Sláinte, ye merry lads of Knicksland! It’s St. Patrick’s Day, and the Knicks are 13 games under-.500 and five games out in the loss column for the final playoff spot in a very weak Eastern Conference. So why are we happy? (Are we happy?) The Knicks have won six games in a row and are a day away from handing the franchise’s basketball reins over to Phil Jackson. Ok then! Let’s rank those players, shall we?
Quick note before beginning, recall that our last edition of the Power Rankings, we used a random generator to rank spots 2-15, so the previous rankings, while fun, are largely to be ignored.
1. Carmelo Anthony (Last: 1) – Anthony is having the best 3-point shooting year of his NBA career, and that’s counting his relative struggles from deep the past five games. In the Knicks’ victory over Philadelphia last Monday, he missed all seven of his attempts from deep. Yet, he remains at an impressive 41.5% clip for the year. As the Knicks have racked up some big victories, Mike Woodson has been able to rest Melo along the way; he’s averaging 35 minutes a game in the team’s past five, which is a welcome respite. The Knicks will need him to remain effective the rest of the way to have any sort of chance, and getting him rest when there’s the opportunity to do so helps.
2. J.R. Smith (Last: 11) – J.R. gets plenty of deserved flak, but let’s be fair, he’s one of the biggest reasons for the Knicks’ latest good stretch. And while it says a lot about the Knicks’ roster construction over the past two seasons, the team is simply a lot better when J.R. plays at a level that puts him closer to the top of these rankings than the bottom. Over the past four games, Smith is averaging 16.8 pts, 4.3 rebounds and 4 assists, and has just 2 turnovers during that stretch. Against Milwaukee, J.R. was 2 rebounds an 6 assists away from a triple-double in just 23 minutes.
3. Tyson Chandler (Last: 2) – Prior to missing two games for personal reasons, Chandler had two huge outings against Utah and Cleveland, posting point-rebound lines of 16-11 and 15-11, respectively. He wasn’t tasked with much in his 25-minute return on Saturday against Milwaukee.
4. Tim Hardaway, Jr. (Last: 12) – Hardaway’s on a heck of a shooting streak. He’s 24 of his last 36 in the Knicks’ past three games, which for you math nerds out there charts out to 66%. That is good. And yes, the rookie’s defense continues to, to put it nicely, suck, and he doesn’t fill up the rest of the stat sheet except for the points and shooting columns. Yet. Maybe it will change and maybe it won’t, but if a player is going to need time to refine his overall offensive game and improve his defense, it’s nice if he can put up points while doing so.
5. Pablo Prigioni (Last: 3) – Mostly lost in the slop of this awful season has been the outrage over Pablo Prigioni’s playing time, so let’s start that up again. Why is this guy only getting 20 minutes a game? At this point in the season, can’t he play 25-28? It’s the same adages that we always bring up – the ball moves more and the team defends better when he’s on the court. Last week Pablo enjoyed a very Pabloesque stretch, posting 4 assists in three straight games against the Cavs, Sixers and Celtics, and also picked up 2 hockey assists against Boston, per NBA.com. And he’s still shooting nearly 46% from 3-point range this season.
6. Amar’e Stoudemire (Last: 10) – Stoudemire has certainly played his best ball recently, even if the team’s defense remains markedly better when he sits. But if the team insists on giving him minutes, and that doesn’t seem to be changing this season provided he’s healthy, the Knicks will gladly accept the offense and rebounding he’s giving them as of late. In his 7 games in March, Stoudemire is averaging 17 points and 6.4 boards while shooting at excellent 61% from the field. Interestingly, the combination of Stoudemire-Anthony-Chandler has been a successful one; in their 198 minutes sharing the floor, the trio has a net rating of 8.5.
7. Iman Shumpert (Last: 6) – Are we at the point with Shumpert where we should be accepting that he’ll never be a consistent offensive force? Is he destined to be a 7-point-per-game player the rest of his career? He’s averaging 6.8 points a game, has averaged 7.4 over the last five (3 of which he scored exactly 7 points), 5.9 over the last 10, which has all added up to lower his career average to 7.8. So maybe, yes. A lot of people think the Knicks’ style isn’t a great fit for him and he’d be a better offensive player with a different team, but I’m not so sure. Regardless, he remains the Knicks best perimeter defender, even if he’s often over-aggressive, and has recently been chipping in consistently in other areas (4.0 rebounds, 3.4 assists in the past five games).
8. Raymond Felton (Last: 14) – Of the 10 five-man units that Felton has logged the most minutes with this season, just two of them include Pablo Prigioni. Per 82games.com, those two lineups are the two most effective of the 10. Note to Mike Woodson: the two-point guard thing still sorta kinda works.
9. Jeremy Tyler (Last: 13) – Zach Lowe’s recent piece on the Knicks’ hiring of Phil Jackson included a bit of information that seemed to shock a lot of folks – the Knicks actually employ smart basketball minds! This seemed like a surprise, but Tyler is just the latest shred of evidence, the most recent of a long line of productive guys the Knicks have unearthed seemingly from out of nowhere. (And not that it’s prudent to keep chucking away draft picks in trades, but the sting of losing 2nd rounders is a little less severe if you keep finding talent in the D-league, in the undrafted ranks, etc., and it’s something the Knicks have done well recently.) Tyler remains pretty raw and overaggressive at times on both ends (especially defensively, where the effort is nice but often results in silly fouls), and although these last few games have been blowouts, he’s producing nicely when given the time. He’s hauled in an average of 6 rebounds over the last three games, while averaging just 17 minutes.
10. Cole Aldrich (Last: 4) – Finally, we have a Cole Aldrich game. With the Knicks’ frontcourt missing Chandler and Stoudemire, Aldrich got the call to start at center against Boston on Wednesday and made the most of his chance. Cole posted a 12-10-3 block line in just 25 minutes, proving that he can be serviceable in a pinch. He was also given the game ball, which I’m not sure is something that is always done or not, but was a nice touch nonetheless.
11. Earl Clark (Last: 15) – Another guy who won’t totally mess things up if you need someone to give you a few minutes. Against Boston, Clark got some first half action and scored 5 points and grabbed 3 rebounds before the break.
12. Toure Murry (Last: 7) – Has been relegated back to total garbage time. It’s worth wondering if this is actually part of a longer-term plan of the Knicks, to not raise his value heading into the offseason so that there aren’t more suitors for him. That’d be a bit cruel, perhaps, but the Knicks may want to hold onto him for next season, and doing so could actually help that cause.
13. Shannon Brown (Last: 8) – Mike Woodson is very susceptible to certain narratives – one of those being that Shannon Brown is a lock-down defender. Although he’s been a fine defender in the past, that might have been one that Woodson actually made up. I’m not sure why Brown has repeatedly been brought in with seconds to go in a quarter or half when the Knicks are hoping to get a defensive stop. But it’s been happening often since the Knicks brought him on board.
(Unranked due to long-term injuries: Andrea Bargnani, Kenyon Martin)