Phil Jackson destroyed the stability he created with Knicks

The attraction of Phil Jackson running the New York Knicks was he would bring a sensibility to the organization that often didn’t exist.

Whether you agreed or disagreed with the moves Jackson made through the pre-firing Derek Fisher portion of his tenure, his presence became easier to accept because of a level of stability.

The team owned by James Dolan was going along in a rational manner.

They didn’t return much value for Tyson Chandler, Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith, but you could see a level of logic behind both trades. Despite it taking longer than it should have – Carmelo Anthony did eventually shut it down for the season due to a knee injury. The dead weight on the team was sent away with Amar’e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani being bought out.

First-year head coach Derek Fisher spent about half the season experimenting with a more pick and roll based offense rather than the triangle and giving different players an opportunity to prove themselves.

Yea, they screwed up winning a couple games at the end of the season, but it’s not fair to expect players to not go out and try. It was just unfortunate results.

Drafting Kristaps Porzingis and Jerian Grant brought along hope of Jackson being more open to adjusting New York’s playing style due to their skills sets in a good start to his second full offseason on the job.

Free agency should have been the first sign of slight concern when it came to Jackson’s view of what he wanted the team to be. He went after too many bigs and not enough attention to players who could break down a defense off the dribble.

Nothing Jackson did was overly harmful, but he gave insight into what he was looking for with how he constructed the roster. Individually, none of the contracts he gave out were bad, yet in totality they didn’t make all that much sense.

All that said, it wasn’t the end of the world. Rebuilding the Knicks roster from the tear down was more than a one-offseason process. Jackson needed to be given more time to flesh out what he was trying to accomplish.

The season started and the Knicks overachieved. Fisher implemented a smarter defensive scheme that tried to force teams into mid-range shots and the offense was a decent balance of using triangle principles and modern concepts. It wasn’t perfect, but it was something you could live with.

Fisher worked on developing Porzingis and Grant, maximized Thomas’ versatility on the defensive end, had Anthony playing brilliant all-around basketball and managed minutes in a decent fashion.

Once they hit 22-22, one of the healthiest teams in the league at that point in the season, started getting banged up. The nine-man rotation Fisher settled on could no longer be used and the Knicks lack of quality depth shined through. They played a bunch of close games and battled hard, but couldn’t close anything out.

Thinking back on it, in Fisher’s last games it was almost like he was trying to prove a point. In first halves he Knicks would run mainly triangle based offensive sets leading to them falling behind. In second halves they’d run a ton of spread PnR storming back into the game.

This pattern happened quite frequently.

Was it Fisher trying to prove a point to Jackson?

If he was should have Fisher tried to communicate better with his boss instead of being standoffish? Yep.

Should have Jackson been smart enough to see what was happening and not be stubborn about the type of offense that was being implemented? Yep.

The basketball reasons to fire Fisher didn’t make much sense. If it was other dealings that were more involved with off the court shenanigans so be it. Whatever the case, when Jackson made the decision to fire Fisher he tore down what he had worked so hard to build up – an appearance of stability.

Teams that are stable don’t fire coaches less than two years into a job with a group that was on track to be one of the most improved in the NBA.

Jackson made his buddy Kurt Rambis interim head coach and ever since they’ve gone back to their old clusterfuck ways.

Rambis trying to “win now” (poorly by the way, he’s not even good at that) has led to potential bad consequences. Melo is getting overplayed, they’ve swung towards increased base triangle action, the protect the paint screw threes defense is back, Sasha Vujacic’s role has increased while Grant’s has decreased and Porzingis is being used incorrectly.

The scary part of all of this is Rambis and Jackson openly discuss how improved the communication between the two of them is compared to Fisher and Jackson.

Simply put………that’s terrifying.

Even while only winning 17 games what made Jackson’s first year a success was an understanding of where the team was and what needed to be accomplished.

The same hasn’t happened this season – it feels like Jackson has become short sighted.

Outside of unrealistic trade rumors involving Jeff Teague – there’s been no attempt to address their slow, plodding, lack of dribble penetration backcourt.

Lower level guards such as Mario Chalmers, D.J. Augustin, Shelvin Mack and Ish Smith were all traded during the regular season. Maybe getting one of them wasn’t realistic, but a move of that elk could have been made.

They’ve had two players come on 10-day contracts in Thanasis Antetokounmpo and Jimmer Fredette and neither was given a chance to contribute in a meaningful way.

And the Fredette circus should have never been at MSG in the first place.

Jackson been content allowing Lou Amundson, Cleanthony Early and Vujacic eat up roster spots and not contribute in a positive way.

