The New York Knicks sport a depth chart for 2013-14 deeper than most of the teams they'll be competing against in the Eastern Conference. Each player on the Knicks roster can be relied upon for impact minutes, and several versatile players will be able to contribute at multiple positions.
The small forward position may be the most interesting to monitor over the course of the season, with a few storylines to keep tabs on. The most notable of which is Carmelo Anthony's likely return to the 3 spot after a full year at power forward in 2012-13.
Despite bringing home the league's scoring title and playing the most impressive basketball we've seen from him in a Knicks uniform, Anthony presumably will shift back to his natural small forward slot in light of the arrival of Andrea Bargnani.
Another high-profile addition this offseason is a player whom should also be sharing time with Anthony, will likely back him up and, at times, will play beside him when the Knicks star gets some burn at the 4. Metta World Peace will add defense the Knicks sorely lacked last season and assist in the corner-three shooting that helped make the Knicks offense one of the NBA's elite a season ago.
In orchestrating his small-ball approach, Mike Woodson also made use of several dual-point guard sets in 2013 that forced natural guards like J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert to play small forward. It'll be up to the head coach whether or not we'll see this strategy again in 2014, but with three bona fide point men on the roster, it seems more likely than not.
With several talented names slotted to share time at the position this year, we break down the impact each is expected to have at the small forward spot in 2013-14.
Starter: Carmelo Anthony
Projected Stats: 36.8 MPG (25 MPG at SF), 27.1 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 2.9 APG, 0.6 BPG, 1.0 SPG, 45.2 FG%, 37.2 3P%
Bargnani being added to the mix for this upcoming season will mean a significant decrease of 'Melo at the 4. It'd benefit Woodson and the Knicks for the coach to get Anthony lined up against opposing power forwards, but with Bargnani and Amar'e Stoudemire clogging the depth chart, Carmelo should get reacquainted with his old domain fairly quickly.
It's no secret: Anthony will be the Knicks' first scoring option as long as he's on the floor, regardless of the position. Coming off the second-highest scoring campaign of his career, Anthony solidified his status as one of the league's premier scorers.
With Stoudemire barely a factor last season, Basketball-Reference shows Anthony handily led the league in usage percentage (USG%) at 35.6, easily clearing second-place finisher Russell Westbrook's 32.8 mark. He was asked to do nearly everything on offense, and the same will likely be the case this year judging by the very nature of Woodson's offense.
At small forward, Anthony will be playing without the obvious advantages he exploited as a 4.
No longer will he be lined up against bigger, slower players on a full-time basis. While defending, he'll be forced to guard quicker men and fight more often through screens, which has given Anthony trouble over his career.
But his supreme talent and scoring ability, which looked as steady as ever last season, should be enough to surmount these obstacles.
A key factor to Anthony's dominance at power forward was the spacing that he created. Even with Bargnani at the 4, that spacing should still be preserved—more space will be available for 'Melo to work—as the 7'0" Bargnani primarily functions from outside the painted area.
With Anthony still in his prime—he'll be 30 come playoff time—it's reasonable to project that this upcoming season will be one of his best.
The Knicks will go as far as their star leads them, and where Anthony lands in free agency very much depends on where the 2014 Knicks end up. In the end, Carmelo's performance this season will determine his future—and, in turn, that of the Knicks—over the next several seasons.
Key Reserve: Metta World Peace
Projected Stats: 24.3 MPG, 9.3 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 1.8 APG, 0.5 BPG, 1.0 SPG, 40.2 FG%, 35.6 3P%
If Woodson has established anything over his 106 games as Knicks head coach, it's that he'll never shy away from relying on veterans with big-game experience. Metta World Peace qualifies as that type of player.
Look no further than Jason Kidd's minutes from a year ago. At the season's halfway mark, the 40-year-old Kidd was nearly averaging 30 minutes per contest, in what would be his final NBA campaign.
The man once known as Artest should be a prime role player on a team hoping to contend for an Eastern Conference title. He adds a much-needed dimension to a Knicks team coming off an abysmal defensive season: the ability to defend the perimeter.
Below, via 82games, is a table sorting opponents' production against New York by position. Small forwards torched the Knicks in 2013 to the tune of a .549 effective field-goal percentage (eFG%).
Opponent Production by Position
MWP should play a role in reversing the team's fortunes this year. With the Los Angeles Lakers in 2012-13, World Peace held small forward opponents to an eFG% of around 50 percent and a league-average PER, via 82games.
Los Angeles' horrid defense was less porous with World Peace on the floor, allowing roughly two points fewer per 100 possessions as opposed to when Ron Ron was resting (courtesy 82games).
Offensively, World Peace should fit in with Woodson's scheme. The coach prefers his wing scorers stashed away in either corner, where they await open three opportunities. Metta shot over 37 percent on corner threes last year, about the same clip at which New York as a team stroked it from the corner in 2013.
World Peace is no longer capable of providing starter minutes at the 3, but that's not what's being asked of him. He fits in brilliantly on both ends of the court as a reserve, and should play a role on a defensively resurgent and offensively well-rounded Knicks team.
Who Else Will Spend Time at the 3?
J.R. Smith (projections): 34.3 MPG, 19.8 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 3.0 APG, 0.3 BPG, 1.1 SPG, 43.7 FG%, 36.2 3P%
Iman Shumpert (projections): 30.3 MPG, 13.4 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 3.0 APG, 0.3 BPG, 2.0 SPG, 41.8 FG%, 38.8 3P%
If Woodson does let two point guards simultaneously run the show on occasion, it will bump one of the team's natural shooting guards up to the small forward slot.
Shumpert and Smith both saw minutes there last season, and they're candidates again in 2014. Also, both Knicks will presumably share the floor at various points during the season, which would mean one of the pair would man the 3.
While both will probably spend the majority of their minutes in the backcourt, their supplemental roles as scorers would change little if moved to the frontcourt. Smith, by default, remains the team's second scoring option.
Shumpert will be asked to do more with the ball this season, and he claims not to care where he's played. He made a living from beyond the arc, shooting the three at above 40 percent last season. Woodson has said he'd like Shumpert to handle the ball more, which at times has been a sore spot for the third-year swingman.
Luckily, the 23-year-old Shumpert can turn to a defensive skill set so stellar that what he does produce on offense is essentially house money.
Smith's sixth-man gig will most likely transfer over to this season, despite inking a long-term deal for starter-type money. The key to J.R.'s offensive success is simple: attack the basket. Playing with this mentality, a determined Smith scored at a higher rate than ever over the last 15 games of 2012-13.
In that span, he shot 51 percent from the field and just 4.3 of his 17.1 nightly attempts were from three-point range. He averaged nearly 24 points per game and solidified his spot as Sixth Man of the Year.
If Smith can dedicate a full season to playing disciplined basketball the way he closed out 2013, he will finally have crossed into the next tier of NBA scorers. Until then, J.R. is just J.R., which is unfortunately much too self explanatory.
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