By John Schmeelk
Perhaps the one glaring weakness of this Knicks roster has been a lack of depth. That deficiency has been hidden fairly well with the starters playing well and Mike D’Antoni holding the rotation to eight for most of the season. Well, there’s no more hiding. With Danilo Gallinari out for 2-3 weeks with a sprained knee, someone is going to have step up their minutes and level of play if the Knicks plan on surviving a tough two week stretch.
It’s my guess that D’Antoni will change the starting lineup depending on who the Knicks are playing. Against a team with size like the Spurs, Ronny Turiaf will get the start. Against smaller teams, I suspect Shawne Williams will find his way into the starting lineup. Starting or not, Turiaf cannot play tons of minutes because of his knee injury. If he has to go 30 minutes a game consistently the knee will flare up and the Knicks might lose him for an extended period of time.
All arrows point to Shawne Williams. Though he doesn’t have the ball handling, penetration or decision making abilities of Gallinari, he might be a better spot up three point shooter. Gallinari hasn’t had a breakout season, but he’s done a lot of the little things that people don’t appreciate. For example, very often Gallinari guarded the opponent’s best scorer. It will be a test for Williams to see if he can provide those same things that don’t show up in the box score.
The rest of the minutes should go to Bill Walker, who’ll get bumped to about 20-25 minutes a night. It’s probably his last chance to show the coaches he can be a meaningful rotation player, and do more than just a hit a couple occasional threes. His defense will be very important. Wilson Chandler and Landry Fields will have to be a little more aggressive taking the ball to the basket to make up for Gallinari’s absence.
The Knicks are getting banged up at the wrong time. Besides Gallinari, Toney Douglas’s shoulder is a true concern and Raymond Felton’s hand injury is clearly affecting his shooting touch. After the game at home against the Spurs on Tuesday, the Knicks play seven of nine on the road, including trips to LA, Utah, San Antonio and Oklahoma City. Gallinari likely won’t return until after the Knicks wrap up their southern trip against the Thunder on January 22nd. Going .500 in those games should be considered a huge success. It would set the Knicks up at 24-19 with a firm grip on the 6th seed with more than half the season behind them.
The mantra for the next two weeks has to be surviving, and it would have been the case even if Gallinari was healthy. With him out it rings even truer. This season could spiral out of control in the next couple weeks. If it doesn’t, the team will be great shape when playoff basketball rolls around.
UP AND UNDER
Up: The Knicks defense is far from best in the league, but it’s getting better. Their points per game is never going to be good, but their points allowed per possession are creeping towards the league average. The most encouraging sign is that that the team seems to be getting better as the year goes along. Perhaps that will dispel the “Mike D’Antoni doesn’t teach defense” myth. But even with the improvement there are still too many miscommunications and missed assignments, which often result in open lanes to the basket. There’s a dark side to the Knicks leading the league in blocked shots.
Under: Did you notice I didn’t list Anthony Randolph when discussing who would pick up minutes from Gallinari? While some writers simply state that he is in the doghouse, reports from practice are far from glowing. He still makes bad decisions with the ball, and doesn’t show the constant effort and enthusiasm on defense, or running on offense that he needs to in order to become a good NBA player. At this point he doesn’t seem to have the desire and effort to succeed. It might be wise to move him for a first round pick sooner than later.
AROUND THE WORLD
If I told you I wasn’t thoroughly enjoying the Lakers playing terrible basketball, I’d be lying. It has even resulted in the annual Phil Jackson-Kobe Bryant “stop being a selfish chucker” media battle. It seems some of Kobe’s teammates might be a little complacent after their championship last season. And unfortunately for the Mamba, he is getting a little older and he can’t take over games the way he used to. Still, I’d be surprised if the Lakers don’t recover and become a serious threat in the playoffs.
I’m not sure why I still let stupid things like All-Star voting bother me, but I do. Yao Ming is the leading vote getter at center. Kevin Garnett leads the current league MVP, Amar’e Stoudemire, at the forward position. It’s actually not as bad as it has been in years past, but c’mon fans, use your head and not your heart when you fill out those ballots. It’ll be interesting to see if Raymond Felton finds his way on the roster as backup. He’s the third best point guard in the eastern conference, but there’s nothing that says the bench has to have two point guards.
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