J.R. Smith Has “Basketball” Explained to Him

Ace ESPN New York scribe Ohm Youngmisuk has a new article out on ESPN.com, wherein he transcribes various discussions he’s had with various Knicks’ personnel that suggest that one Earl Joseph Smith — presumably some 20+ years into the organized-basketball-playing portion of his mortal life — has come to understand some nuances of the sport that had previously escaped him.  Like “your team gets points when other people wearing the same color shirt as you put the orange thingy through that netty job” and “try to defend someone sometimes.”  We’ll take this one FJM style:

The adjustment to the triangle offense has been “a struggle” for J.R. Smith, and it isn’t just because the system is foreign to him.

Is it because he’s a crazy person?  I bet it’s because he’s a crazy person.  Let’s find out.

A candid Smith admitted that he must alter his shooter mentality and wrap his mind around the team-first concept being preached by Knicks coach Derek Fisher and president Phil Jackson.

“…and every other coach he’s ever had but whose lectures about team basketball he missed because he was imagining what it would be like if halfcourt shots were worth 40 points.”

And it hasn’t been the smoothest transition for the former Sixth Man of the Year, who has been trying not to force shots.

J.R. Smith last season: 14.2 FGA/36; .415 FG%; .514 eFG%; 3.3 Assists/36

J.R. Smith this preseason: 14.9 FGA/36; .392 FG%; .490 eFG%; 3.5 Assists/36

Go on…

“Yeah, absolutely,” Smith said when asked if he has had to make a conscious effort to play differently. “I mean, believe it or not, being the type of player I’ve been, it’s a struggle. I’m not going to lie.”

I believe that you are not lying about this.

“Trying to think about the rest of the team over myself or my scoring is something that I never really had to do before,” Smith continued.

I do not believe that you are not lying about this because I have seen Knicks’ games before and the result is not determined by comparing “JR Smith points” to “Opposing team points.”

“I’ve always been in a situation to score, [now I’m] in position to take my time and let the game come and let my teammates succeed more than myself, I think that’s the ultimate win.”

It’s not actually the “ultimate” win.  It’s just “winning.”  That’s what you call it when your team outscores the other team.  Also, this is not unique to the triangle and, thus, not germane to a discussion of what is new this season.

The Knicks’ adjustment to the triangle, not just physically but mentally, will take time.

JR Smith somehow not knowing that “team offense is important” is basically agnostic as to any particular offensive system but, OK, I’m with you.

It has not been easy so far in the preseason for the Knicks,

Accurate as to effect.

who also have had to deal with injuries to Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calderon.

Inaccurate as to cause.

Smith admitted his struggles after scoring five points in 23 minutes in a 103-100 win over the Wizards on Wednesday night.

A game in which he actually did take fewer shots and had a passable .500 eFG% AND the Knicks beat a good team.  So, if this is an example of his “struggles” then he (or someone else) fundamentally misunderstands the thing that the first 2/3 of the article says he’s been spending the preseason learning.

This preseason, Smith is averaging 8.5 points and shooting 39 percent from the field in six preseason games. Smith said Fisher has explained why the team-first mentality that comes with the triangle works.

This is admirable, despite how odd it seems to me that he actually needs to be told this.

Fisher says the project of installing the triangle and the overhaul in mentality will not happen overnight.

“You know J.R. like many players, this is difficult to do,” Fisher said at practice Thursday. “Last night, we talked about we’re not just installing new software to the computer. We’re building a computer from scratch, and that’s not easy to do.”

Especially when one of the cores in the computer’s processor has spent the last 20 years being programmed to use all system resources to run GIFs of J.R. Smith hitting contested threes.

When Jackson took over as team president of the Knicks, one of his major goals was to develop a new culture and way of thinking in the franchise. Like he did with his previous stops with the Bulls and Lakers, Jackson wants his players to think about the team first, shedding all individualistic tendencies.

W/R/T the Bulls: Who besides Jordan had “individualistic tendencies” before Jackson’s arrival?  Did he really have to convince Craig Hodges to stop being a black hole?

W/R/T the Lakers: Kobe and Shaq destroyed a dynasty that still had legs, largely through those “individualistic tendencies.”

Don’t get me wrong, Jackson does a great job managing egos.  But this is stated a bit too strongly.  Also: all non-Craig Hodges players listed above are top-15 all time NBA players.  J.R. Smith might be a top-15 2014 Eastern Conference wing player.

