Mike D’Antoni’s ever-changing rotation now includes a slew of newcomers of varying usefulness. With Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, and a few promising role players replacing a half dozen departed Knicks, there is plenty of experimentation to be done. As part of our Knicks coverage all season, taking a note from Mark Lisanti’s “Mad Men Power Rankings,” we’ve been tracking each player every Tuesday. This week, we’ll start the ranking anew as D’Antoni does the same with his roster. Come with us for the Knicks Power Rankings!
1. Chauncey Billups. With last week’s blockbuster trade, the Power Rankings have suddenly become very top-heavy. In stacking Billups and Carmelo Anthony up with Amar’e Stoudemire, coach Mike D’Antoni lost depth along with some of the intrigue surrounding which Knicks would emerge as the second and third options each week. The phrase big three feels a little played out (and New York’s isn’t yet on par with some of the others), but it’s clear, at least for now, that Nos. 1, 4, and 7 are the heavy favorites to pace the Knicks on any given night. There’s a much more discrete upper class on this team than previously, and Chauncey’s first week in orange and blue was all about certifying his membership in that … uh … large trinity. Billups made it readily evident that he can and will take over games even when his shot isn’t falling. Against the Bucks, he sank twelve free throws, including several when the game was on the line. In Cleveland, he almost single-handedly rescued the Knicks from humiliation with a personal twenty-point surge in the fourth quarter. In Miami, Dwyane Wade dared Chauncey to shoot, and he calmly drained a ballsier-than-thou dagger from deep behind the arc. Billups still has plenty of bonding to do with his teammates (might I suggest some activities?), but for a guy who probably would have preferred to stay in Denver, he sure did look the most comfortable representing New York.
2. Carmelo Anthony. Rushed into the spotlight without much practice or sense of his teammates, Anthony was more than happy to just showcase his deadliness in isolation. Melo didn’t shoot particularly well — none of the three games saw him crack 50 percent from the field — but he overcame that by refusing to settle. Per HoopData, Anthony’s team-leading 69 field-goal attempts over three games were more than half composed of shots from ten feet or less. On the season, 45 percent of his 19.3 takes per game were from within ten. In other words, Melo hasn’t been shy about getting shots up to open his Knick career, but he’s getting those extra looks from close range. That includes plenty of second and third efforts and some extraordinary finishes with contact. Part of welcoming a new star to your favorite team is embracing the skills that you’d either failed to realize or come to dread while he was hooping in some other locale. In Anthony’s case, it’s that otherworldly ability to keep form while absorbing body blows that looks so right in orange and blue. The synchrony with Amar’e Stoudemire will come, but we got an awe-inspiring glimpse of Anthony’s individual grit in his first week.
3. Amar’e Stoudemire. After four months as New York’s undisputed weapon of choice, Amar’e played the gracious host and let the newcomers gobble up his usage as they settled in. Excepting a prolific, albeit futile, outing in Cleveland, Stoudemire actually played spectator quite a bit. While there were moments of cohesion with his new companions, the Knick captain mostly opted to clear out and let Anthony and Billups work solo. That’s okay. The time will come for Amar’e to create a stir away from the ball in those situations, but amid this changing of the guard, his decision to butt out and concentrate on rebounding (double digits in each of the last two games) and defense (five blocks in Cleveland plus a particularly momentous one in Miami) was probably wise. (For transparency’s sake, know that early imaginations of this list had Stoudemire at No. 1 until the word power got to me.)
4. Landry Fields. Count Landry among the Knicks who aren’t quite sure when and where to contribute offense in this renovated lineup. Fields, who was pushing for more close attempts before the break, looked a bit uneasy driving in the presence of the newcomers. One of the very few giveaways that Fields is still just a rookie is his propensity to get a little flustered off the dribble, and some rushed, overcooked attempts betrayed him in Cleveland and Miami. The good news is that Landry continues to earn his keep by rebounding, defending stoutly, and spreading the floor with his abilities from outside. Fields also gets special consideration for this throwdown over Carlos Delfino and extra-special consideration for his stone-faced expression thereafter, which was surely an homage to the departed Wilson Chandler.
