Jeff Hornacek can finally run his style of offense without interference after Phil Jackson‘s departure on Wednesday.
The triangle is officially a thing of the past in New York, just like in every other NBA city. Now, before anyone says the triangle is and always will be a fixture in the NBA, this is true. Every team has offensive sets with triangle principles.
However, no modern offense primarily uses the triangle. NBA coaches have evolved beyond it. The players know this, coaches around the league know this and even Jeff Hornacek knows this. Everyone knows this except Phil Jackson, which ultimately led to his demise.
Now that Hornacek is free to run his style of offense, what can Knick fans expect?
For starters, the Knicks can finally get out and run. They ranked 15th in pace last season with Phil Jackson’s meddling triangle. When Hornacek started off his coaching career in Phoenix, the team ranked eighth in the NBA in the same statistic. The next season, Hornacek’s Suns ranked third. In his last season, Phoenix was fourth until Hornacek was fired in February.
One of the first things Hornacek said when he came to New York was he expected to improve the Knicks’ pace. Doing this starts with a solid point guard, and Frank Ntilikina, the Knicks’ first-round pick who’s an 18-year-old raw talent, is the only true floor general on their roster right now. Ntilikina will not be ready to lead an up-tempo offense this early in his career. This is where reports of interest in Pacers guard Jeff Teague make sense. Teague is someone who is at his best when he pushes the ball.
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Teague is also still among the upper echelon of penetrators in the NBA. While he is not the greatest finisher around the rim, shooting less than 45 percent on drives, his 3.3 passes on drives per game rank well compared to other starting guards. The off-ball movement and constant motion that Hornacek’s offense used in Phoenix could be an excellent fit for Teague.
Looking at the Suns’ in 2013, they had two quality guards in Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic to handle the ball and drive to the rim. Both Bledsoe and Dragic finished in the top 12 in drives per game in 2013. The Knicks could grab more than one guard in free agency if they do not want Ntilikina to be saddled with attacking the basket and generating offense.
Beyond guard play, bigs who could shoot the three ball thrive under Hornacek. When he was named Knicks coach, fans instantly were excited about the prospect of Porzingis in his offense. The amount of pick-and-pop possibilities were endless. Phil Jackson and Kurt Rambis immediately sabotaged those dreams when they wanted to limit Porzingis’ extremely versatile game to the post.
Now that the triangle and Jackson are gone, Porzingis can slide right into the role Channing Frye had in Phoenix. Frye had the fourth most open three-point attempts in the NBA in 2013-14. This was not because opponents goaded him into shots, as he hit the three ball at a respectable rate.
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Through penetration, pick-and-roll and off-ball screens, Porzingis could be in for a breakout season in a Hornacek offense. But Hornacek’s big men did more than step out and hit long-range jumpers.
Willy Hernangomez, who made the all-rookie first team last season, has the physicality to battle in the post with opposing defenders just like Markieff Morris did. While he needs to continue to expand his mid-range game, Hernangomez will be able to thrive off of mismatches created by the consistent player and ball movement. Just like Morris, Hernangomez is a talented and aggressive rebounder who fights for position and out hustles his matchup underneath. Hornacek will get plenty out of Hernangomez, just like he did with Morris, without getting a towel thrown in his face.
The Knicks abandonment of the triangle and Phil Jackson gives Hornacek an opportunity to prove his second place finish for 2014’s NBA Coach of the Year Award was no fluke. He has a chance to show his first year in New York was not an indictment on him, but rather being forced to run a system he did not want to run. The pieces are there for Hornacek — he just has to put them together.