Early Predictions for the New York Knicks' Starting Lineup
New York Knicks first-year head coach Derek Fisher will have some difficult personnel decisions to make for the 2014-15 season, beginning with his starting lineup.
Fisher is faced with the challenge of implementing a new offense and developing young talent like Tim Hardaway Jr., Shane Larkin and Cleanthony Early, all while competing for a playoff spot. His job is complicated by an imbalanced roster with a glut of wing players and lack of a two-way big man.
The first step for Fisher is to determine where to play Carmelo Anthony. The star forward spent most of his career at the 3 spot, though he and the Knicks played their best over the past two seasons with him at the 4.
The starting lineup could be a fluid situation, with Fisher experimenting with different combinations as the season progresses. Some of the younger players in particular may see their roles change as they continue to develop.
Point Guard: Jose Calderon
Point guard is the one starting position that is locked down heading into training camp. Jose Calderon, whom the Knicks acquired from the Dallas Mavericks in June as part of the Tyson Chandler trade, brings stability to the position after a disastrous 2013-14 campaign by the incumbent Raymond Felton.
Calderon is not a speedy drive-and-kick point guard. Rather, he is a facilitator, whose game is built on intelligent decision-making and efficiency, that makes him an ideal fit for the triangle offense.
The Spaniard has finished among the top four in assist-to-turnover ratio in each of the past eight seasons, via ESPN.com, and is deadly from long distance. He connected on 44.9 percent of his three-point attempts last season and is a 41.1 percent shooter from behind the arc for his career.
Unfortunately, Calderon will not provide much relief for the Knicks' defensive woes. Teams shredded New York with a steady dose of pick-and-rolls last season, and Calderon, who turns 33 in September, does not have the lateral agility to keep quick point guards out of the paint.
Shooting Guard: Iman Shumpert
Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith and Tim Hardaway Jr. are all candidates to be the Knicks’ starting shooting guard. Fisher’s decision may depend on whether Carmelo Anthony plays the 3 or 4. If Anthony is at the 4, there will be two wing spots open.
Shumpert's defensive supremacy gives him the edge. The Knicks finished 24th in defensive efficiency last season, per ESPN.com, and traded their best interior defender, Tyson Chandler, this summer.
If one of the Knicks' defensively challenged bigs, Andrea Bargnani or Amar’e Stoudmire, start at power forward, Fisher must balance them out with his best defender, Shumpert. If Anthony is at the 4, starting Shumpert for his defense and Smith for offense makes the most sense.
Hardaway had an impressive rookie season and opened some eyes with his scoring prowess at NBA Summer League, but he struggled mightily on defense last season. His high energy level is also well-suited for a fast-paced second unit.
Shump had a disappointing 2013-14 season in what was expected to be a breakout campaign. He was often afraid to pull the trigger and shot a dreadful 37.8 percent from the field.
This is a big year for Shumpert, who has yet to post a player efficiency rating higher than 11.7 (15.0 is average) The fourth-year guard will be a free agent next summer and has been shopped repeatedly by the Knicks, including as recently as this summer, via Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com. Fisher will have a quick hook for Shumpert with Hardaway and Smith there to soak up minutes.
Small Forward: J.R. Smith
J.R. Smith has come off the bench for most of his career, but the 2012-13 Sixth Man of the Year tweeted on June 10, "no more bench for me." There is no telling if the mercurial guard/forward was stating his preference or making an informed statement based on a conversation he had with team president Phil Jackson.
Starting Smith at small forward has a couple of benefits. Without a penetrating point guard, Smith is the only player on the roster other than Anthony who can create his own shot.
Additionally, Smith's 2013-14 was not as awful as Knicks fans remember. His horrible start to the season (35.2 percent shooting over his first 25 games and was the victim of regular blow-bys on defense) can be attributed to recovery from offseason knee surgery and lack of focus following a five-game drug suspension.
Smith found his groove over the last few months of the season, averaging 16.6 points per game, while shooting 44.8 percent from the field and 41.7 percent on three-point attempts after the All-Star break. His defensive intensity picked up as well.
It would also benefit the Knicks to showcase Smith, whom they would love to get off the books prior to the free-agent bonanza of 2015. He has a player option worth $6.4 million for 2015-16, via Shamsports.com, and a bounceback season could convince Smith to try free agency or enable the Knicks to trade him.
Power Forward: Carmelo Anthony
Derek Fisher must answer the same question that his predecessor Mike Woodson grappled with over the previous two seasons: Is Carmelo Anthony a 3 or 4?
Anthony played almost exclusively small forward for the first nine seasons of his career. During the past two years, he has bounced back and forth, playing the majority of minutes at the 4.
Fisher ended his playing career with an Oklahoma City Thunder team that started Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka, and his Los Angeles Lakers squads won five championships with a lineup that featured two traditional big men. He may be inclined to play Anthony at the 3.
However, the 4 spot has changed considerably over the past few years. Teams now favor stretch 4s who can spread the floor, rather than traditional power forwards. Anthony has thrived at the 4, using his quickness and improved range to exploit slower forwards. His PER was 5.1 points higher in 2013-14 at the 4 than the 3 (27.1 to 22.0), via 82games.com.
Most importantly, the Knicks have played their best team basketball with Melo at the 4. The spacing has been better and ball movement crisper.
New York's personnel also favors Melo at the 4. The Knicks have three talented wing players in Hardaway Jr., Smith and Shumpert, whom they would like to either develop or showcase for trade purposes and not one starting-caliber power forward on the roster other than Anthony.
Amar'e Stoudemire's body is breaking down. His minutes will be limited and he is a liability on defense. And Andrea Bargnani has provided no evidence in recent years to suggest that he should be a rotation player on a good team.
Center: Samuel Dalembert
No one man on the Knicks roster is capable of filling Tyson Chandler's shoes. Much like Phil Jackson did with his 1990s Chicago Bulls teams, his protege, Derek Fisher, will be forced to turn to center-by-committee.
Recently signed Jason Smith is a legitimate 7-footer with a solid mid-range jumper. He started 27 games for the New Orleans Pelicans last season before undergoing knee surgery in January.
Jackson suggested during the Knicks' Las Vegas Summer League victory over the Charlotte Hornets on NBA TV that Amar'e Stoudemire's best position is center, and said of Andrea Bargnani, who played some center last season, "He's overlooked. We think he's going to really do well in the system we have." The Knicks also recently inked 6’11’’ Cole Aldrich to a two-year deal, via Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com.
However, Samuel Dalembert, whom the Knicks acquired in the Chandler trade, is the favorite to earn the starting nod. He is the best defender and rebounder of the bunch (11.6 boards per 36 minutes for his career), two areas where the Knicks are expected to struggle and has started 673 games at center over his 12-year career.