By now, you all know that Phil Jackson fired Mike Woodson and hired Derek Fisher after failing to entice Steve Kerr to take the coaching job. You also know that the team’s roster still has plenty of familiar faces that played a role in what turned out to be a disastrous season last year, along with some key additions – most notably being Jose Calderon and Sam Dalembert. Carmelo Anthony, of course, re-signed with the team rather than going somewhere else where he would have had a much better chance to win right now. So that’s a quick summary of what went down over the summer.
Now comes the part where we analyze what’s in store for them heading into this season and what could be expected from all the relevant pieces on the team. Phil Jackson was kind enough to take care of that part with Charley Rosen – a special guest to ESPN – and explained the good and the bad of everyone on his roster. Lets take a look at some of the noteworthy ones from Jackson’s great mind:
“Jose Calderon and Pablo Prigioni are heady and steady. Neither of them will have any trouble figuring out the triangle [offense]. Jose is a lights-out shooter and, like Pablo, rarely if ever takes a bad shot. Jose especially takes very good care of the ball. They’re aggressive enough on offense to be a threat, but not nearly as aggressive on the other end of the court. The task for both of them is to be much better on-the-ball defenders.”
“Even though Iman Shumpert was in [former Knicks coach] Mike Woodson’s dog house for much of last season, he’s one of my favorites because he’s simply our best on-ball defender at the 2 position and also against the bigger 1s. Once he learns the intricacies of the offense, Iman will be able to create scoring opportunities for his teammates and, unlike last season, he’ll know where his own shots will come from. Iman is an excellent driver but his shooting mechanics are very inconsistent. Sometimes he jumps too high to release his shot and sometimes he doesn’t jump high enough. As a result, he never shoots the same shot twice.”
“Carmelo Anthony is obviously the team’s only certified All-Star. It’s also no secret that Melo has to keep the ball moving, but he’s committed to doing this. Passing has never been a great strength of his, but in the triangle he’ll be able to have check-off reads like a quarterback looking for his first-option receiver, then his second and then his third. There’ll be plenty of iso opportunities for Melo, and in the triangle it’ll be very difficult for defenses to double-team him. It won’t be like last season where he had to take clutch shots with a gang of defenders in his face. Also look for Melo to get a bunch of post-up looks.”
“One of the keys to the season will be the play of Amar’e Stoudemire. Although his tender knees will require his playing time and his practice time to be carefully monitored, we hope he’ll be able to play four rotations of eight minutes per game. That’s because Stoudemire can still be a potent scorer. He can get to the middle when he’s in the low post, and in screen-rolls he’s a threat to either screen-and-pop or drive to the hoop. Playing adequate defense is a real challenge for him and he’s also got to improve his rebounding. The preseason will also discover whether Amar’e is more effective playing the 4 or the 5 positions.”
“If Andrea Bargnani’s initial season in New York was a disappointment, I believe he’ll thrive in the triangle. The 3-point shot is a bit out of his range, but from 20 feet and in, Andrea is a deadly shooter. And those are the kinds of shots that the offense will generate for him. Still, there are two aspects of his offense that he has to work on. Because he only approaches the rim in straight lines, he needs to develop some kind of change-of-direction move with the ball — perhaps a crossover dribble. Also, he’s a finger-roller, not a dunker. Could he have small hands? Or does he just need to be more aggressive?
“The only natural center among the potential starters is Samuel Dalembert. He’s a proven commodity who’s going to challenge shooters at the rim. Sam doesn’t have a real massive body so he has trouble getting around bigger men who post him up. He’s a good offensive rebounder and always plays hard. He has an effective short-range jumper and, in the past he’s complained about not getting enough touches. But so does almost everybody else. What Sam needs to learn is how to be a scoring threat in the pivot.
“I’m encouraged by how well Dalembert played against the Spurs in the playoffs. However, throughout his career he’s been very susceptible to foul trouble, so his floor-time will most likely be limited to about 26 minutes. Even so, we’d like him to be a 10-and-10 player.”
“The 2 position is our deepest, and J.R. Smith is easily the best athlete on the team. But J.R. has to learn the difference between a good shot and a bad shot. He has to trust that the triangle will create good shots and to avoid searching for his own shot. His defense also needs work because he tends to be a ball-watcher, and he’s late in chasing his man around screens when he should be tailgating him. Defense is the key to any winning team, so Smith has to really work hard on his deficiencies in training camp.”
So that’s a bit of a read, but worth it if you are a Knicks fan. Here’s a quick summary: Calderon takes care of the ball but is a bad defender; Shumpert’s a great defender but is inconsistent on offense; Anthony is a star who’s never been much of a passer, so he needs to change that now; Stoudemire’s a great offensive talent, but his defense needs work; You know who Dalembert is and what he does. J.R. Smith is an athlete, but his basketball IQ is seriously lacking.
Pretty much nothing we haven’t already seen before.
