From sharpshooting Italians to bespectacled former All-Stars, the center rotation for the New York Knicks will have a little something for everyone this season.
Gotham's roster is built around star forward Carmelo Anthony, a talented (yet flawed) player who needs the right complementary pieces in order to maximize his skill set. Knicks owner James Dolan made moves to meet that end this offseason when he wasn't busy with his band.
Looking at Anthony's shot chart from last season, his ideal frontcourt partner would be multi-faceted on offense, giving him the freedom to rotate between the painted area and the three-point line.
There just aren't many players in the league with that type of inside-out ability, and even fewer who can pair it with the stout defense the Knicks need at center. Mike Woodson will have the unenviable task of figuring out which lineups work best on both ends of the court.
With that in mind, let's take a look at the options at center for the Knicks.
Entering his third season in New York, Tyson Chandler has lived up to his billing as a steadying presence on the back end. Since departing the 2011 champion Dallas Mavericks, Chandler has won a Defensive Player of the Year award and his first All-Star berth in 2012 and 2013 respectively.
His value to the Knicks can't be measured with awards, however, as his presence in the middle was an integral part of the team's identity.
Chandler's high-level individual and team defense has given New York the freedom to play defensive sieves such as Steve Novak over the past few seasons. Twelve years into his NBA career, he has mastered the use of his 7'3" wingspan to challenge drivers and alter shots.
What separates him from the Serge Ibakas of the world are his patience and intelligence. Sure, Chandler has his fair share of highlight-reel blocks, but like you see in the above clip, his help comes at the last possible second, marginalizing the chance for a pass and putting the driver in a low-leverage situation.
Perhaps more important to New York's championship aspirations are the steps he has taken offensively. Though his game still centers around diving to the basket in pick-and-rolls, Chandler's progression to being a reliable 70 percent free-throw shooter means teams can't just send him to the line and cross their fingers.
The threat of Chandler—a near 66 percent shooter the last two seasons—rolling to the rim causes teams to sag off shooters in order to disrupt alley-oop and dunk attempts. This is part of the formula that has pushed the Anthony-era Knicks to rain jump shots, including last season's league-leading 28.9 three-point attempts.
Chandler will once again be the starting center and lynch-pin defender for New York. Expect him to play around 30 minutes per game and contribute 11 points and 10 rebounds on top of his always stellar defense.
Brought to New York via trade earlier this summer, Andrea Bargnani represents the polar opposite of Tyson Chandler: a defensive liability who relies more on jump shots than jams.
The logic behind the move is simple. Bargnani is a more diverse offensive player than any of the other big men on the roster. Just four years removed from shooting 40.9 percent from three, sticking the 7-foot Italian at center might allow the Knicks to reach three-point shooting nirvana.
If the Knicks hope to squeeze every drop out of their shiny new toy, the key will be getting him to commit to doing more than settling for jump shots.
In games like this gem versus Miami, the full Bargnani arsenal is on display. Instead of a crutch to lean on, the three-point stroke (5-6 in this contest) is used as a threat that opens up opportunities at and around the rim. This is what the Knicks should have him striving for.
It's the other end of the floor that quells Bargnani's value. Defensive rating, which estimates how many points a player allows per 100 possessions, places him at 111 for his career, five points above last year's league average of 105.9.
Taking that into consideration, Joe Flynn of Knicks blog Posting and Toasting offers a nice take on what Bargnani's ideal role is:
This version of Bargnani could provide real offensive value to the Knicks second unit that suffered at times from severe bouts of "sit around and watch JR"-itis last season. Running things through a foul-drawing, pass-happy Bargnani could keep the offense from getting bogged down along the perimeter, while simultaneously opening up J.R. Smith as a spot-up shooter (where he still excels).
Bargnani will be a good fit next to Anthony, but they aren't a viable pairing defensively unless Mike Woodson experiments with an ultra-big trio of Chandler-Bargnani-Anthony. Barring that scenario, Bargnani will likely be one of the leaders of the second unit, averaging around 15-20 minutes between center and power forward.
Amar'e Stoudemire's reign as the king of New York was short-lived, but he can still be a valuable contributor for the Knicks.
That contribution will likely come in a limited role off the bench based off reports from the New York Post in July:
With 7-foot power forward Andrea Bargnani officially coming aboard July 10, the Knicks have had renewed discussions on a stricter minutes restriction next season for Amar’e Stoudemire, according to his agent, Happy Walters.
The idea of a 20-minute nightly maximum with a prohibition on playing both ends of back-to-backs has been one of the ideas that has been discussed.
The Knicks played 18 back-to-backs last season, so that could potentially be 18 games Stoudemire misses.
This is a smart recognition on the limits of Stoudemire's chronically injured knees, but the real genius is in the separation of he and Anthony on the court. The majority of Stoudemire's work comes from the elbows in:
Referring back to Anthony's shot chart, that mid-range-and-in game conflicts with Anthony's area of operation. The Knicks are dealing with a lose-lose scenario playing both at the same time. Either they sacrifice spacing and try to force the two of them inside the arc, or Anthony is relegated to perimeter duty, wasting his scoring talents.
The ideal fit might be next to Bargnani, even if their defense might drive fans to the point of tears. If there's one role Stoudemire has always excelled in, it's as the roll man:
Sets running through Bargnani in the high post would give the Knicks a multitude of scoring options. If a defender goes under the screen, you have a slick-shooting (and passing!) big whose shot will be tough to contest. If the screener's man hedges, you have a cutting Amar'e ready to finish at the rim as well as a collection of shooters around the arc.
This rules out playing next to Chandler, whose similar reliance on pick-and-rolls renders the two redundant offensively. It's probably not what the Knicks imagined they'd be getting when they signed him to a $100-million contract three summers ago, but Stoudemire will be in a better position to succeed if he's used as a spark off the bench rather than a heavy contributor.
Recent signing Jeremy Tyler figures to play backup minutes off the bench, but projecting an impact from someone averaging 3.6 points and 10.1 minutes for his career is speculative at best. For better or for worse, these will be the main contributors at the pivot for the Knicks this season.
Mike Woodson's most important job will be extracting all he can from his big men. Carmelo is going to score and J.R. Smith is going to shoot erratically, but the unknown impact from Bargnani and Stoudemire will likely determine the team's ceiling. If the Knicks coach can figure out a way to offset their defensive limitations through a combination of Chandler and others, the sky is the limit for New York.