Knicks Offensive Woes: The Triangle or the Underachievers?

The Knicks are on a 4 game slide. Normally this wouldn’t feel abnormal to their fans, but New York’s promising start has given hope where there previously was none. As we look to the stats for the answers, it’s clear that the offense should be doing better given the four factors. Offensively, the ‘Bockers are top 7 in terms of turnovers and rebounding and their free throw shooting is just above average. However the shooting has been abysmal with an eFG% of .462%; only 3 teams are worse.

Play Ball?
Play Ball?

A simple explanation would be to point to the underachieving players as the cause of the problem. ‘Melo (.457 eFG%), the team’s prima shooter, is 25 points below his career mark. However, Anthony isn’t the only one with shooting problems. The Knicks have a trio of big men that are under-performing. Robin Lopez is -91 points. Kyle O’Quinn is -74. Kevin Seraphin is -36. Additionally, Sasha Vujacic and Jerian Grant are at .311 and .399, which would be awesome if they were middle infielders.

So wait until these guys rebound to their career average and problem solved, right Knickeristas?

Not really if the issues isn’t with the players, but the scheme. It’s well known that the Knicks are running the archaic triangle offense. The league has changed since the days of Jordan and Shaq. Today the style of offensive in the NBA mostly involves screens and picks in lieu of straight up ball movement. In essence New York is bringing a tank to a guerrilla war.

tank

The biggest reduction for this year’s Knicks squad seems to be in easy baskets. I decided to compare this year’s team with their 2014 counterparts. Way back in ’14, 11 players had an eFG% of .600 or better from inside 3 feet, and 6 of those played 1,000 minutes or more. This year there are only 5 Knicks with .600 or better, and only 3 of them are on pace to hit 1,000 minutes. For our yesteryear Knicks, only the seldom used Earl Clark had a percentage under .536. There are 3 current Knicks under that mark, all rotation players (‘Melo, Grant, and Galloway). In simpler terms, the team isn’t getting easy dunks and layups.

Which again begs the question: is it the system or the players? That ’14 team had awesome inside scorers like Tyson Chandler, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Cole Aldrich. And better shooting guards like J.R. Smith and Hardaway (that year at least). Perhaps even Carmelo Anthony isn’t the same as his former self.

Hence New Yorkers are stuck in the proverbial chicken or egg argument. Maybe the players are just having a down year. Or maybe the triangle offense needs to be scrapped for something that better fits today’s players. Tastes Great. Less Filling.

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Mike Kurylo

Mike Kurylo is the founder and editor of KnickerBlogger.net. His book on the 2012 Knicks, "We’ll Always Have Linsanity," is on sale now. Follow him on twitter (@KnickerBlogger).

35 thoughts to “Knicks Offensive Woes: The Triangle or the Underachievers?”

  1. and Cole Aldrich.

    heh.

    A thing getting in the way seems to be Robin Lopez’s null set of options in the pinch post. In the Houston game, he’d get the ball as part of the triangle set and opposing defenders would crowd him because they knew his only viable move was a handoff or a pass to a cutter. A good 5-10 seconds tick off the shot clock, and someone else has to burp up a shot.

  2. Other than suckitude of the players, is there something defenses are doing differently which makes the Triangle “obsolete”?

  3. It’s not that the triangle is archaic, it’s that it may need an update/overhaul. The goal of an offensive system should be to generate clean/mismatched looks. I don’t see much of that in our games. Passing to someone on the block as a key first step is outdated, because the post/midrange game itself is out of date. Also, the defense is smaller and quicker, so bullying in the post isn’t always useful. (Although, that Lowe article made a good point about the triangle being an “antidote” for the modern small ball lineup)

    A triangle of two at the 3 on the strong side, and another on the weak side, one on the low post (not out at 15-20′ as I’ve seen), and another big setting picks and screens, implementing much more PNR out at the perimeter may be the update it needs. We need more threes, and more PNR.

  4. I looked up three different rankings of NBA teams for offense. The Knicks came out anywhere from 18th to 22nd in the league. Their offensive talent level is probably in that range too, so I don’t think the triangle is that big a handicap to their results. That said, many times their offense just doesn’t look free flowing and they tend to get stymied on the perimeter. I agree that their bigs have underwhelmed offensively (except Porzingis) and none of them pass well enough to make a team pay for defending them hard near the basket (except maybe Carmelo, who gets quite a few assists). So there is a lot of room for improvement. Fisher gets good effort out of everyone, now he has to show he can coach improvement in individual performance over the course of the season.

