It didn't take long for coach Mike Woodson to figure that one out. Bargnani and Anthony each shot below 40 percent in the preseason, triggering Woody to move Melo back to power forward to start the year—the position he played while leading the NBA in scoring and the Knicks to a No. 2 seed last season.
And that's what this is about. Whether you're a fan of Bargnani or not, the fact is that Melo is a bigger mismatch when he's lined up as a 4. It would be a crime to futz with success to incorporate a guy who's been pretty much irrelevant since entering the league.
I don't even mean to single out Bargnani here, but he's the guy they brought in. Anthony was also less effective when paired with a healthy Amar'e Stoudemire. When Melo plays with two big guys instead of one, his sweet spots either lose sweetness or disappear entirely.
The X's and O's
Even though the Knicks were upset in last year's second round, they were so close to maximizing the talent on the roster. Nobody picked them in the preseason to finish with 54 wins. They earned them with J.R. Smith as a No. 2 option and a bunch of role players to fill out the rotation.
Credit that to Anthony, who for the first time in his career, did a nice job of making his teammates better. And the power forward position gave him the platform to do so.
By starting Anthony at the 4 and only one other player near the paint, the Knicks create spacing that maximizes the individual danger each teammate poses on the floor—including Melo.
Check out Melo in the post with three teammates scattered around the arc and one on the weak-side block. With this court dynamic, the Knicks can almost guarantee themselves a high-percentage shot.
There may not be a tougher cover in the league than Anthony isolated in that mid- to low-post range. In this spot on the floor, he forces the defense to sacrifice, whether it's guarding Anthony with just a single player or sending a double and leaving someone else open.
Option 1 is Anthony one-on-one in his sweet spot. And if he commands the double, the Knicks are only one to three passes away from finding an open shooter or cutter.
Down in the post or in that 12- to 18-foot range is where he can be unstoppable. He becomes a lot easier to guard when he's 26 feet from the rim, while two help defenders (the guys who would be guarding Bargnani and Tyson Chandler) are waiting in the paint.
In the frame below, it's Bargnani at the 4 in Melo's sweet spot, with Melo as a 3 on the perimeter. And there's just no doubt about it—defenses would rather see Melo behind the arc than in the post:
He is going to get his points and shots regardless. The problem is that the quality of them is likely to suffer if he's forced to operate this far from the rim.
However, I wouldn't mind seeing Bargnani play alongside Anthony as a 5 in limited stretches—as long as Melo is sitting comfortable at the 4. Bargnani has the size for the position, and against other backup centers, he could become a mismatch as opposed to a liability.
But as a starter, his presence could also take away from one of the Knicks' new core strengths for this upcoming season.
Team Defense Versus Individual Role
The Knicks have the pieces to be an excellent defensive unit.
I don't think I'm breaking any news here when I say that an Anthony-Metta World Peace-Chandler frontcourt is a much tougher and versatile defensive group than the one that New York would have with Bargnani in the middle.
The Knicks could stick World Peace on the opposing teams' toughest wing scorers and give Anthony a little break on the defensive end. Since Bargnani isn't capable of defending the perimeter, he'd force Melo to guard wings like LeBron James, Paul George, Luol Deng and Paul Pierce—adding even more weight to his shoulders.
And it's not as if he's a lockdown ball-stopper to begin with.
Bargnani can help the Knicks, but not if they're going to feature him as a starter. The Toronto Raptors tried that for seven years before deciding they'd have a better chance at making the playoffs with Steve Novak and Marcus Camby.
He's just not the answer for a team that's been in need of a reliable No. 2 option. And there's nobody to blame here—Stoudemire's contract left the Knicks with little financial wiggle room.
It's not Bargnani's fault. This is who he is—a 7'0'', career 43 percent shooter who happens to play the same position as the Knicks' best player.
He can help the team as long as his leash is tight and he's used effectively. Bringing him off the bench gives the Knicks a potent second-line core consisting of Smith, Stoudemire and Bargnani without jeopardizing or disrupting Anthony's offensive rhythm.
But pretending Bargnani is the Knicks' version of Dwyane Wade is just not the solution to the problem.
If the Knicks are going to make a run in the playoffs with this current roster, their only real shot is to catch lightning in a bottle.
Bargnani is no game-changer. He's just another wild card in New York's unpredictable deck.