The New York Knicks’ recipe for success Friday night shouldn’t have looked unusual to Knicks fans. Missing Tyson Chandler the Knicks went to a style of attack against the Charlotte Bobcats that won them a lot of games last season.
Take it with a grain of salt, of course — these are the Charlotte Bobcats, who are improved, but still not a team the Knicks should lose to in the first place. Nonetheless, the Knicks need wins, and returning to an old formula was a good look on Friday night.
There were a few crucial strategies: spacing the floor, shooting and hitting three-pointers, and Carmelo Anthony at the four. Sound familiar?
It was virtually the Knicks’ attack for all of 2012-13, a season in which they won 54 games. Mike Woodson has moved away from it to start this season, but Tyson Chandler’s injury has forced him to resort to old ways, and the outcome was positive. That’s not to say Chandler’s injury is a good thing, obviously, but it’s seemed to force Woodson’s hand to going back to what worked. Woodson deserves, perhaps, a little bit of a pass because this is a different roster make-up than last season — he wanted to experiment. Unfortunately, those somewhat hard-headed experiments have put the Knicks below .500 to start the season.
This week Woodson has acknowledged that with Chandler’s injury, he’ll need to go small, and that the small-ball recipe is truly what’s worked for the Knicks. That’s the first step. The second step is continuing what the Knicks did Friday in Charlotte, led by Anthony and Andrea Bargnani, who put in his best game as Knick, unequivocally.
Playing the four and five, Anthony and Bargnani combined for 53 points on 23-50 shooting (not a model of efficiency, but we’ll take it), 16 rebounds, 9 assists, and 6 blocks (5 of them Bargnani’s). Bargnani playing the five helped stretch the floor for the Knicks, and he took advantage of the increased space. In addition, as we saw nearly all last year, Anthony thrives at the power forward, also because of the increased space.
Equally important was the two-point-guard backcourt with Raymond Felton and Pablo Prigioni that Woodson utilized. Both are capable point guards on their own, but having the other to share ball-handling duties seems to free them up. Both are respectable shooters that help stretch the floor, and when the Knicks get the ball moving around the perimeter, it helps to have secondary play-makers to take advantage of scrambling defenses.
That same floor-spacing and ball movement helped the Knicks return to their best weapon from last season: the three-pointer. New York blitzed Charlotte last night with a 12-26 shooting display beyond the arc, good for 46%. That’s hardly a sustainable number, but in previous games, the Knicks were only shooting about 33%. Last year, the Knicks set an NBA record in made three-pointers, canning them at a 37% clip. If they can reach that number again, things will be looking up.
And this doesn’t have to change when Chandler returns from injury, likely some time in December. Woodson has seen that the lineup experiments have gone so well — he’d be smart to simply put Chandler at the five, Anthony at the four, and keep the two-PG backcourt. Bringing Bargnani off the bench adds more scoring punch with J.R. Smith. Combining Smith, Bargnani, and Beno Udrih, the bench point guard, may seem like a defensive disaster, but Woodson can flank them with other, better defenders like Kenyon Martin or Metta World Peace. But because of Martin’s minutes-limits (same for Amar’e Stoudemire), the Knicks can still use Bargnani as a backup five, a position that produced positive results last night.
Unfortunately, the Knicks need to hit the ground running. Sunday’s contest against the San Antonio Spurs will be a different animal entirely than the Bobcats. But the small-ball lineup could still work for New York. The Spurs use a big lineup with Tiago Splitter and Tim Duncan upfront, and both big men will be at a disadvantage trying to guard the perimeter. The Knicks may struggle defensively, but with Chandler out, they’ll have to simply outgun teams on most nights.
The hope now is that Woodson truly recognizes the Knicks’ winning formula and sticks to it.
Follow Scott Davis on Twitter.