Being a New York Knicks fan can be very stressful. Since the magical run the team had in 2013 when they reached the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, they’ve been on standby in the East. Since then, LeBron has won two more championships–even one in Cleveland.
When Phil Jackson took over as President of Basketball Operations in March of 2014 it was a sigh of relief for Knicks fans. Despite what ownership and coaching had in store, as long as Phil was at the table the team would be in good hands. After the deep playoff run in 2013 the team has had three coaches and countless roster rotations and have failed to reach the postseason.
This past offseason was quite a frenzy. Though the Knicks were long shots to land top free agent Kevin Durant, Phil Jackson had a few tricks left up his sleeve to get the roster in shape to contend. Rumors began to surface that Derrick Rose was on the trading block. Over the past three seasons, he’s been riddled with injuries in Chicago and the Bulls front office was looking for a change. Just days before the July 1st free agency startup Rose was traded to the Knicks in exchange for Robin Lopez, Jerian Grant and veteran point guard Jose Calderon.
For years the Knicks have failed to provide Carmelo Anthony with another superstar to play alongside. Now, with Rose, Melo has another go-to player to share the scoring load with. Rose was a beast in Chicago! Now playing with Carmelo and young sensation Kristaps Porzingis, the Knicks are back!
Once free agency began, Phil Jackson put the foot on the gas and built a team worthy of challenging LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers for a trip to the NBA Finals.
The following are the top 15 reasons the Knick will contend in 2017…
15. Hiring Jeff Hornacek
Phil Jackson’s decision to hire Derek Fisher as his first head coach of President of Basketball Operations was a trial run. Unfortunately the decision led to the Knicks winning under 50 games over a span of two seasons.
When the team failed to reach the postseason again this year it was clear Phil needed to change his decision making process. The Knicks started off decent last season but were soon figured out. Just before the All-Star break Jackson relieved Fisher of his duties.
It came as a surprise that Jackson decided on Hornacek to run the team. During his time as head coach of the Phoenix Suns he was an offensive genius. It will only be beneficial with a high caliber offense with Rose, Melo and Porzingis that someone’s in charge who knows how to properly utilize scoring machines.
14. Trading Jose Calderon
It was no secret Calderon was not well liked in NY. When Phil Jackson made his first major trade as President it didn’t take long before it backfired. For the past two seasons the veteran point guard battled injuries and never fit in with team chemistry.
The big sell Jackson tried to convince fans with was pairing Calderon with former Toronto Raptors teammate Andrea Bargnani. Both players like every fan assumed crumbled and were always sidelined with injuries. Calderon did more damage than repair during his time with the Knicks. Besides the frequent injuries he played poor defense and always turned the ball over.
It didn’t help that Calderon struggled runnig the triangle offense, but the veteran guard ironically couldn’t run any offense. Part of it was due to his age and limited capabilities. After he was traded to the Chicago Bulls this offseason the guard went on the record to say that he was surprised the coaching staff put such a big workload on him.
13. Porzingis’ Sophomore Year
Most Knicks fans were displeased on last years draft night when NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced the Knicks selected Kristaps Porzingis with the fourth overall pick. The notorious image of the night was a small boy in glasses crying while he stared at the jumbotron in disbelief.
It didn’t take long for the 7’3 rookie to prove everyone wrong. Many believed the Latvian big man would help on defense but were bewildered when it was revealed what he was capable of on the offensive end. The world stood in shock when Porzingis drilled shot after shot from beyond the arc with such little effort.
The Latvian sensation has been compared to Dallas Mavs veteran Dirk Nowitzki as being a swingman who comes up in the clutch. Carmelo sure seemed excited when the workload didn’t completely fall on him. The sky is the limit for the second year player who is surely the future of the franchise.
12. Melo Coming Off The Olympics
It may be a coincidence or maybe the necessary tools the Knicks’ superstar needs to have a good season, but whenever Carmelo plays in the olympics he always has a great NBA season.
Back in 2008 after an winning a gold medal in Beijing, Carmelo had one of his best seasons ever. That NBA season Carmelo took the Denver Nuggets to the Western Conference Finals. Back in 2012 after the Olympics in London, Carmelo went on to win NBA Scoring Champion and took the Knicks to the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals.
There is just something about playing with Team USA that brings out the best in Carmelo Anthony. It could be the guidance legendary Duke Men’s Basketball Coach K provides, or maybe his former college basketball coach Jim Boeheim from Syracuse University who serves as an assistant coach.
The bottom line is the facts don’t lie! Whenever Carmelo returns with Olympic gold he brings his A game! This year will be no different, especially with the additions of Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Brandon Jennings.
11. Addition of Brandon Jennings
Having a Sixth Man of the Year award winner on your roster can definitely be the boost a team needs to win a championship. Manu Ginobli of the San Antonio Spurs has won the award multiple times and has won numerous championships.
