This one hurts. Stoudemire was really coming on and the Knicks were starting to roll. Now he’s gone, lost to a bulging disc in his back for what I’ve heard is going to be four weeks minimum and could be the rest of the year. The playoffs start April 28th which is exactly one month from today. Re-integrating him as the team starts a playoff series isn’t going to be easy or even advisable (although it has to be done if possible). Earlier in the season there were people saying the team was better with Stoudemire off the floor and Jeffries on it but I don’t think that’s the case when Amar’e is playing well, which he has been lately, nor do I think it would hold up as true over the course of an extended period. JJ can give you a lot in stretches but over the course of 35 minutes his weaknesses will be exposed. And of course, he’s hurt anyway so that isn’t an option.
So what are the Knicks going to do? First, losing Amar’e takes one of their two plus-level shooters out of the starting lineup. Melo hasn’t shot well this season but he’s historically been an excellent mid-range jump shooter. Amar’e shoots 53% for his career. The other three guys are either below average (Chandler, Fields) or average (Lin). With Amar’e out, the Knicks are going to go Melo-heavy and teams are going to respond by doubling. How will the Knicks combat that? They need to get shooters on the floor where they can.
Who steps into Amar’e’s position? With Jeffries out, it won’t be him. He certainly wouldn’t help the shooting situation although his defensive ability and versatility is unmatched league wide and would certainly help there. Steve Novak and his absurd 48% three point percentage are one option. That’ll hurt the Knicks on the glass and on defense and I really like what he brings to the second unit. Josh Harrellson is another option but with Chandler’s penchant for getting into foul trouble he’s needed to play backup center. I think the most logical option is to play Carmelo at the four whenever possible and move J.R. Smith into the starting lineup with Fields playing small forward. Smith hasn’t shot the ball well thus far but he’s been a pretty good shooter (43% from the field, 37% from three) throughout his career. In addition, he’s capable of being a solid rebounder (he’s had games with ten, seven and six boards this season). He’s also been an aggressive and effective defender since coming to the Knicks and can create his own shot. With Stoudemire out, it’s just Melo and Lin who can get it on their own and it’s important to have players who can create for themselves. I know J.R. is crazy but he’s been pretty responsible on the court thus far. And we don’t have many other options so why not take a chance?
Tonight is an excellent opportunity for the Knicks to do just what I am recommending: Melo is capable of handling Ryan Anderson; all he’s going to do is shoot threes anyway. Fields and Turkoglu is a fine matchup given the year and J.R. Smith can definitely handle Jason Richardson. Hell, maybe he’ll learn a thing or two from him during the game.
Lin and Melo are both questionable although Melo says he’s playing. Hopefully Lin will too. The Magic are the third best team in the Conference so tonight won’t be easy. Still, even without one of their stars the Knicks are good enough to beat the Magic. Here’s hoping.