Throughout the 2013-14 campaign, “Carmelo Anthony at the 4” became a rallying cry for fans of the New York Knicks, desperate as they were for some silver bullet capable of turning their team’s wayward season around.
Now, with a new triangle-inspired regime at the reins and Anthony’s offseason regimen yielding a distinctly small forward frame, the question is bound to be raised anew: Who, exactly, should be New York’s starting 4 come opening night?
As currently constituted, the roster features five legitimately viable candidates: Andrea Bargnani, Amar’e Stoudemire, Jason Smith, Quincy Acy and Anthony.
Out of that group, Stoudemire seems the most likely candidate to come off the bench. Not because his past production warrants it, mind you, but rather because Stoudemire’s significant injury history will likely compel head coach Derek Fisher to adopt a minutes-management approach similar to the one previously used by Mike Woodson.
Unless, of course, Fisher and his staff take the opposite approach, namely using Stoudemire as often as they see fit, why with the former All-Star forward’s contract set to expire at the end of the season. Still, given STAT’s strong finish down last year’s stretch, limiting his minutes makes the most sense for all involved.
That Stoudemire remains one of the most woeful one-on-one defenders for his position anywhere in the league all but seal’s his fate on this front.
Bargnani presents a similar strategic conundrum: Is Fisher willing to live with the Italian forward’s woeful D for 30-plus minutes per game? Considering he authored far more efficient stretches at the 5 than at the 4 a season ago (per 82games.com), it seems Bargnani—likewise an expiring contract—would be best suited either as the starting center or one of the first bigs off the ‘Bocker bench.
For all his grit and gusto, Acy, whom the Knicks acquired along with Travis Outlaw in an August 6 trade with the Sacramento Kings, isn’t exactly starter material, having failed to tally more than 14 minutes per game in each of his first two NBA seasons.
Next up is Smith, whom the Knicks inked to a one-year deal on July 18. Good but not great, steady but not spectacular, Smith stands as a viable—if not overly exciting—power forward option. The reason: His offensive versatility makes for an intriguing fit in the triangle, geared as it often is toward the very mid-range jumpers Smith has made a career calling card of sorts.
Here's Posting & Toasting's W. Scott Davis:
Midrange jumpers and deep twos aren't exactly the favorite shots of modern offenses, but in the Triangle, Smith's ability to can those looks could be helpful. Whether he's acting as a center or power forward next to guys like Dalembert or Aldrich, Smith can space the floor, stretch a defense, and potentially open up other looks on the perimeter or inside.
Which brings us back to Anthony. Pitted against the aforementioned names, Anthony would seem a no-brainer as the Knicks’ starting 4.
However, as ESPNNew York.com’s Ian Begley recently posited, New York’s triangle transition could mean a decreased emphasis on the game’s traditional positional taxonomy:
That positional argument, though, may be less relevant this season because of the triangle. Anthony will be asked to take on a different role in the triangle and his function will be different as a small forward this season than it was last year in Woodson’s offense. Also, in the triangle, each player on the floor may be asked to fill multiple roles on the offense and may not be locked into a traditional position at all times. So the bigger issue this season will be who Anthony shares the floor with and which role he’s asked to fill in the triangle.
From New York’s perspective, what position Anthony plays is far less important than where he chooses to operate in Fisher’s system.
Speaking to ESPNNewYork.com's Ohm Youngmisuk and Begley Tuesday, Iman Shumpert—believed by many to be the team’s starting 2—echoed some of the philosophical points of Begley’s analysis:
The way it's set up, you can start three guards, it really doesn't matter. Everybody's going to get touches, everybody gets opportunities to cut. It's constant action going on. So I think that I'll be able to capitalize on that and I'll be able to use my athleticism a lot more than standing in the corner.
Still, that doesn’t mean Phil Jackson—Knicks president, triangle guru and steward of New York’s latest rebuild—doesn’t have a preference for where the golden calf gets slotted.
Indeed, according to Marc Berman of the New York Post, Jackson “sees Anthony more as a starting small forward this season,” with Berman positing the All-Star forward’s recent workout regimen as a reflection of that design.
For clues as to who, exactly, stands to replace Anthony at the 4, it’s instructive to look at the personnel strategy that appears to have informed Jackson’s first few moves.
Between Samuel Dalembert (acquired along with Jose Calderon in the Raymond Felton-Tyson Chandler trade), Smith, Acy, Bargnani, Stoudemire and Cole Aldrich, the Knicks have made a concerted effort to bolster their frontcourt ranks.
That, in turn, suggests Jackson might be looking to duplicating the kind of super-sized post platoon that marked much of his stint—and five championships—with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Between Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and (a healthy) Andrew Bynum, Jackson placed a high premium on the two-fold factor of size and skill. And while no one would suggest Smith, Bargnani and Stoudemire might rival that trio’s triangle prowess, the writing seems all but on the wall: Position-less philosophy aside, Anthony should be paired with the best combination of brawn and brains.
Assuming Fisher goes with either Bargnani or Dalembert at the 5, that leaves Smith, Stoudemire or Acy to man the starting 4 spot.
Of the three, Smith offers the best collection of triangle-ready skills. Which is why, as things stand today, the former New Orleans Pelican seems most likely to become New York’s full-time starting power forward.
He might not incite many cheers or sell a lot of jerseys, but on a team approaching the upcoming season as a bridge between eras, Smith—while perhaps forgettable—is by no means an unstable pier.