In an interview with Charley Rosen for ESPN.com, Jackson said Smith has to improve his shot selection and trust the triangle.

“J.R. Smith is easily the best athlete on the team,” Jackson said. “But J.R. has to learn the difference between a good shot and a bad shot. He has to trust that the triangle will create good shots and to avoid searching for his own shot.

“His defense also needs work because he tends to be a ball-watcher, and he’s late in chasing his man around screens when he should be tailgating him,” Jackson added. “Defense is the key to any winning team, so Smith has to really work hard on his deficiencies in training camp.”

100% of these things were also true before this season but if the triangle construct actually helps Phil get through to him on this point then more power to him and all the more reason it’s a great hire.

Carmelo Anthony wants Smith to know he is not alone in this transition or “test” as the Knicks’ franchise star described it.

“I don’t think it’s a struggle for J.R.,” said Anthony, who scored 30 points and beat the Wizards with a shot and the foul for a game-winning, 3-point play with 13.9 seconds on Wednesday. “It’s something new for everybody. It’s a test. It’s a new system. … I can just put my arm around him and tell him be patient.”

“It’s going to work itself out,” Anthony added. “And the more we play, the more we’re going to get used to this system, the more we’re going to find where he can be productive, I can be productive, everybody can be productive.”

Anthony made it clear that he needs Smith this season.

“It’s easy to feel like you’re kind of left out of what’s going on, [but] everybody is going through the same thing,” Anthony said. “He’ll be all right. It’s preseason. We need him. He knows we need him. We know we need him. He’s a big part of what we’re trying to do.”

No snark here: I LOVE this passage.  It’s what we need from Melo.  He just committed the rest of his prime to this franchise and this is perhaps the single best quote I’ve seen in his time here indicating that he plans to embrace his role as the leader of this team from every angle.  Awesome.

Less than a week, everybody!

 

Recapping the Draft: How Did the Knicks Do?

Getty Images.

The “Knicks” and “draft picks” have been used in the same sentence as sparingly as “Knicks” and “contenders” in recent years, but Phil Jackson has already started a sea chang  thanks to the trade that sent Tyson Chandler to Dallas. In the deal, the Knicks got two second-round picks, and Phil elected to use both of those selections to upgrade the Knicks depth at small and power forward–something the Knicks are  going to need if Carmelo Anthony doesn’t re-sign .

Phil may not have been successful in finding a trade partner to get into the first round, but two second-round picks are better than zero picks, which was the expected scenario up until a week ago. No matter who the Knicks ended up with on draft night, it was nice just be included in the festivities again.

With the No.34 pick, Phil took SF/PF Cleanthony Early out of Wichita State. Early had first-round talent, but fell into the Knicks lap due to some reaches during picks 20-30 that had fans scurrying to Draft Express (Bruno Caboclo? Josh Heustis?)

Early shares an almost identical frame as former Los Angeles Laker forward Devean George — both are 6’8 and weighed in around 220 lbs entering the league. George was an important role player during Phil’s Laker years, so if Phil and Derek Fisher can mold Early into the same type of player in the Triangle, that’s a home run for an early second-round pick.

Early only played two seasons for the Shockers, but they were memorable ones for those that follow college basketball. Sure, the Shockers fell short of expectations in March, but it definitely wasn’t due to Early’s performance. Early had a very impressive 62.7 True Shooting Percentage this past season, up from 56.5 percent during his freshman season, per sports-reference.com. Early’s numbers improved in 2-point field goal percentage, 3-point field goal percentage, free throw percentage and points per game in his sophomore season, which should be a good indicator of things to come.

To be clear, Early’s not going to be an adequate replacement for Melo if he ends up signing elsewhere this summer, but Early does figure to be a solid rotation player for the Knicks for a long time regardless of what other star or stars dot the roster, and that’s all you can really hope for out of second-round picks. Getting a modern-day Devean George (or James Posey 2.0 if you’re feeling particularly optimistic) may not be the most exciting thing in the world in a vacuum, but for the Knicks and the culture Phil is trying to instill that’s more-than-solid start.

I’ll probably never be able to properly spell his name without a solid internet connection, but I can deal with that if the Greek Freek’s older brother, and New York’s other second-round pick, Thanasis Antetokounmpo, is anywhere near as exciting and electric a talent as Giannis proven to be.

