By John Schmeelk
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Last week I wrote about how Tyson Chandler might be the Knicks’ most irreplaceable player, so naturally less than a week later he fractures his leg and will miss anywhere from a month to a month and a half.
He’s the Knicks’ only true center (sorry Cole Aldrich) and best defensive player. There’s no easy fix for this injury — and the Knicks are going to have to get creative if they want to win games while he is out.
The Knicks do, however, have a model for how to win without Chandler. He missed 16 of the games final 20 games last season, and New York went 12-4 during that stretch. Is that model repeatable? In some ways it is, but in others it’s not. The one thing coach Mike Woodson can do is mirror the starting lineup he used down the stretch last season by going with Raymond Felton, Pablo Prigioni, Iman Shumpert, Carmelo Anthony and Kenyon Martin.
Based on his comments Wednesday it sounds like Woodson will wisely go back to the two-point-guard lineup, but will stick with Andrea Bargnani at center. He also seemed to hint at inserting J.R. Smith into the starting lineup when he is available to play on Sunday. For some reason, Woodson refuses to go with what he knows works. Felton, Prigioni, Shumpert, Anthony and Martin are a proven lineup that can win games. It’s mind-boggling.
Martin was a huge part of the Knicks only getting slightly worse on defense during that stretch. Their defensive rating dropped by only a point and a half per 100 possessions, from 104.9 to 103.5. The problem today is that Martin is on a minutes limit. I understand the medical staff wanting to keep him healthy, but this is when the team needs him most. Even if they lose him for a month after Chandler gets back, it’s a worthy sacrifice.
Martin is not a rebounder of Chandler’s caliber, but he is a deterrent to opponent penetrators and can finish around the basket on pick and rolls. He needs to be able to give the Knicks 20-25 minutes a game while Tyson Chandler is injured or the Knicks’ defense is going to be a disaster. If Martin really can’t go, Cole Aldrich might have to give the team some minutes simply for defense and rebounds.
I’m not sure why Woodson is obsessed with starting Smith (unless it was an under-the-table promise during his contract negotiation), especially with his plans to start the team’s other three top scorers: Anthony, Felton and presumably Bargnani. It would leave no players that can score coming off the bench, spare Tim Hardaway Jr., Beno Udrih and Ron Artest. It would also put three sub-par help defenders (Smith, Anthony, Bargnani) on the floor together to start games. I won’t go into the problem of starting Bargnani (that’s for tomorrow) but that isn’t a good idea either considering how the Knicks are epically bad defensively when he is on the court.
Putting him with Anthony and Smith is a recipe for a lot losses.
The other way the Knicks succeeded without Chandler last year was to become better offensively (they jumped nearly four points in offensive rating). Anthony shot 49 percent from the field and averaged over 32 points per game. Smith, meanwhile, shot 48 percent and averaged nearly 24 points per game. The chance of both of those players repeating those performances is slim to none. It’s going to be up to Mike Woodson to make adjustments to life without Tyson Chandler, and they are ones he is not going to be comfortable with. He needs to embrace his inner Mike D’Antoni and go small.
The floor needs to be spread with the ball handler running a ton of screen and roll to create open looks for people. Anthony can still post up but when the double team comes, his teammates need to be ready to shoot the basketball from deep. The Knicks need to get back to shooting nearly 30 three-pointers per game. Bargnani needs to take centers away from the basket. Artest might have to play a little bit of center against smaller teams. Anthony cannot play small forward for a second, with those minutes going to a combination of Iman Shumpert, Hardaway and Smith. Two point guards needs to play simultaneously for at least 20 minutes a game. The rebounding will be terrible but it is a sacrifice the team has to make with their current personnel.
Woodson has been forced into these lineups before, and he can no longer fight it. It’s the only way they survive life without Chandler.
More so than anyone, it’s the coach that is going to be put to a huge test over the next 4-6 weeks. How he handles it will determine whether the Knicks still have a realistic chance of doing anything in the regular season this year.
– I don’t understand what the Knicks are doing with Amar’e Stoudemire. If he can only play less than 10 minutes every other game, he won’t help the team win games. He is better off not playing at all since he will never get into a rhythm to be an effective player. It would help him a lot more to build up in practice and then be ready to play steady consistent minutes when his body allows him. The current setup doesn’t help him or the Knicks.
You can follow John on Twitter @Schmeelk.
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