Since the New York Knicks traded for Carmelo Anthony, playoff teams around the Eastern Conference have come to fear a postseason matchup with the orange and blue.
If they’re afraid now, wait until next season.
After gutting the team to land their second superstar, the Knicks have continued to win without being anything close to a complete team. As good as Chauncey Billups, Landry Fields, Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony are, the team desperately lacks bench scoring and a productive starting center.
Yes, Dwight Howard will be a free agent in 2012, but signs point to Madison Square Garden’s brain trust rolling the dice on a cheaper option from 2011’s deep class of free-agent centers to save money for a run at Deron Williams or Chris Paul in 2012.
Here are the Knicks’ five best options at center from the 2011 free-agent class.
At first glance, Przybilla doesn’t fit into New York’s athletic, speed-reliant offense. That’s because the center is slow and has average hands, and calling him limited on offense is somewhat of an understatement.
But looking past Przybilla’s lack of offense, one can see the center fitting perfectly in the Knicks lineup. The team has plenty of offense on the roster already and is in dire need of an elite rebounder and low-post defender. While Amar’e is averaging a career high in blocks this season, his defensive worth is primarily as a weakside shot-blocker, and he simply can’t defend against the biggest and best centers in the game.
Przybilla can. He’ll guard the Dwight Howards of the league, rebound the ball and protect the rim—all things the Knicks need. And although he won’t score a lot, he shoots 56 percent from the floor for his career and won’t ever—ever—complain about not getting his shots.
He can do all these things while being a very cost-effective option, saving the Knicks money to help build the rest of the roster.
Like Przybilla, Chandler is an elite rebounder in the NBA and doesn’t command the ball.
That’s about the extent of the two players’ similarities.
Chandler is having a career year for the Mavericks this season, averaging around a double-double, blocking shots and playing great team defense. From the Knicks’ standpoint, his ability to run the floor is suited for Mike D’Antoni’s high-volume offense, and he is one of the league’s best finishers of alley-oops.
However, Chandler’s role on a championship contender will likely balloon his asking price this summer. And while he is 7’1” and a mobile defender, his wiry frame doesn’t match up well defensively with the league’s best centers. Because of this and his reputation for disappearing in non-contract years, Chandler probably won’t be worth the contract he will be seeking.
Fair warning before Knicks fans start envisioning the 6’11”, 260-pound Brazilian barreling down the Madison Square Garden floorboards dressed in orange and blue: Nene’s contract isn't up until the summer of 2012, but he does have the option to opt out this summer.
Considering Denver’s rebuilding state and interest in the center from contending teams around the league, it’s very possible Nene will opt out. This works in the Knicks’ favor because he is a big, mobile body that fits into D’Antoni’s offense and can guard elite centers.
However, if the big Brazilian walks away from his contract he would be leaving $11.6 million on the table and might expect upwards of that amount in free agency. Just speculating, but I don’t foresee Knicks president of basketball operations Donnie Walsh being willing to sink that much money into a center that has never averaged eight rebounds per game in his nine-year career.
But if Nene is willing to take a pay cut to play with a competitive team in New York, that’s a different story.
After 10 years of losing, Knicks fans have little patience for players still tied to words like "young," "potential" and "upside."
Enter Jordan, a 22-year-old, 6’11” and 250-pound freak athlete finally coming into his own as a third-year player with the Clippers this season. A big, mobile body, Jordan can defend the post, block shots and has proven to be adept at finishing passes around the rim. Like others on this list, Jordan doesn’t command many offensive touches and is an efficient shooter, converting 65 percent from the field for his career.
But Jordan definitely has his downsides. He shoots 40 percent from the free-throw line for his career, and his averages of seven points and seven boards this year aren’t particularly outstanding.
For this reason, Jordan may come cheaper than some of the other free-agent centers. And at 22, he is a young player rapidly improving who averages a double-double and 2.7 blocks per 36 minutes in his career.
At 7’1”, 265 pounds Marc Gasol has all the skills and physical requirements to be the Knicks’ starting center. He has a combination of size and mobility unmatched by any of the other free-agent centers (actually, unmatched by most centers). He blocks shots, is tough in the post, has the range to give Amar’e room around the hoop, doesn’t command shots and is a fantastic passer.
Gasol is a restricted free agent so signing him for an amount the Grizzlies aren’t willing to match would be pretty costly, and Gasol’s 2009-10 numbers of 14.6 ppg, 9.3 rpg and 1.6 bpg have dipped to 11.8, 6.8 and 1.6. But Gasol has been playing hurt all year and is likely to bounce back if his ankle gets healthy in the offseason.
Marc is the worthwhile free-agent center signing for the Knicks this summer.