The Knicks could be a team that exceeds expectations this season in the NBA. And that's coming from the guy who's the actual logo for the NBA.
Jerry West, whose silhouette has long been the emblem of the league, scored over 25,000 points in his career. He has eight championship rings, the latest of which he received on Tuesday as an executive board member of the Golden State Warriors. He has been inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame twice, as both a player and executive.
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If that resume isn't impressive enough to prove his credibility in analyzing the Knicks, there is also this: he once hired Phil Jackson and drafted Derek Fisher. So he has a certain familiarity with the two men at the forefront of the Knicks' rebuild.
"Well, I think they are going to be one of the surprise teams in the league," West told Newsday on Thursday.
Last season, Jackson's first as team president and Fisher's first as head coach, the Knicks endured a franchise-worst 17-65 season.
"I do think they've really made progress, and over in the East, it would not surprise me if they made the playoffs, not at all," said West, who has been working in conjunction with Janssen Pharmaceuticals to support MyAFibRisk.com, which provides tools to help people calculate their risk of stroke.
West, who as general manager of the Los Angeles Lakers in 1996 traded for 17-year old Kobe Bryant on draft night and signed 24-year old Shaquille O'Neal as a free agent, watched the duo execute the triangle offense to perfection under Jackson. Because the triangle is a read-and-react system predicated on cuts and movement, West believes it can still be effective despite the league having shifted into a small-ball era that prioritizes spacing and three-point shooting.
"Will it hold up in today's world?" he asked. "The thing that's most interesting about it is everyone touches the ball ... If you watch [the Warriors] play, I think we are one of the prettiest teams in the league because we pass the basketball. It's not a bunch of guys running pick-and-rolls, or one guy dominating the ball all the time, it's about movement. And that's what the triangle offense is. I think you have to have the right kind of people in that offense to execute it. But the most important thing is organization and I think that was one of Phil's real strengths, organization of his players."
The responsibility of organizing the new players - rookie Kristaps Porzingis and free-agent acquisitions Robin Lopez, Aaron Afflalo, Derrick Williams and Kyle O'Quinn - also is on Fisher. West said that Fisher, whom he drafted in 1996 and watched win five championships with the Lakers, made the difficult transition of going from a player who expected to win 60 games a year to a coach who lost 65 games.
"We've all been humbled in our lives and sometimes I think it's a good thing for you," West said. "Derek will grow as a coach, he will work at it, and he's got better talent this year and that's a tribute to Phil, who has brought some players in there that have experience."
West said the influx of European players, notably big men who can put the ball on the floor and shoot the three, has changed the game. That, he said, combined with the lack of a truly dominant center in the league since O'Neal's retirement has forced teams to move away from traditional centers. That is part of the reason why he believes Porzingis, the fourth pick in the draft, will be successful.
"I think the rookie is going to be really good," West said. "He has an amazing skill to shoot the ball plus the guy is 7-3 and you have to guard him. As he gets bigger, stronger, he is going to have his nights where he's going to be really good."
Despite the fact that Jackson was unable to land one of the grand prizes in free agency, West was impressed with the players he did sign to complement Carmelo Anthony.
"I think Phil has done a really nice job there," he said. "He brought in a veteran center [Lopez] who doesn't want to shoot the ball. They have some people around now who have been in the league. It also gives Carmelo, I think, a chance to not have to feel like he has to score every night and I think that will help his total game."
Which is one of the reasons why "The Logo" believes the Knicks could make a surprise appearance in the postseason.
"When you start feeling good about yourself," West said of the Knicks, "it creates an environment that's a lot more wholesome than going to an arena at night feeling you have no chance to win, that's for sure."