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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

David Nwaba and the Road Less Traveled

David Nwaba speaks to Basketball Insiders about his unconventional path to the NBA.

David Yapkowitz

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A player’s path to the NBA usually follows the same formula: A star in high school, a strong college career, and then eventually being selected in the NBA Draft. However, there are times when a player’s path is more unconventional. In the case of David Nwaba, he definitely took the path less traveled.

He attended University High School in West Los Angeles, where he was named All-Western League MVP twice as well as being an all-league selection. He finished his senior year in 2011 putting up 22.0 points per game and 11.5 rebounds per game.

He went to an NCAA Division 2 school, however, Hawaii Pacific University, but never suited up for them as he redshirted his freshman year. He played a year at Santa Monica Community College, where he was the Western State Conference South Division Player of the Year before transferring to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. According to Nwaba, the decision to leave Hawaii Pacific was made with the NBA in mind.

“It was always a dream of mine, it’s also why I left a Division 2 school that I started at,” Nwaba told Basketball Insiders. “I had bigger dreams of playing D1 and potentially the NBA. So that was a dream of mine. I never thought the journey would go like this but it is how it is.”

Behind Nwaba, Cal Poly made their first-ever NCAA appearance in 2014. They won the Big West Tournament as the seventh seed out of eight teams, and then knocked off Dayton for the right to come in as a No. 16 seed against No. 1 seed Wichita State. Cal Poly would go on to lose to Wichita State, but sparking that run to March Madness put Nwaba on the basketball map.

He didn’t get to the NBA right away, though. His first professional experience came with the then Los Angeles D-Fenders, now South Bay Lakers, the Los Angeles Lakers G-League affiliate. He initially began with the Reno Bighorns, the Sacramento Kings affiliate, but his rights were traded to Los Angeles. His strong play in the G-League was what caught the Lakers’ attention, enough to give him a pair of 10-day contracts, and then one for the rest of the season.

“It was a perfect spot to start up my professional career The G-League is a place to develop your game, and I think I developed a lot,” Nwaba told Basketball Insiders. “I learned a lot about the game, and I think it was a good place for me to start just out of college.”

Although he made a strong impression on the Lakers, Nwaba found out that nothing is ever guaranteed in the NBA. Due to a roster crunch when the team signed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope over the summer, the Lakers ended up cutting him. He didn’t stay unemployed for long though. Before he had a chance to hit the open market, the Chicago Bulls claimed him off waivers.

He’s since carved out a role as one of the Bulls most dependable players in the second unit. And just like his path to the league, his role is a bit of an unconventional one as a shooting guard. He’s shooting 51.7 percent from the field, but most of his shots come from in the paint. He only shoots 26.3 percent from three-point range. It’s been effective for him though.

“It’s just bringing energy off the bench and just being that defender,” Nwaba told Basketball Insiders. “For the most part, I just try to be aggressive going to the basket, finishing at the rim, making the right plays, just defending and playing hard.”

The Chicago Bulls got off to a slow start this season. They lost 17 of their first 20 games. In December, they started to pick up their play, winning 11 of their 20 games including a seven-game win streak. However, they’ve now dropped eight of their last 11 games. Despite that, Nwaba does see some encouraging signs. And in the Eastern Conference, he’s not quite ready to count out another run.

“We’re developing every game, just building chemistry amongst each other,” Nwaba told Basketball Insiders. “Who knows, all it takes is just a streak of eight to ten games or something and we’re already back in the playoff race. You never know, anything can turn around. It’s still a long season, a lot of games to be played, and a lot of time to develop our game. We’ve still got a lot of time with each other.”

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NBA Daily: The Los Angeles Lakers Could Be Up Next

The Los Angeles Lakers may not make the playoffs this season, but they’re trending in the right direction.

Dennis Chambers

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The Los Angeles Lakers are coming.

They may not be playoff-bound this season as some of their purple and gold faithful hoped for, but the prestigious franchise occupying the Staples Center is showing improvement from their young players. Perhaps even enough to lure the likes of established stars come summer time.

In Luke Walton’s second season as the Lakers’ head coach, he hits the All-Star break with his team holding a 23-34 record. Granted, that’s not the level of success he was used to during his time with the Golden State Warriors, but it is only three fewer wins than his team had all of last season.

Prior to limping into the break on the back of a three-game losing streak, the Lakers had won eight of 10. During that stretch, they’d beaten the likes of Oklahoma City (twice), Indiana, and Boston. Along with making the most of their performances over that span, the Lakers were also doing so without 2017’s second overall pick, Lonzo Ball, who’s sidelined with an injury.

But Ball isn’t the only Los Angeles darling who has shined this season. In fact, it’s arguable that he’s not even the most impressive youngster on the team.

Drafted second overall last season, Brandon Ingram is showing the improvement this season that warranted such a high selection. His play thus far suggests he’s one of the building blocks of the Lakers’ next era in contending for a championship.

In his 53 games this season, Ingram is averaging 16.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game. His shooting from the floor and from beyond the arc have both seen dramatic increases as well this season. Over the same stretch that saw the Lakers go 8-2 with wins over cemented playoff teams, Ingram upped his assists per night to 5.2, taking the place of facilitator with Ball sidelined.

Though Ingram and the Lakers haven’t been setting the win column on fire all season, the steady growth and improvement show to him that the team is moving in the right direction, under the right coach.

“I think we’ve been doing a pretty good job,” Ingram said to reporters during All-Star weekend. “I think guys have gotten better every single day. I think we come in with the mindset that we have a really good coach that pushes us every single day. I like the progress of what we’re doing in our organization.”

