Breaking Down How NY Knicks Will Solve Their Frontcourt Logjam
The Knicks made some awfully interesting moves this offseason, adding two key pieces and bringing back another.
New York replaced Steve Novak, Chris Copeland and Marcus Camby with Metta World Peace and Andrea Bargnani, both upgrades in the talent department. It also brought back Kenyon Martin, who gave the Knicks reliable depth and a physical presence up front.
But now coach Mike Woodson will have some tinkering to do. The Knicks have a lot of pieces up front, but finding the right pairings could be a lengthy and harmful trial-and-error process.
Let's assume that Woodson's starting lineup on opening night looks something like this:
One of the things Woodson should be weary about this season is limiting Tyson Chandler's minutes. Chandler didn't appear to have much gas left in the playoffs, getting badly outplayed by Roy Hibbert in Round 2.
Keeping the team's anchor fresh should be a priority throughout the season. So who steps in when it's time to rest the big fella'?
Late First-Quarter Substitution: Andrea Bargnani for Tyson Chandler
Bargnani at the 5 actually opens up all sorts of opportunities for the Knicks. Compared to Chandler, he offers a completely opposite and complementary set of skills.
An offensive weapon from 10-to-27 feet, Bargnani can give the Knicks a new look in the pick-and-pop game.
The Pacers did a nice job defending the pick-and-roll against the Knicks during last year's playoffs. With Chandler posing as the high screener, Hibbert knows that Chandler isn't a threat to pop out for a jumper. So instead of chasing him out to the arc, he chooses to sag back, clog the lane and keep Anthony from attacking.
Had that been Bargnani setting the screen, Hibbert would have had to extend out to the arc and contest, considering a catch-and-shoot jumper is Bargnani's bread and butter. That would also give Anthony a better opportunity to get to the rack, as opposed to being forced into a challenged, off-balance, pull-up jumper.
With Bargnani in the game, the Knicks' spacing is bound to be better. At the 5, Bargnani spreads the floor, thanks to his comfort level playing on the perimeter. This gives Anthony more room to operate in the post, where he's arguably the toughest cover in the league one-on-one.
If the defense chooses to double, it will free up a wide-open shooter outside. The Knicks can be a dangerous team offensively when they play small ball, which is essentially what they'd be playing with Bargnani at the 5, even though he's still 7'0'' tall.
This doesn't mean the Knicks are better with Bargnani over Chandler in the lineup, but it gives them a different look without jeopardizing too much size inside.
Worried about Bargnani being a defensive liability? Don't be, if you're a believer in advanced analytics. Kirk Goldsberry of Grantland presented a well-received research report on rim protection at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. His analysis ranked Bargnani No. 2 in the NBA behind Larry Sanders in opponent field-goal percentage within five feet from the rim.
Of course, his sample size defending the basketball is smaller, but it should be fair to say he's not exactly a pushover down low.
Start of Second Quarter Substitution: Amar'e Stoudemire for Carmelo Anthony
There's no more time for experimenting with the Stoudemire/Anthony tandem. They just don't work well together, and that's the bottom line.
The move here is simply to use STAT as 'Melo's backup. He becomes the go-to guy in the post for the team's second unit, where he should have an offensive advantage against opposing bench players. He's also less of a defensive liability playing limited minutes as a backup.
Here's what the Knicks second unit could look like:
With Stoudemire, Bargnani and Smith in the second unit, the Knicks have one of the most potent benches in the league.
Woodson should also look to sprinkle in Kenyon Martin based on foul trouble and the mood of the game. While he's not much of a threat with the ball in his hands, Martin's energy, activity and six expendable fouls can be valuable to the lineup.
Woodson's goal with regard to the rotation should be keeping 'Melo at the 4, which means avoiding the Stoudemire/'Melo pairing at all costs. Instead, pair 'Melo with Bargnani, a guy who improves team spacing while giving New York a scoring touch that Chandler can't provide.
Given the defensive versatility of World Peace, along with the offensive versatility of Anthony, Bargnani and Shumpert (who can play alongside Smith as a 3 and back up World Peace when he's out), the Knicks should be able to counter opposing lineups by mixing and matching.
World Peace and Bargnani add a new dimension to the Knicks frontcourt that wasn't there last season. If Woodson pushes the right buttons, New York could be a tough team to slow down in 2013-14.
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