Jeff Hornacek Is Proving to Be the Right Coach for the New York Knicks
The Knicks are one of the NBA’s surprising stories of this season. The team is currently 16-14 and have the 8th best record in the Eastern Conference.
Not bad for a team most pegged as a lottery team in the preseason.
To be fair, those preseason projections were warranted. Just look at all the question marks the team faced prior to the first game.
Tim Hardaway was signed to a 4-year, $72 million deal. The next biggest offer Hardaway received was in the $50 million range from his previous team, the Atlanta Hawks. The signing looked like a drastic overpay from a desperate team.
Frank Ntilikina was selected with the 8th overall pick ahead of players such as Dennis Smith Jr., Malik Monk, and Donovan Mitchell. All three would have been the preferred pick among fans on draft day.
Carmelo Anthony was dealt for what seemed like pennies on the dollar when General Manager Scott Perry decided to move Anthony to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott and a 2018 second round pick.
And Ron Baker, the undrafted free agent who averaged 4.1 and 2.1 assists on 37.8% shooting in
16.5 minutes a game for the Knicks? Yeah, he got a no trade clause.
The credit for the early season success deserves to go to head coach Jeff Hornacek. Hornacek seemed to be a placeholder coach once Phil Jackson resigned from his title as President of Basketball operations.
Most fans believed Hornacek would be ousted once the Knicks started struggling mightily and a interim coach would lead the team the remainder of the year. The exception was that the new front office would want to bring in a new head coach that fit their vision and direction, not a holdover like Hornacek.
Yet, Hornacek is here coaching his tail off and looking like he may be here for the long term if he can get the Knicks to the playoffs.
Hornacek has excelled this season in getting the Knicks to buy into a pass heavy, swing the ball to the open man type offense. No longer are there constant one on one isolations and triangle sets being run.
A year ago, former president of the Knicks Phil Jackson forced Hornacek to run the triangle a majority of the time. Forcing a coach to run an offensive system which he has little prior experience in is setting that coach up to fail. That’s exactly what happened.
Hornacek was strapped and had his hands tied behind his back. He had no freedom to operate and he could not coach the team the way he wanted.
Last year, the Knicks ranked 19th in the NBA in assists per game with 21.8 a game. This year they are up to 9th at 23 a game. It may not seem like a lot but it’s a significant improvement as it shows his team trusts one another more often.
Hornacek’s best trait this year has been adjusting his rotations based on how the game is flowing and allowing the players who are playing well to finish games.
As of today, the Knicks rank third in the NBA in fourth quarter differential, trailing only the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors. The Knicks are outscoring opponents by 1.9 points per game.
New York also ranks third in the league in fourth quarter scoring, averaging 26.7 points per game.
Just last week, Hornacek has let Ron Baker and Frank Ntilikina close out games late in the fourth quarter against both the Nets and the Thunder. Both had the hot hand and were playing well defensively so Hornacek let them finish out the game. And close they did.
That’s getting your entire team involved. That’s displaying trust in players whether they’re your top guy or they are the 11th man on the roster.
Hornacek has made it a point to get everyone involved and make sure everyone feels as if they are part of the team.
The Knicks usually go nine deep on a given night and will go 10 when at full strength. If things are not going right, Hornacek will turn to guys like Ron Baker, Ramon Sessions, or Willy Hernangomez for a stretch of minutes if a spark is needed.
What’s even been more impressive about this Knicks team is they have not been healthy for a majority of the year.
Kristaps Porzingis has already missed six games and is still out indefinitely with a knee issue. Tim Hardaway Jr. has missed nine games and counting with a stress reaction in his leg. Enes Kanter has missed three games with back issues and has been playing through a sore neck. Even Frank Ntilikina has been banged up at times with foot ailments causing him to miss three games.
To play that many games without your top three scorers and top draft pick and still exceed expectations shows Hornacek has been the right man for the job.
If the Knicks keep up their current pace, Hornacek should draw plenty of praise in the Coach of the Year voting, and rightfully so. Time to start giving Hornacek the praise he deserves.