By John Schmeelk
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The Knicks have fourteen games until the playoffs. That's how long Mike Woodson has to figure out his postseason rotation.
The job has actually been made easier by the Knicks' injury problems. But there's still the matter of New York's starting lineup -- and who will get minutes with the second group off the bench.
Assuming Tyson Chandler eventually gets healthy and is back in the starting lineup, the Knicks have to decide whether they want to go big or stay small. With his recent impact on the defensive end, many Knicks fans (and writers) have lobbied for Kenyon Martin to remain in the lineup.
There are a couple of problems with that idea.
First, playing Martin and Chandler together is redundant. Both players bring the same skill set as great help-defenders and finishers around the basket. For the Knicks to be successful in the pick-and-roll and on defense, either Martin or Chandler has to be on the floor every minute of the game. They can play together late in games, and even finish them together if the matchups dictate it, but starting them together limits that flexibility later on.
Playing both on the floor to start the game would also adversely impact Carmelo Anthony. I don't believe the position change to small forward is the problem, but rather the lack of shooters that would surround him. With Carmelo joined by Martin, Chandler, Raymond Felton and either Pablo Prigioni or Iman Shumpert, double teams would come early and often with no shooters to make opponents pay for such a move. Anthony needs at least two shooters around him to spread the floor -- and this starting lineup has none.
(I won't waste my time arguing that J.R. Smith should start. It would fall on deaf ears, even though all evidence shows the Knicks play their best ball with Smith on the floor alongside the other starters.)
It makes little sense to change the current configuration: Chandler (for Martin), Anthony, Shumpert, Prigioni and Felton, since it has proven to be effective offensively and especially defensively over the past two games. That means the second unit off the bench will have scoring and defense with Smith, an interior presence in Martin, a shooter in Steve Novak and someone that can control the game in Jason Kidd. Even as the first and second teams are mixed and matched there's a balance that won't be hard to find. I like either Felton or Prigioni with Kidd so he doesn't have to be the primary ball handler. If the team needs an offensive spark, Chris Copeland can be added as the 10th man in the rotation. He can even replace Novak if the sharpshooter goes cold.
This keeps ineffective players like James White and Marcus Camby on the bench as emergency replacements only. Camby could be used if both Martin and Chandler have to deal with foul trouble. White would only be used if the correct perimeter matchup presented itself and he was needed defensively.
Once the playoffs arrive, Anthony, Chandler, Felton and Smith would be expected to play a minimum of 36 minutes and perhaps more if the game dictated it. Martin would take up another 24 minutes, leaving 72 to be split between Prigioni, Kidd, Shumpert and Novak depending on matchups. I would like Prigioni to play 20-25 minutes with the way he moves the ball and plays defense. Kidd will probably play 25 minutes too, meaning Shumpert and Novak can split the remaining 42-47 minutes.
Perhaps the most important thing the Knicks need to figure out: how they want to close games. The Knicks' most effective lineup all year has featured Felton, Smith, Anthony and Chandler. Martin's return gives the Knicks the ability to go big and maintain their defensive integrity. Novak provides a shooter while Prigioni and Kidd can help with ball movement and leadership. The bottom line is that the Knicks now have options. I prefer an offense/defense substitution pattern with Martin and Novak or Kidd.
They'll need those options in the month ahead and in the playoffs when they face Eastern Conference teams with very different brands of basketball. This team can still make some serious noise. But of course, there's the streaking Heat.
The next couple months are going to be a lot of fun.
- Remember when everyone was ready to jump off the George Washington Bridge because the Knicks lost four straight on their road trip? Well, they're back to just a half-game behind the Pacers and three in the loss column in front of the Nets. What was once a daunting back-to-back doesn't looks quite as bad anymore. The Celtics will be without Kevin Garnett Tuesday (and on Sunday) and the Grizzlies will likely be without Marc Gasol, who very quietly might have become the best center in the NBA this year. Suddenly the Knicks are in pretty good shape to win the 2-seed, which would give them home court advantage up until the Eastern Conference finals.
You can follow me on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants, Yankees and New York sports.
Who would you want to see in the starting five? Let Schmeelk know in the comments...
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