As franchise players go, the Knicks could do worse than Carmelo Anthony. When is comes to getting buckets, he’s a bona fide stud, able score from anywhere on the floor in a variety of ways. He’s virtually unguardable when he’s hot, and a no fun to match up with even when he’s not. Carmelo is a player you can build a team around, but he can’t do it alone. He needs help, both on the court and on the sideline.
‘Melo might be a talented scorer, but he’s not what baseball people would call a “five tool player”. He’s an adequate rebounder for a small forward and is defense his average at best. He’s not exactly an assist machine either. But those issues can be mitigated somewhat by surrounding Carmelo with the right personnel and the Knicks brass have done a decent job of that. What they really need is a coach who can make all the other pieces fit around a superstar persona. They need a coach who commands their respect.
Mike Woodson is not that guy. Phil Jackson is that guy.Despite the fact that Woodson is in negotiations to send his “interim” tag to the same place as the Knicks’ title hopes and the Knicks apparently not being interested, Jackson is clearly the coach the Knicks need, for the same reason why the Bulls and the Lakers needed him. Phil Jackson makes winners out of contenders. There’s that little something extra needed to win a title. The Zen Master seems to have figured out what that is. In a town that will accept nothing but immediate success, Jackson is the quickest path there.
So, why Jackson? The immediate answer is the Triangle offense. Now, sure, you’re asking, how is a complex system like the Triangle going to work when the Knicks couldn’t even execute Mike D’antoni’s run-and-gun offense? Well, for one, it makes the role players better than they really are. After all, two of the Bulls’ titles in the 90′s were won on series-winning jumpshots by John Paxon and Steve Kerr. Of course, players like Jordan, Pippen, Rodman and Horace Grant get most of the credit, and rightly so, for the repeat three-peat. But the Triangle not only puts every player in a position to succeed, it gives them the confidence to do so.
The role players aren’t the only ones to benefit from the Triangle. It helps the stars play better, more efficient ball. In a system like the Triangle, everyone on the floor is a threat, which opens up the floor for those occasions when the starts need to go to work one-on-one. Carmelo’s game is very much like Dirk Nowitski’s in that it’s predicated on taking, and making, difficult shots. For his wide array of offensive moves, Carmelo doesn’t often blow by or create a great deal of separation from defenders. He’s able to score by finding the littlest crease and using his strength and size to exploit it. It’s part of what makes him so awesome as a scorer. The Triangle, though, would make things even easier for him. When defending the Triangle, every passing lane needs to be denied, every screen needs to be hedged, every cutter needs to be bumped. All five offense players garner attention, leaving Carmelo more room to operate. He’s great at making the tough shots. Imagine how much better he could be with an extra foot or two to operate in.
In the end, though, aside from all the strategic and tactical things Jackson can bring to New York, the most important is his persona and reputation. Phil Jackson is a living legend among NBA coaches. When he talks, players listen. And it’s not just the fact that he has eleven titles as a player and a coach. He has an uncanny knack for getting his players to buy into the system. It goes beyond the Triangle. He’s able to focus his teams on the ultimate goal of a world championship. He’s able to get the most of his role players. He’s able to make the superstars see that less shots isn’t a sacrifice. He’s able to make the every man on the roster understand that they’re all there for a reason. They’re in the NBA because they’re among the best 200 or so basketball players on the planet Earth. It’s that type of bond that is missing from the Knicks and it’s exactly what Phil Jackson can bring. No disrespect to Mike Woodson. He got the team into the playoffs and seemed to win over the star. But it’s not enough to get them where they really want to go.