Five Things the Knicks' Next Head Coach Must Do To Succeed

John Schmeelk
July 23, 2020 - 9:58 am
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The Knicks are probably (hopefully) going to hire their next head coach in the next week, so they can have their coach in place before the official restart in Orlando.

Whether they hire Tom Thibodeau, Kenny Atkinson, or someone else, the new coach will have a big job ahead of them. Here are the top five things the Knicks’ new coach will need to do if they want to be successful.

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Establish An Identity
The Knicks haven’t had a true identity since Mike Woodson’s 54-win 2012-2013 season, when the team was on the forefront of the three-point shot revolution. Since then, the team has gone from trying to play big, to playing some form of the triangle, to doing whatever it was David Fizdale was trying to do. What are the Knicks trying to be?

Ideally, the Knicks would embrace the three-point shot more, assuming they acquire more shooters that can actually make them. It isn’t a requirement. As long as the team exercises good fundamentals of spacing, ball movement, and player movement, they can be an improved offense. Their shooting must improve.

The same must be true for defense, where the Knicks flip-flopped between strategies the last two seasons before Mike Miller installed a more consistent drop scheme. There are different ways to succeed defensively. Teams like the Celtics and Bucks seal off the paint and allow a lot of three-point shots from players and locations on the court that are favorable to them. Other teams commit to preventing three-point shots all-together. The Knicks need a consistent strategy that can succeed if it is executed properly

Provide Stability
The Knicks haven’t had a head coach last three seasons since Mike D’Antoni held the job from 2008-2012. It is impossible for a team to establish an identity and a style of play if the head coach is constantly changing. It is also hard to build a roster when a new coach might not like the players the previous coach lobbied to have on the roster.

If the Knicks are going to be a tough, physical, defense-oriented team, they need players that fit that profile. It can take a couple years to build yourself into a team like that. The same can be said if the team wants to be fast-paced and shoot a lot of three-pointers. It can take a couple of seasons to get a team to fit the coach’s vision.

It is easy to see how it is hard to build a roster properly if that vision is constantly changing. The new coach, whoever it is, needs to do a good enough job to coach this team for at least three years. They don’t need to make the team a championship contender immediately, but they need to get them close to 50 wins by year three.

Develop Players
The Knicks’ future is their youth. Of all their young players, the path for Mitchell Robinson to become the foundation of a good defense is the easiest to see. He still has work to do with his discipline to avoid fouls and instincts of when to help, which can be honed by a good defensive coach.

Can RJ Barrett become someone that can be leaned on not only as a scorer, but also as a creator offensively? Can his jump shot improve to where it is a weapon, which could improve his ability to get separation to be a better finisher around the basket?

Can the other young players on the team be salvaged? Will Frank Ntilikina finally become a good enough shooter and overall offensive player to warrant a bigger role? Can Kevin Knox and Dennis Smith Jr. avoid the bust labels many are on the verge of slapping them with? Can any other unlikely young players emerge as real contributors?

If the Knicks want to become a better team before spending money to sign a big-time free agent, or trading draft assets for a star, it has to come from player development. A head coach and his staff play an outsized role in guiding their playing to improve in the areas that will help their careers and the team the most.

Avoid Drama
It is never easy for the Knicks. There is always controversy, whether it is legitimate or manufactured. Perhaps Mike Miller’s greatest trait last year was his ability to represent the organization during some rough moments without putting his foot in his mouth or making any waves. There always seems to be something going on with the Knicks, and too often it is the coach’s job to be the spokesperson for the entire organization. It is not an enviable position but one the coach must handle.

Just WIN
You’re welcome, Captain Obvious, but this is really the point of the whole endeavor, no? If the new coach succeeds at numbers 1, 3, and 4, then the wins will come. If the wins come, the franchise will find success at number two and find stability. It doesn’t have to happen in the first year, but meaningful improvement must happen in subsequent seasons. In three years, they need to be, at worst, the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference.

Follow John Schmeelk on Twitter: @Schmeelk

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