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The Knicks Need to Ditch The Triangle

Phil Jackson and the Knicks are clinging to the past as the rest of NBA passes them by.

Tommy Beer

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Last month marked the three-year anniversary of Phil Jackson being hired as New York’s President of Basketball Operations. Knicks fans welcomed Phil back to NYC with open arms, hoping he would lead the team back to respectability. Jackson obviously wanted the same thing, but he was determined to do it his way.

Jackson began preaching the many benefits of The Triangle Offense as soon as he arrived. Unfortunately, yet unsurprisingly, it has failed. While the majority of the NBA’s most successful teams have offenses that spread the floor in an effort to get as many three-pointers and layups/dunks as possible, Jackson and his emissaries stubbornly insist on staying stuck in the past.

When Jackson hired Jeff Hornacek last summer to be the Knicks’ head coach, there was hope that Hornacek would be allowed to revamp and update the offense. While the Knicks initially ran far less of the Triangle than in years past, Hornacek has seemed to bend to the will of Jackson late in the season. Last month, he told reporters that the remainder of the season would be used to evaluate which players embraced and thrived in the system.

“End of the year comes and we’re having our discussions and you say, ‘Can this guy play this offense?’ We’ll say either yay or nay or he’s getting it, he’s getting better. So, I’m sure that’s part of evaluations this summer,” said Hornacek.

Hornacek also later hinted that one of the problems derailing the 2016-17 Knicks was veering away from the Triangle too often, and that the plan was to go “full triangle” at the start of next season.

Amazingly, the takeaway from another lost season in New York is not that the Knicks are running too much Triangle, it’s that they haven’t run it nearly enough.

For three years now, the Knicks have operated under Jackson’s preferred approach. The problem is that the system has not produced the desired results. Again and again, the Knicks have found themselves essentiality eliminated from playoff contention shortly after the All-Star break.

The New York Knicks have posted a cumulative record of 79-164 in the three years under Jackson’s reign. Only two teams in the entire league have lost more games over that span than the Knicks.

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During the early 1800s, amid the British industrial revolution, groups of skilled textile workers feared the future. They believed that automated looms and knitting frames being introduced at that time would leave them displaced and jobless. Luddites, as these individuals came to be known, began destroying machinery and other technological improvements in the misguided hope of preserving their livelihoods.

In the centuries since the Industrial Revolution, the term Luddite has been associated with individuals who are hostile to advances in technology.

In many industries even today, individuals that have been successful in the past often find themselves at odds with innovative technological advancements. In the sports world, for instance, analytics are viewed by many as a threat to the status quo.

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In a rare interview, granted to the New York Times in February of 2015, Jackson, already feeling the heat and determined to defend the Triangle, stated he wasn’t ready to capitulate and implement changes into the Knicks’ offense.

“I think it’s still debatable about how basketball is going to be played, what’s going to win out,” Jackson said, leaving no doubt of his disdain for the point-guard-dominated concept of “screen-and-roll, break down, pass, and two of three players standing in spots, not participating in the offense.

In May of that year, Jackson took to Twitter to ask for “some diagnostics on how 3pt oriented teams are faring this playoffs.” Infamously, he signed off with “seriously, how’s it goink?”

Well, the returns are in Mr. Jackson. The “diagnostics” have taught us that most of the NBA’s best teams try to avoid mid-range jump shots in favor of three-pointers or attempts at the rim.

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In recent years, a tectonic shift has changed the way the game is played. Many teams in today’s NBA are incredibly reliant on long-distance shooting, including the majority of the league’s elite contenders. The two teams that led the NBA in made three-pointers during the 2015-16 regular season were the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers – the two teams that ultimately ended up squaring off in the NBA Finals.

NBA players have made 22,470 three-pointers this season, breaking the single-season record of 20,953 set in 2015-16.

There are four teams currently averaging over 11 made three-pointer per game this season: The Rockets, Cavaliers, Warriors and Celtics. The Cavs and Celts sit atop the Eastern Conference standings. The Rockets are third in the West, while the Warriors boast the best record in the league. Those four squads have a combined record of 218-94 (.699 winning percentage).

There are only four teams currently averaging fewer than eight made three-pointers per game this season: The Pistons, Suns, Bulls and Timberwolves. All four are currently below .500. The combined record of those four teams is 126-186 (.403 winning percentage). Both the Orlando Magic and the New York Knicks are averaging just over eight three-pointers per game. If we included them in the math, the cumulative winning percentage of three-point averse teams would certainly dip.

