Who Will Be the Odd Man out in NY Knicks' Backcourt Shuffle?

Stephen BabbFeatured ColumnistOctober 8, 2013

May 5, 2013; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks point guard Pablo Prigioni (9) looks on before the first half of game one of the second round of the NBA Playoffs against the Indiana Pacers. Pacers won the game 102-95. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Backcourts come in all shapes and sizes, and it's still too soon to know which best describes the 2013-14 New York Knicks

Like the best head coaches, Mike Woodson cares more about making the most of his personnel than forcing a preconceived game plan down their throats. According to ESPNNewYork.com's Ian Begley, Woodson will keep his options open but said he's, "going to try a big guard if [he] can and see how it plays out."

Realistically that's likely to mean starting Iman Shumpert, given reigning Sixth Man of the Year J.R. Smith's success off the bench—and the fact Tim Hardaway Jr. is a rookie. It doesn't hurt that Shumpert's far and away the best perimeter defender on the roster. Nor does it hurt that he returned from his torn ACL last season with a dramatically improved three-point stroke (making 40 percent of his attempts after cashing in on just 31 percent in 2012-13).  

To be sure, it's hard to imagine New York abandoning the smaller backcourts altogether. Pablo Prigioni proved himself worthy of regular minutes thanks to efficient shooting and smart play last season, so he's due more than the occasional opportunity relieving starting point guard Raymond Felton.

While recently signed Beno Udrih didn't pick the Knicks to warm the bench, he may find himself doing just that. Despite playing 18.4 minutes a game with the Milwaukee Bucks and 27.3 with the Orlando Magic last season, Udrih's role in New York ostensibly reasons to be about more than moral support. 

Don't be so sure.

Sep 30, 2013; Tarrytown, NY, USA; New York Knicks point guard Beno Udrih answers questions during media day at MSG Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Maybe it's premature to read anything Freudian into a slip Woodson made earlier this month, but it may be the best insight we have into his thinking about this season's rotation. The New York Times' Scott Cacciola :  

After initially describing Udrih as a “third point guard,” Woodson corrected himself: “He’s one of our point guards.” It was an important distinction. On most N.B.A. rosters, the third point guard occupies a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency role in the event the other two guards sustain injuries or are lost en route to the arena.

Even if Udrih is more than a point guard of last resort, he has something to prove before Woodson moves him ahead of Prigioni in the rotation. Of the two, Udrih probably has the more versatile game on account of what he can do off the dribble and from the mid-range but that doesn't mean he's the better fit for New York's needs.

Prigioni's value lies in his ability (and willingness) to make plays, his 40-percent success rate beyond the arc and his extra year of familiarity with Woodson's system. Udrih could change that thinking, but the onus is on him to do so.

And while it didn't take Hardaway Jr. long to start impressing the Knicks this summer, his chances of breaking into Woodson's rotation are even worse than Udrih's. We'll see a few of those smaller backcourts before we see a rookie getting any meaningful playing time in a rotation this deep.

The Knicks' logjam in the backcourt has as much to do with this summer's frontcourt additions as anything else. New York's acquisition of Andrea Bargnani means Woodson now has another forward in need of minutesminutes he'll likely play starting ahead of Amar'e Stoudemire. In turn, that means Carmelo Anthony will see precious few minutes playing the role of a stretch-4.

That may or may not be a good thing given Melo's success against (typically less mobile) power forwards, but it's a reality so long as the roster stays healthy. With Anthony spending most of his minutes at the 3, we'll see fewer three-guard lineups wherein either Shumpert or Smith serve as the ostensible small forward. 

Those three-guard sets will be all the rarer now that Metta World Peace presumably has dibs on whatever minutes Anthony doesn't play at small forward. If the Knicks are going to put their best players on the floor, that'll have to mean Smith and Shumpert playing the vast majority of their minutes at shooting guard.

Woodson's unlikely to make everyone happy this season, but it's worth remembering this roster isn't without its fair share of age and injury concerns. And even though Bargnani technically makes the team younger, he's only played a combined 66 games in his last two seasons. That's 10 fewer than Stoudemire—heretofore New York's undisputed poster boy for injury struggles.

Though Kenyon Martin's presence would help offset any disaster scenarios, any breakdown in the Knicks' frontcourt health would almost certainly translate into more of Anthony at the 4—and consequently more minutes to go around for all those guards.

The Knicks are fortunate to find themselves in this kind of bind. After having key injuries derail each of their last two postseason runs, they know as well as anyone that there's no such thing as too much depth—even if it feels that way for the guys sitting at the end of the bench.