Preseason is a time for coaches to experiment with all manner of wacky rotations. Try as we might, it is often difficult for fans to remain calm when they see a disturbing combination of players taking the floor, but we can still hope to find a method behind the lineup madness.
And it would appear that first-year head coach Derek Fisher is itching to get back in the lab.
Derek Fisher suggests that #Knicks can play Tim Hardaway Jr., Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith in the same lineup at times this season.— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) October 9, 2014
Can the Fisher-man possibly be serious? Perhaps.
Not only did Tim and Shump share the court with J.R. last season, they were actually the highest-rated pairing to play at least 100 minutes alongside Mr. Smith, per Basketball-Reference:
Yes, 109 minutes is far from an adequate sample size, but at least it shows that the trio isn't doomed to fail from the get-go.
The Shump/Smith pairing was incredibly effective last season, posting a net rating of +10.0 points per 100 possessions in 833.6 minutes. If the Knicks are serious about fielding a good team this season, they should play those two together whenever possible. And if Fisher is serious about keeping Melo primarily at the 3, he's going to have to get creative with how he employs his wings. The J.R./Shump/Tim lineup certainly doesn't lack for creativity.
How would Fisher go about employing this triumvirate? If he is truly dedicated to the idea of bigness, he can play a no-PG lineup, handing J.R. the ball-handling duties while keeping two traditional bigs. This would be totally compatible with the Triangle, which de-emphasizes the point guard position. Phil Jackson won big with off-guards like Ron Harper manning the point. Hell, if J.R. shows the kind of play-making ability he flashed at the end of last season -- when he essentially replaced Felton as the team's true point guard -- he would be perfect for the role.
But that kind of lineup requires a Ph.D in Triangology (trigonometry?), and judging by what we've seen so far, it would be irresponsible to ask J.R. or any other Knicks off-guard to handle point guard duties while the entire team is still learning the offense.
Also, given what we've seen from New York's bigs, why are we in such an all-fired hurry to stuff a whole bunch of those guys into the lineups? (Except for Travis Wear, of course...that dude is the truth!)
That's right folks, I'm talking small-ball. Smaller than small-ball, even. I'm talking about playing J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert together as forwards.
The experiment worked last season, albeit in brief spurts. The trio played 90 of their 109 minutes together with a point guard.
But what of the defense? Won't somebody please think of the defense? To those of you who worried that this lineup can't possibly stop anybody from scoring, let me offer a few counter-arguments:
- Exactly which Knicks lineup can stop anybody from scoring?
- The Shump/Smith pairing was quite good defensively last season, holding opponents to 102.9 points per 100 possessions, far better than New York's overall D-Rating of 109.1.
- Smith and Hardaway are 6'6". Shumpert is 6'5". And both JR and Shump are pretty damn strong. It's not absurd to think that this group could guard both forward spots. Why exactly is the 7'0" Andrea Bargnani, who moves like a chest-of-drawers with a wonky leg, expected to fare better at guarding modern NBA power forwards than J.R.?
I like the idea of New York's three wings teaming up with Pablo Prigioni or Shane Larkin to form a hyperactive, trapping defense that at least has a chance of forcing a turnover before the opponent gets their customary wide-open look at the basket. It might not be the best option in the world, but it is at least worth a look.
If Derek Fishers wants to try a big, no-PG lineup, then be my guest. But a four-guard lineup should also be on the table. Let's keep the Knicks weird.