Wait, This Wasn’t Supposed To Happen. What Now?

It’s been an interesting week on the New York blogosphere, with hometown hero Jim Cavan pondering whether the Knicks should trade Carmelo Anthony over at Bleacher Report and friends Jared Dubin and netw3rk exchanging e-mails about whether or not to blow up the team (unclear on whether they mean that literally) at Grantland.

Both pieces are well-written and entertaining, but both are ultimately undecided on the path the Knicks should take. As Dubin outlined in the Grantland piece, there isn’t any one quick fix – there are just too many problems to be fixed overnight in one broad stroke.

But the fact remains that many Knicks fans are left standing still with their mouths agape. After winning 54 games a year ago and pushing the impressive Pacers to six games, the team has fallen apart at the seams, helped along by an injury to Tyson Chandler.

On one hand, it seems like the season has barely started. It seems like just yesterday the Heat and Bulls were squaring off on opening night. But that was five weeks ago. And over the last five weeks, the Knicks have tumbled to 3-13, tied for the worst record in the entire league. It happened so fast that many fans and analysts have stopped in their tracks, saying “wait a minute, this wasn’t supposed to happen.”

“So what the hell do we do now?”

That’s the question that everyone seems to be asking, from the fans all the way up to the front office. And nobody seems to know.

When a team has an unexpectedly bad start to the season, there are a number of different paths they can take to try to fix things. They can stand pat and hope the issues resolve themselves with time, they can reverse course and blow up the team, or they can double-down and try to flip their assets for new players that might be able to shake things up.

In the case of the Knicks, well, none of them seem feasible.

Stand Pat

“We should wait for Chandler to get healthy, everything will be fine.”

This is a nice sentiment, and not totally incorrect. When Chandler is healthy, this Knicks’ team is completely different. They have a defensive anchor to patrol the paint, and they have a roll man off high screens that acts like a black hole in the middle of the floor, opening up shooters on the perimeters as the defense crashes down on him, afraid of a lob. When Chandler returns to health, the Knicks will undoubtedly be a better team.

The problem, however, is that by the time the Knicks have a healthy Chandler back, they could have a record in the neighborhood of 5-21 (or something similarly crappy). The list of teams that start the season that poorly and then turn it around to make the playoffs isn’t very long. Even with the East as terrible as it is, the Knicks would need to finish the season 31-25 (or something similarly impressive) to even get to 36-46, the worst record of any playoff team in the last 15 years.

In other words, for the Knicks to have a legitimate shot at making the playoffs, they would need (a) Chandler to return to the lineup posthaste, (b) him to be a universal salve for all of their ills, and (c) to begin winning games with alarming frequency immediately upon his arrival back in the lineup.

Call me crazy, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.

Reverse Course

“We should trade Carmelo”

The logic here is pretty simple:

1. Carmelo Anthony is a good basketball player
2. The Knicks are not a good team even with Carmelo Anthony
3. There are other teams who would want Carmelo Anthony
4. Trade Carmelo Anthony to one of those teams and receive picks/young players/valuable assets in return

This is something that many struggling teams do – if they have a valuable player and they can’t win even when he does play, or he is too expensive for their liking, or they don’t plan on keeping him around for the long-term (or all three of the above), they should trade him to a team that believes they can win with him, his price tag is manageable, and he is a part of their long-term plans. Memphis traded Pau Gasol for Marc Gasol (and cap relief) and turned themselves into a contender just a handful of years later. Seattle traded Ray Allen and used the draft pick they got in return to spur a rebuilding effort. The Knicks, conceivably, would do the same with Carmelo Anthony.

Here’s the problem, though: The Knicks don’t possess their first-round draft pick this year. It is controlled by Denver because of (a cruel twist of fate) the Carmelo Anthony trade three years ago. So the idea of “Trade Carmelo and Bottom Out” doesn’t work because there’s nothing to bottom out to (kind of like in 2009-2010 when the Jazz held New York’s 2010 No. 1 – the Knicks seem to have a habit of trading unprotected No. 1’s).

So, if they were to trade Carmelo, they would need to be sure to either get back a mind-blowing haul of young players and/or picks, or find a way to clear out all the dead money on their cap (cough Amar’e cough) – or both.

But here’s the problem with THAT: It’s effectively impossible. There aren’t any teams that are [dumb enough to/capable of] clear(ing) that money for New York AND offering any assets in return. The only potential suitor, Brooklyn, already surrendered all their available first round picks between now and 2075 in the Boston trade that netted them Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.

