The Knicks’ Spacing, Shooting Guards, and 15th Man

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.

  • mooch31

    Shawne is a good mention. He answers both problems. Can bang (proved it in the Celtics series) and hit the open 3-ball (always poopin’ in the corner).

    • Scott Davis

      Ha, I take it you also read some Posting and Toasting! Shawne was always pooping in the corner!

  • finestrg

    Too bad we couldn’t get Jon Diebler back from Portland in the Felton deal. Would’ve been perfect for what you’re talking about (which I agree btw — guys sagging off Felton and Brewer [esp. Brewer] in order to pack the paint could turn out to be an issue).. Spacing could end up being a problem.. I see Diebler as a 6’6″ SG version of Novak. His stroke is that pure. Doesn’t bring much else to the table but there’s no question about his outside shooting. Absolute money from deep…Right before we pulled the trigger on the deal, there was a rumor that Diebler was included. Then it went down and he wasn’t.

    As of right now we’ll have to hope that Copeland can be that x-factor as far as an extra shooter goes. Not sure what these 2 are up to but 2 more options we might want to consider for this role — former Cornell standout Ryan Wittman or former Miami Hurricaine Adrian Thomas. Both of those guys are dynamite shooters too and either one would come cheap.

    If it came down to one final spot to fill on the roster, I’d actually like to see Glen go for a big man, preferably a PF-type that can provide some interior scoring behind Amar’e. Amar’e our only true interior scorer. When he sits or God forbid he ever goes down, we’re gonna lose that element. I like DJ White for that role a lot. That dude can score down low, hit Js out to about 18′ and he can board and block a shot. Don’t know if he’d be willing to take a vet min. deal though. If we could get Donte Greene for the min. I think that’s a steal. Not the typical PF I’d prefer but he’s big and talented (this guy’s more a stretch 4 in the Tim Thomas mold). Too bad Craig Brackins went to Italy — he would’ve been the perfect scoring 4 behind Amar’e. 2 other cheap alternative provided they haven’t signed anywhere else — former NC big man Deon Thompson or DL standout from last yr Darnell Lazare.

    • Scott Davis

      DJ White could be a nice fit, and the Knicks supposedly have him on their radar.

      The Knicks kinda got hosed in both of their sign-and-trades this summer. True, they got the better players in both cases, but they also gave up a lot. Jerome Jordan and Josh Harrellson would’ve provided nice backup depth upfront and Jorts can spread the floor.

      In the Felton deal, not only did they not get Diebler back (who I didn’t know much about, but from your description he sounds nice), they gave up our pick Kostas Papanikolaou who looked like a great pickup as a future wing player.

      Though you mention some young, undiscovered talent, so to speak, I think the Knicks are likely going to go for a more sure-thing type of player with the last spot. Someone who they know can produce in certain ways when they get playing time.

      • rkulish

        Great point about the sign and trades…especially the case with Jorts because the Knicks are built to win now and Kostas probably wasn’t coming over here this year or next…

        Jorts was a player who was only going to improve his strength and skills (shooting, passing, D, rebounding, speed) with time and demonstrated he could give 8-12 solid minutes a game at the 4. He showed glimpses of being a guy that could knock down a three (vs. Philly 1/11/12 to name a game that stands out) and in general seemed like a nice piece to have on a talented roster.

        Who knows, maybe the trades can’t happen without Jorts but it’s definitely unfortunate. With Jorts still in the mix, you had a guy that could have filled a need and had experience with Coach Woodson, Melo, Amar’e, etc. Having him would have allowed GG and the FO a chance to try and nab another shooter for the final roster spot…

        • Scott Davis

          Well, the Knicks didn’t have to do any sign-and-trades, really, because Camby and Felton were both free agents. But they wanted more money, so the Knicks had to sign-and-trade to give them that money from their original teams.

          And Jorts usually had a positive impact on games. He hustled on the boards and on D, and occasionally could knock down shots. To me, he’d be a perfect fit with this team to play 10 minutes off the bench to backup Amar’e or play small ball with him at center.

