With 33 games remaining on the schedule, the New York Knicks have already lost two more games this season than they did all of last year when they finished 54-28 and in first place of the Atlantic Division. No one seems to have a definitive reason for the Knicks’ struggles, but there is one glaring issue that Mike Woodson needs to figure out — what is his go-to rotation?
The Knicks’ most used lineup this season features Carmelo Anthony, Andrea Bargnani, Raymond Felton, Kenyon Martin and Iman Shumpert, and they’ve played only 146 minutes together over 13 games. The first problem with this is that Bargnani and Martin are part of the Knicks’ most used lineup. They both are potential assets to the team, especially Martin, but should not be part of the core group. The second is that they’ve only played a combined 146 minutes together.
For comparisons sake, the Indiana Pacers’ go-to lineup of George Hill, Lance Stephenson, Paul George, David West and Roy Hibbert have played 869 minutes together in 44 games. They are 38-10 as a team. The Knicks and Pacers met in the second round of the 2013 playoffs just eight months ago, but they couldn’t be on more different trajectories this season.
Now, of course you have to take into account the fact that the Knicks have had to endure several big injuries this season to starters Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton. This alone has made it impossible for Woodson to put his best five on the court as much as he’d probably like to. However, teams like the Toronto Raptors and Chicago Bulls, who have dealt with major injuries to key players or have had key players traded off their team this season, have both figured out ways to use consistent lineups.
The Raptors’ lineup of Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Terrance Ross, Amir Johnson and Jonas Valunciunas has played 404 minutes together for the surprising 26-23 Atlantic-leading Raptors; it’s not so surprising when you consider these players have had time to unify with one another to play like a team. Raptors’ head coach Dwane Casey should be in discussion for coach-of-the-year if they continue their impressive run.
The Bulls lost Derrick Rose for the second straight season. Luol Deng was traded for virtually nothing, getting back Andrew Bynum, whom they cut, and draft picks from the Cleveland Cavaliers. Rose’s replacement in the starting-five, Kirk Hinrich, went down with an injury forcing the Bulls to sign point guard D.J. Augustin, who has performed admirably. So, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau has been dealt a much worse hand than Woodson, yet he has found ways to make it work.
With that said, who should be part of Woodson’s go-to lineup? The answer is the Knicks’ fourth most used lineup of Pablo Prigioni and Felton at the guard positions, Shumpert and Anthony at the forward slots with Chandler down low. In a similar rotation, Tim Hardaway Jr. should see more court action replacing either Shumpert, Felton or Prigioni. And J.R. Smith‘s role needs to be based off how he is performing on a given night, which is typically not well.
The Knicks aren’t too great at passing the ball to players not named Carmelo Anthony, so having two ball handlers on the floor at the same time is a must.