What does hiring Jeff Hornacek mean for the Knicks?

Stunned.

That was my reaction when I saw this tweet from Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck:

Until about a week ago I was convinced Knicks president Phil Jackson was going to remove the interim tag and keep Kurt Rambis on a full time basis. The other choices seemed to be David Blatt, Frank Vogel and Hornacek. I would have bet all my money (so pretty much nothing) on either of the two not named Hornacek.

A litte bit of background here. I live in Phoenix and I covered the Suns on a semi-regular basis during Hornacek’s two years and change with the organization. I’ve interviewed him during the draft workout process, at practices, plus before and after games. Hornacek was always open and honest regarding his philosophies and the players on the roster.

Even with all of this exposure to him I’m not totally sure what to make of the hire.

Hornacek’s time with the Suns got off to a tremendous start when they overachieved in 2013-14 going 48-34 and just missing the playoffs. They were even better than those 48 wins too. Phoenix was 28-15 with Eric Bledsoe in the lineup and 20-19 when he wasn’t, and he Suns ranked eighth offensively (offensive rating per 100 possessions) and 13th defensively.

While everyone remembers the Suns falling apart due to chemistry issues the following year, what people forget is they started off 28-20, and were 29-25 before dealing Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas at the trade deadline. From that point forward, the Suns cratered, finishing the season 10-18.

In Hornacek’s first 136 games his record stood at 77-59 (.566 win-percentage) and in his final 77 he went 24-53 (.311 win-percentage).

What makes Jackson picking Hornacek strange isn’t his time ending with the Suns poorly — it’s more that he’s the exact opposite of the type of coach you’d expect Jackson would put in charge to carry out his vision. To wit, reports from pretty much every single person on the Knicks beat have already surfaced that they will no longer be running the full blown triangle on offense. That makes sense if you’re going forward with Hornacek as your head coach.

His offenses in Phoenix were based around dribble penetration and spacing. Hornacek never cared about traditional positional designations. He played two point guards and sometimes even three, he’d play a power forward at center, a small forward at power forward and so on. One of the biggest reasons the 13-14 team had success was the 750 minutes Channing Frye and Markieff Morris played together.  They put up a 115.4 ORtg and 103.8 DRtg.

I bring up that specific pair due to New York having Kristaps Porzingis and Carmelo Anthony. The Knicks duo can bring the same type of offensive spacing only with more versatility offensively and a rim protecting big the Suns twosome lacked. This will make the game easier for a dribble-drive guard like Jerian Grant as he enters his second-year, who will also undoubtedly be utilized in pick and roll more with Porzingis than he was last season.

Let’s be clear here, Hornacek believes in modern offensive tenets, but this he’s not going to turn the Knicks into the Houston Rockets. The Suns did rank fifth and 11th in threes taken per 100 possessions during Hornacek’s first two seasons, but they didn’t completely ignore the mid-range game.

In an interview with Zach Lowe, then of Grantland, Hornacek described his thoughts on shot locations:

Oh, yeah. We gotta get rid of that long 2. I’m not opposed to the middle jumper, in that 15- or 16-foot range. I think all but two teams that were in the playoffs, their effective field goal percentages were above 51 percent. If you can shoot 15-footers and shoot 52 percent, OK, you’re beating the average. You can’t totally discount those shots.

Right. We’ll take a look at it all. But the ones we have to eliminate are the ones that are within 4 or 5 feet of the 3-point line. Those are low-percentage shots worth two points.

Hornacek will play to the talent he has on the court. Robin Lopez and Anthony will still get post up opportunities. New York will still utilize Anthony’s mid-range game just in smaller doses and Porzingis won’t become one-trick pony. The modern tendencies Hornacek held on offense also transferred to the defensive end. His defensive assistant was Mike Longabardi, a Tom Thibodeau disciple.

I’d put the Suns average to below average rankings during Hornacek’s time more on the personnel than the scheme. Miles Plumee had a good 35-40 games and then fell off a cliff, Alex Len was too young, and Tyson Chandler’s legs were dead — the Suns never had a quality defensive anchor at the center position.

Lopez and Porzingis immediately become the two best defensive big men Hornacek has had the opportunity to coach. The Knicks should make strides as the playing time decreases for the laterally challenged Jose Calderon and Arron Afflalo (hopefully) opts out.

