Kurt Rambis was charged with leading the defensive renaissance in New York last November, but the results were dismal and, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Knicks players loathed the assistant coach. And the team worsened defensively last season, falling from 18th to 25th in defensive rating.
Now, Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek is making defensive improvement the cornerstone of his 2017 offseason — to the point he’s given just as much attention to that side of the ball, if not more, than he has to thinking about the Carmelo Anthony trade rumors that circulated all summer.
Hornacek: "we want to be a team that's scrappy. Diving for loose balls." Admits last season that was sorta missing…
— Alan Hahn (@alanhahn) July 17, 2017
As the calendar encroaches upon their preseason debut, Hornacek discussed another subtle change to game planning that will have an impact on their defense: The coaching staff will be taking a more democratic approach to this season’s defense, all while excluding the players.
Hornacek discussed reducing the role of veteran input in their defensive schemes, via ESPN’s Ian Begley:
Last season, Jeff Hornacek and the Knicks coaching staff gave veteran players the opportunity to give input on how opponents should be defended. “We’re not doing that this year,” Hornacek said Monday. “When we go to shootaround that (defensive) plan will be in place. We’ll know the adjustments, instead of trying to give the guys the idea, ‘Hey, you guys play, you guys know these guys. What’s the best way to do it?'” Hornacek added that he may have made a mistake in giving players that leeway last season. “I played on teams that had great veteran players. We had a basic thing, but most of the time it was, ‘Okay, I’m going to be doing this, you’re going to be doing this and we worked it out.’ That’s maybe what I thought we’d be able to do last year with the guys. But that’s, we found out that didn’t work the best for us. This year we worked all summer to try to figure these things out.”
Receiving input from veterans probably isn’t what doomed the Knicks’ mediocre defense. However, Hornacek’s mistake may have been assuming the Knicks veterans accumulated the level of sagacious wisdom as teammates he had as a player on a couple great Phoenix Suns and Utah Jazz teams of the 1980s and ’90s. There’s a wide chasm between Karl Malone, John Stockton, Kevin Johnson, Dan Majerle, Tom Chambers and the flotsam New York has floated out there for the past few seasons.
The Knicks’ great hope lies in Kristaps Porzingis, whose offensive gifts will never equal Anthony’s. That’s a high bar to clear. However, his capabilities as a two-way player may propel the Knicks out of the Eastern Conference cellar one day. He’s already an elite rim protector and only getting better.
Although, giving heavy minutes to Enes Kanter, Tim Hardaway Jr., Willy Hernangomez, Doug McDermott and rookie point guard Frank Ntilikina isn’t ideal for a team looking to improve its defensive posture, Hornacek is scavenging for a panacea to their woes.
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