D'Antoni's Woodson's rotation is an ever-evolving machine with parts that grow, shrink, disappear, and switch roles constantly. As part of our Knicks coverage all season, we'll be tracking each player every Tuesday. Come join us for the Knicks Power Rankings!
1. Carmelo Anthony. (Last week: 1) Much has been made of the fact that these shorthanded Knicks divert a large portion of their offensive possessions toward Anthony. This slowed-down, isolated approach is exactly what 'Melo wants, they say, but it's not the style of basketball that wins you playoff games (they say). That sounds fair — one recalls Game 2 of last year's Celtics series — but could we hold our horses? Can we stop for a second and acknowledge that when Amar'e Stoudemire and Jeremy Lin went down, New York's playoff hopes seemed in serious jeopardy, but weeks later, they've actually moved up a spot? Can we appreciate that the Knicks employ one of the few guys in the league who, even as the only reliable offensive option on the floor and the unilateral target of the defense, can gouge himself some open space and make the ball go in the basket? In a 2-2 week, Anthony got to relax against the meek Wizards, but his 32 points and ten rebounds carried New York to a crucial victory over the Bucks, and his scoring from the wings kept the Knicks competitive in the losses to Chicago and Miami. "Meloball" may not be enough to win future playoff games, but it's done a pretty great job of keeping the Knicks contending in the present.
2. Tyson Chandler. (Last week: 2) New York's small lineup with Anthony as the power forward has worked pretty well, but it can occasionally make things difficult for Chandler. The strange unit leads to an excess of switching, cross-matching, and weird, small lineups from the opposition. This week, those arrangements left Chandler matched with nimble face-up bigs like Chris Bosh and Ersan Ilyasova or, in some instances, switched onto speedy little critters like Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis. There were quite a few moments during that Milwaukee game in which Tyson found himself isolated at the top of the key attempting to contain a dribbling Jennings, which is like you or me trying to catch a buttered cricket. Chandler still had a solid, workmanlike week with some particularly impressive rebounding numbers, but we did see him defensively flummoxed and out of rebounding position more than usual. It's tough to be the defensive centerpiece, and it's even tougher when everybody's so goddamn little and quick.
3. J.R. Smith. (Last week: 4) It sure is exciting for Smith to be New York's second offensive option! J.R., maddening scamp that he is, has an unparalleled knack for spilling miscues all over the floor, then cleaning up the mess with one or two swift flicks of the wrist. The Milwaukee game showcased J.R.'s penchant for caprice perfectly — heaps of missed jumpers, defensive lapses, and egregious fouls, all eclipsed by one big, ballsy, game-saving shot. For better or worse, J.R. is typically New York's second-most-capable scorer these days. Mike Woodson understands this and, out of necessity, lets Smith stick on the floor even through the low times. Relying on Smith to provide offense is a bit like throwing a party and asking your notoriously forgetful, habitually late friend to bring all the snacks. Sometimes he'll do his job, sometimes he won't even show up, and other times he'll arrive an hour late and drive his car through your front door, but then hop out and reveal the most delicious pizzas of all time. That's not a useful analogy, but the point is that Smith is brash and unsteady, and he's also vital to the Knicks' chances of success. That's how it is right now.
4. Iman Shumpert. (Last week: 3) After utterly shackling Derrick Rose last week, Shumpert wasn't quite as effective in the ensuing rematch against the Bulls, when Rose was out and he matched up with more off-the-ball types like C.J. Watson and Rip Hamilton. His defense away from the dribbler isn't quite up to pace with his brilliant ball-hawking, and even when guarding frequent handlers like Ellis and Jennings, he struggled a bit. Still, as is the case with Chandler, a subpar, mistake-prone Shumpert can still make an impact defensively, as evidenced by his big fourth-quarter steals in Milwaukee and his consecutive strips of the otherwise unstoppable Dwyane Wade on Sunday. On offense, Shump has once again been saddled with some de facto point guard duties, and while he's clearly not a natural fit there, he at least deserves credit for taking care of the ball (1.8 turnovers per game this past week) and making the occasional slick pass. Again, it's less than ideal for the Knicks to be leaning so hard on Shumpert — a rookie, though that's easy to forget — but they don't have much of a choice and, for what it's worth, he's been pretty decent if not perfectly consistent.
5. Landry Fields. (Last week: 5) The slower the pace and the stickier the basketball, the more Fields struggles to provide offense. He's so, so sharp when gliding up the open floor and slicing free along the baseline, but without a reliable point guard to engage him, those opportunities are few and far between. Thus, we're left with Fields flinging jumpers off the rim and failing to gain separation off the dribble, even when guarded by relative plodders like Udonis Haslem. Fields didn't have a truly bad week — he did have some fine offensive stretches and contribute some cool passes and spurts of defense and rebounding — but this more deliberate style of play sans Lin and Stoudemire definitely isn't the most accommodating atmosphere for his skill set. That said, everything would be different if he could just hit open threes like he did last year.
6. Steve Novak. (Last week: 6) Speaking of hitting open threes, Novak busted out of his eerie slump with more Novak–ian shooting performances in New York's last three games. He sank a couple jumpers and two huge free throws in front of his family and friends in Milwaukee, then proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that his touch had returned against the Wizards (gotta love the musical accompaniment on that one). Steve still had a bit of trouble finding quality shots against smart defenders — he hardly caught the ball before releasing it early on against the Heat — but it was reassuring to see him get back on track. A world in which Steve Novak doesn't hit open threes is not a safe or nurturing world for our children.
7. Baron Davis. (Last week: 7) Save for a cuddly eighteen-point romp against the Wizards on his 33rd birthday, it was another week of solid starts and hasty collapses by Davis, who is being asked to do way more than his various injured parts can handle. Even with his minutes capped, you can see Baron start to lose a step once he's been spinning for a while, and once the legs go, the frontal lobe tends to go as well. (Baron is the king of the "Well, nobody on my team is open, but maybe if I give the ball to an opponent, he'll be willing to help us out just this once" pass.) Several people have noted that Davis would almost definitely be resting right now if the Knicks had already locked up a playoff spot.
8. Jared Jeffries. (Last week: 10) Jared's also on a minutes limit and has yet to exert much influence since returning from injury, but he's been good for a pick-and-roll, a few rebounds, and a forced turnover or two every time he takes the floor.
9. Mike Bibby. (Last week: 12) Bibby's back to being the first and only point guard off the bench. Sometimes he makes cool passes, but mostly he just hangs out, wears a headband, and neglects to stock his web store with the exclusive, authentic, autographed items he's promised.
10. Josh Harrellson. (Last week: 8) Jorts played only garbage minutes this past week, so it appears he's back out of the rotation with Jeffries now relatively healthy. In other news, Harrellson's "Jorstache" (seen here sleepily straddling a grape) appears to have perished, unless that second photo is an old one or something.
11. Toney Douglas. (Last week: 9) The Toney Douglas Re-Mobilization Project was short-lived. Even with Lin still out, Davis ailing, and Bibby being Bibby, Douglas has been stashed back on the bench. Poor Toney just couldn't get it going. This week's Toneygram™: "Tousled Agony."
12. Bill Walker. (Last week: 11) Bill's healthy, but still not in the rotation. I remain curious about how he'd perform if allowed to spin. We haven't seen Bill since Mike Woodson became coach.
Injured: Amar'e Stoudemire, Jeremy Lin