How Playing for Team USA Will Help Kenneth Faried’s Progress with Nuggets

After uncertainty regarding whether he would be the starting power forward on the Denver Nuggets last season, Kenneth Faried is now one of the stars for Team USA at the FIBA World Cup.

There’s no doubt just making the team is quite the experience. There’s the opportunity to represent your country, team up with the best NBA players in something other than the All-Star Game and improve your game overall.

But to go from someone who had an outside shot of making the roster to being a possible FIBA World Cup MVP? That’s remarkable, even if a handful of top-level USA players aren’t participating. 

How can this translate to the growth of “The Manimal” in Denver? 

 

Proving He’s an Elite NBA Player in a Unique Way

If you were to rank the power forwards in the NBA, where would you put Faried? Top 10?

It’s safe to say most would have guys like Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, Anthony Davis (despite the fact he’s at center for Team USA) and LaMarcus Aldridge ahead of him. Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki have more polished games with a lot more to show on their resume than Faried.

Even though this is a subjective question and it completely depends on how a player fits into a certain system, there’s something Faried possesses that no other power forward in the NBA has. That’s the best combination of athleticism, rebounding and consistent energy.

It’s no secret Team USA is the most athletic squad at the FIBA World Cup, which is mostly highlighted by Faried and Anthony Davis. So they will stand out.

But as Faried continues to demonstrate his motor and physical talents, he leads Team USA in player-efficiency rating (21.6), rebounds per game (7.8) and field-goal percentage (79.1). He’s second in points per game (13.8), blocks per game (1.0) and plus-minus differential (20.6, a team’s points versus their opponents’ when a player is on the court).

In terms of the efficiency statistics, you could chalk that up as Faried constantly catching alley-oops and taking most of his shots within a few feet of the rim.

But Faried is dominating on a roster filled with commonly labeled superstars like Stephen Curry, Derrick Rose and James Harden. Plus, guys like Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson and DeMarcus Cousins are at least rising stars, if not further along.

Team USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski makes an important point in ESPN’s Marc Stein’s article about Faried. “Overall, from the start of training camp, he’s been the biggest and best surprise and has turned out to be a very, very important player for us. He’s made that happen. We never call a play for him.” 

There’s the key: “We never call a play for him.” 

Some people may think in order to be elite or a superstar, a player must be the face of a franchise, or he has to be a fully developed player. That’s a narrow-minded way to judge how valuable someone is to his team.

When Faried has the flexibility to be “The Manimal,” the team’s performance increases substantially. He doesn’t need others to make him better, but with greater talent around him, it is easier for him to pick his spots and do his thing.

Think about Dennis Rodman. While he had a stronger defensive game and weaker offensive skill set than Faried, he earned his high status by always owning the boards with his athleticism. 

Clearly, Krzyzewski understands that concept and how to get the best out of Faried.

His ability to consistently run the floor, play above the rim, create extra possessions on the offensive glass and energize his team is greater than any player in the NBA. That alone puts Faried in the upper tier of NBA big men.

But now he’s proving that his great numbers with the Nuggets over the last few seasons aren’t just because he’s on a team with average-to-decent talent. He’s doing it with some of the best players in the world.

Now consider all the strides Faried made under Nuggets head coach Brian Shaw at the end of last season. Not only did he post a terrific 19.8 points and 10.8 rebounds over his final 25 games, he converted a much-improved 38.8 percent of his attempts from 10-to-16 feet and evolved in pick-and-roll defense.

This is why the Team USA experience is crucial for a younger player like Faried, who has been involved in several trade rumors this offseason and during 2013-14. Adding last year’s progress to the confidence he’s gaining from playing with the best USA players and for a legendary coach in Krzyzewski, is extraordinary.

 

What It Means for Faried in Denver for the 2014-15 Season

As Bleacher Report’s D.J. Foster mentions in his piece on Faried, “His ceiling may be capped, but his floor is awfully high.”

This couldn’t be closer to the truth.

Faried may never develop a three-point shot like Love. He’s not going to be 6’11″ like Aldridge.

But it doesn’t matter.

