The New York Knicks need a roster overhaul. That much was clear even before Tyson Chandler was injured in Tuesday night’s dreadful loss to the lowly Bobcats, but the non-displaced fracture suffered by the team’s center has cast an even more unflattering light on the Garden brain trust’s personnel decisions to this point.
Against Charlotte, coach Mike Woodson started Raymond Felton and Iman Shumpert in the backcourt, Andrea Bargnani and Carmelo Anthony at the forward positions and Chandler in the middle. Additionally, despite his previously announced plan to platoon Amar’e Stoudemire and Kenyon Martin, Woody dressed both players against Charlotte — and thank goodness he did. The coach opted not to dress Cole Aldrich; he and Chris Smith were inactive.
Chandler’s early exit from the contest left Woodson with very few options. With Aldrich unavailable, and Stoudemire on a strict minutes-cap, Woody was forced to press K-Mart into extended duty (18 minutes) on his “night off.” ‘Melo also picked up some of the slack, logging 45 minutes in the game, which clearly impacted his energy level in the game’s waning moments. Of course, the problem with Woodson’s roster management extends beyond last night’s loss. To date, Anthony is leading the NBA in minutes played, which is hardly ideal for a player coming off a significant shoulder injury. (Visions of Mike D’Antoni “riding his guys like Secretariat” come to mind.)
Now that we know Chandler will be sidelined for the next four to six weeks, changes need to be made. Here are some I’d try:
1. End the Stoudemire/Martin platoon experiment - Simply put, this “job share” is one of the dumbest NBA strategies in recent memory, and the plans creates more problems than it purportedly solves. Instead of playing STAT and K-Mart on alternating nights, play both as much as they’re able, abiding by any minutes- restrictions set by the team’s medical staff. And when one of the pair needs a night off, inactive him and dress another big instead. Which brings us to…
2. Activate Cole Aldrich – It’s not clear why Woodson opted to dress Toure’ Murry for last night’s game. Maybe the coach wanted the option to use Murry, a better-than-average perimeter defender, to chase Kemba Walker. But if Martin wasn’t going to play anyway, wouldn’t it have made more sense to have Aldrich in uniform?
3. Dump Chris Smith, Bring Back Ike Diogu – I won’t waste time re-litigating all the arguments against keeping Chris Smith. To be honest, I could care less if he won a job with his play or if his brother J.R. has some incriminating photos of James Dolan. What I do care about is the fact that the Knicks have several guys that are perfectly capable of playing Smith’s position, yet they’re criminally thin on the front line. Whether New York prefers Josh Powell — or Jeremy Tyler, once he’s healthy — doesn’t much matter, just as long as the roster gets filled out with another big man. Let Smith go develop his game in Erie; maybe he’ll actually turn into the player he seems to think he is. (Incidentally, I can’t help but wonder if J.R.’s suspension is the sole reason why Chris is still on the active roster. It sort of, kind of, maybe makes sense to keep another guard around while the suspension is in effect. Yeah, no.)
4. Stop Pretending Andrea Bargnani is a Big - Andrea Bargnani is seven feet tall. We know this. We admit this. But this doesn’t make him a “big.” Bargs has spent the entirety of his NBA career proving that he’s an overgrown two guard and it is absolutely puzzling how Mike Woodson seems to be the only person in the league that recognize this. More importantly, Bargnani and ‘Melo are not playing well together at all. The Italian only seems remotely comfortable when setting up on the elbow or at the top of the key, and either shooting a jumper or driving. The problem, however, is that Bargs spends most of his time getting in Anthony’s way. (I seem to remember another Knicks’ forward experiencing a similar phenomenon. His name rhymes with Schamar’e.)
Woodson needs to separate Bargnani and Carmelo, not double-down on “going big.” Play Anthony at PF with Iman Shumpert or Metta World Peace at the three, and bring Bargs off the bench as the featured frontcourt option with the second unit. Separating ‘Melo and Bargnani would give the Knicks a much-improved defensive five to start games and give their second unit a little more scoring punch. It would also allow Woodson to take it easy on his best player, because if he keeps riding ’Melo for 45 minutes a night, he’s going to break down. game. And the Knicks’ supporting cast would benefit from this alignment as well; Martin, in particular as backup center (starter while Chandler is out) and Beno Udrih as backup PG/pick-and-roll, pick-and-pop partner for Bargnani.
No one can deny that the Knicks are in serious trouble if Chandler’s injury keeps him out for the next 20-25 games, but maybe there can be a silver lining in all of this. At the very least, his absence should allow Woodson — in theory — to get back to the system and rotation that was so successful down the stretch last season.