For some reason, much of the conversation around the Knicks has revolved around the offense. By now, the word "Triangle" probably invokes an involuntary response similar to that of a New York college student hearing the name "Donald Trump.” The offense wasn't really the issue, but there are still plenty of improvements to be made on that end of the floor. How to do so, while effectively leveraging the skillset of Kristaps Porzingis, is something the Knicks coaching staff needs to address (personnel notwithstanding).
I'm not gonna get into the Triangle shit, cuz I’m so unbelievably sick of it, but the progression of discourse on the subject has led to certain inaccuracies. Since we’ll be discussing the offense, those inaccuracies may undermine what I’m about to write, so it seems prudent to begin by establishing that the Knicks, believe it or not, actually DO run sets that have nothing to do with the Triangle!
Double drag screens are not a Triangle thing:
Horns sets are not a Triangle thing:
And Iverson cuts are not a Triangle thing (featuring episode 396 of "what is Derrick Rose doing?"):
In those non-Triangle situations, the Knicks have a unique luxury in Kristaps Porzingis. As of right now, they're using his skillset in a fairly standardized manner, which is fine for a second year player. As Porzingis continues to improve, however, it'll be important for the Knicks to develop some pet plays to get him good looks AND leverage his skillset. Here's three plays they can run to do so effectively.
1. Horns, featuring Iverson Cut into Ball Screen
Horns is a versatile base for an entire offense, meaning there's a veritable ton of different shit the Knicks can run with this alignment. It's even more effective with a guy like Porzingis who can roll or pop, especially if he's playing center. This particular example features, of course, the indomitable Dirk Nowitzki:
It's a simple play, but as a change of pace from the Triangle, simple is probably best. Ultimately, this essentially ends up as a simple side pick and roll (PnR from here on out) with Dirk as the screener, but the preemptive off ball cuts and screens forces the defense out of position before the actual PnR begins (watch Korver get forced out of position in order to navigate the second off ball screen). This pressures the defense, but it also makes it MUCH easier for the screener—in this case, Dirk, but we're going to pretend he's Porzingis—to draw contact and REALLY open things up.
It's kinda difficult to explain, so instead of reading a wall of really boring text, take a look at Korver in this still:
Remember, Korver was already behind the play before Devin Harris (???) even gets the ball, which means Kyle's immediate priority is denying an easy path to the rim for a layup. So he desperately tries to get back in front, but it's all a ploy: Harris faked the drive, and he's going back to the right. It's too late, though: Korver's momentum is carrying him towards the sideline, which means his attempt to regain his balance and positioning leaves him effectively frozen. Normally, a defender can prepare for a ball screen in a variety of ways. With Korver already reacting rather than preparing, there's nothing he can do, and he's basically guaranteed to get picked off.
Of course, that's not how it works this time around, because the league has spent like 20 years developing strategies that try (and generally fail) to contain Dirk. This particular attempt has the Cavs trying to hedge Dirk's ball screen, so it’s not exactly representative of how teams will choose to defend this play. Since Dirk's a wily old vet, he's prepared for the hedge, and he slips the screen for a wide open midrange look. This is something Porzingis should eventually be able to do without even thinking.
With Porzingis involved, though, a tiny afterthought for the Mavs (increasing the odds of contact on the screen by running some preemptive action) will become a major key, cuz KP's screens are
Anyway, there's no good way to defend this when executed properly. Hedge, like the Cavs did, and it's an open mid-range or corner 3. Play straight up, and you've got a P-n-R with a sizable advantage. ICE, and you're giving up open 3's to Porzingis all freakin' day. Switch, and...um...well...okay, teams will definitely just switch this action. But they're gonna do that to KP in any context until he can consistently make them pay, so let's just hope he spends his summer improving his ability to attack mismatches.
Maximizing the effectiveness of this play requires guys who are...um...a bit more poised than the rotating carousel of ineffective P-n-R ball handlers the Knicks have trotted out since Porzingis' arrival. But it's a start!
