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: 3) The Knicks, like most teams in this lockout year, have been without at least one major cog pretty much all season. Now, the weight of the scrunched schedule has come crashing down all at once, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a Knick who doesn't require treatment for one ailment or another. Amar'e Stoudemire, Jeremy Lin, Jared Jeffries, and Bill Walker have all missed time and will miss some more, while several other Knicks remain active but hobbled.
Foremost among those walking wounded is Anthony. We worried last week that Melo would miss time because of an aggravated groin strain, but he played through the injury and, oddly enough, logged some of his best minutes of the season and led New York to two wins. With Lin, Stoudemire, and most of New York's offensive flow on the shelf, Coach Woodson stuck with his strategy of stationing Melo in the post and letting him operate down low. It paid off, as Anthony shot 50 percent or better in two of the week's three games (after doing that just twice in the previous three weeks) and responded splendidly to help defense. Melo's 25-point, six-assist outing against the, uh, weary Magic constituted one of his sharpest, most efficient offensive games of the year. His scoring over single defenders and passing out of double teams propelled the Knicks to one of their biggest and best wins of the season, and that offensive approach remained mostly intact for the rest of the week.
Anthony also continued to assert himself on the defensive end, even while playing out of position in Stoudemire's absence. None of New York's opponents this past week featured a traditional, back-to-the-basket, bulldozin' power forward, and Melo did a pretty nice job of handling perimeter-dwelling fours like Ryan Anderson, Josh Smith, and Antawn Jamison. This coming week, he'll see Anderson again, but will also have to guard more genuine big men like David West and Carlos Boozer, so we'll see how that goes.
2. Tyson Chandler. (Last week: 1) Chandler also played injured, with that left wrist still bugging him and a new groin strain to boot (these groin injuries lead one to wonder if Tyson and Melo were in an unreported freak tandem pogo-stick accident or something). Mere physical pain is not enough to keep Chandler off the court, though, and he had himself a week in spite of things. Save for an uncharacteristically languid outing in Atlanta (the same day as the groin diagnosis), Chandler contributed his typical imposing presence on defense. He did as marvelous a job as one can do against the totally unprepared Dwight Howard and dominated the boards a few days later against the Cavaliers. Not a bad week at all. Oh, and in extracurricular news, Chandler compensated for an earlier technical foul that got rescinded by picking up his tenth tech of the season in the Orlando game. If he picks up three more, he'll get suspended, and get re-suspended for every two more he accrues. Please don't do that, Tyson.
3. Iman Shumpert. (Last week: 5) Shumpert turned in one poor shooting performance against the Cavs, but otherwise shone in his new, injury-time role as New York's starting two guard. Shump's defense was the usual spectacle of cowering, shriveled opposing guards and poached passing lanes, and, at just the right time, his offense caught up to speed. After receiving some tutelage from Allan Houston, he drilled nine of twenty three-point attempts on the week, and was deadly on his mid-range pull-ups until that off night on Saturday. New York is desperately in need of offense with all these injuries, and while Shump's scoring definitely can't be counted on every night, he's already proven willing and able to contribute in the new role. He's done it in a variety of offensive sets, too.
One thing to keep an eye on as the Knicks continue with this holey rotation is how Shump plays on versus off the ball. He's looked a lot more comfortable as a shooting guard, but simply must put in some minutes as the point, at least until Baron Davis is totally healthy and/or Toney Douglas is totally Toney (both of which may never happen).
4. J.R. Smith. (Last week: 6) Smith falls into the same category as Shumpert. With all the injuries, New York needs somebody other than Anthony to create points. On some nights, that'll be Shumpert. On other nights, the Knicks will have to lean very hard on Smith. That prospect is a little frightening, but J.R. came through in both of New York's wins this week. He nailed his jumpers, finished at least one highlight, and continued to make small, irritating plays on defense. Smith even went swipe-for-swipe with Shumpert against the Cavaliers, matching the defensive prodigy with five steals of his own. J.R. also gets consideration for his devastating crossover during garbage time of the Orlando game. Smith didn't hit the resulting jumper, but he did turn poor DeAndre Liggins's entire lower body into a soft pretzel. That ought to be worth a few points.
5. Baron Davis. (Last week: 9) Much has been made of the fact that, had "Linsanity" never happened, the guard rotation you see now would have been New York's everyday backcourt situation. Baron Davis — or, more accurately, the bundle of strained body parts known as "Baron Davis" — would have been the regular starting point guard. It's a relief that that didn't have to be case under normal conditions, but, well, it is the case now. Davis has done his very best to work through the still-tender back and freshly pulled hamstring (why am I getting hungry?), and his performance has wavered from one game to the next. On some nights, like Friday in Atlanta, Davis looks a step slow and responds quite poorly to his inability to beat his man off the dribble. At other times, he seems to have the boost to make a useful first step, and the rest of his game seems to flourish in turn.
6. Josh Harrellson. (Last week: 10) The rookie whose biggest post-injury contributions had been growing a sinister mustache and emitting such profuse flatulence as to earn the nickname "Big Pamper" (Not a joke. There's a back story.) is now a big part of the rotation. With Stoudemire and Jeffries out, Harrellson is New York's next-best true big man after Tyson Chandler, and he's now getting regular double-digit minutes off the bench. In that time, Jorts has looked solid, rolling competently to the rim for baskets and drawn fouls, and using his weight and quick hands to disrupt offense and reap the ensuing rebounds. He's even backed off the reckless three-point gunning, indulging only occasionally from behind the arc. So far, it's just been the good, solid interior play New York needs off the bench. And a mustache. And farts.
7. Landry Fields. (Last week: 8) It had already been a decidedly un-Landry month, but the slowed pace of the last few Lin-less games have exposed Fields's faltering offense even further. With fewer opportunities in transition and more work to be done against set defenses, Landry's drives have been hit-or-miss. His outside shot, meanwhile, has been uniformly dismal. The guy hasn't hit a three since March 11, and we're talking about someone who takes one or two a night. If Allan Houston is now playing the role of shot whisperer, could he maybe send some magic Landry's way? That'd be a big help.
8. Steve Novak. (Last week: 7) Defenses continue to defer Novak's outside attempts by practically clinging to his torso with the knowledge that he won't be going anywhere off the dribble. Novak has struggled to get open, and he even posted his first genuinely poor shooting night — 2-8 against the Cavs — in over a month. And, of course, this has all coincided with Steve getting serially abused on the defensive end. Frightening developments.
9. Toney Douglas. (Last week: 13) Toney's back in the rotation! With Lin gone for a while, Woodson seems to have decided that Mike Bibby isn't a long-term solution as back-up point guard and Douglas might as well get another shot to contribute. Let's hope that Toney can fight his way out of a slump and into the permanent rotation, thus earning this week's Toneygram: "A Gutsy Noodle."
10. Mike Bibby. (Last week: 11) Bibby returned to DNP status on Saturday, but he'll probably step back into the point-guard role should Douglas fail. I mean this without any disrespect to Mike, but I hope Bibby doesn't play a single meaningful minute between now and the next Rankings.
11. Jerome Jordan. (Last week: 12) Alas, the short-handed Knicks have gone small instead of letting their third healthy big man spin. The PANJEROMIUM craze will just have to keep waiting.
Injured: Amar'e Stoudemire, Jeremy Lin, Jared Jeffries, Bill Walker. Sigh.