Suddenly, the New York Knicks are dealing with a logjam at the power forward position.
That's a major change from a year ago, when the team's options at the 4 were so unappealing that head coach Mike Woodson slid Carmelo Anthony over from small forward out of necessity. Of course, anyone who watched the 2012-13 season knows that the decision to shift Anthony to power forward was a total success.
The scoring champ was deadly as a small-ball 4, exploiting mismatches by taking big men out to the perimeter and blowing past them with ease.
Things are different now, though. The Knicks brought in Andrea Bargnani, and Amar'e Stoudemire is (for now) healthy enough to command minutes when the 2013-14 season starts. Toss in the return of Kenyon Martin and things are already looking a bit complicated.
How the Knicks address their crowded frontcourt without taking minutes away from Anthony is going to go a long way toward determining the team's ceiling in a make-or-break year. A look down the list at all of the variables in the equation shows just how complex the power forward problem truly is.
It Begins and Ends with 'Melo
However the Knicks decide to address their myriad options at the 4, it'll be critical for them to do everything they can to ensure that Anthony gets as many minutes at the position as possible. Last season, he was nothing short of a revelation as an undersized power forward.
At 6'8" and 230 pounds, 'Melo showed that he had the bulk to handle bigger assignments on defense. And offensively, he was unstoppable.
Of course, Anthony's numbers as a small forward were nothing to sneeze at either. But he was far more dominant (in a much larger sample of minutes, by the way) as a 4. According to 82games.com, Anthony posted a PER of 21.8 as a small forward last season. That number climbed to 24.8 when he slid to the big forward spot.
Defensively, 'Melo allowed opposing small forwards to register a PER of 12.8. Power forwards weren't much better, posting a PER of 13.4. Clearly, Anthony held his own on D.
Given those numbers, it shouldn't be surprising that the Knicks' three best five-man units (both on offense and defense) featured Anthony as a power forward.
Look, playing 'Melo at the 3 isn't necessarily a bad thing. On most nights, he's going to win his matchups there as well. But the Knicks are undeniably better when he's attacking bigger, slower opponents in frontcourt mismatches.
Moreover, New York's optimal style, a three-point assault waged at a quick tempo, works best with a smaller lineup in which Anthony drags the other team's power forward out to the perimeter. Driving lanes open, ball movement improves and defenses scramble to recover when the Knicks play that way.
Whatever happens this season, New York must find a way to assure big minutes at the 4 for Anthony.
Amar'e Stoudemire: Limited Edition
Since it's pretty clear that the Knicks are at their best when 'Melo turns into Superman at the power forward spot, it's important to point out that Stoudemire is basically his kryptonite.
It's not an easy thing to make 'Melo a net-negative player, but Stoudemire found a way to do it. You can see that Anthony's offensive output took a nosedive whenever he shared the floor with the Knicks' other "star." Even worse, the team's defense fell apart.
Stoudemire is an undeniably gifted offensive player. In a limited role last season, he posted a true-shooting percentage of 63.7 percent and an effective field-goal percentage of 57.7 percent, both of which were elite numbers. He was a beast in the pick-and-roll and ate up most of his opponents in the post.
But he still couldn't make the Knicks as offensively efficient as Anthony did, and his presence on the floor transformed New York from a middle-of-the-pack defensive team to one that ranked 22nd in the NBA, per ESPN.
Woodson is going to have to give Stoudemire minutes because of his scoring prowess, but there's absolutely no way he should ever share the floor with Anthony. Remember, we're not just dealing with Stoudemire's short 29-game sample from last year. We've also got the entire 2011-12 season that shows an even bigger negative impact from the big man.
Hurt feelings be damned, Stoudemire should be used in an extremely limited way next year. And he should never play with Anthony.
The New Guy
Bargnani is a controversial figure for the Knicks, which is impressive because he hasn't yet played a second in a New York uniform.
Optimists think he'll find his stroke and help the Knicks stretch the floor on offense, something they had great success with a year ago. Pessimists question whether Bargs is anything more than a big name whose talent doesn't come close to justifying his status as a former No. 1 overall pick.