Jackson’s managing of the Knicks roster this season has lacked ingenuity and creativity.

Once the playoffs became unrealistic a smartly run team would have preserved Melo, experimented with an offense revolving around Porzingis and Grant’s skills, and used two or three roster spots to try to find cheap talent to add to the team gong forward.

The reason to be worried about Jackson has nothing to do with what his record is since being in charge of the Knicks. It’s quite the opposite – the bad record shows he understood what needed to be done in his first full year on the job. The roster is in a healthier place than where it was when Jackson took it over.

The question is with the decision-making and vision Jackson has demonstrated this season can he be trusted to be in charge of the Knicks going forward?

If Jackson isn’t able to set aside his ego in regards to the next coach and how the Knicks on court product should be shaped – what needs to happen is so painful I don’t have the will to even spell it out.

Pelicans 77, Knicks 72: Knicks fall in Summer League opener

In what was a really close game throughout the day, the New Orleans Pelicans defeated the New York Knicks in their Las Vegas Summer League opener yesterday afternoon, thanks in part to a huge afternoon from Austin Rivers.

Rivers, who had a rookie year he’d like to forget, elevated the Pelicans with twenty-four points to go along with seven rebounds and six assists.

Iman Shumpert, playing for the Knicks Summer League squad, got a pretty good amount of burn, which is hardly surprising: with the Knicks point guard depth lacking a bit going into the 2013-14 season, the plan seems to be to let Shumpert handle a few minutes a night running the point.

There’s just one problem: Shumpert is not capable of running point in the NBA. Today’s game was just another example: he missed all of his shots, didn’t attack the rim, and turned the ball over a bunch of times. He did manage to contribute on the glass — something he’s excelled at so far in the league.

Along with Shumpert, the Knicks rolld out Jeremy Tyler, C.J. Leslie and Tim Hardaway Jr. for hefty minutes today. Tyler looked the most comfortable with team, adding eleven rebounds, ten points, five fouls, was consistently active, and definitely came across looking like a player the Knicks could use in a thin front court this season.

Hardaway Jr. got the most minutes today, and what we saw was pretty much expected — high volume shooting, finishing with a rough 4-12 FGA/FGM for the day, including 1-6 from deep.

It might be a day Hardaway would like to forget, but that’s why they call it Summer League.

C.J. Leslie stuck, for the most part, with what seemed like the Knicks program for the day: not making many shots. Leslie went 2-9 from the field, and never really looked comfortable. Part of this might have to do with Leslie’s unique situation; unlike Hardaway Jr., Leslie has no idea if he fits in the Knicks somewhat long-term plans. Leslie is one of those guys who is going to get a lot of minutes this summer, but has to play a lot better then he did today if he wants to make the 15-man roster.

Two guys that most are probably not familiar with that had good games today were Toure Murry and Eloy Vargas. Murry was the only Knick to shoot the ball well, going 4-6 from the field and notching eleven points in just twelve minutes of play.

Vargas, along with Tyler, had a nice day inside — not so much on the defensive or rebounding side of things, but he did add nine points on 4-5 shooting.

Murry and Vargas came off as the two guys who should probably get a bigger role in the next couple of games, to see what they can do in 30+ minutes of action.

The Knicks next game is Sunday afternoon against the Washington Wizards at 4:00 EST.

NBA Tells Shumpert to Take Adidas Logo out of His Flat Top

Apparently in the NBA, haircuts are taken more seriously than on-court activity.

As you may have heard, Iman Shumpert was informed by the NBA that he had to remove the Adidas logo that he had shaved in the back of his flat top.

According to Ben Goliver of Sports Illustrated:

Sporting a corporate logo during games is indeed against NBA rules. Item 5 of Section H of the NBA rule book’s extended comments section, which governs “player/team conduct and dress”, reads: “The only article bearing a commercial ‘logo’ which can be worn by players is their shoes.”

The language appears alongside other uniform notes, which include: no t-shirts, players must tuck their uniform shirts into their shorts, players must assume a “dignified posture” during the National Anthem, and coaches and assistant coaches must wear a “sport coat or suit coat” during games.

This isn’t an NBA-specific rule. In 2011, MLB’s new collective bargaining agreement also banned players from having corporate logos tattooed on themselves.

Shumpert did sign a contract that restricted him from performing the aforementioned action, and it appears from his comments that he wasn’t consciously invoking the League’s ire, but rather was unaware of any issue with embossing a logo in the back of his cut. Though personally I chafe at the notion of restrictions that prevent an adult from making personal decisions with their lives and with their bodies, when a person signs a legally binding contract, freedom of expression is often limited, even in terms of something as seemingly innocuous as a triangle-shaped symbol.

