By Sam Belden
At the beginning of this NBA season, fans of the New York Knicks had high hopes. New team president Phil Jackson, one of the most respected and deco- rated figures in basketball, was set on bringing his famous tri- angle offense to Madison Square Garden. He convinced everyone that Derek Fisher, a former point guard who, while on the Lakers, won five rings under Jackson, was the head coach that could help make the offense work. With the ink on superstar forward Carme- lo Anthony’s five-year contract barely dry, this season looked like it would have a fresh feel, and many expected that the Knicks would contend for a playoff spot.
So far, little has gone accord- ing to plan. Through Sunday, the Knicks have recorded three wins and eight losses, good for the second-worst team in the entire Eastern Conference; the winless 76ers are the only team that has been worse. This run of gener- ally bad play was lowlighted by a seven game losing streak (which ended on Sunday, thanks to a strong showing by Anthony and a monster game from J.R . Smith). It may still be early, however, more than an eighth of the season has gone by. If the Knicks really want to right the ship, then they will need to do it soon.
What, then, has been the prob- lem? It seems that the majority of the Knicks’ woes can be traced back to Jackson and Fisher’s tri- angle offense. When it works, the system can yield some great results—Michael Jordan’s Bulls and Kobe Bryant’s Lakers were both able to win multiple titles while using it. However, most NBA players are not used to it, and the Knicks are still learning.
Even if they do learn it, the tri- angle might not be such a good fit for the Knicks. Anthony, the team’s lone superstar and ab- solute linchpin of its offense, is more of an isolation scorer; he has learned the triangle, but the fickleness of the system does not suit his game particularly well. In addition, the triangle, even more so than other systems, requires a solid point guard that can quickly read a situation and give his team the best look at a basket. Newly acquired Shane Larkin, who has been getting the bulk of starts at the one, is not that player.
It would be wrong to pin all of the Knicks’ problems on their inability to adapt to the triangle. The truth is that their defense has been almost as bad as their offense. Beyond journeyman center Samuel Dalembert and swingman Iman Shumpert, every player on the squad is a below average defender. Smith and Tim Hardaway are known as particu- larly bad, while former All-Star Amare Stoudemire is now a total- ly ineffective post defender due to a myriad of injuries.
When the Knicks locked them- selves into the triangle, many guessed that there would be some growing pains, but few pre- dicted that it would be this bad. Now, the Knicks are stuck with a system that is not producing the results that they want. They need help, which could come via a trade, but there are a limited number of players that can fit in with the triangle, so their options will be few.
Things will probably get better — the players will learn the trian- gle, and point guard Jose Calde- ron should return from injury in a few weeks.
But for now, the Knicks have some major problems to work out.