Yesterday, in Part I of this preview, we discussed how Coach Mike D’Antoni tends to prefer a shorter rotation (meaning a bunch of our 15 person roster won’t see the court) and what types of players excite or disgust him. One new note, based on a press conference that D’Antoni and Knicks President Donnie Walsh held (which Buckets reader Brendan linked to in the comments section of Part I, and which Chris Sheridan and many others have reported) is that apparently Coach is enamored with Timofey Mozgov after seeing him practice in person for the last few days:
“Have to see how he adapts to the NBA game, but at 7-1, 270 pounds, he’s maybe our most athletic guy, that runs, that’s a great guy, that has great hands and knows how to play,” D’Antoni said. “(Watching him) I’m like, ‘Yeah, what am I missing?’ So I’m happy with him and excited about the possibility. We have a lot of guys we should be excited about the possibilities.”
So maybe I was completely wrong with my fear that Timo would fall under the Darko Clause and get no minutes. I’m also concerned about the slight possibility that Ronny Turiaf could fall prey to this unwritten D’Antoni Law (if written it’d be: “Thy foreign centers who can block shots but don’t get tons of boards must become well acquaint-ith with thy sidelines, not thy hardwood.” Why his laws would be written in bad Olde Englishe is beyond me, but who knowith how the inner workings of D’Antoni’s mind doth be?). Of course, while Turiaf is no rebounding machine, unlike Darko he does play smart on offense, is a good passer (if anything, like D’Antoni’s other former Frenchman Boris Diaw, Turiaf overpasses when he should take a shot) and has a surprisingly decent shot from 10-15 feet away. So maybe Turiaf will start and get the 25 minutes as rumored, with Timo getting 10 or so backup minutes, and then Amar’e Stoudemire moving over to center for the rest of the time.
A couple of Buckets readers and many pundits feel like the starting five is fully set (with Ray Felton, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Amar’e and Turiaf). While that is the most likely group, it’s important to remember that training camp hasn’t yet begun, so like while D’Antoni clearly likes say what he’s seen Turiaf do in the past, he hasn’t yet seen what Ronny can do in his system, versus how Timo or even Anthony Randolph might fit in. So there’s still a fair amount of uncertainty. The only three 100% definite starters are Felton, Gallo and Amar’e.
However, what positions Gallo & Stat will play is uncertain. It’s possible that instead of Turiaf starting at center, Amar’e could open there (despite his oft-stated preference to play power forward), enabling Anthony Randolph to start at the 4. That still leaves a big ol’ battle over shooting guard.
If healthy, Kelenna Azubuike is the consensus best fit, but who knows when he’ll be back, let alone if he’ll still be the player he once was. As a result, the fight to be the opening night two should be between Wilson Chandler, Bill Walker and Roger Mason Jr. Wil The Thrill and Walker are technically better suited to play small forward, but both have the added benefit of having already earned D’Antoni’s trust. Also, while Wil & Walker aren’t traditional twos, neither is Mason since he’s more the size of a point guard. Another factor: after we traded away Jared Jeffries mid-season last year, Gallo usually asked to cover the opposing team’s best player, which’d sometimes mean he even tried to stop point guards. Perhaps he could defensively cover the two, allowing Wil or Walker to start at their more natural small forward spot. Assuming Azubuike isn’t healthy enough to compete for the spot, I agree with everyone in thinking that Chandler probably has the inside track on the job.
The odd thing is that while one out of the four of Azubuike, Chandler, Walker and Mason will win a starting spot, most likely at least one of them will end up being completely relegated to the bench. And I’ve got no idea who will be what. I can just as soon see each one of them as a starter and as a bench boy. Landry Fields likely won’t have a shot at starting, but it’s possible he could break into that swingman rotation. If he somehow does, then expect two of the above guys being left in the cold. It’s also conceivable that Toney Douglas could get some play at shooting guard, but I expect him more to see minutes backing up Felton as he’s the only other legit point on the team. Also, as he is the only backup here, I do think he’s one of the four players assured of definitely being in the rotation even though he’s definitely not one of the four best players on the team.
Who’s clearly on the outside? I think it’s safe to say that since neither Patrick Ewing Jr or Andy Rautins were able to make a huge impact in Summer League, it’s unlikely they’ll crack the rotation playing with the big boys.
Lastly, everyone expects Anthony Randolph to get a ton of minutes and break out. That may well be the case, but be wary. Don Nelson often benched him because he did bone-headed things (which young players tend to do). That’s the exact thing that usually causes D’Antoni to not play guys too. There’s a small chance that our young athletic phenom could end up finding himself watching from the seats.
To sum up, here are my predictions for who are the Definites in the rotation, the Bench Boys, and The Middle Men from our 15-person roster. With four people in the Definites category, and D’Antoni tending to only run 7-9 deep, expect at least two of the seven (and as many as a whopping four) Middle Men to morph into Bench Boys.
Definites: Felton, Stat, Gallo and Toney.
Bench Boys: Curry, Ewing, Rautins and Timo?(although as stated above, after D’Antoni’s praise, maybe Mozgov should be moved down to Middle Man status)
Middle Men: Azubuike, Chandler, Fields, Mason, Walker, Randolph and Turiaf.
Tags: Amare Stoudemire Andy Rautins Anthony Randolph Bill Walker Danilo Gallinari Darko Milicic Donnie Walsh Eddy Curry Kelenna Azubuike Landry Fields Mike D'Antoni Patrick Ewing Jr. Raymond Felton Roger Mason Jr Ronny Turiaf Timofey Mozgov Toney Douglas Wilson Chandler