There’s nothing about Hornacek strategically to think he’d hold them back if they put the proper pieces in place.

Hey! This all seems extremely positive so what could go wrong?

Well, it can’t be ignored how the Suns weren’t able to build on Hornacek’s first season. While Hornacek wasn’t exactly put in a position to succeed, he also wasn’t able to get players to fully buy into what he was selling.

Dragic and Kieff both demanded trades, the defense regressed from year one to year two, and in year three everything fell horribly apart. It’s hard to get a feel for how much of this was Hornacek’s fault versus the front office struggling to communicate straight forward plans when roster moves were made. No players ever had anything bad to say about Hornacek–and that includes Morris–but their actions on the court didn’t always match their words.

It’s possible the Suns were just an ill-fitting team with flaws no head coach was going to be able to get through. It’s also possible the players specifically tuned out Hornacek’s message at times and he needs to get better at finding ways to bring out their best more consistently. These are the type of observations about coaching that are impossible to get a read on unless you’re inside how a team is operating.

The Knicks answered one question by preparing to hire Hornacek as their head coach. Now we wait for the answers to all the others.

The Perception of Phil Jackson Matters

Knicks president Phil Jackson has once again garnered attention for his unconventional ways.

The Zen Master is taking a leisurely trip to Montana as New York sits around with no head coach in place and the draft plus free agency rapidly approaching.

I asked ESPN’s Amin Elhassan, who used to work in the Suns front office, when is the typical time for front office executives go to go on vacation and this was his response: 

There’s an argument to be made none of this shit matters. Jackson’s a normal human and like any other person has the right to do what he pleases. 

Maybe in the end everything works out and Knicks fans can look back at the strange way he goes about his business with a good laugh. 

General manager Steve Mills, the scouting staff, and even Jackson himself are all probably putting in the necessary work to be prepared for an important offseason. 

The problem with the above is perception matters and the optics of Jackson going away at this time are poor. That can’t be argued whether you’re ok with the road trip or not. 

The Knicks don’t have a head coach and as teams like the Rockets and Kings are looking in every direction — Carmelo Anthony is literally begging New York to do the same with it falling on deaf ears. 

Teams across the league are starting to conduct workouts to get ready for July’s draft. I’m sure the Knicks will be in the future too even though they don’t have a pick, but why not start now? 

As the top man in the basketball operations department Jackson sets a tone for everyone else. 

Most people have worked a job where their boss didn’t lead by example and understands the trickle down effect it can bring.  

There’s an expectation of players, coaches and front office personnel to use their own time to be properly prepared for next season. 

What’s the illustration Jackson draws by stepping away at this time? 

Not to mention how it looks across the league. 

Jackson is the man sitting at the head of the table as the Knicks try to recruit free agents when essentially the entire league is going to be flush with cap space. 

The last thing the Knicks need is for their point man to have a reputation of being aloof and stubborn — this is dangerously close to happening if it hasn’t already. 

Most of Jackson’s actions are harmless in a vacuum, but what he’s doing is making selling the Knicks to others harder. 

Jackson’s responsible for creating an image of the Knicks franchise that’s attractive and for a little bit it looked like he was. There was an aura of normalcy, a separation of Dolan and the state. 

Being a president of an NBA team is bigger than putting a roster together. You need to be in tune with the operation from top to bottom. 

And Jackson very well might be, but it’s hard to imagine from the view we’re getting on the outside. 

Jackson’s the singular person responsible for creating that perception. 

 

Cut to the Chase Episode 39: Mike Kurylo on the Knicks

It’s been a while since I’ve written here, but I’m back and happy to share the most-recent episode of my podcast that features Mike Kurylo.

In the episode, we talk about the state of the New York Knicks, whether the team should trade Carmelo Anthony, what’s going on with Phil Jackson, what the team should do this summer, Kristaps Porzingis, and much more.

Here are three ways you can listen to the episode:

SoundCloud:

Libsyn:

iTunes:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/episode-39-mike-kurylo-uncle/id1050517561?i=365191807&mt=2

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.

Why the New York Knicks Made a Mistake not Keeping Maurice Ndour

I’ve been quite vocal about the New York Knicks decision to not keep undrafted rookie Maurice Ndour in the fold.

