What are the Knicks' first unit options while Amar'e Stoudemire is out?

Debby Wong-US PRESSWIRE

They could go big. They could go small. They could play an olive at the four.

So, Amar'e Stoudemire's going to miss some time. It'll hopefully be just a handful of games to begin the season, but one never does know with Amar'e or with the Knicks' prognoses. The good news is Mike Woodson has several perfectly palatable alternatives on hand, some of which he got to explore earlier in the preseason. There've been plenty of comments on this topic, and chris-9999 brought up a few options in his poll, but let's see if we can run down every feasible first unit option for a squad missing Amar'e. Unless otherwise specified, we're assuming that these lineups include Raymond Felton and Ronnie Brewer in the backcourt (the latter of which should be a regular thing beginning with tonight's game. Ronnie's ready.).

- Kurt Thomas time!. This could be Mike Woodson's plan tonight against the Sixers, and perhaps for the opener in Brooklyn. It's probably the most straightforward option, with Kurt providing a reasonable facsimile of Amar'e's pick-setting and mid-range game with more in the way of defense but major drop-offs in rolling/finishing and foul-drawing ability. Kurt should have no problem matching Stoudemire's technical foul production.

- Marcus Camby time! It's hard to imagine how this would look offensively since we haven't seen Camby play basketball with these Knicks yet. One can reasonably assume, though, that running Camby alongside Tyson Chandler would bring the most rebounds the Knicks' way. Of course, Camby might be wearing a suit with Amar'e come opening night.

- Steve Novak time! We're moving into "Melo behaves more like a big man" territory here. The previous two lineups leave some room for him to post up (and so does the normal lineup with Amar'e), but nobody opens up the paint like Novak does. I've been impressed with Steve's rebounding and not totally appalled by his interior defense during the preseason, and I think Woodson could mix and match Novak and Melo's defensive assignments based on the opposition.

- A wild Chris Copeland appears! Crazier things have happened. He's had some good stretches guarding bigs during the preseason.

- Some sort of three-guard lineup. Woodson could go with two point guards or start J.R. Smith with Ronnie Brewer moving up to the three in either scenario. Woody's already mentioned starting Melo at the four against a team like Miami (or even tonight if the Sixers go with Thaddeus Young), but it's unclear whether he'd make the fifth guy in that lineup a forward or a guard. Since Smith seems deliberately stuck to the bench and New York's point guard tandems probably aren't fit to log heavy minutes against starting units, I'd guess the former.

- An olive. An olive doesn't have the size to guard most fours, but it's got the rolling ability to play off Raymond Felton and pinch the defense. One wonders if there might still be bad blood between Melo and the olive after their blow-up during the playoffs last year.

Once Amar'e returns, these obviously all work as Amar'e's-got-two-fouls-first-guy-off-the-bench units. There also remains that possibility of bringing Amar'e himself off the bench-- a notion that's been back in motion ever since the injury news-- but I don't see Woodson making that move anytime soon. We'll see.

Anyway, what do we think? Whose minutes should or will rise in Amar'e's (hopefully brief) absence? How might Melo's game change? Will the olive finally get the minutes it deserves?

Update: This is interesting. Tina Cervasio suggests that, at least tonight, if Melo starts at the four, Jason Kidd will start at shooting guard.

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