New York Knicks coach Mike Woodson has refused to commit to a starting lineup for the 2013-14 season, though it sounds as if he is leaning towards a starting unit of Raymond Felton, Iman Shumpert, Carmelo Anthony, Andrea Bargnani and Tyson Chandler.
Those five will be backed up by a deep and talented bench, which includes players who could start for other teams.
J.R. Smith was essentially a starter for the Knicks last season, even though he came off the bench in all 80 of his appearances. The 2012-13 Sixth Man of the Year entered games midway through the first quarter and was typically on the court in crunch time for Coach Woodson's squad.
Smith was the Knicks' second-leading scorer (18.1 points per game) and often the second scoring option for a New York team that won 54 games. He carried the offensive load at times when Anthony was either injured or not in the game and knocked down two game-winning buzzer-beaters last December.
The streaky shooting guard has the ability to create his own shot and break down a defense off the dribble. He is a strong rebounder for a 2-guard (5.3 rebounds per game last season) and a solid defender when focused.
Smith has been confined to the bench for most of his career because of questionable decision-making. The former Denver Nugget can score in bunches, though he has infuriated coaches over the years by launching low-percentage shots early in a possession or over-dribbling before settling for a contested 20-foot jumper.
Smith made noticeable strides last year, especially late in the season, when he consistently drove the ball to the basket. He averaged 6.6 free-throw attempts and 22.5 points per game on 47 percent shooting over his last 20 games.
Smith could start on many teams, including the Knicks. However, New York's second unit would struggle to score without him, especially with Amar’e Stoudemire out. By bringing Smith off the bench, Woodson can ride his hot hand or pull him quickly if Smith is either reckless or cold from the field.
The coach also prefers to have his best perimeter defender, Iman Shumpert, in the starting lineup.
Metta World Peace
Metta World Peace started 832 of his 902 games during 14 seasons with the Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers, Sacramento Kings, Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers. Just three years ago he was the star of the Lakers' Game 7 victory over the Boston Celtics in the 2010 NBA Finals.
At 33, World Peace no longer possesses the lateral quickness to lock down elite scorers, and his offensive game is now mostly limited to spot-up opportunities. Yet, his strength allows him to defend both forward positions as he prevents offensive players from getting to their favorite spots on the floor. And he uses his quick hands to swipe the ball from unsuspecting players.
World Peace was still effective enough to start 66 games and play 33.7 minutes per night for a playoff team last season. He averaged 12.0 points and 5.0 rebounds, while connecting on 34.2 percent of his three-point attempts (just below league average) during his last season in L.A.
World Peace will not be starting for the Knicks because Woodson wants to surround Anthony with as many shooters as possible. Bargnani’s shooting has dropped off in recent years, though that was due in part to various injuries. The Italian has a higher career shooting percentage from downtown than World Peace (36.1 to 34.2) and, through the use of a highly effective shot fake, is more capable of creating open looks.
New York signed veteran point guard Beno Udrih to back up Raymond Felton. Woodson has committed to starting a more conventional shooting guard (Shumpert), though Udrih’s presence will enable the coach to use the two-point guard lineup that was so effective last season, with some combination of Udrih, Felton and Pablo Prigioni sharing the backcourt.
Udrih has started 243 games over his nine-year career, including 228 during a four-year string with the Sacramento Kings (2007-2011). During that span, he averaged 14 points and 5.1 assists per game on 48 percent shooting, per basketball-reference.com.
Udrih is not extremely quick or super athletic, though he is a capable caretaker on offense who has turned the ball over just 2.3 times per 36 minutes over his career. Udrih is a shoot-first point guard who has gained a better feel for when and how to distribute the ball in recent years.
The Slovenian knows how to use his body to create space and passing angles off of pick-and-rolls, often relying on a variety of spin moves to get to the rim. He is not afraid to pull the trigger from deep and connects from behind the arc with enough frequency (35.2 for his career) to keep defenders from going under screens.
Udrih is not enough of a playmaker to start for a team with playoff aspirations, though he would be a solid option for a lottery team. He could serve as a placeholder in the starting lineup for a team grooming a young point guard, like the Philadelphia 76ers.