The league has a vested interest in maintaining control when it comes to advertising. Countless dollars change hands due to the NBA’s  many sponsorship deals, from the advertising that appears on court to the team uniforms that are all manufactured by Adidas (ironically). Allowing players to become their own personal marketing vehicles is a can of worms that has the potential to impact their bottom line.

Of course, this little-known rule should surprise absolutely no one. The NBA has banned many things of greater importance than a hairstyle in recent memory. In 1985, Michael Jordan’s first pair of sneakers were banned for not matching the Bulls’ jerseys and violating on-court dress code. In October 2005, Commissioner David Stern implemented a mandatory dress code that eliminated anything that wasn’t ,”business or conservative attire,” for players who were sitting on the bench. Most recently, in 2011, the NBA banned taunting. Whether it be hanging on the rim or in the form of “stare-downs,” the NBA dishes out technical fouls as punishment.

The “crime” here isn’t just about my objections with the NBA bylaws, it’s with how 21 Shump Street’s haircut has been butchered. Even though some people and players have expressed negative opinions about his hairstyle, Shumpert’s hair is greatness incarnate. I must state upfront that this is coming from someone who has a flat top of his own. However, there is a bright side in the sullying  of the glorious backside of his nineties-esque, Kick-and-play and quintessential Fresh Prince-like high top fade; the NBA still hasn’t banned skyscraper high haircuts (for now).

I hope that one day Shump will be allowed to don a dazzling style, no matter what he products he endorses, while playing in Madison Square Garden. Odds are, that won’t happen any time too soon.

Take a look for yourselves (via Shumpert’s Instagram):

 

flattop_original

2012 Report Card: Iman Shumpert

Stats:

Player Age G MP MPG PER TS% eFG% TRB% AST% TOV% USG%
Iman Shumpert 21 59 1705 28.9 10.8 0.484 0.446 6.3 15.6 16 18.2

Per 36 Minutes:

FGA 3PA 3P% FTA FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
11.3 3.3 0.306 2.3 0.798 0.9 3 3.9 3.5 2.1 0.2 2.3 3.7 11.9

First, this: Iman Shumpert is a gifted defensive player.  He has the full tool kit of a great on-ball defender: good form and footwork, quick hands, long arms, a strong core, the ability to stop on a dime and pivot, and a good sense of when to pounce.  He ranked in the top seven in the league this year in both steals per game and steal rate.  While Mike Woodson and Tyson Chandler have been credited with the Knicks’ defensive renaissance, Shumpert became the best one-on-one perimeter stopper the Knicks have had in at least a decade.  So the story goes.

So why can’t I find a stat that tells that story?

The Knicks forced more turnovers with Shumpert on the court than with him on the bench, it’s true, but they also committed two more fouls and allowed two more free throw attempts per 100 possessions of Shumpert time.  Though this could be explained away as a byproduct of Shumpert’s aggressiveness, the more surprising discovery is that opposing offenses were generally more  efficient with Shumpert in the game, scoring 102.9 points per 100 possessions (on a 49.1% eFG) compared to 101.3 with Shumpert off (on a 47.7% eFG).

Given all the different identities the Knicks had this year, statistics that are this broad may be unreliable.    So let’s look at a more specific example:

These were the two most commonly used Knicks lineups this season.  The only difference between the two is that one includes Shumpert and one includes Jeremy Lin, a folk hero to be sure but nobody’s idea of a lockdown defender.  And the Lin lineup is not just better on the defensive end, but enormously better.  The 9 points per 100 possessions drop-off is bigger than the difference between the overall defensive efficiencies of the Celtics and Pistons this year and, considering that those teams had similarly efficient offenses and Boston won 14 more games than Detroit, you could say that the gap is a pretty big deal.  Lin’s dynamic stretch came during a particularly electric moment in the Knicks’ season and against some fairly weak competition, which likely accounts for some of the margin.  Still, considering that Shumpert nearly made second-team all-defense and DID make first-team all-rookie, it’s possible that our defense-starved fan base has overreacted a bit to the emergence of a player who, while possessing the physical tools of an all-world defender, simply needed his first year to get up to NBA speed.  This is totally acceptable by the way — there aren’t a lot of players who enter the league with perfectly honed defensive instincts.  But we should be open to the possibility that Shumpert wasn’t quite as effective a defensive player this season as it felt like while it was happening.  More likely he was a good defender with the potential to develop into a truly great defender.

