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Arron Afflalo, the Triangle and a Flexible Future for the Knicks

The Knicks agreed to a two-year deal worth $16 million with Arron Afflalo in hopes that he could spark a moribund offense closer to respectability quickly and give Carmelo Anthony a partner in crime on the wing. He’ll have a player option on the second year, which means if things go well it’ll amount to a one-year stint with the Knicks before he re-enters free agency.

Afflalo has a reputation as a score-first guard, despite putting up only 11.4 points per game for his career, due to the creativity and versatility he can bring to an offense. He’s not long removed from notching a career-high 18.2 points per game playing the role of a go-to scorer with the Orlando Magic, and hopefully he brings that attack-first mentality to New York after a down year with the Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers.

This signing came shortly before learning that Greg Monroe, one of the Knicks’ most high-profile targets, signed a three-year deal with the Milwaukee Bucks. This left fans in New York stunned, and with LaMarcus Aldridge, DeAndre Jordan and Marc Gasol seemingly locked in elsewhere, it meant the Knicks struck out on bringing in an impact player. All three of those big men fit into the Triangle offense, and a clear picture of their value fit in with Anthony and the newly added Afflalo.

However, missing on big names isn’t the worst thing that could happen. Monroe is a nice piece considering his fit in the Triangle, but at a max-level deal, he’d be eating up a lot of cap space for an uninspiring defensive presence who doesn’t necessarily add a “star” to the roster. Aldridge and Gasol would be a different story, but they wouldn’t fix everything.

Monroe isn’t a versatile player who can come into any system and fit, and taking up valuable cap space going forward could’ve set the franchise back further, even with the upcoming boon next year. With Afflalo in the fold on a short-term deal, the Knicks added a piece that could fit the system but won’t hinder them if he bombs out. Monroe wouldn’t have given them the same flexibility, and there will still be pieces lurking that the Knicks could add that fill the short-term need without dictating the long-term plan.

Looking at Afflalo’s long-ball numbers from last year — which Phil Jackson is probably goink to ignore anyway — the 29-year-old guard’s game might not translate easily into what the Knicks are doing. Of course, the team probably wouldn’t want to add more of the same after a miserable year, so maybe the change in style will be welcomed.

Splitting the season between the Blazers and Nuggets, Afflalo melded into two separate offensive systems. Before the All-Star break, nearly 98 percent of his three-point makes came off an assist. After the All-Star break, that number dipped a little to around 92 percent as he was given a little more leash off the dribble. Still, that’s well above the league average of 84 percent assisted three pointers, per NBA.com. From the corners the league takes about 96 percent of its threes off an assist, but far less above the break, where Afflalo required an assist on more of his made triples than from either corner — albeit his numbers from the left corner, right corner and above the break all round out to between 95-96 percent.

The Knicks as a team were assisted on only 81 percent of their made threes above the break, and if Afflalo is determined to catch-and-shoot from that area, the Knicks will need to find creative ways to get him the ball at the top of the key. New York as a team was in the bottom third of the league in catch-and-shoot threes made and attempted in general, and their new addition could help change that.

Afflalo also contributed by making 53 percent of his open threes overall, according to Kirk Goldsberry of Grantland. It’s an impressive number, but also a worrisome one considering those shots might not be there without other scoring options on the court, and Goldsberry questions whether those will be available with the Knicks. New York shooters just didn’t get those open looks, and the team finished in the bottom four in terms of wide open threes.

Where Afflalo does fit into the Triangle offense is with his mid-range game. The Knicks loaded up on long twos and pull-up jumpers, even if they didn’t shoot particularly well in those areas. The open threes in the Knicks’ system are replaced with dribble drives, and the value of the 15-18 foot jumper is a little larger. Afflalo is very good putting the ball on the floor and creating his shot. While he may need the assist from long range, he’s able to do it himself often inside the arc. For the Blazers, with Aldridge commanding the ball from that area and Lillard controlling where it goes, Afflalo was relegated to deep.

In Denver, however, he was extremely active both inside the arc and in the paint particularly. Inside the paint he required assists on only 42 percent of his made baskets, and only 60 percent of his shots from another few steps out. Pump fakes and some creative dribbling affords him the ability to keep defenders honest in that area of the floor. Going back to his career year with the Magic the season before, more of the same could be seen from his activity in between the restricted area and the three-point line.

With Afflalo in as the No. 2 option — assuming Kristaps Porzingis isn’t going to quite be lighting fire to NBA defenses early on in his rookie year — the Knicks can search out ancillary pieces that both fit the 2015 roster and keep them flexible for next offseason. The beauty of the Afflalo deal is that barring another drop in play or health, he’ll opt-out next year when money is flowing and the Knicks will get the chance to either re-up with him or move on to greener pastures.

Still in need of a big man, look for the Knicks to take a similar approach to try to put a good foot forward this season without pinning them to anything major years from now. Robin Lopez is one name that it looks like the Knicks are turning to immediately, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports. The “other” Lopez brother might not have the offensive polish, but he’s a starting center who can deter drivers from waltzing to the rim and clean the glass. He’s particularly ferocious on the offensive glass, pulling down a robust 4.2 offensive rebounds per 36 minutes. He’s not as skilled as Monroe, but at a fraction of the price he could come in and do the job just a borough over from his twin brother.

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Ed Davis or Kosta Koufos could each make a case as a starting center, and should command less than Lopez if the Knicks are unable to get that deal done. Both of these guys would be even more valuable if Porzingis is able to give the Knicks some minutes at the 5 in small-ball lineups, which is far from a guarantee but a nice thought for the pro-Kristaps fans out there.

The Knicks have squandered Corey Brewer before, but even a guy like him on a short-term contract could replace what they lost in Iman Shumpert, hopefully without the headache that came along with it, or a shooter with some upside as a possible 3-and-D reclamation project like Dorell Wright, who might not scare anyone on the defensive side but provides some value as a small-ball 4. Patrick Beverley has been mentioned as an option to help improve the defense and add a bit more shooting.

Losing out on the big names like Aldridge and Gasol hurts, especially because the Knicks never really had a chance. Getting beat out by the Bucks for a second-tier free agent like Monroe is a stunner, and shows exactly how destitute the situation is for the orange and blue at the moment. However, by adding short-term pieces with some versatility like Afflalo, and hopefully following that signing up with a solid-if-not-great big man, the Knicks can improve a little while remaining faithful to the Triangle for next year. But more importantly, the team isn’t committing itself to anything other than Carmelo for the year after that, when fortunes could really change for some lucky franchise.

Hopefully, for the first time in a long time, the Knicks will get to be the lucky ones.

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