Despite their numerous options, their multitude of weapons, the Knicks were a below average offensive team in 2011-12. Although they played at the fifth fastest pace in the league (nearly 96 possessions per game), they were 19th in offensive efficiency, averaging 101.4 points per 100 possessions. Needless to say, this isn’t what the Knicks’ front office imagined when they paired Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony together.
Stoudemire and Anthony are both prolific scorers who found success working together in the latter half of the 2010-11 season, averaging a combined 49.8 points per game. The combo wasn’t as stellar in 2011-12, barely combining for 40 points per game. The drop-off this past season likely had to do with the lack of a training camp, of a consistent line-up, and lack of spacing.
Both Anthony and Stoudemire excel at face-up, isolation games on offense and in the pick-and-roll (as we knew was the case with Stoudemire, and have learned may be the case with Anthony). However, this past season the two often had trouble finding harmony because both had somewhat unreliable jumpers, and they found their space near the basket clogged by Tyson Chandler and his defender.
This offseason, the Knicks have added more depth and defensive talent to their team with Jason Kidd, Raymond Felton, Marcus Camby, Kurt Thomas, and Ronnie Brewer, but they have likely compounded their problems with spacing. Camby and Thomas are limited offensive big men, Felton and Brewer are both better at attacking the basket and shooting the mid-range jumper than shooting the three-pointer (33% and 24% from downtown, respectively). Jason Kidd, for his historic three-point prowess, is still not entirely reliable from beyond the arc, and can occasionally be a little too trigger-happy, or too passive with his shot.
So, this brings up the question of who the Knicks will start, especially at shooting guard.
It’s widely been assumed that J.R. Smith would come off the bench with Jason Kidd, a spot Smith prefers, while Raymond Felton and Ronnie Brewer would start with Anthony, Stoudemire, and Chandler. However, opposing defenders would likely stray away from Felton and Brewer on the perimeter and pack the defense, causing the Knicks to stumble and bumble into one another in the paint.
If the Knicks were to start Smith with Felton in the back-court, some of the spacing issues would be resolved given Smith’s ability to knock down shots from the outside, but it would also leave an offensive hole off the bench. Smith thrived off the bench last year, particularly with Steve Novak, so to move him to the starting lineup would leave the Knicks’ bench bare of guys who can create their own shot, or really explode on offense.
The problem may still remain when Iman Shumpert returns from an ACL tear later in the season. For a while last season, Shumpert and Smith developed nice chemistry off the bench together, while Landry Fields was still the starting two-guard. The Knicks could move Shumpert into the starting lineup and bring Brewer and Smith off the bench, but it still wouldn’t solve the spacing issue with the starting five since Shumpert isn’t a major threat from outside, either (30.6% three-point shooting in his rookie year).
The Knicks could still search for another shooter to add as the 15th man on the roster. They extended a summer contract offer to J.R Smith’s younger brother, Chris, but he likely wouldn’t play if he even makes the team. Chris Copeland also received a camp invite and a non-guaranteed contract. Copeland shot well in Summer League, but he might not have much of a chance to get playing time. Same goes for James White, the athletic wing man who the Knicks signed to a veteran’s minimum deal.
There are still options on the market for the Knicks, but those options would have to come cheap, as the Knicks can only offer the veteran’s minimum to free agents at this point. Shawne Williams, a stretch forward who thrived on the corner-three in Mike D’Antoni’s system two years ago is still available, but his name hasn’t lately been linked to the Knicks. Carlos Delfino, another sharp-shooter from the wing, is also available and would be a great fit, but his name hasn’t surfaced with the Knicks at all, likely because of the limited role available for him in New York.
However, if the Knicks were to look for another shooter in free agency, it may come at the cost of securing depth upfront. At power forward and center, the Knicks have just Amar’e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler, Marcus Camby, and Kurt Thomas. The former two play heavy minutes and have been injury-prone throughout their careers; the latter two are nearly 40-years old. If either Stoudemire or Chandler were out of the lineup for an extended period of time, the Knicks would have to heavily rely on two veterans with a ton of miles on their odometers. There are always cheap big men available to fill out a roster and bolster a front-court. Guys like Lou Amundson and Chris Andersen are still available, and could play nice roles as backup big men for the Knicks with the 15th roster spot.
So, the Knicks’ choice may positively affect one area, while negatively affecting another. They could look for a shooter to help their spacing issues and boast their already loaded wing positions, or they could beef up their front-court and choose to live with their probable struggles on offense.
Glen Grunwald’s got some thinking to do.