The only way to trade Carmelo and dump Amar’e with him is the zero-sum game of “You get Carmelo but have to take Amar’e,” and the Knicks don’t really get any assets in return (unless the Knicks agree to take back a similarly onerous contract – like Joe Johnson or Gerald Wallace)

The only option would be to (as Jim suggested in his Bleacher Report article) trade Carmelo for cheap assets and contracts that expire in 2015 (or before), something like to Cleveland for Anderson Varejao ($9.8 million team option for next season), Dion Waiters (rookie contract), C.J. Miles ($2.2 million expiring), and Earl Clark ($4.2 million this season and next season), and a future pick.

And again, another problem: Most teams wouldn’t be interested in Carmelo Anthony right now. Because of his player option for next season, even teams in “win-now” mode could be scared away. And many teams, in fact, aren’t in “win-now” mode, because they control their own first-round pick and are happy to play out the season for a chance a top draft pick next year. On top of that, the days of front offices that trip over themselves to get “a star” (with no consideration as to who that star is, how they fit on the team, or what they’re actually worth in regards to the salary cap) are mostly gone. Very few teams operate that way anymore. Teams are much more discerning now, and teams would be much more hesitant to trade for a player that carries a price tag like Carmelo, but doesn’t carry the guaranteed-title-contender status that someone like LeBron or Durant or Chris Paul does. Other than Cleveland and possibly Chicago, there just won’t be enough interest in landing Carmelo in that type of trade.

(Complicating things further is that it’s incredibly hard to swing a four-for-one trade like the one mentioned above during the season once rosters are filled – the Knicks would end up having to waive multiple players at the back end of the roster, even ones with guaranteed contracts.)

TL;DR: it’s near-impossible to trade Carmelo during the season


“We should package our assets for another key player”
“We should flip Shumpert for someone else”

This is the move that the Knicks would normally make. It’s the proverbial moving around of deck chairs on the Titanic and calling it a new ship, even as it’s actively sinking to the bottom of the Atlantic (Double-win here because the Knicks ARE at the bottom of the Atlantic – division. #NailedIt).

Once again, there’s a problem, and it’s two-fold, to match the two quotes above:

First, all the small-to-mid-sized assets that would normally be packaged together to net a key player…. They were already used. To net Andrea Bargnani. Novak, Camby, Quentin Richardson, and three picks (including a 2016 No. 1) were dealt away for a player that Toronto was having a fire-sale on and, if dealing with a savvy team (read: not the Knicks), would likely have had to throw in their own first-round pick to get the other team to bite.

The only small assets the Knicks have right now are Iman Shumpert and Tim Hardaway II, which leads us into the second problem:

Shumpert and Hardaway have salary cap figures that combine to just $2,900,520. Because the Knicks are over the luxury tax line, they can only receive 125% plus $100,000 of their outgoing trade cap figures. So, for Shumpert and Hardaway, that number is a whopping $3,725,650.

Plain and simple, there’s nobody that they can trade for with a salary under $3.7 million that is going to make the team appreciably better. They can’t sweeten the deal with first-round picks, because under the Ted Stepien Rule (teams can’t trade No. 1 picks in consecutive years), they don’t have any picks eligible to be traded until 2018 (their 2014 pick is owned by Denver, their 2016 pick is owned by Toronto). Flipping Shumpert and Hardaway for Young Player On Rookie Contract X would be purely a lateral move. Picking up a cheap, budding star like Andre Drummond or Klay Thompson isn’t even remotely within the realm of possibility.

Still, though, this is the course of action that the Knicks are most likely to take – and there’s a reason for it that isn’t entirely satisfying. Because the Knicks don’t control their pick, they’re more likely to try to over-extend themselves in an effort to win now. Why? So that the pick they convey to Denver isn’t a top-five pick and the Knicks look stupid for not protecting it. Instead of treating the pick as a sunk cost (which it is), the Knicks will likely look at the pick through the frame of “we can’t surrender a top-10 pick so we need to win enough so that it’s only a top-15 (or -20) pick.” So the Knicks will flip Shumpert and/or Hardaway, and maybe even an unprotected 2018 No. 1 (because they never learn) for some “immediate help” that may or may not actually help.

“So what the hell do we do now?”

I don’t know. I really don’t. Firing Mike Woodson and turning the reigns over to someone who realizes that Iman Shumpert is their only good two-way perimeter player and one of the few players who actually makes the team better when he’s on the court, and that the team is at its best when Carmelo is playing at power forward would be a decent start. But that’s another story for another time.

