It’s usually a good thing to have an overflow of players who deserve legitimate minutes – especially for the usually injury-ridden Knicks – but Mike Woodson will have to find playing time for a lot of players who’ll expect it. How are these Knicks lineups going to work?
There are three legitimate point guards on the roster (and – ahem- Chris Smith). The wings are stacked, with JR Smith, Iman Shumpert, Metta World Peace, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Toure’ Murry. Carmelo Anthony also figures to spend a lot of time at the three this season (due to the presence of Andrea Bargnani as a stretch four), adding him to the wing conversation. We’re left with five bigs, only two of which (Tyson Chandler and Kenyon Martin) having shown the ability to protect the paint.
What kind of arrangements can we expect? All signs have pointed to a Raymond Felton – Shumpert – Anthony – Bargnani – Chandler starting five. Woodson most likely prefers this lineup (to the Felton – Pablo Prigioni – Shumpert – Anthony – Chandler lineup that went on a tear at the end of last season) due to the team’s struggles against the Indiana Pacers in the playoffs, when Anthony was bullied by David West in the post. This caused a couple of problems: large rebounding differentials in favor of the Pacers, and a lot of open Pacers threes when the Knicks were forced to double the likes of West down low. Slow defensive rotations killed the Knicks all series with the likes of George Hill and D.J. Augustin getting wide-open looks from deep. Slotting Bargnani into Prigioni’s spot moves Anthony back to the perimeter defensively, and leaves two seven-footers in the paint. However, this new arrangement threatens to ruin the success the Knicks had last season with Anthony at the four: just like the Knicks had to do against West, other teams often had to help on Anthony when he posted up, and with three shooters scattered around the perimeter, the Knicks launched (and hit) more three pointers last season than any team in NBA history.
The key to this starting five is Bargnani. He has shot under 31% from three point range in each of the last two seasons, and the concern is whether he’ll be able to spread the floor as well as Prigioni (0.396 3P%) did last year. If teams can afford to sag off of Bargnani, willingly giving him the threes and bringing extra help toward Anthony, the Knick offense could be in trouble.
Another contributing factor to the choice of Bargnani in the starting five is low post defense: with Prigioni starting, Bargnani and Amar’e Stoudemire would both figure to receive minutes off of the bench, and a Bargnani-Stoudemire pairing would be a disaster defensively, with no valuable rim protection, pick and roll coverage ability, or useful post defender. But would offensive floor spacing troubles for Bargnani override these defensive concerns? Woodson may have to make new decisions when he sees more of his lineups during the regular season.
How about the bench unit? The logical choice would be Prigioni – Smith – World Peace – Stoudemire – Martin, but is Woodson willing the sacrifice valuable minutes from Beno Udrih and Hardaway, who showed the ability to run an offense and shoot the 3, respectively? He must find a way to use all of these players’ minutes effectively, while at all times keeping both a defensive center and a viable offensive combination on the floor. A lot of Knicks non-believers think Woodson could be coaching for his job this season – perhaps his biggest job is finding a rotation that flows and works on both sides of the ball.
Tyler, Douglas-Roberts, and Smith saw very limited preseason minutes, with Tyler’s injury keeping him out for the majority. Of the four Knicks invites that saw significant time, Diogu and Murry stood out. Diogu showed a reliable medium-range jump shot and a proclivity for rebounding, while Murry played tough perimeter defense and had some semblance of a jump shot. Aldrich and Powell mostly showed brick hands and offensive ineptitude, but were solid defensively.
So, what did the Knicks’ brass eventually decide upon? Naturally, Murry, Aldrich, and Smith. The Knicks front office has a history of strange personnel decisions, and this is the latest:
The Knicks already have a plethora of wing players, with the true dearth in the front court, where there is little depth or defense. The logical decision would be to pick up two big men (Diogu had an excellent camp, while Tyler is well-liked by the coaches) and perhaps Murry, who had an excellent showing in both summer league and preseason. The Aldrich pickup is, although seemingly incorrect, is at least defendable, as he has a lot of size and potential as a rebounder, where Diogu is more of a power forward and Tyler is not yet ready for action with his injury. However, there seems only one reason to sign Smith, that being his brother, JR. Chris barely saw minutes in the preseason, and was thoroughly outplayed by his peers. Sure, JR wants his brother at his side, but is the reigning Sixth Man of the Year worth two roster spots? Hopefully, the 15th spot on the team ends up meaning as little as it should, but with plenty of injury-prone players, the Knicks could use all of the depth they can get.
Another possible option is cutting Smith (Chris) and signing Tyler once he’s ready for contact, to, if nothing more, get to see a little more of Smith. The risk, of course, is another team signing Tyler.
Plenty of head-scratching, to be sure, but final judgements on Woodson and his staff cannot be made until the results are seen, so be sure to keep an eye on the three neophytes as the regular season progresses.
Carmelo’s Free Agency
Perhaps the biggest news to come out of the Knicks’ preseason was Anthony’s declaration that he’d like to try out free agency. When this time comes, Anthony will probably look to become the NBA’s highest paid player. Is this a request the Knicks should fulfill? Paying Anthony $130 million is, at the same time, necessary and detrimental.
Why should the Knicks do it? Anthony is a player that, for many teams, comes along once in a lifetime. He is a bona-fide star who can put a team on his back and win a game. His ability to effortlessly create his own shot and score from anywhere on the court is rivaled by only Kevin Durant. Anthony is a player that the Knicks should do whatever they can to retain, or he’ll wreak havoc elsewhere. Why rebuild when you can build around a player like Anthony?
Why shouldn’t the Knicks do it? Although he’s a star, Anthony really is only an elite player on one half of the court. For someone so average on defense to become the highest paid player in the NBA would be an embarrassment to the Knicks. Do they want to be paying 35-year old Melo $40 million in his final season? A signing for this amount (see: Stoudemire, Amar’e) would cripple the Knicks by obliterating their cap room and disallowing them from bringing in more, younger, talent. Can the Knicks win a championship with Anthony as their best player and little cap room to woo a wingman? The NBA’s worst spot is out of the lottery and out of the second round of the playoffs. An aging star who loves to shoot, surrounded by budget-friendly players, could put the Knicks right there.
Either way, this is, of course, a decision for the future. The Knicks, and Anthony, are focused on this season and the tasks at hand. But with multiple lineup decisions and some questionable depth at the four and five, there is definitely plenty for Mike Woodson and his group to think about as we draw closer and closer to Wednesday’s season debut.