In his interview on CBS Sports Network's We Need To Talk on Tuesday, Phil Jackson did more than issue a non-apology about calling LeBron James' business associates a "posse" and discuss marijuana in light of Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr saying he used it last season in an attempt to treat his back pain. Jackson also talked about his New York Knicks.
Apart from stealing a page from Kevin Durant's book by calling Kristaps Porzingis a "unicorn," the most notable part was when Jackson offered his thoughts on Carmelo Anthony and how he fits in the triangle offense.
"He can play that role that Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant played," Jackson said. "That's a perfect spot for him, to be in that isolated position on the weak side. Because it's an overload offense and there's a weak-side man that always has an advantage if the ball is swung.
"Carmelo, a lot of times, wants to hold the ball longer than -- we have a rule, if you hold a pass two seconds, you benefit the defense. So he has a little bit of a tendency to hold the ball for three, four, five seconds, then everybody comes to a stop. That is one of the things we work with. But he has adjusted to it, he knows what it can do and he's willing to see its success."
Tracy Wolfson then brought up the fact that Anthony attracts a lot of criticism, asking Jackson if he thinks the star forward is misunderstood.
"Carmelo's genuinely a solid person, a citizen, I think," Jackson said. "He has good intentions. I think some of the things that come along with him, I always say I can go back to [Syracuse coach Jim] Boeheim and say that was the zone that he played in college. But that's just a joke I have with him. The aspect of learning in the NBA and developing habits become entrenched, and sometimes you have to break those habits to change your manner of playing, and I think that's one of the things he's had to do with this new group of guys. It's a little bit different. He doesn't have sole possession of the offense. There are other people that are involved in the offense, and he embraces that. But then you still have habits you have to break, and I think that's one of the things. Defensively, we've talked to him a lot about movement and that aspect of -- we're now into high-performance things, where we have cameras that can legislate or watch movement on the court all the time -- each have, you can go back and check that. We're trying to get him to get more active as a defensive player. That's one of the things that I think is noticeable, that he has changed. And we're liking that."
We've heard this stuff before from Jackson, and that's precisely why it's interesting. In an HBO interview all the way back in 2012, Jackson said that Anthony "has to be a better passer" and "the ball can't stop every time it hits his hands." After becoming the president of the Knicks in March 2014 and re-signing Anthony that summer, Jackson again said "the ball has to continually move" when discussing how Anthony can get better.
If this sounds bad, it's because, to a large extent, Anthony is who he is. He's always been much more comfortable with the ball in his hands than without it, and he likes to size up the defense, take a few dribbles and attack guys one-on-one. Jackson is totally correct that these are his habits, but it's hard to get one of the best isolation scorers on the planet to approach offense differently.
The good news: It's not like Jackson never butted heads with Jordan or Bryant on this very same issue. The stars want their offensive freedom, and Jackson wants discipline within the confines of the triangle. The partnership worked best when they found some sort of balance, and that's all that New York can hope for.
Also, thanks to those SportVU cameras Jackson was talking about, we have access to some data on this, which shows that Anthony has indeed cut down on his dribbling somewhat since Jackson showed up.
|Average seconds per touch||Average dribbles per touch|
For reference, Bryant held the ball for an average of 3.35 seconds with 2.19 dribbles per touch during his farewell tour last season, and Klay Thompson is holding the ball for an average of 1.85 seconds with 1.19 dribbles per touch this year. All of these stats are courtesy of NBA.com.