The bad news? The only time Knicks fans might get to see Thanasis in a Knicks uniform this season will be during Summer League. According to Marc Berman of the New York Post, the Knicks 51st pick in the draft may play next season in Greece depending on how he plays in Las Vegas. 

Six-foot-six Thanasis Antetokounmpo, the 21-year-old defensive specialist whom the Knicks drafted with the 51st pick, may play next season in Greece, where there is interest from teams. He will play in the summer league for the Knicks in July and they will decide if he’s ready after.

The older brother of the Bucks’ Giannis, he played for the D-League’s Delaware franchise but is said to be raw offensively.

With the Knicks purchasing their own D-League team in Westchester earlier this year, one would think the better long-term solution would be for the Knicks to have Thanasis spend the 2014-15 season learning the Knicks’ system in Westchester.  Thanasis did just that last season with the Delaware 87ers. From a Knicks-centric perspective, it would seem that learning the intricacies of the offense (and Westchester will definitely be running something involving a geometric shape) would be preferable. But there’s a big difference between what New York can pay and the salaries in the top Greek Pro League. Thanasis may decide that he can have his baklava and eat it to. I.e. work on his game and get that paper at the same time.

In any case, like his brother, Thanasis is a defensive-minded forward, but he’s much more limited on the offensive end of the floor. With Delaware, Thanasis averaged 14.8 ppg per 36 minutes, but he shot 30.9 percent from 3-point land and 66.7 percent from the charity stripe. If Thanasis can develop a league-average 3-point shot, especially from the corner, along with upping his percentage at the free-throw line a bit, he could eventually be another intriguing rotation wing for the Knicks long-term.

Phil may not have been able to wiggle his way into the first round, but he still did very well by ending up with two talents bursting with athleticism and upside in Early and Antetokounmpo the Older.

Yay? Yay!

2014 NBA Draft Open Thread: The Knicks Have Picks!

Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images

The 2014 NBA Draft takes place tonight at the Barclays Center at 7:30 EST. Earlier this week it appeared like a longshot the Knicks would be involved in the Draft tonight in any capacity, but the the Knicks-Mavs trade from yesterday included two second-round picks from the Mavericks at No.34 and No.51.

It’s been reported that Phil really wants to get into the first round, but we shall see if he can pull it off shortly.

Enjoy!

New York Knicks Coaching Roundup, Part 3: Brian Shaw And Friends

Juan Ocampo/Getty Images

If you looked up “Phil Jackson” in the Urban Dictionary (do not look up Phil Jackson in the Urban Dictionary) I imagine the definition would essentially read “winning.” Phil Jackson has won a lot of championships, and so he’s become synonymous with winning. Even though it’s a bit of a tautology, It’s a reputation he, himself, has earned, but one his protégés have not.

Phil’s coaching tree is more like a Whomping Willow which includes: Kurt Rambis, Jim Cleamons, Bill Cartwright, Frank Hamblen and…Brian Shaw. The jury is still out on Shaw’s coaching acumen, but turning a 50-plus-win team into a 36-win team isn’t a great first impression. But that’s what makes the Brian Shaw to New York situation so interesting. Why are the Nuggets dead-set on holding onto a Phil Jackson’s young squires when the rest of the branches the tree has a combined winning percentage of 46 percent?

Whenever a head coach or a manager is traded–which is a very rare occurrence–they’ve typically already established themselves as elite coaches or managers either by winning a championship(s) or just winning a lot of games. That is not the case here. You trade draft picks and cash for elite head coaches like Doc Rivers or Stan Van Gundy or Tom Thibodeau. But you can’t do that for somebody like Shaw, and it looks like the Knicks, outside of Phil, understand that.

Still, being able to trade coaches is weird. It’s weird because you can’t trade players for coaches, but you can trade cash and draft picks (which turn into players) for them. It’s also usually an awkward situation that is littered with organizational drama (see: Gruden, Jon and Rivers, Doc.) It’s typically not a good look for you organization if your head coach is trying to get traded to another team, which is another reason it’s such a rare occurrence.

The Knicks want Shaw, but they don’t have the assets to get him. For the Clippers to get Doc they had give up a 2015 first-round pick that was unprotected. The Orlando Magic had to give up multiple draft picks and cash to the Miami Heat for Van Gundy, and he had already been replaced in Miami. Trading for a guy with only one year of head coaching experience and sub-.500 record shouldn’t require a team to give up multiple draft picks and cash. Sure, it’s a small sample, but Shaw is not the hot commodity he once was when he was an assistant in Indiana. The Knicks would be foolish to give up anything but cash to bring him aboard (although that’s also their only option).