And he might need to be a great defender because the other side of the ball was a pretty big problem.  Since 2000, 4 rookie guards have logged 1,000 minutes for the Knicks and you can probably guess who they are.  Nate Robinson.  Toney Douglas.  Landry Fields.  Iman Shumpert.  Based on essentially all traditional and advanced statistical metrics, Shumpert was by far — and I mean by F-A-R — the worst offensive player of the four.  And we’re not exactly talking about a group whose jerseys are flying off the shelves of the Modell’s at 37th and 7th; while some optimism remains about Fields even after an up-and-down sophomore season, Douglas and Robinson’s once-bright futures with the franchise are now topics not discussed by Knicks’ fans in polite company.  And yet, as rookies, both players out-shot Shumpert (as measured by FG%, 3P%, TS%, or eFG% — so basically pick your metric).  Both had higher assist rates and lower turnover rates despite higher usage.  And, despite giving up 10 inches, rookie Nate also topped Shumpert’s 2011-2012 rebound rate:

So again, on at least one side of the ball Shumpert is off to a demonstrably worse start than a couple of guys who were (rightly!) never really expected to become anything more than effective bench players.  And on the other side, despite considerable physical and technical tools in evidence, his shifts paled in comparison to those played by a diminutive guard from Harvard who most thought to be too slow to have any role in the league, let alone provide meaningful defensive resistance against NBA perimeter players.

And yet, I would submit that optimism for Shumpert currently exceeds that of any Knick guard at this stage in his career since Rod Strickland (and he got traded for Mo Cheeks like, 20 minutes later and then Cheeks got traded for a draft pick and the draft pick became Charlie Ward so….yeah).  I would say that, at this point, most Knicks fans believe that if Shumpert fully recovers from his knee injury, he will make (and deserve to make) several all-defense teams and polish his offensive game to the point of being a solid #1 defender and 4th offensive option on a contending team.  This could totally come to pass, but I think there’s more room between his head and the ceiling than most are allowing for.  Here’s some of what needs to happen:

OFFENSE: He’s simply being misutilized, although this was a much larger problem at the beginning of the year than at the end.  As Sebastian Pruiti covered at length in his must-read rookie rankings on Grantland, his positional and play-type splits made it clear that the two things Shumpert should definitely NOT be doing were quarterbacking the offense and being the primary option in pick-and-roll sets — in other words, the two most important functions of the D’AntoniBall point guard role that injuries forced Shumpert to play so much of in the early part of the season.  The emergence of Lin and the return of Baron Davis largely relieved Shumpert of this responsibility.  For a while, he thrived playing the two guard off of Lin, whose chaotic slash-and-look style pulled defenders out of position and created the driving lanes that Shumpert’s isolation skills and raw athleticism were able to exploit.  Then D’Antoni resigned, Lin got hurt, and Woodson’s iso-Melo offense took hold.   And iso-Melo is decidedly not iso-Shump.  It’s a system where catch-and-shooters thrive and, though a hot March saw a spike in Shumpert’s shooting numbers, there is nothing in his college or pro stats before or since that indicate it to be anything but an anomaly.  Maybe when Lin comes back next year he’ll get some of that off-the-ball magic going again.  But in the long run, this is Melo’s offense and Shump best learn to thrive in it.  Which means as soon as that knee is healed up, get thee to a gymnasium for 500 threes a day.

DEFENSE: I cop to being a little bit stumped (Shumped?  No?  You want me to leave now?  Sorry, two more paragraphs); I have the same eyes as the rest of you and it doesn’t look like he’s doing anything wrong.  I do think he can get caught trying to jump lanes and over-help when teammates miss assignments.  I have seen him close out on stray would-be shooters only to have them make the extra pass to the player that Shumpert left behind.  I think it’s really just a matter of his knee coming all the way back (not a given, but his age and body type profile would seem to be ideal) and him getting more used to the NBA game (which should not be a problem).

The most recent data point in a startling run of Knick drafting competence, Iman Shumpert had an encouraging rookie year in which he showed incredible promise on the defensive end of the ball and the requisite athleticism to be a plus offensive player if utilized and developed properly.  If he was a bit overrated, it was only because of the excitement that comes with watching a player whose youth and explosiveness can at times make his potential seem limitless.  Depending on the success of his recovery from major knee surgery, Shumpert’s rookie season will either stand as a first glimpse of potential that has yet to be fully harnessed or a burst of brilliance that was never allowed to be completely realized.  No matter how the future plays out, this was a strong debut by an unheralded prospect that has left us all unafraid to ask for more.

Grades (5 point scale):

Offense: 2

Defense: 4

Teamwork: 4

Rootability: 4

Performance/Expectations: 4

Final Grade: 3.6