As we approach the start of training camp and — EEEEEEEEEK! — real basketball, our in-house panel will be weighing in on the biggest questions facing this year’s Knickerbockers. Will Melo-at-the-Four return for an extended encore? What about two point guard lineups? Has the arrival of Andrea Bargnani spawned a conditioner renaissance within the Bocker locker room? Will Metta World Peace run for President?
In our first installment, we tackle who should be our starting five, as well as what unit should be the one to bring us down the home stretch.
Kevin McElroy: Assuming no material age- or injury-related regression, the team’s best 5 is going to be the same as it was at the end of last year: Felton, Prigs, Shumpert, Melo, Chandler. When JR is hot or we need points in bunches, swap him into the crunch time lineup for Prigs or Shumpert (depending on matchups). The burden of proof is on Amare to demonstrate the inaccuracy of this claim. I’d be thrilled to see him do it.
Brian Cronin: I can’t deny the efficacy of a Felton/Prigioni starting backcourt, but I am tired of guards on the other team just being able to get to the middle at will, so I would go with Shump at the starting two and have Prigioni come off of the bench. I would then start World Peace with Melo at the forward spots, with World Peace guarding whichever is the tougher of the two forwards on the opposing team. It is important to protect Melo from too much banging in the post. Let World Peace do that. That is a legitimately great starting lineup on defense. My lineup is dependent on Shumpert being an offensive threat, though (or else you really can’t play World Peace and Chandler together) but I am confident that he can be one next season.
Mike Kurylo: I agree with Cronin, but for different reasons. Don’t start the game off with Felton/Prigioni. Have the announcer call out the more conventional lineup of Felton-Shumpert-World Peace-Anthony-Chandler. That gives the Knicks three great defenders to put pressure on the other team’s starters to score. Put TPFKARA on the tougher threat at forward to give ‘Melo a rest at one end of the floor, and frustrate the opponent from the opening tip-off. With J.R. Smith hurt, that gives you either Prigioni and/or Amar’e Stoudemire to help jumpstart the offense when it drags. Down the stretch, go with the matchups. If Shumpert and/or Artest can shut-down one of the other team’s main threats, have them in. Otherwise go with Prigioni if he’s helping the ball find the open guy, or you need to spread the floor.
Cronin: I dunno, are those reasons really different than mine, Mike? ;) I forgot to name my “down the stretch” lineup. I’d go with Felton/Smith/Shump/Melo/Chandler with World Peace possibly switching offense/defense with Smith.
Max Fisher-Cohen: Last season, ESPN’s group of 100 analysts combined to project the Knicks to win 45 games. That’s nine game difference for all of you who don’t have a calculator on hand. The Knicks then must have done something pretty smart to have left all those analysts looking like fools with their pants on the ground. What did they change? They bumped Carmelo to power forward and when healthy, did their best to keep two point guards — or at least two players with many qualities of the modern point guard — on the floor at once.
The extra ball handling and passing that the Knicks put on the floor allowed them to severely cut down on turnovers and gave the Knicks more diverse options in punishing double teams.
If the Knicks want to prove the experts wrong again, abandoning this strategic adaptation would not be wise. For that reason, my starters are the group that best matches last season’s best lineups: Prigioni, Felton, Shumpert, Anthony, Chandler.
My closers are Prigioni, Smith, Shumpert, Anthony, Chandler. After all, by the end of the season the Knicks had mostly switched Felton over to the JR Smith role of spotting up and attacking from the weak side. These are areas in which Smith is far more talented, so let’s have Felton eat a bag of celebratory Funyons as the Knicks finish off their opponents.
David Vertsberger: Starting five, as previously mentioned, oughta be Felton-Prigs-Shump-Melo-Chandler. All for swapping out Felton for Udrih or Metta for Prigs down the stretch, but considering we’ve yet to see how either newcomers play this season it’s hard to take a measured guess. I’m a fan of two-PG lineups, especially with how well they’ve managed last season, but I wouldn’t normally push for them to be played for the majority of the game. This season I’d like to see how World Peace fares alongside Shump, Ray, Melo and Tyson, and then I can come up with a more complete analysis. In fact, all of my opinions on this team will probably fluctuate as the season progresses and we discover just how much Udrih, MWP, Bargs, THJ and Tyler can bring to the team.
Jonathan Topaz: Like the rest of the panel, I’d go with Felton-Prigioni-Shumpert-Melo-Chandler, for the offensive advantages of the Knicks playing small-ball. The Knicks made plenty of depth moves this summer, but none that should dictate an immediate change in the starting lineup.
Just as an aside, this lineup played a total of 39 regular season minutes last year.
But Max and David, out of curiosity, why so little love for Felton? Our slightly-heavier-than-we’re-comfortable-with point guard (Knicks … They’re just like us!) put up a PER north of 15 last season, posted the lowest turnover rate of his career despite having the highest usage rate of his career, and shot 36% from 3. The Knicks had an offensive rating of 114 with Felton on the court and at 107.4 with him off the court. Felton has a fantastic first step off the dribble, is a very good finisher around the rim, creates space for shooters, and is a wonderful pick-and-roll partner for Chandler. I’m all aboard the Prigioni train, but can’t we see him play more than 16 minutes a game before we insert him in crunch time minutes over Felton?
As for the lineup down the stretch, that will (and should) depend on matchups. The point of getting at least nominal depth is to have the flexibility to sit or play an often-streaky JR Smith accordingly, to insert MWP against lineups with bruising 3s and 4s, etc. But in general, the crunch-time lineup should be Felton-Smith-Shumpert-Melo-Chandler, a lineup that offers perimeter shooting, shot creation, strong wing and inside defense, and Melo at the 4.
Fisher-Cohen: Jonathan, Like Kidd last year, Pablo is an excellent double teamer, can guard twos, and is extremely generous with the ball, making him an excellent complement to the offense heavy tandem of Smith and Anthony, so for me, it was more about the choice between Felton and Smith than Felton and Prigioni. Thanks to his more aggressive offensive style, Felton fits better in more offensively challenged lineups.
Robert Silverman: I too would go with the Felton-Prigioni-Shumpert-Melo-Chandler quintet. Down the stretch, I think we can safely assume that Woodson will be going with JR Smith, once he returns from his injuries/suspension. Also, Felton closed pretty much every game that was reasonably close, as did Chandler and Anthony. It seems to me that regardless of the bounty of flexibility that Grünwald has assembled, there’s really only one spot on the floor that’s up for grabs, and given Woodson’s predilection for “traditional” lineups — if you’ll recall, the two-PG backcourt was a nice actualization of the whole ”necessity is the mother of invention” thing — the only question seems to be whether it’ll be Shumpert or World Peace.
So as much as I (and others) may pine for Prigioni’s finishing kick, I think it’s not going to be a common occurrence.