The Knicks aren’t the only team trying to trade for another team’s head coach, but they’re not swinging for the fences (more like just trying to get on base) like the Memphis Grizzlies and Minnesota Timberwolves are. The Grizzlies reportedly want to make a major play for Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, while the Timberwolves are in deep discussions to trade for current Grizzlies head coach Dave Joerger. Yes, it’s as confusing as it sounds.

As confusing and as crazy as those situations are, it’s still easy to see why both teams are making the choices they are. Stealing Thibodeau away from Chicago would be a major coup for Memphis. Flip Saunders needs to make a major splash to try and make a last-ditch effort to convince Kevin Love to stay — Joerger qualifies as a major splash. Giving up a couple of draft picks and cash for an elite coach(s) when your roster looks like Memphis’ or Minnesota’s that’s OK. When your roster looks like the Knicks’, it’s not OK. Shaw isn’t the answer in New York, but Thibodeau and Joerger could be in Memphis and Minnesota.

Phil appears to be dead-set on hiring a head coach that he can mentor and mold. Perhaps that potential synergy between GM and head coach is what finally turns Phil’s coaching tree around. Maybe Shaw can still be an elite head coach in this league if he has Phil around to guide him once again. It was clear that the current Nuggets roster doesn’t mesh with Shaw’s vision, but how long are the Nuggets and/or Shaw willing to wait turn that vision into reality? If Shaw doesn’t turn it around next season, would it really be that shocking if the Nuggets decided to fire him? I tend to think no, especially when you look at the Golden State situation, because head coaches in this league typically have a very small window of time to make significant progress.

Brian Shaw is probably not going to be the next head coach of the New York Knicks, and that’s OK. The Nuggets have all the leverage, and the Knicks don’t have the assets to make it happen. That’s also OK. This is perhaps the one instance that the Knicks’ lack of draft picks is a good thing because it’d be a mistake to give up multiple draft picks for a head coach with his track record.

Shaw and Phil could be great together in New York, but so could Fisher and Phil — without the cost. However, wrestling Fisher away from the Oklahoma City Thunder could also be a challenge for Phil. According to Sam Amick of USA Today, Fisher could return to the Thunder next season as a player/assistant in a role similar to Juwan Howard’s role in Miami. It’s a win-win situation for Fisher. He either stays in Oklahoma City to get some coaching experience with a franchise that adores him, or goes to New York where Phil would also love to have him. Fisher can’t lose, but the Knicks can.

Then there is Tyronn Lue, an assistant under Doc Rivers in Los Angeles, who you would think would jump at the opportunity for the Knicks’ head coaching position, if he’s offered the gig. Lue is just 37-years-old and has played and coached under Phil Jackson, Rivers, Jeff Van Gundy and other great current and former head coaches in this league. Of course, Lue, like all the other Knicks’ head-coaching candidates, is an unknown, simply because he hasn’t been a head coach in this league. If Fisher elects to return to Oklahoma City, you would expect Phil to turn Lue. It may not be a sexy hire, but you could argue Lue is the most qualified candidate of the bunch.

I have no idea which route the Knicks are ultimately going to take, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say the Knicks’ next head coach will be one of Phil’s former point guards.

New York Knicks Coaching Roundup, Part 2

We’re closing in on a month since Steve Kerr to the Knicks watch first began, but the Knicks and Kerr have been unable to reach an agreement as of this moment.

As many expected, Kerr didn’t immediately take the Knicks job once it became available. Kerr is the hottest head coach candidate on the market, so he’s taking his time. The Golden State Warriors job is reportedly his if he wants it, and the Utah Jazz have also been rumored to be interested in him. The Warriors job is the best head coaching job available, but it doesn’t appear as though Kerr is heading to the Bay Area.

Rather than choosing a coaching job close to home, like Golden State or Utah, it appears working with Phil in New York is too compelling of an opportunity to pass up.

Marc Berman of the New York Post reported on May 9 that the Knicks are OK with Kerr completing his contractual obligations with TNT, but a deal could be finalized by May 12.

Speaking of contracts, Berman reports that money is the only obstacle remaining before Kerr signs on to become the next Knicks’ head coach.

