Backcourt Brain-Teaser: What Do The Knicks Do At The Shooting Guard Position?

Natural battle tactics dictate that when an army has found itself completely overmatched in a battle, it should retreat, effectively forfeiting the battle, but retaining its resources and important figures for further battles to come. The New York Knicks faced a near impossible challenge in the first round of the NBA playoffs, matching up with the Miami Heat, and in game one the team found themselves outclassed by the eventual NBA champions. The 100-67 trouncing by the Heat certainly gave a huge blow to the ego and confidence of the Knicks, but it did not end the series; the Knicks still had the opportunity to ultimately call it a day, look at the film, and prepare for the next game. That was until the Knicks lost their knight in shining armor. Iman Shumpert may not be the Knicks’ best player, but he is nonetheless a player the Knicks could not live without. If we consider Tyson Chandler the anchor of the Knicks defense, the fortress that defended the rest of the army, then Shumpert was the outer defense of that fortress. The devastating tear of the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) effectively ended the Knicks’ season and put the Knicks in a tough spot for the upcoming season at the shooting guard position.

The Knicks currently are in a position where there is no viable option at shooting guard on the roster. Iman Shumpert is likely out until January at the earliest, and J.R. Smith and Landry Fields are both currently free agents. Conventional wisdom says that Smith will likely be back, and Fields will not, unless Toronto pulls its seemingly ridiculous offer for the former second round pick. Before anyone knew that Fields would be offered around $20 million over 3 years, it was assumed that Smith and Fields would both be back, and that the Knicks would still need to pick up another shooting guard. Naturally, now that Fields, who probably needs a change of scenery, is heading north of the border, the position would seemingly be of upmost importance.

As the market currently stands, the starting shooting guard for the Knicks on opening night will likely be the aforementioned Smith, who for all purposes is more suited in a sixth man role. There is an obvious need for another guard, whether that guard should be signed to backup Smith or slide the enigmatic shooting guard back to his more suited role. The two names thrown recently are O.J. Mayo and Randy Foye. Mayo would likely command starter’s minutes and money with a sign-and-trade package similar to the proposed package for Steve Nash (without Shumpert), but at this point it does not seem likely. Foye would be a great fit with the Knicks; he is an excellent three point shooter who could complement the style of Knicks star Carmelo Anthony. He likely would not demand a starting role, could bring the gritty defense that Mike Woodson wants, and could likely be signed for the taxpayer mid-level exception of $3.09 million, as long as the Knicks can work out a sign-and-trade for point guard Jason Kidd.

The problem with signing Foye, or Mayo for that matter, comes with the possible scenarios when Iman Shumpert does return to the Knicks. One cannot assume the health of the player, but it is clear that Shumpert is a player the Knicks plan on using in the future. Most Knicks fans would like to see Shumpert emerge as the starting shooting guard when he is healthy, bringing the starting lineup defense and energy. Even in Shumpert’s return, though, Coach Mike Woodson will continue to give starter’s minutes to Smith, a player he has great affinity for. But where does this leave Foye or whoever else the Knicks sign? There just aren’t enough minutes for three shooting guards.

One might say that the Knicks made it work with the Shumpert, Smith and Fields trio last season, but that was an entirely different situation. Both Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith logged significant minutes at the point guard position, due to the lack of stability at the position. One would like to think that the return of Jeremy Lin and the signing of Jason Kidd would bring more stability to the position. After all, Jason Kidd isn’t being paid $3 million just to mentor; he is going to get minutes, too. There are some that suggest that Kidd may get minutes at the shooting guard position, as a spot-up three point shooter, creating an even greater logjam at the position. There may also be minutes to be had at the small forward position, of course, with no true backup at the position currently on the roster. In these scenarios, the Knicks would be going with a small lineup, but does Mike Woodson really want to go small a significant amount of time? Also needing to be factored in is the likely of return of free agent Steve Novak, who plays both the small forward and the stretch four.

Let’s think about the Knicks rotation for a second. There are 240 minutes that can go around between the Knicks players. Last season Carmelo Anthony played about 34 minutes per game, while Amare Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler each logged about 33 minutes per game. Keep in mind, last season was a condensed schedule, so those minutes are likely to go up. However, for the purposes of this estimate, the three players will be penciled in for a combined 100 minutes per game. This leaves 140 minutes. If we pencil in about 30 minutes per game for Jeremy Lin and 20 for Jason Kidd, that leaves about 90 minutes remaining. Remaining to slot in those minutes is Shumpert, Smith, Novak, whatever shooting guard the Knicks sign, and whatever big the Knicks sign. Last season, Shumpert, Smith, and Novak averaged about 75 minutes per game between them. Even if we assume that number goes down to about 65 minutes (which is likely pretty conservative if Novak is the backup power forward), then there is only 25 minutes to go between the shooting guard and backup center. Keep in mind, the center would have to get at least 10-15 minutes to backup Chandler and/or Stoudemire. That leaves the new shooting guard less than 20 minutes of playing time per game.

Now this is all under the assumption that Shumpert will play next season, which is not necessarily the case. This may not be a problem the Knicks have to worry about for another year, but it is essential when considering what shooting guard to sign. Will a player like Randy Foye accept a one-year deal in order to improve his value, or will he desire a long-term contract? And if the Knicks do sign a player to a multi-year deal, do they really want to pay a player $3 million or more to possibly play only 15 minutes when Shumpert returns? The Knicks face a situation where they have to find a player who can play 25 minutes per night if need be, but would be content with playing less. The best case scenario may ultimately be signing a Foye type to a one-year contract and re-evaluating after the season.

It can be said that it is never a problem to have too many talented players, but at this point, it may be more important that the Knicks develop chemistry. A logjam at the shooting guard position would certainly not develop chemistry. Many people often attribute the chemistry problem as a disconnect between Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire, but it may be just as important that the role players develop chemistry with both each other and the team’s stars. The Knicks need stability, but the Shumpert injury has put them in a place where they have anything but at the shooting guard position. It will be very intriguing to see what Knicks General Manager does at the position, because determine the success of the entire season.