Thanks in part to the frequently injured status of Amare Stoudemire, Mike Woodson has been forced to be very creative in his approach to lineup building this season. Using the talent pool available to him, he’s completely twisted the traditional point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward, center lineup into something uniquely special and effective. This has been especially challenging, due to the ever changing pool of available players on the team, but by the end of the season he’d found and shaped something special. The dilemma comes from trying to find a place for Steve Novak in this new Knickerbocker vision, or for that matter, Stoudemire, if and when he makes it back from injury.
Point Guard: Raymond Felton, JR Smith. New York starts a fairly traditional point guard in Felton. His job is to run pick and rolls, drive and score, drive and kick and stick the occasional three. If he can defend one of the other team’s guards reasonably well, so much the better. For most of the season, no one on the team seemed able to duplicate this role and the team struggled when Felton was playing hurt or not playing at all. Not only is Felton healthy now, Smith seems to have figured out that he should prioritize attacking the basket. While Smith is not considered one of the team’s point guards per say, when he’s on the floor and Felton isn’t, he’s the one that has been filling Felton’s role of bringing the ball up the court and attacking the basket. While Smith is obviously more of a scorer than a passer, Woodson seems to like having his point man be one of his primary scorers supporting Carmelo Anthony.
Shooting Guard: Pablo Prigioni, Jason Kidd. Woodson prefers to have two point guards on the floor whenever possible, which may be one of the reasons that New York had the fewest turnovers in the NBA this season. Since neither Kidd nor Prigioni have the ability to attack the rim that Felton and Smith have, they’ve played the role of off guard, helping facilitate the offense with their passing from the perimeter while spreading the floor with their three-point shooting. Another benefit of having Kidd or Prigioni on the floor all the time is their defensive acumen, which leads to numerous turnovers by the opposing team, often in the form of steals.
Small Forward: Iman Shumpert, JR Smith. Another reason why the Knicks have so few turnovers is instead of playing with two forwards, they play with three guards. Shumpert is versatile enough defensively to defend forwards and he can even rebound like one on occasion. His primary roles are to defend the opposition’s best perimeter player, provide a three point threat and occasionally attack the rim. One of the reasons Smith is the Sixth Man of the Year is his ability to fill multiple roles off the bench. In the fourth quarter when Felton and Kidd are manning the backcourt, Smith plays this role. While not quite the defender that Shumpert is, he makes up for it on the offensive end and by being an even better rebounder. Ronnie Brewer started the season filling this exact role, but as his play fell off and Shumpert returned from injury, he was sent to the end of the bench.
Power Forward: Carmelo Anthony, Chris Copeland. Using Melo at power forward is one of the biggest keys to the Knicks’ success on the offensive end this season. By having an elite perimeter player at the four, New York has opened up the paint for their pick and roll game which is a major part of their offense. Not only do Smith and Felton have extra room to attack the basket, but Melo gets mismatches which forces double teams and opens up New York’s options further. Having Melo or Copeland on the floor at the four gives them a primary scorer and makes it almost impossible for the opposition to prevent at least one of New York’s now four shooters from getting an open look from behind the arc. Melo’s transformation into an elite three-point shooter this season while playing the four has been a major part of why New York led the league in three-point attempts and makes. Unfortunately for Woodson’s lineup preferences, after a terrific regular season, Copeland has played so poorly in the playoffs that Woody was forced to use Novak at the four in game three instead.
Center: Tyson Chandler, Kenyon Martin. The role of the five for the Knicks is to backstop the defense, participate in the pick and roll with Felton and grab rebounds. With only one real big man on the floor at a time for New York, it’s critical that he be able to defend the rim/paint and rebound. By having the five be the screen and roller, it gives him an important role on the offensive end, while the rest of the team can be trying to get open from behind the arc. Rasheed Wallace filled this role behind Chandler at the beginning of the season, but fortunately for New York after most of their bigs got hurt, they discovered Martin, who has done an incredible job of filling this role off the bench.
So, Woodson has found a unique combination of roles that works well with his personnel and has enabled the Knicks to become an elite team. The problem is this carefully crafted system doesn’t really have a place for two highly paid forwards: Steve Novak and Amare Stoudemire.
Novak is a good enough three-point shooter to play the three or the four, but he’s not a good enough ball handler. Not only does Woodson use the three as an extra ball handler, he frequently has Melo bring the ball up the court and he runs isolations through Melo and even on occasion, Copeland. While big enough to play the five for New York, Novak doesn’t have the necessary skill set to be the primary defender in the paint. Frankly, other than being a terrific three point shooter, Novak brings very little to the table.
Last season, that was enough. Last season, Novak led the league shooting 47% from deep, while no one else on the team shot even 35% from three. Novak provided the team with essential and amazingly accurate three-point shooting. This season is much different. This season, Novak’s long range shooting is down to 42% and he’s one of eight Knickerbockers shooting 35% or better. While 42% is still quite good, Novak’s lone skill set is now being duplicated by several other players, all of whom bring lots of other things to the table. While the threat of Novak’s shooting helps spread the floor when he’s on the court, so does the threat provided by the Knicks’ other fours: Melo (38%) and Copeland (42%). If Copeland continues to be unable to work through the playoff jitters Novak may get some minutes this post-season, but his role with the team going forward is definitely in question.
