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The Keys to the Offense Now Belong to Jeff Hornacek

With Phil Jackson and the Triangle gone, the Knicks can finally join the rest of the league in 2017.

Photo: Seth Wenig/AP

Breathe easy Knicks Nation, the Zen Master has finally left the building. After three seasons, and an anemic 80–166 record, Phil Jackson is gone. Soak it in, enjoy this, the hard part starts now.

The “parting of ways” was overdue but the timing is still a little off. (Poor James Dolan still can’t do something completely right.) If Dolan contemplated replacing Jackson, then why not do it before the draft so the Knicks would not have to draft based on which prospect fit the Triangle? Maybe Dennis Smith, Jr., or Malik Monk are in a Knicks uniform today if Jackson is fired prior to the draft.

What’s done is done. The good news is the Triangle offense is likely gone forever. Steve Mills will carry the team through free agency and, crucially, Jeff Hornacek will now get the opportunity to run his offense.

The Knicks figure to be quiet during free agency this season so Hornacek will be given players he’s already familiar with. Derrick Rose, Ron Baker, and Justin Holiday are free agents.

Rose likely to be the odd man out given his rocky relationship with Hornacek. That familiarity will come in handy as the Knicks can pivot from Jackson’s archaic Triangle to Hornacek’s modern attack.

That offensive attack will be uptempo featuring a lot more ball pressure on both sides of the ball with a healthy dose of pick-and-rolls. Had the Knicks known this would be the plan on draft night maybe Frank Ntilikina is not a Knick, but again, we’re rehashing the past.

The good news is Ntilikina is still a solid choice who can find a role within the offense. When he was hired last season Hornacek said he wanted to pressure the ball on defense.

Ntilikina’s defensive potential can apply pressure on the ball. Last season the bigs were often put in a compromising position thanks to matador defense from the guards. At the very least Ntilikina’s 7’0" wingspan will slow that down and give the bigs a fighting chance.

That pressure up front can also force turnovers, which can lead to some easy buckets. Last season, the team ranked 24th in fast break points, per NBA.com/stats, which forced way too many half court sets. That had an effect on the offense, with the Knicks leading the league in mid-range jumper attempts.

Photo: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

One thing Hornacek must do is to emphasize offense behind the arc. For three seasons, Jackson has dismissed the three-pointer like it was a cheap parlor trick. He was gift wrapped the perfect pick-and-pop big with Kristaps Porzingis yet felt Porzingis shooting threes was “sometimes a cheap way to score points.”

Hornacek can now catch the Knicks up with the rest of the league. Porzingis will be the cornerstone of the attack. Lance Thomas, Courtney Lee, Baker, and Holiday (assuming they are re-signed) are all comfortable behind the arc.

Second round pick Damyean Dotson is a marksman, who shot 44.1 percent from three his senior season at the University of Houston, and can space the floor. Ntilikina shot 43.1 percent in France last season.

Not to harp on Ntilikina too much, but he is a key building block, and raw enough that Hornacek can mold him into whatever he needs on offense. The biggest fault in Ntilikina’s game is his ability to blow by defenders. Hornacek’s offense worked in Phoenix thanks to having two burners in the backcourt in Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic. His toughest task will be masking Ntilikina’s lack of burst which he can do with the pick-and-roll.

We already know how lethal Porzingis can be in pick-and-pops, but Willy Hernangómez was also pretty damn good in the pick-and-roll last season. Hornacek would be wise to run a lot of screens with Ntilikina and either big and perhaps even experiment a four-five pick-and-roll with Hernangómez and KP.

Carmelo Anthony could now be on the way out after winning his petty battle with Phil. If he starts the season in New York, then he could use the time to prepare himself for a jump to Cleveland by pushing his offense behind the arc.

With the summer league kicking off this weekend, Hornacek can begin to implement his playbook. Early last season the offense looked good under Hornacek before tailspinning in January. That could have been caused by Jackson’s insistence to run the Triangle. But that won’t be a problem this time.

The Triangle is gone and the keys to the car have been thrown to Hornacek. Let’s see what he can do with it.

Mike Cortez, staff writer

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