Instead of focusing on Faried’s potential, as most people often do with athletes who have enormous athleticism, the attention should be on how much he improves a team. Even if it doesn’t come from scoring over 20 points each night, demanding to be double-teamed in the post or assists, his difference comes from a combination of statistics that are a result of his physical skills.

Faried’s time in the spotlight with Team USA is evidence that his original starting point in the NBA was so high that he’s automatically better than a significant number of players in the league. But that was overshadowed before with a shortage of fundamentals.

As for upside, after Faried’s tremendous progress last year over just one hectic season filled with Nuggets injuries, his ceiling might be higher than advertised. That’s especially true when you consider his desirable work ethic.

Furthermore, remember that Faried has spent most of his NBA career playing under George Karl alongside Timofey Mozgov, Kosta Koufos and JaVale McGee. Karl kept Faried and McGee on a fairly tight leash in terms of what they were allowed to do offensively.

But Faried is getting a chance to play next to Davis, who has rapidly grown into one of the best NBA frontcourt players.

Obviously McGee isn’t nearly in the same ballpark as Davis. However, if McGee can start to show some positive signs like Faried did last year under Shaw, Denver will arguably have the most athletic and dynamic duo in the NBA.

Even if that doesn’t happen, Faried’s run with Team USA is nothing but good news for the Nuggets. He’s flourishing with superb talent around him.

With McGee, Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari, J.J. Hickson and Nate Robinson all getting healthy to go with the return of Arron Afflalo to Denver, that’s a huge improvement to how the roster looked at the end of last year. That’s going to give Faried plenty of freedom to be great and get the franchise back to playoff contention.

By the end of the 2014-15 NBA season, Faried will no longer be noticed as someone on the rise. “The Manimal” will be recognized as an elite power forward.

 

All FIBA World Cup statistics per FIBA.com

All NBA statistics per Basketball-Reference.com

Nick Juskewycz is the Featured Columnist of the Denver Nuggets for Bleacher Report. Follow @NickJuskewycz

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Will Indiana Pacers’ Offseason Losses Help or Hurt Roy Hibbert’s Production?

Before the Indiana Pacers were worried about Lance Stephenson’s departure or Paul George‘s broken leg, they had major concerns surrounding mercurial center Roy Hibbert.

While the perimeter casualties will likely define Indiana’s 2014-15 season, getting the big man back on track should be the Pacers’ main priority.

His bipolar 2013-14 campaign included both a trip to the All-Star Game and a stint as the biggest punchline in basketball. At different times dominant and dreadful, Indy’s interior anchor struggled wearing any label consistently.

Rediscovering what made him a vital piece of the Pacers’ puzzle—the mastered art of verticality, supplemental scoring and glass work—was supposed to be key to the reigning Eastern Conference finalists retaining their NBA elite status. With Stephenson off to the Charlotte Hornets and George potentially lost for 2014-15, that option is no longer on the table.

This isn’t a matter of if the Pacers will take a step back, but rather how many.

For Hibbert, though, these losses could combine to form some type of an individual win. Simultaneous moves up the offensive pecking order and out of the NBA spotlight might be the perfect remedy to whatever ailed him last season.

The big man hit a major rough patch near the midpoint of the campaign, and he never really made it back on track.

Upon first glance, Indy’s offseason losses might seem like major threats to Hibbert’s stat sheet.

Without George and Stephenson, the Pacers are out 35.5 points, 14 rebounds and 8.1 assists a night. Indy’s already pedestrian scoring attack (22nd in efficiency) and passing game (26th in assist percentage) lost its top two contributors.

That could mean stopping Hibbert will climb the priority list for opposing defenses.

However, a featured role—or at least a supporting one behind David West—might be exactly what Hibbert needs.

Lost in the story of his dramatic decline was just how far he had fallen out of the Pacers’ offensive game plan. His 9.3 field-goal attempts per game were the fewest since his rookie season, and when stretched out on a per-36-minutes scale, they were the lowest of his career (11.3).

Before his infamous “selfish dudes” swipe at unnamed teammates, he spoke of the importance of someone reducing their own role for the betterment of the team.

“I can’t be selfish,” he said earlier in the season, via Pacers.com’s Mark Montieth. “Somebody has to sacrifice. I have to sacrifice for this team. Would anybody like to get 15 shots a game? Yeah. You’re a human being and you have feelings, but you have to play through it and do what’s best for the team.”

