Six games have been played, and the New York Knicks sit at 2-4. Over the course of those games, defense has been a glaring issue, and Jeff Hornacek is looking to correct it.
So far, the Knicks are allowing nearly 110 points per game (fourth-worst) on 46.4 percent shooting (third-worst), and are the bottom dwellers in defensive efficiency. However, this was expected when the team brought on Hornacek to replace Kurt Rambis as head coach.
Rambis remained with the team as an assistant, and his new role is going to be focused on defense, according to ESPN’s Ian Begley.
Hornacek spent three years as the shot-caller in Phoenix and defense always fell behind the offense. He had the personnel to do that, though. The year he coached the Phoenix Suns to a 48-34 record, he had Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic, and Gerald Green making up a bulk of the offense. Their efficiency numbers were average because of how quick they liked to play, but they still surrendered a ton of points.
Hornacek’s new gig in the Big Apple is similar in terms of talent, but the Knicks are more mellow offensively and way more lackluster on defense. Becuase of this, Hornacek said to Begley that Rambis is going to be the only voice talking to the defense–naturally, it can go one of two ways.
Rambis’ track record isn’t as optimistic as Knicks fans would like it. Over the course of his coaching career, Rambis has coached 229 games and sports a record of 65-164. The Minnesota Timberwolves is the only franchise to have kept him in that role for a full 82-game season, and he stayed in Minny for two.
The Lakers promoted him to head coach in 1998-99, and the Knicks replaced Derek Fisher with him last year. New York was average defensively last season but they finished with 50 losses because their offense was impotent.
Both seasons in Minnesota were dreadful all-around, and Rambis could only do so much with those rosters. The T-Wolves were one of the three worst defensive teams for both seasons because the talent simply wasn’t there.
Rewinding back even further, his 1998-99 Lakers team was also one of the worst in the league. Rambis coached them to the playoffs after taking the reigns 13 games into the lockout-shortened season.
The oddity in the Knicks’ struggles is that they have the pieces to be a decent team on the most important side of the court. Joakim Noah is still a competitor even if he’s not as athletic as he used to be, and his communication skills make up for whatever he’s lost physically.
It’s hard to ignore the unicorn in the room, and Kristaps Porzingis has the tools to be an imposing interior presence. He doesn’t block every shot, but he impacts nearly all of them. According to NBA.com, opponents shoot just 45.5 percent within six feet of the basket when guarded by the Zinger–the league average is 60.3.
On the perimeter, Courtney Lee is their most reliable option, and that’s unquestionable; he’s made a career out of being a three-and-D guy. Most of the shot attempts contested by Lee are outside of 15 feet, and he’s better than most from that range. Because of his size and lateral mobility, opposing guards shoot just 35 percent when Lee is matched up against them.
Anyone who’s a fan of the Knicks should be wholly optimistic because Hornacek reacted to this issue so quickly. Rambis has 76 games left on the calendar to figure out the defense and have all of the guys buy in.
If the offense keeps going at this pace and the defense becomes a little less mediocre, New York will make noise after the All-Star Break.
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