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Knicks talk a good game about defense -- will they back it up?

POSTED: Oct 20, 2014 6:31 PM ET

By John Schuhmann

BY John Schuhmann

NBA.com

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2014-15 Knicks Season Preview

Sekou Smith takes a look at the Knicks, who hope the return of Carmelo Anthony will mean big things to the Big Apple.

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

The Triangle offense is back in the NBA. And it will be fascinating to see how well it works with Derek Fisher -- instead of Phil Jackson -- on the bench and Carmelo Anthony -- instead of Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant -- as the primary scorer. If Anthony is willing to move the ball, he could be a great fit in the system that has won 11 championships.

But the Knicks were already a good offensive team. They regressed on that end of the floor somewhat last season, but were still well above the league average in offensive efficiency. If you have Anthony, complemented by one of the best shooters in the league (Jose Calderon) and other explosive options, your offense is going to be pretty good, no matter what offense you're running.

If the Knicks are to make the playoffs, the team's defense has to be more of a concern than its offense. New York ranked fifth defensively three seasons ago, but it's one of three teams that has regressed by at least three points allowed per 100 possessions each of the last two seasons. The other two -- Boston and Philadelphia -- are teams that purposely took steps backward.

Knicks Season Preview: Three Questions

Stu Jackson breaks down his three questions for the Knicks as they adapt to the triangle offense.

The Knicks fell to 24th in defensive efficiency last season, they traded their best defender -- Tyson Chandler -- in June, and they still employ Andrea Bargnani and Amar'e Stoudemire, two of the worst frontline defenders of the last decade. So just getting back to being an average defensive team won't be easy.

The good news is that both Fisher and Anthony have acknowledged the importance of defense. In fact, in speaking with the media, they both said that the Triangle is taking a back seat in training camp.

"Successful teams play defense," Fisher said. "There's no way around it. The numbers, the stats, the history tell you the best teams are the better defensive teams. We have to figure out a way to break into the elite defensive teams in some way."

"I know everybody is talking about the new system, the Triangle, and Phil Jackson," Anthony added. "But the challenge for us is how good we want to be on the defensive end. Last season, being 24 out of 30 from a defensive standpoint, that's just not acceptable. It's not acceptable. We will improve on that, because we will focus on that. We will challenge ourselves to be better and the coaching staff will challenge us to be better."

Successful teams play defense. There's no way around it.

– Knicks coach Derek Fisher

The Knicks might dream of bringing Marc Gasol to New York next summer, but he's still in Memphis right now. Samuel Dalembert and Jason Smith can both be decent defensive anchors, but neither is nearly as good as Chandler at his best, and both will be competing with Bargnani and Stoudemire for minutes. When it comes to personnel, the outlook for the Knicks' perimeter defense isn't much brighter.

"It's going to take a collective effort," Anthony said. "We know we lost Tyson. We all know he was a great defensive player, a great shot-blocker, Defensive Player of the Year. But we got to do it collectively. We got to do it as a group. We got to trust, we got to believe in one another. And that's something that we got to distill [in the first day of camp]."

There wasn't much of a collective effort on defense last season. To say that the 2013-14 Knicks lacked cohesion on that end of the floor would be an understatement. So just by getting everybody on the same page, Fisher can improve the New York defense, even with the former DPOY back in Dallas.

The Knicks are saying the right things. Come Oct. 29, they'll need to back up those words with actual contested shots and rebounds. Otherwise, it won't matter what offense they're running.

ICYMI ...

After Steve Kerr chose the Warriors, Jackson chose Fisher, who still had to wrap up his playing career, as the Knicks' new coach. ... Tyson Chandler and interior defense were swapped for Jose Calderon and perimeter shooting in a six-player trade that also brought two second-round picks, which were used on Cleanthony Early and Thanasis Antetokounmpo. ... After flirting with Chicago and Houston, Anthony realized he couldn't leave the place he had forced his way to just three years earlier. ... Signing Jason Smith to a small deal could pay off big. ... A late four-player trade with Sacramento shouldn't affect the rotation.

THREE POINTS

1. Fisher could go any number of ways with his starting lineup, with only Calderon and Anthony (at the three or four) as locks to be in the first five.

2. No matter who starts, the need to play wings Tim Hardaway Jr., Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith should push Anthony to the four for at least half of his minutes.

3. If the Triangle can turn some of Smith's pull-up jumpers into catch-and-shoot jumpers, it could increase his efficiency quite a bit. No jump shooter had a bigger effective field goal percentage discrepancy on pull-up vs. catch-and-shoot last season.

MAN ON THE SPOT

Jackson has done his best to make his team younger and stronger, but the untradeable contracts of Bargnani and Stoudemire (which expire after this season) have limited the impact he could make in his first seven months on the job. The 30-year-old Anthony said that he's willing to be patient, but added, "How long I'm willing to be patient, I can't really tell you." So the pressure is on Jackson to add more talent and, more importantly, more two-way players in the next year, while also hoping that he made the right choice with his first coaching hire.

STARTING FIVE

Jose Calderon | 11.4 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 4.7 apg
Ranked fourth in both 3-point percentage and assist/turnover ratio last season.

Iman Shumpert | 6.7 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 1.7 apg
Knicks are still waiting for him to realize his potential on both ends of the floor.

Carmelo Anthony | 27.4 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 3.1 apg
Can be more efficient if he makes quick decisions with the ball and keeps it moving.

Andrea Bargnani | 13.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1.1 apg
Needs to prove himself on D and O. Shot 29 percent from 3 over last three seasons.

Samuel Dalembert | 6.6 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 0.5 apg
Not a very good fit for the triangle, but a very good offensive rebounder.

KEY RESERVES

Tim Hardaway Jr. | 10.2 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 0.8 apg
Flammable O, questionable D.

J.R. Smith | 14.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 3.0 apg
The biggest test of Fisher's leadership skills.

Amar'e Stoudemire | 11.9 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 0.5 apg
As a starter, finished last season strong.