TORONTO -- The Mike Woodson era is over.
The triangle era is nearly upon us.
On the day he was hired as the New York Knicks' president, Phil Jackson made it no secret he wants to see the team play system basketball. Unfortunately for the franchise, the Zen Master says he’s not entertaining any thoughts about returning to the bench. But it makes all the sense in the world to hire one of his former disciples (Steve Kerr?) and then help the new coach install and teach the triangle offense.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at how some of the Knicks' current pieces fit, or don’t fit, in the triangle assuming that the core -- and Carmelo Anthony -- of the team is intact for next season:
Melo: Without a doubt, it will be a transition for Anthony. But Jackson’s championship teams were always built around an incredible scoring talent. Can Anthony follow in the footsteps of Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant?
If we're talking about his ability to play in the triangle, I think he can. He can direct the offense and work within the system's principles and find enough opportunities to pick and choose his spots. He might not be as athletic, graceful or as high-flying as Jordan and Bryant. Melo is more of a bull inside compared to those two. However, Melo is excellent at scoring on his man -- like MJ and Kobe -- and should be able to work out of the post like Jordan did at times.
Anthony will have to improve his passing, trust his teammates and will need them to make plays and make the right decisions in the triangle. Patience, which is a major requirement of Jackson, will be a must. Melo has said if he re-signs, he will do whatever Phil asks of him.
Amar'e: Amar'e Stoudemire has thrived in pick-and-roll situations. But he can score in the low post and shoot the mid-range jumper -- two things he should get out of the triangle. Stoudemire will have to improve his passing. He might not be able to pass like Pau Gasol did for Jackson’s Los Angeles Lakers championship teams, but Jackson won his first three titles with the Chicago Bulls with Horace Grant and Bill Cartwright as his primary power forward and center.
Grant improved his mid-range jumper in the triangle. And Stoudemire should be able to get open shots in the system. Andrea Bargnani might also benefit from the triangle as well.
J.R.: What the Knicks currently lack -- and what many of Jackson’s teams had -- is a versatile swing man. Obviously there is no Scottie Pippen on the roster. The Knicks don’t even have anybody as versatile as Toni Kukoc. They could even use a Rick Fox-type. Jackson typically has a swing man who can do a little of everything.
J.R. Smith does provide the Knicks with outside shooting and the ability to slash to the basket. Jackson’s teams had some great spot-up shooters, such as John Paxson, Craig Hodges, B.J. Armstrong, Robert Horry and Glen Rice.
Smith will need to be patient and take fewer quick shots without passing. He has to be able to play without the ball and move. But if Smith can pick up the triangle, he will be able to also pick and choose spots to score within the offense. All of this can be said for Iman Shumpert and Tim Hardaway Jr. Jackson did sign Lamar Odom, but it remains to be seen what Odom has left in the tank and in the head.
Raymond Felton: Jackson’s point guards during his championship years included the likes of Paxson, Armstrong, Kerr, Ron Harper, Derek Fisher and Brian Shaw. In other words, Jackson doesn’t need an elite point guard or an incredible talent at the 1 with the triangle. But he does need a smart point guard, and one who can preferably hit open shots from the outside.
Raymond Felton’s future is a bit uncertain given his legal situation. And his outside shooting has to improve. Jackson could bring in a veteran point guard to help, much in the way he used Harper on his teams.
Defense: The Knicks have to improve defensively. Jordan and Pippen were all-time defenders. But Jackson’s teams have always had some good defenders from Grant to Dennis Rodman to a younger Harper. Many of them were able to get steals and force turnovers that led to momentum-changing breaks.
Shumpert could be the next defender to shine under Jackson’s watch.
“I’m still a coach that believes in pressure defense,” Jackson said recently. “Anticipation, turnovers become run-outs. I was able to tell Iman that’s what has to be seen on a basis that we’d like to see from game to game.”
“The triangle offense is one of the best offenses to run because of its balance and because players can play defense out of an offense like that,” Jackson later added. “Instead of having stretched players who are standing in corners and have to recover from a difficult situation, you have guys that are in balance and there is an opportunity to defend from your offense.”
On Jackson's Bulls teams, Grant and Scott Williams provided energy, shot-blocking and rebounding. And of course, Jackson had Rodman for the second Bulls' three-peat. Tyson Chandler should be able to duplicate some of those things but will also need to improve on his passing.
“I think anybody can fit in it,” Chandler said. “I played in a triangle when I was younger in my Chicago days. It is equal opportunity. It allows the game to dictate who takes the shot, and everybody else understands that and understands how to play off of it and I think that will be beneficial for this team.”