Kurt Helin

Phil Jackson

It’s too early for New York to give up on triangle offense

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New Yorkers are not legendary for their patience.

New York’s tabloid media is not renowned for its big picture world views.

All of which meant Phil Jackson’s effort at a total culture change within the New York Knicks organization and putting the triangle offense out there on the court was bound to see pushback this first season. It was going to take time; it was going to require patience and a big-picture view while this played out.

Of course, this season has been a bigger mess than imagined at Madison Square Garden — a 10-38 record with a bottom five offense and defense. It’s much closer to an unmitigated disaster. Jackson admitted as much in a New York Times piece by Harvey Araton.

“Like nothing I’ve seen before,” he said of the Knicks’ first 41 games, of which they lost 36, a half-season of hell. “So far, my experiment has fallen flat on its face.”

Of course, some New York media seized on that last line.

However, it is too early to scrap the triangle entirely.

Part of the issue is that not only was the Knicks roster filled with not very good players, it was filled with guys who were a poor fit for the triangle. Tyson Chandler is a quality rim protector and can finish with authority on a roll to the hoop, but do you want to make him a passer from the elbow (or low block for that matter)? J.R. Smith might arguably be the least triangle friendly player in the league. The list goes on and on.

This year the Knicks were going to be terrible regardless — and this was the year to do it since they control their first round pick for once. So if you’re going to be bad, why not put the new system in and build a foundation?

The question being asked in New York is if the triangle can work as well in today’s NBA? I think we know where Jackson stands on this question.

But as to skepticism about whether he can make the triangle work in a league in which no one else plays it, Jackson said: “I’m not daunted by the number of people who have commented that this way of playing is arcane, that the game has moved on. The game has moved on.”

He also believes that the game, stylistically, moves in mysterious ways.

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

I believe the triangle offense can work.

Actually, let me rephrase that:

I believe the triangle offense that Tex Winter drew up can work in the NBA. The same exact model of the triangle that the Bulls or three-peat Lakers ran will struggle (they had different points of emphasis, in large part due to Shaq).

Winter’s offensive principles called for things that teams do now, for example push the ball and try to get early offense before the defense sets itself. Plus the triangle is all about spacing and forcing the defense to make choices, and then reacting to and exploiting the choice made. If you have three-point shooters and guys willing to work off the ball, those principles still work just fine. Go watch San Antonio Spurs tape from the Finals last season. The Knicks can’t just isolate Carmelo Anthony anymore (although the triangle allows for isolations when you create a mismatch), you have to play a team game. That can work in New York, you don’t just have to run “floppy” every time down.

If the Knicks are going to make this work, however, they need not just better players but specific kinds of role players. High basketball IQ guys. Shooters for sure. Defenders of course. But what Phil Jackson walked into with those Lakers back in 2000 was a team with couple superstars surrounded by smart veteran role players. (And for the record it took that team a year to figure the offense out, those 1999-2000 Lakers had the same offensive points per possession as the Del Harris/Kurt Rambis coached team as the season before. What Jackson did that first year was improve the defense dramatically, the offense came later.)

The Knicks’ offseason headlines will be about chasing another star, but as important is for them they more of those kinds of role players. And that is going to take some time to put together.

Then Carmelo Anthony needs to do more than just pay lip service to the offense and move the ball, and buy in.

It’s not going to be easy, but no matter what system the Knicks try to install now it’s going to be a long road back.

It’s just too early to ditch the triangle yet.

Watch 14-year-old Stephen Curry talk NBA dream, show off already-sweet stroke (VIDEO)

Golden State Warriors v Miami Heat
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Back in 2002 Dell Curry — one of the best shooters of his generation — was a Toronto Raptor, winding down his NBA career north of the border. His family was there with him, including a 14-year-old Stephen Curry.

The Curry family was the focus one week of “Off The Hardwood,” a weekly show back then about players lives off the court. In this episode Stephen talks about giving up baseball because he liked hoops better, then he and Seth Curry play a little one-on-one.

Then Stephen shows off a sweet shooting stroke.

Hat tip to the brilliant Sportando for unearthing this gem.

Robin Lopez expected to return from hand injury Tuesday night

New York Knicks v Portland Trail Blazers
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The Portland Trail Blazers defense just got better.

Robin Lopez, who has been out since Dec. 15 with a broken hand, is likely to return to the Portland lineup on Tuesday night. As Jabari Young of CSNNW.com noted this was expected, Lopez was listed as “probable” on Monday, but Tuesday the news was confirmed by David Locke, the voice of the Jazz.