  5. I don’t get what is going on with our offense. In the off season Phil and Fisher said they would not be so strict with running the Triangle. And in the preseason and the first few games of the season we saw this, especially with the second unit. But now it seems they’ve become more strict again with just running the Triangle. The question for me is this. Is this simply a phase bc Phil and Fish want the team to learn the Triangle better before they loosen the reigns or are they going back to it more exclusively? They even said in the preseason that the goal was PnR action to start the offensive sets and then Triangle as a secondary option if the PnR wasn’t there. That has been abandoned it seems.

  6. If KP becomes a serious post up threat (to the point that he draws double teams) and bulks up enough that he can bang with the bigger Cs in the league, then he can be paired with a stretch 4 and some good things can happen. Throwing the ball inside to Lopez (or even worse Seraphin) is not scaring anyone. This is where Monroe might have been a little better fit than Lopez. He’s more of a threat on offense. Next off season I would send KP to Hakeem’s post up school. I’d also send him to Kareem’s hook shot school. We have our cornerstone for the future. We just have to hope he stays healthy because I’m confident he has the talent and work ethic to get to where we hope he gets.

  7. In the Houston game the Rockets ran pnr with Harden and Beverley to get a pg switched onto Harden. We could run the same play with Melo and our PGs to get Melo a size advantage in the post. The triangle gives Melo space to operate 1 on 1 in the post and good post position when the ball is reversed to the weak side, but the downside is the triangle doesn’t lead to switches at all. He’s going up against his guy (the other team’s best defender) every play. 1/2 pnr’s would get afflalo a size advantage in the post as well. The triangle never leads to mismatches, and when you have a lack of playmakers as the Knicks do, mismatches are your best chance for good looks on offense.

  8. I don’t really know where to go to look this up, but are the Knicks shooting vastly more mid-range jumpers than the rest of the league? The Knicks are 22nd in the NBA in 3-point shooting rate and they don’t seem to get a lot of points in the paint, so I would guess that the answer is yes, the Knicks probably shoot more mid-range jumpers than the vast majority of the teams in the league.

    If this is true, that ain’t good.

  9. Re: Kobe

    One does need to be a conspiracy theorist to recognize the method in the Lakers’ madness.

    The only, albeit slim, hope for that franchise moving forward is to have a shot at Ben Simmons in the 2016 draft. The only way that happens is if it does not lose its top-3 protected pick to Philly.

    This Laker team might actually be good enough to screw that up were it not for Kobe’s nightly 5 for 27 shooting performances. The core of Clarkson, Randle, Hibbert – and even the much maligned Russell – could conceivably cohere into a team that is mediocre enough to fritter away its shot at the first overall pick.

    The real genius of the Kobe Tank is the plausible deniability it allows the Lakers. “Tanking? Heavens no! Why, we’re doing nothing more than honoring one of the NBA’s All Time greats with a farewell tour that will give Kobe’s fans around the league one final opportunity to see him in action!”

    If the end result of all this turns out to be the first overall pick and Ben Simmons, the Kobe Tank will likely go down as the savviest move ever made during the Jim Buss/Mitch Kupchak regime.

  10. You’re forgetting that Kobe is generating an unprecedented amount of Kobe Assists™. He’s like John Stockton and Magic Johnson combined this season with all those Kobe Assists. He’s having a great season really.

  11. @ 9 – that is true. Russell I think will turn into a good NBA player but its gonna take some time. If they get Simmons this year AND have the cap space that opens up with Kobe leaving they’re gonna go from train wreck to really promising team pretty much overnight. A core of Clarkson, Randle, Hibbert, Russell, Simmons and some FA’s this off season could be promising for them.

  12. The only, albeit slim, hope for that franchise moving forward is to have a shot at Ben Simmons in the 2016 draft.

    Sorry, but this is downright crazy. Aren’t we currently living as Knicks fans how much one good draft pick can completely swing the entire outlook of a franchise even if you miss on the consensus top guy? The Lakers still have a proven track record of attracting top players, and a respectable base of young talent. The current team is an absolute dumpster fire , but take away Kobe, add in a top-3 pick, fire Byron Scott, and you’re rapidly on the road to respectability, from which it takes one FA signing to be back in the mix. Things aren’t nearly as bleak there as you’re making it out.