The sentiment might have come from the right place, but the effects of that sacrifice seemed to linger. As his offensive involvement dipped, so did his impact in other areas.

The 7’2″, 290-pound mountain of a man finished two regular season games and two playoff contests without a single rebound in his stat line. Altogether, his 12.5 rebounding percentage was the second-worst mark of his career.

Even worse, his confidence seemed to nosedive faster than his production:

But perhaps he was plagued by the knowledge he could do not only do better but also so much more.

As Indy’s offense collectively sputtered, it couldn’t have been easy to keep giving up shots to guys who weren’t converting theirs. Hibbert isn’t an electric scorer by any stretch, but his previous four seasons saw him put up 12.2 points on 47.3 percent shooting. He had proved himself reliable enough to not have fallen out of the offensive picture as rapidly as he did.

“He can score and if you get him the ball, he will score,” Pacers consultant Donnie Walsh told SiriusXM NBA Radio’s Brian Geltzeiler and Noah Coslov (via Vigilant Sports’ Scott Agness).

Finding scoring chances should no longer be a struggle.

Even if West takes over the role of No. 1 option, it’s hard to picture anyone else standing in Hibbert’s way. George Hill showed even less assertiveness than Hibbert last season (8.1 field-goal attempts per game). The players most likely to fill the minutes vacated by George and Stephenson—Rodney Stuckey, C.J. Miles, Damjan Rudez, Solomon Hill—have neither the talent nor the track record to take the ball out of Hibbert’s hands.

“Hibbert will more readily develop a rhythm almost by default,” wrote Bleacher Report’s Stephen Babb. “Without George and Stephenson running the offense, head coach Frank Vogel will be forced into operating from the post more frequently.”

Not only are more touches likely to come Hibbert’s way, he should also be better equipped to take advantage of them.

At the behest of Pacers president of basketball operations Larry Bird, Hibbert spent part of his summer learning from Hall of Fame center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Considering that Hibbert’s most preferred and productive shot type was the hook last season (39 percent of his total field goals, converted at a 57-percent clip), it’s hard to imagine a better teacher than the sky-hook savant.

Abdul-Jabbar, the most prolific scorer in NBA history, was also an expert distributor. He averaged 4.5 assists per game over his first 11 seasons in the league, and Hibbert could do a lot with a better passing touch considering the double teams that may be coming at him in 2014-15.

In terms of chemistry and comfort, Hibbert should find himself in a much better place moving forward.

Once a seemingly tight-knit group, Indy’s locker room seemed to dissolve over the course of last season. The Pacers’ Andrew Bynum experiment may have helped kick-start Hibbert’s tailspin. And Indiana’s bigs weren’t the only ones having problems.

Bynum is gone now, and so are Stephenson’s antics. Throw in the lack of expectations surrounding this team, and Hibbert could be as comfortable as he’s been in a while.

He’ll ultimately decide how much his numbers can improve going forward, but the Pacers will provide him ample opportunity to get back on track. Indiana needs him at his best, either to keep him as a cornerstone for the future or to build his value high enough to flip him on the open market.

With two years and $30.4 million left on his contract (second season is a player option), via ShamSports.com, the Pacers can’t afford to have the Hibbert they don’t want and no one else does, either. The 2014-15 season is about finding their difference-making defensive centerpiece and offensive secret weapon.

Indiana’s summer took some unexpected turns, but it will still pick up next season where it left off after the last onewaiting for the real Roy Hibbert to return. This time around, there’s a chance it could find something even better.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

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Clues from Chris Bosh’s Raptors Days Can Help Miami Heat Next Season

One of the primary questions hanging over the Miami Heat’s 2014-15 season is how Chris Bosh will acquit himself as the team’s chief offensive weapon, which, with LeBron James in Cleveland and Dwyane Wade on the wane, is presumably what he’ll be.

To a great extent, the Heat’s year will hinge on how well Bosh performs in this new, expanded role. If he can produce like a star, Miami might turn out quite a bit better than the 44-win/No. 6 seed projection ESPN.com’s summer forecasters have it pegged for. If he plays like a third option who’s been thrust by attrition into a larger role than he’s fit for, the Heat could struggle mightily.

