<
>

Jeff Hornacek plans to speed up Knicks' triangle offense

play
Knicks preparing for season (0:58)

The New York Knicks are getting ready for the regular season with a 5-on-5 scrimmage during practice. (0:58)

The new-look New York Knicks have been together for less than a week. So the offense they will run out Tuesday night in their preseason opener against the Houston Rockets is far from complete.

But if what we’ve seen in training camp translates to the court, this offense will look vastly different from what the club has rolled out in the past two seasons under the guidance of president Phil Jackson.

Below, we take a look at how new coach Jeff Hornacek plans to shape the triangle offense -- and what elements he plans to keep from previous regimes:

Pushing the pace

One of the biggest buzz words at the Knicks’ training camp in West Point last week was pace. New York was one of the slowest teams last season, ranking 24th in possessions per 48 minutes. Hornacek, of course, would like to change that. And he’s hoping his new point guards can lead the way.

Derrick [Rose] helps, Brandon [Jennings] helps, they push the ball,” Hornacek said. “We’re looking for those early, easy buckets.”

Not much came early, or easy, for the Knicks' offense over the past two seasons:

New York was last in the NBA in fast-break points during that span, averaging 8.4 points per game (the Golden State Warriors, not surprisingly, have led the league with 20.1 over the past two seasons).

The Knicks ranked 29th in shots made with 22 to 18 seconds remaining on the shot clock last season and 26th in shots made with 18 to 15 seconds remaining, per NBA.com/Stats. So Hornacek hopes that being a bit more aggressive in transition can generate uncontested, easy looks.

“If we can get five, six easy buckets a game just by pushing the ball, that’s a big advantage,” Hornacek said. “That’s what we’re trying to do.”

If last season’s numbers are any indication, Rose and Jennings -– two of Jackson’s biggest offseason additions -- should help.

Rose's Chicago Bulls averaged 99.2 possessions per 48 minutes while he was on the floor last season, more than the Knicks’ 96.0 possessions per 48 minutes, per NBA.com/Stats. Jennings’ teams averaged 99.6 possessions per 48 minutes.

So the past and present may collide for the Knicks on Tuesday against ex-New York coach Mike D’Antoni’s Rockets, who will play at an elevated pace -- a staple of the D’Antoni offense.

But playing faster, of course, isn’t a cure-all. The Sacramento Kings led the league in pace last season. The Warriors were second, but the San Antonio Spurs and Cleveland Cavaliers both ranked in the bottom five. So Hornacek wants the Knicks to be able to execute in half-court sets as well as they can in transition, a message that seems to have resonated with the players.

“I want to run a lot,” Rose said. “But at the same time you think about playoffs, you think about how the game is going to slow down.”

More pick-and-rolls in the early offense

The Hornacek offense may also feature more pick-and-roll plays than we’ve seen previously from Jackson’s Knicks.

Last season, New York ranked 21st in points per play in which a ball handler on a screen and roll finished a play, and 25th in points per play when a roll man finished the play off of a screen, per NBA.com/Stats. Many players privately bemoaned the fact that the offense lacked penetration from guards off of pick-and-roll plays and was too predictive, according to sources. Players interviewed last week seemed excited about the possibility of adding more pick-and-roll plays, which are a staple of many offenses around the NBA.

“We’re going to have more early pick-and-rolls, get the ball moving, get some movement and then spread the floor,” said Kristaps Porzingis, whom Hornacek plans to use both in the post and on the perimeter this season.

“We have great shooters. We have point guards who can drive and we have a big who can pass. I don’t think we’re missing anything. If everybody is doing their job we should be pretty good.”

The hope for the Knicks is that more pick-and-roll plays and an increased pace lead to more open shots, which were hard to come by last season.

New York ranked 27th in percentage of field goals made that were considered "wide-open" (with a defender 6 or more feet away from the shooter), per NBA.com/Stats. Thirty-nine percent of their field goals were taken with a defender within 2 to 4 feet of a shooter, which was the sixth highest percentage in the league.

