NY Knicks Should Be Backing Off the Triangle, Not Doubling Down on It

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NY Knicks Should Be Backing Off the Triangle, Not Doubling Down on It
Seth Wenig/Associated Press

The New York Knicks removed Derek Fisher from his position as head coach on Monday morning. On Tuesday, they lost for the 10th time in their last 11 contests, falling five full games back of a playoff spot in the process. 

With only 27 games left in their season, it appears clear to everyone but interim head coach Kurt Rambis that the Knicks will not be making the playoffs. Barring an unforeseen development prior to next week's trade deadline, then, the next major move they make will be hiring a new head coach.

Per ESPN.com's Ian Begley, Rambis will not only get consideration for the permanent job but may also be the front-runner. Whether that's wise is up for debate. Rambis didn't fare so well in his last go-round as a head man in Minnesota. He'll get a chance to prove he's more up to the task over the next few months, and then team president Phil Jackson and general manager Steve Mills will have a decision to make. 

They would be wise to open up the pool of candidates beyond the relatively small group that once played for or coached under Jackson, something they did not do the first time around. Doing that would likely mean considering those who may not run Jackson's beloved triangle offense, though, something that's unclear he's even willing to consider. 

Jackson said in his Monday press conference after the Fisher firing was announced that the next coach will be "someone who has to match the style on how we do things." He also said that "it's not paramount, but it's important" that the team's next coach run the triangle.

After many took those statements to mean that the next coach would definitely have to run the triangle, Jackson posted a statement to his Twitter account on Tuesday to clarify his thoughts on that particular subject:  

The second half of that statement indicates a willingness to adopt more than the purest form of his offensea willingness that Jackson hasn't previously shown. Similarly, many assumed that installing Rambis as Fisher's replacement would mean running a more stringent version of the triangle, but that wasn't the case during Rambis' first night.

As the Knicks made their second-half comeback, they once again moved toward a more pick-and-roll-oriented attack. Rambis fielded a question about that change in tactic at his postgame press conference, specifically whether it was a conscious decision to move toward that style:

It's part of our transition offense. If we can get out early, then that is an option. We want guys to feel comfortable in being able to push the basketball. We have multiple ball-handlers out there so we have situations where we can get quick-hitters. A big guy running to the basket, or spreading the floor, pushing the ball up so that our wings can attack running some drags. It helps us do those things early, and if we don't have something quick and early, then we moved into our formation of offense.

The triangle, in its purest form, is initiated with a guard-to-guard pass on the wing, followed by the passer cutting to the corner to set up the initial triangle. But throughout this season, the Knicks have been more willing to initiate the offense by running drag screens in delayed transition, a more modern way to find an open look. It's only if and when that doesn't yield a shot that they move into their base offense. 

That base offense, though, because of the personnel that's running it, still encourages the Knicks to abandon far too often the "group play" that Jackson is looking for.

Many of the actions within the triangle are designed to get the ball into the low post. The Knicks, as we have written in this space before, consider a post-up to be a form of penetration.

But that's a non-truth when you realize their primary post players—Carmelo Anthony, Arron Afflalo, Robin Lopez and Kristaps Porzingis—tend to deliberately look for their own shot from the post, which negates any advantage that might be gained from causing the defense to bend and open up looks for their teammates. Anthony is their best and most willing post-up passer, but even he is looking to score more often than not when he gets the ball down there.

Consider the difference between this forced post-up for Afflalo late in the Knicks' Jan. 26 loss to the Thunder:

And this early-offense pick-and-roll between Carmelo and Lopez during the loss to Washington on Tuesday: 

Both plays worked as designed. The former gets Afflalo a mismatch on Dion Waiters in the post, but even though Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka are ignoring Langston Galloway and Derrick Williams, Afflalo doesn't get it to them because he's looking for his own shotbecause that's exactly what the play is designed for.

On the latter play, Carmelo sees the entire floor and makes a skip pass to Jose Calderon because the play isn't necessarily designed for him to get a shot but for the team to get a good shot. And what do you know, it results in a corner three for Galloway. 

Encouraging this kind of early offense is good. Rambis should continue to do it for the rest of the season, and whoever the next coach is should too.

With personnel more suited to quick ball movement and precisely timed cuts, the triangle could even work as the base offense the Knicks move into after those initial actions. But as it has been this season, the more likely result is encouraging the kind of one-on-one play Jackson despises. That's why the Knicks have often looked so much better offensively when pivoting to a more modern attack. 

Some of the potential candidates floated by ESPN and/or the New York Post for the permanent position—Luke Walton, Tom Thibodeau, Mark Jackson, Scott Brooks, Jeff Hornacek and David Blatt—are not seen as triangle devotees, possibly indicating that Jackson is more open to other ideas than he might initially seem.

If nothing else, opening the pool of possible candidates beyond Jackson's immediate inner circle allows for a more thorough search and the possibility that someone can impress Jackson with a vision of offense that allows for group play but isn't necessarily the exact offense he coached with the L.A. Lakers and Chicago Bulls

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