  13. Whether the Kobe brick-a-thon is some kind of brilliant management maneuver to tank or not, I think it’s a horrible way for young players like Russell and Randle to go through a season.

    “Hey kids, stand back and let Kobe have all the shots, it’s all for the greater good, have a great year!”

  14. I actually think the offense will turn around, even if we don’t really do anything that differently. The offense creates LOTS of open shots – they’re just not going in.

    Overall we are 14th in the league creating wide open shots (defender 6+ feet away) but 2nd to last in eFG on those shots.

    On 2P FGA we are 10th in % of shots that are wide open, but LAST in eFG on those (42.6%) – this on a team with excellent mid-range jump shooters in Calderon, Afflalo, Melo who are taking the lion’s share of the shots.

    Similarly on 3P FGA we are 20th in % of shots that are wide open but 2nd to last in 3P% on those (35.1%). The only teams that are worse are Brooklyn and Memphis, both of whom have horrible shooters — that shouldn’t be our problem.

  15. Aren’t we currently living as Knicks fans how much one good draft pick can completely swing the entire outlook of a franchise even if you miss on the consensus top guy?

    Problem for the Lakers is if they don’t really suck this year, they likely forfeit their 2016 first round pick altogether. The pick they traded to Philly is only top-3 protected so if a Porzingis-level talent happens to be sitting there at 4 again this year, the Lakers would be SOL. And to have any hopes of landing even one of the consolation prizes at 2 or 3, Kobe will have to keep bricking his way across America.

    The Lakers still have a proven track record of attracting top players

    That was then, this is now. Dwight Howard chose to walk away from the glitz & glamour of L.A. – and the chance for an additional year at a max deal – to go play in the relative backwater of Houston. Melo(!) and LaLa decided that the bright lights of Broadway and the dumpster fire that is (was) the Knicks were a more desirable option than the brights lights of Hollywood and the dumpster fire that is the Lakers. Aldridge would not even give the Lakers a sit down until they begged and he agreed to do so out of pity.

    And none of those guys are even A-list talents. So the idea that the Durants and Westbrooks of the world are going to keep beating a path to the Staples Center door is pure fantasy.

    Whether the Kobe brick-a-thon is some kind of brilliant management maneuver to tank or not, I think it’s a horrible way for young players like Russell and Randle to go through a season.

    Agreed – but it is still the least awful option for them. Best case scenario for the current roster sans Kobe is years of second round playoff purgatory. The only way for them to get beyond that is by landing a superstar. That only happens with a top-3 pick this year and/or an A-list free agent (who probably wouldn’t come w/o that top-3 pick)

  16. Anyone else see the just released video of Jahlil Okafor’s second altercation the other night in Boston? Granted, anyone who is dumb enough to taunt a drunk 7 foot professional athlete probably doesn’t deserve a whole lot of sympathy, but Okafor really comes off like a total asshole.

  17. That was then, this is now. Dwight Howard chose to walk away from the glitz & glamour of L.A. – and the chance for an additional year at a max deal – to go play in the relative backwater of Houston. Melo(!) and LaLa decided that the bright lights of Broadway and the dumpster fire that is (was) the Knicks were a more desirable option than the brights lights of Hollywood and the dumpster fire that is the Lakers. Aldridge would not even give the Lakers a sit down until they begged and he agreed to do so out of pity.

    And none of those guys are even A-list talents. So the idea that the Durants and Westbrooks of the world are going to keep beating a path to the Staples Center door is pure fantasy.

    I guess I see this from the opposite perspective. What I see is that even when the team is absolutely god awful, they still are in the running for absolutely every coveted free agent that hits the market. That’s more than any other team in the league can say. It’s certainly true that in the last few years they have done a lot more missing than hitting in those meetings, but I think a lot of that has come from how bad the team has been and the nightmare scenario that playing with Kobe presents for any other good player with half a brain (to be specific: he’s no longer good, eats a massive chunk of the cap and not only is completely unwilling to defer to anyone else, but also is completely immune from blame from the Lakers fans when things go bad). Get Kobe out of there and give them team a semblance of a spark and I think the FAs will be beating down their doors again in no time.

    I’ll take the Lakers over anyone else when it comes to Westbrook’s destination in two years.

