New York Knicks Players Likeliest to Thrive Under New Coach Derek Fisher

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New York Knicks Players Likeliest to Thrive Under New Coach Derek Fisher
Seth Wenig/Associated Press

It took longer than expected, but the New York Knicks finally have their man. With Derek Fisher in as the team's head coach, we can finally begin to gauge New York's potential makeup moving forward.

Though we know precisely nothing of Fisher's coaching attributes, since he's never coached before at any level, we do know that Phil Jackson's triangle should be a major part of the team's offensive strategy. That, along with some quotes from his introductory presser, and his teammates' overall respect for him over his career that spanned across three different decades. 

Away from the X's and O's, it's not hard to project Fisher's effectiveness in the locker room and on the practice court. Judging solely by introductory quotes and interviews, the 39-year-old comes off very convincing, confident and seems to understand how to get the most from NBA players.

In a one-on-one interview with KnicksNow's Jonah Ballow, Fisher said: 

The parts of the job, I think, that are really important to success are the relationships with your players, the level of engagement that you can bring out with the players. To actually get them to make the choice on how great they want to be. That you're not brow-beating and making them do something that they don't want to do, but you're actually showing them how they can do all the things they've ever wanted to do. To me, that's the art. It's where the magic happens. 

Fisher will be a refreshing voice on next year's Knicks roster that will presumably return with most of the same parts as last year's 37-win disappointment. But based on all we've heard from the new coach during his young tenure, and various qualities he displayed as a player, the following Knicks should gain the most from Fisher's leadership.

 

Iman Shumpert

Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

If any Knick was in a dire need of a coaching shift after last season, it was certainly Iman Shumpert. Under Mike Woodson through the majority of his three-year career, Shumpert's raw attributes haven't yet formed into a developed package. Considering Woodson's affinity toward more experienced players, and Shumpert's ripe age of just 23, concluding that Woodson didn't positively contribute to Shumpert's development would probably be accurate.

A new, more relatable voice in charge may serve as a boost in itself to Shumpert, who was the subject of various documented criticisms by the now-unemployed Woodson. After all, Shumpert still has a skill set that can certainly translate to a lengthy NBA career. The Wall Street Journal's Chris Herring concisely summarized the swingman's benefits last season in a tweet string, answering the question, "What does Shumpert actually do?":

Shoot 3s at a league-avg level, and stop the team from going 1-8 when he's out of the lineup. Rebound at a top-five level for a guard, defend better than any other wing on the roster. Team lost five straight without him, and opposing wings set 5 season-highs in that span he was out. People oddly focus on just his scoring, when Hardaway does literally nothing but score.

Shump's motor is unquestioned; according to NBA.com, he finished third on the Knicks in total distance ran on the court this past season (138.9 miles), in only 27 minutes per game. His long-distance shooting numbers regressed from his scorching 2012-13 campaign, but Shumpert still made 39 percent of his corner threes last year. And while he was on the floor, the team was more than 12 points better per 100 possessions. 

Particularly in the triangle, Shumpert seems to slide right into a few areas. As a wing player—a la Trevor Ariza or Metta World Peace with Los Angeles—he has the ability to nail down open looks from three, as well as cut to the rim for points.

If the Knicks insist on running him with point guard minutes, the triangle seems to be a system that could mask his deficiencies. Some knocks on his game in regard to the point are his decision-making and ball-handling, while in triangle sets, the point guard isn't relied on for much of either.

It's clear that the Georgia Tech product has a desirable package—the Oklahoma City Thunder are reportedly dangling a first-round pick for him this summer, via Ben Smith of News9.com. But should the Knicks hang on to him for Year 4 of his career, Shumpert has the potential to blossom under a similarly developing coach.

 

Raymond Felton

After last season, it's hard to see Raymond Felton playing competent point guard minutes on any NBA team. But as the team's starting point man as things currently stand, Fisher's arrival certainly can't hurt.

NBA Photos/Getty Images
It'd be nearly impossible for Felton to regress further than he already has under Mike Woodson.

Indirectly, Fisher and Felton can relate. Fisher was once a guard with limited abilities tabbed on running the triangle, which—as things stand now—is what Felton will be asked to do. Coming off a career-worst season in several respects, it'd be difficult for Felton to regress any further. He contributed less win shares than any season besides his disastrous Portland campaign. And though he took three-pointers at the highest rate of his career, he connected on under 32 percent of them. 

Under Fisher, there will presumably be more guidance than Woodson's notorious "give it to 'Melo" strategizing

Felton may have been the Knicks' worst defender last season—which is truly an accomplishment on a roster stacked with defensive liabilities. And though Fisher was never confused with a defensive stopper, his answers to questions early on seem to prioritize defense—speaking to his own adjustments as a player, in bettering his defense as he aged and the Knicks' new strategies.

He'll be 30 next season, and he's never been directly related to superb athleticism or tiptop shape over the course of his career. In recent years, Fisher has dealt with physical handicaps as well, competing against guards nearly 20 years younger than him. Felton's lack of execution and typical lazy approach on D won't fly under Fisher's watch. 

There are a few variables pertaining to Felton next season, one being his legal status and another being his status as a trade candidate. But if Felton is around next season, Fisher's presence will certainly give him some sort of boost after last year's struggles. 

 

Carmelo Anthony

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

The conversation regarding Carmelo Anthony's whereabouts next season is ongoing, and it will be up until the first week of July. But if the Knicks star decides to sign away the rest of his prime with his current club, he may find even more personal success than he already has. 

The surrounding cast's makeup is the unknown, but if Fisher does indeed implement the triangle as New York's go-to offensive scheme, it'd be a joy to watch 'Melo go to work.

The system is tailor-made for a scorer of Anthony's class. It can be attributed to the championship heights Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant first reached under Jackson. Prior to MJ's time spent in the triangle, he'd played a half-decade searching for the right combination—averaging 32.6 points per game for his career, but with no ring to show for it. 

Red Kerr, former NBA coach and Bulls broadcaster during Jackson's tenure with Chicago, spoke about the triangle's effect on Jordan's young career. In an article found in an April 1992 edition of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Kerr said:

"When Michael came into the league, every coach Chicago hired tired to get him the ball and get out of the way," Kerr said. "The last couple of years, the team has gone to the triangle that spreads the offense and makes Michael a better player."

The system is designed to avoid double-teaming and to open up passing and cutting lanes. It has taken the pressure off Jordan and given other Bulls more shots. 

"They were all longing for the right system," Kerr said. 

And they found it when they found the right coach.

Anthony has struggled through battles similar to the ones Jordan weathered during his first NBA years. Now 30, 'Melo has the chance to throw himself into the system that served Jordan and Kobe their first rings.

He'd be allowed several iso-looks per game, but there would be off-ball movement and actual strategizing involved, unlike during Woodson's reign. Anthony would have options every trip down, if getting to the rim isn't feasible. Though constantly picked apart for his unwillingness to pass out of one-on-one looks, statistically speaking, Anthony has been one of the best in the game at it. 

In the triangle, Anthony would still be the offense's centerpiece. But for the first time in his career, he would be just the key cog in a system of several viable options every trip down. 

Early reports from Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski indicate that Anthony is "leaning" toward signing with the Houston Rockets or Chicago Bulls next month—which few would be able to blame him for. He's already 30, ringless and being asked to rejoin a Knicks team that will likely falter again in 2014-15.

If he gambles his remaining prime years away to the Knicks, there would surely be significant risk. But opting for a coach who preaches the triangle, and a team president with the prestige to possibly attract the game's brightest stars, Anthony could see a true shot at a title without changing zip codes this summer.

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