The New York Knicks is no longer an orphaned team of the NBA. After a very meh search, it was reported that Phil Jackson has made a very meh coaching decision. And surprise! His choice did not include interim-head coach, longtime assistant, friend, and puppet Kurt Rambis, as had been widely speculated. Instead, his surprising selection is Jeff Hornacek, formerly of the Phoenix Suns as recently as the 2015-2016. After a solid coaching debut two seasons ago, 48-34, Hornacek was fired midseason when a very depleted Suns team got off to a 14-35 start.
Impossible to please Knicks fans like myself will lament this pick because…Jeff Hornacek? In a sea of coaches that included big fish like Tom Thibodeau, Scott Brooks, David Blatt, Mark Jackson, Jeff Van Gundy, Luke Walton, and Frank Vogel, Phil Jackson chose Jeff Hornacek.
Ok, so now that he’s our guy, let’s start with the good and obvious.
Hornacek is not Rambis. So there’s that. And as I see it, the only direction to go from there is up. Not all the way up like Fat Joe, French Montana, and Remy Ma, but still up, nonetheless. While Hornacek isn’t necessarily coming for Gregg Popovich’s best coach in the game throne anytime soon, he was a runner-up for Coach of the Year in 2014, his first season as Phoenix’s head coach. So that’s a whole lot of something.
Also, from what I’ve read so far, it seems that for reasons unknown, Phil Jackson has loosened his stance on enforcing the triangle offense. And while I’m thankful to all of the gods for this, I can’t help but wonder why Phil didn’t have this moment of clarity when Thibs was still on the market. I’m saying. Hornacek? Phil’s willing to trash everything he’s worked hard for, his entire coaching philosophy for Hornacek? But why? Why him? Why now? I’m just not seeing the logic in this whatsoever. It’s like we’re suddenly in bizarro world.
And because I don’t have the answers, and it’s likely Sway doesn’t either, I’m relying on Knicks insiders to lead me to the light.
Let’s read what the Wall Street Journal’s Chris Herring, one of my faves, offers,
Like earlier Phoenix regimes under Mike D’Antoni, Hornacek sought to bypass half-court offense when possible by scoring early in the shot clock. When defenses showed resistance, his teams, led by guards Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, spaced the floor by featuring four perimeter-oriented players, leaving ample room along the elbows for driving lanes and high screens.
In a single season, from 2012 under coaches Alvin Gentry and Lindsey Hunter to 2013 with Hornacek, the Suns went from No. 25 to No. 5 in 3-point attempt rate. They went from a league-average 13.5 points a game in fastbreak scenarios to a league-best 18.7. And they jumped from 29th in offensive efficiency to eighth.
OK. That all sounds positive. What other insight does Herring offer?
It’s clear that the Knicks, who have ranked dead-last in fast-break scoring each of the past four seasons, could use someone who is able to get them easier baskets. The Knicks got few early-clock looks last season, with just 14.6% of their shots coming within the first six seconds of the shot clock, according to NBA.com. By contrast, the Suns took about 24% of their shots within the first six seconds in their two full seasons under Hornacek.
Hornecek’s system could be a boon, but there are areas where his style would seem to clash with Jackson’s. Clearing out the elbow, for instance, would run counter to the triangle offense, which makes heavy use of the pinch-post. (The Knicks had the third-most elbow touches in the NBA this season, per NBA.com)
Also, Hornacek’s allergy to long 2-point shots is, in many ways, the antithesis of the Knicks’ current style of offense, given that they ranked No. 1 and No. 5 in 2014 and 2015, respectively, in their rate of 2-pointers from 20 feet or further, according to Stats LLC.
Similarly, ESPN New York’s Ian Begley highlighted Hornacek’s preference for running a fast pace offense and launching 3s, a style of play that’s oft-criticized by Jackson. Remember this tweet from last year this time?
Right. So again, how did we get here?
Things are still not adding up for me.
Here’s why. The way our roster is setup. With our non-existent draft picks. And our #Summer16 cap space, all signs point to another losing regime.
When the Sun’s peaked under Hornacek, the team had a backcourt overflowing with talent that included Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, and Isaiah Thomas. As it stands, the Knicks currently have Jose Calderon, Aaron Afflalo, and Jerian Grant. The Knicks trio of players don’t even come close to measuring up to what was available to Hornacek two seasons ago. Although the Suns didn’t make the playoffs, recognize at 48-34, the team overachieved in a competitive Western Conference. And when the team was dismantled in 2015 — Dragic to Miami, Thomas to Boston, Marcus Morris to Detroit — losses followed. Because duh. When you make the decision to blow up a team that was seemingly on to something, you sacrifice everything.
Comparatively, the Knicks have no one to run the offense. NO ONE. And whether we’re talking the triangle or Hornacek’s more modern approach, that’s a major key to whether any coach achieves success in New York. Stacking our inferior roster against Hornacek’s coaching style makes me continue to wonder how this will result into something I can stomach.
How will Hornacek, now the fifth Knicks coach to have a chance to make Melo great again, fare better than everyone before him?