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As recently as eight-to-10 years ago, when Phil Jackson was still on top of the coaching world, three-pointers were not a necessity. Teams could dominate without relying on long-range shots and The Triangle Offense was certainly still viable.

In 2008-09, when Phil Jackson won a title with the Lakers, only two teams in the entire league made more than eight three-pointers per game.

But times have changed. The introduction of analytics, although it was initially resisted by many, has rapidly revamped the way most coaches approach game plans and the way general managers approach roster construction.

Make no mistake, the times they are a changin’. The teams that attempt and make more shots from behind the arc and at the rim tend to win more ballgames.

Yet, Phil Jackson remains convinced the Triangle can still reign supreme. Which, by proxy, means the Knicks’ offense will continue to stagnate and settle for mid-range jumpers far too often. Unless Phil can convince the rest of the NBA to stop shooting so many three-pointers, New York will continue to lag behind the rest of the league if they insist on sticking with the Triangle.

Per NBA.com, the Knicks are attempting 25.6 mid-range jumpers (28.9 percent of New York’s total field goal attempts) per game this season. That’s the highest average in the league. In contrast, the Rockets average just 7.1 attempts from that distance.

New York also led the league in field goal attempts from the mid-range zone last season as well. In 2014-15, they were tied with Byron Scott’s Lakers for the most such attempts.

According to NBAMiner.com, the Knicks “average shot distance” is 12.8 feet from the basket this season. That’s exactly 15th in the NBA (sandwiched between the Sixers and the Nets), meaning New York is often neither at the rim or behind the arc. That’s the NBA’s ‘no man’s land.’

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Jackson was brought in to right the ship and steer the Knicks towards respectability. Under Jackson, the Knicks have gotten worse. New York was above .500 (169-143) in the four seasons prior to Phil’s arrival.

Since Jackson came aboard, the Knicks have been investing in a dying technology. The numbers bear this out in every way possible. The stats are undeniable, with the clearest indicator being the win/loss record. And it’s not as if the Knicks roster has been completely bereft of talent. They have had an All-Star each of the last four seasons. In addition, Willy Hernangomez will make either the first or second All-Rookie Team this year, which means it will also be the fourth straight season the Knicks have also had at least a player named to the NBA’s All-Rookie Team. New York is actually the only franchise in the league able to claim this distinction.

Still, the Knicks still find themselves nearly 20 games below .500 once again. The system didn’t work when Carmelo was surrounded by young players. It didn’t work with Melo surrounded by veterans. Maybe the system is part of the problem, not the solution.

Instead of acknowledging it’s now necessary to adjust to a changing landscape, the Knicks decision makers not only seem committed to an ineffectual system, they appear dedicated to doubling down.

Of course, it would be foolish to pin all the blame on the Triangle. The biggest problem in New York this season has been on the defensive end of the floor.

Offensively, the Knicks are averaging 104.6 per 100 possessions this season. That’s well below average (19th in the NBA in Offensive Efficiency), but far better than their Defensive Rating. New York is allowing 108.4 points per 100 possessions (fifth-worst in the league).

However, in lieu of publicly demanding improved defensive effort, last month Phil Jackson came down from his office to run a clinic on the Triangle at practice. Dedicating time and resources to The Triangle hampers their ability to focus on more pressing issues.

To his credit, Jackson has done some positive things during his tenure in New York. The single most important decision he has made as an executive was deciding who to take with the fourth pick in the 2015 draft. By selecting Kristaps Porzingis, Jackson hit a home run. In addition, he has been adamant about not trading away any future draft picks. Thus, the Knicks future is not as dreary as some have portrayed it to be.

However, the recommitment to the Triangle over the second half of the season should frighten Knicks fans. Considering his age and how things have played out so far in New York, it’s clear Phil won’t be in charge of the Knicks forever. What type of team will he leave behind for the person that inherits his job? Will he flesh out the roster with players that fit one particular system, one which will almost certainly be abandoned once Jackson leaves town? For instance, the Knicks will have a high lottery pick in June. This draft class is loaded with top-tier point guard prospects, and the Knicks desperately need to add a PG this summer. Will Phil choose to pass on a playmaker such as De’Aaron Fox because Fox doesn’t fit in the Triangle?

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The Luddites destroying looms and knitting machines wasn’t going to save their jobs. Technology would only continue to advance forward, regardless of what they did.

The NBA isn’t going backward either. Winning teams aren’t going to somehow forget that three-point attempts are more valuable than those from two-point territory. The rules that have been changed to benefit perimeter players and increase scoring are not going to be reversed anytime soon either.

