By John Schmeelk
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It is T-minus 20 days from the NBA draft and 10 days since the Knicks hired their new head coach, Jeff Hornacek. After a news conference that revealed little, some more things have come to light in subsequent interviews with Hornacek, president Phil Jackson and general manager Steve Mills.
As Hornacek stated at his news conference, his version of the Knicks will push the tempo and shoot more 3’s. Those two things were confirmed by Jackson and then again on MSG Networks’ Hornacek special last week. In an interview with WNBC’s Bruce Beck at an event, Jackson said he understood that the spacing of the triangle had to be adjusted in order to allow for a more prominent role for the 3-point shot.
Combine that statement with the fact that Hornacek talked about the triangle as a principle of spacing and that moving a guy 3 feet would, in your basic set, put him behind the 3-point line, and it tells me that adjustment in spacing in the triangle is something he and Jackson already discussed. The Knicks are going to shoot more 3’s this year one way or another.
Jackson also confirmed Hornacek’s point about pace in the MSG special. He talked about how when Hornacek coached Phoenix, he would set the shot clock in practice to only 12 to 14 seconds to encourage his players to push the pace and find good shots early in the shot clock. He lavished praise on the practice technique, confirming the two are on the same page in terms of pace.
The other interesting nugget dropped by Jackson was that he sees himself helping Hornacek design his system to best utilize the talents of the guys currently on the roster. He talked about how Carmelo Anthony likes the ball on the post, and that he would try to help Hornacek understand the strengths of the players on the roster. It jives with Hornacek’s desire to fit his offense to his players.
There’s also some more clarification, though not much, over how the triangle will fit into what Hornacek wants to do. Back at his introductory news conference two years ago, Jackson said that the triangle isn’t as important as playing system basketball. The Knicks are not going to be that team that runs isolation ball or even a bunch of high screen-and-rolls while the other three guys stand around.
Both Hornacek and Jackson want team play, with a lot of off-the-ball motion, cuts and passes. That can be done with the triangle, or with some of the stuff Hornacek did under coach Jerry Sloan in Utah. I would imagine it will look much more like the triangle, but some other stuff might be mixed in, too. System basketball is a good thing. The Warriors’ and Spurs’ offenses, both this year and in the past, survived the increased defense and physicality the playoffs have to offer because they play like a team. When the chips are down for the Thunder and Cavaliers, they revert to one-on-one play. It doesn’t work.
We’ve also learned since Hornacek was formally introduced that Kurt Rambis will be returning in some capacity on the coaching staff. There’s no word whether Rambis will be associate head coach or focus more on the offense or defense. Knicks fans understandably would prefer that Rambis was not on Hornacek’s staff. He could be seen as a spy for Jackson, might push undesirable elements on the triangle, didn’t seem to understand how to use Kristaps Porzingis and didn’t relate well with the other players on the roster.
But at the same time, Rambis being on the staff isn’t a team-killing proposition. Hornacek is still going to do what he pleases and coach the way he wants. Rambis isn’t going to be able to force his hand one way or another. It’s just one of those things that will annoy Knicks fans, even if the impact won’t be huge.
We also got a hint about the draft. We knew the Knicks would think about buying a pick, but I don’t think that’s a guarantee by any means. Mills said there would have to be someone the Knicks liked when they had the opportunity to purchase a pick to justify the move. They have been working out a lot of players, so we’ll see if any are available when the Knicks have a chance to buy a pick at the very end of the first round or the beginning of the second.
There were also a few hints about free agency. Mills stated the obvious on MSG that the team will be shopping for a lead guard. This should surprise no one. Hornacek has seemed to indicate he wants a point guard, but I think the team would be happy to bring in a top shooting guard as well. The team does have Jerian Grant on the roster as well as Tony Wroten, who might be able to improve enough to play some point guard (though people are overrating his presence given the fact he was cut by the 76ers).
Jackson and Mills also indicated they are very aware of the unique nature of this year’s free agent class. There are a ton of teams with enough salary cap room for a max player and more. There are NBA teams with only a handful of people on the roster. At the same time, the free agent class is neither top heavy nor deep. There will be no bargains in this class. Everyone you get will be overpaid. How Jackson and Mills navigate this issue is difficult to say. There is simply too many resources available and not enough talent.
One other smart thing Mills said on MSG was that the Knicks need to get a feel for what free agents they have a decent chance at so they don’t lose time waiting on lost causes. You can do that by talking to agents, etc. Hornacek also told WFAN’s Boomer Esiason and Craig Carton the Knicks will explore the chance of signing a max-caliber player this offseason. In the end, those two objectives might not mix. Mills is right when he says the Knicks need to identify the best players they have the chance of getting and go after them early. It might be their only chance to get certain players, with better teams having similar resources.
Finally, Jackson also said he thinks this team can be turned around quickly because the Eastern Conference isn’t very good. Many doubt that, but the Knicks would be wise not to throw good money after bad on players just to win quickly. They need to continue to be prudent and patient. A quick turnaround might not be possible this offseason.
That’s what we know. What will the Knicks do? We need to wait and see.
• Draymond Green’s suspension is a joke. Hitting LeBron James was clearly only an effort to get James off of him. It was also reported James didn’t even know Green hit him there until the replay. James instigated the incident by stepping over Green and got just what he wanted, another flagrant on Green, which got him suspended. It shouldn’t have been made a flagrant after the fact. The Warriors will have to overcome a lot to win without Green, but they can. Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry will have to both shoot well to make it happen. At the least, Game 5 just got much more interesting.
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