Let me preface this by saying this is a total 'what-if', but given the pieces Woody currently has at his disposal, it was an intriguing idea to me.
The New York Knicks recently acquired a 3rd point guard to replace the retired Jason Kidd. Signing Beno Udrih for the veteran’s minimum was a steal by most accounts. The Knicks front office seems eager to continue using the 2 point guard lineup that achieved so much regular season success in 2012 (when Pablo Prigiono took over point guard duties with Raymond Felton sliding to the 2, the Knicks went 16-2 to end the 2012-13 season. Previously they had success with Jason Kidd at shooting guard).
The success of New York’s dual point guard lineup has overshadowed the shortcomings that made it necessary – New York doesn’t have an adequate starting point guard to contend for a championship. That’s why they needed two to get the job done last season.
Raymond Felton has the chops to be a starting point guard in this league – his PER of 15.45 last season supports it; subjectively he is a master of the pick and roll. On a team with championship aspirations and ball dominators like JR Smith and Carmelo, however, the pg is relied on to do even more. Felton never has real command of the ball when either of the previously mentioned wings takes the court. NY craftily added a 2nd pg to amend this, but good luck entrusting Felton or Prigioni to guard Joe Johnson, Danny Granger, or heaven forbid Dwayne Wade. That’s what will happen when come playoffs.
Anthony enjoyed a historic season last year out of necessity as well; leading many to claim he must stay at his newly found power forward position. He was great there, make no mistake. He was also great at the 3.
At power forward he posted a 24.8 PER with an opponent PER (OPER) of 13.4 according to www.82games.com. At small forward he had a 21.8 PER and 12.8 OPER. That’s a net PER of 11.4 at the four, and 9.0 and the three. If Anthony had a stretch 4 by his side when playing SF last season, (enter Andrea Bargnani or Ron Artest) he would have likely been even better. There’s also a higher likelihood he would have stayed healthy playing against smaller foes (He missed 15 games during the regular season and played through obvious injury in the playoffs).
Melo’s breakout season was aided by spacing, not position. New York began last season with no one to play the 4 effectively but Melo, so the team went small. Now they have 4 players capable of starting at power forward – Kenyon Martin, Amare Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani, and Metta World Peace. The latter two can hit the three ball (Bargnani is at .361 for his career, World Peace .342) and give Melo the spacing he craves on offense. Melo at the 4 is far from a necessity.
Mike Woodson recently said "I could play him [Anthony] at the [two-guard] and he'd be just fine."[i] Let’s entertain that idea for a moment. How would he do? He might immediately become the best shooting guard in the eastern conference; the position is arguably the shallowest in the league. A case can be made for Wade due to his pedigree, but factor in his declining athleticism and Anthony’s enormous height advantage and it’s not hard to imagine Melo being just as dominant at the 2 as the 4.
The problem really arises from depending on Felton and Melo to hold down the perimeter on defense. That proposition sounds just as bad as last year, when New York allowed a 17.5 PER and 22.6 pts per game to opposing point guards[ii]. But what if NY slots Shumpert in at the 1? He has a track record of handling the oppositions best point guards, allowing only a 12.7 PER to point guards in 2011.
Shumpert can’t run an offense like Felton, not even close. He won’t have to in a triangle offense. Start Bargnani at the 3, Artest at the 4, and Chandler at the 5. New York now has four average or better 3 point shooters in the lineup, much like last season. There are a few key differences, however. They would have 4 strong rebounders (Bargs at the 3 would be the only average rebounder), and they’ve gained great size and toughness on defense. NY could potentially wave goodbye to the holes on the perimeter and their rebounding woes with this switch.
Of course, this would be an incredibly ugly traditional offense. With something like the triangle offense however, ball movement would be enforced. This league has a ton of spectacular point guards, none of which New York currently possess. If they want to bring home a title, they have to try something different.
If it seems difficult to institute a new offense, it is. History does, however, give us some hopeful examples. Jordan didn’t always play the triangle. In his 1st year as head coach in 1989, Phil Jackson installed the triangle offense and improved Jordan’s Bulls from 47 wins to 55 wins in 89-90[iii]. The rest you know. As for the Lakers, Kobe and Shaq played in traditional offenses for 4 and 8 years, respectively, before Jackson came and tried the triangle with them. Their first year with the triangle resulted in 67 wins and a championship.
Critics have claimed that you need a transcendent player/scorer to success with the triangle offense. Ahem, Carmelo Anthony. The triangle offense is difficult but can and has been learned successfully in just one season. New York can’t learn its way into a top flight point guard.
If New York aspires to have a good regular season record and nothing more, fine, go with 2 point guards. Put Melo at center, where he posted his strongest PER last season in limited minutes (32.7). But if the Knicks want to win a championship, they need to address last season’s weaknesses: perimeter defense, rebounding, ball movement, and health. A ‘big’ triangle offense with Melo at the 2 and Shumpert at point has the potential to cure all four of these ails. Dual point guard small ball? Not a chance.