Dissecting An Eight Man Playoff Rotation

Courtesy of Alan Hahn a couple days ago:

As the Knicks finish out the season — with motivation to clinch a winning record (need three more wins in the last five games) and possibly move up to the sixth seed (can do that with a win in Phlly tonight) — D’Antoni said he will be holding auditions for available spots in his playoff rotation, which is expected to be very limited. D’Antoni is likely to play only about seven to eight, at best, and you already know the starting five (I have Shelden Williams as the starting center) and Toney Douglas is the top six. The candidates for the final one or two spots include Jared Jeffries, Shawne Williams and Anthony Carter. Ronny Turiaf and Bill Walker could be in the mix.

“The guys on the bench, I told them, they’re more or less auditioning for a spot in the playoffs,” D’Antoni said. “I’m not going to play 10 guys, it may be nine, may be eight, may even be seven. So it should be a good competition.”

D’Antoni did say he liked the energy he saw in Derrick Brown, who played the final 9:55 of Tuesday’s win and had seven points (2-for-2 with an electrifying fast break dunk and 3-for-5 from the line) and a steal. “Derrick Brown looked good,” D’Antoni said. “He’s got a live body. We’ve got five games and I want to see a little bit more of him.”

From what Mike D’Antoni recently said regarding his playoff rotations, we’ll now be discussing who should (and shouldn’t) be apart of it.

Two nights ago in Philadelphia the bench played like they were an overgrown band of high school juniors trying to make the varsity squad (that’s a compliment). They hustled, rotated on defense, boxed out, and to be honest looked a little out of character (another compliment).

In Seth Rosenthal’s always enlightening Player Power Rankings over at NY Magazine (by the way, great article in this week’s issue on the history of NYC’s apartments. A must read if you’re into real estate, big buildings, or paying rent), Shawne Williams, Bill Walker, Jared Jeffries, and Roger Mason Jr. all miss the cut on a hypothetical eight best players playoff rotation. I know postseason rotations aren’t what Seth had in mind when drawing up his latest list—Jared Jeffries isn’t necessarily a better player than Anthony Carter, but his length adds a little bit more value come playoff time—but fiddling around with it can be fun and interesting. Here’s a look into a few roster configurations D’Antoni might consider tweaking with once our first round matchup is locked in.

Now that we can all agree Landry Fields did a backwards handspring face first into the rookie wall about a month ago, I have a somewhat radical proposition as to what D’Antoni should do with him in the playoffs. Realizing, of course, that Fields has started all but one game this season and that he’s probably my favorite Knick, I mean no disrespect towards him or his family, but what’s best for the team right now might be going small at the two, starting Toney Douglas (a better defender, scorer, and fearless X-factor), and bringing Landry off the bench. Unless Douglas wets the bed, the benefits of this are numerous for almost everybody involved. Immense pressure is lifted off Fields to fit in with Carmelo and Chauncey (something he’s yet to do), and if they face Boston the pressure is lifted off Mr. Big Shot to defend Rajon Rondo—a near impossibility at this point. Contrasting the plummeting performance of Fields with the unimaginably virtuous play of Toney Douglas makes this a more believable scenario than one might think.  It probably won’t happen but if he doesn’t get the starting nod, Douglas will see the floor more than Landry Fields this postseason.

Before getting into who should and shouldn’t make the much hallowed playoff rotation, a few words on one, Bill Walker. Against Philly he was amazing, showing brief flashes of a player who might be the team’s most athletically gifted member. Before tearing his ACL like seven times in college, Walker was known as a mesmerizing dunker; he lived above the rim. Since coming from Boston, however, he’s mainly kept to himself out on the perimeter (69% of his field goal attempts are three-pointers this season), firing open shots whenever he got the chance and missing a little more than he’s making. Against Philadelphia, Walker was overly aggressive on both ends, blocking shots, dunking, lobbing floaters, and launching threes (he was 0-3).

Great, now that the Bill Walker gushing is over with, some thoughts on what we’re all here to read about.  Well, here are our five set in stone locks: Amar’e, Chauncey, Carmelo, Fields, and Douglas. Brace yourself, here’s come discussion regarding the much maligned center position. If this is too sensitive a subject, please turn away now.

I’ve always been both a “Free Turiaf” and “Stop Shelden” type of guy. I know Ronny’s been battling lower body injuries these past few months, but on the offensive end he brings you so much more. Turiaf runs the floor, finishes, sets screens, and does a good job of not looking lost, better than Shelden Williams. Fully realizing this is like saying rocks taste better than chairs, Turiaf has better hands and is a more capable passer, too.

This leaves one or two more players on the roster to choose from. The way I see it is, if the Knicks want to compete they should utilize their strengths. Size simply isn’t it, at least not this year. What the Knicks can, or should, do is run and score in transition. Shoot threes and push the tempo. Give at least a 75% increase in defensive effort. If they can do these things consistently, maybe steal one of the series’ first two road games, New York can definitely advance to the second round. This is why Shawne Williams and Bill Walker are both more worthy over Jared Jeffries/Shelden Williams. (I know one of those big guys needs to back up Turiaf but I’d rather not choose; we’ll go with a Jelden Weffries hybrid creature and pay it in baby food. Just kidding, we’ll take Shelden because he’s wider and won’t break in half guarding Erick Dampier.) Between Shawne and Bill, Extra E takes the spot due to the fact that he’s already carved a sweet niche holding down the “Guy-Who-Only-Attempts-Corner-Threes” roll.

Barring any lingering health issues, the backcourt is solidified nicely with the rotating trio of Chauncey, Toney, and Landry (Landry has no e before the y in his first name, and as the odd man out things have been awkward.) The front court should be Carmelo, Amar’e, Turiaf, Shawne Williams (capable of filling in for all three of them), and Shelden (capable of drawing multiple three second violations). So there you have it: The Knicks team entering what should be one hellacious first round battle. Sorry, Anthony Carter.

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