What The Knicks Need to Happen to Prove Phil Jackson Right


Mar 19, 2014; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks new president Phil Jackson sits in the stands during the first quarter of a game against the Indiana Pacers at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

In a recent interview, Knicks President Phil Jackson said he believed the team would make the playoffs this upcoming season after last year’s subpar performance. Now, as the president of a team that just signed a player to a $125 million contract and isn’t overtly rebuilding, that is not surprising. The team though, may have a tough time proving Jackson right.

The Eastern Conference is still by far the weaker conference, but it is oddly deep with average to slightly above average teams. If Derrick Rose’s knees allow the Bulls to join the Cavaliers as the consensus top powerhouses in the East, you’re looking at four to five teams that will almost definitely follow them in some order. Those teams are the Wizards, Raptors, Hornets, Heat, and maybe the Hawks (if Al Horford stays healthy.)

That means the Knicks are looking at another 7-8 seed finish, unless they have one of those seasons where everything just bounces their way all year. As stated in an earlier article, the Knicks have a brutal early schedule that could really screw things up for a team with a first year head coach and some new players. If the Knicks are going to make the playoffs, some things are going to have go their way and in a big way.

Carmelo Anthony, according to multiple reports, has lost weight this offseason at least in part to play small forward full time this season. Despite his tremendous uptick in efficiency from the power forward position these last couple of seasons, the Knicks will likely respect his wishes and move him back to the three. The last two seasons were the best of Anthony’s career, and he needs to be able to keep up his production despite moving back to small forward.

Partly related to that is how well the triangle offense will work. Getting a guy like Jose Calderon was a great acquisition for the triangle offense. Yes, point guards typically see their roles downsized in this offense so it’s unlikely the Knicks will maximize what they get out of Calderon, but what point guards do a lot of in the triangle, hit threes, is right up Jose’s alley. He has become one of the greatest shooters ever over his career and more open shots should just help keep that going.

The offense overall needs to move the ball. Last season at times the Knicks seemed to run two types of plays; pass the ball around in an effort to get an open shot or pass the ball to Anthony and watch him run an isolation. This isn’t all Carmelo’s fault at all. The other Knicks would go multiple possessions where they would idly stand by and watch, instead of attempting to create space or anything else really. The Knicks need a commitment from both Anthony and his teammates that the team won’t warp back into the “let’s all watch Carmelo” offense.

When a team has as bad a year as the Knicks did last year, you could go on for days on what they need to do better. However, one thing that is possibly more urgent than anything else is defense. The Knicks lost their best defensive player in Tyson Chandler and now have to come up with a scheme that will hide some of their players’ deficiencies.

Samuel Dalembert is a decent defender, and Iman Shumpert is as well, but you can’t defend five guys with two. Calderon and whoever plays of the Amar’e Stoudemire / Andrea Bargnani combo are basically cardboard cutouts, meaning Shumpert, Dalembert, and now Anthony will have to be among the players to pick up the slack. Carmelo Anthony apologists will cite his ability to defend when he wants to, but he must do it on a consistent basis. This roster isn’t great, so if they’re going to improve, their best player will have to help cover up a lot of the holes. It’s not entirely fair to Anthony, but that’s what happens when you ink a deal to the tune of $125 million; you get the responsibility.

If the Knicks can do these things then yes, they can be a playoff team. The problem is none of the above scenarios are certain to happen, and even if they do, the Brooklyn Nets are a healthy Brook Lopez away from challenging to steal that last spot from the Knicks anyway. Welcome to the Eastern Conference; it’s a cakewalk if you’re good, but a meat grinder if you’re just ok.