[Only registered and activated users can see links. ] -- As the Knicks await the tournament stage of Summer League, they find themselves in a much different position than they were a year ago; a more talented roster, combined with a collective focus instilled by a new coaching staff, has propelled this group to a 3-0 start. In the process, they’ve provided hope for the upcoming season with their enthusiasm and inspired team play.
These (mostly) young Knicks are in the early stages of learning the Triangle offense, but for the most part, they are making it look easy. And when it stalls, they go back to basics: communicate more, cut harder, and make a play for a teammate.
Perhaps they’re running a simplified version of what is known as one of the most complex systems in basketball, but the team has bought in and the results are promising; they’ve won their three games by an average of 12.3 points – two blowouts and a gritty, two-point victory over Portland in which they rallied back to win on a Shane Larkin runner.
“You keep on grinding it out,” says Tim Hardaway Jr., who has been one of the Knicks’ most vocal leaders while pouring in 20.7 points per game. “Keep on communicating, keep on being passionate and things will work out.”
His players credit coach Derek Fisher and his staff for emphasizing trust and teamwork and thanks to the high-character makeup of the roster, New York has thrived in an atmosphere usually dominated by isolation play and communication breakdowns.
“We’re working together as a team, that’s the main thing,” said eight-year veteran and Triangle expert Shannon Brown, after New York demolished Charlotte by 23 points on Monday. “The coaches are doing a great job of explaining the triangle and what we’re trying to accomplish out there and we’re making it happen. We’re just out there having fun playing basketball and learning in the process.”
Both the fun and the learning are evident when you watch this team play. In less than two weeks, Fisher – who elected to coach the squad because he was anxious to “get after it” – and his staff have them embracing the nuances of a new system, making effort plays and constantly encouraging each other on the court and from the sidelines.
“It’s contagious,” says Brown.
On a team full of great teammates, no one embodies this spirit more than Thanasis “Tenacious” Antetokounmpo, the exuberant rookie who knows his limitations but won’t let them slow him down: “I’m a good defensive player. I play hard every time, 100 percent effort. And the offense, I make everybody else comfortable.”
It’s no accident that this group has been such a joy to watch play together. There’s no shortage of talent, but Larkin’s teammates echo his contention that the combination of team-first players and strong leadership have made this a unique situation.
“That’s something that’s emphasized throughout the coaching staff,” he says. “If you’re not playing, you’re just as important as the guy on the court making the plays. That’s the kind of guys we brought in, but also the emphasis the coaching staff put on that side of the game.”
This approach has carried the Knicks through their first three games and allowed them to stay together when things inevitably get bogged down. Against the Blazers, they struggled with spacing in the first half, but because they communicated and kept fighting, they were in position to win at the end.
Although these wins won’t count toward the Knicks’ playoff push this coming season, important work is being done to build a culture that will; no fewer than five Summer Knicks figure to play significant roles in New York’s rotation, so Fisher’s players are gaining valuable experience.
“The first thing he always says is trust your teammates and play for each other,” says Jeremy Tyler, who has looked very comfortable as a facilitator out of the pinch post while averaging 11.3 points and 5.7 rebounds per contest.
The next test comes on Thursday as New York opens tournament play against the winner of Denver and the D-League select team at 10:30pm EST.