Why Carmelo Anthony-Andrea Bargnani Partnership Will Work for NY Knicks

Ciaran Gowan@@CiaranGowanContributor IIISeptember 2, 2013

Feb 13, 2013; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks small forward Carmelo Anthony (7) attempts a shot over Toronto Raptors center Andrea Bargnani (7) during the second half at Madison Square Garden. The Raptors won the game 92-88. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Knicks were ridiculed when they traded for Andrea Bargnani back in June, but pairing the much-maligned forward with Carmelo Anthony should prove a lot of people wrong.

After the dominant season he had at power forward in 2013-14, most think 'Melo needs to stay at the 4, but Bargnani's skill set will allow him to move back to small forward with ease.

The key to 'Melo's success at power forward wasn't necessarily that he was matched up against opposing 4s; it was more that he was surrounded by Tyson Chandler and three players with three-point range, which created space for him to work in the post.

In 2011-12the last time we saw Anthony at small forwardhe was playing alongside Amar'e Stoudemire, who can't hit threes and was even struggling to be effective from mid-range at the time. As a result, the offense broke down, with him and 'Melo both wanting to work from the same spot.

Bargnani, however, is at his best playing on the perimeter, which will ensure that New York will have the same formula it did last seasonsurrounding 'Melo with Chandler and three shooters. The Knicks can even switch it up every now and then, as 'Melo can shoot from anywhere on the court and Bargnani doesn't have too bad a post game himself.

Essentially, this pairing gives the Knicks the best of both worlds.

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Anthony gets to work in the post with plenty of spacing, but he won't have to put his body at risk by going up against bigger players.

Opposing teams will have the option to guard 'Melo with their power forwards, but doing so will give Bargnani a significant size advantage.

Playing 'Melo at the 4 was arguably New York's biggest strength last season, but when he injured his shoulder going up against David West late in the regular season, it became the Knicks' biggest weakness. As good as he was, 'Melo has spent over a decade going up against small forwards, and the change took a toll on his body.

And it's not even just the injuries. Defending the 4 was frustrating for Melo, because referees tend to be more lenient on physical play when it comes to big men. As a result, he ended up third in the entire league in technical fouls. With Bargnani now taking that role on defense, we won't see that again in 2013-14.

Melo is a unique player, because he's faster than most power forwards, but also stronger than most small forwards. He won't have a significant speed advantage when he moves back to small forward (although that's not to say he's slow for his position), but he will have the strength advantage.

Going up against smaller players in the post, this time Anthony will be the one handing out physical beatings on a nightly basis.

As for Bargnani, he'll be matched up with a power forward as usual, but for the first time in his career, he won't be relied on as a primary scoring option. Playing alongside an elite scorer like 'Melo will afford him a lot of space in which he'll be able to punish defenses, now that he'll be an afterthought in game plans.

He won't necessarily be dominant, but since he's fast and possesses solid ball-handling for a 7-footer, we should see him take advantage of slower players on occasion.

This isn't Steve Novak we're talking about. While Bargnani is known for his ability to spread the floor, he's more than just a spot-up shooter. He's someone who can drive to the rim when the defense closes out on the perimeter and has a variety of moves in the post. He's a poor man's Dirk Nowitzki, if you will.

Bargnani obviously didn't live up to expectations in Toronto, but now that he actually has a team around him, that could start to change. Not only does he have 'Melo taking the focus away from him, but he also has the defensive presence in Tyson Chandler that he never had with the Raptors.

This is the best situation Il Mago has ever been in, so we should expect a big season from him. It will be difficult for him to put up great scoring numbers on a team that's already stacked with offense, but with the chance to be more selective with his shots, a career-high in terms of field goal percentage isn't out of the question.

On defense, the pairing of Anthony and Bargnani seems like it could be one of the worst forward partnerships in the league, but their shortcomings on that end of the floor aren't quite as serious as they're made out to be.

'Melo has made strides during his year and a half under Mike Woodson, while Bargnani is actually (statistically, at least) one of the league's better one-on-one defenders in the post, according to this study at the Sports Analytics Conference.

And, of course, having the likes of Tyson Chandler, Kenyon Martin and Metta World Peace around them won't hurt.

Those who think 'Melo absolutely must stay at power forward are also forgetting the fantastic seasons he's had at small forward. Last year may have brought his first scoring championship, but he scored over 28 points per game in a season two more times playing at the 3 for the Denver Nuggets.

Another key to this trade is the difference it will make in the postseason. A big reason New York fell to Indiana in the second round last year was Roy Hibbert's presence in the paint, but having Bargnani affords the Knicks the opportunity to create a lineup that pulls him outside. The same applies to Joakim Noah and Kevin Garnett.

To do so, the Knicks would have to line Bargnani up at center, which isn't ideal from a defensive standpoint, but they can survive with him there for short stretches when they need the boost on offense.

Furthermore, now that Bargnani's in town, the Knicks could be one of only a few teams in the league with a lineup that boasts two 7-footers, but still manages to spread the floor. Grunwald has found a way to use small ball while maintaining a height advantage over most teams in the NBA, and he deserves a lot of credit for that.

The most important thing to note, however, is that this partnership plays on the strengths of both players. No one has to compromise here.

They both get to do what they do best. 

Admittedly, this does all hinge on Anthony and Bargnani actually starting together, which at the moment is in the balance. If they don't, it will create a logjam at power forward off the bench with Bargnani, Stoudemire and Martin, and will also put 'Melo at risk of injury.

Ultimately, this is the closest New York could have gotten to a perfect fit for 'Melo, considering the cap situation. Fans and media alike will continue to criticize Glen Grunwald for the move, but the noise will quickly die down once they see it in action. The same happened with last summer's additions.

Teams don't just make trades like this for no reason. It's clear the Knicks have a very specific plan for how Il Mago can help them out, and this is it. He spreads the floor, saves 'Melo from injury and provides extra scoring on the nights when J.R. Smith doesn't show up. Had the Knicks had those three things in the playoffs, the second round might have gone a lot differently.

It would be fair to worry if the Knicks were pairing 'Melo with a traditional power forward, but as Raptors fans know very well, Bargnani is anything but a traditional 4. He was hated for it in Toronto, but here it's what makes him such a good fit.

The bottom line is that 'Melo isn't really moving from power forward when playing with Bargnani. He'll still be in the post; spacing still won't be an issue; and, if they stay healthy, the Knicks will still be an elite team in the East.