|J.R. Smith is just one of many important players on New York's bench. Photo from siphotos.tumblr.com|
The supporting cast is among the best in the NBA. I'm going to focus just on the bench here, and in doing that I'm going to assume this starting lineup:
PG Raymond Felton
SG Iman Shumpert
SF Metta World Peace
PF Carmelo Anthony
C Tyson Chandler
The fact that I don't even know who is starting at the two wing positions shows just how deep the team is. Mike Woodson could easily toss J.R. Smith in at the 2 guard. He can also slide Melo over and use my least favorite player on the team, Andrea Bargnani at power forward as much as it would kill me. In fact, the Knicks could very well go super small and use Prigioni at SG while either Shumpert, Smith, or World Peace mans the small forward position. There are a plethora of options on this team, and when injury occurs and fatigue sets in, no matter what, the Knicks will always have a viable lineup out there that can compete with almost anyone in the NBA.
Among the many signings in the offseason of big name free agents such as Monta Ellis, Josh Smith, Brandon Jennings, Dwight Howard, and Andrew Bynum, lesser players get lost in the shuffle. One of the most important moves the Knicks made was the acquisition of Beno Udrih. He is a decent shooter at 46.2% for his career, and he is good at penetrating and creating opportunities for himself to score. But he is more well known for his passing skills. He's always been a really good backup, so the fact that he's the third string point guard on this team is a great sign. In fact, if injuries force Udrih into the starting lineup, he can definitely hold his own.
Why is Udrih the third point guard? Because we have the Argentinian passing sensation, Pablo Prigioni. I mean, he's been dishing out sweet dimes since the preseason of last year! Then of course in January, he created one of the best moments of the season with this pass to J.R. Smith. Pablo can shoot, but he never does...even when he's open. Maybe that will change this year, but even if it doesn't, we still get to see numerous no-look, behind-the-back, and maybe even between-the-legs passes from the 36 year old.
Speaking of J.R. he won the Sixth Man of the Year Award last year, so we already know about his scoring prowess. If he actually calms down with the partying and focuses on basketball and not getting suspended, he could be even better this season. He always provides a spark off the bench, but with Shumpert, Bargnani, and Tim Hardaway Jr. expected to play big roles in the offense, Smith may just be even more efficient than last year. His role will be slightly reduced, and he won't be able to take as many awful shots.
That brings us to first round pick Tim Hardaway Jr. I absolutely loved this pick back in June because of his ridiculous athleticism. He's a reliable finisher, decent shooter, and a really good passer. He's also improving his defense. Hardaway is by no means a finished product, but he should give some nice production off the bench, and he has the tools to be a really good player in this league.
As annoying as it is that Amar'e Stoudemire can never stay healthy, or can't play defense, there are certain spots where he can be a very valuable piece. A stretch big man is an important thing to have in this league, and while it is easy to think that Andrea Bargnani should easily take over STAT's role, but Stoudemire actually has certain strengths where Bargnani lacks. He can finish at the rim and rebound, two things that the big Italian can't do. We all know that a lineup consisting of Stoudemire and Chandler clogs up the inside too much for guys like Melo to penetrate on offense. But, if he is out there with another defensive big such as Kenyon Martin playing the 4 and Amar'e at the 5, then his defensive weaknesses can be masked, while still utilizing his offensive production.
The same goes for Andrea Bargnani. I have cooled down a bit since this post, because I think that in shorter bursts maybe it might work. His game is more of a mid-range to outside shooting game while Stoudemire's focuses more mid-range and inside. Everything I outlines in that August piece holds true, but that doesn't mean that when he is relegated to a supporting role he can't be more efficient. In Toronto he was the main guy, but in New York, depending on who is out there with him, he could be the third or fourth option. I still think that they traded too much to get him, and I won't back off of that statement.
Kenyon Martin is back after being a major key during the stretch run last year. He has decent size and is a smart help defender and has a knack for blocking shots. He isn't a guy like Tyson Chandler who can lock down the Andrew Bynums or Dwight Howards of the world, but he can certainly bother almost every big man in the league. He always has great effort on that end of the floor. Unfortunately, he's not a very good offensive player, but that's not why he's here. But he seriously needs to find a way to distinguish his look from Melo's, it's too painful when I see a great play and I attribute it to the wrong guy. Seriously, two guys of about the same height with tattoos, a single digit number, and the same color headband. This isn't fair!
There are so many other players competing to make the roster, but one guy who is a pseudo-lock is C.J. Leslie. He is certainly unpolished, but with the right coaching he could be a stud. He is long and quick, and can play the 3 or 4 positions. He doesn't have the strength to guard most power forwards in the league, but if he bulks up, he could be a great defender. There isn't going to be much tangible production from him, but as long as he shows improvement, it's a good thing. By the end of the year, he could be a really valuable scorer off the bench, but I wouldn't count on it. Low risk, high reward here.
Guys like defensive bigs Cole Aldrich and Josh Powell are still battling it out to see if they can crack the top 15. Guard Toure Murry and Chris Smith (brother of J.R.) are also in pretty heated battles. There's a lot of look at in terms of periphery players on this team. Now I'm not saying that the Knickerbockers have the best supporting cast in the league, but they are certainly one of the deepest teams out there. There are still many questions looming, but for what it's worth, the bench will be one of the brightest spots.