If the New York Knicks are going to be successful this season, and make the playoffs, it will likely be without a heavy dose of Phil Jackson’s much maligned triangle offense.
Following New York’s Sunday victory over the 9-4 Atlanta Hawks, undoubtedly their best victory of the season, multiple key players on the team cited a team meeting as the reason for their improvement.
The Knicks produced 21 assists on 42 fields goals made, hitting the proverbial 50-percent assist ratio that signifies good ball movement in the NBA. If New York can maintain that level of offensive efficiency, they could elevate to one of the best offenses in the NBA.
Unsurprisingly, the star of the show for the Knicks was Carmelo Anthony, who provided 31 points on a very efficient 12 of 22 shooting. However, the most surprising performance on the day was that of mercurial point guard Derrick Rose.
While Rose has certainly struggled shooting this season, fans have seen flashes of the man who won MVP five years ago. Those shooting struggles continued Sunday, with Rose hitting just five of 14 shots from the field against Atlanta. However, he provided seven assists and was involved in 29.1 percent of all Knicks’ possessions, second on the team to only Carmelo Anthony. That far outstrips his season average of 25.6 percent usage rate.
Despite his offensive struggles, Sunday provided Knicks fans with the best defensive performance they have ever seen out of Rose. He guarded Atlanta point guard Dennis Schroder for the majority of the game, holding him to zero field goals and just three assists.
In fact, as a whole, the Knicks held Atlanta to just 40 percent shooting and 28.6 percent behind the arc, which should be considered their best defensive performance of the season.
So, what does this have to do with the triangle offense?
There exists a theory rampant in NBA circles that in order to get players to engage in the less sexy aspects of basketball, namely rebounding and defense, you need to get them involved on offense. Clearly, that’s what happened with Rose on Sunday, that’s part of what the Knicks discussed in the Saturday meeting, and that’s what propelled New York to a victory over one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference.
Additionally, the facts remain that if Rose is going to be successful in New York, it’s going to be outside the triangle. When Derrick can drive and dish in the pick and roll he becomes extremely engaged in the game and uses superior athleticism to wear down his opposing point guard in one-on-one situations.
In contrast, when the Knicks run the slower triangle, Rose tends to drift on defense, and can get caught in lazy positions by most NBA point guards. Engagement night in and night out is as important as anything in the NBA, and clearly the offensive style of the Knicks affects Rose’s game.
Even Carmelo commented on Rose’s involvement after the Atlanta game when he said, “Today was just more about playing off the guys … playing off Derrick (Rose). Defensively we more confident.” Melo has been incredible at diagnosing the Knicks’ strengths and failures over the years, and comments like this should not be taken lightly by Jackson or head coach Jeff Hornacek.
With limited depth this season, the Knicks need to take full advantage of their marquee starters to be successful. It’s very obvious through 13 games that in order to get the absolute best out of Rose, New York must move away from the triangle.
Derrick is simply better on both ends of the floor when the Knicks utilize a faster pace, and it benefits the entire team. Despite Phil’s insistence that this is the best possible way to play basketball, it may not be the best way to play basketball with his current personnel.
Rose’s game against Atlanta showcases the potential of this Knicks team, and New York fans should be hopeful the coaching staff and front office is paying attention.