Examining NY Knicks' Ideal Starting Lineup by the Numbers
Mike Woodson and the New York Knicks have some explaining to do.
After getting off to the hottest start in the NBA, the Knicks have cooled off considerably since the returns of Iman Shumpert and Amar'e Stoudemire. They've lost five of their last seven, dropped to third in the Eastern Conference and now hold just a two-game lead in the Atlantic Division over the Brooklyn Nets.
Hitting the panic button remains premature at this point, but it's clear New York has a need for change.
It's also clear that Knicks head coach Woodson has no intention of making any changes (via Marc Berman of the New York Post):
He’s got to come talk to me about that. At the end of the day, we are winning, we’re still sitting at the top of our division where we want to be. Could we be better? Absolutely. I’ve had the same starting lineup the last I think  games. And it’s probably going to continue to stay that way.
Woodson was making reference to Amar'e Stoudemire admitting that it's difficult to come off the bench when the Knicks are losing, a thought many would be hard-pressed not to share. Why should he be making a sacrifice for the better of the team if it's not actually bettering the team?
Here's where the equivocation sets in.
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Imagining Woodson not doing what's best for these Knicks is tough to stomach. They've done nothing but embody consistency since he took the reins. But sometimes consistency can be construed as complacency, and complacency is the enemy of success.
Now, it's important to note that Woodson has done a fantastic job in New York. He's helped right what was becoming a very expensive wrong and aided in transforming Carmelo Anthony into the leader he never was.
Woodson's declaration that he's "probably" not going change the starting lineup, however, is unnerving. Not because Stoudemire briefly alluded to moving back in, but because the the Knicks aren't winning. Not like they were.
At the heart of these losing ways is the starting five Woodson continues to field.
Presently, New York's starting lineup consists of Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd, Shumpert, Anthony and Tyson Chandler. Of the Knicks' most frequently used five-man combinations, this particular outfit ranks third. Considering Shumpert has played in just 16 games, that's saying something.
Also speaking volumes are the results this aggregate has failed to yield. Woodson has gone with this exact starting lineup 12 times, and the Knicks are just 6-6 when he does.
Don't worry, you will be.
They're currently being outscored by 10.7 points per 100 possessions, making them the fifth-worst lineup of New York's top 20. Per 82games.com, this combination is also scoring just 0.9 points per possession while allowing 1.02. So let's not pretend that this is about pushing the bill defensively, because this outfit isn't.
Whenever your starting lineup is being outplayed on a consistent basis, it's time for a change. The Knicks have reached that point.
Does that pave the way for Stoudemire to be re-inserted into the starting lineup?
Going on numbers alone, of any amalgam that has spent at least 50 minutes of court time together, New York's most effective five-man lineup would be made up of Kidd, J.R. Smith, Steve Novak, Melo and Chandler. They're currently outscoring opposing lineups by 25 points per 100 possessions.
Numbers mean nothing, though, without common sense. And logic dictates that New York's starting lineup include Felton, Anthony and Chandler.
Felton was brought in to start at point guard. The Knicks aren't going to bench him in favor of any other floor general. He's their best pick-and-roll initiator, and he's both younger and more spry than Kidd or Pablo Prigioni.
Not much needs to be said for Anthony and Chandler. Relegating either of them to the second unit is beyond absurd.
What we're really trying to do here is fill those last two spots under the parameters we've been given.
Does this pave the way for Stoudemire to crack the starting five now?
It's important to understand that Woodson is rightfully attempting to separate STAT and Melo. Not only is Anthony better at the 4 (PER of 23.8), but both are best served as the primary offensive option. Stoudemire won't be the go-to guy playing alongside Anthony.
And when Stoudemire does play alongside Anthony, you want his and Chandler's minutes staggered as much as possible. They both occupy the same space and Stoudemire is posting a 22.6 PER at center.
The ideal change, then, involves benching Shumpert and (gasp) moving Smith into the starting lineup. And no, I'm not kidding.
Demoting Shumpert will allow him to play at shooting guard as opposed to small forward, and thrusting Smith into the starting lineup would ensure that Stoudemire would become the focal point of the second unit's offense even more.
Moving Smith into the starting lineup would undoubtedly spur a plethora of debate, but this isn't a transition that would disrupt any chemistry. In fact, it would merely keep in line with it.
This particular five-man faction is New York's second-most-used lineup by just 18 seconds; it's about to become the most used.
Smith is already playing more than 33 minutes a night and posting near identical PERs at the shooting guard and small forward slots, so it's not like he can't handle it. He even asked for it prior to the season.
His removal from the sixth-man role wouldn't be as detrimental as one would believe either. He's already spending most of his minutes amongst the starters. This would just make it official.
It would also afford Woodson the opportunity to tighten up his rotation.
Though Stoudemire has a 30-minute playing-time cap, he's averaging just over 22 a bout. He's essentially New York's seventh man at the moment, but this adjustment would allow him to slide into that sixth-man spot and receive five to eight minutes more a game.
Should the Knicks move J.R. Smith into the starting lineup?
Ideally, he would come off the bench to replace Chandler, perhaps alongside a Novak or Shumpert, who would replace Kidd. As luck would have it, a five-man combination of Felton, Smith, Novak, Anthony and Stoudemire is currently (in limited action) outscoring opponents by 26.8 points per 100 possessions.
No, this wouldn't allow Stoudemire to see the light of the starting five, but it would increase his importance coming off the bench while opening up a wealth of options for Woodson and company.
Not to mention Felton, Kidd, Smith, Anthony and Chandler would induce a 35-point swing in the Knicks' favor per 100 possessions compared to the current lineup.
For the sake of progress, change must be endorsed. And if we're to go by the numbers, this particular shift is one worth advocating.
*All stats used in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference, Synergy Sports and 82games.com unless otherwise noted.
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