In addition to losing Thursday’s game to the Indiana Pacers, 117-89, the New York Knicks lost Amar’e Stoudemire and Kenyon Martin to left ankle sprains. As a result, head coach Mike Woodson has no choice but to move Carmelo Anthony back to the power forward spot.
According to Frank Isola of the Daily News, neither Stoudemire nor Martin will be able to suit up for Friday’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers. Isola added, “There is a strong possibility that Stoudemire and Martin will miss multiple games.”
These injuries come at a terrible time for New York, because the Knicks were finally starting to turn their fortunes around. They won a season-high five straight games from Jan. 5 through Jan. 13 before dropping two straight road games against the Charlotte Bobcats and Pacers.
In the month of January, both Stoudemire and Martin were playing arguably their best basketball of the season. STAT was averaging 11.8 points and 5.8 rebounds per game while shooting 53.4 percent from the field. K-Mart was averaging 6.6 points and five rebounds per game while shooting 55.6 percent from the field to go with stingy defensive play.
Now the Knicks will have to try and win without those two big men for what could be “multiple games.”
With that said, moving Anthony to the power forward position isn't necessarily bad news for the Knicks.
In theory, moving Anthony to power forward should make New York an inferior defensive squad (especially in lineups that utilize Andrea Bargnani, a poor defender, at center). At 6’8”, 'Melo has an ideal physical frame for a small forward, but would be considered undersized at the 4.
That hasn’t mattered on the defensive end this year. In fact, New York’s top-two most frequently used lineups that feature Anthony at power forward have yielded positive results.
According to 82games.com, the five-man unit of Raymond Felton, Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith, Anthony at the 4 and Bargnani at the 5 allows 0.97 points per possession, which is one of the best marks of any Knicks lineup. That group of five guys has also outscored opponents by 27 points while posting a win percentage of 66.6 percent.
As for the second-most used lineup with Anthony at power forward, the rotation of Pablo Prigioni, Shumpert, Smith, ‘Melo and Bargs surrenders just 1.09 points per possession while sporting the same win percentage of 66.6 percent.
The most efficient five-man unit from a defensive standpoint—which needs to be utilized more than it has been—includes Felton, Prigioni, Shumpert, and Anthony, with Tyson Chandler holding down the fort at center. That lineup gives up just 0.74 points per possession—by far the best of any Knicks rotation. That group of five has outscored opponents by 13 points.
Lineups using Anthony as a power forward have been successful this season regardless of the supporting cast around him. A big reason for that is ‘Melo’s newfound dedication to attacking the glass. Last year’s NBA scoring champion is averaging a career-high 8.7 rebounds per game, which leads the team.
Sliding the 29-year-old star to a different position isn’t an issue. The problem will be depth.
With Stoudemire and Martin sidelined, the Knicks’ frontcourt options are extremely limited. They’ll essentially have to rely on a three-man Lazy Susan of Anthony, Bargnani and Chandler. Bargnani's versatility will help in this scenario, because he can play the 4 next to Chandler or the 5 next to 'Melo.
Fatigue, however, may become a very prevalent factor with only three options down low. As a result, there's an outside chance that Woodson could give Cole Aldrich more court time.
Aldrich is averaging a miniscule three minutes per game in 17 appearances for the Knicks this season. In the absence of other big men, The 25-year-old played five minutes against Indiana, grabbing three rebounds and blocking one shot.
Another option is 22-year-old forward Jeremy Tyler. The youngster scored four points and added four rebounds in garbage time against Indy.
The Knicks will play the first of an eight-game homestand starting Friday with the second of a back-to-back scenario against the Los Angeles Clippers. Of the seven home contests after that, New York matches up with only one team possessing a record better than .500, the Miami Heat on Feb. 1.
This stretch of home games will be a crucial point in the season for the Knicks if they hope to have any shot at a postseason berth in 2014. Remember, they're still on the outside looking in at a playoff spot.
Dealing with injuries and a lack of depth won’t help, but Anthony is certainly capable of carrying this squad as the power forward.