Big Issues: How Mike Woodson's Lineup Choices Have Killed the Knicks
Last season, the Knicks ran Pablo Prigioni and Raymond Felton out as their starting point guards in the playoffs. The reason? Because it was in that two-PG lineup, along with Iman Shumpert, that the Knicks found success running the floor and shooting threes.
The Knicks scored nearly 117 points per 100 possessions with all three of them on the floor, and collectively the trio shot just under 50% from the field, and had a +/- rating of 9.4. They were able to create assisted baskets and limit turnovers, a recipe that cooked them up a first-round win over Boston, and helped Carmelo Anthony secure the scoring title.
The Knicks ran into the Pacers shortly thereafter, and everything changed.
They got demolished inside by Roy Hibbert and David West, getting outscored in the paint 156-106, and losing the rebound battle 194-143 in four losses to Indiana in the East Semis. In win-now mode, then-GM Glen Grunwald made a creative move (considering there was virtually no salary cap wiggle room) to exchange three total draft picks, along with Marcus Camby and Steve Novak, with the Raptors for Andrea Bargnani. The idea was to have a new sharpshooter who could do other things besides catch-and-fire, which was the extent tof Novak's contributions. It would also allow the Knicks to focus on playing down low and match up with "bigger" teams like Indiana, since Bargnani stands at 7' 0". In losing to Indiana though, the Knicks forgot what made them, and their Superstar, most effective.
With the deal done, and a somewhat similar roster, Mike Woodson decided he wouldn't get handled in the paint like he did in early May against Indiana, and he'd run out his "big" lineup to match up with a league he believes is beginning to play bigger, given the fact he's called having the ability to run Carmelo Anthony out at Small Forward a "luxury."
This Saturday, everything went up in flames. The Grizzlies traveled to MSG without Marc Gasol, a devastating inside prescence that was the biggest reason Memphis reached the West Finals in 2012-13, and went to school on New York inside.
They scored 60 points in the paint to the Knicks' 28, and grabbed a whopping 27 more rebounds. The Knicks' front line of Anthony, Bargnani, and Chandler went a combined 14-34. It was "embarassing," according to Mike Woodson.
It's nothing new, however, as the three of them have a NetRtg (Points Scored/100 possessions - Points Allowed/100 possessions) of -12 in over 70 minutes together, and the Anthony-Stoudemire-Bargnani lineup is a dismal -37.8, in over 100 minutes played. These two big lineups, which the Knicks have seen the most of with Kenyon Martin out, are performing terribly. Overall, they're the sixth-worst team in the league in FG% inside five feet away, and fourth-worst in FG% allowed in the same area.
Considering Andrea Bargnani has played the second-most total minutes on the team thus far, it's fair to say his lackluster help defense has been the cause of the latter statistic, and his contribution to the clogging inside has helped the Knicks to the former number.
The mere presence of Bargnani and Chandler on the floor causes problems from the start, because of what they bring and how they're positioned. Let's look a couple of possessions from Saturday's loss:
Here is the essence of what happens on offense with this trio. Bargnani begins to set up in the same spot he's currently stading in, and after he and Chandler set screens to get Anthony and Hardaway open respectively, they wind up in the exact same spot in the lane. Carmelo, who had already made the decision to drive, now is met by two defenders at the rim, and it leads to a blocked shot. On Carmelo's shot attempts, this double-teamed rim scenario would show up more than once.
Here's another impossible situation for Carmelo caused by the big lineup. Chandler's presence on the left block has his man in the Resricted Area. Bargnani's camped close enough to the paint (and not on the three point line, where a stretch-four should be) that his defender is ready to step in and make a play. Guarded tightly, Anthony can't drive left or right to the rim, so he has to attempt a difficult turnaround which he misses.
While this is a problem throughout the game, these examples are particularly interesting given the time. This is the crunch-time lineup of choice for Mike Woodson: one forward who's been detrimental in the clutch, and another who's skillset is limited to defending the rim and dunking. While the latter, coupled with leadership, is incredibly valuable in these situations, the limitations of Tyson Chandler have been exposed by the big lineup and Andrea Bargnani/Amar'e Stoudemire. The solution here, as you may have guessed, is not to sit Chandler, but to go to a smaller lineup.
To get Bargnani and Stoudemire to the second unit and out of the starting and crunch-time lineups means one thing: floor space.
Check out this lineup in action above. The Knicks are running an isolation for Carmelo Anthony, which most fans dread, but look at the potential it has. An off-ball screen from Amar'e Stoudemire has successfully placed two shooters outside on the right, and taken the post defender almost out to the elbow. Anthony can now go to work by driving into an open lane, dishing to Tim Hardaway Jr, or shaking his man for a jumper. Either way, he's not set up to fail from the start; he has no one in the paint behind his defender.
The Knicks are better off playing small-ball. It's a lineup that's given Carmelo Anthony breathing room, and it's a necessary change due to the poor numbers the Knicks have put up with three bigs on the floor. A trip to the second unit for Amar'e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani may be best for now, but it's no guarantee of success considering the Knicks have other problems, namely Iman Shumpert's poor shooting. Kenyon Martin and Metta World Peace have contributed enough on defense to ease the pain of the struggles the big lineup has on offense, while Bargnani and Stoudemire have not been able to say the same. It's certainly time to do something, however, because Mike Woodson could be looking for work very soon if things don't turn around.
Kenny Ducey covers the Knicks for WFUV Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KennyDucey.
Statistics and video courtesy NBA.com/Stats.