2013 Game Preview & Thread: Knicks vs. Hawks

Prior to Wednesday’s game, we ran a roundtable discussion with your very own Kevin McElroy, as well as HawksHoop’s Bo Churney and Cole Patty. Most of what we covered in that conversation is still germane to tonight’s game, so we encourage you to check that out for some background information that will inform much of what is discussed below.

Since the roundtable was posted on Wednesday morning, each team has played two games – they squared off against each other Wednesday night (obviously), the Knicks fell to Houston on Thursday, and the Hawks beat Philadelphia in Atlanta last night. As if often the case in the NBA, especially with two teams either battling injuries or seeing players return from injuries, some things have changed over the last three days.

Lou Williams and Gustavo Ayon Return

The Hawks got two key rotation players back Friday night – Lou Williams played in his first game since tearing his ACL in January, and Gustavo Ayon returned from his pre-season shoulder injury. Ayon has been active for a week but saw his first action last night. Williams was on a strict minutes limit, but looked good in his 16 minutes of action. Along with Jeff Teague and Dennis Schröder, he gives Atlanta another quick ball-handler to attack New York’s suspect pick-and-roll defense.

Andrea Bargnani: Productive Player

Bargnani is the midst of one of the best stretches of his career, averaging 21 points and six rebounds over his last four games, but most encouragingly, is sporting a True Shooting Percentage of 63.2%. Playing him as a center next to Carmelo Anthony has provided him space in the middle of the floor to get open looks at the basket, and he’s been knocking them down. He even played good defense Thursday night against Houston, containing Dwight Howard very well. He struggled Wednesday against Atlanta however, including this play:

Paul Millsap Off The Bench

The Hawks opted to use Millsap off the bench Friday, his first time coming off the bench since the 2011-2012 season. There was no official reason for the decision, but one possible explanation was that with Lou Williams returning, coach Mike Budenholzer wanted to have a pick-and-roll partner for him on the 2nd unit. Ayon started in Millsap’s place Friday, and if he does again tonight, the Knicks will have a clear speed advantage among the starting units.

Knicks Return to Previous Trends

After opening the season struggling to knock down jump shots and turning the ball over at a high rate, the offense has reverted back to its form from last season in many ways – they’ve combined to shoot 20-for-54 (37%) from three over their last two games, and have turned the ball over just 12 times in 180 possessions (6.6%). The Hawks have had trouble defending the three-point line so far this season, ranking 27th in the league in opponents 3-point accuracy entering Friday’s games.

Foul Trouble

The Knicks’ defensive struggles over the last two games haven’t been a function of surrendering open shots. In fact, they’ve actually done a good job preventing three-point looks – they held the Hawks for 5-for-24 shooting on threes, the Rockets to just 9-for-28, just 26.9% combined over those two games. The problem the Knicks have had is allowing dribble penetration and then committing fouls as they scramble to recover. On Wednesday night, they consistently allowed Jeff Teague to get to the middle of the floor on pick-and-rolls, and he ended up shooting 14 free throws. The problem became even more of an issue Thursday night – James Harden got to the charity stripe 18 times, and Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons chipped in with six each. If New York wants to solve their defensive issues they need to become better at defending without fouling.


Knicks-Hawks Roundtable

As the Knicks and Hawks prepare to square off in a home-and-home on Wednesday and Saturday, we thought it prudent to blow it all out with a long roundtable among a few Knicks bloggers and a few Hawks bloggers. In addition to myself, I called upon hometown favorite Kevin McElroy, and Cole Patty and Bo Churney from our ESPN TrueHoop sister site HawksHoop. With two games against Atlanta in the next four days, we hit on as many possible topics as we could:

Let’s start plain and simple – which team is better right now, Atlanta or New York?

Cole Patty (@ColePatty): I’d have to go with Atlanta, and confidently do so with Chandler out despite both teams struggling early. Even when the Knicks had Tyson the problems for the Hawks seemed more of the “testing the water” variety with learning a new system and Bud trying to figure out his rotation. The Knicks are having an issue adjusting to the life of starting two traditional big men and cutting themselves off from two point guard look early and often. I can see the Atlanta having it all figured out by December a lot clearer than an ultra foggy New York picture.

