Diagnosing NY Knicks' Remaining Roster Flaws

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Diagnosing NY Knicks' Remaining Roster Flaws
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On paper, the New York Knicks appear to be dramatically improved over last season's iteration. With the arrival of team president Phil Jackson and head coach Derek Fisher, the squad should feature a completely revamped system, while the addition of Jose Calderon from Dallas and a host of young, hungry players will also help chemistry.

However, the Knicks roster is not without flaws. At this point, they aren't going to make any more major additions, but they do have some internal decisions to make to get the pieces to function properly together.

Let's go through the biggest holes on the Knicks roster and take a look at what the team can do to fill them going into the season.

 

Starting Center

The obvious place to start is in the middle, where the Knicks will be without 2011-12 Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler, who was traded to the Dallas Mavericks earlier this offseason.

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New York has plenty of options to replace him, but none bring the same level of defense the team is used to from Chandler (although, admittedly, the Knicks didn't get too much of that last season anyway).

Samuel Dalembert appears to be the obvious option, given that he has 673 career starts at center, but at 33 years old he's fairly ineffective and unlikely to be able to play for more than 20 minutes a night.

You could make the case that Dalembert wasn't much worse than Chandler last season, but that shouldn't bring Knicks fans much comfort as Chandler himself was particularly bad in 2013-14. Ideally they want an upgrade.

Another option is to start Cole Aldrich, who's arguably the best rebounder on the team (14.1 rebounds per 36 minutes) and had the chance to pick up the triangle offense in summer league. Of course, he's fairly inexperienced with just 135 games played over six seasons, but there's no better way to develop him than to play him significant minutes with the starting five.

The best option, however, is to give Amar'e Stoudemire another shot to start after two years coming off the bench.

We all know that STAT and Carmelo Anthony have struggled to become the dynamic duo they were supposed to be, but the presence of Chandler at center made that difficult. Spacing was always an issue when all three players were on the court, but that may not be the case with Melo at power forward and Stoudemire at center.

Of course, the big issue here is Stoudemire's defense, which is a lost cause by now. The defensive downgrade from Dalembert or Aldrich to STAT may just be worth it if it pushes the Knicks offense to the next level. After all, if you take a look at their overall personnel it's fairly clear that if they're to be successful in 2014-15, offense is going to be what carries them.

 

Small Forward

With Melo likely staying at power forward for the time being, the Knicks go into the 2014-15 season without a truly reliable small forward on their roster.

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Rookie Cleanthony Early was decent in summer league and is likely to at least get some play off the bench, but he doesn't appear ready for a starting role, especially not in the triangle. Admittedly, though, the 23-year-old is fairly mature as far as rookies go, with a full four years of college ball under his belt.

Forwards Travis Outlaw and Quincy Acy were recently acquired from the Sacramento Kings in exchange for guard Wayne Ellington and forward Jeremy Tyler, but again neither player brings much certainty to the table.

The last time Outlaw was anything other than a bench player in the NBA was 2010-11, when he started 55 games for the New Jersey Nets. His three subsequent years with the Kings saw his numbers fall dramatically (with single-digit starts in each), a far cry from his days with the Portland Trail Blazers and Nets.

Meanwhile, the 6'7" Acy may be athletic and a solid rebounder for his position (8.9 career rebounds per 36 minutes), but again he has limited experience in 92 games over four years and hasn't done enough to prove himself worthy of a big role so soon.

New York's answer to this problem comes in the form of its stacked shooting guard rotation. It can move J.R. Smith to small forward, giving him the starting role he desires and opening up 20-plus minutes a night for both Tim Hardaway Jr. and Iman Shumpert at shooting guard.

Smith's ideal position is the 2 spot, but he's no stranger to playing the 3, and at 6'6" his height shouldn't be too much of an issue. 

This plan will only work if Smith brings his best. In order for the triangle to be successful, he'll need to be consistent, unselfish and a lot more selective with his attempts, which is never guaranteed with a player who shoots as a first option.

With that said, the way Smith played toward the end of 2013-14 would be perfect (18.5 ppg in his final 20 games, up from 13.0 in his first 54), and the opportunity to opt out of his contract at the end of the year may inspire him to work hard for a bigger deal.

 

Backup Point Guard

After a terrible year from Raymond Felton (9.6 ppg, 5.6 apg), who was shipped to Dallas in the Chandler deal, the Knicks finally have a reliable starting point guard in the form of Calderon.

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Their issue now is working out how to distribute the backup point guard minutes between Shane Larkin and Pablo Prigioni.

On the one hand, the 21-year-old Larkin is clearly the only player with the potential to be a long-term contributor, as Prigioni's basketball career is nearing an end at the age of 37.

With his speed, Larkin also makes sense as a change-of-pace option off the bench, whereas Prigioni is essentially a lesser version of Calderon (a pass-first point guard who can hit the three).

However, Larkin wasn't great at summer league and didn't appear fully ready to run the triangle, often deferring to Hardaway Jr. to initiate the offense.

Prigioni's skill set, meanwhile, fits perfectly with the triangle, and his similarities to Calderon will make it easier for the rest of the roster to function, regardless of which of the two is running the offense.

Essentially, the Knicks need to make a decision between building for the future with Larkin or going with the best fit in the present with Prigioni.

Either choice would make sense, but assuming Calderon plays over 30 minutes a night, splitting the time equally between the two just makes it difficult for both players to get enough time to establish themselves on a nightly basis. One player needs to be receiving the majority of the backup minutes.

If Jackson, Fisher and Co. can install the triangle successfully and shore up the small forward and center positions, the Knicks may just give Anthony enough support to make some noise in the East.

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