Today it was announced that Andrea Bargnani is expected to miss 3-6 weeks after tearing his UCL in his elbow in Wednesday night’s loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. It’s sad because Bargnani seems like a good guy who really wants to fit in on this New York Knicks squad. Nobody wishes an injury on a player.
At the same time, it’s not exactly the biggest blow that could have been dealt to the Knicks. This is mainly because Andrea Bargnani hasn’t been very good this season. Despite the Knicks’ current shortage in big men (Kenyon Martin and Amar’e Stoudemire are both sidelined with ankle injuries), the loss of Bargnani may actually benefit the Knicks.
Bargnani is in the midst of a three-year regression, this season included. Over the past three years, his scoring averages have dwindled, as have his shooting percentages, and his rebounding and defense remains abysmal for a seven-footer. This season, Bargnani is averaging 13 points per game on 44% shooting, 27.8% from downtown, to go along with 5.3 rebounds per game. And those numbers are slightly boosted by a strong November performance. Since November, Bargnani is averaging 12 points per game on 43% shooting, 20.5% from beyond the arc, and 5 boards per game. His advanced numbers tell an even worse tale. When he’s on the court, the Knicks have a -6.8 net rating — one of the worst ratings of any Knick seeing regular minutes. When Bargnani is on the bench, the Knicks’ net rating is -1.7, which means they’re still being outscored, but they’re fairing much better. The only Knick with a higher net rating on the bench is Tim Hardaway Jr.
With all that said, Bargnani’s injury opens up the opportunity for Mike Woodson to use a scheme he’s seemingly shunned: go small. Despite its prominent role in the Knicks’ 54-win campaign last season, Woodson has avoided small-ball this year (Carmelo Anthony at the four, two-point-guard back-courts), using refrains like “The East is big, man” to defend his position. Now, with several injuries to the Knicks’ front-court, Woodson’s hand may be forced.
Some of the Knicks’ best lineups this season come from playing three guards on the floor and placing Carmelo Anthony at power forward. One lineup Mike Woodson should absolutely go back to — and keep — is a five-man unit of Raymond Felton, Pablo Prigioni, Iman Shumpert, Anthony, and Tyson Chandler. In 40 minutes this season, that crew has a meager offensive rating of 92, but a defensive rating of 76.4, giving them an excellent net rating of 15.6.
Woodson has rarely used two point guards in the back-court at the same time, but he’s still used some less-traditional lineups that featured three guards, Anthony at the four, and only one other big — some even include Bargnani. A lineup featuring Beno Udrih, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Anthony, and Bargnani has only played 33 minutes together, but they have a 21.3 net rating, posting an absurd offensive rating of 139.1. Woodson has also used that same lineup with Felton in place of Udrih, and that group has collected a 10.5 net rating, too.
Going small could help some Knicks individually, too. Raymond Felton is going through one of the worst seasons of his career and could benefit from having a more open, spread floor, especially with a secondary playmaker in Prigioni. Carmelo Anthony is posting terrific numbers, too, but he hasn’t been as efficient as last season. His field goal percentage is down (44.9 to 43.8%), as is his two-point field goal percentage (47.6% to 44.4%), true shooting percentage (56% to 54.2%), and effective field goal percentage (50.2% to 48%).
We’ll see in the coming weeks if Woodson is actually willing to utilize this game plan and stick to it, but for a team struggling as badly as the Knicks, this could be a helpful turnaround.
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