Are NY Knicks Making Giant Mistake by Potentially Starting Andrea Bargnani?

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterOctober 7, 2013

Feb 13, 2013; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks small forward Carmelo Anthony (7) attempts a shot over Toronto Raptors center Andrea Bargnani (7) during the second half at Madison Square Garden. The Raptors won the game 92-88. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Word on the street is that New York Knicks coach Mike Woodson is feelin' the Carmelo Anthony-Andrea Bargnani tandem in practice.

You have to admit—an Anthony-Bargnani duo might be the most random in all of basketball. It's like Bonnie and Clyde's Italian cousin. We've been talking about adding another scorer alongside 'Melo for some time now, though I'm not sure anyone saw Bargnani as a realistic option or target. 

It actually wasn't a bad move or addition given the circumstances. The Knicks were tapped out financially and had few tradable assets. But while pairing Anthony with Bargnani up front might make sense at various points in a game, starting them together could have its drawbacks.  

My stomach can't help but rumble when hearing that 'Melo might move back to the 3. As a 4, he had easily the best year of his career, and for the first time in a while, it translated to wins. 

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 30: Andrea Bargnani #77 of the New York Knicks poses for a portrait at Media Day on September 30, 2013 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

The Knicks won 54 regular-season games with 'Melo at power forward. He led the NBA in scoring, finished third in MVP voting and guided New York to its first playoff series victory in 13 years. 

And now they're going to revert back—for Andrea Bargnani

I'm sure Bargnani looks spectacular in practice going head-to-head with Kenyon Martin and C.J. Leslie. But let's not forget who we're talking about. 

Bargnani has been in this league long enough for us to know what he brings to the table versus what he takes away from it. He averaged 4.8 rebounds a game through seven NBA seasons. 

However, Bargnani does have some strengths that the Knicks could certainly use in their lineup. He's a talented scorer who can generate offense from practically every spot on the floor. 

But Bargnani is streaky. He's the type of guy who can drop 34 points Friday on 13-of-20 shooting and follow with a 2-of-19 performance Sunday. Bargnani is essentially like a frontcourt version of J.R. Smith—low-percentage streak scorers who need to take a lot of shots to make a lot of shots.

It's why Smith comes off the bench despite his ability to score in volume. As a starter, you fear he can shoot you out of a game early if his jumper isn't working. Off the bench, it's a little easier for a coach to tighten and ultimately manage Smith's leash.

In Toronto, the Raptors struggled to maximize Bargnani's value by making him a top-two option for most of his tenure there. A career 43 percent shooter from the field, easily the worst among current NBA 7-footers who've played at least three years in the league, Bargnani hasn't been a reliable secondary scorer. 

And by sliding him alongside Anthony in the starting lineup, the Knicks would essentially be giving him that very same role. 

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 09:  Andrea Bargnani #7 of the Toronto Raptors drives to the basket during a 102-83 Los Angeles Clipper win at Staples Center on December 9, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees
Harry How/Getty Images

To get the most out of Bargnani without letting his flaws affect the team, Woodson needs to know when to hold and when to fold. He's a guy you should ride when he's hot and ditch when he's not. 

As a starter, you're looking for a constant or some type of stability. You want someone whose performance won't fluctuate—someone with a fixed effort level and measure of production. 

The other frontcourt starting position should go to Metta World Peace, the Knicks' second significant offseason acquisition. World Peace isn't a guy you bring off the bench. He's a guy you start to set the tone. And this year, that tone should reflect physicality. 

The Knicks have to play to their strengths. Right now, with the way this current roster is constructed, their strength as a team is toughness.

World Peace, Anthony and Tyson Chandler, along with Kenyon Martin off the bench, could be the most physical frontcourt group in the entire NBA. 

Bargnani is a finesse big man who doesn't rebound, and that's not meant as criticism. But the Knicks are better off sprinkling him in as a situational offensive complement. Woodson should press the Bargnani button when the team needs offense. When it needs stops or boards, he should look elsewhere.

We've seen enough of Bargnani's inconsistency to know he's not a reliable everyday scorer. Let him come off the bench and inject the second unit with some offensive firepower.

By adding him to the second unit, the Knicks could gain an advantage they didn't have last year. Beno Udrih, Pablo Prigioni, Smith, Bargnani and Martin is a downright dangerous backup lineup, and that's not including Amar'e Stoudemire. You won't find too many teams, if any, who have a more potent bench than that one. 

With Bargnani coming off the bench, the Knicks can remain on the attack even when 'Melo is out of the game. 


The Bottom Line

Assuming Bargnani isn't the difference between beating the Heat, Nets, Bulls or Pacers, there's no point in risking the possibility he interferes with Melo's offensive groove. You just can't argue the numbers or record—Anthony was more effective and the team performed better when Anthony lined up as a 4. 

Bargnani is also a liability on the glass. Considering the Knicks finished No. 25 in the NBA in rebounding last year, Bargnani's presence as the starting 4 won't help their cause.

With Raymond Felton, Iman Shumpert, World Peace, Anthony and Chandler, the Knicks could trot out their best defensive lineup in recent memory. World Peace at the 3 would take some pressure off Anthony defensively, given the pool of talented small forwards atop the Eastern Conference (Paul George, Luol Deng, Paul Pierce, LeBron James, etc.). 

And boy, how tough does Shumpert and World Peace sound as a perimeter-defending tandem?

At the end of the day, I value what Bargnani brings to the team and thought the trade to acquire him was a good one. But his weaknesses as a rebounder and inconsistent scorer, along with the fear of him disrupting Anthony's flow as a 4, present a little too much risk for me in a starting role—especially given the make-or-break year the Knicks are entering. 

By having Bargnani come off the bench, there's simply no risk—only reward.  


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