Action Items for NY Knicks' New Head Coach
Whoever winds up being the next coach of the New York Knicks is going to have to immediately start juggling the personalities in the locker room.
After finishing second in the East in 2012-13, Mike Woodson returned much of the same roster for what turned out to be a 2013-14 season so tumultuous and discordant that it cost him his job.
The 37-45 Knicks did not consistently pressure opponents offensively, lacking the small-ball fluidity and ball movement from the year prior, and were just lost on the other end of the floor. The new guy will have to create order where Woodson could not, crafting workable team schemes and getting the individuals to buy in.
With Phil Jackson providing the vision for the franchise now, the coach will be his emissary roaming the sidelines. That presence from the front office should make the job more attractive, but it's also another layer of pressure to negotiate.
Implement Triangle Offense
The clearest on-court impact of Jackson's influence will manifest in the form of the triangle offense.
When the 11-time champion coach took the reins as Knicks president, it was widely assumed that he would push for the team to adopt his cherished offensive philosophy. Now that Jackson is in the market for a new coach, he said, per Chris Herring of The Wall Street Journal, that "it's surprising" candidates without triangle experience are pursuing the job.
So whoever picks up the clipboard won't have to learn a new system; he'll surely already know it. The question then becomes, what will he have to do to put the strategy in place?
Instilling discipline will be the biggest key. It will require a resolute delicacy to get freelancing swingmen like J.R. Smith and Tim Hardaway Jr. to commit to a more rigidly structured system, and it will take patience. Next season is all about teaching the triangle; after that, it'll be about winning with it.
Solve the Point Guard Position
The Knicks have talented players at four positions, though that talent is not always harnessed properly. As for the point guard spot, the new coach will have his work cut out getting any sort of production.
Raymond Felton became a disaster on both ends last season. He did not penetrate on any consistent basis, preventing him from breaking down the defense and finding open shooters for assists, and forcing him into more difficult shooting looks. What he did do reliably was let his man run right around him, compounding his offensive weakness with defensive futility.
It's not like New York has a better option, though.
Pablo Prigioni is a heady defender and more-than-willing passer, but he's 36 years old and suffering the consequences of diminished mobility. As useful as he can be, he cannot run with the NBA's quick point guards for any extended stretch.
Meanwhile, Toure' Murry has that athleticism with length to spare, but he's sometimes overaggressive on defense and far too raw on the other end to credibly run an offense.
The triangle will allow the coach to hide the poor crop of point guards on both ends, employing Felton and Prigs more as spot-up shooters than offensive engines. Whatever utility the coach can wring out of these guys will be a win.
Talk to Carmelo Anthony
Of course, Phil's triangle dreams will be defanged if Carmelo Anthony doesn't care for the guy installing it.
Considering Melo just shined individually as he gutted his way through a dysfunctional season and is planning to opt out of his current contract, the new coach will have to earn the star's trust quickly and convince him that the future in New York is brighter than the recent past.
'His system kind of reminds me of [Spurs coach] Gregg Popovich’s system. You put anybody in that system and it’s going to work. And that’s what they’ve been doing,' Anthony said after Friday’s win in Toronto. 'They had guys who have been sitting out all season long, guys [have] been in and out the lineup, and they seem to get it done.'
Combating that will not be a matter of pandering to Anthony or being in his thrall in terms of team control, but of the coach proving his basketball expertise and how he will use it to improve the team.
That will require sit-down conversations, discussing game plans for every and any situation, and sharing long-term visions about how the Knicks will develop. It will be tough to sell this vision right when the coach takes the job, but it will be imperative that he do so.
Get Iman Shumpert's Head Straight
More often than not last season, Iman Shumpert was a broken player. He compromised his signature lockdown defense with gambles on turnovers, and his offensive game became a melange of indecision with the ball, too-flashy attempts and mindless turnovers.
Woodson shattered Shump's confidence in 2013-14, using a quick hook whenever the young wing made an error, yelling at him and criticizing him more and more as his player grew more clueless on the court as to how to gain his coach's respect.
But not all is lost. This is a guy who can frustrate the most potent scoring guards the league has to offer and who hit over 40 percent from beyond the arc just two seasons ago.
A coach who believes in Shumpert can get him back toward being that player. Appealing to the importance to the Knicks of his defensive play and his physical gifts is a good place to start, and when practices finally get going, encouraging his progress should beget more progress.
Preach Defensive Effort
This Knicks roster isn't exactly stacked with ace defenders, but it certainly doesn't help that the team has of late employed a system that encourages laziness.
Simple picks were nightmares for the Knicks to deal with; they would routinely go under screens and switch on any assignment, giving opponents juicy open looks from beyond the arc and easy driving lanes to the rim, where New York's players assumed Tyson Chandler would be waiting in diligent protection.
Except oftentimes last season, he wasn't. Chandler's energy lagged against the unrelenting drives inside, the ineffectual perimeter defense proving infectious, sapping New York's interior play. Without Chandler at his best and focused, the D was useless to stop anyone.
A coaching change brings new life to the locker room. If the new coach can truly instill team-first play built on supporting the other four guys on the floor alongside you, then the defense has a shot at respectability even with the current corps.
Sure, these Knicks aren't the best collection of ball-stoppers, but even just trying could do wonders.