After coming back from the All-Star break with a blowout loss at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers, the New York Knicks have taken a turn toward the respectable of late. They’ve won two of their last three games to improve to 25-36, and took their lone defeat on a buzzer-beater by DeMar DeRozan in a game they once led by 17 points.
Whether such a turn is actually advisable for a Knicks team once again caught between approaches is up for debate. New York sits four games out of a playoff spot and four games away from having the fourth-best odds of landing the No. 1 pick in May’s 2017 NBA draft lottery; the latter would seem more beneficial for the long-term outlook of a franchise that should be rebuilding around 2015 No. 4 pick Kristaps Porzingis, though the former might be a more pressing goal for a franchise that hasn’t seen the postseason since 2013. Whichever way you lean in that debate, though, the Knicks have looked a bit friskier since returning from the break — a period that, coincidentally or not, dovetails with the team allegedly making a more concerted effort to veer back toward team president Phil Jackson’s preferred triangle offense.
That move has drawn praise from Porzingis, who said “we should have been playing from the beginning of the season.” Derrick Rose, though? He doesn’t sound quite so enthused. From Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:
Derrick Rose has a philosophy now with the triangle, a system still like a foreign language to the point guard: “Don’t F’ it up.” […]
Let’s just say, Rose remains reluctant in his embrace of Phil Jackson’s system.
“S–t, do I have a choice? Do I have a choice?” Rose said when asked if he’s warming up to the triangle. “I just want to win games. Winning takes care of every category for an athlete.” […]
“I still don’t have the feeling yet of the entire offense, but I pick and choose while I’m out there. You think, ‘Don’t F’ up the game.’ That’s a great way to put it,” he said. “Just don’t mess up the game and looking at a lot of film, you learn. That’s what great players do. I believe that I’m great. Great players find a way no matter what situation they’re put in.”
Rose’s chilly attitude toward the triangle isn’t new. As a ball-dominating point guard most comfortable working off high screens who rarely hits 3-pointers and, over the last two seasons, hasn’t even been interested in taking them, Rose never seemed an especially solid match for a triangle-heavy attack. The fit grew more awkward after Rose spent much of the Knicks’ preseason fighting rape allegations in a civil trial, taking him away from the team during the preseason practice time during which coach Jeff Hornacek would’ve been installing the scheme.
“I want pick-and-roll every time down,” Rose said after his 17-point, one-assist performance on Tuesday night. […]
“You see with Cleveland, they run pick-and-roll the entire game and [create] mismatches and closeouts, and them driving the ball and making someone else commit and pitching out for a three,” said Rose, a former league MVP. “That’s something we have to keep doing.” […]
“In the triangle sometimes, you’re going to the corner,” Rose said. “As the point guard, that’s tough sometimes going all the way to the corner and kind of waiting to see what they’re going to do on the initial side of the triangle. You have to wait for the ball to come back to you.
“I got to find a way. There’s no way around it. I got to find a way, and I’m going to find a way. That’s what being great is all about.”
Four months later, he’d still yet to find a way, reiterating his discomfort with running the triangle just before the trade deadline, according to Marc Berman of the New York Post:
“It’s a different offense,’’ Rose said Thursday morning. “As a point guard, you’re always in the corner and just got to play off reads and play that way. It’s new for everybody here. I get all my points off random baskets. Unless you see it go to the post, all the other stuff is just random basketball.’’
That conversation came with Rose’s name being bandied about in rumors about a trade that would have reunited him with former Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau on the Minnesota Timberwolves, with Ricky Rubio coming to Gotham in exchange. Nothing came of those talks, though, and the Knicks opted to buy out not Rose, but backup point guard Brandon Jennings, ahead of the March 1 deadline for players to be eligible to play in the postseason.
Barring a surprise (and goodness knows we’d never see one of those involving the former MVP!) Rose will remain with the Knicks through the end of the season. But with Hornacek saying this week that fluency in the triangle likely be “part of evaluations” on which players will factor into the Knicks’ plans moving forward — and, again, whether that approach is wise is very much an open question — it’ll be interesting to see if Rose’s reluctance to acclimate to Zen geometry will leave the free-agent-to-be looking elsewhere for work this summer. From Frank Isola of the Daily News:
“You have to think about all that in the offseason,” Rose added. “I’ll be a free agent. Sitting down at the table, I think we’ll have to talk about it. I really can’t think about or see how it’s going to go while I’m still playing here.”
The Knicks can sign Rose to an extension prior to July 1 but with Jeff Hornacek, under order from Phil Jackson, committing himself to running the triangle offense, retaining Rose doesn’t make much sense. As recently as this week, Rose expressed frustration with his role in the offense. He even admitted he hasn’t fully grasped the triangle.
Rose’s strength is running high pick-and-rolls as opposed to handing the ball off and running into a corner. He doesn’t appear to be the right fit for the system.
“I do whatever Coach tells me to do,” Rose said. “I’m not fighting with anyone. I don’t dislike anyone on the team, not even with the coaching staff.”
Well, that’s something, at least!
Ultimately, as our Kelly Dwyer wrote earlier this week, trading for the ill-fitting Rose stands as one of many signposts from Jackson’s nearly three-year-long stewardship of the Knicks franchise that the Zen Master’s belief in and commitment to the triangle might not be as all-encompassing as you might think. And, for what it’s worth, it’s not like pick-and-roll sets and 3-point shots have gone by the wayside in New York’s offense; the Knicks fired 29 long-range shots in Wednesday’s win over the Orlando Magic, and they’re not totally eschewing bringing a big up to the arc for a ball screen. The return of the triangle, while real, also doesn’t seem to be quite as gigantic and dominant a story as it seems.
Regardless, nothing I’ve seen from Rose or the Knicks this season leads me to believe that there’s any reason to change the assessment that a parting of ways would be the best thing for both sides this summer. Rose gets to seek out a team that will put him to work as a downhill pick-and-roll penetrator. The Knicks get to spend their free-agent coin on a triggerman who’ll look for Porzingis more than himself and rotation reinforcements capable of lifting New York out of the bottom-third of the league in defensive efficiency.
Everybody wins … or, at least, everybody loses differently, or in a different place, than they’ve been losing for the past year. Sometimes, that’s enough.
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