  • rkulish

    I think the answer here is the stretch four – no question. They need someone that can convert open jumpers into makes, can rebound a little, play D and commit some hard fouls. I know that Shawne Williams was just brutal last year but he is my pick. He played well here, was sneaky good on D and the boards and thrived with guys like Amar’e and Felton. I think the fans liked him and, like Felton, I could see him coming in ready to prove a point because of poor performance in 11-12.

    If Williams doesn’t happen I would be happy with Matt Barnes (if he would take the min), Blatche (rumored to the Heat), Troy Murphy/DJ White, Donte Greene, Amundson, KMart, Birdman Anderson…in that order.

    One thing is for certain, the Knicks can under no circumstance rely on Camby or KT for big minutes if/when Amar’e misses some time. That is not why they are here and it will hurt the team in the long run. They need to give 15-20 mins (Camby) and 8-12 mins (KT) and that’s it.

    Bringing in a stretch four (in my ideal world) or a typical four is key and has been key since the flurry of moves were made in mid-July and even though it is the “last roster spot,” it is a spot that could be very important…

    If the Knicks lose a 1/2/3, they have some depth that can give minutes. If they lose a 4/5 they have depth but not guys that can give you minutes day in and day out. With a full camp, a sharp and motivated Melo, a healthy Amar’e, and a CONSISTENT lineup with the SAME point guard, I think spacing, etc. will be okay…

    • Finestrg

      Very good points. I agree with practically everything you said. If Shawne Williams wants to come back for the vet minimum, great. I’ll take him. But he went for the money last year so I’m not counting on him. Didn’t really show the loyalty last off-season like I was hoping for. I understand he had to get paid though, so I shouldn’t take it that personal. I could be down for him again..Why not. It’s true, he wasn’t nearly as good last year as he was for us. I understand he was banged up a little but still. And he flourished under D’Antoni…Would Woody use him the same way? Just some things to consider.

      Definitely agree with you about the frontcourt depth and how to use Camby and KT. I don’t see them as big-minute players anymore either. And I agree — if we lean on them too heavily they could break down. Then where will we be? That’s why, as much as I’d like one more SG, I think an extra big is more vital (plus we do have Chris Copeland who looks like a player at the 2/3 for us). And like I said, I’d like a big that can score the ball a little, as Chandler, Camby and KT (at this stage of his career anyway) aren’t true, go-to scorers. Amar’e ever goes down, we have no true go-to interior scorer (unless you wanna say Melo, but to me, Melo’s a SF who would be forced to change his game and play more post-up instead of his normal mid-range iso game in that scenario. And to me, it doesn’t have to be a vet player. I understand what Scott was saying — I think the Knicks really have coveted veteran experience this summer big-time but that’s it now — enough’s enough. No need to over do it. I say for the last spot or two, gimmie some young talent to balance things out a bit. I think with the last spot (and I agree rkulish — it could turn out to be important and shouldn’t be poo-pooed), it needs to be a scoring big that we can get on the cheap somewhere — if it’s a stretch big 3 or 4 like a Shawne Williams or Donte Greene, great, although I really like DJ White the best. I know he’s holding out for the most money but as long as no one out there is offering him him something north of the vet minimum, as the days go by and we get closer and closer to training camp, we might be able to get him for that amount. Just need to stay patient. Just read that D-Leaguer Darnell Lazare went to go play for Sydney..Too bad — he would been a nice fallback plan B for a cheap scoring PF for that 15th spot. Amundson and the Birdman are nice hustle players but they aren’t the scorer and don’t have the overall well-rounded game DJ White has. I’m hoping for DJ White or Donte Greene..

      • rkulish

        Yeah, well said. I remember being furious watching those two early-season losses to Charlotte and DJ White playing really well…

        I also have a soft spot for reclamation projects (like Shawne Williams in 10-11) that have been written off and labeled as one thing but have ability and may be able to prove they are another see Donte Green, Birdman, etc. Overall though, I think they need to get a scorer because, as you said and as was the point in the original post, they need a guy that can provide size but score the ball and space the floor

        I used to say in Donnie I trust but I guess at this point it’s in Glen I trust. The roster is better now than it was at the end of 11-12 so I am confident the last one (or two or three movies depending on cuts) will be a good one.