The New York Knicks are facing a challenging month ahead of them, but it could be coming at the right time. The Knicks have won four of their last five games and sit just one game out of the playoffs in an increasingly fading Eastern Conference. In recent games, the Knicks have recalled last season’s philosophies that helped them win 54 games: playing Carmelo Anthony at the four, placing several guards on the floor at the same time, spreading the defense thin with shooters and the pick-and-roll attack.
However, it’s fair to wonder if the Knicks will keep this strategy through the rest of the season. Mike Woodson resisted the small-ball attack through most of the first half of the season, dropping painfully unaware lines like “The East is big, man” to defend playing bigger, more traditional lineups. Although in recent games Woodson said he likes small ball and its fit and how he may not revert to bigger lineups, that may be easier said than done.
This, of course, all leads to the reason the Knicks have gone to small ball: Andrea Bargnani and Amar’e Stoudemire’s injuries. Stoudemire is due for a return soon after injuring his ankle several weeks ago against the Indiana Pacers. He played small minutes Saturday against the Miami Heat, but will surely receive more soon. Bargnani, on the other hand, may be out longer with a torn ligament in his elbow, but an exact time estimate hasn’t been given.
While nobody wishes injuries on players, removing Stoudemire and Bargnani has allowed the Knicks to play to their strengths. Neither Stoudemire or Bargnani can space the floor enough as power forwards since their jumpers are only respectable to a certain distance. Both are effective on the offensive end as centers which allows the Knicks to play smaller, but they’re both huge liabilities on the defensive end and on the boards. According to NBA.com/Stats when Bargnani or Stoudemire play center, the Knicks have 116.2 and 122.5 defensive ratings, respectively. In the week and a half since Bargnani’s first missed game, the Knicks lead the league with an offensive rating of 121.5 and a defensive rating of 103.
In their stead, too, other Knicks have thrived. Carmelo Anthony has obviously been scorching hot, averaging over 35 points per game on 51.6% shooting. Tyson Chandler has started to return to form as well, averaging 9 points, 10 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game while leading the Knicks with a 96.2 defensive rating. The biggest surprise, however, has been the effective play of Jeremy Tyler off the bench. Signed in place of Chris Smith, Tyler was glued to the bench for a while until Bargnani’s injury. While receiving just 17 minutes per game, Tyler has averaged 7 points on 55% shooting with 4 boards per game. He also has a net rating of 12 over his last five games.
So, the question begs to be asked: what do the Knicks do with Bargnani and Stoudemire? Having just one of them on the bench wouldn’t hurt the team. In limited minutes, both players can be effective offensively, and when the Knicks need to rest their starters, either STAT or Bargnani could come in to play. But if the Knicks were to keep with their small-ball starting lineup, it would leave both players on the bench, which crowds things, particularly with Tyler and Kenyon Martin’s solid play.
With the trade deadline weeks away, the Knicks could be active in trying to deal either player, but it would be difficult. Stoudemire’s due for over $20 million next season and Bargnani is owed $12 million next season. If they were on cheaper deals, they could be traded as both players do have some value on the court; however, for a team to take either off the Knicks’ hands, the Knicks would have to sweeten the deal. That would mean either taking back another long, expensive contract in return or throwing in a draft pick or young player like Iman Shumpert or Tim Hardaway Jr. in the deal.
It’s a problem Knicks’ management will have to deal with in the coming days. The New York Knicks could certainly continue playing small ball but it creates a logjam on the bench, and how Stoudemire and Bargnani will fit with the team’s game plan going forward will remain a question.
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