NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Friday, December 18, 2015, 5:25 PM
PHILADELPHIA – Jerian Grant’s learning curve wasn’t supposed to be so steep. He was a four-year NCAA player with an uncle who served many years under Phil Jackson. But as the rookie discovered more than a quarter into the season, the triangle is not such a comforting system for a point guard accustomed to pick-and-rolls.
Heading into Friday against the Sixers, Grant played a combined three minutes in the previous three games while logging two DNPs. He had been replaced in the rotation by Sasha Vujacic, as that promising start quickly turned into an extended struggle.
Vujacic and Langston Galloway had been eating up the guard reserve minutes.
“It’s tough. You have to figure out a different way to play,” Grant, who was drafted 19th overall after averaging 17 points and 6.6 assists as an All-American senior at Notre Dame, told the Daily News. “Obviously coming in, you’re not going to have the ball in your hands as much. When that’s been your game to kind of create with the ball in your hands off ball screens and such, it’s an adjustment to find other ways to affect the game.”
As New York’s primary point guard last season, Shane Larkin lamented about the lack of pick-and-rolls in the triangle, hampering his play. With all of Jackson’s great teams and championships, he coached only one point guard to an All-Star appearance, and it was borderline from B.J. Armstrong.
The position, despite its emphasis in today’s NBA, was always somewhat diminished in the triangle. As Jackson wrote in his book, “one of the things that’s pretty obvious (about my coaching career) is that I never had to fight to get a dominant point guard. Because once you do that, defenses can align themselves against that one guy. You can pressure the point guard high on the floor and move the ball away from whomever you want to shut down. That was always my defensive philosophy against people like Isiah Thomas and John Stockton.”
Grant has recognized the difference from his expectations. The Knicks, meanwhile, are reportedly feeling out the trade market for another guard. Jamal Crawford (Clippers), Brandon Jennings (Pistons), Ty Lawson (Nuggets) and Kevin Martin (T-Wolves) are among those believed to be available.
“For sure, it’s a lot different. As a point guard coming into the league you think it’s just going to be a bunch of ball screens for you but in this offense, that’s not what (the triangle) is,” Grant said. “It’s more of getting people lined up and just kind of cutting and spotting up for jump shots. So it’s just an adjustment where I can use my game to be effective.”
The main obstacle for Grant is that he’s not a good jump shooter, hitting just 38 percent of all his attempts heading into Friday and 19 percent from beyond the arc. What he brings uniquely to this roster, though, is an ability to drive past his defender and create from his athleticism.
The Knicks have struggled in those areas, entering Friday last in the NBA in fast-break points and points off drives.
“We don’t have a whole lot of guys who can get into the paint like that so that’s something I can bring to the team,” Grant said. “That’s what they’ve told me, so when I get out there, I have to focus on that.”
Derek Fisher, who was the point guard in Jackson’s triangle in L.A., was typically vague on the subject, speaking in generalities.
“It’s just kind of part of going through a season. We went through a rough stretch as a team where we were going through problems in a lot of areas. And so I was trying to make some adjustments, do some things different. But it’s not because Jerian can’t do something or isn’t capable of doing things. His opportunity will be there again. …. Lou Amundson has been in the league 10 years and he doesn’t get to play.”
The Knicks didn’t trade Tim Hardaway Jr. on draft night so that Grant would become Lou Amundson.