In 2010, Brian Kamenetzky wrote a hypothetical for ESPN LA exploring what Phil Jackson’s triangle offense would look like if Steve Nash was the point guard. To do this, he interviewed then LA assistant Brian Shaw about how a “true” point guard like Nash would fit in the offense.
Q: Some people will say there’s such a thing as too much point guard in the offense. Would you agree?
Shaw: “In respect that we don’t even use the term. We call it a lead guard, because when you think of point guard, it’s at the point. This offense is run with a two guard front. It gives you the luxury of not having to draft or go after that kind of guard, that’s going to dominate the ball. Because in this offense, 80 percent of the time you’re playing without the ball. So some players, it may frustrate them. I don’t know how Chris Paul would work, for instance, because he likes to have the ball and direct all the time, and that’s not something that this offense really [allows].”
Q: But Nash dominates the ball in that offense, as well.
Shaw: “For sure. It could work. But you don’t have to feel like you have to get a player like that in order to get the offense to move.”
Q: “In the end, a more prototypical point guard would have to adjust his game?
Historically, Phil Jackson’s triangle offenses – largely the same offense the Knicks will be running from here on out – haven’t relied on high usage point guards. It has been run through elite wing players at the elbows and dominant big-men down low. The role of the point guards in the system have been to make smart decisions initiating the offense early in the shot clock, before running to a spot on the floor predicated on how the defense aligns itself. They’ve been used as managers of the offense, rather than the focal point of it.
That isn’t to say the offense can’t mold itself around higher usage point guard play – one of the selling points of the triangle is that it’s flexible to incorporate all different types of skill sets – but there isn’t a historical precedent of Jackson’s teams ever doing so. Other teams, like the Spurs, use triangle elements in their offenses which work just fine with a point guard who primarily handles the ball. But one of the positives of installing the triangle as Jackson has run it in the past is that the offense can operate at a high level without needing a point guard who can create shots for others.
With the Knicks having just given Carmelo Anthony a big juicy contract, they’ll be looking to add pieces in the summer of 2015, when they could have more than $13 million in cap room. One of the names that’s been floated as a potential addition is Rajon Rondo, whose contract expires after the season. The Knicks have been linked to Rondo in the past, but he made a lot more sense for them when they weren’t running the triangle. Under D’Antoni or Woodson, Rondo would’ve been a more natural fit as a high usage guard who would run an abundance of pick and rolls in smaller lineups with Carmelo Anthony spreading the floor at power forward. But with the Knicks already paying Jose Calderon more than $7 million for each of the next three seasons, investing heavily in a high usage point guard is an unwise allocation of New York’s financial resources.
With Anthony likely to exclusively play small forward, the Knicks have major holes at both power forward and center. This is not ideal when installing an offense that’s also been referred to as “the triple-post offense.” Teams are always in the market for big-men and they don’t come cheaply.
As of right now, Quincy Acy and Cole Aldrich are the only bigs on the roster with any sort of potential moving forward. Amar’e Stoudemire is just playing out his contract, as is Andrea Bargnani. Samuel Dalembert and Jason Smith may provide useful minutes as role players, but they’re far from long term solutions in the frontcourt. The Knicks will likely go into the 2015 offseason in need of quality starters at both power-forward and center, and potentially depth at both positions as well. With Iman Shumpert being the only above-average perimeter defender currently on the roster, acquiring new bigs will be essential to re-shaping one of the league’s worst defenses.
And if the Knicks decide that point guard is a position they want to improve, Rondo will hardly be the only available option. The current NBA climate is bountiful with talent at the point guard position. Given what the Knicks are likely to ask of their point guards, mainly to throw entry passes, shoot spot-up jump shots, and play defense, they should be more than able to find guys capable of fitting the bill. They already have two that can in Calderon and Pablo Prigioni. Shane Larkin is a young, and more importantly cheap, talent they can mold. Maybe the Knicks go looking elsewhere beyond this group, but with the Chandler trade they’ve already shown how easy it is to find guys who can play in the system.
Fixing the front court should be first and foremost on Jackson’s to-do list. Adding Rondo would make a lot more sense if the Knicks were further along in the re-building process. Phoenix could afford to add Isaiah Thomas to their already strong backcourt combination of Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic not only because they had the cap room to do so, but also because they were strong on young talent throughout the roster. Building on a strength is a strategy that has merit, but only if the rest of your roster makes that viable. The Knicks aren’t even close to being there yet, and they don’t have the assets moving forward to expedite the process.
Chasing Rondo feels like something the old regime (*cough* Isiah *cough*) would do. For years, the Knicks modus operandi has been to add big names first and figure out how to make it work later. Of course, they were never able to do that second part. With the Chandler trade, which added long-term money in Calderon, it seems likely that Jackson and co. aren’t about to go about star chasing in free agency. Calderon is a good fit in the triangle as a smart, pass-first point guard, who also happens to be a deadly three point shooter. Jackson is working to build a team and Jose fits in nicely into that strategy.
When it comes to free agency 2015, the big names like Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge are off the market, but there are useful players still potentially available. Were big-men like Brook Lopez, Amir Johnson, Robin Lopez, Paul Millsap, Thaddeus Young, David West, Omer Asik and Roy Hibbert to hit the open market, any one of them would make more sense for the Knicks than Rondo. Brendan Wright and Kosta Koufos are current backups that would come cheaper than the first group, but would still be improvements on what the Knicks currently have. Point is, there will be available options that make more sense than Rondo, or any other high volume point guard.
This isn’t similar to 2011 where the Knicks, post-free agency, were able to turn a package of picks and young players into a star player via trade. Here, they’d be exhausting essentially every remaining asset they do have were they to acquire Rondo in a deal this season. And regardless whether they sign him in 2015 free agency or re-sign him after a trade, he’s likely to get more than $10 million annually in his new contract. Were they to do this, they’d have to have some sort of plan in place to either acquire or develop impact bigs who could help them win sooner, rather than later.
Jackson would have to work wonders to acquire both Rondo and a stable of big men good enough to mold an above-average defense around. In simpler words, it’d be much easier and more logical to bypass getting Rondo altogether and invest in other positions. But we know that under James Dolan, the Knicks don’t always exercise logic in their decision making. I trust Jackson and I doubt he’s got Rondo high on his list of potential targets. But I don’t trust Dolan. Rondo is a much flashier and more marketable name than someone like Robin Lopez or David West. Is it unlikely that the latter would overrule his exponentially more qualified employee and make a dumb move? Probably, but it’s happened before so you can’t totally rule it out. That would be the nightmare scenario, or for Knicks fans, business as usual.