According to Ian Begley of ESPN New York, Ndour received a three-year contract from the Dallas Mavericks, year one fully guaranteed, second year partial and third year not guaranteed. President of basketball operations Phil Jackson and general manager Steve Mills decided it was too rich for them.

I disagree with this sentiment as I see the 23-year-old out of Ohio University as someone with the attributes and baseline skills worth a potential low risk/high reward minimal investment.

Before the Knicks signed Ndour to their Las Vegas Summer League team I had never heard of him. When news of the signing broke I headed to his page at draftexpress.com, and learned at the Portsmouth predraft camp he measured at 6’8’ without shoes, plus had a 7’4’ wingspan and 9’1’ standing reach.

According to sport-reference.com, Ndour’s senior season with the Bobcats was only one of four since 1996-1997 to average over one steal, two blocks, shoot over 40% from three and 75% at the free throw line.

The other three?

Shane Battier twice and Danny Granger once.

This was the first video I watched of Ndour playing.

You never want to take much form a highlight video, but between the physical attributes, stats and a tiny bit of YouTube viewing Ndour became someone I wanted to watch a little closer when New York entered summer league action.

It’s important to note how I go about watching these type of exhibition games. The way I analyze summer league goes against my typical process of coming to conclusions regarding basketball. In this setting I ignore all statistics. I couldn’t tell you any team or individual stat from the New York’s time in Las Vegas. I simply look for skills I think can be transferable to successful NBA careers understanding the context of the competition.

Within seconds of Ndour stepping on the court for his first action in the Knicks opening game against the Spurs he created a positive impression.

A simple alley-oop dunk, filling the lane on a delayed fast break might not seem like anything to get excited about, but let me remind you the Knicks averaged the least amount of fast break points per game last season at 8.8 (per 100 possessions) and had the fifth least total dunks as a team (213).

Athleticism with the ability to get easy baskets is a trait New York’s roster desperately needs, yet more exciting was Ndour showing off a more polished offensive game than I expected in the half court.

He was able to knock down mid range jumpers off the catch.

Couple of important points here:

  • Note the arc and touch on the jumper.
  • Wingspan is often thought off when it comes to defense (getting to that later), but it’s also a factor on offense. This was a highly contested shot and it doesn’t matter because of Ndour’s release point and massively long arms.

Based on the college free throw and three-point shooting to see him shoot well from 12 to 18 feet wasn’t much of a surprise. What caught me off guard was the creating/shooting off the dribble, body control when attacking the rim and the passing.

Step-Back Jumper

This is another contested shot he is able to get off for the reasons listed above. As with most of the offensive production in the Philadelphia game some it has to be taken with a grain of salt because it’s getting accomplished versus slow-footed defenders Ndour wouldn’t deal with in a regular season NBA game. The fact he’s able to flash this type of ability in this setting is still a positive for his long-term prospects.

What A Dreamy Shake!

Being able to beat Furkan Aldemir off the dribble isn’t any sort of special accomplishment — Ndour attacking the rim with his left (off-hand) and having the patience, plus foot work to pull off that type of high-level move still does stand out.

Finishing As The Dive Man In Pick and Roll

As much as Ndour worked as the pick man and diving in PnR during these games he didn’t get much of a chance to showcase his finishing ability in these situations. Jerian Grant, Langston Galloway, Cleanthony Early and Ricky Ledo didn’t do a great job seeking out Ndour for many opportunities running PnR.

Once again you see a sense of patience he has in a crowded area that I wouldn’t expect from someone in Ndour’s position. He catches, gathers, uses a slight hesitation move to get Larry Nance Jr. off the ground and finishes around Julius Randle.

Ndour flashed the ability to score buckets in a variety of ways and then he also did a tremendous job setting up his teammates. I’d say this was the most shocking attribute considering his 1.6 to 2.9 AST/TO ratio during his senior season at Ohio.

What jumps out in this specific play and most of Ndour’s passing is the decisiveness. He isn’t holding onto the ball for long, it’s quick decision making leading to positive plays. For this example, it’s a solid read out of PnR, while up next you see him do a great job on a prototypical triangle action.

