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Thursday, November 27, 2014

Are big lineups necessary to oust Indiana?

From an opening night beatdown of the Miami Heat to their narrow victory over Boston in Game 6 of the first round, the New York Knicks have won many a game playing primarily with small lineups. These lineups often feature Carmelo Anthony — long believed to be a prototypical small forward — at the four spot. This not only helps space the floor for a thriving three-heavy offense; it also gives Anthony more room than he’s ever had to operate in isolation, seeing as how he’s sharing the floor with a single big man.

On the flip side, having Anthony guard opposing power forwards — even if they’re bigger and stronger — has yet to curtail New York’s success with these lineups.

However, this may change against the Indiana Pacers.

The Pacers pride themselves on their physicality. The undeniable focal point of this persona is power forward David West, a 240-pound beast on the low block who overwhelms most “natural” fours. Anthony cannot be considered as such, and has struggled to contain the fierce West in their meetings this season:

Screen Shot 2013-05-04 at 6.56.41 PM

The one game in which West struggled to get going? Anthony was inactive and the Knicks went with a large frontcourt of Tyson Chandler and Marcus Camby. Anthony’s ability to defend West in spurts notwithstanding, he’ll likely be battered and bruised within a few games. West plays a relentless brand of basketball — never shying away from his defender, and always willing to deliver a hard foul when needed. It’s difficult to imagine this not bearing a huge impact on Anthony’s game, whether by forcing him to decline attacking the basket in lieu of settling for outside jumpers, or — worse still — by increasing his likelihood of being hurt.

Which brings us to that left shoulder, which Anthony appeared to have yanked awkwardly during Game 5 of the Celtics series, and which clearly gave him trouble when a Game 6 KG screen appeared to pop it temporarily out of place. Melo trying to remedy his shoulder while playing a series against the Indiana Pacers — where he may very well have to check West — is a pretty horrifying prospect.

Which invites the question, should the Knicks go big against the Pacers? Some points to consider, for starters:

  • The Knicks shouldn’t run out of big men if they decide to go big. Kenyon Martin starting would mean Marcus Camby would have to play a legitimate role, but only for a limited amount of games. Amar’e Stoudemire could be active for Game 3, and there’s always the option of bringing in Chris Copeland back from his dungeon cellar to play the four or five off the bench.
  • Although Anthony’s offense is better and more efficient when he’s at the four, it does not take a significant hit when he moves to the three. Anthony’s played that position for the majority of his NBA career, and his eFG% drops by only 1.6% when he’s played the small forward this season.
  • Moving Melo down a slot knocks either Pablo Prigioni or Iman Shumpert out of the starting five. Prigioni would likely be the player being demoted to the pine, which should help alleviate Jason Kidd of  extensive ball-handling duties for the second unit. This slides Kidd over to the shooting guard spot, where he’s excelled this season, thus making for much stronger bench play from the Knicks.

These are just a few factors to consider. There are bountiful counter-arguments, of course, not the least of which is that fact that the team’s two wins over the Pacers came with Melo at the four. 

There’s also the fact that Carmelo played exactly zero minutes alongside both Martin and Tyson Chandler during the regular season, and this three-man lineup played just a single minute of Playoffs basketball together. Starting the three together would mean having to conjure chemistry from a lineup that hasn’t logged any real minutes… during a second-round Playoffs series. This is far from ideal.

Despite a fifty-win season and the conquering of an old rival, the Knicks still have many questions to answer. First and foremost: how to approach this sure-to-be troublesome second-round battle against the Indiana Pacers. New York can’t afford to pursue the kind of deficient strategies they resorted to in round 1 if they hope to reach the Eastern Conference Finals.

27 comments on “Are big lineups necessary to oust Indiana?

  1. Juany8

    I think everyone is overlooking that Indiana had just as much trouble, if not more so, with Atlanta than the Knicks did with the Celtics. This is not some awesome scoring team that swept aside a clearly inferior opponent. KG is also a better defender than anyone Indiana has, Hibbert isn’t going to be able to provide help on Anthony nearly as well, and if Tyson keeps getting better it should open up a lot of offensive rebounds and cuts. I think the only real worry is about Melo getting injured, but at this point you’re just going to have to accept that risk to give the team it’s best chance to win. You can’t look ahead in the playoffs and start preparing for Miami already, Indiana is till a good team that will give the Knicks problems, especially if they start with the bullshit and trash talk again.

