The New York Knicks have continued building around their core this offseason, but the moves they've made have given them the opportunity to go with a different starting five.
In terms of the entire roster, New York doesn't have any major holes, but there is still no certainty when it comes to who'll be starting and who'll be on the bench,
The only things we can really be sure about are that Tyson Chandler is going to be lining up at center and that Raymond Felton will be the starting point guard. Carmelo Anthony will be at one of the forward spots, but the other forward spot and the shooting guard role are up for grabs.
If nothing else, the Knicks have given themselves flexibility this offseason, and now have the freedom to field an elite offensive lineup or an elite defensive lineup. What they'll be looking for, however, is balance and making sure that their bench unit is amongst the NBA's best once again.
The Lineup: PG—Raymond Felton, SG—Iman Shumpert, SF—Carmelo Anthony, PF—Amar'e Stoudemire, C—Tyson Chandler
While the Knicks are still a a great team with Amar'e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler on the same roster, the reality is that they struggle to perform with all three on the court at the same time. The idea that they could ever play off each other as a Big Three seemed like a stretch from the get-go, but it doesn't necessarily mean they can't compete for a championship if used properly.
From a purely basketball perspective, there isn't a pressing need to get rid of one of them, because Stoudemire can come off the bench and get his 20 minutes per game without ever having to be alongside Melo and Chandler at the same time.
Keeping Stoudemire on the bench, however, is New York's only option if they want to compete for a title. He's still a very efficient scorer, but the offense needs to be well-spaced and it doesn't make sense to start a player who's going to be on a minutes limit.
Instead, New York would be wise to start Metta World Peace or Andrea Bargnani alongside Melo, giving him the space to work in the post without clogging the paint. Then, when Stoudemire comes in off the bench, he'll be able to show off his improved post game and work in the pick-and-roll with Pablo Prigioni without having to worry about working with Anthony.
STAT is still a very important player for the Knicks who'll need his physicality and scoring punch against the elite defensive teams at the top of the Eastern Conference. Making him a starter, however, serves only to put his health and the team's chemistry in jeopardy.
The Lineup: PG—Pablo Prigioni, SG—Iman Shumpert, SF—Metta World Peace, PF—Carmelo Anthony, C—Tyson Chandler
In reality, it's a certainty that Raymond Felton will be starting at point guard on opening day, but there's a good argument to be made for Pablo Prigioni taking that role.
Felton is very good at what he does. He's great at penetrating and working in the pick-and-roll, and also acts as Carmelo Anthony's second scoring option in the starting five. With that said, he is not a good defender by any stretch of the imagination and was also very inconsistent last year (although injuries played a large part in that).
On the other hand, Prigioni is an above-average defender with a knack for causing turnovers, and is much more selective with his shots on offense, focusing purely on finding the open man.
With Melo on the floor, the Knicks are always going to have a good offense, so long as the team commits to ball movement. As good as Felton was last year, he was the team's floor general, and should take a large portion of the blame for the way the offense broke down in the postseason.
Despite lacking in speed and athleticism, Prigioni is a much better and more accomplished passer, and his command of the offense will make sure it doesn't get stagnant. As one of the world's best point guards from the last decade, he has the pedigree to control Melo's ball supply and make sure isolation isn't the focus of the offense.
The main selling point of this lineup, however, is on defense. With Prigioni, Iman Shumpert, Metta World Peace and Tyson Chandler on the floor at the same time, the Knicks could legitimately be one of the league's elite defensive teams. Melo will be the only weak spot, but World Peace's flexibility means he will be going up against the lesser of the opposition's forwards.
Prigioni's game has never been based on athleticism, so even at 36 there's a good chance he could handle starter's minutes. He doesn't do much in transition, but the Knicks were one of the league's slowest teams last season and still managed to finish third in offensive efficiency. If anything, he fits into their style of play.
The major issue with the lineup is scoring. Outside of Anthony, the Knicks won't have anyone on the floor who can legitimately create their own shot, unless Shumpert develops his mid-range game significantly over the summer.
Again, this lineup isn't realistically going to be used unless Felton goes down with injury, but it is worth thinking about. Felton wouldn't react well to a demotion, but this move could actually improve ball movement and defense simultaneously, which were the Knicks' biggest issues in the playoffs.
The Lineup: PG—Raymond Felton, SG—Pablo Prigioni, SF—Iman Shumpert, PF—Carmelo Anthony, C—Tyson Chandler
The Knicks experimented with a bunch of lineups last season, but they finally settled on one in March, to the tune of a 16-2 record including a dominant 14-game win streak.
With Pablo Prigioni starting at shooting guard, New York was able to move the ball well, utilizing Raymond Felton as more of a scorer on occasion. Iman Shumpert improved his three-point shooting significantly, making sure the team spaced the floor well.
On the defensive end, Prigioni and Shumpert's flexibility covered for Felton's deficiencies, although there were times when Shump struggled to guard the league's bigger small forwards.
