It first should be mentioned that there should no longer be any doubt whether or not this Knicks team is for real. The biggest criticism of the Knicks’ hot start was ultimately that they were playing too well and that they would eventually cool down, especially shooting-wise. That has yet to turn out, though, as they continue to win, with only a loss in Memphis on the second night of a back-to-back. With little evidence to suggest that this start is a fluke, Knicks fans and NBA pundits alike have begun to look forward to where this Knicks team can implode. So now the most prevailing question mark surrounding the Knicks is what they will do with the $100 million man, Amar’e Stoudemire.
Truth be told, there really isn’t much of a debate; most Knicks fans and NBA analysts have come to the conclusion that Amar’e Stoudemire needs to come off the bench. People have been so in unison that discussing it has really become redundant, especially when one considers that there really is no difference whether or not Stoudemire starts.
No matter how much people clamor for the opposite, it is the most likely scenario that Stoudemire will retain his starting role once he returns from knee injury. This does not mean, however, that Carmelo Anthony will not be able to play power forward. It will not be extremely difficult for Coach Mike Woodson to separate Anthony and Stoudemire (or Stoudemire and Chandler) to put the team in a position where Anthony can play power forward, a position where he thrives. This is why whether Stoudemire starts is really a non-issue. The real issue is what Woodson does in crunch time.
Returning to the issue of starting for a moment, one would think that even if he were told to come off the bench, Amar’e Stoudemire would accept his role, knowing that the decision is more about Anthony’s proficiency at power forward than anything else. What Stoudemire would not likely accept is not playing with the game on the line. Amar’e wants to win more than anything, and it will crush his confidence if he has to sit on the bench in a big game. With no end in sight to Stoudemire’s tenure in New York (NO THEY ARE NOT TRADING HIM), Woodson will not want to alienate his power forward. More than likely, Woodson will, at least early on, play Stoudemire in clutch situations.
If Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Tyson Chandler do not learn to play together, it will be in close games where the Knicks are hurt by Stoudemire’s return. The Knicks will not see their record significantly decline with the return of Stoudemire (the Knicks will thrive with an Anthony led unit and a Stoudemire led unit), but Woodson will either have to bench Amar’e in the final minutes or hope that some sort of chemistry develops. After all, there is almost zero chance, save foul trouble or injuries, that Anthony and Chandler will not be playing in the final minutes of a close game.
It is of this writer’s opinion that it is possible for Anthony, Stoudemire, and Chandler to play well together over short stretches. After all, the trio never really got to play extended minutes with a true point guard. This isn’t a “Jeremy Lin isn’t a true point guard” argument; the most often used Knicks lineup last season was Shumpert-Fields-Anthony-Stoudemire- Chandler. It is not surprising that the trio struggled primarily playing with Shumpert and Fields, neither of whom possess playmaking ability or shooting touch from the outside. In such a lineup, Anthony would spend a significant amount of time playing point-forward, a role not suited for his abilities.
There are some that hope that Jason Kidd will be able to find a way to make the Anthony-Stoudemire-Chandler lineup successful, but the problem is that there is a good chance the Kidd does not play in clutch situations, either. One would assume that Raymond Felton, the Knicks point guard, enjoying a renaissance season, would be on the court. That only leaves the shooting guard spot where Woodson will have an exceedingly difficult decision. The aforementioned Iman Shumpert is the best perimeter defender on the Knicks, and will be needed to cover the NBA’s most athletic guards when he returns from a torn ACL. However, Coach Woodson, who seems to prefer playing veterans, may turn to JR Smith, who has shown the ability to play excellent defense, make tough shots, and put in excellent effort.
In the final minutes against the Spurs, Woodson used Felton, Kidd, Smith, Anthony, and Chandler. Statistic show that this lineup has been the Knicks most effective lineup, shooting an effective field goal percentage of 59.3% and allowing a effective field goal percentage of only 29.6%. Obviously, these numbers will somewhat regress to the mean, but this lineup is regardless clearly more efficient than any lineup last year using Anthony, Stoudemire and Chandler. The Shumpert-Fields-Anthony-Stoudemire-Chandler lineup had an effective field goal percentage of 47.2% and -3% net turnover percentage. Replacing this clutch-situation unit with a unit using Stoudemire could be detrimental to the Knicks.
Clearly, the Knicks are not going to have a single 4th quarter lineup. One of the best aspects of the Knicks roster is that there are a variety of players that can be utilized in different situations. It will be up to Coach Woodson to determine which lineup will work against a particular matchup. No matter what decision he makes, however, Mike Woodson will not be making his most important decision when he chooses the starting lineup; he will be making it when he chooses who is finishing the game.