Projecting the New York Knicks' Playoff Rotation
The Celtics swept the Knicks in the first round two years ago, but this time, the Knicks will be the favorites.
So what will the Knicks' playoff rotation be?
Carmelo Anthony: 36-38 Minutes
At 37 minutes a night, Melo is playing the most minutes of his Knicks career, a fact made possible by his offseason regimen that saw him get into much better shape.
His improved physique has helped him play his best basketball of the season down the stretch, especially on the boards, an invaluable part of his game with the absence of Tyson Chandler. He's averaged 12 rebounds a game over his past six outings, a stretch that includes a 19-rebound effort against Chicago.
Ideally, the Knicks would like to limit Melo's minutes as much as possible to gear up for a long playoff run. Don't be surprised to see him sit out the next two games with the No. 2 seed locked up.
Tyson Chandler: 28-30 Minutes
Chandler has been sidelined the last four games with a bulging disc in his neck and has only played four games since March 13th. Of the four games, Chandler looked incredibly rusty in three before putting together a solid effort against Oklahoma City.
Still, Chandler's lack of playing time in the past month is a concern for Knicks fans. If he's unable to go, the Knicks will be without their best interior presence.
The Knicks are hopeful that Chandler will be able to play short spurts over the next two games to get back into playing shape before the playoffs.
However, on the assumption that he does play (and knowing Chandler, it will be very tough to keep him out of the lineup), Mike Woodson will try to limit his minutes the first couple of games.
On the season, he averages just under 33 minutes a game, but look for him to play closer to 26 to 28 for the first few games before ratcheting back up to his normal amount.
Chandler's playing time will also depend on the availability of Kenyon Martin, Rasheed Wallace and Amar'e Stoudemire, as well as Woodson's trust in Solomon Jones (which, based on today's performance, cannot be very high).
Raymond Felton: 34 Minutes
Felton has been the Knicks' quiet workhorse all season, netting 34 minutes a night as the Knicks starting point guard. A gritty player, Felton always seems to be getting knocked down and nicked up. Expect him to sit the next two games to rest up for the playoffs.
Felton's return to New York has been a success. The Knicks are 47-21 with him in the lineup and only 6-6 without him. While he can be a bit shot-happy at times (his 5.5 APG are a career low), he's a tough, hard-nosed point guard who has the ability to get hot quickly.
The Knicks don't have a ton of great ball-handling options on the team besides Felton (neither Kidd nor Prigioni can play heavy minutes), so they will rely on Felton for the majority of the point guard duties.
Iman Shumpert: 24 Minutes
Shump's minutes are completely based on matchups. Since returning from an ACL tear, Shumpert has started every game, playing anywhere from 11 to 35 minutes.
With the Knicks set to face guards Avery Bradley and Jason Terry, not to mention forward Paul Pierce, don't be surprised if Shumpert plays closer to 30 minutes.
He has struggled to find his shooting touch most of the season, shooting under 40 percent from the field despite improving from behind the arc (40.9 percent). The reality is that the Knicks don't need Shumpert to carry the scoring load, but to be the active, athletic combo guard-forward on defensive he was throughout his rookie season.
At 6'5" and 220 pounds, Shumpert can guard point guards, shooting guards and shorter small forwards.
Pablo Prigioni: 18 Minutes
The Knicks' hot streak has coincided with Prigioni joining the starting lineup. New York is 15-1 since he joined.
Prigioni is a selfless ball-handler, a very solid three-point shooter (39.4 percent) and a physical defender.
However, Prigioni is 35 years old and in his first season in the NBA, so it's tough to know how he'll hold up in the playoffs. He may struggle against a fast guard like Avery Bradley.
But he's an important piece of the Knicks offense. Look for him to stick in the starting lineup and play as the situation dictates throughout the playoffs.
J.R. Smith: 30-32 Minutes
The likely sixth man of the year has been on an absolute tear lately, though it has gone largely unnoticed thanks to Melo's historic run.
He's averaging a career-high 18.1 PPG and 5.3 RPG, partially due to the fact that he's playing a career-high 33 minutes a game.
Outside of Carmelo, he is the Knicks' best pure scorer. He's one of the few Knicks who can easily create their own shot. He has been the perfect complement to Anthony over the past month, stepping up his game when the game is on the line.
