After a combined decade under Phil Jackson, the first-year head coach will presumably instill his vision of the triangle, a system he's familiar with. He's always been a respected teammate throughout his career, so it's reasonable to assume controlling the locker room won't be an issue for the 40-year-old, either.
But Fisher will soon find that the roster he inherited isn't far from being a playoff contender at all. Mike Woodson was either unwilling or unable to make minor, necessary adjustments to right the ship, but a few displays of mere competency is all Fisher truly needs to set himself apart from Woodson and get the Knicks competing again in 2014-15.
Developing Young Talent
One of Woodson's major flaws as head coach was his apparent distaste for grooming the younger talent on the roster. Part of this had to do with the team's "win-now" delusion, but most of it can be pinned on the former coach.
Promising pieces like Toure' Murry and Cole Aldrich rotted on the bench all season, only to appear when injuries deemed it absolutely necessary. Both players could've seemingly made an impact on the defensive end, where New York ranked 24th in efficiency. But Aldrich and Murry averaged less playing time per game last season than every Knick except Chris Smith.
Even 23-year-old Iman Shumpert, a rare youthful Knick in the rotation, had to withstand a well-documented, career-long grudge with Woodson, and he was rumored to be on his way out of New York for months before Jackson took control.
Under Woodson, Shumpert was constantly ridiculed, sometimes for no reason at all. Like before this past season, when the coach told reporters that Shumpert needed to improve in nearly every area, despite being the team's most dependable player during the 2013 postseason.
After Woodson announced before the season that Shumpert, the incumbent starter, would need to battle for his job with then-suspended J.R. Smith, the coach's accumulated shots at Shumpert drew a take from CBS Sports' Matt Moore:
A coach being critical of a player publicly isn't commonplace but it's not rare, either. It happens. What's odd is that he chooses to criticize Shumpert, while Smith is not only not available to the team (partly not his fault due to injury, partly his responsibility on account of the suspension), but has largely escaped Woodson's wrath publicly. Woodson made some vague comments last spring when Smith was absolutely melting down in the playoffs, but no matter his wild shot selection or poor decision making, what Smith does is treated as "just what J.R. does."
I'm not advocating a harsher take on Smith, it's player dependent. Maybe Woodson really believes this is the best way to make Shumpert better and that Smith wouldn't respond the same way. It's just odd that a player who at least on the surface seems to do everything you want a player to do gets criticized publicly and not granted the reward of his hard work, and Smith's antics reward him with a big new contract.
Thankfully, the backward logic of the previous Knicks regime seems to be gone for good, with the infusion of Jackson and Fisher.
It's conceivable that Fisher, just months removed from his playing career, will relate much more easily to younger players, and he will be more willing to bring the best out in them. Without pressure from the owner's box, Fisher won't feel the need to panic if Plan A doesn't go according to plan; Jackson has made clear that 2014-15 success isn't the sole focus.
With Aldrich, Shane Larkin, Cleanthony Early, Jeremy Tyler and Thanasis Antetokounmpo in camp and viable threats to make the roster, Fisher has a young nucleus to mold and develop. To go along with Shumpert and Tim Hardaway Jr., there's potential for New York to trot out a fun, talented core through the next several years.
If Fisher can work with these players, instead of essentially ignoring them like Woodson did, the team should reap the benefits both now and later.
A Realistic Defensive Scheme
Another harping point of Woodson's doomed tenure as Knicks coach was his ill-fated, switch-heavy defensive philosophy.
Woodson was brought on as Mike D'Antoni's "defensive coordinator" in 2011, which is laughable now, but it speaks to Woody's prior background in emphasizing D. But once he took over the reins full-time as his interim tag was removed before the 2012-13 season, Knicks fans all got a taste of Woodson's lack of adaptability.
His preachings, in short, were to switch on every pick-and-roll play. And when he had a team like the 2011-12 Knicks during his interim duties—with athletic players like Landry Fields, Jared Jeffries and others—it wasn't a terrible scheme. That team finished fifth in defense.
After that, though, coaching a roster packed with defensive liabilities, Woodson never adjusted to a more feasible, simple approach on the defensive end. He kept preaching, and the Knicks kept allowing painfully easy buckets. Most of the time, all it took was an elementary pick.
Combined with senseless double-teaming, which Woodson deployed almost as often as switches, New York was a constant mess of miscommunication. Courtesy of NBA writer Jared Dubin, here's a possession that was far too common for the Knicks during Woodson's tenure.
Unsurprisingly, the Knicks haven't come close to being a top defensive unit under Woodson, finishing 18th in 2012-13 and 24th last season.
For Fisher, getting the Knicks to defend effectively will be a challenge as well. The roster is simply devoid of talent on that end. By forcing a flawed system on flawed players, Woodson compounded the problem. Claiming that eliminating him from the picture automatically improves the defense is a bit of over-simplification...but in essence, it does.
A good motivator telling his players to simply stay with their man should ring through, especially to the younger Knicks players. Besides, even Amar'e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani have proven capable of holding their own in one-on-one situations. According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), Bargs held his opponents to 0.75 points per play while in isolation, and Stoudemire did the same.
Team defending is another issue, but simplifying the game for players like J.R. Smith, Tim Hardaway Jr. and even Carmelo Anthony is the best place for Fisher to start when tackling the team's defense.
Cutting Ties with Liabilities
Atop the Knicks' payroll at the moment are two high-priced, highly intrusive pieces to this year's Knicks: Stoudemire and Bargnani. Neither player was all that beneficial for New York last season—New York was eight points per 100 possessions worse with each on the floor. But at a combined $35 million this season, the pair of veteran forwards' salaries alone may dictate their burn during respective contract years.
But Jackson surely isn't one who would let a dollar amount come in the way of winning, and he would surely hold Fisher's opinion in high regard. If Fisher is unsatisfied with Bargnani and Stoudemire's fit within the new Knicks, eliminating them from the picture altogether could be the solution.
Yes, the Stephon Marbury treatment. Paying a guy just to stay away until a buyout is ultimately reached.
This applies more toward Bargnani, since Stoudemire has shown to be a fairly efficient scorer off the bench. But especially in the triangle, a system that is tremendously based off reads and basketball IQ, these two don't seem destined to make much of a positive impact.
The Knicks went 22-18 after Bargnani went down with a season-ending injury in January. Their offense, ranked ranked 19th in efficiency with Bargs logging 30 minutes a night, shot up to fourth-best after the injury, according to NBA.com (subscription required). He was brought in as a floor-spacer and shot a career-worst 27.8 percent from three-point range. He hasn't shot better than 31 percent from deep since 2010-11.
Back to Stoudemire. With him off the floor this past season, the Knicks allowed five points less per 100 possessions. New York's offense was 3.5 points better per 100 possessions with him sitting, too.
The team has reportedly tried swapping these players out this summer (via Marc Berman of the New York Post), but moving one or both of them would require taking back an even less desirable contract, parting with a young player like Shumpert as compensation, or both.
With Early, Antetokounmpo (if he signs with the Knicks out of camp), Aldrich, Tyler and Samuel Dalembert, Fisher will have a number of bigs to turn to without Bargnani and STAT. Truth be told, with their 2015 first-round pick actually in their own possession next June, taking a season to develop the youth would be fairly easy to cope with.
For Fisher, the most important change—and one that would most quickly establish his authority—would be the simplest of all: Tell the two most overpaid and underproductive Knicks to just stay home.
Follow me on Twitter at @JSDorn6.
Stats gathered from Basketball-Reference unless otherwise noted.
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