By John Schmeelk
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The Knicks were never going to be a championship contender this year, and their playoff hopes were dashed by horrid play early in the season. Focus then shifted to the opportunity for New York to get the top pick in the draft and a cornerstone player like Jahlil Okafor. Of course, all those losses not only go on the Knicks’ record, but also on Derek Fisher’s.
Phil Jackson has committed this franchise to Fisher, someone he believes will carry out his basketball philosophy and vision on the court with players hand-picked by the team president. Any coach’s first season can be tough, but as bad as the Knicks’ roster was to start the season, it wasn’t bad enough to justify having the worst record in the NBA. There was more talent than that, even with all the injuries.
Fisher was not coaching well. His lineups and rotations shifted on a nightly basis and he couldn’t get the group to give a consistent effort on the defensive end — or play like a cohesive unit on offense. His lack of emotion was something that concerned fans, but wouldn’t matter much if the results were there. Losses can wear on any head coach, especially a rookie one.
There was also a danger that the triangle would prove to be unworkable in the modern-day NBA. It didn’t produce enough efficient shots as the Knicks relied too much on the mid-range offense. We saw players used to free-wheeling systems based around the pick-and-roll and spreading the floor having difficulty adjusting to an offense that relies on ball movement, player movement off the ball, and working through the post.
But it appears that all the triangle and Fisher needed were players that fit. He seems much more comfortable coaching guys with high motors that play hard instead of players who might have more talent but refuse to fit into the system and give a consistent effort. Likewise, the triangle only seemed to need players willing to commit to it.
Obviously, it’s too early to draw those conclusions simply off a 4-1 stretch against bad teams, but it’s a good sign that Fisher can get a group of players to play winning basketball — his way. This season could prove the type of learning experience every young coach needs, and it could make Fisher better down the road. It will also show both him and Jackson the type of players that can succeed in the triangle, in New York, and alongside Carmelo Anthony.
The three players the Knicks have signed relatively long-term are Melo, Jose Calderon and Tim Hardaway. None of those three players are considered defense-first, but their deficiencies are masked when on the floor with other players — like Lou Amundson, Lance Thomas and Langston Galloway — willing to do the dirty work.
So while winning some games might cost the Knicks some ping-pong balls come draft time, it proves their coach might just be able to become a winner in the long-term.
That, in the end, might actually be more important.
— The Knicks have signed Galloway for the rest of the season, including a partial guarantee for 2015. It’s the perfect situation for the Knicks to hold onto him if he turns out to be a long-term asset or let him go if the roster spot of cap space would be better used elsewhere. Jackson got that one right.
— The way this team now plays is breathtaking compared to before trading away J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert. Despite a lack of talent, the team is actually fun to watch with the ball movement on offense, and consistent hustle on defense.
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