“I want to see if I can do what’s necessary to go in there and win every night,” Bosh told The Associated Press (via Tim Reynolds of NBC 6 South Florida) after James decamped. “That’s the challenge of being a leader. It excites me. It’s been a long time, and I feel like I’m a much better player and a leader now, so it’ll be fun.”

So how will it turn out? Bosh’s time as a Toronto Raptor is instructive here. While it was five years, two titles and 13,000 NBA minutes ago, Bosh’s Raptor career can provide some clues as to how he will handle the heavier offensive load.

First, it’s worth revisiting just how effective Bosh was in Toronto. Over the course of his seven seasons north of the border, CB4 averaged 20.2 points and 9.4 rebounds. And he accomplished this while carrying a team whose roster oscillated between putrid and mediocre.

Consider the performance Bosh submitted in 2006-07, his age 22 season. He averaged 22.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, 2.5 assists and led the Raptors to a 47-35 record—then a tie for the best mark in franchise history—and the Atlantic Division crown. He was rewarded with a second-team All-NBA berth.

This was a remarkable feat. The Raptors second best player that season—by measure of Basketball-Reference.com’s win shares—was Anthony Parker, who was 31 years old and had just spent the previous six seasons playing professional basketball in Israel. Goodness, Andrea Bargnani played over 1,600 minutes for that group.

This was a bad basketball team. And Bosh, through sheer force of will—and a lot of points and rebounds—somehow got them to 47 wins, earning Bryan Colangelo Executive of the Year and Sam Mitchell Coach of the Year. (Those are Chris Bosh’s awards. They should rightly be sitting in his trophy case right now.)

But what was most interesting about Bosh’s efficacy in Toronto—and what augers well for his chances of carrying Miami’s offense this coming season—wasn’t just its extent but its nature. Though Bosh is now widely, and rightly, known for his mid-range game, in the early parts of his career, he played much closer to the basket.

In the aforementioned 2006-07 campaign, Bosh attempted 34.8 percent of his shots from within three feet of the hoop, according to Basketball-Reference.com. For his Raptors career, Bosh took 34.2 percent of his shots from that close range, compared to just 27.5 since he landed in South Beach.

There’s reason to think that, with the Miami offense running through Bosh in 2014-15, he’ll return to these roots. For starters, playing along LeBron and Wade, Bosh’s mid-range shooting created a synergy that drove the Miami offense. His ability to knock down 18-footers pulled opposing bigs away from the paint, opening slashing lanes for James and Wade, in turn creating more space for Bosh to shoot.

But with LeBron LeGone, and Bosh presumably responsible for more direct point creation, the mid-range game is too inefficient to make up a large percentage of his shots. Bosh will have to return to the paint.

Fortunately for Miami, there’s reason to believe he will thrive there. Last season, according to NBA.com, the center finished fourth among qualified players in field-goal percentage from within five feet of the basket. Only LeBron, Kevin Durant and Deandre Jordan bettered Bosh’s 69.7 percent mark from that range. Suffice it to say, that’s good company.

If Bosh can shoot more often from that range without forfeiting much efficiency, he’ll give the Miami O a serious—and seriously needed—post-James boost.

This proximity to the basket could also have a secondary effect that benefits Bosh and the Heat. According to the Washington Post’Seth Partnow, Bosh’s rebounding could get a boost:

As a primary scoring option this season, one with more low- and mid-post scoring chances, Bosh will likely end up close to the basket. This in turn will likely increase his ability to secure offensive rebounds.

In Toronto, while Bosh was more active around the bucket, he had an offensive-rebounding percentage of 8.5. In Miami, it dropped to 6.1.

This all points to a conclusion Bosh would be wise to keep top of mind this season. If he hopes to keep the Heat’s prospects from going south, he needs to remember the lessons he learned north of the border.

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UNC Basketball: Will Preseason All-American Pressure Help or Hurt Marcus Paige?

Practice doesn’t begin for five weeks, and the opening tip is still more than two months away, but the accolades have already started coming in for North Carolina junior Marcus Paige.