This is something Hornacek noticed immediately. He noted last week that the Knicks finished with a poor effective field goal percentage as a result of too few open shots.

“I thought that for a team, [the amount of open looks] was pretty low last year,” Hornacek said of the Knicks’ 28th-ranked EFG of 48.3 percent. “That should be above 50 percent. I think all of them are going to improve on that because they’re not going to have to take tough, hard shots. Our hope is we have enough talent out there on the court. If they double, someone’s going to get an open look.”

Triangle here to stay

Hornacek won’t overhaul the entire offense. He’ll use Jackson’s triangle offense as a way to space the floor in half-court sets. And Hornacek has said several times that he has the freedom to tweak the offense as he sees fit.

“Phil’s given us the ability to run it any way we want, how we set it up,” Hornacek said.

It’s unclear if Derek Fisher, the Knicks’ previous head coach under Jackson, had those same freedoms. Fisher tried to increase the Knicks’ pace and implement more pick-and-rolls in the offense -- similar to what Hornacek hopes to do -- but that approach was met with some resistance by Jackson, according to sources, and became a source of discord between Jackson and the first head coach he hired.

That’s something worth noting as the season progresses. But Hornacek seems comfortable incorporating the triangle into his offense, and with his partnership with Jackson.

“We talked what we feel is a good working way to run it with different options,” he said of the offense the Knicks have used exclusively under Jackson. “We’ll get to all those as the year progresses, but it should be pretty easy.”

"Pretty easy" isn’t the word Rose used to describe the triangle last week. After two practices working with the offense, the new Knicks point guard noted that the triangle was "complicated" and "foreign."

"[There's] like 40 to 50 options on one side of the floor,” said Rose, who is expected to play Tuesday night despite his civil trial starting in Los Angeles.

“It's like giving you your space for creativity. It's like if you're doing it the right way, you could do everything you want, you could freelance, but you just got to know where you're going."

Hornacek acknowledges it may take some time for the new Knicks to get a full grasp of the triangle.

“It’s complicated in a sense that guys have a lot of options to do and it’s a read,” he said. “That’s where the complication issue is. The general setup of it is not complicated. It’s just a matter of those guys understanding without the ball what’s going to happen. Again, the more they do it the more they’re going to get it.”

The new players’ ability to run the offense will be a crucial factor in this Knicks season. Past head coaches have said it takes several weeks, if not months, to get accustomed to. But these Knicks -- built to win this season -- likely can’t afford to falter early on while learning a new offense.

Another aspect of the offense from the past two seasons that may carry over is the prevalence of the midrange jumper.

New York led the league in percentage of shots attempted from midrange the past two seasons, per NBA.com/Stats. In some circles, the midrange shot is seen as inefficient and a poor use of a possession. Hornacek pushed back against that idea last week.

“I still go back to the time when we were playing [with the Phoenix Suns in 1988-89], we were averaging 119 points per game and probably getting three, four 3-pointers a game. How do you get to 120 if you’re not shooting 3s? Well, you shoot higher percentages from [midrange],” Hornacek said.

“I think a lot of guys take bad midrange shots. They’re challenged, they’re forced and that’s why their percentages are dropping. Our idea is to try to get guys open from that range and we’ll take our chances.”

Melo hopeful

Carmelo Anthony has played for five coaches since he was traded to New York in 2011. He has played in -- and bristled against -- D’Antoni’s fast-paced offense. He played in Mike Woodson’s pick-and-roll-based attack. And he has played in the triangle under Fisher and Kurt Rambis.

So Anthony has seen coaches and systems come and go, and he has one wish for Hornacek.

“I just want Jeff to be comfortable and confident in what he wants to run, what he wants to accomplish,” Anthony said. “As long as Jeff is comfortable with what he wants to do and what he wants to run, we’re going to buy into that.”