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Initial Post-Draft Depth Chart for NY Knicks

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistJune 27, 2014

Initial Post-Draft Depth Chart for NY Knicks

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    Time will tell how Phil Jackson handled his first NBA draft as president of the New York Knicks, but the initial returns seem promising.

    He picked up a pair of second-round picks (Nos. 34 and 51) in a six-player trade with the Dallas Mavericks earlier in the week. He used those selections on a pair of athletic forwards, Cleanthony Early (Wichita State) and Thanasis Antetokounmpo (Delaware 87ers of the NBA Developmental League).

    The Zen Master later purchased the No. 57 pick from the Indiana Pacers, as reported by Marc Berman of the New York Post, and grabbed French center Louis Labeyrie, a stash prospect who is likely to continue his career overseas.

    Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal graded the total haul as an "A+," labeling Early "one of the steals of the draft" and noting New York's night "got even better" when it landed Antetokounmpo, the older brother of Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo.

    For a team that appeared to have limited options on making roster moves, Jackson made the most of what he has and aggressively retooled his ranks. The unsettled future of Carmelo Anthony still looms large over the franchise, but the Knicks will have a new look whether the scoring machine stays or goes.

    For now, at least, this is how the Knicks shape up for Jackson and head coach Derek Fisher's first full season at the helm.

Point Guard

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    The triangle offense preferred by Jackson and Fisher needs a strong shooting point guard to operate at optimal levels.

    In projected starter Jose Calderon, who was acquired in the deal with Dallas, the Knicks landed one of the league's best. The 32-year-old takes good shots, as evidenced by his career .479/.411/.874 slash line. He takes even better care of the basketball (career 6.8 assists against 1.7 turnovers).

    "Jose was great for us last year," Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki said, via Peter Botte of the New York Daily News. "One of the best shooters this league has."

    Calderon is such a good fit for the system that it might be hard to get him off the floor. When he does sit, expect veteran Pablo Prigioni to be the next man up. The 37-year-old brings the most similar skill set to Calderon's, both as a knockdown shooter (career .457/.431/.892 slash) and capable creator (3.5 assists against 0.9 turnovers this past season).

    Over time, Shane Larkin could pass Prigioni on the depth chart. Son of baseball Hall of Famer Barry Larkin, the sophomore-to-be struggled as a rookie (2.8 points on 38 percent shooting), but he plays with a great motor.

    Toure' Murry could also factor into the point guard rotation, if he sticks with the Knicks. A defensive specialist, whom Berman said Fisher "likes a lot," he'll be a restricted free agent if the Knicks extend a qualifying offer by June 29. According to ESPN New York's Ian Begley, Murry "is said to be on the radar of a handful of teams," so others will be interested to see how the Knicks handle his situation.

    Calderon's shooting should buy him major minutes, but Fisher will have options when he needs to spell his starter.

Shooting Guard

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    The potential starting shooting guard for the Knicks could be someone who rarely played the position last season.

    J.R. Smith, who spent 72 percent of his floor time in 2013-14 at the small forward spot, according to Basketball-Reference.com, has been angling for a starting gig. Considering how he handled the role this past season—he averaged 16.5 points in 37 starts and just 12.5 in 37 games as a reserve—he just might find that spot available to him.

    Ball movement is a must in this offense, but Smith did dish out a career-best three assists per night in 2013-14. He's also a scoring threat from anywhere on the floor, provided he resists the urge to fire at will from the outside. He averaged nearly four free-throw attempts per night in 2012-13 when he claimed Sixth Man of the Year honors, but that number dipped to just 1.9 this past season.

    If he does snag the starting spot, that will leave Iman Shumpert and Tim Hardaway Jr. battling for minutes behind him.

    Shumpert has the ability to play either wing position. He played almost exclusively as a 2-guard this past season at 87 percent via Basketball-Reference.com but spent 37 percent of his minutes at the 3 the year prior. Assuming he's still around come training campESPN.com's Marc Stein reported the Knicks looked into the possibility of moving him at the drafthe should be play a significant role at both wing spots.

    Behind Smith and Shumpert, the Knicks have a pair of long-range gunners in Hardaway Jr. and Wayne Ellington. Hardaway is the more versatile offensive player of the two, but he'll need to improve at the opposite end to increase his playing time. Veteran Shannon Brown has a nonguaranteed contract for next season.