Walton, this season more than last, has shown the ability to get the most out of the players he has. Ingram’s improvement, plus the capability as a point guard Ball has shown, are the givens. They were highly selected players, expected to contribute immediately. But it’s the production of the players who were afterthoughts that are a major testament to Walton’s teachings.

Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart were selected with the 27th and 30th picks in last June’s draft. Both were collegiate upperclassmen with noted handicaps in their respective games that led to teams selecting younger, or more athletic, or sweeter shooting players in their place.

A few years from now when everyone looks back, that could prove to be a silly mistake.

All Kuzma has done this season is keep his name consistently in the Rookie of the Year award race by averaging 15.7 points, 5.9 rebounds and shooting nearly 36 percent from beyond the arc. He’s been a lightning rod of scoring for the Lakers on nights where they desperately need it, racking up 13 games where he’s reached at least 20 points, and three games breaking the 30-point plateau.

Hart, on the other hand, hasn’t been as steady a performer as his fellow late first-round selected teammate. But when called upon, especially since Ball has been out, Hart’s shown the all-around game that made him one of the most decorated players in college basketball while at Villanova.

Over the last month, Hart has averaged 8.8 points and five rebounds per game, while shooting 52.8 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from beyond the arc. During that same stretch, Hart’s scored in double-figures six times and registered three straight double-doubles at the beginning of February.

Moving forward, as the Lakers look to add high-priced free agent in the coming summers, having guys like Kuzma and Hart on cost-effective rookie contracts is a luxury teams around the league hope to have.

Diamonds in the rough like Kuzma and more than capable contributors like Hart are nice, of course, but the real reason for optimism in L.A. is Ingram. He’s the player with a star power ceiling. He’s the guy that the likes of LeBron James and Paul George look at when they weigh their free agent options, as a guy who can handle the workload on the nights they may not have it.

Ingram’s game isn’t finished, though; far from it, in fact. But he knows that, and he’s aware of the steps he needs to take to get to that next level.

“To improve my game I think from a shooting standpoint,” Ingram said. “If I get that down, I think it would be a lot more easier for me to drive to the basket, break down a lot of guys, make plays for my other teammates. I think it would take me to a whole other level.”

Playing for the Los Angeles Lakers doesn’t come void of expectations. There, in Hollywood, everyone is always watching. Fans, other teams, the media, everyone is waiting for the next time a Laker championship comes around. With the weight of the world on their shoulders, Ingram thinks the current legend captaining the ship is the young team’s best asset to achieving that ultimate success everyone in Los Angeles is accustomed too.

“Magic Johnson,” Ingram said. “He’s in our front office. He’s at most of every practice, every single day. For any advice why not go to him, with the caliber of player he was and how many championships he won, the way he carries himself. He always there for just information on anything we need.”

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NBA All-Star Friday Recap

Simon Hannig recaps NBA All-Star Friday 2018.

Simon Hannig

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NBA All-Star Celebrity Game

The NBA All-Star Celebrity Game was highlighted by many stars this year, including Tracy McGrady, Paul Pierce, Nate Robinson, Candace Parker, Bubba Watson, Rachel DeMita and many more. Team Lakers was led by head coach, Rachel Nichols. Team Clippers was led by Katie Nolan.

Quavo, of hip hop group Migos, had the first the two points for Team Clippers, and Justin Bieber had the first three points for Team Lakers.

Team Clippers defeated Team Lakers 75-66.

Quavo led the way for Team Clippers with 19 points on 7/10 shooting, with 5 rebounds and 3 assists. Olympic sprinter Andre De Grasse had 17 points on 8/14 shooting and 6 rebounds. Actor and social media star Brandon Armstrong finished with 16 points on 6/17 shooting, 11 rebounds and 3 assists for Team Clippers. Both wereamong the top three leading scorers for Team Clippers.

NBA2KTV host, actress and model, Rachel DeMita led the way for Team Lakers with 17 points on 6/12 shooting and 2 rebounds. NBA legend Nate Robinson was the second leading scorer for Team Lakers with 14 points on 4/11 shooting, 5 rebounds and 4 assists.

Other notable NBA and WNBA legends stats from tonight’s game — Stefanie Dolson (Chicago Sky) had zero points. Paul Pierce had 4 points on 2/3 shooting and 1 rebound. Jason Williams had 2 points on 1/3 shooting and 1 rebound. Tracy McGrady had 3 points on 1/3 shooting, 3 assists and 2 rebounds. Candace Parker (Los Angeles Sparks) had zero points.

Quavo was named MVP.

BBVA Compass Rising Stars Game

There is a ton of young talent in this league, and the league will be in good hands for years to come. The talent was put on display tonight in Los Angeles.

Utah Jazz rookie sensation Donovan Mitchell gave us an early preview of the dunk contest tomorrow by throwing an ally-oop pass to himself off the backboard in the first half.

However, it was all Team World in the first half as they led 78-59 at the break. Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic of the Sacramento Kings each had 14 points to lead Team World. Jaylen Brown led the way for Team USA with 16 points at the half.

It felt like a three point contest throughout the entire game, as there were 96 combined three point attempts. Bogdanovic led the way with seven three pointers made for both teams.

All in all, Team World defeated Team USA 155-124. Hield led the way for Team World with 29 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists. Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics led the way for Team USA with 35 points and 10 rebounds.

The MVP of the game was Bogdan Bogdanovic, who dazzled the crowd with his three point shooting. He had 26 points, 6 assists and 4 rebounds with seven made three’s.

Next up for the NBA in this fun-filled weekend is NBA All-Star Saturday Night with the dunk contest, three point contest and much more.

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