Let's assume the Knicks decide not to make any personnel moves going through this trade deadline. The team is slowly losing ground in the Eastern Conference with losses to bottom-dwelling teams. The schedule gets tough after the All-Star break, with many road games and bouts against +.500 teams. If the Knicks want to enter the playoffs at the 2nd seed, they'll need to make a strong push in the coming weeks. If New York has any plans of crashing the Eastern Conference Finals, there are issues that need to be addressed.
One of the biggest problems with this Knicks team is its slow starts. The Knicks seem to sleepwalk through the first seven minutes of the game. This correlates with the poor play of the Knicks starting unit. NYK currently runs a starting five of Ray Felton-Jason Kidd-Iman Shumpert-Carmelo Anthony-Tyson Chandler. This squad, by reputation, should fare well in the Knicks' offensive and defensive systems. Unfortunately, it doesn't. As of Feb. 10th, that lineup posted an offensive efficiency of 91 pts/100 and a defensive efficiency of 106 pts/100. It essentially performs like the 4th worst defense in the NBA and the worst offense in the NBA. Brutal stuff.
This gets interesting when you look at the 4-man combination of Felton-Kidd-Carmelo-Chandler.
|Net (Per 100 Poss)|
|1||C. Anthony | T. Chandler | R. Felton | J. Kidd||538:47||+2.1||+2.1||+.013||+4.2||+7.8||+.044||+.034||+4.5||+6.2||-.015||+12.9||+2.0||+3.3||+0.1||+3.3||+1.0||+2.1||-0.3||+3.9||0.0||-5.1||-2.5|
That unit is a net positive across the board, boasting positive values in eFG%, FTAs, ORB%, DRB%, and steals, while showing a drastic reduction in turnovers and personal fouls committed. Good things happen when those four play together. The odd man out is Shumpert. Adding him to the mix is drastically reducing the team's efficiency and rebounding while weakening the defense. It has been suggested that the issue is that Shumpert is playing out of position at the SF slot, and there is some evidence that this may be the case.
Here we see the 8 most common lineups Shump has participated in as of Feb. 10th. We're clearly dealing with some minuscule sample sizes here, but it seems likely that there is some positive correlation thus far with the team's on-court performance when Shump slides back into the 2. Since Kidd has done a fantastic job as the starting 2 for the Knicks, the most logical solution is to move Shumpert to the bench. This leaves a hole at the starting 3, and leads me to a question that logically follows this data.
Why not start JR Smith at the 3 instead of Shumpert? JR said going into this season that he wanted to be a starter for this team. Initially, Woodson's decision to play him off the bench seemed a sensible one, but Earl has had a very positive impact on the team when he takes the court. The would-be starting unit of Felton-Kidd-JR-Melo-Chandler boasts a robust off. eff. of 127 pts/100 and def. eff. of 97 pts/100. Those marks would be good for 1st and 2nd in the league, respectively, if stretched across the entire roster's performance. Despite the criticism constantly leveled at him, JR continues to make the Knicks better on both ends of the floor. It wouldn't drastically increase JR's minutes count, as he plays the equivalent of starting minutes as is. The shift would open up Stoudemire's role as the true leader of the 2nd unit and make him the Knicks' actual 6th Man. Giving more shots to one of the most efficient scorers on the team in Stoudemire could very well strengthen the power of the Knick bench as well.
It might be time to seriously consider upgrading JR's role. He's playing well on both ends of the floor and has become an invaluable part of this team. With management reportedly unwilling to part with Shumpert in a trade, and with many of us vehemently against trading the guard for anything short of an All-Star in his prime, it seems the most likely method of improving from within would be starting JR Smith. The world is not ready.
(Lineup data by 82games and basketball-reference)