Small Forward

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    Fisher could go a number of different directions at small forward, including returning Anthony to his natural position if he re-signs.

    Taking Anthony out of the equation, this battle could come down to whichever player misses out on the starting shooting guard spot: Smith or Shumpert. Smith has the most size of the two at 6'6" and 220 pounds, so he could emerge as Plan B if Anthony either departs or stays and plays the 4.

    Ideally, rookies Early and Antetokounmpo will chew up major minutes in the small forward rotation. Both have good size (each stands 6'7") and are more than willing to mix it up defensively.

    Early is by far the more polished of the pair after spending the past two seasons at Wichita State. There, he flashed the ability to score from anywhere on the floor, connecting on 48.4 percent of his field goals and 37.3 percent of his threes as a sophomore.

    Berman described Early as having "an eerie similarity to Carmelo Anthony in body type and scoring prowess."

    Antetokounmpo needs plenty of seasoning, but Bleacher Report's Tyler Conway noted he "impressed scouts with his athleticism and defensive acumen" in the D-League. It's hard to say how long he'll need to develop into a consistent rotation piece, but he could be worth the wait.

    "Given his bloodlines, it wouldn’t be shocking to see him develop into an attacking wing who can move the ball, finish at the rim and defend like crazy in the right system," Knicks.com's Charlie Widdoes wrote.

    Expect to see a number of different faces occupying this spot over the course of the season, with one or both rookies seeing more time here as the season progresses.

Power Forward

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    This could be the easiest spot for Fisher to fill, or it might wind up being the toughest.

    It all depends on how Anthony decides to proceed. The former scoring champ opted out of the final year on his contract, becoming one of the most coveted unrestricted free agents on the market.

    The Knicks have no better grasp on Anthony's future than the public.

    "It's a big question because there are so many things that can happen out there," Jackson said when asked if about his level of optimism on Anthony returning, via ESPN New York's Ohm Youngmisuk. "We really don't know."

    If Anthony returns, he should reclaim his spot as New York's walking-mismatch power forward. At least 62 percent of his minutes have come at the 4 in each of the last two seasons, via Basketball-Reference.com, a position that allows him to make full use of his offensive weapons: shooting, driving and posting up.

    Things don't get a lot more certain behind Anthony, either.

    Amar'e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani will both factor into the equation, but they have missed a combined 211 games over the past three seasons. Bargnani, a career 35.5 percent three-point shooter, adds floor spacing to the offense. Stoudemire is better equipped to man the low block, but he's also developed a steady mid-range jumper.

    If these bigs stay healthy, Fisher will lean on both to add size to his frontcourt. If Fisher wants to go super small, he could also use Early at this spot in spurts to stretch out a defense. Lamar Odom, who spent time with both Fisher and Jackson in Los Angeles, could also be a possibility if the Knicks exercise his team option.

Center

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    Even if Anthony bolts, the center spot could still be the most problematic in Fisher's rotation. He has a couple of options, just not any exciting ones.

    Samuel Dalembert, who arrived in the six-player swap, should win the starting gig by default. The 12-year veteran is serviceable as a mobile big body whose best work comes at the defensive end.

    "He can replace Tyson's defensive ability -- maybe not be the defensive player of the year like Tyson was, but he's going to be a quality defender," Jackson said, via ESPN New York's Ian Begley.

    Dalembert has averaged 2.6 blocks per 36 minutes over the course of his career, via Basketball-Reference.com, but he's still managed to see just 24.7 minutes per night. He's a presence on the glass (career 7.9 rebounds per game) but not much of one at the offensive end (career 7.8 points per game).

    Still, he's the only true center on the roster. The starting job is his to lose, and losing it won't be easy.

    Bargnani and Stoudemire should both see time at this spot as long as they're healthy. Odom and Jeremy Tyler, who also has a team option for next season, could as well, provided both are still with the club.

    With limited resources to find external help, the Knicks might be forced to go with what they have for now.

    They could also hope a training-camp invitee impresses them, as Tyler and Cole Aldrich did last fall. Considering how low the bar is set, that certainly seems possible.

     

    Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

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