  18. I do think that Kobe scared off one or two free agents the last couple of years.

    But yes, while I certainly see the merits of tanking to avoid losing their 2016 first round pick all together, it still saddens me to watch Byron Scott coaching in the NBA. He’s almost unbelievable in how bad he is. And to specifically be the first coach for a dynamic 19-year-old guard? Oh man, that is like the worst coach/rookie matchup imaginable.

  19. Anyone else see the just released video of Jahlil Okafor’s second altercation the other night in Boston? Granted, anyone who is dumb enough to taunt a drunk 7 foot professional athlete probably doesn’t deserve a whole lot of sympathy, but Okafor really comes off like a total asshole.

    Therein lies the problem with “the Process”. You can do everything right and still screw it up. As they’ve done year after year.

  20. @JK47

    Both basketball-reference and nba.com/stats have this info available. I prefer bref because they actually give it as a % of total FGA; NBA.com lists it as FGA/game.

    According to bref we are:

    27th in shots between 0-3 feet of the basket; we only take 24.3% of our shots there. Only SAS, Dallas, and LAL are worse.

    21st in shots between 3-10 feet of the basket taking 14.2% of our shots there. We’re right in between Cleveland and GSW.

    1st in shots between 10-16 feet of the basket at 15.6%. SAS is 2nd at 13.9%.

    7th in shots between 16 feet and the 3-point line at 20%. We’re in between Chicago and LAL.

    22nd in 3-pointers at 25.8% in between Sacramento and Chicago.

    Basketball-reference

    NBA.com/stats

  21. Has anybody heard KD’s recent comments on the media’s treatment of Kobe Bryant? It’s the latest in the KD vs The Media battle he’s been having for years. Kevin Durant hates the media, and it makes me pessimistic when it comes to his possible signing with the Knicks. Why would somebody who loathes the media as much as he does leave Oklahoma City, generally a one paper town, for the largest media outlet in the world? I think he’d have a fist fight with Frank Isola. He doesn’t seem to have the wherewithal to withstand how the media can turn on you, and they generally haven’t when it comes to KD. Durant in New York probably won’t happen, and I think his distaste for the media is a big reason why.

  22. Durant in New York probably won’t happen, and I think his distaste for the media is a big reason why.

    Or, you know, the fact that our franchise has been an absolute shit-storm of mismanagement for the past decade…

  23. Anyone else see the just released video of Jahlil Okafor’s second altercation the other night in Boston? Granted, anyone who is dumb enough to taunt a drunk 7 foot professional athlete probably doesn’t deserve a whole lot of sympathy, but Okafor really comes off like a total asshole.

    If we had somehow ended up drafting Okafor, he would be on the back page of every issue of the NY Post and Daily News for the past week, and Berman and Isola would be in a delighted feeding frenzy.

    I’m so glad we got Zinger

  24. But yes, while I certainly see the merits of tanking to avoid losing their 2016 first round pick all together, it still saddens me to watch Byron Scott coaching in the NBA. He’s almost unbelievable in how bad he is. And to specifically be the first coach for a dynamic 19-year-old guard? Oh man, that is like the worst coach/rookie matchup imaginable.

    This is illogical. Clearly Byron Scott is among the 30 best professional basketball coaches in America. Otherwise the Lakers wouldn’t have him employed on his team. I mean this is a billion dollar team. It wouldn’t make sense for them to just hire some former player. Remember, these teams have access to data that we observers can only dream about.

  25. I know this thread went OT real quick, but this triangle vs the roster thing is, to me, one of the more interesting topics to really get into. Triangle advocates, be they coaches with online platforms or fans posting online, have gone into why they think the triangle can be adapted into modern play. I think we dismiss it because it hasn’t been done yet, and because the improbable and hypothetical is easy to write off until it happens (for good reason). Getting into the X’s and O’s of how it could be adapted is the fun part for me, but we won’t learn an answer unless NYK get an influx of talent in the next few years, sadly.

    While you can blame the system for making NYK take a ton of mid range shots, I don’t think you can blame it for the lack of shots at the rim. There are 2 main ways to get those: dribble penetration and transition (and to a lesser extent, interior passing and oboards — which are both responsible for the few we get). We don’t get those because of our roster, not because of any system.

    You could put these guys in a spread PnR and maybe get a few more with Jerian, or with Melo as the ball handler in a high PnR which for some reason no knick coach wants to ever do…. but Jose Calderon is not gonna curl off a RoLo screen and take it to the hole lol.

