As we are all aware of by now, the New York Knicks are officially in the process of finalizing a deal that will bring in Andrea Bargnani from the Toronto Raptors, in exchange for Steve Novak, Marcus Camby, Quentin Richardson, and three future draft picks. The draft picks will consist of a 2016 first-rounder, and a second rounder in 2014 and 2017. The deal has stirred up an array of reactions all across Knicks nation, some being positive, and some the opposite.
Bargnani is certainly not the player he was once projected to be coming into the league, as the 2006 NBA Draft’s first overall pick has been riddled with injuries and inconsistent play for much of his career. On a positive note, I’m here to point out the upside this trade has to offer for the Knicks.
My first question about Bargnani is simply how Head Coach Mike Woodson is going to play him. Is he going to bring him off the bench, or immediately insert him into the starting lineup? With Amare Stoudemire expected to be ready to get on the court once the new season is underway, it is going to be interesting to see how Woodson uses the power forwards.
I would love to see Bargnani placed into the starting lineup for a few different reasons. For one, sticking the former Raptor at the power forward position allows Carmelo Anthony to slide back down to his natural small forward spot, without sticking another big man in the paint to clog up the lane. In essence, the Knicks have Melo back at the three, while gaining offensive firepower on the court, gaining another three-point shooter in order to spread the floor, all while adding another 7-foot body next to Tyson Chandler.
With Bargnani in the starting lineup, the Knicks offense can flow more naturally. Since Mike D’Antoni has left New York, Woodson has slowed town the tempo of the game, allowing Melo to play more isolation basketball, which clearly works to his strength. But, when Melo starts at power forward, the Knicks are in a “small-ball” lineup, which usually encourages that up-tempo style the Woodson tried to stray away from. Seems a tad contradictory way of playing. If Melo can get back to small forward, and the Knicks add that 7-foot frame of Bargnani in the mix, they can still play that isolation basketball without taking another shooter off the court.
I’m not fully writing off Stoudemire. I actually like him coming off the bench, because he provides a scoring punch that could be problematic to any team’s second unit trying to defend him. These players are competing in a day and age where it is simply not a diss, or a punishment, to come off the bench. The San Antonio Spurs have won three championships with a member of their “Big 3,” Manu Ginobili, technically playing as a reserve. The Los Angeles Lakers went to three straight finals starting in 2008, winning two of them, with Lamar Odom coming off the bench with the identical responsibility as any starter on the team. What was one of the biggest reasons the Dallas Mavericks brought down the Miami Heat in 2011? The sixth man role that Jason Terry nearly mastered. And finally, who hit one of the biggest three-point shots in NBA Finals history, in Game 6 of this year’s championship? Heat reserve Ray Allen. Stoudemire can still have a massive impact on this team, helping lead the second unit.
Now I know, the big question will be, who finishes the game? That is something Coach Woodson will have to feel out as the season goes, and decide on who he’s more comfortable with.
Getting back to Bargnani, I love how the Knicks brought in a stretch four, for the reasons I just pointed out. Although New York gave up one of the sharpest shooters in the league in Novak, let’s face it, he couldn’t grab a rebound for his life, and he certainly could not play a lick of defense.
Am I saying Bargnani is an All-Pro defender? Absolutely not. But in his defense, the 7-footer is somewhat of an underrated shot-blocker. The Italian big man can protect the rim to some degree, which is an aspect of Novak’s game that is non-existent. Although referring to Bargnani as a mediocre rebounder is almost a compliment for him, he would be playing alongside one of the NBA’s best rebounders in Tyson Chandler. Chandler can carry the load on the glass, because we know he’s not going to excerpt much energy on the offensive end. Not only can Bargnani can give a helping hand to Chandler when it comes to rim-protecting, but he can shoot the ball similar to Novak, coupled with his ability to create his own shot if he must. Bargnani has averaged a shade under a block a game for his career, which isn’t mind-blowing, but consistent. Novak can catch on fire any game, but he has an enormous amount of trouble creating his own shot. Basically, if Novak’s three-ball goes cold, he’s nothing short of a liability on the court.
I’ve laid out all my reasons why Bargnani should get the nod in the starting lineup over Stoudemire, but one simple questions looms for both players. Health. We all know the situation with Stouemire is with his knees, so all we can do is sit back and hope he stays strong. But as for Bargnani, the big man has only played in 78 or more games three times in his seven year career. Injuries are uncontrollable, and it will continue to be a concern as the season progresses. Free agency is far from over, so it’s still a question mark who the Knicks will be adding and gaining on their roster. As for now, I like what they did with the Raptors. If the big men can find a way to stay healthy, this could wind up being a key addition for New York in the 2013-2014 season.