Rotation Changes NY Knicks Should Make
The New York Knicks are showing signs of life early in the new year, but there's still a long way to before the season is truly turned around.
Mike Woodson's rotation could still use some tweaking to get the best out of this roster, and a few moves here and there could see the Knicks turn their improvement into a winning streak.
With injuries hitting the team, taking players completely in or out of the rotation will be difficult, but there are particular lineups that help in terms of chemistry and ball movement.
Woody's rotations have been a source of criticism for quite a while now, so let's take a look at what needs to be done to get the monkey off his back.
J.R. Smith finally made good on his talent last season, displaying a newfound maturity en route to a well-deserved Sixth Man of the Year award.
Since elbowing Jason Terry in the playoffs, however, Smith has gone two steps backwards for every step he took forward in 2012-13 and is now having the worst year of his career.
It's unclear how much of a factor Smith's offseason knee surgery is on his performance, but what's clear is that, right now, keeping him on the floor for extended minutes only serves to make the team worse.
This isn't too clear for Mike Woodson, who continues to give Smith 32.4 minutes a night, meaning he's playing more minutes than he has in any season other than the 2012-13 campaign.
Smith has shown signs of life, and shouldn't be taken out of the rotation completely, but with Tim Hardaway Jr. and now Iman Shumpert both playing better, there's no reason for Smith to be their most-used shooting guard.
More Small Ball
In a vacuum, Andrea Bargnani has been a productive addition for the Knicks, but lineups featuring him at power forward have become problematic.
While Bargnani can score and occasionally hit the three, his bread and butter is in the mid-range area, right where Carmelo Anthony goes to work.
The lineup was worth experimenting with early in the season, when it looked like Bargnani had found his outside shot, but the Italian is now shooting a career-low 29 percent from beyond the arc.
Fixing the issue is relatively simple for the Knicks. They can move Bargnani to the bench, play 'Melo at power forward again and have Tim Hardaway Jr. inserted into the starting lineup at small forward.
With Iman Shumpert hitting threes again, that lineup will have more than enough spacing, especially once Raymond Felton and Pablo Prigioni return.
Using this lineup does create a logjam at power forward off the bench, which is a concern, but that shouldn't be too much of an issue. Bargnani could potentially spend some time at the 3 with Metta World Peace injured and Amar'e Stoudemire's body would surely welcome the extra rest.
Utilize Dual-Point Guard Lineups (When Pablo Prigioni Returns)
With only Beno Udrih and Toure Murry available, this isn't an option for the Knicks right now, but when Pablo Prigioni and Raymond Felton return, it makes sense to use them together.
Ball movement has been an issue for the Knicks in the entire Carmelo Anthony era, but the solution last year was to use two point guards together to help find smart shots.
This season, however, we've seen a lot more of J.R. Smith at shooting guard, whereas last season he played a significant number of his minutes at the 3, as did Iman Shumpert.
At times this season, having Smith and Metta World Peace on the roster has led the Knicks to use just one point guard for significant stretches, but the reality is that they're both playing the worst basketball of their careers.
Abandoning the dual-point guard lineup is one thing, but doing so in order to find minutes for these two off the bench is not a formula for success.
For the time being, Iman Shumpert's resurgence as a passer and a shooter has helped replicate last year's rotation, with his partnership with Udrih proving to be an acceptable short-term fix as Prigioni and Felton try to get healthy.
Experiment with Toure Murry and Jeremy Tyler
With the Knicks decimated at point guard, fans have finally had their wish to see Toure Murry in action granted, but early struggles (particularly on the offensive end) have served as a reminder of just how raw he is.
Having said that, Murry hasn't been particularly worse than Raymond Felton or Beno Udrih and the one thing he does bring to the table is solid defense.
Opposing point guards haven't been going off on him the way we've come to expect with the Knicks, and lining him up with Iman Shumpert makes the perimeter uncharacteristically well guarded.
Murry's struggles have primarily come on the offensive end, where his lack of a perimeter jump shot has made it difficult to create scoring opportunities for himself. Still, he clearly has a feel for the game as a passer, which is more desirable at the point now that Iman Shumpert has found his jump shot.
Meanwhile, in the frontcourt, the Knicks finally have some depth in the form of Jeremy Tyler, who made his season debut (albeit for just 47 seconds) against the Dallas Mavericks.
It's unclear just how ready Tyler is (both from a health standpoint and a development standpoint), but if he's good to go, it would be wise to use him to take the strain off Tyson Chandler, Amar'e Stoudemire, Kenyon Martin and Andrea Bargnani, all of whom have worrying injury histories.
Again, the dilemma for the Knicks is that they're in a position where they need their best basketball right now, but in a weak conference, it might be worth making a concerted effort to keep players healthy knowing that a playoff berth is still very realistic.
Keep STAT on His Minutes Limit
Amar'e Stoudemire has been impressive this season, proving that he can still be a productive player when healthy. He's been a key force on the offensive end since getting his minutes increased in December, but the Knicks can't afford to get too lenient in that regard.
While STAT's play is worthy of extended minutes, we know by now that his body will break down quickly if he's regularly playing more than 20 minutes a night—something he's done in four of his last six games, including a back-to-back in Toronto.
At the start of the season, the idea was that Amar'e would be preserved for the playoffs, but after digging themselves into a hole, a strong argument can be made that they need him playing big minutes now to avoid missing the postseason completely.
The bottom line, however, is that the season will only get worse if Stoudemire reinjures himself now, and that's a genuine possibility if they aren't careful.
A few 25- to 30-minute nights are acceptable in big games, but after trading for Andrea Bargnani and finally having Jeremy Tyler available, there's no need to go overboard.