The Knicks had a transformative offseason this summer, one that brought a new president of basketball operations, a new coach and a much different roster.
Legendary coach and player Phil Jackson took over the Knicks on March 17 and did not hesitate to make changes as soon as possible.
His first action was firing Coach Mike Woodson, something that all Knicks fans should have been happy about. Woodson’s stubbornness, lack of leadership and inability to hold players accountable for their mistakes cost the Knicks many wins last season.
He hired Derek Fisher as Head Coach, a longtime Lakers point guard who won five NBA Championships under Jackson. Fisher has no coaching experience and was playing for the Oklahoma City Thunder only last year before retiring. The changeover is eerily similar to Jason Kidd’s hiring as Nets coach last off-season. Like Kidd, there is no doubt that Fisher will struggle at first, as coaching an NBA team is never easy for someone with no prior experience.
Jackson managed to convince superstar forward Carmelo Anthony to return to the Knicks, thanks to a massive five-year $129 million deal. He fleeced the Dallas Mavericks by trading them struggling Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton for sharp-shooting point guard Jose Calderon, center Samuel Dalembert and guards Wayne Ellington, Shane Larkin, as well as two second-round draft picks. The Knicks shipped Ellington and Jeremy Tyler to the Kings to acquire forwards Quincy Acy and Travis Outlaw and signed Center Jason Smith to a one-year, $3.3 million deal.
All of Jackson’s moves have been calculated and logical, something that could not be said about any of the moves made while Knicks owner James Dolan had any input. Dolan seems to be tired of losing, as the seemingly irrevocable owner stated many times during the summer that Jackson would make the team’s basketball decisions, not him.
The Knicks will come into the season with an entirely new system, Phil Jackson’s famous triangle offense. The system rewards great three-point shooting, something the Knicks have much of in Calderon, Anthony, Tim Hardaway Jr., Pablo Prigioni and J.R. Smith. The Knicks had the seventh-best three-point percentage in the league last year, and it should only improve with the team’s new system and point guard.
Let me be clear, the Knicks will have to score a lot of points next season, because their defense is going to be flat-out terrible. Chandler struggled on defense and offense last year, but his defense was still better than that of any players the current roster has to offer.
Although Calderon brings much-needed shooting, passing and leadership to the Knicks, he is a horrible defender, perhaps even worse than Felton. According to Synergy Sports, Calderon’s defensive rating is 112, compared to Felton’s 109. Last year, when Calderon was on the floor with the Dallas Mavericks, the team’s defensive rating fell to 108.2, compared to a much improved 102.2 with Calderon off the floor. The Knicks will need to hide Calderon on defense as much as possible.
In order to help with defensive woes, Fisher must teach the Knicks how to play pick-and-roll defense. According to Synergy Sports, the Knicks had the worst pick-and-roll defense of any team last season, something that Woodson could never fix. If the Knicks are to improve this year, they must learn how to defend one of the most popular offensive plays in the NBA.
Much of the team’s success will come down to whether or not certain players decide to step it up or not. Amar’e Stoudemire is saying that he will have a great year, but he says that every year. Enigmatic Smith killed the Knicks last year with poor defense and terrible decision-making. Iman Shumpert plays great defense, but has never given fans the offensive ability that we feel he has.
The biggest change Fisher can make is to hold his players accountable. Every time Anthony or Smith took a terrible shot, Woodson would complain to the referees asking for a foul, rather than tell his players what they did wrong. Fisher must demand respect from his players, and call them out on poor play, like Jackson did when he was a coach. Anthony is an amazing talent and one of the best players in the league, but Fisher must make sure that he is playing within the offensive system at all times, and playing defense.
Despite the team’s problems, the Knicks have a good chance of making the playoffs this year, as the NBA’s Eastern Conference is hilariously weak. I predict that the Knicks will struggle early on with the new system and different players, but will barely make the playoffs with the eighth seed.