Kevin McElroy (@knickerbacker): Atlanta by virtually any measure. The Hawks have sported a top-10 offense in the early part of the year, limiting turnovers at an elite level and shooting very efficiently from the field. The Knicks are nearly as stingy in the turnover department but the comparison ends there: New York is a subpar shooting team that doesn’t draw fouls and gets crushed on the boards. Defensively, the early numbers say it’s a fairer fight. One problem though: the early numbers don’t know that Tyson Chandler’s on the shelf with a knee injury. Of the Knicks’ two defensive strengths, their ability to force turnovers remains relatively unaffected by Chandler’s injury but their rim protection goes out the window.  Furthermore, Chandler’s inability to cover for teammates caught out of position should only exacerbate the Knicks foul woes, already debilitating to the tune of the league’s highest rate of FT’s allowed per FGA. Additionally, the game is in Atlanta where the Hawks have sported one of the NBA’s best home records in the past decade. While it’s true that Atlanta has yet to beat a particularly good team this season, it’s also true that the Knicks have yet to be a particularly good team this season…

Bo Churney (@bochurney): Without Tyson, it’s Atlanta. Melo may be the best player on these teams by a decent margin, but with Chandler injured, the next three best players between the two definitely belong to the Hawks (Horford, Millsap, and Teague). It will be interesting to see if the Knicks can take advantage of Atlanta’s pick-and-roll defense, which had been poor so far, but that might not be enough to overcome what’s been a top five offense from the Hawks.

Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin): No question, Atlanta. The Knicks weren’t inspiring much confidence even before Tyson Chandler went out with his injury, and they certainly haven’t been since. The Hawks haven’t quite been blowing their opponents out of the gym, and they have a few legitimate worries on defense, but the Knicks rank in the bottom 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency through six games this season.

With Tyson Chandler out, how can Atlanta look to attack New York’s defense?

Conlin: Without Chandler, the Knicks have no big men that can effectively corral guards coming off high screens. When Kenyon Martin, Amar’e Stoudemire, or Andrea Bargnani are at center, the Knicks are left in the unenviable position of either hedging high and most likely seeing Jeff Teague or Dennis Schröder split the defense and head straight down the middle of the floor, or hanging back in the paint and hoping Teague’s arsenal of creative runners and floaters aren’t falling. A steady diet of Teague attacking from the top of the key should send New York’s defense scrambling.

Patty: More of the same for the Hawks more than anything. Paul Millsap and Al Horford are averaging a huge 37.5 points per game together. Without Tyson, look for them to continue feeding the bigs.

McElroy: Unfortunately, Atlanta is precisely the type of team best-suited to capitalize on the Knicks’ damaged front line. As athletic, powerful, and skilled low post pairings go, Al Horford and Paul Millsap are essentially the gold standard this season. They go for nearly 40 a game combined at excellent efficiency, and that’s on nights when they aren’t being guarded by Andrea Bargnani, Amar’e Stoudemire, and a limited Kenyon Martin.  Beyond the bigs, Jeff Teague comes from the breed of super-quick ballhandlers that the Knicks always have trouble staying in front of. Look for Atlanta’s interior bulk and Teague’s deftness to flummox the Knicks switch-happy perimeter defenders, forcing overhelping and disorganized collapses into the lane that are all the scarier without Chandler — the defensive signal-caller — in the middle of the action. And collapses mean kickouts, and kickouts mean open threes for Kyle Korver, one of the best clean-look shooters in the history of the league. He’s hitting 54% from deep so far this year. So, yeah. How can Atlanta look to attack New York’s defense? Just be yourselves, gentlemen.

Churney: This will be the game that Jeff Teague needs to be in full attack mode. Teague is currently second in the NBA in assists per game at 10.1, and he’ll have a chance to add a bunch of points to his assist numbers in this game. Without Chandler, Teague should be able to get penetration at will, which will either allow him to get to the basket and score, or allow him to kick out to Millsap and Horford. If I had to set over/unders for Teague in this game, I’d go ahead and put it at 20 points/10 assists; the Knicks without Tyson are simply made for Teague to thrive.

Which player, or what scheme, is Atlanta’s best bet to guard Carmelo Anthony?

Patty: Out of the box thinking leads me to really think Paul Millsap has the best shot. He’s an underrated defender that happens to also have a 7’ 1” wingspan. He won’t be pushed around by Melo down low either, and could force Melo to try to be effective from mid-range to the three point line. If he ends up lighting in up against Paul out there, then Atlanta can adjust from there.

Churney: This might be where the Knicks miss Tyson the most. In last year’s matchups, New York was able to kill the Hawks with Felton/Chandler pick-and-rolls, which then forced help off of Melo, allowing him to get a lot of open jumpers. Without Tyson, Atlanta should be able to matchup Millsap or DeMarre Carroll on Melo without too many worries.

Conlin: In a mash-up of Cole and Bo’s answers – this could be a perfect storm for Atlanta. The Chandler injury will force Carmelo to play more of his minutes at the four, which means he’ll be likely matched up against Paul Millsap for most of the game. Millsap has quick feet for a guy his size, and long arms to bother Carmelo’s beloved step-backs and pull-ups. Throwing Millsap at him straight-up and not trying to double him on the catch should be able to bait Carmelo into low-efficiency shots.

