After putting together one of the league's deepest rosters, the big question for the New York Knicks right now is who is going to start in 2013-14.
According to Newsday, the only players Mike Woodson has guaranteed starting roles for next season are Raymond Felton, Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler. That leaves room for a shooting guard and another forward.
The open forward spot has been discussed ad nauseam, but it seems like Woodson is leaning towards Andrea Bargnani at the moment, which makes sense as—when healthy—his skill set complements Melo perfectly on the offensive end.
What hasn't been discussed too much, however, is who will start at shooting guard. Most—myself included—expected Iman Shumpert to be given the job, but Woodson has said repeatedly that the spot is up for grabs in training camp.
Considering the success of the dual-point guard backcourt last year and the depth New York has at the position, Shumpert and J.R. Smith likely aren't alone in competing for the job. Pablo Prigioni, who started towards the end of last season, could be in contention, too.
Let's go through each potential starter and break down who exactly should get the job, focusing on their fit with the rest of the unit and how starting them would affect the rotation.
Giving the starting shooting guard job to Prigioni in March turned out to be one of the best decisions Woody made last season.
During Prigioni's month in the starting five, New York went 16-2, shocking the league and sealing the No. 2 spot in the Eastern Conference.
The keys to the Knicks' success during that run were ball movement and spacing. Having an experienced passer playing at the 2 made sure that the offense was always flowing and even afforded Felton the opportunity to play as a scorer on occassion.
It also didn't hurt that Prigioni proved to be a surprisingly good shooter, hitting 46 percent of his shots from beyond the arc during that stretch.
There's no denying that Prigioni fits as a starter from a chemistry standpoint, but his presence in the lineup does create a practical problem for the rotation.
While starting Prigioni will create minutes for Beno Udrih as the back-up point guard, it also means that Shumpert or Smith will have to move to forward, be that off the bench or as a starter.
That isn't necessarily a bad thing in a vacuum, since both players have experience at the 3, but moving one of them to the frontcourt only serves to create another logjam there with Bargnani, Metta World Peace, Amar'e Stoudemire and Kenyon Martin.
Theoretically, with Stoudemire already on a minutes limit, the Knicks could take that as an opportunity to also give Martin and Chandler some serious rest in the regular season. But, considering their importance to the defense, that might not be such a good idea.
With Smith out through injury and suspension, there’s a good chance we’ll see this lineup in the short-term, as we have done already in preseason. To see it throughout the year, however, would be contingent on Prigioni and Udrih proving that the Knicks would be best off shifting their logjam to the frontcourt.
In the first game of the preseason, Shumpert responded well to having to compete for his job, firmly establishing himself as the frontrunner with a standout performance against the Boston Celtics.
Shump was 7-of-7 on the night, good for 18 points, leading the Knicks to victory and making up for the absence of Smith with his scoring.
All summer, the talk has been about whether or not Shumpert can improve his offensive game and, hopefully, this is a sign of things to come.
Even last season, Shumpert made significant strides as a shooter. He shot 40 percent from downtown, which fits into New York's offensive system and helps to spread the floor for Carmelo Anthony.
Defense, however, is the real reason Shump should be starting. He's the team's premier perimeter defender, which is particularly useful with Felton—one of the league's worst defensive point guards—starting at the 1.
Assuming World Peace doesn't start, that leaves the Knicks with a well-balanced second unit, with a mix of both offensive and defensive-minded players.
Having Prigioni on the bench also allows him to stick with Smith and Stoudemire, two players who he really started to build chemistry with last season.
At this point in his career, it's about time the Knicks just gave Shumpert a fixed role. He's started at three different positions these last two years and it would be best for his development to come into his own where he's looked best—at shooting guard.
Unfortunately, with this lineup, the Knicks will struggle to find minutes for Udrih, but that's not a terrible problem to have. New York really could have used a player of his caliber when Felton was injured last year and he'll likely be called upon to cover for the injured Smith to start the season. If he plays well, he may just force himself into the rotation.
After earning the Sixth Man of the Year award last season, there's a good case to be made that Smith is the best shooting guard on the Knicks roster.
Unlike in most cases, simply being the best player doesn't guarantee Smith a starting spot. After nine years in the league, it's pretty clear that he's more suited to coming off the bench and it would be best not to mess with that formula.
Woodson seems to think that Smith proved last season that he deserves to start, but inconsistency was still a major issue, so that's not entirely true.
While Smith did have a career-year, his shot selection remained questionable and his performance in the playoffs showed he still has a way to go before fully making good on his obvious talent.
Keeping Smith on the bench ensures that he has to earn his minutes, which will help to keep him focused and in line. Rewarding him with a starting role after his terrible postseason and offseason suspension wouldn't be sending the right message.
Another big issue is the fact that Smith is injured right now. If the Knicks start off well in his absence—which is very possible if Shumpert and Tim Hardaway Jr. continue to impress on offense—it wouldn't make sense to mess with the starting five.
Even without the injury, with Melo in place, New York doesn't need another high volume shooter to start. They simply need someone who can hit the three, which Prigioni and Shumpert both proved they are capable of last season.
Last, but not least, the Knicks' bench needs Smith. His ability to score in isolation makes the unit one of the strongest in the NBA, but without him it starts to look old and lacking in energy.
With Bargnani likely starting and Stoudemire being kept under wraps as much as possible, Smith is the clear go-to option off the bench. As good as he's looked so far in preseason, Shumpert isn't reliable enough yet offensively to be that player.
Keeping Smith on the bench shouldn't be taken as a punishment. It simply means that the bench needs his production and the starting five doesn't need another isolation scorer.
Regardless of who starts, it's going to be difficult to fit everyone in the rotation, but the best the Knicks can do is make sure they have balance in their first and second units.
For that reason—along with the fact that he's proving himself so far in camp—it makes sense for New York to go with Shumpert to start the season.
It's hard to argue with Prigioni's record as a starter, but as long as he's playing significant minutes, his impact on ball movement should still be felt. After all, before he was a starter, we didn't actually see much of Prigioni in 2012-13.
As for Smith, there's plenty of evidence showing he's best utilized as a spark off the bench. The Knicks need him in that role and could also use Shumpert's defense on the starting perimeter.
With Smith injured, it's hard to see why Woodson considers this to be a competition, but if Shumpert continues to look good in preseason, it won't be long before he's confirmed as the starter.
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