Success starts from the top down. Whether it’s running a factory in Britain in the early 19th century or running an NBA franchise, certain constants exist.

The famous scientist Charles Darwin was born in England in 1809, just two years before the Luddite revolution began. Darwin, best known for his contributions to the science of evolution, once wrote, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent; it is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

It’s time for Phil Jackson and the Knicks to adapt, or continue down their current path, which ends in irrelevance and annual, early-season extinction.

Tommy Beer is a Senior NBA Analyst and the Fantasy Sports Editor of Basketball Insiders, having covered the NBA for the last nine seasons.

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NBA Daily: What Is The Hurry To Deal Leonard?

The San Antonio Spurs don’t seem any closer to a Kawhi Leonard trade than they were in mid-June. The real question is, what is the rush to make a deal?

Steve Kyler

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What’s The Hurry?

The San Antonio Spurs and disgruntled forward Kawhi Leonard don’t seem any closer to a resolution today than they were back in mid-June when ESPN’s Chris Haynes dropped the bomb that Leonard no longer trusted the Spurs and wanted out.

While it seems fairly clear that Leonard is going to be dealt, the artificial sense of urgency from the outside doesn’t seem to be bothering the Spurs, as word in NBA circles is they continue to listen to offers but don’t seem anywhere close to making a decision. That can always change.

There are a few things that have started to leak out about the situation worth talking about, and some of it shouldn’t be all that surprising.

Kawhi Wants His Own Team

It is a common belief among fans that players should covet the chance to compete for a championship even if it means checking their own egos at the door. What’s become clear in this Leonard saga is that he has way more ego and bigger individual goals than anyone might have thought a year ago.

According to a source close to Leonard for a number of years, Leonard has always coveted his own team. He wants the chance to be the focal point on a group built around him. The idea that Leonard would openly welcome being second or third fiddle seemed unlikely to this source, which brings into question how seriously Leonard would pursue the chance to play with LeBron James in LA as a Laker.

There have been reports already suggesting that Leonard may not want the sidekick role with the Lakers, and that seems to line up with things sources were saying in Las Vegas last week.

If Leonard truly doesn’t want to share the spotlight with a bigger star, that could make this whole process a lot more interesting.

Kawhi Is Leaving A Lot of Guaranteed Money

Leonard became extension-eligible yesterday, reaching the third-year anniversary of his current contract. Because Leonard has made All-NBA in two of the past three seasons, he became eligible for what’s been commonly dubbed the “Supermax” contract extension, which would allow him to jump into the 35 percent of the salary cap max contract tier.

Based on the current cap, that extension could be worth as much as $221 million if he signs this summer. That money is only available to Leonard if he stays with the Spurs and gives him almost $30 million more money than he could receive becoming a free agent in July, even if he is traded to a new team that could obtain his Bird Rights.

While some have suggested that Leonard could make up some of that money being in a bigger market, it’s hard to imagine that he’s gaining $30 million more than his current marketing value, especially given his reclusive personality.

If by some miracle the Spurs and Leonard do reach an extension agreement, he would be untradable for one year from the date of his extension, so the idea of giving it one more year in order to salvage the contract money isn’t out of the question. The question becomes, would the Spurs do it without a full-throated pledged to be a Spur for the duration of the deal?

Lakers And Sixers Seem To Have Lost Interest

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, on a recent ESPN podcast, suggested that the Lakers and the Sixers may have taken themselves out of the race for Leonard after making what most insiders believe was their best efforts to secure Leonard in trade. According to sources near both situations, the Spurs simply listened and didn’t really openly engage in negotiations sort of ended things where they started.

That’s not to say either team couldn’t jump back into the fray; there is a sense in NBA circles that the Lakers simply won’t give away the farm for Leonard, knowing they could be the favorite to sign him outright next July, so why give up too much?

The 76ers pursuit of Leonard was more about going all in, but only to a point. The 76ers were said to be reluctant to include Markell Fultz in a deal for Leonard, and that they were equally unwilling to let trade talks derail their upcoming season.

Are The Raptors The front Runners?

In the same podcast, Windhorst suggested that with the Lakers and Sixers likely bowing out, the Toronto Raptors may have jumped into the driver’s seat on a Leonard trade.

That would line up with the notion of the Raptors wanting to do something aggressive to better match up with Boston, and potentially clear some cap space should it not work out. It’s unclear exactly what the Raptors would be offering San Antonio to cement a deal, but they have no shortage of young promising players and a few proven All-Stars in DeMar DeRozan and/or Kyle Lowry that could be the centerpiece of a deal.