McElroy: If there’s anything to like about this matchup for the Knicks it’s that Josh Smith isn’t wearing a Hawks jersey any longer. The rare defender with the length, quickness, strength, and guile to match Melo stride for stride, Smith’s departure to Detroit opens this issue up for debate and none of the options Atlanta has at its disposal are perfect. Atlanta should look to challenge Melo to beat them with his outside shot (infamously rusty in the season’s early-going) and refuse to let him get position in the post through a series of fronts and overloads. If the shot is dropping, maybe then they’ll need to adjust. But the Chandler-less Knicks are at their scariest when Melo’s post presence starts to open up some space for their shooters. Atlanta should do their best not to let that happen.

New York often plays lineups with two point guards (Felton and Prigioni) – should Atlanta counter with one of their own (Teague and Schröder)?

McElroy: I’m a fairly outspoken proponent of imposing your own style on your opponent rather than the other way around. I see Atlanta winning this game with size and that means the proper backcourt is the one that best feeds the post and is able to get clear for catch-and-shoot threes that are likely to come off of New York’s defensive adjustments. To me that’s Teague and Korver.  Felton and Prigs are solid but not the type to present matchup nightmares; the burden of proof should be on the Knicks to demonstrate that Atlanta needs to worry about adjusting to the New York backcourt.

Churney: Atlanta will play Teague and Schröder together, but they shouldn’t do it just to match up with the Knicks here. I like the idea of Korver tiring out the Knickerbocker guards by running all around the court, so I still think the starting backcourt of Teague/Korver is Atlanta’s best option here.

Conlin: “Should” is a perhaps too strong a word here – the advantages the Knicks see in their two-point guard lineups aren’t ones that are obviously countered by the opponent mirroring the lineup. But Atlanta has been using a two-point guard lineup of their own (the aforementioned Teague and Schröder), and it would seem the most opportune time to do so would be against Felton and Prigioni. That way it becomes harder for the Knicks to use Shumpert to guard one of them.

Patty: The Hawks do deploy Teague and Schröder together often, through six games one-third of Dennis’ minutes are in two point guard lineups. As for should, this is the best time to use their abilities together. Teague must defensively be on Prigs if this happens also, as he’s been giving up a lot of dribble penetration early this year.

The Knicks are on the first night of a back-to-back. How will this affect their rotations?

Churney: Considering the Knicks have a few older guys in their rotations, yes, the back-to-back will likely affect this game. I don’t know enough about the Knicks this season to know exactly how it will change their rotations, but I know Woodson enough to know that this will be in his mind preparing for this game.

Patty: Do Knick people have a set feel for their rotations? All I’ve seen is utter chaos and Bargs, which admittedly those two things could mean the same thing.

McElroy: And the tail-end of that back-to-back is against Houston so, yeah, the fact that the Knicks don’t have a single rim protector who should really be playing on consecutive nights is basically not the best. In my mind, you sign for a split in a heartbeat. Send K-Mart out there, see what’s happening, if the game is winnable do what you have to do to win it. If we spot the opponent another 20 point lead, maybe then you hold back and try to beat Houston at the Garden. Honestly, though, we don’t have an NBA center capable of playing 20 minutes. We’re realistically only going to beat a team like Atlanta or Houston if we have a great shooting night or they have a terrible one. Which is certainly possible — Atlanta’s perimeter defense has its issues and an off-night from Korver renders them without a reliable deep threat. But no matter what the Knicks will be outmanned in each of these games and should be playing to win one of them and worry about the next one later.

Conlin: As Kevin said, the fact that Thursday’s game is against Houston makes it a near-certainty that Woodson will try to keep his big men fresh for both games. I would expect Carmelo and Metta World Peace to see extended time at power forward, and Cole Aldrich to make an appearance at some point to spell Martin or Stoudemire.

What is one matchup, trend, or storyline that we should pay attention to?

Conlin: The more the Knicks play without Chandler, the more apparent it will become that the overwhelming majority of playable guys on the roster are perimeter players. Woodson seems to fight lineup innovation tooth-and-nail (he’d bring Charles Oakley out of retirement to play power forward if he could – in fact, that might not actually be a bad idea, but that’s a story for another time), but he may find that playing some super-funky lineups (like, say, Felton-Prigioni-Shumpert-World Peace-Anthony) for short stretches can keep the Knicks afloat until Chandler returns. If he feels like he has nothing to lose, it might not be so crazy to turn to lineups like those, and that’s where these Knicks could become very intriguing.

