Who Should Be NY Knicks' Clutch 5 in NBA Playoffs?
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The New York Knicks have toyed with several different lineups throughout the season. Their 20 unique starting lineups ranks sixth-most among all NBA teams. But with the playoffs quickly approaching, Mike Woodson will soon need to discover not only his optimal starting five, but his best closing five as well.
Woodson has been especially loyal to 40-year-old vet Jason Kidd through the regular season, and everyone is familiar with the point guard's intangibles. But with his production diminishing severely in recent months, should Kidd remain on the floor in the final minutes?
Pablo Prigioni has been a 48-percent shooter and slick playmaker in his recent 10-game stretch as starter—is that enough to earn him crunch time minutes?
Mike Woodson will have some tough calls to make by season's end. Here's how the final five should shake out.
*Note: Amar'e Stoudemire is not included in this discussion as there's been no guarantee he'll be healthy at any time during the postseason.
PG: Raymond Felton
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As starting point man, Raymond Felton is one of the locks to close out games this postseason for New York.
He averages 14.1 points and 5.5 assists per game on 43-percent shooting from the field and 35 percent from behind the arc.
Felton possesses a stellar ability to drive the lane and get to the rim, but is an unfortunately poor finisher once he gets there. He's only a 58-percent shooter on shots from point-blank range in 2012-13. Another key quality is Felton's ability to run the pick-and-roll with Tyson Chandler and—when he's suited up—Amar'e Stoudemire.
Felton has a poor habit of sporadically falling in love with his mediocre mid-range jumper—he's only a 38.7-percent shooter from there—and will occasionally play way too sloppily with the rock. But he signed on last offseason to run the show for New York, and that's exactly what he'll do once the playoffs arrive.
SG: J.R. Smith
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J.R. Smith hasn't started a game for New York this season, yet has played over 200 minutes more than any Knick in 2012-13. Mike Woodson has lived and died with J.R. over the regular season, and you can bet he'll be doing the same in the playoffs.
Smith has scored a career-high 17.6 points per game on 42-percent shooting while pulling down five rebounds. He's lived up to his streaky reputation through 74 games in 2012-13, but has looked like a brand new player over his most recent stretch.
Over the Knicks' 10-game winning streak, their sixth man has taken on a new approach to scoring the ball. Smith has relentlessly driven to the basket instead of settling for stepback jumpers, and the results are in the numbers. His attempts have fallen at a 51.4-percent clip since March 20, translating to 24 points per contest.
If J.R.'s scorching stretch continues through the end of the regular season, expect him to receive serious consideration for the Sixth Man of the Year trophy. The Knicks might also then run into some serious postseason success, too.
SF: Iman Shumpert
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The inclusion of Ray Felton, J.R. Smith and now Iman Shumpert means that Jason Kidd will be left on the sideline during closing seconds. Give me a second, I'll explain.
I'm going against the numbers on this one—which is something I normally wouldn't do. In fourth quarters, Kidd sports an offensive efficiency of 110 and a defensive efficiency of 96, and is a 67-percent shooter on threes from the right side of the court.
Shumpert, who's played just 95 fourth quarter minutes compared to Kidd's 483, hasn't performed as efficiently late in games. He's just a 26-percent shooter—including 1-of-10 from three—in final periods, albeit in an extremely small sample size. His net-rating is minus-8.3.
Despite all this, the fact is that each team the Knicks could be facing in the playoffs has a wing player that can score the ball at will. Shumpert could be assigned the currently seventh-seeded Boston Celtics' Paul Pierce, Luol Deng of the Chicago Bulls, Paul George of the Indiana Pacers, the Brooklyn Nets' Joe Johnson or even Dwyane Wade in a matchup with the Miami Heat.
In a potential first-round matchup with the Atlanta Hawks, Shumpert is quick enough to also check a member of the shifty Atlanta backcourt.
His defensive versatility is enough to justify crunch-time minutes for Shumpert, but given his recent offensive explosion, it's almost a no-brainer.
Since March 1, Shump has shot 47 percent from the field and 48 from three-point land. Woodson prefers his wing players to camp out in a corner to await an open three opportunity, and Shumpert has this perfected after more than two months of play. He's made 10-of-14 shots from the left corner and 5-of-10 from the left.
His mid-range game has been on point since then as well, shooting 11-of-19 (58 percent) from 16 to 24 feet.
Kidd's leadership qualities can't be denied, and the Knicks will rely on them to get New York to important stages of postseason play. But once they get there, the 22-year-old Shumpert should be the one closing out the game.
PF: Carmelo Anthony
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Yes. Carmelo Anthony, top-two in NBA scoring, who's averaging 36.5 points and seven rebounds on 55-percent shooting from the field, 58 percent from three-point land and 90 percent from the free-throw line, should be on the court for the Knicks when it matters most. He's very good.
The serious debate here should be at what position. Some could make the argument that Anthony is better suited at his natural 3 position, enabling the Knicks to size up with a bigger 4 like Kenyon Martin or Marcus Camby.
However, both the numbers and the naked eye agree that 'Melo has been at his best against opposing power forwards.
As a small forward, Carmelo is forced to chase players around the perimeter and fight through screens—something he's struggled with this year. Against opposing bigs, Anthony is forced to D up in the paint more often, and he's been surprisingly effective there. According to Synergy, 'Melo allows just 0.68 points per post-up play he defends, on just 36-percent shooting.
In closing seconds, regardless of his position on the floor, 'Melo has been the Knicks' go-to man. Don't expect that to change in the next few months.
C: Tyson Chandler
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He's weathered several ups and downs over the course of the regular season, but Tyson Chandler will man the middle through the majority of the Knicks' season—however long it lasts.
2012-13 was the first All-Star season of Chandler's career. He's averaged 10 points and 11 rebounds and has led the NBA in field-goal percentage for the majority of the season. His PER of 19 is a career-high.
The reigning Defensive Player of the Year hasn't been the dominant deterrent he was in 2011-12, but still effective nonetheless. His defensive efficiency of 104 is the sixth-lowest on New York's roster.
Chandler has battled a neck injury which has aided his extended absence over the last month, and it's unlikely he'll be back to full strength in 2013. But as the Knicks' tallest player and starting center, he's their anchor at center for the long haul.
Kenyon Martin has added more than anyone expected in his short Knicks tenure, but if the Knicks plan on putting together any sort of postseason run, Tyson Chandler will be the man setting screens, grabbing boards and doing the little things to will the team to victory.
Follow me on Twitter at @JSDorn6.
Stats gathered from 82games, Basketball-Reference and NBA.com/Stats.