It was a busy offseason for the New York Knicks, and after spending some intense practice time with his new team, Derek Fisher is confident in where his Knicks are heading into the start of the season.
Fish’s Knicks finished with a 4-2 record this preseason with their new-look squad, and there is more optimism about this year’s Knicks squad than there has been in recent past. Last year was D-Fish’s first year as head coach, and after getting more time to implement his system and work with Phil Jackson, New York looks poised to exceed expectations as Derek tries to bring the excitement back to Madison Square Garden.
“I feel more comfortable in terms of the things that we need to focus on and be prepared for when the season starts,” Fisher said before the Knicks flew to Milwaukee for their opener. “But I don’t play so it’s really more so about our team and where they are and where is their confidence level as a team.”
Coach Fish is confident in what his team can do, and as his star player, Carmelo Anthony revealed, the team is happy with where it is at as well. Melo likes how his revamped team is coming together and how they are maintaining the right frame of mind as they prepare for a tough early part of their schedule.
“We’ve come together quickly. It actually seems like we’ve been here for a long time, even though it was only a month of training camp. I like where we are mentally as a team,” Anthony said. “Guys are working hard. I really love the way we’ve all come together…Guys came here for a reason. They want to win.”
The Knicks opening stretch of games will serve as a good measuring stick right off the bat. Following their road opener against the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday, Fisher and the Knicks will host the last year’s No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, the Atlanta Hawks, in their home opener. Next they have matchups against the Washington Wizards and San Antonio Spurs, two teams who are expected to be right in the thick of it in their respected conferences. The Knicks are also slated to square off against the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James twice in the first few weeks of the season.
“We have a really challenging schedule to begin with. We’re going to find out a lot about who we are now right from the start. Regardless of the results we’ll know how much more we have to go to get where we’re trying to go,” D-Fish explained.
One of the biggest factors going into this year is how Fisher has tweaked the Triangle offense to better fit his new supporting cast. Last year the Knicks lacked experienced NBA players and continuity, but with an infusion of talent and depth this offseason, represented by Robin Lopez, Kristaps Porzingis, Aaron Afflalo, Jerian Grant and Derrick Williams, Fisher will be more equipped to utilize his system to its full potential.
Last year the Knicks were tied for last in the league in points per game, but with Fisher’s roster tinkering, this team has the look of a squad that could vastly improve on most of their offensive statistic categories this year. When it comes to pace—which measures the number of possessions a team has per 48 minutes, and fastbreak points—the Knicks also ranked towards the bottom of the league last season. However, by the looks of it, these numbers are poised to get much better with this cast.
The Knicks added some much-needed depth to their second unit, which will definitely help in ramping up their pace of play so they don’t have to lean so heavily on the starting five. The second unit in particular could be the key to a faster paced style of play. The updated bench includes talented guys like Williams, Cleanthony Early who can stretch the floor, and speedy guards Langston Galloway and rookie Jerian Grant, who can wear down opposing defenses with their speed.
The preseason gave fans and the opposition a glimpse into how their new style of play will translate to the regular season, even though it was a small sample size. In the New York’s six-game preseason schedule, Fish’s squad improved its pace and fast break points to 10th in the league, a dramatic improvement over ranking towards the bottom of the league in both of those categories in 2014-15.
Grant seems to think the tweaks Derek has made will certainly help the team improve this year. Although the rookie Grant is in his first year with the Knicks after being selected No. 19 overall in the draft this offseason, he still sees everyone on the team getting more comfortable with the Triangle.
“I like that we can push the ball first[off a defensive rebound or made basket] and then settle into the offense if it calls for it,” Grant said. “[The tweaks] will help a lot. So far, it’s been really smooth. We get to just play basketball and run – if there’s an opening – and then settle in and make the basketball reads within the Triangle.”
The Knicks starting five will also be entering this year with a much more formidable group than in recent years. The main rotation is an eclectic combination of veterans who have experience with winning programs, and hungry young players looking to make their mark.
D-Fish hoped to roll out Porzingis, Anthony, Lopez, Jose Calderon and Aaron Afflalo on opening night, but it looks like Afflalo may be out for a couple weeks after exiting the Knicks preseason finale with a hamstring injury. That opens the door for Grant to possibly step in and prove to the league that he is starting guard material. His impressive play throughout the preseason gives the Knicks confidence that he will be prepared for the opportunity to make an impact.
Coach Fish has plenty of options with the newfound depth on his roster, but he isn’t worried about the expectations that are coming with the season. As long as he and his team can focus on each individual game, the results should follow.
“For me, it’s just about the process. I think our team is focused on the process. And the results and the playoffs and all that stuff will take care of itself for us,” Derek said.
The Knicks season tips off on Oct. 28 against the Milwaukee Bucks at 8 p.m. EST at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. The game will be aired on MSG.