The New York Knicks have yet to find a starting lineup that works for them. Six games, approaching seven, into the season, and Mike Woodson is still puzzled as to what group will help the Knicks avoid their mollases-like starts to games. Facing a 2-4 record and a tough schedule on the horizon, it’s a problem that needs to be addressed quickly.
Woodson (and anyone who watched) was able to discern that the New York Knicks starting lineup of Raymond Felton, Iman Shumpert, Carmelo Anthony, Andrea Bargnani, and Tyson Chandler didn’t work out so well. In 31 minutes of action, that lineup had an offensive rating of 101 and a defensive rating of 131, meaning their net rating was a -29, according to NBA.com/Stats. As Chris Herring notes, the Anthony-Bargnani tandem hasn’t been effective at all, yet due to Tyson Chandler’s injury, Bargnani has been the starting center with Anthony at the four.
Woodson went back to the two-point-guard backcourt again with Felton and Pablo Prigioni, but that also hasn’t been able to yield the same results as last season. With Tyson Chandler in the fold, Anthony at the four, and Shumpert at the three, those lineups were a fortress, defensively, surrendering just 68 points per 100 possessions in a 31-minute sample. But the lineup we’ve seen the last two games — with Bargnani in Chandler’s place — hasn’t performed well, totaling a -19 net-rating while surrendering 106 points per 100 possessions on defense, and scoring just 87 points per 100 on offense.
All of this has caused Mike Woodson to look in various directions for answers. As reported from yesterday’s practice, Woodson is considering tinkering with the lineup once again, perhaps adding Metta World Peace or J.R. Smith to the starting unit. The former would be an OK decision: World Peace has had a generally positive effect on the floor, helping the Knicks perform better on both ends of the court. Likewise, he would surround Anthony and Bargnani with a good perimeter and post defender that could help the Knicks beef up the interior where they’ve been badly beaten by opponents this season.
However, starting Smith would be a questionable move. Smith will be playing just his second game of the season, and if his first game on Sunday was any indication, he’s not ready for big minutes. Smith chucked up a bevy of foolish shots on his way to a 1-9 FG while also committing four turnovers in his debut outing against the San Antonio Spurs.
The Knicks’ best bet may be turning to Kenyon Martin. While Martin is on a minutes-limit, he bears the closest resemblance to Chandler on this team, so by switching Martin in Chandler’s place, the Felton-Prigioni-Shumpert-Anthony lineup could possibly function as efficiently. Recall that at the end of last season, Martin filled in for the injured Chandler and was part of a group that finished the season incredibly strong.
While playing just a single point guard hasn’t worked so well for the Knicks, if Woodson insists on playing Bargnani at the five, then it may be wise to insert World Peace in the lineup with Shumpert. By doing this, the Knicks can have two able defenders on the perimeter to try and tighten up the defense, even if holes will still exist down low. That unit has played 24 minutes together this season, and while they’ve put up a miserable defensive rating of 115, they have an offensive rating of 118, giving them a positive net rating together — a rare occasion for any Knicks’ five-man unit this season.
The best hope for the Knicks is that this experimentation period is simply taking longer than expected, as opposed to the idea that the roster is already broken. Whereas Woodson had a pretty clear rotation in mind to start last season — formed partly by injuries — this team clearly has a different chemical makeup than last season, perhaps even more than initially expected. The Knicks obviously won’t live up to their true potential until Tyson Chandler returns from injury, but he’s the least worrisome Knick in terms of fit. The goal should be to figure out how the rest of the team fits and functions by the time Chandler returns, so they can hit the ground running to catch up to the rest of the conference.
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