This offseason Phil Jackson signed veteran point guard Brandon Jennings and confidently said “I expect him to win Sixth Man of the Year”. A statement like this could backfire if a player gets hurt or underperforms, but in the Knicks case they really have nothing to lose.
Jennings has been on the Knicks radar for years, they even passed up on him in the 2009 NBA Draft. The Knicks have seen what Jennings is capable of since they’ve played against him while he was a member of the Milwaukee Bucks and the Detroit Pistons. His threat as a three point shooter is unlike most other guard in the league. Jennings is known as a clutch player, having made multiple game winning shots over the course of his career. Phil Jackson has high hopes he will continue his elite play as a Knick.
10. Weak Division
Besides the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors, the level of competition for the Knicks to win their division isn’t that high. Philadelphia seems to add more years to their rebuilding process with each passing season. The roster the Knicks have assembled should earn four easy wins against the 76’ers.
The cross-river rival Brooklyn Nets pose little to no threat to take away any wins from the Knicks either. The lackluster roster is projected to finish dead last in the league this upcoming season and forfeit another draft pick to the Boston Celtics.
Even though the Toronto Raptors are two-time defending division champions their success may have been slightly inflated because of a weak division. Just a season ago they played against the Knicks, 76’ers and Nets who all won less than 33 games.
Besides the Boston Celtics who added free agent forward Al Horford, the Atlantic Division is the Knicks for the taking. The projected roster comparisons against other teams in the division pave the way for the Knicks to win their division and earn a high seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
9. Re-Signing Lance Thomas
In addition to Brandon Jennings coming off the bench, Lance Thomas is expected to take on a larger role as well. The past two season Thomas has been a consistent scorer off the bench for the team and a great substitute scorer for Carmelo Anthony.
Last offseason Thomas worked on his three point shooting, looking to improve his accuracy. The previous year he shot .33% behind the arc and raised his percentage to .40% in 2016.
In addition to his scoring abilities Thomas can defend elite superstars as well. Though he doesn’t have the build like Lebron James and Serge Ibaka, Thomas doesn’t let his smaller stature limit him from taking on the league’s best. He can consistently keep players from scoring in the paint and can defend well from the three point line too.
Though Phil Jackson has high hopes for Brandon Jennings to win Sixth Man of the Year don’t put it past Lance Thomas to make a run for the honor as well. His experience in the league and abilities on the court separates himself from others.
8. More Foreign Talent
Since Kristaps Porzingis turned out to be a gem, the Knicks have reconfigured their player analysis when signing new players. Last year the Knicks traded for Willy Hernangomez who was selected by the Philadelphia 76’ers in the second round. Since 2013 Hernangomez played on Sevilla, the same team that Porzingins was scouted from. The two were teammates for two seasons and both speak very highly of each other. Porzingis’ ability to stretch the floor and play good inside and perimeter defense compliments Hernangomez’s offensive abilities.
This past offseason the Knicks scouted for more support on the small forward role to ease Carmelo Anthony’s workload. Knicks scouts discovered Mindaugas Kuzminskas from Lithuania. Kuzminskas went undrafted in 2011 and went on to play for two different teams in Europe over the last four years. What makes Kuzminskas unique was he was scouted by the same people that observed Porzingis.
Though the two players are nothing alike in capabilities, when someone hits a home run with a young talent once, it’s wise to listen to them when they have a hunch.
7. Talented Rookies
Besides the foreign players the Knicks added to the roster they struck gold in two young players who shockingly went undrafted. The Knicks signed Duke Blue Devils Marshall Plumlee. Plumlee was a four year McDonald All-American from Duke and won a National Championship in 2015. The work-ethic the center possesses is insane. The dedication he demonstrates guarding the rim and covering players one on one is unlike anything ever seen before. In his senior season at Duke, Plumlee averaged 11.5 points per game, 10.3 rebounds and 2.5 blocks.
The Knicks also added a talented scorer to their roster when they signed undrafted shooting guard Ron Baker from Wichita State University. Baker was a former teammate of current Knick Cleanthony Early. The two dominated in scoring in the NCAA tournament where they had multiple tournament runs. Baker has an incredible free throw shooting percentage of 82%. In the 2013 NCAA Tournament Wichita State reached the Semi-Finals where Baker shot over 40% from the field and over 42% from three-point range.
Though the two rookies have a lot of work ahead of them the promise they both show gives the Knicks an edge to contend and hope down the line as future superstars.
6. Acquiring Justin Holiday
After the smoke cleared from the Derrick Rose trade people began to evaluate the exchange. Though the Knicks rid themselves of Jose Calderon and took on reigning MVP and injury prone Rose, one player who made the cherry on top of the multi-player trade was Justin Holiday.
