The New York Knicks are attempting to build a winning team on the foundation of a great offense. That’s never been the tradition in New York.
The last time the New York Knicks finished in the top ten in offensive rating and won fifty games was 1988-89. They led the league in three-point attempts per game with a whopping 14. It was Patrick Ewing‘s fourth season, and a 35-year-old Rick Pitino was roaming the sidelines.
The Knicks went the next 23 seasons without a top ten offense.
Historically, New York’s best teams have relied on great defense to win. The great Ewing teams of the ’90s were dominant on defense, but never finished higher than 12th in ORtg. The championship teams (’70 & ’73) were led by one of the league’s all-time great defenders: Walt Frazier.
The ’80s were also ruled by defense. If you can’t tell by his commentary on ESPN, Hubie Brown prefers a slow game and detests the three-point shot. The legendary coach took New York to the second round of the playoffs twice with an elite defense. Having Bernard King didn’t hurt either.
Mike D’Antoni changed the NBA with his “seven seconds or less” offense in Phoenix. The Suns won 50 games and finished in the top two in offensive rating during each of his four full seasons as head coach. When he arrived in New York in 2008, it was to try and inject a dead franchise with that up-tempo, offense-oriented system.
D’Antoni’s system never clicked in New York. He was in charge for three full seasons and made only one playoff appearance (a first-round loss) before abruptly resigning 42 games into his fourth due to problems with Carmelo Anthony.
D’Antoni gave the Knicks their first top ten offense in 23 years, but their best offense of the millennium was without the legendary head coach. It was the outlier season of 2012-13.
That’s right, the magical season of 2012-13. Melo won the scoring title, and J.R. Smith was Sixth Man of the Year. They were first in three-point makes, third in ORtg, and fifth in three-point percentage.
It was a jump shooting team, four guys made over 100 threes, that found tremendous regular season success.
The Knicks won the Atlantic Division for the first time since 1994 and won a playoff series for the first time since 2000. The last time the Knicks were great offensive, for however brief it was, the success was there.
Phil Jackson has tried and failed to build a successful Knicks team around an offensive system. In his three seasons as president, New York has finished 29th, 24th, and 18th in ORtg respectively. Even the Zen Master hasn’t been able to break the long track record of offensive ineptitude in New York.
The championship-winning head coach bet that his former protege Derek Fisher and fellow triangle aficionado Kurt Rambis could impart the wisdom of Tex Winter’s offense onto a group of novices.
However, once their time together as executive and coach began it was apparent that Jackson wasn’t exactly Yoda to Fisher’s Luke. Fisher drifted away from the system and Jackson didn’t like that. He canned his old point guard, turning things over to Rambis.
Rambis’ most memorable moment as the interim head coach was when he said that Kristaps Porzingis should be playing more small forward. Jackson reportedly desired to bring Rambis back as head coach full-time, but fortunately for Porzingis‘ sake that didn’t happen.
The triangle offense, supposed to offer stability, has used nine different point guards in the last three seasons with none of them averaging over five assists per game.
Jackson’s refusal to accept the three-point shot and the basic pick and roll (you know, what everyone is doing) has been a large factor in this. New York is 21st, 23rd, and 21st in three-point attempts in Phil’s three seasons.
Using truly outdated logic, New York has led the league in mid-range attempts the last two seasons (via NBA.com). They finished second in Jackson’s first season. New York was 20th in pick and roll ball handler possessions.
Mike D’Antoni tried to bring a new system and culture into New York, and it failed when Carmelo Anthony didn’t buy in. The same thing appears to be happening now.
There’s a reason Knicks fans worship Charles Oakley twenty years after he last played for the team. They respect the great defense that has been associated with their team in the past.
That legacy isn’t there with any Knicks offense. Phil Jackson was hoping to create one, but history was working against him.