League sources said as many as eight teams started doing due diligence on Leonard after the NBA draft, and there was a growing sense that teams other than the Lakers were willing to pony up for a shot at Leonard, even in a rental.

The hope on a Leonard trade is similar to what played out in Oklahoma City with Paul George: that Leonard lands in a new environment and falls in love with the situation enough to commit long-term. There is clearly a risk in that thinking, but it seems several teams were at least open to the idea.

Training Camp Is The Real Deadline

While most of the basketball world has “Kawhi Fatigue” and simply wants it over already, the truth is the Spurs have a much longer runway.

The next milestone opens next week when Team USA opens mini-camp in Las Vegas. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is set to coach the men’s Senior Nation Team, and Leonard is among the 35 players selected to compete for a shot at the 2020 Olympic squad.

There has been talk that Leonard may opt not to attend until his situation is resolved, which would make the optics of the situation that much worse. There are many in the NBA that believe the Spurs are waiting to see if time together in Las Vegas might bridge the gaps between Popovich and Leonard, so how both handle the Team USA camp is worth watching.

While the outcome of a few days in Las Vegas likely won’t seal a deal, either way, the real window for a deal is the week of training camp in late September. That’s when things will start to get ugly and real for both the Spurs and Leonard. Neither are going to want to open camp with this situation hanging over their heads, so that’s the real date to watch.

The New York Knicks and Carmelo Anthony had a similar situation last year; it came to a resolution literally the day training camp opened, despite weeks and weeks of trade talks.

It may take exactly that long for the Spurs to finally agree to their own deal, so don’t expect closure quickly. There isn’t anything motivating a decision, beyond everyone being ready for it to be over already.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @SpinDavies, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_, @MattJohnNBA, and @Ben__Nadeau .

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NBA Daily: Jaren Jackson Jr. Adapting As He Goes

Memphis Grizzlies rookie Jaren Jackson Jr. has put on a show this summer. Spencer Davies dives into what’s been behind the success and how it bodes well for the future.

Spencer Davies

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Meeting Jaren Jackson Jr. for the first time, you won’t find an ounce of doubt in him.

Instead, you’ll be introduced to a high-spirited man oozing with charisma and an obvious love for the game of basketball, which likely factored into why the Memphis Grizzlies were so keen on taking him with the fourth overall pick in the NBA Draft.

Then there’s the big reason—quite literally—that came into play. Standing at 6-foot-11 with over a 7-foot-5 wingspan and hands that are the size of most people’s heads, Jackson Jr. is the term “matchup problem” personified.

We’re seeing the evidence in front of our very eyes already. In eight summer league games between Utah and Las Vegas, the versatile Jackson Jr. is averaging 12.9 points and seven rebounds. He is shooting 41.3 percent from the field and has knocked down half of his attempts (14-for-28) from beyond the arc.

It didn’t take long for the JJJ bandwagon to get established. In his first taste of NBA action against the Atlanta Hawks in Salt Lake City, he scored 29 points and cashed in on eight triples to kick off July. He hasn’t tried more than four perimeter shots since then, but he’s been plenty busy doing other things just as important on the floor.

“I think I’m surprised by how well I’ve been doing,” a smiling, candid Jackson Jr. said. “You’re surprised at yourself sometimes, especially like the first game.”

You can look at these aforementioned offensive stats and take them with a grain of salt since the level of competition is a step below what the real professional ranks bring to the table. However, seeing the anticipation, reaction time, and natural awareness on the defensive end makes the lengthy forward a true gem of a prospect.

In all but one game thus far, Jackson Jr. has recorded multiple rejections every time he’s stepped foot on the court, including two occasions where he swatted four shots. It’s added up to an average of 3.3 blocks per contest to this point.

So since the outside potential, the athleticism and the rim protection are all there, what else is there to hone in on?

“I think just my aggressiveness,” Jackson Jr. said. “Making sure I play tougher, go harder longer. And my shooting…kind of—make sure I get my form right and all that stuff.”

Adjusting to a new pace at the next level can take some time. It depends on how fast of a learner a player is and how quickly that person can apply that knowledge in a game setting. Jackson Jr. thinks he’s started to pick it up as he’s gone along.

“It’s getting a lot better,” he said. “It’s a lot more spacing so it’s pretty cool. But they’re definitely stronger and faster players, so you have to adapt to that.”

Thanks to contributions from Jackson Jr.—in addition to Jevon Carter and Kobi Simmons—the Grizzlies have had loads of success in Sin City. They are one of the final four teams standing as summer league play wraps up in a day.