5. Toney Douglas. Though quiet offensively in the last two games, Toney was the unsung hero in Melo and Chauncey’s glittery debut. The sixth man picked an excellent night to do exactly what Toney Douglas do, drilling ten of twelve looks from inside and out, forcing turnovers, and setting the table for Anthony. Douglas should see more opportunities to frolic off the ball with Melo (and Anthony Carter, actually) in town, and if he can rediscover that touch going forward (he was just 2–15 in the two following away games), he’ll be instrumental in the second unit.
6. Ronny Turiaf. As is typical, Ronny had a quiet, workmanlike week, dedicating most of his minutes to rebounding, defending the paint, and smacking folks. One of the little pleasures of the new lineup is watching Billups and Anthony throw crisp feeds to an open Turiaf on the perimeter, only to have Ronny immediately rid himself of the ball with a sort of “Oh no, see, I don’t do that” look on his face. The whiskery one’s (he trimmed the beard, by the way, and probably lost a full pound in the process) minutes might fluctuate with big man help on the way, but he’ll undoubtedly continue to contribute.
7. Bill Walker. With some of their more prolific outside shooters now breathing Rocky Mountain air, the Knicks have plenty of open threes to offer. Walker gleefully accepted that offer this past week. He drilled five of twelve depth charges, the deepest of which was a falling buzzer-beater off glass to put a flourish on New York’s second-quarter comeback in Miami. The front office’s jettisoning of Corey Brewer and Kelenna Azubuike is, among other things, a show of faith for Walker’s capabilities as the reserve swingman, and if he can couple that shooting with some of the crafty defense he played on Sunday against LeBron James, he’ll hold on to that spot in the rotation.
8. Shawne Williams. Extra E has quietly regressed to the mean after his preposterous three-point shooting in December. He shot just 26 percent from range in February, including only one make in eight attempts this past week. D’Antoni is enamored with Williams as a “big” man, though, sicking Shawne on the likes of Chris Bosh and Andrew Bogut with intermittent success.
9. Anthony Carter. Mike D’Antoni chose to rely mainly on his incumbent players, but upon receiving word that Carter felt capable of manning the point and defending Dwyane Wade, D’Antoni called on No. 25. (Thinkin’ of you, Timofey. Not you, Mardy.) Sure enough, Carter left his little footprint on Sunday’s win. He surrendered some inches (and, as a result, some points) to Wade but also put in a few solid possessions, the most wondrous of which was an aerial robbery culminating in a lead-changing layup to open the fourth quarter. Whether or not that was enough to impress D’Antoni into stretching his rotation remains to be seen, but the other Anthony is here to stay and could be of use.
10. Renaldo Balkman. HE’S BACK! The man we call “Humpty” (both for the facial resemblance and because Renaldo likes his oatmeal lumpy) got a few minutes to spin in Cleveland and Miami and was the same old guy. Balkman straddled the line between staunch defense and hacking gone afoul, scurrying deliriously from one matchup to another to practice his craft. As is the case with Carter, Humpty’s staying power in D’Antoni’s rotation is yet to be determined. We’re just happy to have him back.
11. Roger Mason Jr. A change in lineup didn’t include minutes for Roger, but he appears to have survived a round of roster cuts. The Knicks must hold Mason’s playoff experience in high regard, because he’s been largely ineffective in court time this year. To be fair, he hasn’t had much of an opportunity.
12. Andy Rautins. Same deal for Rautins, whose prospects of joining the rotation won’t grow if Carter continues to back up Billups.
13. Shelden Williams. Shelden was the lone newcomer to stay bench-bound in his first week as a Knick. Though Williams is a capable rebounder, the forthcoming Jared Jeffries acquisition might preclude him from ever receiving steady minutes. Oh well. Shelden’s still a Nugget on Twitter anyhow.
Exiled during the composition of the above rankings: Kelenna Azubuike (which is a shame, since his knee was just getting back to normal) and Corey Brewer (which is a shame, since his pet goat would have been a constant source of amusement around these parts.)