Earlier this week Blue Ribbon Magazine released its 2014-15 College Basketball Notebook, which featured Paige in the middle of its cover showing its preseason All-American team. Paige was joined on the first team by fellow ACC players Malcolm Brogdon of Virginia and Montrezl Harrell of Louisville, Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky and Wichita State’s Fred Van Vleet.

After the breakout season that Paige put together, this early All-American nod is likely to be one of many as increased expectations are put on the 6’1″ guard. Mike DeCourcy of The Sporting News has tabbed Paige as the top returning point guard in the country after he averaged 17.5 points and 4.2 assists per game and was more or less Carolina’s only reliable weapon:

“Marcus Paige managed to enjoy an excellent sophomore season while bouncing between running the North Carolina offense and being the North Carolina offense.”

Paige is sure to get named to other lists and all-star teams, but such mentions don’t ensure success. What they do guarantee, though, is a raised awareness about a player and heightened scrutiny, something that could help boost a player to the next level or knock them down a peg.

Which way will it go for Paige?

The answer will come as the result of two main variables, one of which Paige can control and the other that he can only watch as it unfolds.

First, the latter: With a star-studded three-man recruiting class joining the Tar Heels roster, Paige looks to have some significant help coming in that will dramatically lessen his need to do it all. Point guard Joel Berry brings the ability to either spell Paige at the point or enable him to move over to the 2, where he can create more for himself without having to worry about finding opportunities for his teammates.

And in wings Justin Jackson and Theo Pinson, Paige will have a pair of teammates that can be explosive in transition and with their ability to use length to get to the rim. All of that will likely lead to Paige scoring at least a few points less per game in 2014-15.

This means Paige won’t have to do as much, but that’s where the other side of the coin comes into play. With the added expectations and notoriety, could Paige look at this scenario as one where he still feels he needs to be the guy and, therefore, tries to take on more than is needed? If he does, it could lead to offensive confusion when he tries to dominate the looks and others are ready and able to contribute.

Paige seems like he’s handling the brighter spotlight pretty well so far. He told Turner Walston of GoHeels.com that the added attention on him is a sign of how good UNC will be this year, not just how well he is expected to perform. “People being excited of our basketball here is a good thing,” he said. “And I think we’re going to prove to a lot of people that they have good reason to be excited.”

How Paige fares this fall and winter will go a long way toward determining how Carolina’s season goes. What will be the key is whether player/team performance has a direct correlation or if it’s more just part of the process.

 

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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Will Triangle Offense Help Reboot Iman Shumpert’s Stalled NY Knicks Career?

Nobody on the New York Knicks needs a bigger change than Iman Shumpert. It’s been getting hard to watch. 

And it’s frustrating—because you know he can do better than 6.7 points a game on 37.8 percent shooting. You just don’t get progressively worse from your first to third NBA season—not after the promise he flashed as an impact two-way rookie—unless something clearly isn’t right. 

In this case, it’s been Shumpert‘s role and fit in the offense that’s forced him to play to his weaknesses as a shot creator. 

Through passing and off-ball action, the triangle offense, which will be implemented by Phil Jackson and taught by new head coach Derek Fisher, should help create cleaner looks for players who otherwise struggle to create themselves.

It should also eliminate over-dribbling, one-on-one basketball and low-percentage looks. It’s all about movement—not just the ball, but the players—as well as spacing and angles. The Knicks finished ranked No. 28 in the NBA last year in assists, a reflection of just how stagnant their offense really was.

Shumpert explained the new system and its perks to Ian Begley and Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN New York:

The way it’s set up, you can start three guards, it really doesn’t matter. Everybody’s going to get touches, everybody gets opportunities to cut. It’s constant action going on. So I think that I’ll be able to capitalize on that and I’ll be able to use my athleticism a lot more than standing in the corner.

With the triangle, the goal is that the ball finds the player in scoring position, as opposed to Mike Woodson’s offense, which frequently forced the player to have to create his own scoring opportunities.

This is certainly good news for Shumpert, who’s at his best slashing and spotting up from outside—not falling away for a step-back or crossing over into a pull-up jumper.

The triangle should increase and ultimately create more scoring opportunities for Shumpert in the areas of the game he thrives in.