Another perfect, fundamental read without having the ball in his hands for even a full second. These plays are getting made with limited practice time to get comfortable working with teammates he’s never stepped foot on a court with before.

All of this offensive skill is a nice bonus, but where Ndour can derive his real value in the NBA is on the defensive end. He is not only fluid navigating the court offensively, he moves well laterally and is cognizant of team defensive concepts.

Ndour’s foot speed and length brings the potential for the rare combination of being able to defend wings, bigs and provide rim protection.

During the Spurs game, Kyle Anderson gave Ndour the business a little bit and he had some trouble with James McAdoo and Kevon Looney in the Warriors matchup, but there are many tools to work with here.

That’s not some summer league scrub Ndour ate up and spit out, mind you. That was a former lottery pick in Kentucky’s Julius Randle. Ndour was able to push him towards the baseline and when Randle tried to overpower him to get a better angle at the rim he failed miserably. You know what’s good about having 9’1’ standing reach? Sometimes jumping isn’t necessary and you can still tell your opponent to get the hell out of here.

Randle wasn’t the only lottery pick to find himself in a bad position against Ndour.

Yup, that was Jahlil Okafor, the number-three overall pick in the 2015 draft. Ndour almost swatted him with his wrist.

And yes, you’d be well within your rights to scoff and mutter something to the effect of, “Randle and Okafor aren’t that athletic from a vertical jumping stand point so I’m not all that impressed.” Fair enough, but…

1)

2)

3)

There aren’t many 6’8’ players with the ability to protect the rim from the weak side and then shut down entire possessions using different skills like this:

It starts with Ndour cutting off the possibility of dribble penetration out of the PnR by Jordan Clarkson and a quick recovery to Nance Jr. Even with a foot on the foul line, he’s able to use his length to deflect the ball out of Nance’s hands despite him having both of his feet outside the top of the key. Once Nance finally gets the ball back he tries to create a shot for himself and isn’t able to get a clean look due to Ndour beating him to his spots with lateral quickness. He also closes out the possession getting the rebound.

Ndour’s work on the boards is solid at both ends. He’s not afraid to mix it up boxing out and does a good job trying to grab the ball at its peak. I’d like to see him improve corralling boards on the offensive glass where he seemed to get his hands on a lot chances, but wasn’t able to finish off the play.

His length also allows him room for error when he makes mistakes.

On this possession Ndour gets overaggressive and a little jumpy. This is a pattern and a flaw that needs some work. Because of Ndour’s wingspan he’s able to get away with it as he uses his length to deflect the ball away from Nance trying to dribble into the paint.

Another place where Ndour’s foot speed and length comes in handy is defending the pick and roll, especially with how the Knicks like to “ice” them.

His size and speed allows him to cover and cut off space many don’t have the ability too. Ndour makes this look extremely easy, but it really isn’t. Part of the issue is poor spacing by the Golden State, but Ndour’s positioning put a stop to any possibility of a dribble attack. Even against more in-sync offense he’s going to be able to limit passing angles as he leverages his arms in smart ways. Ndour immediately locks back in on his man after Grant recovers almost causing a turnover with his anticipation before a foul was called.

Ndour’s play on both ends made him the best player on the Knicks summer league team. He showed more upside and well-rounded skills than Cleanthony Early, Travis Wear and Thanasis Antetokounmpo. Ndour expanded and took his game to a point outside the bubble he’s going to be asked to operate on an actual NBA roster. Situations arise in a game based around a 24-second shot clock where you’re forced into pushing past what your role is specified to be. Ndour constructing the ability to handle more than shooting open jump shots on offense gives hope three or four years down the line he might have a little bit more in him.

On the defensive end he needs to keep fine tuning and learning how to use his physical gifts. Ndour can get caught ball watching and can try to do too much. This is more preferable to a player who is oblivious to what’s going on around him — Ndour has the right intent and in time can grasp a better understanding of the balance necessary to perform within a defensive scheme.

Finding high-level talent in the second-round or undrafted can fundamentally change the way you’re able to build a team. We saw it happen with the Houston Rockets and Chandler Parsons, and this is why the Philadelphia 76ers operate like they do now with second round picks.

