a shiny top 8 draft pick”

    …especially since it seems like Marcy Marc is gonna either gonna stick around Memphis or even quite possibly line up to replace Timmy, leaving us with a need to get rather creative with multiple signings rather than one big splash

  10. The Knicks are 3 games out of the 4th seed currently, and probably couldnt play a worse 6-7 game stretch. The playoffs are definitely a possibility. Melo is clicking and when Calderon comes back anything can happen. Its unlikely but possible.

  11. yall seen Stanley Johnson? He’s supposed to be like…the 5th best freshmen? Is anyone else befuddled at how people can see this draft as bad?

  12. to be clear, in the grand scheme of things, i don’t know if im concerned if we dont make the playoffs. On the one hand, making it is good for the youngins who will be here in the future get experience and its good for overall culture, but then on the other hand, missing the playoffs improves our pick. My reaction was less about overall success this season, but more about the system we’re putting in place for the next 5 years when we’re out of this transition period….its alot of eggs to place in this triangle basket that no one in the league seems high on (i love the team-first philosophy and mentality though). I’m also willing to admit that i’m potentially reacting to a run of shitty games and need to just chill as i knew this would be a tough season (tough to start, though i predeiced 41 wins..6-5 at this point). Just seems like we have some long range shooting on this team that a spread pnr offense would take good advantage of.

  13. I can’t imagine why anyone wants to trade Amare for Kobe, even straight up, much less throwing another asset into the trade. They both are mostly good for scoring, but Amare lately has been getting rebounds and his contract expires sooner. Also, as pointed out by others, we are stronger at guard than with big men. Amare is also more flexible in how he can be played in the sense that Fisher can play him off the bench or start him without a peep from Amare, which is good for the team. I don’t think Kobe would want to come off the bench, but if he played instead of Shump, our back court defense would be awful.

  14. Amare for Kobe, No Thank You. They are about to get out from Amare’s contract, why take on a bigger burden for an inefficient, over the hill gunner? That would be such a Knicksy move, one step forward and three steps back.
    Inquiring minds want to know – is Calderon going to play before 2015??

  15. We could talk about boogie boards. Cousins is #1 in the whole NBA so far with…5 boogie boards.

    Melo’s gotta be number one for non centers

  16. During that glorious 2013 season (as Knick fans, we have an extremely lower tolerance for what constitutes glorious) New York found an identity. New York thrived using some pretty basic alignments, playing Carmelo Anthony at the four with a defensive minded center whose main role on offense was to set ball screens and dive to the rim

    I think you’re really underselling what an offensive force Chandler was that year and how vital that was to the efficiency of that offense. And even when Chandler got hurt, we got extraordinary offensive production (in a complete different way) from Chris Copeland. I don’t know how to check the production for a specific position no matter who played it, but I suspect that with Chandler/Copeland that year, our offensive output from the center position was among the best in the entire NBA, if not the best (and I apologize for that sort of unsubstantiated statement on a site centered around stats; but I think at the very least we know for sure that Chandler and Copeland were extremely good on offense that year while playing Center).

    So I don’t know how you recreate that offense without that production, and I think you’re mistating the formula. Melo at the 4 isn’t a magic pill. It was Melo at the 4, with elite offensive production at Center, and excellent shooters all around them. All we have right now is Melo and one shooter (Shumpert). How can you build any offense around that, let alone the one we had in 2012-13?

    Honestly, I’d be more inclined to play Melo at the 5 to try to recreate that offense than play him at the 4. Calderon-Prigioni-Shumpert-JR Smith-Melo is probably the closest lineup we can field to try to resurrect that offense, as it could probably do what Felton-Prigioni-JR/Shump-Melo-Copeland did back when we went 15-2 down the stretch.

  17. Honestly, I’d be more inclined to play Melo at the 5

    I think they ran him out at the 5 on Sunday. I remember he played Center in the Olympics, not sure why we havent tried it with the dreck on the team. The matchups would be completely screwed for the defense.

  18. “what an offensive force Chandler was that year”
    I realize that it is kind of anachronistic to talk about points per game without bowing at the altar of efficiency, but in my mind, it’s kind of a stretch to call a guy who scored 10.4 a game an “offensive force.” And it’s not like he was creating shots for his teammates since he averaged 0.9 assists a game that year. However, I am sure that coaches throughout the NBA were losing sleep that year worrying about their defensive schemes and thinking, “You can’t stop Tyson Chandler; you just hope that you can contain him…” By the way, does the fact that the Knicks went 15-2 down the stretch that year when Chandler was hurt make you think that maybe, just maybe, he wasn’t the most important offensive player on the team?

  19. @21 i saw Chandler in person last night and i saw up close how effective he can be when engaged. He had either 5 or 6 alley oop dunks and one foul line jumper. He does create a problem for teams when his guards /forwards are able to penitrate and throw the ball up to him. Parsons, Ellis and Nelson did a great job of that and he looked great. The problem with this is that for a time with the Knicks he needed felton to do this for him :( I agree the term force is a bit much but hes good at what he does. On the other hand he does nothing else offensively

  20. His ORtg was 133, Johnno. He made the PnR game with Felton work. That probably opened up more open 3PA’s than Melo being doubled did.

