New York Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek has become a scapegoat for an erratic season, but we must be careful to include context in our criticism.
The New York Knicks are the very definition of the word, “Polarizing.” There are as many riveting highs as there are devastating lows during the first half of a Knicks season, with the final 41 games generally serving as a reason to look to the future.
Despite the fact that New York finally has a future that’s worth look forward to, criticism is steadily mounting against Jeff Hornacek.
Hornacek hasn’t been perfect, but he’s done a respectable job of coaching in a challenging situation. Nevertheless, the absence of immediate success has left some calling for his job just 47 games into the 2017-18 regular season.
Whether or not you believe Hornacek is capable of leading the Knicks back to the postseason, what’s clear is that he’s undermanned in his attempts to do so.
Even if one were to dismiss the fact that the Knicks were nothing more than a fringe postseason team entering the 2017-18 season, Hornacek deserves the benefit of context with the criticism he faces.
Unfortunately, he hasn’t received that luxury in 2017-18..
Hornacek’s system has proven to be effective in the past, but it needs a penetrating point guard to initiate the offense. Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe filled that role for the Phoenix Suns team that won 48 games in 2013-14.
Unfortunately, the Knicks’ front office has yet to provide Hornacek with that type of playmaker— and thus, he’s struggling to properly run his system.
Frank Ntilikina is a promising young two-way player, but he hasn’t yet established himself as a player who can break a defense down with his handle. Jarrett Jack’s leadership has been under-appreciated in 2017-18, but he’s no longer a threat to get to the rim.
Trey Burke has the potential to diversify the offense, but he’s appeared in a grand total of three games for the main roster Knicks.
On the other end of the floor, Kristaps Porzingis needs an interior complement who can efficiently defend stretch bigs. In that scenario, Porzingis would be able to roam the paint like a basketball version of a free safety.
Enes Kanter and Kyle O’Quinn help Porzingis with their profound rebounding ability, but their inability to defend the three-point line inevitably draws New York’s rim protector out of the paint.
Furthermore, New York needs a wing defender who can take on the abundance of quality scorers who play shooting guard and small forward in the modern NBA. That player simply isn’t on the roster, with hybrid forward Lance Thomas being the closest thing to an exception.
Hornacek has built a defense that ranks in the top half of the NBA in opponent field goal percentage and points allowed per game, but he’s still without a reliable wing defender.
These aren’t excuses or attempts to claim that Hornacek is above reproach. He’s made questionable decisions with his rotations, as well as debatable in-game adjustments on both ends of the floor.
The fact remains, however, that Hornacek and the Knicks lack the necessary personnel to fill some of the most essential roles in the NBA.
Every team needs a distributor who can break a defense down with their handle, just as every team needs a player who can defend sharpshooting bigs. Perhaps more than anything, every team needs a player who can adequately defend the superstar wings of today.
Due to the fact that New York is attempting to rebuild a roster that was incomplete to begin with, however, it simply lacks the necessary assets to make that happen.
When one applies the context, it becomes significantly more difficult to justify the calls for the Knicks to fire coach Hornacek. Hornacek may prove to be the wrong man for the job, but firing him mid-season would mean making him the scapegoat.
That’s the last thing that New York can afford to do with a young team that’s attempting to establish its identity.
Some have pointed out that the Knicks’ effort has been unreliable during road games in 2017-18. True as that may be, the Knicks also had their effort questioned under Mike D’Antoni, Mike Woodson (post-2012-13), Derek Fisher, and Kurt Rambis.
Rather than continuing to enable the players to quit on the coach when times are tough, it’s time we give Hornacek the benefit of context.
A front office that supports its head coach is one that will remain strong in the face of adversity. For the New York Knicks, it’s all hands on deck—or the boat won’t move at all.