GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Jeff Hornacek admits that the Knicks’ defensive principles and concepts were confusing last season and that not everyone picked them up.
The Knicks didn’t have a basic foundation, and they changed things up game to game, Hornacek said. Players complained that things needed to be simplified.
Hornacek said it was his fault that he put too much trust in his veterans, and he has tried to correct the situation this season. He said they will have basic principles that they use on defense and how to guard certain situations so players can be on the same page.
“Last year we probably had too many adjustments,” Hornacek said after practice Saturday. “Last year, we probably treated it, because we had veteran guys, more like we were getting ready for playoffs. Like this play you might do this, that play you might do that. It was too hard for the guys as a group. It was easy for some guys but not for the whole group. This way it’s easy for the whole group.”
The Knicks have put an emphasis on defense this training camp, but in the preseason, they have been out of position or haven’t expended enough energy contesting shots. So they aren’t close to being in sync yet.
They went 0-5 in the preseason and allowed 112.0 points per game, which ranked them 27th. The Knicks were dead last in defensive rating (110.7), which measures points per 100 possessions.
Hornacek said he has to be patient because he’s coaching a new group, but he’s starting to see progress. The Knicks played their best defensive game of the preseason Friday night but still gave up 110 points to the Wizards, who were without John Wall.
“In the beginning, we had some breakdowns,” Hornacek said. “We’re getting better. This is a base for us. We want to get that right. We got to be patient. If it takes us a month, two months to get it right and we’re making strides there, that’s what we’re looking for. I’ve been proud of these guys. They picked it up really quick.”
They will continue to work on defense leading up to Thursday’s opener against Carmelo Anthony and the Thunder. But just as the returning Knicks are happy that the triangle offense left when Phil Jackson did, they like the much-needed change in defensive philosophy.
“I think it was difficult for us to understand all the rotations and things like that,” Kristaps Porzingis said. “But now I feel like we’re getting better at it, and I feel like [Friday’s] game showed that, that we got a little better at it. It’s a good thing.
“We were switching up a lot, so it was confusing guys and it was confusing me. It didn’t help at all. This year we have a much more clearer [situation] on the defensive end and it’s going to help.’’
The Knicks ranked 26th in defensive rating last year (111.5 points). Early in the season, they made associate head coach Kurt Rambis the defensive coordinator. Hornacek said there won’t be one coach responsible for the defense this season.
Hornacek said the coaches devised the plan of how they want to guard situations and their defensive rotations in an effort to simplify things and to be more effective.
Courtney Lee said Hornacek challenged him to be in the 90th percentile of the Knicks’ defensive rating system, which charts getting in the right spot and making the right read. But Hornacek said Lee isn’t the only player he has challenged.
“I don’t think you pick out one guy,” Hornacek said. “You want a couple of guys, stay-active guys who do it right and play defense and take pride in that. We’re developing three, four, five, six guys that are starting to have that feel. That will get over to the other guys. A big part of a lot of these things we’re looking at is some of it’s individual stuff on defense, some of it’s team stuff.
“We want them to be at least 90 percent. That’s the goal. You can do things nine out of 10 times right and we get the whole team to do that, we’ll be OK.”
Porzingis practiced in full after missing the previous two games with a sore right hip. Rookie Frank Ntilikina, who has a bruised right knee, was held out of the contact part of practice.
The Knicks waived Trey Burke, Nigel Hayes, and Xavier Rathan-Mayes, trimming the roster to 17 players. They still have the players’ G-League rights so all three are likely to end up with the Westchester Knicks.
Barring a move before the opener, the Knicks’ roster likely is set. Because Joakim Noah will miss the first 12 games — he is serving a suspension for taking a banned substance — he will start the season on the suspended list, which opens an extra spot.
Veteran guard Jarrett Jack has a non-guaranteed deal so he’s a candidate to be waived when Noah is eligible to return, if the Knicks can’t make a move before then.
Luke Kornet signed a two-way contract — he can split time between the NBA and G-League — so he’s able to stay on the Knicks’ roster for 45 days.
Burke, a lottery pick in 2013, was signed Wednesday, but the Knicks did that to acquire his G-League rights. He could be insurance at point guard and get called up if the Knicks need help.
“Trey was probably in a tough position there coming in at the last minute,” Hornacek said. “We like Trey, what he can do. He can penetrate, he can kick out. He’s right there on the cusp. We’ll figure out what he’s going to do. If it’s nothing, he plays with our Westchester team and just keep an eye on him.”