    Furthermore, since Paul george will most likely be guarding Anthony regardless of where he plays, that will force West to guard a 3 point shooter out on the perimeter. Beyond just opening up space for the pick and roll and Melo’s drives, it takes West out of defensive rebounding position and neutralizing one of the theoretical advantages of playing big. If West has to guard Melo with only Hibbert behind to cover both him and Chandler, that’s even better. I think when Anthony is sitting the Knicks should go to Copeland if he’s healthy enough to play, otherwise just go big and try to grind out some points while shutting down Indiana.

  2. Hubert Davis

    Whether it’s a big lineup or small doesn’t matter to me.

    The fact that Woodson consistently benched Shumpert & Prigioni for Kidd & JR regardless of how they were performing was very troubling. When one of our lineups is dominating, you have to stay w it.

    That good streak of JR’s has become a problem. This was never a Melo & JR 1-2 team, it’s a Melo team w a supporting cast. But it’s gotten to the point that JR is the de facto #2 per Woodson and will play at all costs. That’s a problem.

    I thought Woodson was terrible in that series. He needs to do a better job playing our most effective lineups more instead of playing JR no matter what.

  3. JK47

    Jason Kidd seems to have barely anything left in the tank at this point of the season. He has been shooting the ball like crap for quite a long time now and looks like he’s wearing cement shoes most of the time. In the regular season he had a .456 TS% from January 1 on. In the Boston series he was 3 for 17, many of those WIDE open looks. I love the guy and all, but I’m not sure he needs to be playing 25+ minutes a game like he did in the Boston series.

  4. daJudge

    Really interesting article and very well written. Keep up the good work young man! The more general question to me is whether Coach will make positive adjustments during the games situationally. This may involve big/small or whatever. I just hope we see some Copeland, particularly if Novak is out. We need a stretch player and Cope sure can do that. The nice part about this team is that they can play big or small pretty effectively. What is strange to me is that Coach really can adjust to injuries by juggling line up, but not so much during the game.

  5. Hubert Davis

    Here’s the thing that drives me insane:

    When there is evidence that one thing works & one thing doesn’t, it doesn’t seem to affect what we decide to do.

    Indiana will go w what is working and avoid what is getting beat much better than we will. That’s what gave Boston life, and that’s what will make this a 7 game series. We’ll win bc we’re better. But we’ll make it a lot harder than it should be.

  6. Frank

    West guarding Melo is a total mismatch, and one that will likely yield a lot of points, fouls, and/or passes to open shooters. West is not nearly as quick on his feet as Brandon Bass is.

    Indy has been using Paul George to guard Melo and generally has West hide on Shump. Needless to say, Shump is a different player now than he was a couple months ago last time these teams played.

    I do agree that to protect Melo and his shoulder from having to cover West on the other end, we may need to go to big lineups. That being said, if you look at the game logs, West was not a huge offensive factor in those games. Melo is a very good post defender, and West got fully 40% of his offense through post-ups.

  7. Hubert Davis

    daJudge:
    Really interesting article and very well written.Keep up the good work young man!The more general question to me is whether Coach will make positive adjustments during the games situationally.This may involve big/small or whatever.I just hope we see some Copeland, particularly if Novak is out.We need a stretch player and Cope sure can do that.The nice part about this team is that they can play big or small pretty effectively.What is strange to me is that Coach really can adjust to injuries by juggling line up, but not so much during the game.

    Copeland dominated their West-Hibbert lineup in game 79. There is evidence that lineups w him in it will gain us an advantage vs Indiana.

    But woodson strikes me as the kind of guy who would adhere to “don’t play rookies in the playoffs” over “play a lineup that has proven to work against them”.

  8. johnlocke

    Well said and completely agree.
    The Celtics when on their big run when Woody had th bright idea of having only one PG out there and that that guy should be Kidd. Kidd should not be running the team at any point. Prigs needs more minutes, Shump should play more and for the love if we continue to struggle on offense please FREE COPELAND… He played great the last time out against Indiana also. Woody is stubbornly in love with Kidd and JR….that can get annoying quickly.

    Hubert Davis:
    Whether it’s a big lineup or small doesn’t matter to me.

    The fact that Woodson consistently benchedShumpert & Prigioni for Kidd & JR regardless of how they were performing was very troubling.When one of our lineups is dominating, you have to stay w it.

    That good streak of JR’s has become a problem.This was never a Melo & JR 1-2 team,it’s a Melo team w a supporting cast.But it’s gotten to the point that JR is the de facto #2 per Woodson and will play at all costs.That’s a problem.

