5 Things We Learned From Knicks Summer League

by Jonah Ballow

Forget the gambling, pool parties, clubs, and iconic hotels.  For two weeks in July, Las Vegas is all about basketball.  Ok, that’s not 100 percent true but nevertheless, basketball is our primary focus when examining the Knicks Summer League session.  Let’s take a look at five things we learned from Summer League.

1.  Unveiling The Triangle

The triangle is much more than just a shape with three straight sides and three angles.  Tex Winter and Phil Jackson have turned the triangle into a household basketball term by winning 11 NBA championships through the use of this highly effective offense. 

Knicks head coach Derek Fisher won five titles under Jackson and started the instruction process for his new squad from the minute it landed in Vegas.  New York’s Summer League team practiced twice a day at a local high school in the area to learn the nuances of the offense along with Fisher’s defensive principals. 

The Knicks ran the Triangle Offense with regularity and we witnessed significant improvement throughout the five games.  Using two guards, two forwards, and one center as the alignment, New York’s offense executed all four options the Triangle Offense offers.  The systematic passing and off ball movement put the Knicks players in prime positions to shoot efficient shots while keeping the defense off balance.  We saw a bunch of pinch post opportunities for the forward spot, which should be a hot spot for Carmelo Anthony in the near future.  Additionally, New York found some success in the two-man game after a dribble hand-off was not available or on the opposite side of the Triangle. 

Considering the new coaching staff, young players, and limited time on the practice floor, the Knicks made significant strides and there should be genuine excitement for training camp when we see more of this legendary offensive system.  Take a look at New York running the Triangle here:

2.  The Rise of THJ

Tim Hardaway Jr. might become the steal of the 2013 NBA Draft.  In contrast to his father’s point guard game, Hardaway Jr. is a true off guard with the size, athleticism, shooting stroke, and competitive fire to make a true impact in the league. 

In five Summer League outings, Hardaway Jr. averaged 22.8 points and the led the Knicks in scoring in each contest.  Hardaway Jr.’s ability to put the rock on the floor and finish around the rack was a real positive sign for the now second-year guard.  We also saw the details in his offensive game, the one-step dribble to a midrange pull-up, pump-fake and drive, and a total of 34 trips to the free throw line (6.8 per game). 

Hardaway Jr. gained even more valuable experience by earning a spot on the USA Team Select, practicing against and with some of the best players on the planet.   The Knicks are loaded at the wing spot and Hardaway Jr. figures to be an impactful piece of the puzzle when the season tips off in a couple of months.

3.  An Early Look At Cleanthony Early

Early’s entry into the NBA is similar to Hardaway Jr. from an underrated prospect perspective.  Some pundits pegged Hardaway Jr. as a mid first round pick in 2013 and Early was considered a late first rounder before the Knicks snatched him up at No. 34 overall. 

Early put together a solid Summer League session despite missing one of the games and suffering a cut on his chin that required stitches.  It’s easy to see why the New York front office was ecstatic to land the small forward in this year’s draft.  He showed us a nice midrange game when used in the pinch post area and he owns a confident stroke from downtown.  Early nailed five of his 10 attempts from the 3-point line in four outings in Vegas.

The former Wichita State standout’s demeanor is what caught my eye during the two-week stint.  He played at a consistent pace and showed a good feel for the game.   As a rookie, Early’s production will ebb and flow but his mindset and maturity is at the right place to make an impact in year one.

4.  A Change Of Pace At Point

Shane Larkin’s 2013 Summer League was cut short due to a demoralizing broken ankle suffered in practice last year with the Mavericks.  Completely healthy and motivated following the big trade, Larkin entered this year’s Summer League with an opportunity to direct the Triangle Offense from the point guard spot. 

Larkin started all five games, hit a game-winner against Portland, and averaged three steals per contest.  Once he found comfort running the Triangle Offense, the former Miami star became a dangerous threat in the two-man game.  With speed to navigate around bigger defenders, he excelled in reaching the paint throughout the five games.  Jose Calderon and Pablo Prigioni are measured, veteran point guards with some heavy mileage on their legs.  Larkin should be the perfect change of pace guard and the Knicks hope he can create offensive opportunities when the play breaks down or the shock clock is winding down in addition to setting up teammates through a dribble drive. 

5.  Fisher's Presence

For a rookie head coach stepping into game situations for the first time, Derek Fisher certainly didn’t look out of place.  During grueling two-a-day practices, Fisher took command of the team and rallied the young crew to a 4-0 record before falling to the Hornets in the second game of the tournament.  Fisher went out of his way to praise the players on the Knicks Summer League roster following every outing. 

Obviously, there’s a long season ahead, however, Fisher seems to have the perfect temperament for the difficult job.  He received respect from the young players and can communicate on their level, considering he was a player just two months ago.  The combination of carrying Jackson’s philosophies and a youthful, energetic approach to the game was quite evident in Vegas, which should bode well for the Knicks in year one under the new head man.