The New York Knicks got some bad news this week, or good news depending upon their goals. Joakim Noah will miss at least 3-4 weeks after undergoing knee surgery to remove a loose body. They also waived backup point guard Brandon Jennings in what may be a related move.
The New York Post thinks that the team could be tanking, despite insisting they’re not. This is due to the decision to waive Jennings, who is capable of starting for some teams. The Knicks plan to play undrafted rookie Ron Baker and D-Leaguer Chasson Randle behind starting guard Derrick Rose.
At 24-36, and four games behind the Detroit Pistons for the final playoff spot, New York’s season doesn’t look very promising. And based on their latest waiving/signing, it doesn’t seem like they’re in win-now mode. But don’t tell that to head coach Jeff Hornacek.
“Who says we’re trying to lose?” he told the NY Post. “Sensibility of trying to lose? What does that mean? As a team we’re not thinking about losing. We’re still trying to win. Brandon being waived doesn’t mean [not] trying to win games. We feel Ron Baker can fill right in. It’s a different dynamic. He can control things and provide defense.”
Hornacek also indicated that Jennings was waived because he wasn’t happy with his role on the team.
“Brandon wanted to play more minutes here,’’ he said. “With Derrick here, it made it awfully tough. Organizations try to do best for themselves and the players. You see a guy not happy or wants to play more minutes, a veteran guy like Brandon, and we had Ron and Chasson, we saw an opportunity help Brandon out and help us.’’
Sources have claimed everything from Jennings wanting to play for a playoff team, to the team knowing he “was no longer a fit” in the triangle offense and future plans.
Whatever the case may be, Hornacek will be happy to see Baker get more playing time, along with what Randle can do against NBA competition. Jennings was good at pushing the pace, but he didn’t shoot well (38.0%) in the triangle. The hope is that Baker and/or Randle can be better fits in the Knicks’ offensive scheme.
“It will open up more minutes for Ron,’’ said Hornacek. “Chasson, we really liked in training camp. We were surprised nobody picked him up earlier. He’s a young player we can develop, knows the system and has a real good feel for the game.’’
Baker, a 6’4″ guard out of Wichita State, is averaging 3.3 points and 1.2 assists in 11.6 minutes per game. Randle signed two 10-day contracts with the Philadelphia 76ers and averaged 5.3 points in 9.3 minutes. In 32 appearances with the Westchester Knicks, he’s averaged 20.4 points per game.
As for Jennings, he’s now free to sign with whatever team he chooses. A couple of clubs who could use another solid guard like Jennings include the Washington Wizards and Charlotte Hornets. However, if it’s playing time he seeks, the 27 year old could look for the spot where he can get the most minutes.
Noah Probably Done for the Season
As mentioned before, Noah’s surgery will sideline him for the next 3-4 weeks. But the reality is that he’s likely done for the remainder of the 2017 season.
He felt pain in his left knee last week, then underwent an MRI that revealed the loose body. He could’ve waited until the end of the season if he felt like pushing through the pain. But given that he’s already missed the past seven games with a hamstring strain, the 9-year veteran elected to undergo surgery.
This is a bad way to end the season for a guy who signed a 4-year, $72-million deal in the offseason. Noah was a mainstay with the Chicago Bulls for years, providing defense, shot blocking, and rebounding. But he’s suffered through some injury plagued seasons in the last few years, with 2017 being another one.
If Noah indeed sits out the rest of the season, he’ll have only played 46 games in his first year in a Knicks uniform. And this isn’t exactly the homecoming that the New York native was looking for.
Triangle Auditions Coming
While Hornacek denies that his squad is tanking for better draft positioning, he did admit that the final two months will be used to determine the best fits for the triangle offense.
“We’ve gotten better,” Hornacek told the NY Post. “As time goes on, you say, ‘Can they get it? Are they getting better at it?’ If they’re not, you go, ‘OK.’ End of the year comes and we’re having our discussions and you say, ‘Can this guy play this offense?’ We’ll say either ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ or ‘he’s getting it, he’s getting better.’ So I’m sure that’s part of evaluations.”
The offensive system that team president Phil Jackson used to win 11 NBA championships as a coach hasn’t made New York a winner yet. In fact, most players haven’t taken a liking to the triangle since it’s not an easy scheme to master. But star forward Carmelo Anthony did say that he and some other players are becoming more comfortable in the system.
“I’ve been in it for the past couple of seasons. I know when it feels good,” said Anthony. “I think now with the guys who are just starting to learn it or get back to playing it, guys are still trying to get comfortable with it. When things aren’t going well we know to get into that. It’s like second nature for us to know or to get into that.”
One of the toughest things to master regarding the triangle is playing well even when opponents know how the Knicks are going to set up.
“There’s different things you can do,” said Hornacek. “So that’s what we’re working towards. We still want to push the ball, we still want to get in our early offense.”
The coach also pointed out that retired Utah Jazz players John Stockton and Karl Malone ran the pick and roll so effectively that, even when opponents knew what was coming, they couldn’t stop it.
It’s doubtful that Baker or Randle will become the Stockton of the triangle. But they could possibly play better in the system than Jennings did someday.
Looking Ahead with Knicks Betting
Considering that New York will now be down their top rebounder in Noah (8.8 rebounds), and their best backup point guard is gone, don’t expect the Knicks to be as good against the spread.
They’re 31-29 ATS, but they’ll also be playing Baker and Randle for extended minutes whenever Rose sits. And given that these are just backups, their playing time isn’t always reflected in the betting lines immediately.
As for the loss of Noah, it hurts because he can rebound and play solid defense. But their won’t be too much drop-off to rookie Willy Hernangomez, who’s averaging 6.1 points and 6.8 rebounds in just 16.4 minutes per game. Many believe that Hernangomez is the team’s future center, and he gets a chance to prove it now. Kyle O’Quinn (6.4 points, 5.6 rebounds) is another capable center off the bench.