But when that team fails to rise up to expectations, changes can be swift and startling.
The starting five was shuffled around in the playoff series against the Indiana Pacers in order to match their interior size, but prior to that, the Knicks ran a small-ball lineup that featured the following five players:
Point Guard: Raymond Felton
Shooting Guard: Jason Kidd
Small Forward: Iman Shumpert
Power Forward: Carmelo Anthony
Center: Tyson Chandler
We’re still early into free agency, but with the addition of Andrea Bargnani and departure of Jason Kidd, the Knicks’ small-ball starting lineup may have a much different (and larger) look come next season.
*All Statistics Acquired from NBA.com
Felton was a deadly three-pointer shooter last season.
Despite a few injuries that kept him out of the lineup for 14 games, Felton was the Knicks’ starting point guard last season.
Barring a drastic change from head coach Mike Woodson, that should remain the case next season as well.
Felton’s season averages were solid: 13.9 points, 5.5 assists and 36 percent three-point shooting. He managed the ball well (only 2.3 turnovers per game), and had a nice bounce-back year from his last season with the Portland Trail Blazers.
He was effective in the playoffs as well, but played particularly poorly in the Knicks’ final loss to the Indiana Pacers (2 PTS, 0-7 FG). It should be noted, though, that he was dealing with some ankle soreness at the time, according to Jonah Ballow of KnicksNow.com.
A month after the loss, Felton spoke with ESPN’s Jared Zwerling, and spoke about his desire to play at a faster pace next season:
“No question. If we can get the ball up and down the court, and get easier shots, that's always great. If you've got opportunities, you definitely want to push the ball.”
Small ball worked well for the Knicks last season, and plenty of teams are attempting to emulate the style of play the Miami Heat have patented. Unfortunately, not every team has LeBron James to single-handedly carry their fast break.
Felton is a very capable point guard and an excellent shooter, but this Knicks team simply does not have the personnel to run a fast break effective enough to beat bruising teams like the Pacers or the Chicago Bulls.
Shumpert is working on his point guard skills this summer.
Coming off a torn ACL, Shumpert struggled through the regular season, averaging just 6.8 points on a 39.6 field-goal percentage.
He was slightly better in the playoffs, upping his averages to 9.3 points per game with a 41 field-goal percentage.
Of course, scoring has never been Shumpert’s primary focus.
His greatest asset in the NBA has been his elite-level defense; he’s a ball-hawking guard with good size (6’5”) and isn’t afraid of going up against anyone defensively. On a team featuring primarily offensive players (Felton, Anthony, Smith), Shumpert is capable of one day anchoring the Knicks’ perimeter defense.
Unfortunately, for teams to go far in the playoffs, they need to have players who aren't just one-dimensional.
In order for the Knicks to have a free-flowing offense, every player on the floor needs to be capable of scoring against opposing defenses.
Fortunately for the Knicks, Shumpert seems to be up to the task. According to ESPN’s Jared Zwerling, Shumpert’s been working on his point guard skills, as well as his midrange shot.
If Shumpert can become a more complete offensive player, this Knicks team can make significant strides next season.
Melo will shift back to his natural position at small-forward.
The NBA’s reigning scoring champion had perhaps his best season ever this year.
Not only did he lead the league in scoring, he became a willing defender and rebounder that carried the Knicks to their best playoff run in years.
So what else can he do?
For starters, he can work on his assist numbers (2.6 assists per game this season).
'Melo is the NBA’s best scorer. He’s big, strong, fast and extremely skilled offensively. But where he can still truly improve is in making his teammates better.
With Kidd gone next season, the team will be losing one of its premier passers and playmakers. Felton is solid, but with career averages of 6.6 assists per game, he’s not going to run the team to a championship.
'Melo can fill the playmaking hole created by Kidd's departure—especially with such able scorers around him.
Smith is an excellent finisher, Felton is a great three-point shooter, Bargnani is always a threat from deep and Chandler is great around the rim. Given the double-teams Anthony commands, he should have no problem finding his teammates open shots.
If 'Melo can average even four assists per game next season, he’ll make the Knicks offense that much more deadly come playoff time.
Bargnani should be able to space the floor with his shooting.
Fortunately for him, he’s found a new home in New York.
The gripes with Bargnani’s game are well-documented: He’s a pitiful rebounder, and he'll never be accused of being too focused on defense.
However, if he were to commit to both of those aspects of his game next season, it would not be a total shock.
He should settle in as the Knicks’ starting power forward, allowing Anthony and Smith to have all the room they want to operate. Last season, opposing defenses could just abandon Shumpert and Kidd to clamp down on Anthony, but if nothing else, Bargnani will open up the offense with his valuable floor spacing.
Bargnani’s size is also a factor that should not be overlooked; standing at 7’0”, he’s a bona fide big man who (if he chooses to) can defend the paint alongside Chandler, another 7-footer.
In a league where most teams are trying to go small, the Knicks have a size advantage that they should not be afraid to use against bigger teams.
If opposing power forwards have to come out on Bargnani, there’s one less rim-protector to stop Anthony and Smith from getting to the hoop.
Chandler had a bad playoffs.
Via Marc Berman of NYPost.com, in his exit interview, Chandler openly questioned head coach Mike Woodson’s game plan:
“I would like for us to develop some consistency with the offensive game plan. Right now, we're a jump-shooting team. I would like us to have a free-flowing offense that we all can be comfortable with.”
According KnicksNow.com's Jonah Ballow, Chandler also mentioned that he would like to be a focal point of the Knicks’ offensive scheme next season, and has vowed to work on his post skills.
Well, he better improve somehow, because neither his offense, nor his defense is going to cut it against playoff teams next season.
Teams need big-time centers who can anchor a defense, but Chandler was completely obliterated by Roy Hibbert in the playoffs. What’s more, he failed to dominate the boards like he has in the past.
From his comments, it sounds like Chandler wants the ball more next season. He’ll undoubtedly be the Knicks’ starting center, but it’s unlikely that he’ll receive more touches over Shumpert and Bargnani.
If he wants to improve his game offensively, he needs to work on his pick-and-roll with Felton, as well as rededicate himself to the offensive glass. The Knicks need him to succeed, but he also needs to realize his own capabilities and limitations and play within them.