With Phil Jackson at the helm, Jeff Hornacek was never able to run the offense that brought him initial success in Phoenix. So how will New York's game plan change now that Hornacek is no longer tethered to the Triangle?
It's hard to believe that for a few days in mid-December last year, the Knicks were the third-best team in the Eastern Conference. They had a 14-10 record--good enough for the third seed in a weak East. While there were certainly questions about the team's defensive effort, as well as Joakim Noah's playability, the team was having some success with Coach Hornacek's up-tempo hodge-podge offense that attempted to cater to both his team's individual skill sets as well as Knicks President Phil Jackson's relentless desire to run the Triangle.
It was a mixture of frenetic ball movement and grounding ISO. In one set, you might see Rose push the ball up the floor, driving to the rim and collapsing the defense only to find an open man in the corner for 3, or Porzingis setting a high screen then fading back for an easy pick-and-pop. In the next set, Carmelo Anthony would go right back to his usual jab-stepping routine.
It was confounding for some opposing teams to deal with, but too erratic and inconsistent to give any real contenders a headache. The Knicks never looked like they had a fully-ingrained offensive system, and while they would do the right things like set screens and move the ball, it would often be without a clear intention and appeared stagnant and clumsy.
And by March of this year, of course, the Knicks found themselves circling the drain and completely tethered to Phil Jackson's philosophy of the Triangle: an offensive system that emphasizes post play and relegates point guards to essentially being ball-caretakers. Even though Jackson had success utilizing the Triangle while coaching Jordan, Shaq, and Kobe, most pundits would generally agree that, in a time where we have a glut of franchise-player point guards, the system is pretty outdated.
So how will things be different this year?
If we assume that Hornacek will be free to coach unfettered by the higher up's, the Knick's offense in the coming season won't be too dissimilar to what we saw in December last year. If we are also free to assume that both Anthony and Rose won't be with the team at this time, we can probably expect Hornacek's offense to be run more fluidly this time around. By the end of last season, New York's complacent starters were losing minutes to a more-competitive bench mob who applied themselves harder to Jackson's Triangle. If this group of youngsters has the same drive with a more consistent, complete offense, you can only expect them to grow.
In terms of what kind of specific plays Hornacek will be employing, expect to see a lot of Horns and high screen-and-rolls. In his most successful season in Phoenix, Hornacek would frequently encourage both bigs on the floor to start half-court sets by setting screens at the top of the key, providing a small wrinkle for either Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe or Isiah Thomas (all players who are comfortable driving to the rim) to burst through.
It's probably fair to say that Frank Ntilikina won't be as gifted a slasher as say, Goran Dragic, in his first year with the Knicks, so it's unlikely that Coach Hornacek will be running a complete facsimile of his Phoenix offense in New York. Even though KP isn't averaging 20ppg yet, his range and ability to take opponents off the dribble makes him a nightmare to guard and ensures that New York's offense functions best when it at least flows through him, rather than the ball-stopping Anthony. With that in mind, I could even see Hornacek utilizing Porzingis as kind of a Draymond-lite in certain offensive sets, finding a teammate cutting to the basket or making the extra pass for an open three after screening the ball-handler.
At the very least, whatever combination of out-of-timeout plays and half-court sets New York uses in their offense this year, we can expect it to be a better executed and more cohesive version of whatever confusing mess they were attempting to run to begin last season. I'm genuinely curious to see what Coach Hornacek can get out of a young, hungry Knicks team, and even more so now that he doesn't have a meddling team president breathing down his neck.