Derek Fisher stirred the emotions of some Knicks fans when he said earlier in the week that he thought New York would be a playoff team next season.
"I believe in our guys," Fisher said Monday. "Even if nothing else changes, we’re good enough to be a playoff team in the Eastern Conference, but we have to go out and prove it."
Fisher, we should point out, said exactly what he is supposed to say here. Did you expect him to say he didn't think the Knicks would make the playoffs? That would have left some Knicks fans in hysterics.
But at the same time, Fisher has some very real reasons to be optimistic.
Below, we take a brief look at three things that need to happen (in addition to avoiding injury) in order for the Knicks to make the playoffs.
1. Five-man commitment on defense: The Knicks’ defense was one of the most charitable in the NBA in 2013-14. New York ranked 24th of 30 teams in points allowed per possession and was routinely torched by opposing point guards. This was due to a combination of porous perimeter defense, an inability to defend the pick-and-roll consistently and an overexposed interior.
All of these issues are related, which is why we mention team defense as one of the Knicks’ biggest issues heading into 2014-15.
The Knicks don't currently have an individual interior or perimeter defender the other four players on the floor can rely on to get stops.
So Fisher's team needs to establish a cohesive, collaborative approach on the defensive end that can mask individual weaknesses and stem the tide of penetrating guards who burned New York last season.
One issue here is that both Jose Calderon and Pablo Prigioni have reputations as spotty on-ball defenders. So help on the perimeter from the off guard and well-executed pick-and-roll defense on the opposing point guard is crucial.
The Knicks were last in the NBA in points allowed to both the ball handler and roller in pick-and-roll situations last season. They also allowed point guards to score 22.7 points per 48 minutes.
So it’s fair to assume that number needs to drop for the Knicks to qualify for the postseason. That’s primarily on Fisher, who also needs to figure out the best way to use Samuel Dalembert and Jason Smith to defend the paint and rim.
2. Improved point guard play: As anyone who watched the Knicks last season can tell you, the departed Raymond Felton struggled on both ends of the floor. He averaged a career-low 9.7 points and hit just 39 percent of his shots (31 percent from beyond the arc). He also was one of the main reasons the Knicks struggled to defend the opposing point guard (see above). And as a byproduct, Felton was cited (rightfully so in some instances, wrongly in others) as a contributing factor in the Knicks’ struggles.
New York Knicks
On paper, New York upgraded at point guard with Phil Jackson’s offseason trade for Calderon.
Calderon is widely regarded as one of the top shooting point guards in the NBA -- and the numbers support that. Calderon is a career 48 percent shooter who hit 45 percent on 3-pointers last season. So the veteran 1-guard should be a big upgrade on offense, particularly if the triangle offense provides him with open shots -- as it should.
But Fisher will need to find a way to help Calderon on defense.
Per ESPN’s Real Plus/Minus stat, Calderon ranked 45th among 83 NBA point guards at a minus-1.70. That's not good.
(Real Plus/Minus measures a player's estimated on-court impact on team performance and is measured in net point differential per 100 offensive and defensive possessions. It takes into account teammates, opponents and additional factors.)
3. Improved ball movement: The Knicks were heavily reliant on isolation last season. Carmelo Anthony led the league in isolation scoring, averaging 6.6 isolation points per game, according to Synergy Sports. That was more than 11 NBA teams. As an example of the teamwide isolation the Knicks espoused, New York ended the season ranked 24th in touches per possession and 25th in points created by assists per game.
New York Knicks
The Knicks also ranked 24th in points per possession. Maybe there is a correlation there.
Needless to say, New York should move the ball more frequently this year thanks to the implementation of the triangle offense.
If the offense is run properly, open shots should be created on the perimeter and the midrange.
And if the Knicks can knock down jump shots at the same rate as they did last season, the triangle should make Phil Jackson's club much more effective on the offensive end.
Last year, the Knicks were second in catch-and-shoot field goal percentage and second in field goal percentage on shots within 12 feet off a pass.
So if the Knicks can increase open looks created by the pass, they should be an improved team on the offensive end. Which, we can presume, should lead to more wins and a spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Question: What do you think the Knicks need to do to make the playoffs next season?
You can follow Ian Begley on Twitter.