    I thought Woodson was terrible in that series.He needs to do a better job playing our most effective lineups more instead of playing JR no matter what.

  9. Z-man

    I really had very little problem with how Woody ran the team. JKidd may have shot poorly, but he made some monster defensive plays, especially early in the series. It wasn’t his fault they lost game 4, it was Melo’s. He generally did a good job with substitutions. Sure, he could have used Prigs a bit more, but imo that’s nitpicking.

  10. bocker84

    Hubert Davis: But woodson strikes me as the kind of guy who would adhere to “don’t play rookies in the playoffs” over “play a lineup that has proven to work against them”.

    +1 – I don’t understand the dichotomous brain that is our Coach Woody. He seems to be frustratingly inept at on the fly adjustments, yet he also manages to come up with really wonderful scoring plays after a timeout. WHICH ONE IS IT???

  11. David Vertsberger Post author

    daJudge:
    Really interesting article and very well written.Keep up the good work young man!The more general question to me is whether Coach will make positive adjustments during the games situationally.This may involve big/small or whatever.I just hope we see some Copeland, particularly if Novak is out.We need a stretch player and Cope sure can do that.The nice part about this team is that they can play big or small pretty effectively.What is strange to me is that Coach really can adjust to injuries by juggling line up, but not so much during the game.

    Thank you sir!

  12. BigBlueAL

    Love these tweets I just read regarding Noah tonight:

    “Joakim Noah backs up guarantee: 5th player w/20P 10R 5B in Game 7 win (KG, Mutombo, Ewing, E. Hayes)”

    “Noah is just 7th player w/ 24 pts, 14 rebs & 6 blocks in postseason game in last 30 yrs (Olajuwon, Shaq, Ewing, Duncan, McHale, & Mark West)”

    Patrick Ewing had his tough moments in the playoffs but he had some good ones too.

  13. ess-dog

    Man, what do you do if you’re Brooklyn now? Capped out beyond belief, with a center who can’t guard anybody and Joe Johnson getting the max. They just lost in the 1st round to a team with arguably 2 of it’s 3 top players out. The Wallace trade killed them, just KILLED their chances of being able to get better. Oh well.

    Re: the Pacers, I think big or small, if we’re hitting threes and getting to the line, we should take this series in 5 or 6. A smaller lineup might open the floor up more for threes, and if we end up with West trying to match Melo point for point every night, I think I’ll take that.

  14. llcoolbp

    BigBlueAL:
    Love these tweets I just read regarding Noah tonight:

    “Joakim Noah backs up guarantee: 5th player w/20P 10R 5B in Game 7 win (KG, Mutombo, Ewing, E. Hayes)”

    “Noah is just 7th player w/ 24 pts, 14 rebs & 6 blocks in postseason game in last 30 yrs (Olajuwon, Shaq, Ewing, Duncan, McHale, & Mark West)”

    Patrick Ewing had his tough moments in the playoffs but he had some good ones too.

    I’m quoting from memory here, but I think this was ewings stat line in game 7 of the eastern conference finals against the pacers at Madison square guarded in 1994:

    24 points, 21 boards, 7 blocks

    More importantly the series winning dunk/putback off the Starks missed layup. After the Knicks won Ewing on top of the scorers table arms stretched to the sky soaking it all in. I definitely cried during that moment. Without a doubt that is the highlight of my Knicks fandom, with LJ’s 4 point play second, Houston’s shot against Miami 3rd, the dunk 4th, and Ewings fadeaway 3 from the corner off the glass at boston garden 5th. Let’s hope this postseason has some of these kinds of moments waiting for us.

  15. BigBlueAL

    The 24 pts, 14 reb, 6 blk game came in Game 1 vs the Bulls in 1992 when the Knicks shocked the Bulls in Chicago. Ewing had 34 pts, 16 rebs and 6 blks (plus 5 asts).

  16. BigBlueAL

    llcoolbp: I’m quoting from memory here, but I think this was ewings stat line in game 7 of the eastern conference finals against the pacers at Madison square guarded in 1994:

    24 points, 21 boards, 7 blocks

    More importantly the series winning dunk/putback off the Starks missed layup. After the Knicks won Ewing on top of the scorers table arms stretched to the sky soaking it all in. I definitely cried during that moment. Without a doubt that is the highlight of my Knicks fandom, with LJ’s 4 point play second, Houston’s shot against Miami 3rd, the dunk 4th, and Ewings fadeaway 3 from the corner off the glass at boston garden 5th. Let’s hope this postseason has some of these kinds of moments waiting for us.