The Bulls threw in Justin Holiday in order to balance the trade for the Knicks after giving up promising guard Jerian Grant to Chicago. Though Holiday has had limited playing time in his career in the short time he’s played has lit up the highlight reel. Holiday was on the 2015 Golden State Warriors championship team and averaged under five points per game. It was difficult for Holiday to find playing time, since he would be filling in for Shaun Livingston & Stephen Curry.
Don’t let Holiday’s stats fool you. Though he hasn’t produced much, when placed in a starting role he thrives. Last season during the Bulls regular season finale Holiday scored 29 points against the Philadelphia 76’ers leading to a 115-105 victory.
5. Signing Courtney Lee
It’s been some time since the Knicks have had a shooting guard who wasn’t on a minutes limit or sidelined with injury. This offseason they laid there problems to rest when they signed Courtney Lee to a four-year deal.
Lee has been a consistent scorer his entire career. During the 2013 playoffs Lee played for the Celtics and constantly gave the Knicks problems, especially beyond the arc. In addition to Lee’s great three point shooting he’s an excellent free throw shooter. Never has Lee had a season where he has shot less than 79% from the line.
Last season Lee was traded from the Memphis Grizzlies to the Charlotte Hornets mid-season. Along with Nicholas Batum and Kemba Walker, Lee helped the Hornets take the Miami Heat to seven games in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. Though he Hornets didn’t advance to the next round Lee averaged just under 10 points per game and demonstrated he can contribute in the postseason.
4. Signing Joakim Noah
After trading Robin Lopez to the Bulls the Knicks number one priority in free agency was signing a center. Some of the other big names available to sign were Dwight Howard, Al Horford and Al Jefferson, but one player who was considerably under looked was Joakim Noah.
Noah played with Rose on the Bulls for many years and went on multiple playoff runs with the former MVP. Noah made it public that he wasn’t returning to Chicago and expressed strong interest in returning to his native New York City.
What makes the Noah signing so lethal is he’s fully recovered from shoulder surgery and ready to compete for a championship. When playing in Chicago, Noah was the prominent big man and carried the defensive duties on his back. Now in New York, Noah has Porzingis, Plumlee, O’Quinn and Lee to help with the defensive effort. Noah’s experience playing with Rose will sure to be helpful in the pick and role and going up for alley oops as well.
3. Acquiring Derrick Rose
When the rumors began to surface that the Knicks were interested in trading for Derrick Rose there was an uneasiness in the air. Rose has been injured the past four seasons with the Bulls and was coming up on the final year of his contract. When Phil Jackson finally pulled the trigger on the deal it ended up being a big win for the Knicks.
For the first time in many years the Knicks had a star point guard who could run the offense and contribute on the scoring end. Though Rose has battled injuries in the past playing under Jeff Hornacek may be a blessing in disguise.
While playing in Chicago under Tom Thibodeau, Rose was forced to play heavy minutes in a hard nosed system. Now in New York, and with Carmelo and Porzingis to share the scoring Rose won’t be counted on as much and will be able to play the point guard role he was designed to play.
2. Rose’s Contract Year
When the Knicks traded for Jose Calderon in 2014 it soon became a decision they would regret. Besides Calderon’s frequent injuries his contract still had three years left until he would be a free agent. The Knicks did their homework when they traded for Derrick Rose this offseason. Though Rose gets paid $20 million in 2016 he’s on the final year of his contract, if he doesn’t produce the Knicks are done after the season.
However the upside for acquiring Rose on his contract year is his incentive to play harder increases. In any sport when player plays for a new contract or an extension they will go to extra lengths to play harder for the big bucks. Rose is an outstanding scorer and can dish out assists as good as any point guard.
With multiple threats available in Carmelo, Porzingis, Lee, Noah, Jennings and Thomas; Rose will have plenty of opportunities to show he’s worthy of another contract despite his injury ridden past.
1. Utilizing The Triangle Offense
Since Phil Jackson came on as Knicks president in March of 2014 there have been non-stop discussions about the triangle offense. Though Jackson ran the system with Jordan in Chicago and Kobe in L.A. it was proven to be a successful offensive scheme that destroyed the competition.
Over the past two seasons the triangle has gone belly up. Some have referred to it as the Bermuda Triangle since it’s whereabouts have been unknown on the basketball court. This offseason Jackson assembled a team worthy not only of competing for a championship but to run his legendary offensive the way it was designed to be played.
To briefly summarize, Rose would run the point to pass the ball when a scorer is open. Noah would be in the paint to grab the rebounds and score if a shot is missed. Melo or Porzingis would be beyond the arc ready to shoot from three point range. Though the positions of the players were only explained when you link all three moving parts together you get the triangle offense.
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