Whether the result goes in the favor of Memphis or not, the last couple of weeks in Las Vegas have impacted Jackson Jr. in a positive manner in more ways than one as a student of the game—and he’ll be better off because of it.

“It’s been cool,” Jackson Jr. said. “It’s a lot of stuff going on. It seems like more of an event when you’re here as far as watching it on TV over the years. You get like a new historic player sitting on the sideline every day talking to people. You meet people in your hotel. Bunch of stuff like that. It’s been a good experience just having everybody here before we all leave and go to our own cities.

“I kinda went into it [with a] clear head. I didn’t really didn’t want to put too much into it ‘cause I’m learning everything new. Everything is new. Being a rookie, everything’s gonna be a new thing.”

As the youngest player in his draft class at 18 years old, Jackson Jr. has a ways to go to familiarize himself with the NBA.

But by the looks of things, the NBA had better prepare to familiarize itself with him as well.

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NBA Daily: Antonio Blakeney Hoping For A Big 2nd Year

After an impressive rookie stint, Antonio Blakeney gives us a tale of hope and potential.

David Yapkowitz

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The Chicago Bulls are in the midst of a rebuilding project. This summer, they held on to one of their key young players in Zach LaVine and drafted two guys in Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchinson whom they’re hoping can be part of that rebuild.

But there might be one player on the roster already who could play a big role in the team’s future. A year ago, Antonio Blakeney used a big summer league performance in Las Vegas to earn a two-way contract with the Bulls.

This time around, with his NBA future a little more secure, he’s working on becoming more familiar with the team.

“Just learning and getting better,” Blakeney told Basketball Insiders his goals are. “Obviously being able to play through my mistakes, go out here and learn and get familiar with the coaching staff. Keep building our relationship with the coaches and stuff.”

Blakeney went undrafted last summer after declaring for the draft following two years at LSU. He lit up Las Vegas to the tune of 16.8 points in four games before the Bulls signed him. Under the two-way contract, he split time between Chicago and the Windy City Bulls, their G-League affiliate.

His summer success carried over to the G-League where he exploded on the scene averaging 32 points per game and being named the G-League Rookie of the Year. Being shuffled back and forth between leagues was a bit of an adjustment for Blakeney, but it was an experience he ended up learning a lot from.

“It was an up and down roller coaster from the NBA to the G-League and stuff like that. Starting in summer league, going to the big team, going to camp, preseason games and going to the G-League. It was an up and down experience,” Blakeney said.

“Overall, it was great. I think I learned a lot in the G-League. A lot of rookies play in the G-League now. Going down there it’s kind of tough. For some guys, the travel is different. It’s just staying motivated and working hard.”

It’s no secret that Blakeney can put up points in a hurry, as he was the Tigers third-leading scorer his freshman year behind Ben Simmons and Keith Hornsby with 12.6 points per game. His sophomore year, he led the Tigers in scoring with 17.2 points.

He knows though that he’ll have to be able to do other things if he wants to stick in the NBA. While he’s been lighting up the stat sheet scoring wise this summer in Vegas, he’s been working on other aspects of his game. He’s been charged by the Bulls summer league coaching staff with initiating the offense.

“Obviously I got to be a combo. I got to be able to move over to the one and make plays and stuff like that. So just working on making that simple play,” Blakeney said. “Obviously, I’m a natural scorer so I’m not really a pass-first guy, but I’m more when the simple play presents itself, to make it.”

While his future may be more secure, the majority of the guys in summer league don’t have that luxury. The two-way contract Blakeney signed last summer was for two years and based on his play this summer, it would be shocking to see the Bulls let him go.

For his summer teammates who don’t have that security, he understands what they’re going through. Having been in that situation a year ago, he’s got plenty of advice for them.

“Just go work hard, learn from the veteran guys, but compete,” Blakeney said. “Go at the guys that’s supposed to be the best. If you think you’re that good, go at guys. Just compete, that’s the main thing I did, I just competed.”

And although nothing is ever guaranteed in the NBA, especially regular rotation minutes, Blakeney is confident that he can be a regular contributor. The league is filled with guys who come off the bench and provide instant offense. He knows if, given the opportunity, he can do that too.

“I think next season my goal is to try to crack the rotation and just be a guy who brings energy off the bench,” Blakeney said. “I can get buckets fast, get it going, bring energy and get buckets off the bench, just do my thing. That’s something that in my young career I’m trying to get in to.”

He’s certainly off to a good start.

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