This brings us to Stoudemire. Amare has a skill set that no one else on the team has: the ability to be a superior low post scorer. Unfortunately, Woodson has been forced to design an offense that not only doesn’t need a low post scorer, it may operate better without one. Woodson’s system requires the four to be a three-point shooter and the five to be a superior defender and rebounder. None of these things describe Stoudemire. Given STAT’s overall talent level and the team’s investment in him, I’m sure Woody will make some use of him when he gets healthy. I’m just not sure if that will be in the best interests of the team’s success, based on their performances this season.
The New York Knicks have signed Kenyon Martin to a 10-day contract, according to Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports. This comes on the heels of a last minute trade, sending Ronnie Brewer to the Oklahoma City Thunder, in exchange for the Thunder’s 2014 second round pick.
The Knicks were eager to sign Jermaine O’Neal if the Suns chose to buy him out, but the Suns changed their mind and decided to keep O’Neal. With that, the Knicks quickly changed their targets to focus on Kenyon Martin.
Ronnie Brewer has been traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for a future second round pick. The value in this trade for the Knicks come from an open roster spot, which they could now use to sign Jermaine O’Neal, should the Suns come to terms on a buyout with him.
After a slow start, the Knicks fought back to beat the Orlando Magic tonight at the Amway Center by a score of 114-106. Carmelo Anthony led all scorer’s with 40 points while adding in six rebounds and six assists. Jameer Nelson and Aaron Afflalo both scored 29 points to lead the Magic. The Knicks got a double-double from Tyson Chandler (14 points, 12 rebounds), 18 points from J.R. Smith off the bench and an all-around game from Jason Kidd (15 points, eight rebounds, 7 assists). Nikola Vucevic lead all players with 18 rebounds for Orlando.
Round Two in the heavyweight rivalry that is the New York Knicks and the Brooklyn Nets goes the the ‘Bockers. After being down by as much as 17 in the first half, the Knicks clawed their way back and pulled out an improbable 100-97 victory. Carmelo Anthony scored a season and Knicks career high 45 points. Jason Kidd, who hit the game-winning three-pointer, had 18 points, six rebounds and six assists in his first game against his former team as a member of the Knicks. Andray Blatche led Brooklyn with 23 points while Deron Williams had a double double with 18 points and 10 assists.
The Knicks ended their three-game road losing streak in resounding fashion tonight, running the Milwaukee Bucks off their own floor by a score of 102-88. Carmelo Anthony led five Knicks in double figure scoring with 29 points, along with eight rebounds. Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton chipped in with 17 and 12 points respectively. Steve Novak, playing back home and in front of his family, scored 19 points off the bench, knocking down 5-of-7 three-pointers while Pablo Prigioni had his best NBA game, scoring 11 points and dishing out seven assists. Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings combined for 35 points for the Bucks, but only five of those came in the second half.
Losers of three of their last four games (including the Battle for New York City to the Brooklyn Nets on Monday night), the Knicks (9-4, tied for 1st in Atlantic Division) end their quick two game road trip tonight against the Milwaukee Bucks (7-5, 1st in Central Division). The Knicks will again be without Jason Kidd, who missed Monday night’s game with back spasms. The team has him listed as day-to day. Ronnie Brewer, who dislocated his left ring finger in the loss to the Nets, will be available for the Knicks. There has been no word on who will replace Kidd in the starting lineup. Coach Mike Woodson could use his big lineup of Raymond Felton-Brewer-Carmelo Anthony-Kurt Thomas-Tyson Chandler or just replace Kidd at shooting guard with one of either J.R. Smith, Steve Novak or James White.
The Knicks take their 5-0 record into the Home of the Alamo to take on the San Antonio Spurs at AT&T Center. The Spurs come into tonight’s game with a 7-1 record, tops in the Southwest division and Western Conference. They have won three straight ballgames and are coming off a close, two-point victory over the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center this past Tuesday.
Coming into the season, Ronnie Brewer at one year of the veteran’s minimum salary looked like a good pickup, but we didn’t really know how good until now. Four games in, and Brewer has already played a crucial role in the Knicks’ success this season. Not only is his on-ball defense superb, but watching him run around the floor chasing his man off the ball is marvelous. On offense he’s been one of the biggest surprises of the year, connecting on more than 50% of his three-point attempts, so far. It’s likely his shooting will regress closer to his career average of 25.7%, but until then… wow.
Through three games, the Knicks have yet to struggle, and yet to meet an opponent to give them a real challenge. Yes, it’s only been three games – a sample size so small that it hardly has any real bearing on the season, or how good or bad a team will be. Yet, through 12 quarters this season, the Knicks look like a well-oiled machine, finely tuned on both sides of the floor to just slowly, efficiently unhinge their opponents.
I think @Netw3rk said it best, “Ronnie Brewer isn’t a shooting guard he’s a guarding guard.”
Ronnie Brewer is one of the best one-on-one defenders in the league, but if you haven’t heard of him, it’s likely because he isn’t very flashy on the offensive end. One thing is for sure: he gets the job done on defense. To show off Brewer’s, dare I say elite, defensive skills, I took a look at how four very talented shooting guards fared when going up against the defensive powerhouse that is Ronnie Brewer.