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New-Look Knicks, Same Old Triangle

If you’re anything like me, you were waiting with baited breath for 2016 NBA free agency to begin. After an amazing postseason that saw the Cavaliers end the 50-year championship drought for the city of Cleveland, we were left with an underwhelming draft. This made me that much more excited to see what Phil Jackson and Steve Mills had up their sleeves. Well, they did not disappoint.

The coaching vacancy left by the firing of Derek Fisher ended with the hiring of Jeff Hornacek. Now, I know I’m not the only Knicks fan that was secretly – and perhaps not so secretly – hoping Phil would rush out and get Tom Thibodeau. When that didn’t happen, we were only left to pray that Phil didn’t hand the reigns of Kristaps Porzingis’ development and the end of Carmelo Anthony’s prime to Kurt Rambis. Despite being a good friend of Phil’s and a triangle loyalist, Rambis as the head coach would’ve been both an uninspired choice and one that his head coaching resume didn’t warrant. Instead, Steve and Phil went out and got Hornacek.

(Credit: Getty Images) Jeff Hornacek

(Credit: Getty Images) Jeff Hornacek

The jury is still out on Jeff Hornacek as an NBA head coach, but when he had a healthy roster in Phoenix, he produced a decent record. Organizational changes that resulted in quite a bit of roster turnover doomed his last season. But, given any indication of how his Phoenix teams played and comments by Derrick Rose, we can expect to see a much more up tempo offense from next season’s Knicks. And I think it’s a great idea.

The 2016-17 Knicks are returning only five players from last year’s team – Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis, Lance Thomas, Kyle O’Quinn, and Sasha Vujacic – and Anthony and Vujacic are the only ones to have played in the triangle for more than one season. Despite that, Hornacek will not be abandoning the much talked about system. No matter what fans thought or hoped for, Phil Jackson wasn’t letting go so easily. So what we will likely see is a pick-and-roll/triangle hybrid.

The additions of Joakim Noah, Rose, Brandon Jennings, and Courtney Lee provides hope that the two systems can co-exist and result in a successful season. Noah is a perfect fit for both offensive ideologies. He’s a great passing big man, knows where to be on offense, sets solid picks, and rolls hard to the basket. The chink in his armor is that he’s not a great shooter from the elbow and has had trouble finishing at the basket the last couple years. Now, this may have been largely because of his shoulder issues, but it’s a fact that can’t be overlooked. If Noah can consistently finish at the rim, this will make defenses have to stay with him and should open the floor for perimeter shooters.

(Credit: Getty Images) L to R: Courtney Lee, Joakim Noah, and Brandon Jennings

(Credit: Getty Images) L to R: Courtney Lee, Joakim Noah, and Brandon Jennings

Derrick Rose is most comfortable in the pick and roll, and doesn’t strike many as the quintessential triangle point guard. He tends to dominate the ball to in order to score and he’s not the best outside shooter. What should help is that he moves pretty well without the ball. If he can get to the correct spots when running the triangle, he can hit the mid-range jumper as well as make backdoor cuts for easy layups. He averaged just over 6 assists last season and that can improve if he remains aggressive in attacking the basket since he’s got better shooters with this Knicks team than he had last year with the Bulls.

Adding Courtney Lee fills the role of the “3-and-D” wing player, while Brandon Jennings is going to be tasked with being the tempo changer and scoring punch off the bench. Lee’s a career 38% shooter from three and knows how to play a role within the confines of an offense where he’s never been the featured scorer. He has played for six teams in eight years so I’m confident that he can adjust to whatever is expected from him. He also moves the ball well and does a good job finding soft spots in the defense. Jennings, on the other hand is coming off of his first season since an Achilles injury ended his 2014-15 season early. He’s more of a fit for the pick and roll offense than the triangle, but he’s so hungry to prove himself in New York that I think he’ll do what’s necessary to learn the triangle and mold his game to be effective. The thing Jennings does with ease is put the ball in the basket. He’s got range and finds ways to get open.

The rest of the guys filling out the roster are unproven in the NBA. Justin Holiday was on the Warriors championship team and played last season with the Bulls, but he’s still a relative unknown. Mindaugas Kuzminskas, Willy Hernangomez, and Maurice Ndour have played professionally overseas, and are expected to earn minutes as backups. The Summer League signees – Chasson Randle, Ron Baker, JP Tokoto, and Marshall Plumlee – have the benefit of playing in the triangle, so that should help accelerate the learning curve for everyone in training camp.

What do you think of this Knicks roster’s potential with the triangle offense? Leave a comment below.

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