Considering their win-loss record, there's certainly merit to using this lineup again, but there are two major flaws with it.
First of all, it takes Shumpert out of his natural position, putting him in situations where he often has a height disadvantage Over the last two years, Shumpert has now started at three different positions for the Knicks, and it's about time they just let him play where he's supposed to.
Secondly, using this lineup also creates problems with the second unit. Prigioni is a great backup for Felton, but if he starts, New York will have to play an inferior player at the position for large chunks. As it stands, they don't even have a third point guard.
With Shumpert starting as a forward, the Knicks will also have to find a way to get minutes for Metta World Peace, Kenyon Martin, Amar'e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani off the same bench, which will be a struggle.
While Prigioni was great off the ball, he doesn't necessarily need to play there for the Knicks to succeed. The important thing is that he's getting his minutes, which shouldn't be a problem if he comes off the bench now that Jason Kidd has retired.
Shumpert may not be a pure point guard, but he's a good passer for a shooting guard, so there shouldn't be a major issue with ball movement if Prigioni isn't a starter.
The Lineup: PG—Raymond Felton, SG—Iman Shumpert, SF—Metta World Peace, PF—Carmelo Anthony, C—Tyson Chandler
If the Knicks want to play Iman Shumpert at his natural shooting guard position, they only really have two options next season. They can either start Metta World Peace or Andrea Bargnani alongside Carmelo Anthony.
Starting World Peace will help the Knicks significantly on the defensive end. He can guard either forward position, and so will be able to switch with Melo to keep him from taking on too tough a match-up. To an extent, that should help to keep him healthy for the postseason.
On the offensive end, World Peace is still a capable player, but he's not exactly a great three-point shooter, which could cause some spacing issues.
Melo will get to play as the power forward once again if World Peace starts, and many point to that as being one of the main reasons New York was so successful last year. In reality, it isn't Anthony's position that matters, but rather the spacing of the entire unit. He needs to have Tyson Chandler and three shooters around him, regardless of what position he plays.
World Peace can hit the three on occasion, so this would be a solid lineup to go with, but the value is more on the defensive end than on offense. Having World Peace and Iman Shumpert out on the wings with Chandler in the middle would make the Knicks very difficult to score on.
Again, though, if New York uses this lineup, they will struggle to put together a balanced second unit. They will likely have to use J.R. Smith or Tim Hardaway Jr. as the back-up small forward and will have to play three power forwards (Amar'e Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani and Kenyon Martin) off the same bench.
The Bargnani trade really doesn't make much sense if the Knicks don't choose to start him. He's going to be most valuable to the team as a forward who can space the floor for Anthony, but if he's used off the bench his presence will only serve to complicate the rotation.
With a trade like this, it's hard to believe he Knicks don't have a very specific plan for how they'll use Bargnani. They wouldn't have sent away three future draft picks just to add someone who they'll struggle to find minutes for off the bench.
The Lineup: PG—Raymond Felton, SG—Iman Shumpert, SF—Carmelo Anthony, PF—Andrea Bargnani, C—Tyson Chandler
Carmelo Anthony was dominant last year as a power forward, earning his first scoring title and an MVP vote in the process. His mix of speed, strength and skill caused plenty of match-up problems on the offensive end.
The only issue with Melo playing at the 4 is the physical beating he took going up against bigger players, resulting in a late-season shoulder injury that he took into the playoffs.
Playing Melo at power forward was the Knicks' biggest strength, but when he went into the postseason hurt, it quickly became their biggest weakness. He's been a small forward his entire career and is used to being able to dominate his match-up physically.
Now that they've acquired Andrea Bargnani, the Knicks can have the best of both worlds. Offensively, Bargnani's three-point range affords Melo the freedom and spacing to work in the post, without actually having to play at power forward.
In fact, it can be argued that having Bargnani at power forward will make things even better, as Melo will be going head-to-head with the opposition's starting small forward, who he'll likely have the size advantage on. Bargnani may not play like a power forward, but as a 7-footer, defenses will struggle to guard him with a smaller player.
On defense, the combination of Melo and Bargnani figures to be one of the worst forward partnerships in the league, but Bargnani isn't a lost cause on that end of the floor. Statistically, at least, he's actually pretty good as a one-on-one post defender and should continue to improve under the tutelage of Mike Woodson. The same applies to Anthony, who looked a lot more comfortable on defense last season.
Elsewhere on the floor, Iman Shumpert finally gets the chance to play at his natural position, which will only help his development. The second unit will also be very competitive and well-rounded with a lineup of Pablo Prigioni, J.R. Smith, Metta World Peace, Kenyon Martin and Amar'e Stoudemire.
Without a doubt, this is the lineup New York should be going with next season. Fitting Bargnani and Stoudemire on the same bench would be a struggle, but starting Bargnani is good for spacing and making sure that there is a balance of offense and defense throughout the rotation.