It's hard to know how things will shake out for Bargnani and his individual productivity this season—though you can count me among the pessimists—but it's clear that he gives New York some flexibility.
Offensively, Bargnani can play either the 4 or the 5, though he doesn't defend either position well. It appears that the Knicks have designs on starting him at power forward, which, if you've read this far, should immediately set off alarm bells.
That's right, the Knicks plan to move 'Melo back to the 3 because they brought in a former amnesty candidate to replace him at the 4.
Perhaps the shift won't be quite as bad as it seems. Remember, Bargnani is a pure perimeter player who'll allow Anthony to take advantage of small forwards in the post and at the elbows. Stoudemire doesn't afford 'Melo the same space because he's generally stationed somewhere around the lane.
So perhaps Bargs' presence on the floor won't rob Anthony a great deal of his offensive value. We know Anthony will do well against small forwards because he always has. But by letting Bargnani play the 4, New York gives up its ability to duplicate the successful style it employed last year.
In the interest of completeness, it has to be mentioned that Bargnani is a horrendous rebounder and makes most brands of quilted toilet paper look tough by comparison.
If he's on the floor, Tyson Chandler's presence is a must. Otherwise, New York has no hope of securing rebounds or turning away penetration in the lane. That's going to be a general truism for the Knicks this season anyway, but it'll be especially critical to have some muscle in the middle when Bargnani, basically a seven-foot shooting guard, is in the lineup.
Maybe Bargnani will knock down shots and spread the floor. And perhaps the Knicks will score at a top-three clip when he plays. Both things will have to happen in order to offset his defensive shortcomings.
There are an awful lot of "maybes" surrounding Bargnani, and it's certainly possible that he'll score well enough to help the Knicks. But the fact is that he hasn't been an efficient shooter since the 2009-10 season (when he hit 47 percent of his field goals and 37 percent of his triples), and he provides more questions than answers in a crowded frontcourt.
Metta World Peace Brings Stability
Assuming he can avoid creating unnecessary media attention by weirding everyone out, Metta World Peace should have a positive effect on the Knicks' power forward situation. In theory, he could give the Knicks everything they want by playing solid defense at the 3 and allowing Anthony to move over to power forward.
Of course, asking MWP to tone down the weirdness has been a losing battle lately.
World Peace could also fit nicely alongside Stoudemire or Bargnani, as he'd provide the bulk and general toughness that both players lack. And if he can match the 34 percent three-point stroke he featured last season, he'll give just enough offensive help to warrant a significant role.
MWP is no longer an elite perimeter defender, especially against quicker small forwards. But he'll always compete.
Don't expect World Peace to actually play much power forward, but he's relevant in this discussion because he enables Anthony—and to a lesser extent, Bargnani and Stoudemire—to assume his optimal role.
Giving the Vet His Due
It's unclear how Kenyon Martin has managed to hang on for as long as he has. At 35, he still moves surprisingly well and still has the reputation of being a decent defender in short spurts. As a foil for Stoudemire and Bargnani, he actually has value to the Knicks.
Just don't expect to see him log anything more than mop-up duty unless New York suffers a rash of injuries all at once.
It's also reasonable to assume that we've reached the end of the phase in which K-Mart is actually a productive player. According to 82games.com, he allowed opposing power forwards to run up a ridiculous PER of 24.3 last season, so his presence on the roster might be strictly ornamental at this point.
Solving the Riddle
The Knicks have options at power forward, which wasn't the case last year when injuries forced 'Melo to take on the position full time as a rotating cast of occasionally healthy backups stepped in to relieve him.
Given the track records of guys like Stoudemire and Bargnani, there's a good chance that injuries help unclutter the 2013-14 situation in much the same way they did last year.
If everyone stays healthy, New York is going to have to work hard to find the right pairings to make the frontcourt function, though.
The bothersome aspect in all of this is that things don't need to be so complicated. New York should just start MWP alongside Anthony and utilize whichever backup power forward—Bargnani or Stoudemire—shows the strongest signs of caring about defense.
There'll probably be some hurt feelings if the Knicks adopt that approach, but if they start winning games, a few bruised egos won't matter as much.