By John Schmeelk
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Since the Knicks started looking for a new coach, Phil Jackson’s reported focus has been on finding someone to install and run the triangle offense. While that offense was a staple of his championship teams in Chicago and Los Angeles, the Knicks would be far better served hiring someone that can finally get this team to play defense.
Here are the Knicks’ defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) over the past 13 years, their record, and how far they went in the playoffs:
2013-14: 106.5, 24th in the NBA, .451 winning percentage, no playoffs
2012-13: 103.5, 17th in NBA, .659, 2nd round
2011-12: 98.4, 5th in NBA, .545, 1st round
2010-11: 106.9, 21st in NBA, .512, 1st round
2009-10: 109.1, 27th in NBA, .354, no playoffs
2008-09: 108.4, 24th in NBA, .390, no playoffs
2007-08: 109.6, 29th in NBA, .280, no playoffs
2006-07: 106.3, 25th in NBA, .402, no playoffs
2005-06: 108.4, 27th in NBA, .280, no playoffs
2004-05: 106.5, 26th in NBA, .402, no playoffs
2003-04: 100.3, 15th in NBA, .476, 1st round
2002-03: 103.7, 25th in NBA .451, no playoffs
2001-02: 103.0, 18th in NBA .366, no playoffs
It should be no surprise that the Knicks’ winning percentage those years correlates very closely to success on defense. If you take the simple average of all those numbers, the Knicks’ average defensive rating over the past 13 years has been a putrid 105.4. Their average rank has been 22nd in the league. They have been ranked better than 22nd in the league just five times. It is no coincidence that their four playoff seasons have come in those five seasons. The reason the Knicks have been one of the least successful franchises in the NBA over the past 13 years is because they have ignored defense. Ironically, it was defense that made the franchise so successful during the 1990s and early 1970s.
Jackson understands the importance of defense. Of his last eight championship teams, all but one have finished in the top six in the league in defensive rating. The only aberration was his second Lakers championship team. His Bulls teams were consistently one of the better defensive teams in the league, even in the two years between the three-peats. If you don’t play upper echelon defense it is very difficult to win a championship in this league. That, more so than any offensive system, should be the focus of the Knicks’ coaching search.
As for the triangle itself, it has not had success without star players such as Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Shaquille O’Neal. When it has been implemented outside of those situations it has inevitably failed. That’s not to say the system is flawed, just that it has only had great success with all-time great players. Unlike a solid defense, there’s no guarantee that the triangle gives you anything offensively beyond what the talent of the players on the team would provide in any system.
For all those reasons, the Knicks should seriously consider going after Grizzlies head coach Dave Joerger to be their next head coach. Before taking over Memphis, he was the defensive architect behind Lionel Hollins’ teams. He has a great scheme defensively and gets his players to buy in and play hard on that end every night. Joerger is a young coach and Jackson might even be able to convince him to run the triangle. It’s a system that promotes ball movement, movement without the ball, floor balance, and getting back on defense. I believe none of those are principles Joerger would object to.
Reports are out there that the Timberwolves have already been given permission to speak the Joerger. The Knicks should try and do the same since Joerger appears unhappy with the purging of the Grizzlies’ front office. He would give Jackson a young but experienced coach likely open to the triangle that already has a championship-caliber foundation on defense.
That would be music to the ears of Knicks fans.
* The Thunder are not beating the Spurs, maybe not even once, if Serge Ibaka can’t get back on the court. I’ve predicted the Spurs would win it all since the playoffs began and I’ll stick with that.
* Of course, Jackson would prefer Brian Shaw to Derek Fisher. He has more assistant and head coaching experience, but, unfortunately, he also has a job with the Nuggets and they aren’t letting him go for nothing. The Knicks have no draft picks to offer as compensation. That’s why Shaw isn’t going anywhere.
You can follow John on Twitter for everything Knicks, NBA, Giants and the world of sports at @Schmeelk
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