    Im on a roll now looking up these Ewing games lol. I just recently re-watched that Game 5 win in Boston in 1990. It was the first playoff series I remember watching as a little kid rooting for the Knicks.

    Ewing that game had 31 pts, 10 asts(!!), 8 rebs and 4 blks. Oakley had 26 pts(!!) and 17 rebs.

  17. d-mar

    Horrendous loss for the Nets tonight, maybe some folks can finally stop overrating this squad?

    On the other hand, I’m really glad we didn’t have to play the Bulls in rounds 1 or 2, that team is possessed.

  18. llcoolbp

    BigBlueAL:
    The 24 pts, 14 reb, 6 blk game came in Game 1 vs the Bulls in 1992 when the Knicks shocked the Bulls in Chicago.Ewing had 34 pts, 16 rebs and 6 blks (plus 5 asts).

    Thanks for looking up some of those old games. Brings back memories. Ewing was such a beast. Just ran up against Jordan, and a transcendent Olajuwon. By the late 90’s Achilles, wrist, and knees robbed him of dominance. One thing that was great about Ewing was his undying, if sometimes irrational belief, that he could beat anyone. His second fiddle, John Starks, was too flawed. He never had the chance to play with another elite player. It’s seems like we are going through a bit of de ja vu on that front.

  19. llcoolbp

    Stat for game 3 looks like its gaining steam. This is going to be a really interesting subplot. You know he has to be itching to play and perform after the failures of the last 2 post seasons. He’s a prideful guy, and obviously works hard. If the knees healed, and once he shakes off the rust, I think he gives this team something.

  20. StevenU

    Excellent article and a very good question.
    During the season I’d really hoped Woodson would adjust the line up just a few times, specifically against Memphis, Chicago and Indiana.
    Partly simply to protect Melo from early foul trouble, which could limitmhis minutes and hurtnthe Knicks ability to score against teams that already present a true defensive challenge. Partly for defense and rebounding. Now that it’s playoffs, I think it may be even more important. The problem is, until and if STAT is back, KMart is too valuable as a back up Center to risk the possibility of foul trouble for him and Chandler early in the game. If anything, I do think Copeland may reemerge in this series, because certainly the Knicks will need to be better offensively to beat Indy (but his rebounding is weaker than Progioni or Kidd and he is of no help if he isn’t scoring).

  21. BigBlueAL

    Interesting schedule for this series too. Sun-Tue-Sat. I assume the rest of the series will be Mon-Wed-Fri-Sun because I believe all the semis have to be done by Sunday the 19th.

  22. max fisher-cohen

    It’s hard to judge how our lineups have done this season vs. the Pacers since the games vs. them were so spread apart and NY’s rotation changed numerous times across the season, but if you just look at two man lineups, the big lineups are terrifyingly bad. Here are the combos that have played more than 5 minutes together vs. Indiana:

    Chandler/Camby: -26.7/100 possessions
    Chandler/Stoudemire: -22.6/100 possessions
    Chandler/Thomas: -41.3/100 possessions
    Chandler/Wallace: -26.7/100 possessions

    Doesn’t sound like a good idea to me although I’m sure Woodson will try it.

  23. BigBlueAL

    Just saw the Knicks-Pacers series page on ESPN.com and I was somewhat surprised to see 11 of the 16 expert picks for the Knicks. Thought it would be closer to a 50/50 split if not maybe more in the Pacers favor.

    Nobody had the series going less than 5, everybody picked either 6 or 7 games. Most of them picked 7 games (believe 8 of the 11 who chose the Knicks picked it in 7 games).

    Dunno if my nerves can handle a Game 7 lol.

  24. Hubert Davis

    JR reportedly was at 40/40 as recently as an hour ago for the Mayweather fight.

  25. Clyde_10

    Getting ready for the game…beer chilling grill fired up Man it’s been a long time coming. One of my biggest concerns for this series is whether/if Coach Woodson can be willing to add one more player to his rotattion and I don’t mean JRich. I am a Copeland true believer. I think he needs to be part of the equation in order for the Knicks to get where they need to go. I think Woody’s got to give some of that JR leeway to Cope. We will need another player that can get his own shot somewhere down the road. It’s way overdue. Go Knicks

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