For years the Knicks have spent stupidly and irresponsibly. It’s without question a positive that Jackson and Mills are showing more restraint. They’ve also shown a weird penchant for being cheap in an unnecessary way around the margins. Dealing a future second-round pick instead of buying out Travis Outlaw was a strange move. Yes, you can buy another second round pick with ease, but there’s no limit to how many of them you can have — the more the better.

With roster spots open and roster spots filled by players clearly less talented than Ndour, to lose him over what probably amounts to under 1% of what the 2016-2017 salary cap is a ridiculous decision.

At best you found an under the radar steal with the defensive ability that fits perfectly next to your star in Carmelo Anthony.

At worst you buy him out for pennies and could add a player on a veteran minimum salary for more than you’re paying to waive Ndour.

This was a chance worth taking for the New York Knicks and they blew it.

The Too Soon Re-Evaluation of the Tyson Chandler Trade

With the New York Knicks failing miserably and Tyson Chandler shining back with the Dallas Mavericks, Phil Jackson’s decision to move on has started to draw heavy criticism.

Understanding when the best time to part with a core member of a once successful team is a hard decision to make. Many factors need to be weighed and there isn’t a sure outcome no matter how much of a slam dunk or a miss the move seems to look like at the time.

The 32-year-old Chandler (31 at time of the deal) was entering the final year of his contract. For various reasons it was hard to see the anchor of New York’s defense being with the team past this season. Jackson had a time frame consisting of the offseason going all the way to the trade deadline to try to get the highest value he could for his center, or risk losing him for nothing, barring a sign and trade.

The sign and trade aspect gets complicated with the unknown of the CBA — there are shorter contracts and more teams having money available to use during free agency. A team is typically only going to make an S&T deal if they’re financially restricted. There’s no reason to give up any sort of an asset for a player they can acquire for just money.

For this season there’s no doubt the Chandler deal looks like a disaster, but that’s not the reason the trade was completed. A more hurtful outcome for the franchise would have been losing Tyson for nothing like the Lakers did with Pau Gasol or Miami did with LeBron James.

Jose Calderon is a NBA level rotation player, on a reasonable $7-plus million contract that runs through 2016-2017. If Jackson feels Calderon ends up being a hindrance to what he’s trying to do he can always be traded at some point.

Samuel Dalembert was a filler and has no long-term harm.

Shane Larkin was a shot at a young guard and will have no impact going forward if they decide to part ways this summer. If the two sides decide to come together on a deal hopefully that means he’s proven to be a quality, two-way guard off the bench. He’s shown flashes of this, but there’s still a long way to come to this determination.

You also have two complete unknowns in Cleanthony Early and Thanasis Antetokounmpo. If one of them ends up as an NBA rotation player you take it and run.

The difference between this deal and many of the past was not killing off future flexibility despite the addition of Calderon’s guaranteed salary. New York still has plenty of cap space to maximize this summer in a potential variety of ways.

There’s always the argument of opportunity cost. The question has been raised should have Jackson waited to try and raise Chandler’s value since he was coming off a down season?

This option is far from a no-brainer and would have come with significant risk.

In 2013-2014 Chandler only played in 55 games. In 2012-2013 Chandler participated in 66 games. During 13-14 he hurt himself in the fourth game of the season. In 12-13 his body became so broken down by the end of the year he was a shell of himself when New York needed him most in the playoffs.

If New York decided to hold onto Tyson and he gets hurt before the trade deadline they end up losing him for nothing. Some will argue this was a risk worth taking, but Jackson’s decision to play it safe was a logical move.

The other positive from this deal is turning out to be an unintended consequence. Despite what looked like a middling roster, because of being in the Eastern Conference, it was at least thought the Knicks could be somewhat respectable topping out in the low 40s to high 30s or at worst winning in the low 30s.

This is not what’s happened and New York is in prime position to get a top three pick in a draft littered with talented big men.

Intentional or unintentional the Knicks are headed down a path to get a building block they desperately need. If they kept Chandler and he played at a reasonably decent level there’s not a chance New York is in this position.

The Milwaukee Bucks and Cleveland Cavaliers didn’t choose to be bad last year, but it ended up being a positive for them. Milwaukee was able to land Jabari Parker with the second pick and Cleveland turned the top selection into Kevin Love.

Maybe for once the Knicks have gotten some luck and they did something brilliant completely by accident.

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.