Though the New York Knicks were just a few seconds away from starting the year with a 2-0 record, it hasn't exactly been smooth sailing.
It's tough to get a feel for how this rotation will play out with a key member of it suspended for the first five games. But it's clear the integration of the newly acquired players might call for an early-season adjustment process.
Coach Mike Woodson will have a lot of decisions to make over the next few weeks.
Two games, two starting lineups. And the weirder one worked better than the more traditional.
The Knicks opened the season against the Milwaukee Bucks with a Raymond Felton-Pablo Prigioni backcourt, sliding Iman Shumpert into the small-forward position. They went with the two-point guard attack, a strategy that's become more accepted over the last few years.
And it was fairly effective. The Knicks jumped out to 24-18 lead at the end of the first quarter. Andrea Bargnani eventually replaced Tyson Chandler seven minutes into the game, just after Larry Sanders was taken out for Zaza Pachulia.
First Quarter vs. Bucks:
However, against the Bulls, coach Mike Woodson felt the Knicks needed to go big. Bargnani replaced Prigioni in the starting lineup, moving Melo to the 3 and Shumpert to the 2. Metta World Peace would eventually sub in for Shump, and Amar'e Stoudemire would take out Bargnani.
The Knicks fell behind early in this one, tallying just 16 points and trailing by 10 after the first quarter.
First Quarter vs. Bulls:
So far, we've seen two games with two completely different rotations. Woodson will have to figure this out quick, so the team can be prepared for the playoffs after months of repetition.
Though the season is just getting started, the Knicks don't have time for lengthy experiments. Given the strength at the top of the East, they could easily miss out on first-round home-court advantage if they hand away too many early-season games.
Personally, I'm not a fan of a rotating starting lineup—mixing and matching game-by-game. It's tough to build rhythm that way.
If you ask me, I like the Felton-Shumpert-World Peace-Anthony-Chandler lineup myself, though I don't mind the two-point guard look they ran against the Bucks. With Prigioni at the 2, the ball movement is always flowing.
Andrea Bargnani's Role
Woodson's use of Bargnani has been somewhat bizarre through two games.
Coming off the bench against the Bucks, he finished 3-of-9 from the floor, looking out of sync from the get-go. But after an ugly opener, Woody chose to start Bargnani against Chicago.
And it just didn't work out offensively.
Despite the team's early struggles with Bargnani playing alongside Anthony and Chandler, Woodson again chose to start him in the second half. And ya' know what? He actually looked pretty good.
Bargnani's confidence really started to shine in the third quarter, when he went off for nine points in a short stretch to keep the Knicks hanging tough:
But that was the last we heard of Bargnani, who started the fourth quarter on the bench and never made it back into the game.
So what's his role on the team? Bargnani doesn't seem to have the type of head you'd want to mess with. We certainly don't want him overthinking out there.
Woodson needs to define Bargnani's role early in the year, so he's not guessing what it is from a game-to-game basis.
I'd prefer him off the bench as an offensive specialist, where you can milk him when he's hot and fold when he's not.
Whose Minutes Get Slashed Following J.R. Smith's Return?
Someone's minutes are getting slashed once J.R. Smith returns from his five-game suspension.
The likely candidates are Pablo Prigioni and Tim Hardaway Jr. The rookie has actually gotten a surprising amount of burn through his first two NBA games, and for good reason.
Hardaway Jr. even sparked a Knicks run with a three late in the Chicago game, earning himself a spot on the floor throughout crunch time down the stretch. With a confident long-range stroke, you get the feeling any shot he takes is a makeable one.
And that makes him an attractive option in a lineup with Anthony, whose ability to draw the double leads to open shots for shooters.
But there's only so much room for multiple perimeter-oriented scorers. Will Woody send Hardaway Jr. to the end of the bench or keep his shooting hand in play?
I think it's only a matter of time before the rookie gets pushed out of the rotation. Prigioni's defensive intensity and offensive calming presence are just two valuable not to have in a lineup with ball-dominant scorers like Anthony and Smith.
Kenyon Martin, Amar'e Stoudemire and Rebounding
We heard of a possible platoon system between Stoudemire and Martin. But neither has gotten much time at all yet, with STAT registering a DNP in the opener.
Even with both players available, the Knicks are still going to have trouble competing on the glass this year. Martin, arguably New York's second-best rebounder, hasn't played more than five minutes in either game.
Check out the rebounding totals of the Knicks' supporting forwards:
|Through Two Games||Total Minutes||Total Rebounds|
|Metta World Peace||41||6|
Pretty, pretty weak.
The Knicks' second-unit big men are all non-factors on the glass, and it could neutralize the offensive advantage the team's bench should have.
It's going to make the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers both nightmares to match up with throughout the year, particularly in a seven-game series. The Knicks are going to have to face one of those two teams in the first or second round of the playoffs.
There's still a lot of sifting and sorting to do before we can judge how good they can be. But with the window closing and the East improving, Coach Woodson better act quickly.