The NBA hype surrounding New York City to start the season was about the Brooklyn Nets and their inevitable takeover of the city. With the re-signing of Deron Williams and the headline grabbing trade of Joe Johnson, the Nets were making big splashes in the offseason.
Meanwhile, the Knicks were quietly going about their business, adding veterans to their team that most thought were past their primes like Jason Kidd and Kurt Thomas. An injury to Amar'e Stoudemire, right before the season started, began whispers of the "same old Knicks" talk around the city.
But, that injury proved to be a blessing in disguise, mainly because it forced the hand of coach Mike Woodson into making lineup changes that, with Stoudemire healthy, he might not have made.
Woodson shifted Carmelo Anthony, who normally plays small forward in a lineup next to Stoudemire and Knicks center Tyson Chandler, to power forward thus unlocking the magical small-ball lineup the Knicks have been riding to great success so far this year.
Eventually, however, Stoudemire will return to the health and the Knicks will again be faced with a decision: insert Amar'e back into the starting lineup or have your $99M dollar power forward come off the bench?
The Knicks' 8-2 start without Stoudemire makes it look like they're onto something special, so let's take a deeper look.
With Stoudemire out and Melo at the four, the Knicks put Jason Kidd into the starting lineup to play alongside Ray Felton as the Knicks' backcourt. Suddenly, with this lineup of Anthony, Chandler, Kidd, Felton and Ronnie Brewer, the Knicks have a perfect mix of defense, shooting and speed to put around the offensive talents of Anthony.
With an extra shooter on the court, driving lanes for Anthony become wider, and the area around the rim is less congested, which makes finishing easier.
Notice the difference in Anthony's attack, first, without Stoudemire on the court:
Now, watch Melo attack with Stoudemire on the court:
You'll notice that as a result of Stoudemire standing inside the three point line, and not as a great of a threat to shoot, his defender is now a few feet closer to the basket and a few seconds quicker to help on Anthony drives, which results in misses for Melo or makes him settle for lower percentage jump shots.
Bringing Stoudemire off the bench, just limits the time that he and Anthony would be on the floor together.This allows Melo to be the featured player while he's out on the floor and gives him optimal space to create for himself and a plentiful amount of shooters to kick out against a sagging defense.
Also, this allows Stoudemire to go against a team's second string power forward, and gives him the same freedom that Melo has as the featured player in the second rotation, a win-win.
Playing a smaller lineup with Anthony at the four makes the Knicks...well...smaller, but what they give up in size, the Knicks make up for in a quicker, more mobile unit capable of countering pick and rolls and other team's small lineups.
Watch the Knicks on this crunch time possession vs. the Mavericks, and you'll notice a lineup essentially of four smalls and Tyson Chandler, but this lineup is perfectly suited to guard a pick and roll, which they do to perfection in this clip:
With Stoudemire on the floor, he was often the victim of pick and roll bullying. Teams liked to involve him in that action as often as possible and Stoudemire usually rewarded them with lackluster coverage. A few examples:
According to HoopData.com the Knicks offense is the most efficient in the NBA and their defense is the ninth most efficient.
If numbers alone aren't enough of a convincing factor, as you saw in the videos, there is plenty of evidence supporting keeping this Stoudemire-less Knicks lineup together even after the eventual return of Stoudemire from injury.
Bringing Amar'e off the bench keeps the Knicks' strength strong and strengthens the Knicks' bench and depth.
The only thing that could suffer is Stoudemire's ego.