Let's begin with a bold prediction: The New York Knicks will not finish the 2016-17 season among the top half of the league in pace. The Jeff Hornacek Revolution will not turn the team into a sleek, run-and-gun outfit overnight. I doubt that is even his true intention.
The coach is already talking a big game about forcing more turnovers to get out on the break and ramping up conditioning, and he already has a plan in place, per Ian Begley:
The Knicks ranked in the bottom five in pace over the last two seasons. That's another thing that will likely change under Jeff Hornacek. "They have been at a slower pace. We're going to have put some things out there that speed them up," Hornacek said Friday. "We'll probably speed them up past where we want them to go and then we'll slow them down a little bit just so they get that in their habits.... It won't be a difficult adjustment."
Still, the Knicks finished 26th in the league in pace last season -- dead last in fast-break points -- and the roster isn't really set up to outrun teams in the small-ball, pace-and-space NBA.
Make no mistake, though: Hornacek can make a huge impact on the Knicks' offense simply by adding a dash of pace. And the most critical adjustment probably (hopefully) won't merely be an increase in fast breaks, but also a greater sense of urgency within their halfcourt offense.
One of the biggest problems with the Triangle as the Knicks ran it last season was how long it took to set up. On every possession two guards walked the ball up the court, even in the absence of any kind of defensive pressure. After about 10-12 had passed, the guard was ready to pass it into the post ... only to find that the opponent had shut off that option 8 seconds ago. The came 10 seconds of "Oh, shit ... now what?" followed by a contested shot.
Here is the team's overall shooting percentages divvied up by time remaining on the shot clock, per NBA Stats:
As you might expect, it's a fairly linear correlation, straight down into the crapper -- the less time on the clock, the worse the shot. This is pretty much the norm for any team. The big difference with the Knicks is how frequently their shots are taken at the lower end of the chart. Last year's team ranked in the top 5 in shots taken in the final 7 seconds of the shot clock.
Not only did the Knicks' snail-paced offense breed desperate shot attempts, it also bred indecisiveness. Guards hesitated to throw passes, bigs hesitated with their post moves. Think of all the times we saw Kristaps Porzingis dribbling in the post without a clear plan as a weak-side defender crept up to swipe the ball away. Kristaps shot a tidy 52.0% on shots from inside the arc when he didn't have to dribble; that shooting percentage dropped to 36.4% after one dribble and 28.7% after two dribbles.
That is why we shouldn't discount Hornacek's comments on how to take advantage of Kristaps' inside game, even among all the rapturous "play him at the 5 and let him shoot threes" talk:
Jeff Hornacek plans to use Kristaps Porzingis in a variety of ways, depending on how opponents defend him. "I think his ability to go against a smaller guy (is a benefit). We can get him inside on some quick hitters and take advantage inside there [emphasis mine]," Hornacek said on ESPN Radio's "The Michael Kay Show." "Running the court, if they want to try to put a bigger guy on him, if we move him over to the 5 spot at times, he'll be able to outrun a lot of guys and get easy buckets that way. And he can also pull those guys out and shoot threes. I just love his all around game."
Yes! By all means, play the kid down low from time to time, but focus on quick, decisive shot attempts. The coaching staff would be wise to use Robin Lopez as an example here. Once he gets the ball in the post, he doesn't mess around with that dribbling bullshit; he makes his move, takes his shot or passes the ball back out.
The Jeff Hornacek Knicks are still going to run Triangular sets, as all teams do. They are still going to run the ball through the more often than many teams. Lopez and Carmelo Anthony are pretty good at it! The real transformation in pace will hopefully come from stealing a few more fast breaks when possible or else simply bringing the ball up-court with some conviction and running quicker, more decisive sets. It may not help the team rocket up the pace charts, but it will improve them where they need it the most: offensive efficiency.