Why The Knicks Should Keep Playing Small

The 2013-2014 NBA season has kicked off in exciting fashion. But for Knicks fans, there have already been multiple signs that their new and improved roster will be facing many adjustments early on.

With expectations high, there’s little room for experimentation. However, head coach Mike Woodson has already shown stability in his lineups. As expected, Raymond Felton, Tyson Chandler and Carmelo Anthony are locked in as starters. Iman Shumpert should solidify his status as a starter eventually, which leaves one open interchangeable slot – and this has caused a great deal of controversy.

Let’s take a deeper look at this. What issues must the Knicks address with their lineups? A little consistency would help — or even just smarter experimentation efforts. There have been some wacky lineups early this season, and there have also been showings of New York’s most effective lineup.

[RELATED: The 20 Best Small-Ball Lineups In The NBA]

There’s no question the Knicks excel with small ball, but what differentiates their small ball from other teams is the entertaining two-point guard backcourt. Carmelo Anthony then shifts over to the power forward position where, last year, he was in the MVP running by exploiting slower-footed big men on offense.

Anthony is a scoring machine that needs to be fed the ball in order to play at his highest level. Playing point guard isn’t always about setting the offense and commanding the troops. They have to know how and when to get their teammates the ball, giving them a better chance to execute.

Now that we’ve laid out the schematics of New York’s success, you must be saying to yourself “Ha! Easy. The Knicks should just play small ball all year!” Well, it hasn’t been that easy. When the Knicks acquired Andrea Bargnani — New York’s second coming of the Italian sensation (formerly Danilo Gallinari) — they got bigger. The power forward position, where it’s been unanimously reiterated that Anthony is a better weapon, is overstocked. Bargnani and Amar’e Stoudemire will eat up a big chunk of those minutes during the season, so Anthony will get the leftovers. Despite that, it’s still a big enough portion to make a valuable impact.

When the Knicks have gone with their starting lineup from last year’s sprint into the playoffs — Felton, Prigioni, Shumpert, Anthony, Chandler — they have been a nightmare for teams to defend. It is only minutes ahead of the second-most played lineup, switching Bargnani with Prigioni and moving ‘Melo to the three. The small lineup’s net offensive rating is almost identical to the big lineup (96.4 compared to 98.6). This shows the effectiveness of each lineup, and how safe it is to say the smaller lineup is what makes coach Mike Woodson look like a genius on offense. However, the defense is what stands out.

Having two quick point guards on the outside creating havoc fuels the Knicks style of play. The intensity also seems to pick up tremendously when Prigioni starts. The Knicks, who have 18 points off turnovers when they play the Pablo starting lineup, have played 31 minutes together, the most of any lineup and the net rating dwarfs that of the bigger lineup: plus-27.8 compared to minus-34.3. So, something must be going right, despite the small sample size.

This shot of the two lineups from NBA.com/Stats shows the discrepancy between the two lineup’s defensive and net rating. Both ratings from the two-point guard lineup tower over that of the bigger lineup, meaning the defensive plan of the smaller lineup works better with it’s play in the passing lanes and quicker help defense.

It will benefit the Knicks to play smaller this year. It may mean a little less time to do this because of the amount of rotation-worthy players being big, but the small lineups leading the team in minutes played should stay the same.

Lastly, a 17-2 record while starting Felton, Prigioni, Shumpert, ‘Melo and Chandler speaks for itself.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

What do you think?

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