Guest writer Bryan Gibberman elaborates on how Jeff Hornacek has dug his own grave as the head coach in New York.
As the noise around his departure begins to swell, New York Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek is getting framed as a victim by the basketball community.
Steve Clifford on Jeff Hornacek: “He’s a very good coach. He’s done a good job. You can’t lose (Kristaps) Porzingis and then, to me, start judging the coach.” I understand Clifford’s point re: injuries & think NYK will take that into account when evaluating Hornacek at year’s end pic.twitter.com/Y75k8QmXQC
— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) March 20, 2018
Former NBA head coach Jeff Van Gundy also came to Hornacek’s defense:
New York Daily News’ Stefan Bondy wrote a column with the first sentence reading “this is in defense of Jeff Hornacek.”
There is some validity to Hornacek having to deal with difficult circumstances. Those circumstances also don’t change the fact Hornacek hasn’t put his players in a position to succeed. Your job as a coach is to maximize what you have access to, but a good chunk of what Hornacek has decided to do across his Knicks’ tenure is what a coach would do if he was intentionally trying to lose games (he has not been coaching to lose games intentionally).
In today’s Monday Musings, we take a look at a list of obvious flaws Hornacek has showed over his two seasons in charge of the Knicks roster.
1. Doing a Poor Job Working Around Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose
During the 2016–17 season, Hornacek was stuck in a horrible position by having Derrick Rose and Carmelo Anthony on the roster. Both players were no longer what they once were, and they weren’t talented enough individually to push through their overlapping flaws. Rose played 85 percent of his total minutes with Anthony. New York had a 107.3 offensive rating and 111.4 defensive rating during those 1,781 minutes, per NBA Stats. The Knicks had a 107.2 ORtg and 109.7 DRtg in the 15 percent of Rose’s minutes he played without ‘Melo.
2. Refusing to Utilize Courtney Lee and Justin Holiday together
Courtney Lee and Justin Holiday were New York’s best two-way wings during Hornacek’s first season in New York. The head coach never made playing the duo together a priority, but when they did, the team was successful. New York had 107.4 ORtg and 105.5 DRtg in the 459 minutes they were both on the court. The 459 minutes is the equivalent of 7.4 minutes per game. It became an even stranger decision when Hornacek showed a willingness to play two shooting guard types together extensively this season in Tim Hardaway Jr. and Lee.
3. The Inexplicable Use of Jarrett Jack
There are many instances to choose from that exemplify Hornacek’s lack of understanding of what’s going on directly in front of him, but his usage of one Jarrett Jack might sum it up best.
Jack took over New York’s starting point guard position after their 0-3 start to the season. Because Jack’s entrance into the starting lineup coincided with an absurd shooting stretch from Kristaps Porzingis, the point guard ended up starting 56 games in the 2017–18 season.
The entire reasoning behind Jack’s minutes was an “ability to run the offense.” It’s essentially code for a player who isn’t good having the mental capacity to do the very minimum. It was painfully obvious Jack was no longer a good player on either end and was overwhelmed on a night-to-night basis.
Trey Burke scored 36 points on 16-of-26 shooting against the Suns and Nuggets on January 25th and 26th. Over the next eight games, Jack continued to start and played 21.3 minutes per game. He had 49.3 true shooting percentage during that stretch, and the Knicks were -13.1 in net rating when Jack was on the court. Hornacek still didn’t make Burke a fixture of the rotation—he averaged 13 minutes per game, sat out two of the eight games entirely, and played less than 10 minutes in of them.
An aside, the only regular rotation player that had a net rating under -10 in those eight games was Frank Ntilikina (-6.1).
Hornacek did eventually pull Jack out of the starting lineup and rotation, approximately 25–30 games too late.
4. Michael Beasley and Enes Kanter, The Ugly Couple
Here are the updated numbers:
The Knicks have a 103.4 ORtg and 116.6 DRtg (-13.1 net rating) in the 597 minutes the duo has played together this season.
5. A Not so Modern Offense and Defense
The Knicks’ offensive and defensive schemes created by Hornacek push them towards having one of the worst shot profiles in the NBA on both ends of the court.
Cleaning the Glass has the Knicks offense ranked 24th in percentage of shots at the rim, 29th for threes, and 29th for corner threes. Defensively, the Knicks allow the 10th highest percentage of shots at the rim, the second for corner threes, and 11th overall on all threes. Some of this is limitations in personnel, but that doesn’t explain all of it.
Hornacek’s rotation choices that have been discussed endlessly hurt the Knicks on both ends.
His offensive set designs also intend for the Knicks to take bad shots. There’s nothing wrong with a Porzingis midrange jumper as the shot clock winds down, but far too often the initial action in the set would be to generate that type of look.
6. Handling of the Center Position
I don’t think you could have possibly handled the Knicks center position worse than Hornacek did.
Hornacek’s treatment of Joakim Noah eventually led Noah to snap and be sent away from the team. The problem? Noah still has two years left on his contract after this season. Willy Hernangómez lost his rotation spot to Enes Kanter and Kyle O’Quinn. His trade value became so damaged in a limited trade market for bigs that he eventually got dumped for two second-rounders. Hernangómez is signed for another two years after this season on his rookie deal.
Kanter and O’Quinn can both opt out of their contracts after this season or they can stay with New York for one more year. Both players are most likely not going to with the organization for long as they hoard cap space for the 2019 summer.
Hornacek’s lack of vision put the Knicks in the worst position possible by forcing the organization to banish a highly respected NBA player to the bench, and then trade a 23-year-old to give minutes to someone of a very similar skill set with no future on the roster. That is the very definition of hustling backwards.
The Knicks’ head man has refused to give Damyean Dotson consistent minutes despite regularly complaining about the Knicks lack of athleticism and defense. His handling of Frank Ntilikina has been an embarrassment. Hornacek’s harping on what Ntilikina “can’t do” instead of the positives he brings is just strange.
Troy Williams almost exclusively plays the three instead of experimenting with him some at the four where his lack of shooting would be less harmful. Lance Thomas is still playing to this day. Michael Beasley, who is on a one-year contract, has taken over 20 shots in each of the last three games, and instead of trying to let players with potential future on the team develop chemistry, Hornacek seems to be encouraging that behavior.
The list goes on and on and on and on and on and on.
The criticism aimed at Jeff Hornacek isn’t out of line; it’s something he’s brought upon himself. Hornacek is not the victim no matter how much the coaching community or reporters want to shape the picture in that way.