This is a fun play, cuz it's pretty unorthodox.
Basically, it's a normal high P-n-R with an extra variable—fter the initial ball screen, a second player then sets another screen on the original screener's man, rather than on the ball. The Spain P-n-R is a chaos engine for defenses; it's the Joker of P-n-R sets (as in, Dark Knight Joker, not...uh...this)
I say this because it's a relatively novel concept in the NBA, and thus, it generally serves to create nearly audible "OH SHIT" moments for opposing defenses. Like, Phoenix has no goddamn clue how to defend this. There's a reason this play has taken the league by storm over such a short period of time.
Much like Horns, the Spain P-n-R is an overarching description rather than a specific play, but there's a lot to like here. This video from BBallBreakdown does a good job diving into the specifics of this play, so if you want to learn more, definitely check it out.
If the Knicks adopted this set, I'd like to see Willy Hernangomez as the initial screener, with Porzingis providing the secondary screen on Willy's defender (in the original clip, replace Nene with Willy, and replace Eric Gordon with KP). Doing so fits their respective skillsets reaaaaally well. Hernangomez is a much better screener at the point of attack, and has the feel and finishing ability to be a major threat on the roll. Meanwhile, Porzingis' job is simple—impede Hernangomez' defender with a screen (Willy's man will be a large target, and he'll often be looking away from the screen, making this an easier task; if Eric freakin' Gordon can do it, KP can too) and pop to 3. If KP can consistently draw contact, his man will be forced to help off, and if KP's defender is helping, KP is going to be wide open for 3. So basically: draw contact on that screen, and good things happen.
The coolest part? Willy has already shown flashes of shooting range despite a weirdly inconsistent jumper. If he can continue to improve, there's a future where both Porzingis and Hernangomez are interchangeable in their roles with this particular set. Good luck trying to match up with THAT.
Also, Willy is from Spain, so he probably already understands how this play works.
3. High-Low action
This is totally cheating, as this isn't really a play, but describing sets can get tedious, and this is something the Knicks really need to work on if they want to play Porzingis and Hernangomez together.
This is a staple of the Memphis Grizzlies and other teams who play with two big men close to the basket. It's really simple, but the Knicks like, never do this. I seem to recall Joakim Noah pulling this off once or twice, cuz he's just an old and rickety player, not a dumb player. But this is something I want to see more of moving forward. Remember those Boston games, where Marcus Smart latches onto the front of KP's legs and essentially dry humps him into oblivion? This is what the Knicks SHOULD have done.
This is basketball 101. You literally learn this shit in high school. And I suspect we'll see a lot more of it with Willy as a starter, because he's a smart player with great feel for the game. But this is how you take advantage of Marcus Smart's doglike tendencies. He's fronting KP and denying the entry pass? Someone...anyone...flashes to the high post, a la Zach Randolph in the clip above. After that, all Porzingis has to do is turn and seal his defender. That's literally it. Flash high, entry pass to the flasher (heh), quick pass to Porzingis, who now has his defender on his back, good shot.
In this clip, this action turns into a floater, but it usually results in a critical amount of pressure placed on the defense. Dunks are common, and oftentimes a defense will over-commit to preventing those dunks, leading to wide open 3's. Otherwise known as EASY OFFENSE. This should be a go-to counter-move for occasions when opponents guard Porzingis with smaller wings, a move that has become fairly common. As Hernangomez improves on the block, he'll likely see some fronting as well.
GIVE ME MORE OF THIS. I find I can determine a team's overall IQ pretty effectively by seeing how quickly they try to execute this kind of high-low action in the proper situations. Seeing the Knicks do it would be an encouraging sign for the future.
Jeff Hornacek has a nice blend of skillsets and youth to play with next season -- leveraging them in an intelligent way next season will be an important test for the future of this franchise. Using these plays would be a great start.