If there’s one thing Jackson may want to ease up on, it’s calling Andrea Bargnani a deadly shooter from 20 feet and in. He rounds out to a 46.7 percent shooter from around the 16-foot range. That number drops to about 42.9 percent around the 10-foot area. That’s decent, but far from deadly. One thing is certainly true: he should not extend his range to the 3-point line, because he’s mostly pretty terrible at it (shot a paltry 27.8 percent).
Oh, and he should probably study up on where his players previously played if he’s going to use that as a reference of any sort. Other than that, some solid insight from the Zen Master.
The common theme throughout his analysis was how different the players would play under the Triangle offense, so we have to assume Fisher is going to run plenty of it in his first season as a head coach. Ask Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson about the Triangle, though, and you won’t necessarily hear the friendliest thoughts on the specific offense, from Marc Berman of NY Post:
“The triangle itself is just an offense based on freedom of the ball to go to different places, everybody feeling involved,’’ Van Gundy said. “It’s a good thing. It won’t be the triangle itself that will be the reason they win or lose. It’s going to come down to Carmelo Anthony playing exceptionally well. [Iman] Shumpert and J.R. bouncing back with a big year. J.R. Smith playing well. It’s not going to be because of a system.
“I think anybody confusing a system with a reason for success is making a huge mistake. Systems don’t win games. Players do. All you try to do in any system you incorporate is put players in their areas of strength and try to hide and minimize their weaknesses.
“In this league you win with players,’’ said Jackson, who parted with the Warriors after the playoffs because of differences with ownership. “Phil had tremendous success with the triangle offense in his coaching career with incredible basketball players, all-time great basketball players. That more than a system won a championship. Teams in this league run part of a triangle offense but nobody has experienced the success with that.’’
We’ll soon find out who’s right about the notion that a system can’t necessarily bring on great changes to improve the style of play of the players on any given roster.
Van Gundy also shared some thoughts on the Oklahoma City Thunder’s status without Kevin Durant. If you’re a fan of the Thunder, you’re not going to love what he had to say, from Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman:
Jeff Van Gundy on OKC w/o KD: “I think a great goal for them would be .500, a little bit over. That would be a tremendous accomplishment.”
OTHER NEWS AND ITEMS FROM AROUND THE LEAGUE:
- Jordan Hill explained why he wouldn’t have returned with the Lakers if Mike D’Antoni was still coaching them. He also explained why his energy was inconsistent last season, from Mark Medina of Daily News: “If Mike was here, I wouldn’t be back,” Hill said. “That’s the way it was. No disrespect to Mike, but apparently I didn’t fit his system. Why would I come back?”… Yet, the Lakers coaching staff often attributed that imbalance to Hill’s fluctuating fatigue. So the 27-year-old Hill said he has stopped drinking alcohol, admitting it hurt his efforts on becoming the Lakers’ renewable energy source. Hill said the lifestyle change helped him drop from 253 pounds to 240. “It was that time to step out of my old ways and to grow up,” Hill said. “Now I feel really, really good. I can run and down more often. My wind is back. My body feels good. I feel like I could go for days.”
- Paul Pierce is still surprised and disappointed that things didn’t work out better with the Nets last season, from Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN NY: “Just a year ago, the Nets were talking championship with Kidd, Pierce and Garnett aboard. Now Pierce is a Washington Wizard and Kidd is coaching the Milwaukee Bucks. “I definitely didn’t see all that coming,” Pierce said at Wizards shootaround before Washington played the Knicks at the Garden. “I think it all started with Jason leaving, it was kind of like a domino from there.”… “I understand it’s a business,” Pierce said. “I was a little surprised [by not getting a contract offer from the Nets]. But you know, you got to be ready for the business side of it and understand that part. So it didn’t shock me. So no hard feelings. I understand their situation, they understand mine, both [sides] moved on.” “It just kind of happened so fast,” Pierce said. “I had a chance to talk to him, he has his reasons the way things went down. I was a little disappointed because I thought I was going to come back there. “Jason was one of the main reasons I came to Brooklyn, him and Kevin,” Pierce continued. “But the business, you got to understand the business aspect of it. He moved on, the Nets moved on and people went their different directions.”
- Joakim Noah is generally happy with the progression of his knee and body since undergoing a procedure over the summer, according to K.C. Johnson of Chicago Tribune: “Joakim Noah said he has work to do on his surgically-repaired left knee but is happy with his overall progress and has experienced no setbacks or pain during training camp. “None at all,” Noah said following Wednesday’s practice at the Advocate Center… “In the beginning I was a little bit more uncomfortable,” Noah said. “I was a little limited. I still have to get my strength back in my leg. Just trying to manage practicing, playing. But overall I’m happy with where it’s at.”… Asked if he’s confident he could handle extended minutes once the regular season began, Noah answered briefly. “Yes,” he said… “I have to do a lot of strengthening and activation and a lot of flexibility,” Noah said. “Not that I wasn’t doing that before. It’s just being a little bit more conscious of your body. It’s just new. And I just have to deal with it. I’ll be ready.”
