Metta World Peace and Carmelo Anthony make a better offensive and defensive pair than they are being given credit for.
The position was getting crowded, even with Amar’e Stoudemire’s upcoming minutes restrictions.
But then, the Knicks pulled a surprise offseason upgrade where it looked like there were none to be had.
They plucked small forward Metta World Peace off the amnesty heap—a move that on this team has to push Anthony back to power forward and Bargnani to primarily backing up Tyson Chandler at center.
Before picking up World Peace, Mike Woodson told Frank Isola of the Daily News that Anthony and Bargnani might both start:
We’ve been great with Melo at the four but Bargnani brings a different dimension to our team…Just like Melo is a nightmare for people at the four, [Bargnani's] a nightmare for teams at the four and five.
World Peace will be 33 at the start of the season (34 in November), but he’s not too old to start. He started 66 of 75 games, mostly at the 3, for the Los Angeles Lakers last year. It was arguably his best season in the past four—most minutes, points, rebounds and steals per game since his one-year stint with the Houston Rockets in 2008-09.
To say World Peace is on the downslide, then, is a bit of an exaggeration.
It’s possible Woodson will have World Peace come off the bench, but that shouldn’t be the play here at the outset, for several reasons.
First, Metta’s not a bench player, and it will require some adjustment for him to thrive in that role like J.R. Smith. World Peace has started 832 of his 902 career games played (92 percent).
Second, the Knicks could use the extra defense on the first line—with or without the insertion of Iman Shumpert at his natural position of shooting guard.
Woodson can opt for the very successful (16-2) ball-control dual-PG lineup of Pablo Prigioni and Raymond Felton for a consistent offensive push (with Shumpert backing up the 2 or 3), or he can pour on the defense with three-fifths of the starting lineup plugged by specialists Chandler, World Peace and Shumpert—freeing Anthony from most defensive responsibility.
In both cases, Metta starts, leaving the Knicks with one of the more experienced and talented benches in the NBA—Bargnani, Stoudemire, Smith, a veteran free-agent signing or two and either Prigioni or Shumpert—and Anthony the master of the offensive domain.
Most importantly, World Peace affords Anthony the chance to flourish yet again at power forward. Our own Bleacher Report’s Dave Leonardis (in a must-read “1 Critical Decision Facing Every NBA Team Before the 2013-14 Season”) explained one way a 3-4 of World Peace and Anthony helps the Knicks on both sides of the court:
With Metta World Peace, the Knicks have more incentive to play Anthony at the 4 [and] a perimeter defender to hinder opposing small forwards. That would allow Anthony to focus on creating mismatches on the offensive end.
Metta can play the 4 too, and he likes it: “I'm stronger than most power forwards in the NBA anyway, it doesn't really matter,” he told the L.A. Times in December. That gives Woodson another option on the defensive end.
The New York Times’ Howard Beck is halfway there when he suggests: “It is unclear how Woodson plans to play World Peace—as a starting power forward next to Carmelo Anthony or as Anthony’s primary backup.”
It’s best to have both players in the starting lineup sharing as many floor minutes as possible.
World Peace and Anthony can switch off on defense—World Peace moving over to power forward in transition against most lineups, for example—then switch back on the offensive end.
With Anthony covering the interior on offense at power forward, there won’t be any jelling problems with World Peace, as there were with two big men (Stoudemire + center) getting in Melo’s way.
World Peace, a fairly accurate perimeter shooter (lifetime 42 field-goal percentage and 34 percent from three) will space out the floor for Anthony instead, giving Melo even more room.
Metta has actually evolved into more of a perimeter offensive player as he’s aged, culminating in the most three-point attempts of his career in 2012-13: 412 (a prolific 5.5 a game).
Now that’s spreading the floor for Anthony—and it fits right in with Woodson's love of the long ball.
What’s more, World Peace’s and Anthony’s offensive play complement each other nearly perfectly. Out of the 15 shot-selection zones, together they are above the league average in field-goal percentage in nine, overlapping in just two.
Metta World Peace Shot Selection (2012-13)
Carmelo Anthony Shot Selection (2012-13)
We’ll have a better idea where World Peace will play and if he will start following the Knicks’ next free-agent moves. Right now, New York has 11 players signed. NBA teams can only suit up 13 for any given game, but they are allowed 15 on the roster.
If Glen Grunwald is following the blueprint above, he should be in the market for a backup small forward because the Knicks won’t have one, unless Shumpert plays out of position. The team is also in need of a backup guard, especially with Smith recovering from surgery.
And some kind of rebounder is necessary for a team that was sorely lacking in that critical department (especially because New York will be competing with three of the top-10 rebounding teams in the NBA—the Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls and Brooklyn Nets—for the remaining three top-half playoff seeds).
As for World Peace and Anthony, though, the Knicks are good—and better than they could have expected.