The Knicks are about to embark on an all too familiar stretch of games without a regular from their starting lineup. This time, once again, it is center Tyson Chandler, who has a non-displaced fracture of his right fibula. Last season the Knicks were without Chandler for a stretch of games because of a bulging disk and the “small-ball” lineup was born with Pablo Prigioni being inserted into the starting lineup alongside Raymond Felton, Iman Shumpert, Carmelo Anthony and Kenyon Martin. This season head coach Mike Woodson planned on using a bigger lineup with the acquisition of Andrea Bargnani from the Toronto Raptors but the small lineup looks like it is going to be reappearing for the Knicks for the next 4-6 weeks.
This is something that could actually work to the Knicks advantage. Offensively, this is something that could really blossom. With Bargnani manning the center position and Anthony playing at the 4, the Knicks offense will be spread wide open. This will enable Bargnani to be much more aggressive as there will be more room to roam on the court without Chandler clogging up the middle. We saw this first hand Friday night as the Knicks exploded on the same Bobcats team who handled them well earlier in the week. This was because of the work of Bargnani and Anthony in the middle. Both were extremely aggressive and made a living on the offensive glass, giving the Knicks multiple possessions and easy scoring opportunities off kick-outs and lay-ups. The Knicks looked like the Knicks from last season when they were at their best as the turnovers were kept to a minimum and they shot the lights out from beyond the arc, going 12 for 26 for 46.2 percent.
Another positive to Bargnani manning the middle is the fact the opposing center is taken away from the basket. On Tuesday the Knicks were killed on the glass without Chandler, losing the rebounding battle 51-33; on Friday it was a different story as the Knicks were competitive on the glass losing only 41-37. Common thinking is that the Knicks will struggle rebounding with Bargnani being paired in the front court with Anthony, which is true based on career projections, but with Bargnani’s offensive skill set it should help offset the numbers as the bigger players on opponent’s teams will be taken away from the basket; this is something that will be in the spotlight Sunday afternoon when the Knicks take on the Spurs as it will be interesting to watch how the Spurs handle Bargnani. Will Tim Duncan be asked to run around the perimeter chasing him around or will the Spurs have to sit in a zone and hope the Knicks don’t get hot taking jump shots; the short answer was it really didn’t matter as the Knicks did not come to play and the Spurs had the game won before halftime. But Bargnani and Anthony both had solid offensive games even with the disastrous end result as they combined to shoot 10 of 20 from the field for 32 points.
While the offense looks like something that could now become a strength once again for the Knicks, the defense looks like it could really slip. With Bargnani as a rim protector things are a lot less intimidating for opponents attacking the basket than with Chandler back there. Bargnani has been an albatross on defense throughout his career, but through one game he looked like a monster as the last line of defense. He recorded five blocks against the Bobcats Friday and looked decently comfortable on the perimeter switching against the smaller guards. Ideally the Knicks would like to put Bargnani in those situations as little as possible but their defensive scheme is to switch, switch and switch again until you cannot switch anymore.
With Bargnani on the defensive end and on the glass it is all about effort. If he can make a concerted effort to stop his opponent and help in the rebounding department a little it would go a long way for the Knicks. He was active Friday night and will be worth keeping an eye on if he can continue that game in and game out until Chandler returns. One thing that will help Bargnani along is if Kenyon Martin can stay healthy. Martin is on a strict minutes limit but he has said on multiple occasions that he is ready for an increased role and more minutes on the court. If Martin is indeed able to play more it will help the Knicks immensely as he can cover up for some of the deficiencies that Anthony and Bargnani have on the defensive end while not clogging up the offense as he does not need the ball.
The offense is something that can really take off with Chandler sidelined because he is the common denominator in all of the Knicks struggles offensively. When Anthony and Stoudemire were paired together with Chandler everyone pointed fingers at them not being able to co-exist; the real problem is Chandler clogs the paint, something that makes isolation players such as Anthony and Stoudemire’s lives much more difficult on offense. This season people saw Bargnani and Anthony on the court and saw it not working but again it was Chandler who was in the way. Bargnani is attempting to get comfortable in a new place and was not put in a situation to succeed while Anthony, being the leader of the team, had to find a way to keep Bargnani involved while getting his own shots as well. It looked like a recipe for disaster trying to fit all these pieces together but hopefully now with Chandler being sidelined Woodson will realize the small-ball lineup is the way to go and Bargnani may be moved to the second unit to be the vocal point without any responsibilities other than scoring the basketball, which is what he does best.