McElroy: The Knicks’ lineup decisions remain the only compelling storyline of their season thus far.  Will Woodson start playing dual-PG units more consistently? Who will emerge as the guy that gets the most center minutes with Chandler out? What will Bargnani’s role look like after the dust settles? Can the Knicks even tread water until their big man comes back or are they going to hit the quarter pole at something like 7-16? When will my eye stop twitching? You know: typical Knicks questions.

Patty: For the Knicks, it will be how they handle a player like Al Horford without Tyson Chandler. New York is trying to stay afloat without the defensive center, and will need to learn how to check opposing bigs. For Atlanta, it is all about the three point defense. New York liked to bomb it from deep last year and the Hawks have been one of the worst in the league covering it so far. This is the kind of game Bud and Ferry would love to see improvement from the team in this aspect.

Churney: Woodson is apparently considering starting JR Smith over Shumpert because something insane is going on in New York. If the Knicks do come out with Shumpert on the bench, I have no idea who they expect to play defense in that starting lineup. Atlanta could get out to a quick lead that just makes things even more complicated for the Knicks.

Paul Millsap is shooting 55% from the floor, Jeff Teague is shooting just 27% from three – which is more likely to return to normal quickly?

Churney: Millsap’s will probably return to normal quicker, mainly because what I think he’s capable of is closer to his normal than Jeff’s numbers.

Conlin: Millsap actually had three full seasons shooting over 53% from the floor, so while 55% might seem not so far from normal to begin with, I think that number drops due to his higher rate of three-point attempts. His overall percentage from the floor should drop back to Earth, but his True Shooting Percentage should rival his career high at the end of the season.

McElroy: Define normal. Millsap’s number will go down but not by as much as Teague’s will go up. Also the lower number of three-point attempts means that drastic swings can happen much quicker. My answer’s got to be Teague.

Patty: Teague, but those are going to both change. Atlanta’s offense really is doing wonders for Paul and a field goal percentage over 50% isn’t that crazy, but 55% is a little extreme. Teague will surely shoot better than 27% from deep.

Elton Brand has been seeing fewer minutes than Pero Antic and Mike Scott. Hawks people – is this something that you expect to continue? How does the return of Gustavo Ayon affect this?

Patty: Budenholzer has been playing around with the rotation, and the feeling around Atlanta’s rotation is sheer uncertainty. Do I think Brand plays more eventually? Yes. Do I also think he might not be utilized unless the team they are facing could be considered bit? Another yes. Mike likes his spacing, and I feel Pero is going to be a large part of the bench rotation. As for Goose, I can see him pushing Scott out of the rotation, but I have no idea as of now. We will get a more set feeling with the rotation in December ideally.

Churney: Atlanta has a very deep big rotation on the bench, so whoever ends up getting the most time is likely dependent on the matchup/how each game flows. If the Hawks are having defensive issues, Budenholzer will be more likely to send in Elton or Pero. If the Hawks need a pick-and-roll/pop guy, you’ll see Mike Scott. Elton should keep getting some minutes, though, as he is really Atlanta’s only bench big that isn’t a complete liability on one side of the floor.

Which is the real Andrea Bargnani – the one we saw before the Chandler injury, or the one we’ve seen since?

McElroy: The one we saw before the injury, the one we’ve seen since the injury, and also the one we’ve seen for the last seven years. All of those. He’s a streak scorer who can be a matchup nightmare when he’s right and an utterly useless liability when he’s wrong. He’s not going to wake up one morning and just be one or the other. This is the Andrea Bargnani experience and barring a role change or an unprecedented deviation from his career averages this is basically who we should expect to get for the next two seasons.

Conlin: His two best offensive games have come in the two games since Chandler’s injury, and I would expect that to continue – better spacing will make it more likely that he can use his offensive skills in a vaguely positive way. However, after a (shockingly) good defensive game against Charlotte, he was abused by the Spurs on Sunday. The Sunday defense is true to Bargnani form – every point he gives you he’s liable to give up on the other end.

Churney: What Kevin said. When Bargs is hitting his shots, he looks good. The problem is that he’s never consistently hit his shots, nor does he play defense or rebound. I doubt that’s going to change at all.


Knicks-Hawks tips off at 8:00 p.m. on ESPN

Statistical support for this story from NBA.com/stats

The Bargnani / Amar’e Survival Guide

In case you haven’t heard already, the Knicks traded Steve Novak, Marcus Camby, two second-round picks, and what — if karma and justice exist in the universe — will certainly be the #1 overall pick in the 2017 draft in exchange for Italian forward and long-two enthusiast Andrea Bargnani.

