Double Checking Our Lineup
Before preseason even starts, let’s look at which rotations would work best with the players guaranteed to make the roster
Over the course of the NBA offseason, the Knicks acquired a few players and traded for others. Sometime in the middle of July, it felt like they had already accomplished a starting unit without any meddling in training camp.
That starting five–Derrick Rose, Courtney Lee, Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis, and Joakim Noah–highlighted a strange new direction and pivot for the organization. The slow rebuild was exchanged for a rifle quick reload of proven stars and budding talent. With photoshops completed that outfitted the 2017 Knicks presumptive starters, no one paused and took a moment to examine if these five dudes were truly gnarly.
In other words, are we sure our presumed starters should be starting? I challenge the great hype machine with this exact sentiment. Let’s analyze how these athletes play with others and themselves and see if we can concoct an even better lineup.
- Combined 2015–16 win shares: 16.1
- Average 2015–16 PER (player efficiency rating): 15.4
- Combined 2015–16 VORP (value over replacement player): 4.8
The presumptive starting unit would also be the most experienced players with the undeniably talented Porzingis. Looking at the statistics of these players, especially their 2015–16 campaigns, you can’t hide from the fact that most had a turbulent seasons. Carmelo and Kristaps posted solid numbers in the PER and VORP categories, while Rose and Noah were pretty ineffective and Lee actually had a less than average PER.
So what does that say about these guys? Well, mostly that they had down years and at their ages the next year to come may not shine any brighter. That poses a real problem for Jeff Hornacek and his coaching staff. Basically the returning guys are dependable, and given the correct situations, could even improve their play of yesteryear. However, the new additions have to 1) learn a new system and a new coach, and 2) bounce back from troubling seasons.
In terms of scheme, the players in this starting five are probably good fit for Hornacek. Rose would push the ball, break out for transition buckets, and drive to the rim unlike a certain ex-Knicks point guard. Joakim Noah is a valuable rebounder on both sides of ball and will improve post passing and screens at the elbow. Carmelo will have his choice of posting up or playing face-up to the basket with the knowledge that he has real weapons on his team.
There’s also Lee who can handle the ball or space the floor. This is a pretty easy skill to knock off or use scarce words on but I can’t iterate enough how important it is for Lee to utilize space and play off a posting Anthony or scramble through screens for wing threes. Finally, Porzingis is kind of still a mystery. He has a new general who could liberate him or confine him to silly post-ups with smaller, yet stronger centers. Then again, he can also play all over the court.
The X-Factor here is really Hornacek. I have an idea of how it’ll implement his own system with these guys but we won’t know for sure until preseason.
The Wait Could Brandon Jennings Be An Improvement Over Rose
- Combined 2015–16 win shares: 17.2
- Average 2015–16 PER: 15.4
- Combined 2015–16 VORP: 5.6
The only difference in this lineup, Brandon Jennings, offers a bit of a different point guard at the helm of the Knicks offense. Jennings is a better outside shot–more than three points greater from three than Rose–and have a full win share over the former MVP. They both had similar PER seasons (only 0.2 a difference) yet the two point guards have one unmistakable thing in common: career debilitating injuries. Both lower body, Jennings and Rose are limited players for the Knicks that do not solve the long-term point guard position in New York.
At this point the only argument you could make that these two are going to succeed at the Mecca is the possibility of re-signing or selling themselves to the rest of the NBA. Rose was traded here by Jackson on a prayer that he’ll perform better in his contract year. Jennings signed a one-year deal to explicitly prove himself and return to balling-out form.
The overall health of either of these guards is important and the minutes played may be the defining factor in cracking the starting lineup.
The Porzingis Belongs at Center
- Combined 2015–16 win shares: 16.7
- Average 2015–16 PER: 14.7
- Combined 2015–16 VORP: 3.8
Here’s an argument: Kristaps Porzingis should not play the power forward position because he is the ideal, revolutionary stretch-five. He will take centers out of their comfort zones while having the height to out-rebound them (that might also depend on his offseason training regimen).
Porzingis received a ton of help grabbing boards last season from his frontcourt partner Robin Lopez. Lopez, now with the Bulls, was excellent at boxing out and leaving spaces open for Porzingis to retrieve missed shots. Arguably, Joakim Noah would facilitate the same skill Noah did, but for the future you want Porzingis to be able to grab rebounds on his own accord.
The other element of this lineup shift is Lance Thomas. Thomas missed the last 18 games of the 2016 season. If Thomas is healthy, he would provide solid wing defense and improved outside shooting (that was visible during the time he did play last year). Also, Carmelo maybe should not guard small forwards anymore. This isn’t a knock at Carmelo as much as a realistic step in his career. Faster forwards blow by Anthony and score on him. Instead, if ‘Melo focuses at the power forward position, then he can size up strong forwards with nimble and athletic moves (contingent on the strength of his knee) and adeptly guard bigger guys.
Ultimately, Jeff Hornacek needs to determine whose skills and health can work together. This will be gathered in practices and the preseason, but the Knicks do have sort of a depth issue. Their first and second-string point guards have knee and ankle problems, respectively, and after that you could pick Sasha Vujacic or one of the invited players to training camp. Besides the guard position, the Knicks’ frontcourt is crowded with inexperienced players. Yes, even Porzingis is relatively inexperienced and not a veteran yet.
His Sevilla buddy Willy has yet to play a lick of NBA basketball and neither has Plumlee brother the third.
Unfortunately the roster has it’s constructed now is pretty fragile. Outside of the ceiling the assumptive lineup could bring, an injury or two, even just two weeks, would put pressure on everyone else to overachieve and perform better than their own abilities.
No pressure at all though…
— Reid Goldsmith, managing editor