Mike Woodson has used two different starting lineups in two games. In the season-opener against the Milwaukee Bucks, the New York Knicks started Raymond Felton, Pablo Prigioni, Iman Shumpert, Carmelo Anthony, and Tyson Chandler. The following night against the Chicago Bulls, the Knicks used a lineup of Felton, Shumpert, Anthony, Andrea Bargnani, and Chandler.
Woodson has stated that he will go with the big vs. small lineups depending on the opponent’s size. For instance, tomorrow night against the Minnesota Timberwolves, a team that boasts a front line of Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic, Woodson will go the ‘Melo-Bargnani-Chandler front-court.
The problem is Woodson is missing any lessons he’s learned both from last season and this year.
The first being that the Knicks are simply a better team when they go with the small lineups. They jumped out to a ridiculously hot start last season playing a Felton-Jason Kidd backcourt with Anthony at the power forward. When they went away from it midseason, tinkering with various lineups both out of curiosity and necessity (because of injuries), they played about .500 ball. At the end of the year, they again performed like an elite team when Woodson placed Anthony back at the four and started a back-court of Felton and Prigioni with Shumpert at the three.
Although the sample sizes are extremely limited this season, this lineup has been the Knicks’ most productive. In 23 minutes of playing time, they’ve posted a below-average Offensive Rating of 90.7, but an incredible Defensive Rating of 64.0, making for a Net Rating of 26.7. Woodson didn’t once utilize the two-point-guard lineups against Chicago, and the result: a loss. Of course, that can be pinned on numerous things, but Woodson’s insistence on moving away from these lineups is infuriating.
Conversely, Woodson’s starting lineup in Chicago (the one he plans to use against Minnesota on Sunday) has suffered. They’ve posted a decent O-Rating of 100.6, but an absolutely brutal D-Rating of 131.6, making them a -31 in 11 minutes played. Again, these sample sizes are small, but based on early results, it seems foolish to continue playing them.
Moreover, Woodson is hurting the team by failing to establish any continuity. Basketball is a rhythm-based sport, and teams that stay with consistent lineups tend to develop the best rhythm and the best chemistry. Even if both of Woodson’s starting lineups performed well, the team still wouldn’t function as smoothly because there’d be too much inconsistency in who’d be starting which night and what roles they’d be playing.
Andrea Bargnani plays a big role in this, because if he plays to the best of his abilities, he can be a major piece for this Knicks team. Woodson may be trying to let him get familiar with his teammates by giving him a starting role and giving him confidence, but pulling him out of that role for smaller lineups won’t do any good.
A look around at the NBA’s championship contenders shows some stable consistency in who plays where and what roles they have. The Knicks still haven’t established their rotations or their starting lineups, and continually switching them through the season isn’t a smart plan. Woodson shouldn’t be adjusting to other teams; he should play what works and make other teams adjust to the Knicks.