By John Schmeelk
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The Knicks had more afflictions last year than I could fit in my allotted space, but one started last October and continued throughout the entire season: the lack of a set rotation. Due to injuries, trades and ineffectiveness, players were constantly shuffled on and off the floor, which resulted in different starting lineups and a lack of continuity for most of the season.
Derek Fisher spoke early in training camp about the need to avoid that type of scenario this season. Arron Afflalo’s hamstring injury might deter Fisher’s best intentions, but at least for now the planned starting lineup appears to be:
PG: Jose Calderon
SG: Arron Afflalo
SF: Carmelo Anthony
PF: Kristaps Porzingis
C: Robin Lopez
As a whole, this lineup should provide good balance offensively. Everyone but Lopez can shoot and spread the floor for Anthony. Both Lopez and Porzingis should be able to run the pick and roll with Calderon. Afflalo and Anthony can both post up. The unit should rebound well, especially on the offensive side, with both Lopez and Anthony very proficient on the offensive glass. Rim protection should be stellar with two 7-footers.
The first potential issue with the lineup could be speed. Nobody in the starting lineup plays very quickly, which could cut down on the team’s early offense. For the same reason, transition defense could be a problem, too. The other bigger problem is perimeter defense. Calderon and Anthony will have trouble staying in front of their men, and advanced metrics have shown Afflalo’s defense to be in deep decline. Whether any of those three can prevent penetration — and the subsequent shots at the rim or open looks from behind the arc — remains to seen.
The Knicks’ second unit will be nearly as important as the starting five this year, with Calderon, Porzingis and Lopez (and Afflalo, until his hamstring heals) projected to play 30 minutes or less per game. For the first time in a long time, the team appears to have functional depth and a much faster and athletic second unit.
The only four players that we know, without a shadow of a doubt, will get real consistent minutes with the second unit are Kyle O’Quinn, Derrick Williams, Jerian Grant and Langston Galloway. It seems likely Sasha Vujacic, given his minutes in the preseason, will get fairly consistent minutes as well. Depending on Kevin Seraphin’s knee, he would be additional depth behind Lopez and Porzingis. Cleanthony Early might have played himself into some wing minutes as well.
Galloway and Grant will serve as versatile guards that can play both the one and the two and excel on both ends of the floor. Grant already plays like a pro in the pick and roll, and Galloway has become a consistent shooter. O’Quinn can stretch the floor a bit, run the pick and roll and rebound.
Williams shot like he was slathered in napalm in the preseason (he was REALLY hot), and the Knicks hope he can slide into Melo’s role as a versatile scoring forward when he is in the game (without the freedom to shoot as much). While his hot shooting won’t continue, his ability in transition could be a game changer. This group should be able to score in transition and play much faster than the starting five. Its perimeter defense should also be stronger. If needed, Seraphin can provide a bullying presence in the post.
The hope here is that Lou Amundson and Lance Thomas will be good locker-room presences, but will receive limited minutes, just when injury and foul trouble present themselves. A nine- or 10-man rotation to start the season is perfect, and Fisher should be very careful not to play more than that unless there’s mitigating circumstances such as injury or foul trouble. Vujacic, Amundson and Thomas are veterans and can contribute without playing consistent minutes.
Unlike last year, there are no glaring holes on this roster where you point and say, “What the heck are the Knicks going to do here?” If Afflalo is out for an extended period of time, shooting guard might become that, but Grant and Galloway’s versatility and Early’s possible emergence could mitigate that problem. The Knicks are fairly balanced and Fisher doesn’t have any excuses. There is a clear picture of what the rotation should be if Fisher decides to dedicate the team to it.
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