When Greg Focker was vying for Byrnes family approval in the popular film “Meet The Parents,” he learned all about the Circle of Trust created by Jack Byrnes.
For the New York Knicks to start turning things around, they’ll need to have something similar, just in a different shape — a Triangle of Trust, if you will.
With new team president Phil Jackson revamping New York’s entire coaching staff, the Knicks’ offense will have a much different look next season.
While the Knicks paid a hefty sum (a near-max deal of $124 million over five years) to keep their best player, Carmelo Anthony, they intend to move as far away as possible from the isolation-heavy, ball-stopping offense that was centered too much around Anthony before Jackson arrived in New York took his first job as an NBA executive.
Instead, the Knicks, through rookie head coach Derek Fisher (who played for Jackson when he coached the Los Angeles Lakers), working alongside several of Jackson’s old assistant coaches, will switch to the triangle offense that was a key part of making Jackson a league-record 11-time champion as a head coach with the Chicago Bulls and Lakers.
Since it’s hard to argue with success, Anthony and other Knicks will likely buy in to the notion of going along with the changes in offensive beliefs.
But making the execution of a newly taught principles work requires more than simply believing in a new idea.
In New York’s case, it will necessitate a lot of trust.
When New York’s offense bogged down and failed at times last season, it often had to do with a lack of trust between Anthony and his teammates. Anthony wouldn’t give the ball up enough when his teammates couldn’t prove they could make shots on a consistent enough basis. And his teammates sometimes couldn’t make shots because they couldn’t get into a good rhythm when Anthony didn’t pass to them enough.
There were also other levels trust that broke down last season.
Following offseason knee surgery, guard J.R. Smith didn’t always trust his knee enough to attack the rim in the way he did when he won his only Sixth Man of the Year Award of his career a year prior. Lacking that conviction, Smith had the second-lowest ratio (14.5 percent) of free throws attempts (138) to field goal attempts (955) of his career one year after he posted career highs in free throw makes (237) and free attempts (311).
The same lack of faith was true for guard Iman Shumpert, who has a good rookie season in 2012-13, but who has been steadily unproductive ever since. Part of that decline had to do with Shumpert’s lack of confidence, first in his knee (post-surgery), and later, in feeling left out of ex-Knicks coach Mike Woodson’s offense, which relied too much on a system in which Anthony took nearly one-quarter (24.4 percent) of New York’s shots last year. Anthony was the only Knick to take four-digit shot attempts last season, while going way over that mark (with 1,643 field goal attempts); the next closest Knick was Smith, with 955 shot attempts.
Shumpert is looking forward to the change in offensive philosophy as he continues to slowly gain more trust in his previously injured leg.
“The way it’s set up, you can start three guards, it really doesn’t matter. Everybody’s going to get touches, everybody gets opportunities to cut,” Shumpert told ESPN New York’s Ohm Youngmisuk and Ian Begley last week. “It’s constant action going on. So I think that I’ll be able to capitalize on that and I’ll be able to use my athleticism a lot more than standing in the corner.”
Some of the reason Shumpert hung out in a corner and wasn’t involved much in New York’s offense was due to his own passivity. Other times, it was Woodson’s system not actively getting players like Shumpert many touches.
“I know this year in the offense I will have a lot more opportunities to cut and get to the basket,” Shumpert added. “I just want to work on the strength of my leg…all I’ve been working on is getting that trust in my left leg to take off from farther and take off earlier and use it a lot more cutting and slashing to the basket. [I’m] definitely trusting going off two legs than going off one leg [like] last year… this year, I want to go off one leg just as much as I go off two.”
As Fisher knows well from playing under Jackson, the trust needed to make the triangle off work well doesn’t end with players trusting each other that everyone on the floor will make the right passes to sacrifice a good shot themselves for a great shot for someone else.
That trust also extends to the head coach. Now on the other ends of things, Fisher will need the same faith in Knicks players that Jackson had in him and in Fisher’s Laker teammates.
Although cuts are pre-described and looking for teammates is highly encouraged in the triangle, it’s also a motion offense in which multiple, sometimes unlimited options can exist on any one possession, with offensive players reading what the defense is giving them and reacting accordingly.
Thus, as dictated by any smoothly functioning triangle offense, the coach must willingly give up some control, while allowing his players to choose the best options and giving them the freedom to explore the best way to go within in each available option.
Fisher’s trust in his players’ ability to have that flexibility within the framework of the triangle offense will be central to making the new system work for New York.
Meanwhile, Anthony will still be the focal point, but in more of a sharing nature that emphasizes increased ball movement and player movement compared to what the Knicks ran before Jackson brought the triangle to New York.
It will all take some time for everyone involved to get on the same page and make it work.
But just as Focker overcame several painstaking moments before he was finally accepted into the Byrnes family Circle of Trust, the Knicks will ultimately benefit greatly if they can successfully create their own Triangle of Trust.