By John Schmeelk
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The Knicks’ roster appears to be set for 2014-2015, and if it remains the way it is now, Derek Fisher will be facing a number of challenges in his first year as Knicks coach. Plainly, there are far too many players that will either expect or deserve playing time than Fisher could ever play.
Here’s how the roster looks, by their traditional position.
Tim Hardaway, Jr.
Looking at those groupings, it is important to try to reconcile them with how Phil Jackson has spoken about the roster.
– Jackson has referred to both Bargnani and Stoudemire as being better off playing center, but that would leave little depth at power forward. If those two are centers, wouldn’t Jason Smith be, too? That would mean the Knicks have five centers with no guarantee thst Tyler even makes the team.
– Of course, that works if Anthony is the starting power forward, but both Jackson and Steve Mills have referred to Anthony as a small forward more than once in Las Vegas.
Obviously, those two statements don’t work together. If Fisher wants to play big (which we’ll show in a second is a terrible idea), both Stoudemire and Bargnani have to play power forward. If the Knicks wants to play small, Anthony has to play power forward, with Smith getting significant time at the three. It’s one or the other, but it can’t be both. That’s why many believe that Jackson still wants to make significant changes to the roster if he is able.
Neither Stoudemire nor Bargnani have been effective enough to move Melo to the three, which would then sit down one of the six guards (Prigioni, Larkin, Calderon, Hardaway, Shumpert, J.R. Smith). Bargs and STAT both had the worst net rating (+/- points per 100 possessions) of any player with significant minutes on the roster last year (-6.2). Put simply, the team was outscored consistently when they were on the court for significant minutes. While Mike Woodson did neither player any favors, both have proven to be detrimental despite their hefty salaries.
Whichever way Jackson goes, Fisher is going to have some tough decisions to make. Assuming the Knicks want to play a nine- or 10-man rotation for most of the season, Fisher is going to have to bench guys that expect to play serious minutes.
All three point guards deserve to play, as do Shumpert, Hardaway and J.R. Smith. Those six players should take up the minutes at point guard, shooting guard and small forward, with Anthony at power forward. That leaves three players to take minutes at center and back up Anthony at the four, which would make ten in the rotation.
If the Knicks want to have any semblance of a decent defensive team, it would be extremely difficult to play either Bargnani or Stoudemire at center with Anthony at the four. Bargnani and Anthony had a defensive rating of 106.4 when they played together last year while Anthony and Stoudemire were a terrible 109.9. Throw in Calderon, who will struggle at point guard keeping quicker opponents in front of him.
The Knicks need a defensive-minded center in the starting lineup. Kenyon Martin and Tyson Chandler are both no longer on the roster, and they consistently helped the team in that area. That means either Dalembert or Aldrich is going to have to start.
It leaves either Bargnani or Stoudemire to back up Anthony at power forward, with either Jason Smith or whomever doesn’t start at center as the last two people in the rotation. Bargnani and Stoudemire can’t come off the bench together with their defensive liabilities, which means only one can play any significant minutes.
Fisher can’t do it on his own. There needs to be an organizational decision that either Stoudemire or Bargnani are not going to be able to play, despite the fact that both earn huge salaries and were once household names in the NBA. It’s what is best for the team. It has to happen if they want to win basketball games. Those were the decisions that Woodson was never able to make. Jackson has the pedigree to make those types of decisions, and he can empower his coach to enforce them.
Despite the focus on the triangle, Jackson has always coached good defensive teams, and he has to understand that if the Knicks want to move into the top half of the league in that category, either Bargnani or Stoudemire has to sit. With Stoudemire being the better offensive player (though worse defensively), he makes more sense than Bargnani to anchor the second unit.
It’s asking a lot of a rookie coach to sit down a former “star” like Bargnani, but the Knicks need to take a stand. Bad play needs to be punished. Actual accountability must replace Woodson’s version of the same thing, which was often the opposite of accountability. Jackson has 11 rings, and if anyone has the cache to make a move like that it’s him.
And with his support, Fisher can pull the trigger.
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