Knicks Fans Must Approach Bargnani With An Open Mind

Bargs

In a move that outraged fans and confused analysts, the Knicks traded Marcus Camby, Steve Novak, and three draft picks (including a first round pick) for Andrea Bargnani. There is no doubt that the Knicks overpaid for the former first overall pick and possible amnesty candidate. However, while Bargnani did struggle this past year, there is still hope that Bargnani can not only become integrated into the Knicks’ offense, but can actually diversify and improve it.

One of the biggest concerns about Bargnani on the Knicks is that he could take away minutes from Carmelo Anthony at the Power Forward position, where Anthony thrived last season. It is important to note that Carmelo Anthony’s success at the power forward spot is not due to him having easier matchups against power forward. Usually, teams put their best wing defender on Anthony regardless of what position Melo is playing and then stick their power forward on one of the Knick three point shooters.

Three point shooting is the key in the Knicks’ offense, as Anthony and the Chandler-Felton pick and roll open up room for shooters. This offense has seen players like Raymond Felton and Iman Shumpert drastically improve their three point percentages from the year prior. While Bargnani has struggled from three these last two years, there is no doubting that he has the ability to hit a three point shot. He has a smooth stroke and is a 36% career three point shooter despite two years of ineptitude.

The Knicks do not need Bargnani to shoot 40% from three for him to be successful. He just needs to knock down some open threes and not force contested ones like he did in Toronto.   Bargnani is certainly capable of doing this; it really comes down to his confidence level and his health.  The Knicks hope that a change of scenery, along with some help from Dave Hopla, will give Bargnani the confidence and determination he needs to regain his shooting touch.

This is not as impossible as one may believe; one only has to look at Ronnie Brewer last year. With the Knicks, Ronnie Brewer hit an unprecedented number of threes in November after working with Dave Hopla. Brewer would go into a prolonged slump after November, but he still posted career best three point shooting numbers. Brewer flamed out, but he was an important cog in the New York offense at its highest point.

The difference between Bargnani and Brewer is that Bargnani has the physical tools to sustain a successful three point shot. Whereas Brewer has always had a funky shooting motion and never shot over 30% from three, Bargnani has a fluid shooting motion and has been a successful shooter in the past. Brewer’s shooting in November was always unsustainable, but if Bargnani knocks down 40% of his threes in November, he has the tools to sustain that success.

Now let’s go back to what this means for Carmelo Anthony. With an Anthony-Bargnani-Chandler frontcourt, Anthony will be undoubtedly be considered the small forward in that lineup. But what will change for Melo offensively? He will still be surrounded by spot up shooters and have room to operate. Bargnani, with at least some reputation as a good shooter, can help space the floor in the way a guy like Ronnie Brewer could not if he gets off to a hot start.

One ought to look at lineups with the Anthony-Bargnani-Chandler frontcourt in the same way that they look at lineups with a Novak-Anthony-Chandler frontcourt. Steve Novak is taller than Anthony, but is the small forward for all intents and purposes because his role was the spot up. Novak played little in the playoffs last year, but he was an important part of the Knicks rotation in the regular season, playing 20.3 minutes per game. Bargnani will likely play somewhere in between Novak’s 20.3 MPG and his own 28.7 MPG this past season.   If he plays these minutes, he will not really disrupt the “Melo at the Four” offense, assuming he is not a complete liability shooting wise.

In fact, Bargnani can add another element to the offense that Steve Novak could not in the pick and pop. This gives Anthony and Felton another tool to generate an open shot in the Knicks spread out offense if a team clamps down on the three point shooters. Usually, when teams focus on the shooters, the Knicks offense becomes filled with isolation. Anthony was forced to play a one on one style as many of the Knicks shooters struggled to create off the dribble (Kidd, Shumpert, Novak etc.).

While Bargnani is not a great ball handler, he can create in the way Steve Novak could not if the offense becomes stagnated. He could also play the two man game with Anthony, running the aforementioned pick and pop and some pick and rolls.  Bargnani’s presence allows the Knicks to further spread teams while having the option of running other plays. Steve Novak struggled when he was asked to do anything but spot up. Bargnani sacrifices some shooting ability in return for offensive versatility.

Things will change for Anthony defensively with Bargnani in the game as he will likely be forced to cover small forwards rather than power forwards. Anthony is a better post defender than wing defender, but Bargnani being in the game will give Anthony some relief from guarding power forwards, which at times wore him out last season. And while Bargnani is a poor defender and rebounder, he is certainly an improvement in these areas over Novak.

Besides replacing Novak, Bargnani was also acquired in an attempt to pull big men like Roy Hibbert away from the basket in certain situations. While many will point out that this role is better suited for free agent Chris Copeland, one has to ask whether Mike Woodson would actually play Copeland at center. All indications from last season are that Woodson was not comfortable playing Copeland at center because he is too small and would get pushed around.

While Bargnani is not exactly the toughest guy in the NBA, Woodson will likely be more comfortable playing Bargnani at center than he ever would be with Copeland.  This should obviously not be a permanent look for the Knicks, but going to it at times could help the Knicks. One thing the Knicks lacked last year is versatility; they built their roster to compete with Miami, but lacked the bigs to compete with more physical teams. While Bargnani does not make the Knicks more physical, he does make the Knicks more versatile, giving Mike Woodson more options if a particular style doesn’t work against certain teams.

The real issue Knicks fans may have with Bargnani is a distrust of Mike Woodson, who has struggled in the playoffs these last two years. The fear is that with the acquisition of more big men, Mike Woodson will move away from what has been successful. The lack of faith in Woodson is understandable; he often finds guys that he likes and gives most of the minutes to them, even if the lineups are not successful.  He wants to go down with his guys, no matter what. It is why the Knicks may be better off letting Chris Copeland go rather than give him the taxpayer’s mid-level exception. If Mike Woodson doesn’t trust Copeland, then the Knicks shouldn’t use one of their few assets on him.

It remains to be seen whether Mike Woodson will grow to trust Bargnani. That may be determined by whether Bargnani has a hot start. It is my belief that Mike Woodson will want to continue to play Carmelo Anthony at power forward, which creates an interesting dynamic between Andrea Bargnani and Amar’e Stoudemire. Truthfully, many Knicks fans would likely not have an issue with Bargnani if Stoudemire wasn’t on the team. Stoudemire and Bargnani on the same team creates a conundrum. They both want starter’s minute, but there likely is not room. There would be too much disruption and not enough defense and rebounding. Bargnani and Stoudemire playing together is a horrifying thought.

The Bargnani trade, however, may actually lead to the phasing out of Amar’e Stoudemire. Soon after the trade, there were reports of 20 minute restrictions and limits on back-to-backs for the oft-injured Stoudemire.  Mike Woodson has never seemed particularly fond of Stoudemire and it is important to note that Bargnani is a client of Leon Rose, the agent of Mike Woodson and Carmelo Anthony. A phasing out of Stoudemire may seem drastic, but at the very least, acquiring Bargnani should put any idea of Stoudemire playing 30 minutes per game to rest. One should suspect that by the 2014 season, the Knicks and Mike Woodson will have chosen either Stoudemire or Bargnani and the other will be no more than an overpaid bench warmer.

This is not a justification of the Bargnani trade for the Knicks in terms of value, but it is stressing that acquiring Bargnani does not necessarily ruin the play style that allowed the Knicks to be successful. If Bargnani plays like he did last season, he could disrupt the Knicks offense, but the Bargnani-Knicks pairing has upside if Bargnani is in the right mindset. It remains to be seen whether Bargnani is in the right mindset, but it is important to approach the situation with an open mind.