With the official word coming from several respectable news outlets that New York plans on bringing back 6′ 11″ Jared Jeffries, the search for a big man is somewhat quelled for the time being. But those who remember watching Jeffries play know he’s hardly someone who allows a fan base to sleep comfortably. Jeffries is a really tall forward; way too thin to bang with the league’s centers and way too fragile to stake any legitimate rebounding claim in the paint. In other words, he’s no Mozgov. Going on his ninth season, Jeffries is a career 4.3 rebound a game guy. In the 18 games he suited up for Houston this season, he averaged 1.5 points, 0.2 blocks, and 1.9 rebounds per night.
Maybe we’re asking the wrong question here. Instead of “What big men are out there?”, should we be asking “Do the Knicks need a true center?”. Looking back at Mike D’Antoni’s days in Phoenix, specifically the three season period of 2004-2007, who was his center? In 2004, our new friend Amar’e was a 22-year-old who managed to squeeze 26 and nine from his hardly “center” caliber frame. The short list of fellow big guys in the years that followed looked like this: 6′ 9″ Kurt Thomas, 6′ 11″ Pat Burke, and 6′ 10″ Sean Marks. That’s pretty much it. Until the fun stopped with the acquirement of Shaquille O’Neal, Phoenix ran up and down the floor, night in and night out, leading the league in points per game as well as pace (number of possessions per 48 minutes) each and every year. There was no time for a seven foot behemoth to lug his body back and forth. Shots went up fast and possessions rarely lasted longer than 10 seconds.
This team is built in a more traditional way, especially with the additions of Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups—a point guard who probably couldn’t run Mike D’Antoni’s system the way Nash once did—and the big question right now is whether the new players will adapt to the system or if the system will make the proper amends. For arguments sake let’s say the former option wins. Putting Amar’e at the center spot, with Turiaf and Jeffries as his backups, the Knicks could try their best at a run and gun style. The reverberations would ripple throughout the team—with Toney Douglas increasing his minutes and Carmelo Anthony taking over at the four—mostly on the defensive side of the ball, but that’s a price those mid-2000 teams in Phoenix paid. (If it weren’t for the uber-patient San Antonio Spurs and their Goliath, Tim Duncan, Phoenix might have seen a championship ring or two.) In the end, at least for the rest of this season, it looks like the Knicks might not have the personnel to run either system as efficiently as they’d like. In which case, based on possible playoff opponents, they should go all out. (Let me be remiss in my refusal to take into account Amar’e Stoudemire’s knees. I know it’s a problem, but how much hurt could 30 games bring?)
The only Eastern Conference playoff team with any legitimate big man threat is Orlando. A team that just so happens to be fading right before our eyes. Boston is large but Kendrick Perkins-less, and figure to be better than New York regardless of any big man dilemma; Chicago has some length with Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson, but those two are more worrisome on the defensive end; Atlanta has nobody; Miami has nobody; and every other playoff team with any size at all (Milwaukee, Indiana) likely won’t face the Knicks. So there you have it. If the Knicks want to grab a good chunk of real estate this year—mind you there shouldn’t be any pressure on them to do so—they should invoke their inner Phoenix Suns and shoot the ball like it’s 2005.