A lean, mean, facilitating machine! That is what Carmelo Anthony has set his sights on this summer to better fit into Phil Jackson’s famous Triangle Offense. Coming into the season, it looks as though Melo will no longer be a bruiser under the boards, but rather a more agile perimeter player like he was when he came into the league.
With Carmelo’s move back to the small forward position, the Knicks’ depth chart looks a lot different than it did at the end of the season. Last season, Melo played more power forward than small forward and lead the league in minutes per game at 38.7. Having Anthony at power forward allowed the Knicks to fairly distribute minutes to their excess of guards, often playing Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith at small forward while Tim Hardaway Jr. got minutes at shooting guard. However, with Anthony’s move to the three, there is going to be three legitimate players vying for minutes at the two, so someone is going to be the odd man out.
In theory, the Knicks have played Shumpert at point guard before due to Raymond Felton‘s inability to be effective, but this year’s team will have three point guard options better than him also vying for time in the back court. Pablo Prigioni played off the ball a lot last season, and Jose Calderon is certainly a good enough shooter to get minutes at shooting guard, so there are virtually five options at the shooting guard position on the current roster.
Jackson made a move last week to shed at least one guard, but that still isn’t enough. The Knicks will most likely continue to shop Shumpert and Prigioni to clear up space in a congested back court. If they fail to do so, there could be a lot of wasted talent on the bench and at least a few disgruntled players.
Looking at the front court, there aren’t many great options behind Melo at small forward. Recently acquired Travis Outlaw is coming over with a lot of mileage and not a whole lot of effectiveness. There is always room for a shooter to stretch the floor (Outlaw shot 35% from downtown last year), and even though Melo is always a league leader in minutes, he does need a break to ensure he doesn’t wear down over the course of the season.
Where does that leave Cleanthony Early? He looked like a promising rookie in the Las Vegas NBA Summer League, so why have him sit on the bench behind an aging player with an expiring contract? Early needs playing time to develop if the Knicks want to reap the benefits of the second round steal. He’s not strong enough to play power forward and not quick enough to play shooting guard (nor is there room), so an Early/Outlaw battle in camp should be one to watch.
Does Melo at small forward mean Jackson will change the way he views Amar’e Stoudemire and play him at power forward rather than center? Currently the only true power forward on roster is newly acquired Quincy Acy, who is a fine young player, but he is definitely not ready to play 30 minutes a night. Free agent signee Jason Smith could slide over to power forward from center. Either Smith or Acy will give the front court a solid rebounder and hard-nosed defender.
Depending how the power forward depth shakes out, center should be a good battle between Samuel Dalembert, Andrea Bargnani, and Stoudemire/Smith (whoever isn’t at power forward) with Cole Aldrich bringing up the rear.
Melo shedding his “baby fat” is going to have a ripple effect on the entire Knicks’ depth chart. How Derek Fisher handles the minutes distribution is something to keep an eye on as we approach the 2014-2015 season.