“Kerr’s agent is Mike Tannenbaum, the former Jets general manager. It is believed Tannenbaum is seeking a five-year deal for Kerr, the same length as Jackson’s.

It is also believed Kerr is seeking a similar financial deal as Mike D’Antoni had when he inked a four-year, $24 million pact with the Knicks in 2008. Jackson and owner James Dolan might have to overpay to get Kerr to move across the country.”

So it looks like the original plan of bringing in Kerr to do Phil’s bidding is what’s ultimately going to happen.

Get excited, maybe?

Knicks Finalizing a Deal to Hire Steve Kerr

According to a new report today from ESPN’s NBA insider Marc Stein the New York Knicks are finalizing a deal to hire former Phoenix Suns General Manager and television analyst Steve Kerr to be their next head coach. The deal won’t reportedly be finalized until after the first round of the playoffs, but hey, progress!

Earlier in the month, I wrote about how the Knicks have handled their head coaching situation in what can only be described as in a head-scratching way. Phil has clearly wanted Kerr all along, and he reportedly got his man before others could. That’s the most important takeaway out of this, I think, because the Knicks weren’t going to be the only ones courting Kerr this summer.

It’s been reported by a number of insiders and analysts that Kerr was going to be a hot commodity this offseason for potential head coaching vacancies. Golden State, Houston and Oklahoma City were all potentially in play for Kerr if things went sour for any of these clubs in the first round. As of right now, the three teams are all in grave danger of getting ousted in the first round. All of these potential destinations are better jobs than the Knicks, but perhaps Phil sprinkled some zen herbs into Kerr’s latte over dinner in Brooklyn this past weekend to convince him to take the Knicks job before those other teams started pounding at his door.

We don’t know what kind of head coach Kerr is going to be, but we do know Phil has potentially snagged the hottest potential head coaching commodity before anybody else could. Now comes the hardest part — fixing the Knicks’ roster.

Let’s hope Phil is saving his best trick the best for last.

 

New York Knicks Coaching Today Roundup

You’ve probably heard the phrase “time is of the essence” at some point or another in your lifetime. Well, that’s really applicable to the current situation surrounding the New York Knicks head coaching job search confusion. The Knicks currently have a head coach. That man, Mike Woodson, apparently doesn’t even want to have a face-to-face with new team president Phil Jackson until he gets “clarity” on his job status. Although, one might expect he’d get clarity by having a sit-down with the guy who is ultimately going to make the final call. Does your head hurt yet? No? Well let’s continue!

According to a new New York Post report Steve Kerr “absolutely expects” to be offered the New York Knicks head coaching job. Again the Knicks still have a head coach. It’s been in the news for weeks that the Knicks would probably pursue Kerr based on his history with Phil and his reported desire to become an NBA head coach sooner rather than later.

The problem? The Knicks still haven’t made a decision on Woodson’s future with the team. Well, that’s reportedly going to be made early next week, not over the weekend according to Chris Broussard of ESPN.

It appears Woodson will remain in limbo at least for a couple of more days at the very least. So today’s report on Kerr expecting an offer from a team that currently has a head coach makes things a bit awkward. Sure, it’s entertaining to poke fun at Woodson, but with the way this situation is unfolding for him it’s hard not to feel bad for the guy. Not because I’d like to see him stick around another season, I don’t. But it does appear the wheels are already in motion to bring in Kerr as the next head coach behind the scenes before relieving Woodson of his duties, which may not be the most ethical business practice.

Kerr is probably going to be a highly sought after guy this summer; even with zero head coaching experience in the NBA. The Golden State Warriors have also been linked to Kerr, so perhaps the Knicks brass knows they have to act fast in hiring Kerr before a potentially better job like the Warriors opens up. It’s kind of eerie how similar the two situations are with Mark Jackson and Mike Woodson. There seems to be a disconnect with management and the head coach for both teams, which typically leads to the head coach getting the short end of the stick.

It’s probably naive to believe these kinds of backdoor negotiations don’t go on all the time, but that doesn’t make the situations any less awkward. Woodson refusing to meet with Phil and wanting clarity on his job-status while Kerr is openly saying he expects the Knicks to offer him the job just has an unseemly vibe even if, again, it’s probably the norm, even for less dysfunctional teams than the ‘Bockers.

In the end, what we can infer from all of these reports is Woodson is not returning to coach the Knicks next season.

It’s the end of an era. Let’s remember Woody at his best; looking confused and/or stone-faced.