- Despite the fact that James Harden and Kevin McHale have openly said Harden’s defense needs to improve, Daryl Morey wasn’t ready to do the same, from USA Today (via SlamOnline): “For whatever reason, it has taken on a life of its own,” Morey says about the criticism about Harden’s defense. “You’ve got people doing a 10-minute YouTube clip that everyone references, and I just ask anyone, ‘Take your worst 10 minutes from your job the last year and just take those worst 10 minutes and put them in a YouTube clip.’ I’m guessing it wouldn’t come out very well for anybody. That, to me, was completely unfair. That bothered me in a big way. Without context, you can grab 10 minutes of anyone and make them look like (expletive). I think reality TV proves that.” When the facts are staring straight at you, you should sometimes accept them and just move on.
- Check out this ridiculous “Blake Griffin bitchslapped someone in a club” story. If this thing turns out to be true, it could get a little ugly for the star power forward, from TMZ: “Blake Griffin has been accused of bitch-slapping a 39-year-old man inside a nightclub in Vegas this weekend … TMZ Sports has learned. Here’s what we know … a man named Daniel says he was partying at Tao nightclub in the Venetian in the early hours of October 19th when he tried to take a cell phone pic of the crowd. According to a statement Daniel gave to Tao security, the man says Blake (who was partying at the club with his L.A. Clippers teammates) was bothered by the flash of the camera — and “grabbed my phone with one hand.” Daniel says he didn’t let go of the phone because his ID and credit card were attached to it — so Blake grabbed his neck and began to squeeze while demanding Daniel give up his phone “or else.” According to the statement, the two eventually separated after Blake took the phone — and when Daniel tried to ask for it back, Blake struck again … grabbing his neck and squeezing for a second time. Daniel says when security finally got to the scene — Blake told them, “Get him the f**k out of this club.” Daniel says Blake then “slapped me in the right side of my face.”
- The Boston Celtics are trying to find a home for Will Bynum, but may end up waiving him if nothing comes to fruition, from Mark Murphy of Boston Herald: “Danny Ainge and Mark Bartelstein, the agent for Will Bynum, continued to work yesterday to find a destination for the veteran point guard that might also bring the Celtics something of value in return. “We’re trying to see if there is something we can do,” said Bartelstein, who added Bynum is working out in Chicago, where years ago he was the high school teammate of Tony Allen. Bartelstein stressed that Bynum has neither been asked to stay away from Celtics training camp nor refused to attend. According to the agent, Bynum has recovered from a strained hamstring that kept him out of preseason games for the Pistons prior to last week’s Joel Anthony trade, and is ready to resume workouts for either the Celtics or another team. That said, the Celtics are still most likely to waive the 31-year-old Bynum by the end of the week.”
- Here’s a pretty sick old clip of Willis Reed fighting a whole lot of players on the Lakers and breaking some jaws along the way. Talk about a different time and a dude you would not have wanted to mess with.
- Jalen Rose explained the difference between his show Countdown on ABC and Inside the NBA on TNT, from Richard Deitsch of SI: “What has happened with the overall fan and public perception of our show is that it should compete with [Turner’s] Inside The NBA. But the reality of it is they are very different shows. You are talking about a pregame show that is a precursor to an event, a path to a destination. It has to be a vehicle for breaking news and a lead-in to an actual game. A lot of times our pregame show is on ABC, which is Disney, which comes on at noon on Sunday and therefore you have moms, grandmothers and grandkids watching the show. Inside the NBA is late-night television, sometimes airing at 1:00 a.m. Charles has his foot up on the desk. That’s the sports equivalent of a Jimmy Kimmel. It should be compared to late-night TV because that’s what it is. So because of that, I think we need to own who we are. Countdown is a pregame show and we have to own our lane as a pregame show. That’s the focus and direction we are heading in.”
- Rose was also asked about the possibility of the Cleveland Cavaliers winning a championship this season. This was his response: “I am big on that process. So if I had to pick my favorite in the East today, I would pick the Bulls. Here’s why: People underestimate teamwork and cohesion in basketball. The Bulls have been together a long time. They play playoff-style basketball and they also look to win with their defense. While Kevin Love is a top-10 player and obviously LeBron is a four-time MVP and Kyrie Irving is an All-Star guard, Love and Kyrie still have to show they can be competitive defensively. For Kevin Love, throwing Pau Gasol, Nikola Mirotic and Taj Gibson at him is going to be a load.”
- According to the annual GM Survey, Stephen Curry is once again voted as someone worthy of being a top three player. At the shooting guard position. Yikes.
- Dwyane Wade spent some time on the court with a 90-year-old woman whose dream was to shoot hoops with the star guard. Check out the fantastic clip here.
- Long-time NBA writer Mark Heisler was less than thrilled with what Henry Abbott wrote about Kobe Bryant, and somewhat questioned some of the sources quoted in the story: “Kobe’s high-maintenance but Abbott notion he’s destroying #Lakers is joke. Busses waiting for him to go–so they gave him 2 years @ $48.5M?… Henry Abbott can think what he likes–but he put his opinion in ‘Laker sources’ mouths. I have way more than he does. Mine don’t think that.”
James Park is a blogger and editor of Sheridan Hoops. Follow him on twitter @SheridanBlog.