Smith has hit two game-winners this season and has shown no fear in pressure situations, an important factor in playoff games.
His attitude and focus has improved from last season, and he is due to play heavy minutes throughout the playoffs.
He is the only Knick to appear in every game this season, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see him sit over the last two games to give him a bit of a break.
Jason Kidd: 24-26 Minutes
Kidd was brought in to be a veteran presence off the bench in the Knicks' backcourt, but due to a litany of injuries, he was forced to play heavy minutes throughout the first half of the season.
After a midseason swoon, he saw his minutes limited—he was noticeably a step slower.
Over the past two weeks, we have seen Kidd return to form, specifically against Oklahoma City, where he was incredibly active.
While Mike Woodson would probably prefer that Kidd play closer to 30 minutes, it will be important to limit his minutes, especially early on in the playoffs.
Like other Knick stalwarts, Kidd should probably stay on the bench for the next two games.
Kidd's minutes have also seen a dip thanks to the emergence of Pablo Prigioni, but with his playoff experience, expect him to play with the game on the line.
Steve Novak: 15 Minutes
Novak is a bit of a one-trick pony (unless you count the "Discount Double-Check" as a trick).
He's a great three-point shooter—and essentially a liability in every other facet of the game. However, his presence on the perimeter on offense is so important and helps spread the floor so well that he merits considerable minutes.
When Novak is hot, so are the Knicks. When Novak hits at least three three-pointers in a game, the Knicks are 21-6. When he fails to triple, they're 9-9.
He's an important X-factor for the Knicks offensively.
Kenyon Martin/Rasheed Wallace: 34 Minutes Combined
Both Kenyon Martin and Rasheed Wallace have missed most of the season for various reasons (Martin was not signed until mid-February, and Wallace has been injured since mid-December with a foot injury).
With both of them in the lineup, the Knicks are a much better team. With Wallace, the Knicks are 17-3, and with Martin they are 13-5. Without either of them, they are only 23-19.
Both Wallace and Martin are experienced vets and physical, active defenders. While Wallace can spread the offense with a good jump shot, Martin is more athletic in the post.
With both coming off of injuries, it would be comforting to see them play in the final two games, especially Wallace, who hasn't played since December 13th.
The Knicks lack size, especially with Chandler banged up, so the presence of Wallace and Martin, who can play either PF or C, is important.
Chris Copeland: 10 Minutes
Copeland's playing time will hinge entirely on the health of Chandler, Martin, Wallace and Amar'e Stoudemire.
The 29-year-old rookie is aggressive on the offensive end but a liability on defense, the main reason why he has struggled to crack the rotation throughout the season.
But with so many injuries, Copeland has filled in admirably when called upon. He's played especially well over the past five games, averaging 15.2 points and 4.4 rebounds per game on 52.8 percent shooting.
Still, his inexperience and defensive pitfalls will most likely keep him glued to the bench if Martin and Wallace are back.
Amar'e Stoudemire: TBD
Amar'e is likely out for the first round. However, the question then becomes: Should Amar'e return?
There are arguments to be made for both sides. On one hand, the Knicks were only 16-13 with Amar'e in the lineup (37-14 without him), and he never seemed to get into sync with Melo.
On top of that, he hasn't played since March 7th and has only played 29 games all season. With two years still on his contract, the Knicks may think about the long-term repercussions of possibly rushing him back.
On the other hand, Amar'e averaged 14.2 points and five rebounds per game, and he's the Knicks' best offensive big man by a wide margin. He shot incredibly well (57.7 field-goal and 80.8 free-throw percentage) when he did play, and he looked much more aggressive right before his injury, a sign that he had shaken off a lot of the rust.
For Knicks fans who think Amar'e adds nothing, you're wrong. For Knicks fans who think Amar'e is the end-all-be-all, you're also wrong.
If Amar'e is healthy enough to play (and that's a big "IF"), I see no reason why he shouldn't play limited minutes. It's no secret that he and Melo don't fit all that well together. But what is the harm in playing Amar'e the eight to 10 minutes when Melo is out? Nobody said that Amar'e must play heavy minutes if he plays.
In an ideal world, Amar'e would be a valuable member off the bench, playing primarily when Melo is out of the game. For the Knicks to make a deep run, they will most likely need Amar'e's inside presence at some point.