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Triangle growing pains: Should we start getting used to turnovers?

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Apparently passing the ball has a downside.

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

You'll have to forgive me, friends, I haven't seen an actual NBA basketball game in quite awhile. I'm looking at the box score for Wednesday's 106-86 loss to the Boston Celtics, and a couple of stats are jumping out at me:

  • Made field goals: 28
  • Turnovers: 28

My basketball analysis skills are a bit rusty...is that normal?

The Knicks were a remorseless turnover machine in their preseason opener. They spread the wealth (to the Celtics, that is), with five Knicks coughing up the ball at least three times.

The performance was enough to give pause to even the most strident of optimists, while the pessimists took to Twitter with mocking cries of "LOLZ same old Knicks."

Here's the thing about that "same old Knicks" jive -- it's complete bullshit, at least as far as the turnovers are concerned. You can criticize the 2013-14 squad for a great many things, but you cannot claim that they were sloppy with the basketball. That group finished fourth in the league in turnover ratio. Not only would those 28 turnovers have marked a season high last year, it would have been five more than the actual season high (23 -- in a win over Denver).

And the 2013-14 edition was far from unique. Tossing aside the bizarre lockout-shortened season of 2011-12, the Knicks have finished in the top five in turnover ratio in three of the four years of the STAT/Melo era.

How did they pull off that trick? Simple...by not passing. The Knicks consistently finished toward the back of the league in assists, particularly once Mike Woodson took over and iso-ball became the team's default offense:

Season Turnover Rank Assist Rank
2010-11 5th 15th
2011-12 27th 18th
2012-13 1st 30th
2013-14 4th 28th

We all enjoyed ripping Woody for his overly simplistic offensive system, but it's hard to say that iso-ball was a failure. Carmelo Anthony had the best two years of his pro career from 2012 to 2014, the team finished third in offensive efficiency in 2012-13, and even last year's club fielded an elite scoring attack once freed from the anchor that is Andrea Bargnani.

That safe, comfortable O is long gone, and Wednesday's turnover fest could be a harbinger of some serious growing pains with the Triangle, at least for awhile. Derek Fisher, Melo and J.R. Smith (the team's go-to guy for thoughtful quotes so far this season) were all quite candid about their problems running the Triangle:

Change can be scary, my friends. The vast majority of basketball fans will say that they prefer an offensive with more passing. It just feels right. But the disturbing truth is that the franchise is in the process of fixing something that wasn't broken, at least as far as offense was concerned. The Knicks could have kept Tyson Chandler and Ray Felton, re-signed Melo, pad-locked Bargnani to the bench and fielded a top-ten offense that never turned the ball over.

On the other hand, we would have had to sit through another season blown fourth-quarter opportunities as opponents doubled Melo 27 feet from the basket while his four teammates stood and watched. And I say screw that! The status quo did have some serious benefits -- benefits which should not be ignored -- but it had clearly run its course.

The Knicks have the personnel to be successful running the Triangle, and the players have clearly bought into the system wholeheartedly. But their eyes are open; they understand that there is likely to be some ugly offensive basketball ahead. Even if they do master the new scheme overnight, this new pass-happy offense is likely to produce more turnovers then we've grown used to over the past few seasons.