With the New York Knicks re-signing wingman J.R. Smith earlier this off-season and only having a limited portion of their Mid Level Exception remaining to be used on another free agent, the team needs to be very frugal about which free agents to sign.
One strategy is to have the Knicks sign players to the veteran minimum to fill out their bench. It’s a strategy teams have been using more frequently, with some instances working out very well (Nate Robinson, The Bird Man), and sometimes not (Rashard Lewis). The question remains, which players currently looking for new teams would fit the bill for the Knicks?
A player that has surfaced recently with rumors connecting him to the Knicks is small forward Mickael Pietrus. Pietrus spent the 2012-13 season with the Toronto Raptors, appearing in only 19 games due to injury/ineffectiveness (though he did start 16 of them). The former first round pick averaged 20.3 minutes a night, putting up 5.3 points and 1.9 rebounds.
So, is Pietrus a good fit for the Knicks?
In theory, Pietrus is the exact player the Knicks need to be looking for in a veteran bench piece. Carmelo Anthony, at least on paper, is expected to shift back to the small forward starting gig. But, the Knicks have traded away Steve Novak, Chris Copeland jumped to Indiana in free agency and the Knicks are in a position where they may need to add another player that can be effective from beyond the arc.
However, there are two main reasons I don’t see Pietrus fitting into the Knicks plans in 2013-14. The first and most obvious reason is that the Knicks may already have a pair of players under contract that could fill the void created by losing Novak and Copeland. 2013 first round pick Tim Hardaway Jr. was a much-improved shooter from 3-point land at Michigan last year, seeing his percentage jump from 28.3% to 37.4%.
Knicks fans may also be undervaluing non-drafted free agent pick-up C.J. Leslie from N.C. State. Though Leslie will never be a 3-point threat (he only attempted six of them last year in college), Leslie was one of the more athletic wing defenders the ACC had to offer last year. He can hold his own both in the paint and from mid-range, and has the length to guard anybody at the forward position.
The second reason the Knicks don’t need to sign Pietrus is the more obvious one: the Knicks are a much better team when they play small ball. New York doesn’t need to have a traditional back-up small forward on the team. As we saw last year, the Knicks were most effective when they ran out a three guards, ‘Melo and Tyson Chandler. The team’s best five-man unit next year will probably be Felton/Smith/Shumpert/Carmelo/Chandler. Not to mention, the Knicks will also be giving significant minutes to Amar’e Stoudemire (when he’s healthy), Andrea Bargnani, Pablo Prigioni and Tim Hardaway Jr. Add in C.J. Leslie, who should have a role in some form with this team next year, and the need for another big to serve as an insurance blanket for Amar’e’s knees, and you have a 12-man unit Mike Woodson would feel comfortable playing with.
At the end of the day, while the Knicks should always be adding shooters with the offensive system they run, Mickael Pietrus doesn’t fit their present needs. His defense has deteriorated to the point of ineffectiveness and the Knicks have players to fill the role the team would’ve wanted Pietrus for in the first place.
With only a portion of the MLE left to spend, the Knicks need to go big, not add to the wing.