I like to cook.
In particular, I really enjoy cooking red meat. Maybe it’s a bit selfish, since my future wife is a vegetarian, and making a nice steak or burger is something that I and only I get to enjoy. And yeah, it’s bad for me, but we live in a post-facts society and I’m going to eat all the cows I want to.
For years, I’ve tried to find the perfect dry spice mix to treat my meat with before cooking it. Some days I’ll throw in a little garlic powder. Maybe a little paprika another day. Cayenne pepper’s always good to get the party started. Cumin is maybe the best spice ever (seriously, use some cumin next time you’re cooking and tell me it doesn’t make everything so much tastier).
But lately? I’ve realized that maybe the solution to that perfect steak or burger has been right in front of me all along. A healthy dose of salt, a little pinch of pepper. Bada bing. So simple, right in front of my nose, and probably the best solution to sate my appetite and leave me satisfied.
Sorry if you’re hungry now. Feel free to go check out Eater or something. But come right back!
Because, see, the reason I bring my meaty life lessons up is that I think it relates to the Knicks. Jeff Hornacek is officially gonezo. He seemed to have lost the locker room, he was a relic of the Phil Jackson era, and he finished his second season with a 60-104 total record. The writing was on the wall for him. But from bitter ends sprout sweet new beginnings.
The Knicks’ roster... well, it’s not exactly prime rib as a whole. But there’s some real nice Frank Ntilikina grass-fed ground beef that just needs to be pattied out and seasoned. Trey Burke was a Manager’s Special at the beginning of the season, but that former mystery meat looks like he could maybe be a nice little cornrowed filet. And of course, you have the perfectly marbled A5 Japanese Wagyu steak named Kristaps Porzingis on preorder, arriving sometime next year.
How to season these little morsels is very important. You don’t want to go too aggressive and hit them with those Doc Rivers chili flakes. Using too much Mark Jackson garlic powder is bound to leave you with a bad taste in your mouth. Ettore Messina or Becky Hammon cumin probably wouldn’t hurt, but would that really be the best choice?
What if the true answer is just a little Mike Miller salt and pepper?
First off, no. It’s not that Mike Miller, the ever-greasy-looking former LeBron cohort. The Mike Miller that the Knicks should be looking at to coach the team is the head coach of the Knicks’ G-League affiliate Westchester Knicks.
Using a proprietary grading system that I just thought of (and is universally held as the standard of coach selecting as of right now), I believe that Miller passes the “Three Ps” of coaching success — Pedigree, Production, and Player Development.
First, Pedigree. Two of the names above, Messina and Hammon, are coaches that I would consider attractive options for the Knicks in large part due to the fact that they served under legendary Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich. Pedigree is sometimes overvalued, but, ultimately, it’s a great starting point when you’re looking for a coach — the best tend to breed the best. It makes sense.
While Miller didn’t serve directly under Popovich, he was an assistant with the Austin Toros/Spurs — San Antonio’s G League team — for two seasons before accepting the job as the W-Knicks’ head coach in 2015. It’s safe to say that he probably didn’t get the full Spurs experience, but San Antonio is maybe the best example of a model organization from top to bottom in the entire NBA.
In Miller’s first season as an assistant with Austin (2013-14), the team struggled to a 19-31 record. But in his second year, the A-Spurs won 32 games, good for a .640 win percentage and a trip to the G League (née D-League) finals.
That brings me right around to the second P, Production. How has Miller done since becoming the W-Knicks’ head coach?
In their inaugural season in 2014-15 under coach Kevin Whitted, the Dub Knicks were a pretty awful 10-40 (which was totally on brand for a team called “Knicks” in 2014-15).
Miller came on the second season, and in two of his first three years coaching, the W-Knicks have had a winning record and made the playoffs. His total record is 78-71 so far in his Westchester career.
Granted, both of those playoff appearances resulted in first round exits (2016 and 2018), but the regular season results are certainly a step in the right direction.
This season in particular was a banner year for Miller and the W-Knicks program. The team finished 32-10, tied with (go figure) the Austin Spurs for the best record in the G-League. Westchester finished with the third-best net rating in the league with a +3.7, only behind the Spurs and the Raptors 905 (a team that sports another solid coaching candidate, Jerry Stackhouse). Miller won the G League’s Coach of the Year award (which, considering the name change of the league this year, technically makes him the first ever G-League Coach of the Year).
Miller was predictably humble about the award in his postgame comments following the W-Knicks’ loss to the Raptors 905 in the playoffs last Monday, but also stressed the importance of having a great staff around him.
“Honestly, it’s not something I really thought about a whole lot,” Miller said of winning the award. “It’s great, but to me, it means we have a lot of really good players and really good staff, and that’s what that award says to me. It says that you have really good people.
“You can’t do anything and have any kind of success unless you have people that are really into it and are the kind of people you want to be around. And play together, work together, do all those things.”
(Side note, thanks so so so much to Dillon and Stingy for getting quotes for me last week — I couldn’t make it to the game because of my day job, but they were my intrepid vicarious reporters.)
Maybe the most important item when finding a new Knicks coach, the Dubs posted elite defensive numbers across the board this season: Miller’s team finished third overall in opponent FG% at 44.4 and second in points allowed per game at 101.5. Defense was a goal all year for Westchester, despite the team’s revolving door of talent throughout the season.
“I think one of the things that happened is, when Trey Burke signed and was gone, we knew that was a big piece of offense that was gone,” Miller said. “We sat down with our group and said, if we don’t become one of the top defensive teams — we had set out to be one of the top five defensive teams, that was something we talked about, we wanted to be one of the best top five teams — and we weren’t there. So we kept moving that way, and got better and better in the second half of the season. I think we defended very well.”
One slight area of concern is a problem that has plagued the big Knicks the last two years under Jeff Hornacek — the W-Knicks finished 23rd of 26 teams in 3-pointers attempted with 25.5 per game, and 21st in threes made with 9.9. One silver lining there, however, is that they shot 37.8 percent, which was good for third in the league.
That stat doesn’t overly concern me, however, considering midrange maestro Trey Burke was dropping 30 a game for over half the season in Westchester. Clearly, Miller was playing to the strengths of his players, and that’s an admirable trait.
Let’s segue right on into the third P, Player Development. Miller and the W-Knicks had a G League-high five call-ups this season, tied with the Northern Arizona Suns.
Granted, three of those went to Nigel Hayes with three separate teams, but the results were clearly there (the other two were Trey Burke, obviously, and Xavier Rathan-Mayes). Couple that with the progress that Damyean Dotson, Luke Kornet and Isaiah Hicks showed from their time at the small club, and the record for development this year is pretty iron-clad.
“I think we saw some of our players as they progressed and they were successful,” Miller said. “That’s what we’re after. If we had Nigel, Nigel practiced with us two days last week... it was Friday night after the first-round game when we figured out he was going to go to play for the Kings the rest of the season. And we were happy as anybody was, players, coaches, happy that he had that opportunity. And had one of the other guys gotten [a call-up] yesterday, we would have been happy for him.
“That’s what it is, that’s what it’s about. And the guys that are here now, it’s been next guy up. We keep it going, this is who we are. And I give the credit to the guys that we started the year with, to create the culture and really buy into it and go through the process with us.”
Kind of sounds like a perfect mentality from a coach that will likely inherit one of the youngest rosters in the NBA next year, right?
So, with that, my message to the Knicks is quite simple: don’t overthink it. Maybe that perfect recipe for success is right in front of your nose.