Jeff Hornacek has completed his first 20 regular season games as head coach of the New York Knicks. What have been the pros and cons of his tenure?
Nov 22, 2016; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek directs his team during the second half against the Portland Trail Blazers at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
New York Knicks team president Phil Jackson shocked the masses by hiring Jeff Hornacek to be his new head coach. Hornacek had earned quite the reputation with the Phoenix Suns, but many expected New York to pursue Tom Thibodeau or Frank Vogel.
20 games into his first season with the Knicks, Hornacek has overcome odds stacked high against him to lead New York to an 11-9 record.
Hornacek spent the previous two-and-a-half seasons as the head coach of the Suns. He finished second in the Coach of the Year voting in 2013-14 after leading Phoenix to a 48-34 record in a deep Western Conference.
Despite losing both Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas at the trade deadline, he still kept the Suns relevant at 39-43 in 2014-15.
Hornacek has something to prove in some eyes after the disaster that was the 2015-16. The issues in Phoenix were far bigger than Hornacek himself, but the coach receives little of the praise and all of the blame in this odd era.
The question is: what has Hornacek done well through 20 games and in which areas must he improve?
Dec 2, 2016; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks injured players shooting guard Courtney Lee (left) and center Joakim Noah watch from the bench during the fourth quarter against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
The New York Knicks are only 20 games into the 2016-17 NBA regular season and have already been dealt an unfortunate hand. Multiple players have missed multiple games due to injury and a number of individuals have underperformed.
Through all of the misfortune and disarray, Hornacek has the Knicks two games above .500 after 20 games—the deepest into a season New York has been two games above .500 since 2012-13.
The Knicks have already played 10 games without Lance Thomas, four without Joakim Noah, and two without Courtney Lee. Lee’s injury came early in a road game against the Minnesota Timberwolves that the Knicks still managed to win.
New York has left a number of wins on the table with poor fourth quarter execution, but the fact that it’s above .500 is a testament to Hornacek’s coaching and leadership.
Hornacek has been receptive to what Knicks players believe should transpire and incorporative of multiple systems. He’s overcome the absence of two starters and one of the most valued reserves on the roster to win 11 of his first 20 games.
It hasn’t been perfect, but the Knicks are proving to be a resilient team—a promising sign for when the postseason push truly begins in 2017.
Nov 1, 2016; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; New York Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek during the third quarter against the Detroit Pistons at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
Con: Playing On The Road
It stands to reason that Jeff Hornacek will turn things around in the near future, but the New York Knicks have been abhorrent on defense. They’ve allowed teams to run the pick and roll with no issues whatsoever and have struggled to defend the 3-point shot.
Undeniably true as that all may be, those issues only seem to present themselves when the Knicks are playing on the road.
The Knicks are allowing a mediocre 103.6 points per game at home, but are holding opponents to a slash line of .441/.319/.770. They’re allowing far too many free throws, but the Knicks have actually been one of the better defensive teams in the NBA when playing at home.
On the road, however, the Knicks are giving up 110.8 points per game on a slash line of .458/.399/.777.
The Knicks are sending opponents to the free throw line 30.9 times per road game and 24.4 times per home game. They’re allowing just 0.7 more 3-point field goals to be made during road games, but that comes on 3.7 fewer attempts.
Given this vast difference, it’s hardly surprising that Hornacek and the Knicks are 9-3 at home and 2-6 on the road early in 2016-17.
Nov 22, 2016; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek talks to his players during a timeout against the Portland Trail Blazers during the first half at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
Pro: Trusting The Reserves
Jeff Hornacek appears to have an understanding of how important it will be for the New York Knicks to develop a strong bench. Even if the Knicks manage to remain healthy the rest of the way, they don’t have the type of starters who can play 40 minutes per game.
The second unit needs to be able to maintain a lead and Hornacek is preparing them to do so by playing the reserves alongside the stars in key moments.
Hornacek has given the likes of Willy Hernangomez, Justin Holiday, Brandon Jennings, Mindaugas Kuzminskas, and Kyle O’Quinn big minutes in the fourth quarter. All five have closed out games at one point or another and all five have made key clutch contributions.
If that becomes the Knicks’ go-to bench lineup, then the late-game experience gained alongside the starters should help any and every player.
Hernangomez and O’Quinn have gained invaluable playing time with Noah injured, but they’ve often received the nod in clutch situations when he was healthy. Holiday and Kuzminskas have done the same with Courtney Lee, while Jennings has occasionally replaced or played alongside Derrick Rose.
Hornacek trusting the reserves may not help the Knicks as much in the short-term, but it could prove to be a rewarding experience further down the line.
Nov 6, 2016; New York, NY, USA; Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) boxes out New York Knicks center Joakim Noah (13) on a free throw shot during the second quarter at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports
Con: Defensive Rebounding
The New York Knicks have the personnel to be one of the most dominant rebounding teams in the NBA. Joakim Noah is a force to be reckoned with on both ends, Kristaps Porzingis is 7’3″ and athletic, and the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Willy Hernangomez, and Kyle O’Quinn can get after it.
Yet, through the first 20 games of the 2016-17 NBA regular season, only two teams are allowing as many offensive rebounds per game as the Knicks.
New York is currently letting up 12.0 offensive rebounds per game, which is tied with the Indiana Pacers for the second-worst mark in the NBA. More importantly, the Knicks are allowing the most second-chance points per game in the Association at 15.8.
Considering the Knicks are letting up 106.4 points per game, it stands to reason that an improvement on the defensive glass would stabilize the defense.
Noah has a career average of 6.0 defensive rebounds per game, but has missed four outings already. Porzingis and Anthony have the size to dominate their position as rebounders, but even they have underwhelmed.
If Hornacek can help the Knicks become more consistent on the defensive glass, then the defense itself should become more consistent.
Nov 26, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; New York Knicks guard Derrick Rose (25) and guard Brandon Jennings (3) react to a call after Rose is charged with a foul during the second half of the game against the Charlotte Hornets at the Spectrum Center. Hornets win 107-102. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports
Pro: Ball Movement
Jeff Hornacek hasn’t received enough credit for how brilliant of a job he’s done in developing talent. Whether it’s a young player or a veteran, Hornacek has found ways to make life easier for his players while simultaneously challenging them to excel in areas outside of their comfort zone.
The key to his doing so is the way he’s reminded New York Knicks fans and players of what a motion offense looks like.
The Knicks are still falling victim to isolation tendencies during the fourth quarter of games, but the flashes have been brilliant. The Knicks are sacrificing good looks for great looks and embracing what ball movement does to an opposing defense.
Opponents are chasing the ball around the floor, which has created scoring opportunities for perimeter players and big men.
The Knicks need to convert open shots with more consistency and avoid Melo-ball in the fourth quarter, but the progress has been tremendous. Compared to a season ago, when the Knicks barely moved the ball, the 2016-17 squad looks like the San Antonio Spurs.
If the players continue to buy into Hornacek’s practices and system, the offense should run like a well-oiled machine by season’s end.