On one side of the floor, you have your triangle, which opens up lanes and angles for players to pass and cut through.

Once a player cuts through, he then sets a screen for someone else and eventually rotates around. Like Shumpert said, you won’t see him camping out as much while Carmelo Anthony goes to work. 

On the other half of the floor, there is plenty of space with only two players occupying the entire weak side. 

A quick ball reversal could open up opportunities in the two-man game (with plenty of space to operate in), whether it’s a pick-and-roll, dribble handoff or a backdoor cut:

Given his skill set and athleticism, Shumpert could really flourish as one of the Knicks’ cutters, slashers or drivers in the triangle or two-man game. 

ESPN’s Begley noted how Shumpert could fill the Ron Harper role—another big guard who fit the triangle as an opportunistic playmaker for Phil Jackson in Chicago. Don’t forget Shump ran the point in college, and at 6’5″, he’s got the size and versatility to operate from multiple spots on the floor. 

From an X’s and O’s standpoint, the new system sure seems to favor Shumpert on paper. However, it’s the fresh sense of hope it offers that might ultimately help reignite his confidence.

It’s a change. No more showing up at work to follow the same instructions and routes that he’d been struggling to convert into consistent production. 

This triangle should help breathe some new life into Shumpert, who’s seemingly lost his sense of purpose at the offensive end. 

The Knicks don’t need him to go out there and drop 20. Shump‘s at his best when he’s active and that adrenaline is pumping. It leads to on-ball steals, putback slams and points in bunches off jumpers.

And this new triangle offense is going to keep him more involved.

The Knicks weren’t able to add much this offseason, though the Jose Calderon pickup is a significant upgrade. Still, an effective Shumpert would go a long way for a lineup deprived of two-way players and reliable complementary scorers.

And maybe a completely new system is just what he needs to reboot his stalled career in New York.

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Report: Kobe studying Paul Pierce to help adjust his game

Kobe Bryant, like the great athletes before him, study and adapt their games to put them in the best position to be successful. Bryant is now 36, and will likely never have the springs that he once had.  In order to make himself as productive as he can be, Bryant is stealing a page from Michael Jordan, and evolving his game. According to James Herbert of Eye on Basketball, Bryant is studying Paul Pierce’s game to help himself become more efficient as he loses a step. In preparing for this season, Bryant told friends that the player he is analyzing, as an example of adjusting your game as you get older, is fellow 36-year-old Paul Pierce. This is part of his goal to become “more efficient” on the court. Said Bryant, “I’m going to max [my last two years] out too, to do whatever I can. Leave no stone unturned, no water left in the sponge.” All eyes will be on Bryant to see if he’s done, simply a pretty good player, or a guy who’ll become an efficient assassin well into his 40′s.

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Irving thrilled to finally have help

The Cavaliers guard spoke about the changes in leadership and his own role.

      
 

 

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Kyrie Irving on his first three years in Cleveland: ‘I didn’t really have help from anybody’

The Cavaliers guard spoke about the changes in leadership and his own role.

      
 

 

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How Derek Fisher Can Help Each Point Guard on NY Knicks Roster

Phil Jackson’s presidency over the New York Knicks has brought a sea change to the point-guard position. He upgraded at starter in the form of Jose Calderon, 32, and added promising 21-year-old Shane Larkin to share backup duties with returning veteran of the game Pablo Prigioni, 37. Now, like Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Kobe Bryant before them, these slightly more ancillary players will need to tailor their abilities to the triangle offense.

The 2014-15 season also marks the point of embarkation for rookie head coach Derek Fisher after 18 seasons played mostly at the point, 10 of which came during Jackson’s tenure as Los Angeles Lakers coach. Fisher’s experience as a guard in the triangle system should provide a unique angle to impart wisdom to his new charges.

However, as Jason Kidd proved with the Brooklyn Nets last season, copious experience playing the point does not necessarily make for a virtuoso coach of point guards. Fisher will need to harness the full breadth of his leadership and experience to produce success with the Knicks roster, which boasts Carmelo Anthony and more question marks than anything else.