    This related to another topic which I’d like to see as a post in KB: Ways the knicks can get a passable point guard who can penetrate, make good entry passes, and knockdown 3s at least at 35%. Without that, we won’t go anywhere, full stop, for the next few years.

  26. Problem for the Lakers is if they don’t really suck this year, they likely forfeit their 2016 first round pick altogether.

    It’s actually even more than that. If they’re not a bottom-3 team this year they lose their 2018 1st round pick too! (Because of the lottery protection on the Philly pick, their 2018 pick that they owe to Orlando becomes 2 second rounders if the Philly pick isn’t surrendered this year. So they really do, ideally, want to hang on to that pick this year.)

  27. Prez, I agree 100%. Your last question is very interesting. I think there are three possibilities, but they are all difficult to do

    1) We trade one of our big guys for a point guard. This probably wouldn’t happen until next summer, because then we get Hernangomez and our roster becomes very big heavy, unless some don’t pick up their options. Given the paucity and price of good point guards, this seems very unlikely to me.

    2) We hire a free agent. I took a brief glance at who will be available in 2016. There aren’t many. There is Mike Conley, and, of course, Jeremy Lin, who isn’t actually that old and definitely can penetrate, dish and score.

    3) Jerian Grant develops into that person. This is conceivable, but he has to improve his shooting stroke a lot, and I don’t know if he can do it.

  28. Aldridge would not even give the Lakers a sit down until they begged and he agreed to do so out of pity.

    Actually, Aldridge apparently had the Lakers as one of his top possible destinations until they absolutely tanked their meeting with him, and particularly the part about the, you know, basketball team. They begged from him to give them a second meeting to make up for the initial fiasco.

    But the fact that he was strongly considering them before they met, despite how bad they’ve been of late, speaks to how much greater the allure of that franchise is than our own.

  29. This related to another topic which I’d like to see as a post in KB: Ways the knicks can get a passable point guard who can penetrate, make good entry passes, and knockdown 3s at least at 35%. Without that, we won’t go anywhere, full stop, for the next few years

    I agree on the importance of acquiring such a player, but I think there’s a solid chance Grant can be this guy eventually. The three point shooting is obviously far off, but he was a pretty solid free throw shooter in college and that’s continued in the NBA. If I’m not mistaken, that historically bodes well for improving 3PT%. Some guys never develop it, like Rondo and Tony Allen, but they were both poor/mediocre free throw shooters throughout their college and NBA careers. I’d even go as far as to say that it’s rare for a guard to consistently have solid free throw numbers but never develop a passable three, but that’s just my intuition.

  30. Yeah, the Lakers are 16-15 IN THE FINALS. They’ve been there 27 more times than the Knicks have. Their rebuilds are always short and extraordinary. I doubt they’ll be down for long.

    The key to championship franchise building isn’t tanking, or freeing up cap space, or having a “system” in place. It is simply to value your draft picks and not trade them away before you can use them. The Lakers stopped doing that with the Nash and Howard trades, but they’ll figure it out again and be okay.

  31. “Yeah, the Lakers are 16-15 IN THE FINALS. They’ve been there 27 more times than the Knicks have.”
    Actually, they’ve been to the finals “only” 23 more times than our beloved Knicks, who have been to the finals 8 times, but your point is well-taken. (In addition to the two championships and the losses to the Spurs and Rockets in the ’90s, they also lost in the finals in 1971 and three straight years in the 1950’s.)

  32. I am not sure the slump in the offense can be unequivocally attributed to either the players of the system. Over the first part of the season before the current losing streak, we were seeing a pretty healthy mix of offense, however that seems to have stagnated. We don’t seem to be pushing as hard (previously we were getting into the offense with the first 4 seconds of the possession and it feels like that pace has slackened a bit).

    I would be more inclined to put this one on the players at this stage. The offense seemed to be working okay prior to this current slump. Granted Fish needs to implement a system that allows players to get the best possible looks, but ultimately the players need to make the shots. A massive oversimplification, but the players need to step up on this one I feel.

  33. Well it seems as if Philly has a better chance of beating us now, doesn’t it

    The real sadness is our being unable to see Porzingis drop 20 and 10 while posterizing Okafor

  34. I think Okafor being out may actually help the Sixers upset the Knicks. I do not think Okafor has been very good so far. He has an occasional big game. So you know the talent is there for him to become good player eventually. But he has a LOT of bad games.

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