The Blazers were a respectable 13-10 without Lopez in the lineup, but their defense is 7.7 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court. Lopez is long and active, plus he anticipates well. He’s their anchor in the paint, plus it lets them move the solid but not spectacular (save for his beard) Chris Kaman to a reserve role. Lopez averaged 9.6 points (on 50.5 percent shooting) plus 7.2 rebounds a game.

Announcement: Pro Basketball Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $225,000 Fantasy Basketball league for Tuesday’s NBA games. It’s $25 to join and first prize is $25,000. Starts at7pm ET on TuesdayHere’s the FanDuel link.

While it may mean less time to beat on mascots, his return is big for Portland’s front line depth.

Portland has lost three straight games and currently sits as the four seed in the West (although they have the fifth best record, because they lead the Northwest division they can be no lower than the four seed). The key thing to note is only three games separate the three seed and the seven seed in the West. Just a few games swing can be the difference between home court in the first round or a much tougher road.

Lopez will bring the Blazers a few games now that he is back.

Clippers J.J. Redick out with back spasms, will not return “until he’s right”

Los Angeles Clippers v New Orleans Pelicans
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The Los Angeles Clippers run six deep — when any combination of Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are on the floor, the Clippers play like contenders. Their starting five is +16.1 per 100 possessions, swap in Crawford for Redick and it jumps to +21.3 per 100. However, get beyond that six and things go south fast.

Which is why losing Redick for a while could be trouble for Los Angeles.

Redick came out of the Clippers road loss to the Nets Monday with back spasms and he’s going to miss some time, reports Arash Markazi of ESPN.

Redick hurt his back on the final play of last Monday’s game against the Denver Nuggets and missed Wednesday’s game against the Utah Jazz with back spasms. He returned and started the Clippers’ previous two games against the New Orleans Pelicans and San Antonio Spurs before being pulled early against Brooklyn.

“It’s just spasms,” (Clippers coach Doc) Rivers said. “I think it’s from that hit [against Denver]. He probably shouldn’t have played, who knows, but we’re just going to rest him until he’s right.”

If Redick misses several weeks he could be out of the All-Star Saturday Three-Point Contest, which would be too bad because that is a stacked field and probably the most intriguing event all that weekend.

Announcement: Pro Basketball Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $225,000 Fantasy Basketball league for Tuesday’s NBA games. It’s $25 to join and first prize is $25,000. Starts at7pm ET on TuesdayHere’s the FanDuel link.

Redick’s three-point shooting — he is hitting 43.2 percent from deep and scoring 14.4 a night — is a key to the Clippers spacing, creating lanes for CP3 or space inside for Griffin. Plus Rivers loves to run Redick off multiple screens to free him (think how he used Ray Allen in Boston at times). The Clippers’ offense is 9.2 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the floor compared to off it (the defense doesn’t change much). They will miss him when he’s out.

His absence will simply lead to more inconsistency from what is already the most inconsistent good team in the league. The Clippers are out on their Grammy road trip and have lived up to their roller coaster reputation, beating the Spurs on Saturday then losing to the Nets on Monday (a Brooklyn team they beat by 39 just a few games ago).

Horace Grant tells about the time Michael Jordan punched Will Perdue

Chicago Bulls:Horace Grant and Michael Jordan
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Michael Jordan was legend for going after teammates in practice — not just talking trash and playing hard, I mean physically go after them and throw punches. Steve Kerr got it once. Jud Buechler another.

Even Will Perdue once — that would be 7-foot, 250 pound Will Perdue.

Horace Grant was on the radio on New York’s HOT97 and told this story, thanks to No Coast Bias for finding this gem.

“Our practices were so intense because Phil, the mastermind behind everything, would put MJ on the second team, me and Scottie would be on the first team, and being competitive like he was, man. Unreal, unreal. Of course punches got thrown, many fights. I’m just so happy that social media wasn’t (around) back then.”

“I hate to tell the story but Will and I are still good friends… Typical Phil (Jackson) we run this play and Will set an illegal pick on MJ, and MJ said,’Will, don’t do that again.’ ‘Whatcha talking about’ that’s Will. MJ says alright; Phil says run it again. So naturally we run it two more times, illegal pick. MJ walks up to Will — boom. Lit him up. It was over; we grabbed Will — you’re not going to hurt MJ. MJ can take care of himself. The next day on the plane, Will gets on with this huge shiner.”

The best part is Grant says they separate anybody from going after Jordan — they need Jordan — that means he can just go after whomever he wants.

Good luck pulling that off in today’s media world.