The trade, for the most part, was panned, but that’s not important right now. What’s important is that we all collectively realize that the Knicks now have Andrea Bargnani and Amar’e Stoudemire on the same roster.

This is not a drill. This is real life.

It would seem preposterous that New York would surrender so many assets in exchange for Bargnani to only have him play 18 minutes per game off the bench. (Actually, now that I say that out loud I’m not sure.) Assuming that to be true, every minute that Bargnani plays in addition to those 18 sends like likelihood of Amar’e and Andrea sharing a frontcourt together skyrocketing. There are two and only two rational responses to this:

1. Sheer, unadulterated terror (if you’re a Knicks fan)
2. Never-ending violent laughter that may ultimately result in vomiting (if you aren’t)

Regardless, it’s pretty much an inevitability that Stoudemire and Bargnani will, at some point this season, both be on the court at the same time. Considering the bullet-riddled-sneakers of the Knicks, it will probably be way more than anyone is expecting. Thus, it would seem like a good idea to run through the remainder of the Knicks’ roster to try to piece together three other players that could share the court with the two aforementioned big men.

Attempt #1
Pablo Prigioni, Iman Shumpert, Tyson Chandler

The basic premise is that neither Stoudemire nor Bargnani would be considered defensive stalwarts. In fact, they’d probably not be considered such in the WNBA. They are both rather tall, but when on defense neither seem to be particularly interested in doing things like “rotating,” “pursuing rebounds” or “acting like a live human being.” In an attempt to counter-balance, we surround them on the court by New York’s two best defensive players and their best defensive point guard.

Offensively, this lineup would likely be a train wreck. Bargnani would have to play small forward, where he provides neither the requisite foot speed nor floor spacing for the position. Without much shooting on the floor, Tyson Chandler’s best offensive skill (diving through the paint following a high screen) becomes far less valuable – the defense is much more willing to collapse on his first movement towards the rim. The result would likely be Prigioni or Shumpert creating their own (bad) shot off the dribble. And even with Chandler and Shumpert on the floor, Bargnani and Stoudemire would submarine the defense. No dice.

Attempt #2
Ray Felton, J.R. Smith, Tyson Chandler

So, we keep Chandler on the floor to give the defense SOME semblance of respectability, and we swap out Prigioni and Shumpert for Felton and Smith, hopefully to give some offensive creativity. However, like above, Bargnani just doesn’t give them what they need from their small forward, and spacing would still be an issue, especially when the ball is in J.R. Smith’s hands.

It just seems like it’s not possible to have Chandler on the floor with Bargnani and Stoudemire – Bargnani is only capable of providing value on offense if  he’s dragging a big man away from the paint. He’s not doing that when he’s a nominal small forward.

Attempt #3
Tyson Chandler, Kenyon Martin, Metta World Peace

Just kidding.

Attempt #4
Ray Felton, Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler

I know what I just said, but for some reason this lineup intrigues me. Yes, it involves Carmelo Anthony at shooting guard, yes, Bargnani is still playing small forward, and yes, the defense would still be unacceptably bad, but there would be potential to create crippling confusion for the opposing defense. Teams will always cross-match to get the best possible defensive matchup against Carmelo. However, in doing so, there is likely to be a favorable matchup elsewhere – in this case, there would likely be a guard defending Bargnani. If Bargs has ANY semblance of a post-up gaBAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA no, sorry, you’re right, I should just move on.

Attempt #5
Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler, Metta World Peace

(Evil, Maniacal Laughter)

Attempt #6
Ray Felton, Iman Shumpert, Carmelo Anthony

Okay, so Chandler can’t be on the floor. Can we at least try to shoe-horn Shumpert in there, you know, just in case they want to resemble an NBA defense at any point?

While the sentiment may be strong, it actually turns out that the Felton-Shumpert-Carmelo triumvirate actually sported a net rating of -2.7 per 100 possessions last season, and I’m going to go out on a limb and say the elixir for that is not a heavy dose of Amar’e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani.

Attempt #7
Ray Felton, J.R. Smith, Carmelo Anthony

Okay, so, if we’ve given up the idea of somehow having Tyson Chandler or Shumpert on the floor, we’re resigning ourselves to the fact that regardless of who else IS on the floor, any lineup with the Amar’e-Bargnani combo at power forward and center is going to have a defensive efficiency roughly equivalent to the population of Indonesia. To remedy? Just try to outscore the other team.

