The toast of the Knicks town for the past few weeks has been the speculation surrounding the return of Amar’e Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert. With their coming back to the lineup, the Knicks automatically become the deepest team in the league, boasting a roster of six backcourt and eight frontcourt players. As I watched the Knicks’ pre-game show on the first day of 2013, reporters were swamping STAT, all asking variants of the same question: Will you be starting?
Of course they word it differently, sometimes alluding to his minutes and other times speaking on whether he or Melo will play at the power forward position. It’s almost gotten to be a joke, musing about Amar’e's role coming off his injury. So much attention is given to the starting five players in basketball, when the real quandary that should be befuddling Mike Woodson is who will be ending the game.
The final five minutes of the game, though derided as the only watchable moments by casual basketball fans, are undoubtedly the most important. In the waning moments of close games, the intensity is formidably palpable. Those last five players on the court are on pins and needles as they seek to close out the game strongly and eek out a win. Can you sense the double entendre yet? The final five players in the final five minutes are more important than those that begin the game.
Case in point: Ronnie Brewer has started in 29 of the Knicks’ 30 games this season. If the NBA kept statistics on games ended (NBA officials, if you’re reading this, please consider this a petition to record games ended!), it’s obvious Ronnie wouldn’t equal that figure of 29 GE (See? It even looks good as an abbreviation!). Usually Mike Woodson elects to go with Melo, Kidd, Chandler, Smith and Felton, which has been effective. With Amar’e returning and Shumpert not far behind, the Knicks are going to have to find which lineup works best in end-of-game situations.
Woodson seems comfortable going with the hot hand. If that’s the case, there’s no harm in easing Amar’e and Shumpert into playing time, so as not to disrupt what’s been a successful lineup. If they start to struggle, you’re going to hear rumblings calling for STAT to be on the court. That’d be unwise, considering the need for chemistry in the final lineup of an NBA team. There can’t be that awkward, bumbling, stagnant offense that plagued last season’s team when STAT and Melo were on the court. If that happens, then the two $100 million dollar men will see each other only when they’re subbing in for one another.
Honestly, this is all a work in progress. Rarely is an NBA lineup set in stone, with most coaches tweaking playing time as the season goes along. 30 games into the Knicks’ foray, they have been mostly successful with Melo at the power forward position and opting for Chandler and three guards. With Amar’e and Shumpert back, they’ll be guaranteed more flexibility, if not a few more scoring options. So will Amar’e start? Who knows? What matters more is getting the Knicks into a rhythm and making sure that their chemistry is right so that that those last five players in the last five minutes are in the best position to win. After all, it’s not about who starts and how you start, it’s about who finishes and how you finish.