Heading into tonight’s matchup with the Nets, the Knicks are struggling mightily and this year they can’t even say they beat the Heat three times. This is in part because arguably their most important player, Tyson Chandler, is still recovering from a fractured fibula. Newly acquired Andrea Bargnani has been filling in at center and well, it’s very obvious why Chandler is so important.
What should be noted is Bargnani is actually having a decent shooting season. Despite a career of mediocrity on his good side of the floor, offense, Bargnani is posting good shooting numbers all while adjusting to no longer having the offense run through him. His True Shooting %, and Effective Field Goal %, and 2P% are all above 50% (54.7%, 51% and 51.3% respectively). The reality is, other than his struggles from three (33%) Bargnani’s shooting is out performing most Knicks fans (including myself) expectations.
The problem with the big Italian offensively though, is that he can’t do what helped make the Knicks so successful. Bargnani shoots about 48% at the rim despite being almost as tall as said rim. Last year Tyson Chandler shot 65% in the same area. This is what made the Knicks pick and roll game so good. The center was basically automatic points if he got the ball around the rim. Now if you try and run the same pick and roll with Bargnani the defense can just kind of get any defender over there and have a decent chance of successfully defending the shot.
So Bargnani can slide over to power forward and play more on the perimeter when Chandler comes back, right? Well, Carmelo Anthony is playing decently well at the power forward and is a significantly better defender their rather than at the three. According to 82games.com, Anthony holds opposing players to a 15.1 PER, about league average, at power forward, and a 26.7 PER, or about Kobe Bryant, at the small forward. Sliding Anthony to the perimeter on defense where his total lack of interest in guarding anyone can be easier exposed by quicker players is a mistake.
One last note on Bargnani’s offensive game is that, 82games.com has the Knicks scoring two more points per 100 possessions (103.6-101.7) when Bargnani sits. According to NBAwowy.com, Pablo Prigioni, Anthony, JR Smith, Iman Shumpert, and Kenyon Martin all shoot worse when Bargnani is on the floor.
The main reason it is dangerous to keep Bargnani’s steady diet of big minutes on after Chandler comes back though is defense. Andrea Bargnani just destroys his team’s ability to defend. Teams score 114.7 points per 100 possessions when Bargnani plays and 103.8 when he sits. Neither is particularly good but to put it in perspective, the worst defense (the Nets, two spots worse than the Knicks) have a defensive rating of 110.2, 4 points better than Bargnani’s rate.
Bargnani is constantly torched on pick and rolls, which causes the Knicks team defense to break down more than usual and then chaos ensues. Too often this year an opposing guard just drives at an unguarded rim because either Bargnani was brought out to the perimeter on a pick and roll or because he (and to be fair every other Knick on the floor) failed to rotate over to stop the player. Opposing teams also shoot significantly better from just about everywhere and dunk twice as often when the former first overall pick is playing.
When Chandler comes back the Knicks really should consider moving Bargnani to the bench and try to insert him into lineup with good defensive players. His +/- on the season per 100 possessions is -13 and that’s with an above average for him shooting season. These are the Knicks though and Woodson seems to work his rotation with no regard for how the players affect the team on the floor so look for a continuation of the 30+ minute nights for Andrea Bargnani.