As a Knicks fan for over 35 years, I’ve seen the highs and the lows of this team and organization. Honestly, it has been mostly lows, especially over the last 20 years. Our win percentage during that time is .400, which is the worst win percentage in the NBA. So, what has been the issue in my opinion? I believe it’s the lack of an identity.
If you reflect on the glory years of the 90’s (yes, I know we didn’t win a championship), the Knicks were a successful championship-level team and what created that? It was the identity that Pat Riley established and was carried on by Jeff Van Gundy, which was defense and toughness. Every night when the Knicks played, fans could expect one thing — they were going to see defense and toughness on display. Management worked with Riley to provide the type of players that would fit his vision.
That’s what it means to have management and the head coach working as one to establish a culture, and yes, an identity. Every night, our opponents knew they were in for a battle. Riley always spoke about being the best-conditioned team, the hardest working team, and the toughest, most tenacious team in the league, and as a fan, you really appreciated that.
I believe that the identity the Knicks need to adopt is to be a defensive minded team. So, now that David Fizdale has been relieved of his coaching duties, who are some of the potential candidates available that can bring that identity to the Knicks? Let’s start with Mark Jackson.
Mark Jackson compiled a record of 121-109 with the Golden State Warriors from 2011-2014, including two playoff appearances and advancing to the second round in the 2013. During his tenure, Golden State went from 27th in the league in defensive efficiency during his first season to 4th in his final season. Current Golden State head coach, Steve Kerr credits Mark Jackson with making the Warriors a great defensive team prior to his arrival. Also, in 2011, Golden State was last in defensive rebounding percentage at 69.1% and 29th in offensive rebounding percentage. In Jackson’s final season, their defensive rebounding percentage was 75.1%, which was 1st in the league, and their offensive rebounding percentage was 28.3%, good for 10th in the league.
This established identity that Mark Jackson put in place turned the Warriors into a perennial playoff team, which eventually led to one of the greatest stretches of dominance we’ve ever seen in the NBA. Stats courtesy of Steve Kerr Credits Mark Jackson for Making Warriors a ‘Great Defensive Team’ : Golden State Warriors: The Transformation of the Warriors Under Mark Jackson
Another candidate for the Knicks coaching job is Jeff Van Gundy. Most Knicks fans that were around during the 90’s remember Van Gundy fondly. When I speak of an identity, Van Gundy maintained what Riley started. In Van Gundy’s seven seasons with the Knicks, his record was 248-172. He took the Knicks to the playoffs every year during his Knicks tenure, including two Eastern Conference finals appearances and one Finals appearance. Below, you will see the Knicks total defensive rankings during the Van Gundy years.
1996-2000: The Knicks ranked 4th, 14th, 13th, and 8th respectively in total defense. Stats courtesy of Teams Defense
Since the Riley/Van Gundy years, there has been no established identity of defense with this team. Every coach from Hall of Famers Lenny Wilkins and Larry Brown to the likes of Mike Woodson and Jeff Hornacek never established an identity of defense.
So, in closing, the Knicks upper management needs to decide what they want the Knicks identity to be, then find the coach that best fits that vision. Once that’s done, then management needs to give them the support and roster to implement the plan. Otherwise, this dumpster fire of an organization and team will continue to be just that.
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Great summary of the Knicks’ situation. Completely agree. All the best teams are good at defense.