By John Schmeelk
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For once, the Knicks seem to have gotten some relatively positive injury news yesterday when Tyson Chandler was diagnosed with nothing more than a bone bruise in his knee.
Much to the Knicks’ glee, he should be able to get back in time for the season opener in Brooklyn against the Nets. (Then again, Amar’e Stoudemire was originally diagnosed with a bone bruise, but I’ll choose to be optimistic.) Chandler missing any significant time would be nothing short of a disaster.
Assuming Chandler is good to go, let’s break down who will actually get playing time once the season begins next week.
We’ll start in the middle, where Chandler will obviously start. If Marcus Camby gets back from his calf injury, he will be the backup and will get anywhere from 15-20 minutes a game. If Camby is not back, I would expect the Knicks to go with smaller lineups to start the season, with either Kurt Thomas or Rasheed Wallace (if he’s ready to play) getting time at center.
I wrote about the potential of Carmelo Anthony playing power forward a couple of days ago, but with Mike Woodson’s penchant for putting defense and rebounding first, Thomas will likely start at the four on opening night. If Camby isn’t back and Wallace isn’t ready for serious minutes, Thomas will have to play some center, forcing Woodson to make some tough decisions. He will either have to go with Anthony at the four for extended minutes or go to Chris Copeland, who showed he can contribute in the preseason. I think the former is far more realistic.
In my opinion, either Camby or Wallace will be ready to go, which means that the center and power forward minutes can be split between Chandler, Thomas, either Wallace or Camby and Anthony. That combination of players should be able to play 96 minutes at those two positions with decent production.
It’s obviously not what Glen Grunwald envisioned before the season, but until Stoudemire comes back, that’s the reality. The frontcourt will look much better once Stoudemire is back in the lineup. Thomas and Wallace will become bit players, with Camby being the primary backup to Chandler.
With Anthony having to take some time at power forward early in the season, Steve Novak might log upwards of 25-30 minutes a game. The Knicks open up with the Nets, Heat and Sixers. If Andrew Bynum still isn’t healthy, all three of those teams will be more than happy to play small with the Knicks.
That’s why fans should not be surprised to see a lot of Anthony and Novak at the forward positions until Stoudemire comes back. It’s a realistic possibility that he could be back for Dallas on November 9th.
The two starters in the backcourt are obvious: Raymond Felton and Ronnie Brewer. What Woodson does after those two guys is a question that remains to be answered. Assuming J.R. Smith is back from his ankle/Achilles injury, he’ll be the first guy off the bench at shooting guard. He might even see some time at small forward against certain teams. Jason Kidd will get minutes backing up Felton, and I think Woodson will find time for Pablo Prigioni as well.
All in all, until Stoudemire gets back, here’s how I see Woodson breaking down the 240 minutes available in an NBA game:
Raymond Felton: 31
Jason Kidd: 25
Pablo Prigioni: 8
Ronnie Brewer: 19
J.R. Smith: 24 (11 minutes as SF)
Carmelo Anthony: 38 (23 minutes at PF)
Steve Novak: 22
Tyson Chandler: 34
Kurt Thomas: 25
Marcus Camby or Rasheed Wallace: 14
Looking at those minutes, it’s pretty clear why the Knicks need either Camby or Wallace to be ready for next Thursday’s game. If they can’t go, the Knicks would have to go with Anthony at power forward for another 14 minutes a game and play more of Smith and Novak. Chandler missing significant time would be an absolute disaster for the Knicks, and it would turn them into a small-ball team that would struggle mightily on the boards.
Once Stoudemire gets back and starts playing his 32 minutes, I would bet that both Prigioni and Thomas will be taken out of the rotation, unless either is playing exceptional basketball. I would think Woodson would prefer to keep Novak at around 22 minutes and Smith at 25, rather than give some bit playing time to Prigioni or Thomas.
Next week I’ll do my best to preview the NBA season, including Eastern and Western Conference Previews, a very comprehensive look at the Knicks and then a little story about the new Knicks-Nets rivalry. I’ll put my predictions on paper so all of you can mock me for the next six months. It’s a win-win for everyone!
One Other Quick Note: It’s a shame to see David Stern retire as NBA commissioner in 2014. He’s the only person I’ve ever known to fill that position, and he has done a fantastic job despite the lockout last year. I’m sure that Adam Silver will do equally well, but never with the aplomb and hilarious one liners that Stern provides on a regular basis. I’m just looking forward to the next year-plus of Stern, since he will likely be even more local and willing to comment on things since he is on his way out the door. It should be fun.
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Is Schmeelk on the mark with his divvying up of minutes? What changes would you make? Sound off with your thoughts and comments below…