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Building the Knicks’ Playoffs Rotation

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Just as it seemed the Knicks had settled into a successful rotation, the team was hit with the injury bug, as the season wound down. Rasheed Wallace, surprisingly, returned and then retired in literally less than 5 minutes. Pablo Prigioni, unfortunately, suffered an ankle injury in the last game of the season, a meaningless game that Prigioni only had to play in, due to a lack of healthy bodies. The signings of Quentin Richardson and Earl Barron were seemingly just for the last game of the season, but you never know with the Knicks. After all, Woodson started James White for a few weeks and is now considering starting him again while Prigioni is out. Add in the uncertainty surrounding Chris Copeland and the mystery that is the health of Marcus Camby and Amar’e Stoudemire and Mike Woodson has an interesting dilemma. With that said,The Knicks Wall will attempt to map out Mike Woodson’s playoff rotation and how these decisions may impact New York’s success in the playoffs.

Let’s start out with what we do know: Carmelo Anthony will get the overwhelming majority of the minutes at power forward. Anthony played significant minutes the entire season, averaging 37.0 MPG, the second most in his career. It is likely that Anthony will see even more minutes come playoff time. For his career, Anthony averages 38.9 MPG in the playoffs, as opposed to 36.3 MPG in the regular season. This represents a 7.1% increase in minutes in the playoffs.    Applying such an increase to Anthony’s minutes this year will yield 39.6 MPG. For the purposes of this estimate, Melo will be penciled in for 40 minutes, all at the power forward position.

Tyson Chandler will likely be forced to log heavy minutes in the playoffs, coming off a bulging disk in his neck that forced him to missed 16 of the last 20 games. This injury will make it more difficult to project Chandler’s minutes, as we don’t know how limited Chandler will be. For the Knicks to advance, Chandler must be healthy, and we should take him at his word (as hard as that can be with the Knicks and injuries) that he is healthy. Chandler played 32.8 minutes per game, slightly higher than his career average and slightly less than last season. Chandler’s playoff minutes have been roughly consistent with his regular season minutes (29.1 to 28.5), so considering  this and the presence of Kenyon Martin as a legitimate backup, Knicks fans shouldn’t expect Chandler to play more that 32 minutes per game.

Other than Anthony and Chandler, the Knicks’ starter with the most consistent role for the entire season has been Raymond Felton. There is no reason to expect that Felton will see any decline in playing time in the playoffs. In fact, Felton likely will play more with the loss of Pablo Prigioni. Felton has only played 9 playoff games in his career and, because of this, his sample is ultimately too small to take anything from. Felton will likely play a similar number of minutes as he did in the regular season (34.o), with a slight increase while Prigioni is nursing his injury, to about 36 MPG, all at point guard.

Since he has returned from ACL surgery, Iman Shumpert has started every game for the Knicks. Shump will start in the playoffs, but how much he plays is not so easy to predict. Shumpert has seen his minutes relatively increase since coming back (20.2, 18.6, 22.4, and 26.7 minutes per game in the months January – April, respectively).  However, it is highly possible that Mike Woodson will choose to play veterans like JR Smith and Jason Kidd over Shumpert, who has only played in one postseason game. Shump’s minutes will probably be more consistent with those when he came back from injury, about 25 MPG between the shooting guard and small forward positions.

The last Knicks starter remains somewhat of a mystery with the injury to Pablo Prigioni. Mike Woodson said it will likely be Chris Copeland or James White (Please No!) because he wants to keep Jason Kidd, JR Smith, and Kenyon Martin on the bench. Let’s hope that Woodson uses common sense and starts Chris Copeland because, honestly, I trust Quentin Richardson (not kidding) and Earl Barron (only kind of kidding) more than James White. Copeland has earned playoff minutes with his play in the past month, but the question remains how much due to his inconsistent defense (a generous assessment: subpar to bad would be more appropriate). Nonetheless, Cope’s ability to spread the floor and  play a really poor man’s Carmelo Anthony in Melo-less lineups is something that should be valued. If (when) Copeland starts, he will likely play the first 3-5 minutes of each half before making way to JR Smith or Jason Kidd and come back in to play the power forward while Anthony is on the bench. Copeland averaged 15.4 minutes per game in the regular season and 15 will likely be an appropriate number of minutes for Copeland in the playoffs, split between the two forward positions.

The sixth man for the Knicks (and likely the NBA’s sixth man of the year) is JR Smith, the enigmatic shooting guard. JR will get his minutes in the playoffs; Mike Woodson has shown an unbelievable amount of confidence in Smith that has seemed to pay off in JR’s second season with the Knicks. JR may end up being the difference between an ECF run and a first round exit. Many say the Knicks live and die by the three, but they maybe even more dependent on JR (boy, is that scary to say). JR averaged a career high 33.6 minutes per game, despite not starting a single game. Looking at JR’s career numbers are pretty much useless at this point, because Mike Woodson trusts Smith much more than George Karl ever did. Last season, JR played 27.6 MPG in the regular season and 35.0 MPG in the playoffs. Expect Smith to play even more in the playoffs, let’s say 38 MPG at the shooting guard and small forward positions.

Jason Kidd was brought to the Knicks for one reason: to mentor Jeremy Lin  to provide veteran experience in the playoffs. Considering Mike Woodson’s favoring of veterans and the injury to Pablo Prigioni, Kidd will likely have to initially play more minutes than he has during the regular season. This is especially the case if the Knicks want to continue to run the two point guard lineup that has been so successful in the regular season. Kidd averaged about 26.9 MPG in the regular season, a career low, but will likely see his minutes go to 30 MPG as long as Prigioni is out, playing all the backup point guard minutes and the rest of his minutes at shooting guard.

Few expected Kenyon Martin to be such an influential player when the Knicks signed him at the trade deadline, but here he is. Sheed and Kurt Thomas are gone,  and Amar’e and Camby are always hurt, so K-Mart remains the only reliable big man off the bench. Martin’s presence on the teams has done wonders and he will likely receive significant bench minutes, especially in more physical matchups. Kenyon Martin and Tyson Chandler have not really been healthy at the same time, so Martin’s 23.9 MPG is likely more than what he will play in the playoffs. Martin will take all of the minutes Chandler doesn’t play at center and maybe even a few minutes at power forward where the Knicks want to play big for 18 MPG.

Someone’s minutes have to get cut, and that person will likely be Steve Novak. Had it not been for the plethora of front court injuries, it was possible that Novak would lose his playoff rotation spot entirely. Novak has been inconsistent this year, after leading the league in 3 point % last year, but his floor spacing ultimately makes the Knicks a better team. With Anthony taking up so many of the forward minutes and the emergence of Chris Copeland, Novak’s role will ultimately be minimized to 11 MPG. This number, however, could be even less if he is shut down the way he was vs. Miami last year.

This ten man rotation is clearly a tentative one, as the Knicks could see a plethora of players return in the coming games. The question remains whether the returns of these injured players will impact the Knicks rotation. While they may not have a set rotation that they have used the entire year, the Knicks have settled into a basic formula: Anthony at the power forward, spread the floor with shooters, and two point guards. Furthermore, the Knicks have one of the most successful crunch time lineups in the NBA of Felton-Kidd-Smith-Anthony-Chandler, a lineup that has a 124 OER and a 96 DER, according to 82games.com. Mike Woodson must keep to this for the Knicks to be successful, no matter who has to be squeezed out of the rotation.