The team has made a significant upgrade at PG already, but while Calderon and Prigioni clearly complement the roster, and Larkin brims with potential, each of them will benefit in different areas from the first-year coaching wisdom of “D-Fish.”

But first, it is necessary to examine the new strength of the position and the new offensive system.

 

Making Trades and Drawing the Triangle

Jackson swung a nifty pre-draft trade in late June that sent Tyson Chandler back to the Dallas Mavericks along with Raymond Felton in exchange for Calderon and Samuel Dalembert, essentially a swap of starting point guards and centers. The trade also sent guards Shane Larkin and Wayne Ellington to the Knicks, plus a pair of second-round picks.

Jackson subsequently included Ellington in a trade with the Sacramento Kings for forwards Quincy Acy and Travis Outlaw, helping to better balance the roster.

Tweets from ESPN’s Marc Stein had suggested that the team was trying to move Ellington and considered including Prigioni or Larkin as a sweetener:

Instead, both remained in the backcourt, and the Knicks parted with budding big man Jeremy Tyler. Retaining both Prigioni and Larkin implies that Jackson and Fisher like what they have at the position and believe they can run the new offense.

According to NBA.com’s David Aldridge, “Fisher thinks Anthony can do the same (in the triangle), operating out of the pinch post the way Jordan, Pippen and Bryant did.” Anthony, the league’s leading scorer in 2012-13, profiles as an ideal player to center the triangle around, and he will be found most often around the elbows receiving passes on the weak side. 

Fisher reinforced his opinion of ‘Melo during the Las Vegas Summer League, saying the following:

It’s an area where he likes to operate, even before now, being able to play in this system. But it will be important that we don’t just put him there and watch him play, which is easy to do with great players.

That means the point guards will have to be active—no “iso Melo“—but in the triangle system, passing responsibility diffuses throughout the team. Melo could very well lead the team in assists. The onus will be on the guards to maintain a strong shooting percentage from the perimeter and knock down spot-up jumpers produced through ball movement as a team.

Fortunately, Prigioni and Calderon both ranked in the top five for three-point shooting last season at 46.4 percent and 44.9, respectively. Only Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard made more triples than Calderon among all point guards. In stark contrast, Raymond Felton shot 39.5 percent from the field and 31.8 percent beyond the arc as the starting point guard last year.

Despite their gaudy long-range shooting, which meshes very well with the triangle, Fisher will look to isolate one aspect of both Calderon’s and Prigioni‘s play which must be addressed. 

 

Mask Calderon’s Defense

The primary difference between Calderon and Prigioni consists in their defense. Prigioni plays like an effective agitator for his age, invading passing lanes and pestering the ball. Calderon, on the other hand, has mainly been a practitioner of the “matador defense” sometimes observed in previous seasons by Knicks announcer Walt Frazier.

The book on Calderon’s D remains that he’s an intelligent player who can get to the right spot, but he lacks both the athleticism and the quickness to prevent most guards from blowing by him.

Tim Cato from Mavs Moneyball phrased it well for Knicks blogger Scott Davis of Posting & Toasting

Calderon has been a slow player ever since he entered the league, and the years haven’t done any favor. He just can’t keep up. His foot-speed is often several steps behind the player he’s guarding.

Once upon a time, Fisher also knew the pain of playing against much younger, much quicker guards. The challenge for the new coach will not be coming in trying to convey loads of defensive know-how, but rather in masking Calderon’s slow pace on the defensive end. He cannot get quicker, so the D will have to compensate. 

Tim Hardaway Jr. and Iman Shumpert will be crucial factors in Fisher’s ability to help Calderon when the other team has the ball. Hardaway showed plenty of offensive spark as a rookie, but his defense made him a liability when his shot wasn’t falling. Shumpert makes a living off of his defense, but his field-goal percentage has dropped with each season, from 40.1 percent to 39.6 to 37.8 in 2013-14.

In the middle, Dalembert can still play effective defense, but the team lost a former Defensive Player of the Year in Chandler. Fisher will have to preach plenty of help on D with Calderon in the starting five, all while coaching up Hardaway to be a two-way player and helping Shumpert find a shooting rhythm. 

 

Teach Prigioni the Joy of Shooting

Prigioni served as an effective contributor in 2013-14, as the Knicks netted four more points per 100 possessions than opponents with him on the court, per Basketball-Reference.