  21. If Rey Felton could have hit a fucking shot that really would have been difficult to guard. Alas. Please, please let Papanikolau suck.

  22. He is very good at what he does offensively. However, he touches the ball a grand total of about 10 times a game on offense for a total of about 8 seconds. He probably spent more time as a Knick complaining to the refs than having the ball in his hands.

  23. His ORtg was 133, Johnno.

    And this led the league by a wide margin:

    Offensive Rating
    1. Tyson Chandler-NYK 133.0
    2.Chris Paul-LAC 127.0
    3. LeBron James-MIA 124.6

    I’m not saying bow at the altar of efficiency, but don’t completely dismiss it. He was a dominant offensive player that year.

  24. “His ORtg was 133, Johnno.”
    I know. I think that he led the league three straight years in offensive rating. However, I bet that if you asked 100 NBA players, coaches, scouts and GMs to list the top 20 offensive players in the league, not one would include Chandler on their list. He’s played for some pretty good offensive coaches and not a single one has figured out how to get such an offensive force more than 6 shots a game. Hmmm.

  25. By the way, does the fact that the Knicks went 15-2 down the stretch that year when Chandler was hurt make you think that maybe, just maybe, he wasn’t the most important offensive player on the team?

    And no, I don’t see how that matters when Chris Copeland at the 5 was outstanding, as well. The guy played out of his mind. Do you not remember this?

    http://grantland.com/the-triangle/the-accidental-awesomeness-of-the-new-york-knicks-small-ball-lineup/

    That’s like replacing LeBron with Durant and saying “the offense didn’t suffer, so LeBron must not have been that good”

  26. He’s played for some pretty good offensive coaches and not a single one has figured out how to get such an offensive force more than 6 shots a game. Hmmm.

    Holy shit, man. Don’t you think maybe they actually did figure out how to use him correctly and that’s why he led the league in offensive efficiency three years in a row???

  27. That’s like replacing LeBron with Durant and saying “the offense didn’t suffer, so LeBron must not have been that good”

    I think this comparison is hilarious. LBJ and KD vs Cope and Tyson hahaha. Advanced Stats.

  28. By the way, does the fact that the Knicks went 15-2 down the stretch that year when Chandler was hurt make you think that maybe, just maybe, he wasn’t the most important offensive player on the team

    Yeesh.

    During that stretch the Knicks averaged 30 3 pointers a game and shot over 40% on them (206-508). Their opponents took almost 100 less and shot 33% on them. They won those games with 3 point shooting and it was thoroughly unsustainable.

    Other than go 3-10 on fadeaway 18 footers, I have no idea what Tyson Chandler needs to do to prove that he is a great offensive weapon. Have you seen the Mavs lately? They are scoring 117 p/100. Last year they scored 111. He’s only missed 20 shots all year (and he’s 4th on the team in attempts!).

    What this thread has pointed out is that the Knicks need Tyson Chandler to be good to be successful. Which makes it pretty hard for the Knicks to win much, moving forward.

  29. (PS– Brian and dred, in the past 3 games, Golden State has gone from 30th in TO% to 11th. And their O-rating has risen from 17th to 8th. And their entire starting lineup has a TS of 60% or better. Same shitty offense as Mark Jackson’s last year?)

  30. I love stats as much as the next guy but the as the old say goes, “You can make statistics say anything your want”. The eyeball test is how I evaluate players.

    Chandler was good because of his defense. His defense often led to offense. He would block or divert a shot and that led to points. He worked the PnR well and was efficient around the hoop, slamming in alley-oops and tipping back rebounds. Was he an offensive force? No. Was he good? Yes because he provided balance and worked the offensive boards.

    Remember that after that season he worked on that mini-jumper that he tried to use. He worked on that jumper because he knew that he needed to improve his offensive game.

  31. Other than go 3-10 on fadeaway 18 footers, I have no idea what Tyson Chandler needs to do to prove that he is a great offensive weapon. Have you seen the Mavs lately? They are scoring 117 p/100.

    You are saying this like he is the backbone of the offense. Last i checked he was at best the 3rd ranked offensive player in the starting lineup.

  32. “Holy shit, man. Don’t you think maybe they actually did figure out how to use him correctly and that’s why he led the league in offensive efficiency three years in a row???”
    Well, that’s precisely the point. They realized that, offensively, he is very good at one thing and one thing only, so they limit him to that one thing 6 times a game. That doesn’t make him an offensive “force.” That makes him a very limited offensive player who is very effective in a very limited role.
    “Offensive Rating
    1. Tyson Chandler-NYK 133.0
    2.Chris Paul-LAC 127.0
    3. LeBron James-MIA 124.6”
    This is also precisely the point. You don’t think that a stat that says that Chandler is the best offensive player by a large margin over Chris Paul and an even larger margin over LeBron James (and an even larger margin over Durant and everyone else in the league for that matter) is a stupid stat on its face? If this stat is so valid, Phil Jackson should have called the Cavs and offered Chandler for the same package that they gave up for Love. After all, Love is a slightly better rebounder, but Chandler is the best offensive player on earth and a former DPOY. The Cavs would have jumped at that!