So we put the three best offensive perimeter players on the floor. Carmelo would play as a nominal small forward, but would be used more as a power forward – playing as the roll man with Felton or Smith, posting up smaller defenders, (hopefully) taking advantage of Bargnani (hopefully) pulling his man away from the basket. Smith and Felton would be the primary ball-handlers, playing with three forwards who, at one point or another, displayed some ability to (a) set semi-effective screens, and (2) shoot from range.

The spacing issues from earlier attempts would be (somewhat) alleviated, and the unit seems to have a clear modus operandi – set a lot of screens and bomb threes or have Carmelo post up.

Let’s be clear, though: in all likelihood, this will not be a good lineup. The best lineups the Knicks employ this season will likely include neither Bargnani nor Stoudemire. The point of this exercise was to try to peer into the abstract to find a best-case scenario for the inevitable pairing. I did the best I could.

[Insert Clever Title Here] <------ Conlin's actual title

I am not a Knicks fan.

Considering this audience, I’m not sure whether I should apologize for that, or thank [insert your God here] for it. Maybe both.

I grew up in Boston, but my first real memories of Celtics basketball prominently involved Chris Ford, M.L. Carr, and Rick Pitino. Not exactly a nurturing environment for a young hoops fan.

So I’m not a Celtics fan. For reasons unknown, I never latched onto another NBA franchise for fan-dom’s sake. For the better part of my life, I’ve been walking adrift in the NBA universe with no allegiance to one team over the rest. I like to tell people that it’s because I don’t root for laundry, but that isn’t entirely true, because I’m a huge New England Patriots fan. But in the NBA? I’m agnostic.

I have been told this is weird.

All things considered, I probably SHOULD have been a Knicks fan. The last time they were in the Finals I was in diapers (although I was ten at the time, so I probably shouldn’t admit that), but they had a great deal of success throughout the decade in which my brain started to develop an affinity for pro basketball. On top of that, on some level I’m sure I was afraid that if I didn’t root for the Knicks, Anthony Mason and Charles Oakley would beat the shit out of me (I know one Knicks fan who uses this rationale).

But still, for the better part of my life, I’ve remained ambivalent about the Knicks. I’ve followed the pattern of rooting for teams that fit with my NBA world-view (playing fast, shooting threes, valuing versatility over size). As such, I rooted for the Suns in the mid-2000s, the Heat since 2011, and I even had a brief fling with the Nuggets last season (although we broke up this summer and it’s been rather painful; I don’t like to talk about it). The Knicks now fit this world-view.

This is not to say that I now bleed Blue and Orange. I just have a general affinity for the team, more so than I do for a team like, say, Chicago or Indiana or Memphis or Brooklyn. In fact, I’d consider myself both a Heat “fan” and a Knicks “fan,” an idea that I’m sure many find perplexing. But I want the Knicks to succeed. It’s just that the reasons why I want that are tough to verbalize.

For a writer, this is embarrassing.

I want the Knicks to succeed for selfish reasons. I want them to succeed because they (somewhat) fit my vision of what a successful team “should” look like, and therefore justifying my own opinions. I prefer teams that space the floor, shoot threes, play a ton of pick-and-roll, and don’t isolate inefficient scorers for low-leverage shots. The 2013 Regular season Knicks were great. The 2013 postseason Knicks were not.

I want the Knicks to succeed because the New York media machine would have a field day. The NBA Finals are generally a zoo regardless, but the NBA Finals in New York would be like the green zone of Baghdad – relatively safe, but otherwise absolute chaos. For some reason I would find this delightful.

I want the Knicks to succeed because the NBA Blogosphere deserves it. Just by nature of being the team from the biggest city in the country, there are roughly 174,000 Knicks fan bloggers on the internet. Of course, within that huge number there is a lot of noise, but some of the best NBA bloggers on the planet happen to be Knicks fans. I’m not going to list them all, only because I’d inevitably leave a few off and feel guilty about it later, but they’re out there if you look for them. Some of them are my bosses here (hi Mike, Jim, and Bob!), and a few of them I even consider friends. All of them are much better at this than I am.

But I’m excited to be a part of the never-ending conversation surrounding the Knicks. A team with effectively unlimited resources (at least by NBA standards), that also constantly continues to shoot itself in the foot, intrigues me. The one-step-forward-two-steps-back routine is understandable for a small-market team that has to keep their belt tight and keep an eye out for the bottom line at all times. But for a team that practically has a mint in their basement and can pay a $50 million luxury tax bill with the change between their sofa cushions?

That’s weird. But it’s fascinating. And I’m looking forward to jumping in head-first.