He also has something of an awkward-looking three-point shot despite hitting 46.4 percent of them. Within his shooting motion lies absolutely none of the grace of Ray Allen’s stroke and not even a hint of Steve Novak’s sweet form.

Instead, Prigioni seems to push the ball rim-ward, leaning and leaping forward with hesitation and hope in equal measure. Worse still, he’s gun shy. 

Carmelo Anthony talked about it back in December 2013, according to The Wall Street Journal‘s Chris Herring (subscription required): “Sometimes he turns down shots, and I be like, ‘What the (heck), man? You’re wide open; shoot the ball!’”

Somehow, through two NBA seasons, the Argentine has managed to become one of the league’s most proficient three-point shooters while maintaining a staunch pass-first mindset. Teams often left him on an island to instead bracket Carmelo, giving Prigioni plenty of open looks, but he hardly made a meal of them and passed up copious opportunities. 

Fisher knows a thing or two about hitting big-time shots, and he can persuade Prigioni that sometimes you have to think “shoot first” if you’re open. The triangle will require trust in the system to produce high-quality looks, and Prigioni proved proficient at that when he pulled the trigger. Of his 191 field-goal attempts, 140 came on three-pointers, and only Kyle Korver hit them at a higher percentage.

But Prigioni only attempted 3.9 per 36 minutes last season, via Basketball-Reference. Calderon’s per-36 average of 6.2 three-point attempts will give his teammate something to shoot for. 

 

Mold Larkin into a Consistent Contributor

Larkin, who will be 22 when the season begins, stands just 5’11″ with 176 pounds on his frame. Fisher measured only 6’1″, proving that small guards can excel in the triangle and at the highest level of NBA competition. Larkin can meditate on that as he attempts to forge an NBA career from his wealth of potential. 

He showed his ability to dominate inferior competition over four games in the D-League, averaging 15.3 points (on 47 percent shooting and 57 percent from three-point range), 8.3 assists and 4.8 rebounds over 35.8 minutes per game.

He also showed solid per-36 stats as an NBA reserve in 2013-14, via Basketball-Reference, but inefficient shooting (38 percent from the field) and too many turnovers (2.9 per 36) helped limit him to 10.2 minutes per game over 48 tilts with the Mavericks.

Fisher will have to harness all the versatility and skill Larkin has to offer, while also shaping the game of a point guard with a little more than half a season of experience. 

As Aldridge put it:

For a young point guard like Shane Larkin, who’s used to defaulting into screen-and-roll action with a big when the shot clock is winding down (instead of moving the ball and cutting through), the triangle is such a different animal. You must learn quickly that it’s not your pass, but the next one, that might lead to a basket.

Based on the summer league results, Larkin will undergo a lengthy learning process. Expect plenty of “rookie moments” like these:

As the young guard irons out the foolish turnovers and ill-advised shots, among other things, the Knicks could possibly have a slightly smaller, much younger version of D-Fish in the making.

And Larkin will have a supremely qualified tutor to learn from. In the terms of ESPN New York’s Ohm Youngmisuk: “Even though he is coaching for the first time in his career, Fisher brings a wealth of championship experience, toughness and leadership.” 

Add that coaching to his team’s increasing grasp on the triangle, and the Knicks could look back fondly on the decision not to send Larkin to Sacramento.

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Jose Calderon believes he can help Carmelo Anthony in N.Y.

New York Knicks new point guard Jose Calderon, who was acquired in a trade with the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday, hopes he can play alongside Carmelo Anthony. Calderon believes he can make life better for Anthony, who will test free agency next month. “He’s one of the best players in our league and I’d love to play with him,” Calderon said Friday, via NBA.com. “I think I could help him to just take a lot of pressure out of him, just give him the ball when he’s ready for it.” Calderon, 32, has averaged 10.2 points and 6.8 assists in nine seasons while shooting 41 percent from 3-point range. He hopes the Knicks’ leading scorer re-signs with the team. “I think he’s a great player, one of the best. I’d love to play with him,” Calderon said. “He could be a big part of this for sure, there’s no question about that. Anything I can do 

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