Jeff Hornacek is a Fit for the Knicks

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Last week, the New York Knicks made it official, hiring Jeff Hornacek as their new head coach. It was a bit of a surprise hire, as at first glance Hornacek does not have much of a history with Phil Jackson, and his time as a head coach does not show a history of running the triangle offense that Jackson favors. Looking deeper though, Hornacek brings much to the table though, and here are some of the reasons why he should be an extremely good hire in New York.

Jeff Hornacek is a Fit for the Knicks

An ‘A’ For Personality 

Jeff Hornacek has the admiration and praise of his peers,

“I think Jeff and I are pretty similar personalities,” Steve Kerr said to Fox Sports Arizona. “There’s a lot of fire inside, but pretty calm and laidback at the same time. I think players appreciate that. You don’t want a huge emotional roller coaster ride everyday. But you want some direction and some fire.”

His players respect him and believe in him.

“Sometimes, some players if they’re hurt or something, they say, ‘OK, I’m not going to play.’ But, for Jeff, even if I had one leg, I would play for him. He gives me a lot,” said Goran Dragic to Valley of the Suns about his then coach in 2014.

Insiders around the league recognize his competency and success as a head coach when he placed second in NBA Coach of the Year balloting as a rookie coach. It is a reflection of the instability of the head coaching positions in the Association that Hornacek was fired from the Phoenix Suns not long after recieving that accolade. Now, as the newly minted New Yorks Knicks head coach, Hornacek finds himself in familiar territory by attempting to turn around a team that hasn’t had recent success. He brought a 23-win improvement to the Suns, the largest one-year increase in the NBA.

‘A+’ For Media Presence 

Hornacek handled the Phoenix media incredibly well. Writers for the Suns described Hornacek as gracious and terrific. He answered questions with the same respect whether in the midst of great success or right after heart breaking buzzer beater loses. This continued even as the issues mounted, if you recall the Suns had a lot of them during his final season with them. Even after the Suns fired all of his assistants Hornacek continued to handle the pressure with composure,

“We’re going to try to get things changed around,” Hornaceck said to ESPN at the time. “We’re not quitting on anything. We’re just going to continue to work and try to implement a couple of different things and see if we can get it going. Whatever happens after that, you can’t get concerned about that.”

Although New York is a much different environment than Phoenix, his previous relationship and reputation with the media shows he will be able to handle himself in the Big Apple.

What Grade for His Coaching?

He is a respectable and well appreciated person but Jeff Hornacek isn’t the perfect coach. He had the Suns 10th in the NBA in points per game (102.9) and 14th in offensive rating (105.5) without a true NBA star or a post presence. However, comparing his years with the Suns there is a slight drop-off in the team’s offensive performance via HoopsHabit:

FG% 3P% FT%
2014-15 45.3 34.1 76.2
2013-14 46.3 37.2 75.8

 

Goran Dragic was an efficient high usage, on the ball successful player, but as the offense evolved into a 3-guard attack of Isiah Thomas, Eric Bledsoe, and Dragic, he struggled to adjust to playing off the ball and could not match his 2013-14 output. His inability to adapt the game to a successful player like Dragic is a red flag for Knicks fans, who know all about a coach’s inability to implement an effective system.

The Three Headed Guard Experiment

As an attacking guard Goran Dragic ended the season shooting 41% from beyond the arc. Hornacek utilized Markieff Morris (14 pts and 6 rebounds per game) as a 3-and-D and had the Suns at 8th in overall offense using drive and kick, pin downs, and pick and pops centered around Channing Frye.  The following year brought Isiah Thomas and it ended up being a nightmare for Jeff Hornacek. Individually it was working as the three guard lineup of Dragic, Thomas, and Bledsoe played so well all three made it into Sport Illustrator’s top 100 players that season

Player G MP FG% 3P% 2P% FT% TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
Goran Dragic 12 32.3 .480 .316 .535 .867 3.3 3.3 0.9 0.1 1.9 2.0 15.3
Eric Bledsoe 12 31.5 .448 .355 .479 .796 5.1 5.4 1.3 0.6 3.2 2.6 13.8
Isaiah Thomas 12 23.8 .405 .326 .443 .891 2.3 4.1 0.7 0.1 1.9 2.1 14.8

A Three Headed Dog and The Other Guys

As a team the offense dropped to 16th and the styles of the guards were never blended. Maybe it never could happen or maybe because Hornacek couldn’t make it happen. He certainly has talented pieces in New York to recreate that success but the drop off from year to year and lineup problems is worrying.  As the league has moved into more position less basketball, the Knicks pick and roll attack has become a highly successful weapon with Kristaps Pornzingis, Carmelo Anthony, or Robin Lopez. With the Suns, Jeff Hornacek used a quick paced, highly offensively potent attack but is that style sustainable by these three big guys? And without a talented point guard?  Can Anthony and Porzingis thrive, improve, or find success with a coach that was not able to balance the talents of his team after he was given more talent? The worst part is when such a great coach and guy lost the will of his team.

The players didn’t seem to care and their 27th ranked point differential was a reflection of that. When a coach loses his team, and the players lose their intensity, it’s just a long slog to the end.” Chris Barnewall

During the final year of his coaching he continuously criticized the Suns lack of ball movement while his players continued to stand around during games. Watching Hornacek on the sideline tells us all we need to know — he’s just as frustrated as we are.

Will the Knicks turn on him in a similar way, once the going gets tough? The Knicks seem to have more of a reason to than the Suns as Jeff isn’t known for the triangle. However, it may seem like Phil Jackson has no connection to Hornacek but they do have a mentor in common:

 According to The New York Times, Hornacek played in the triangle offense under coach Cotton Fitzsimmons in Phoenix. Fitzsimmons served as an assistant coach at Kansas State to Tex Winter, the architect of the triangle offense and Jackson’s mentor.

Apples to Apples or Apples to Oranges?

There are countless reasons why comparing the Suns to the Knicks is unfair. The Suns problems included personnel changes, injuries,poor  front office decisions, and a small market team versus the Knicks own set of problems. But it is the only comparison that exists for Hornacek. His tenure with the Suns is the clearest and most realistic picture of the Knicks future. Is it a future New York is ready for?

 

Main Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images