  33. I’m perfectly fine with the eye test, but if you can’t see the relationship between Tyson’s rim rolls sucking players into the paint and the open 3s that result then you’re just not very good at the eye test. Tyson (when motivated) is a really, really good offensive player. He makes the PnR practically unguardable with two players, which means that not only does he generate extremely high percentage shots for himself when help doesn’t come, but for the guard running the PnR as well, and when the help does come then now you’re kicking the ball out and getting open 3s. I always thought it was the stats guys who thought you basically didn’t exist on offense unless you took the shot or got the assist. What’s the point of the eye test if you’re only going to look at the things that do show up in the stats?

  34. I plead guilty as charged. Despite all statistical evidence to the contrary, I will stubbornly continue to trust the eyeball test to conclude that Paul and James are better offensive players than Chandler. I guess I will never understand advanced stats.

  35. It was a joke. ORtg says that Chandler has a higher “rating ” than they, and everyone else in the league, have. I was pointing out that ORtg is a stupid stat.

  36. To say that Chandler was efficient under the basket, was a cog in the offense that made the game easier for others is totally valid. To say that he was a “great offensive weapon” is absurd.

    Kareem was a great offensive weapon. Shaq, Ewing, Hakeem, WILT! Those were great offensive weapons. It’s an insult to them and others to mention him in the same breath.

  37. Mike D’Antoni had Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, Jeremy Lin, Steve Novak, Landry Fields, and the other scrub-tacular defensive players on the Knicks playing as the 5th best defensive team in the league.

    The team had as major rotation players Shumpert playing the two, Fields at the three, Jeffries at the four and Chandler at the five. All four of them were excellent defenders at their positions (move Fields over to two guards like he played his rookie year and he’s too slow, but on larger forwards he’s quite good). Melo and Lin were not awful on defense that season. STAT was, but he didn’t play a whole lot. In fact, the key to Linsanity was that the Knicks starting lineup was really good on defense (the Knicks won during Linsanity through defense mostly). It was a much better defensive team than the team that they had the next season, where they lost Fields and Jeffries, moved Shump to the three and got worse at point (not a lot worse, but worse). And they haven’t had the defensive personnel ever since.

  38. To say that Chandler was efficient under the basket, was a cog in the offense that made the game easier for others is totally valid. To say that he was a “great offensive weapon” is absurd.

    Kareem was a great offensive weapon. Shaq, Ewing, Hakeem, WILT! Those were great offensive weapons. It’s an insult to them and others to mention him in the same breath.

    A “cog in the offense that make the game easier for others” is a great offensive weapon. That’s the whole point.

  39. A “cog in the offense that make the game easier for others” is a great offensive weapon. That’s the whole point.

    It’s fair to say that our definition of the phrase “is a great offensive weapon” is quite different. I would classify Chandler as “adequate” at best.

  40. It’s fair to say that our definition of the phrase “is a great offensive weapon” is quite different.

    Clearly. I mean, for pete’s sake, you felt that Dalembart was an improvement on Chandler on offense. For whatever reason, you just can’t see Chandler’s importance on offense.

  41. I stand by that. Dalembert’s a better ball handler. He has a jumper. He can pass.
    Don’t get me wrong. I love Chandler as a player and was thrilled when he joined the team, but not because of his offense.

  42. Chandler wasn’t just efficient under the basket in his pomp. During his best seasons, Tyson produced more per offensive possession than anyone else in the NBA. Now, you have to take into consideration that Tyson only shot 8 or 9 times a game (which is why Tyson is not better offensively than, say, Kevin Durant), but those shots were literally the best shots in basketball. That’s good! Other teams don’t want you shooting the best shot in basketball. They will try to stop you from doing so. That will lead to shots for other players (like, sadly, Ray Felton).

  43. Guys like johnno and GoNyGoNyGo have been posting here a long time and have, presumably, read a lot of what has been discussed here over the years. If they still don’t think Chandler is an extremely valuable offensive weapon, despite all the data and all the eye-test validation, they will never, ever get it.

  44. I never said that Chandler wasn’t valuable. I just think that it’s silly to act like he is some unstoppable force and even sillier to cite ORtg as support. I also think that a stat that rates him the highest in the league on offense for three straight years is, to put it mildly, not a reliable stat. I think that everyone on this site will acknowledge that Phil Jackson knows more about basketball than any of us. Whom did he make it a priority to keep an who did he think was very expendable? Why do you think that is?

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