Without STAT, What Happens?

For the next six weeks, the New York Knicks starting line-up will not look as it was intended when the preseason began.

It shouldn’t be news to anyone at this point that star forward Amar’e Stoudemire will miss at least the first six weeks of the season due to a recurring issue with his left knee. It’s also important to remember that STAT’s knees were such an issue before the Knicks signed him that his $100 million contract is completely uninsured. While the initial reports are saying six weeks, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that these knee problems could become a year-long issue.

So, what do the Knicks do now? There’s actually a dirty little secret to the whole situation that isn’t really on the front pages, but should be:

The current way the Knicks are constructed, it always made more sense for Amar’e Stoudemire to come off the bench, not start. Seriously.

The numbers back this up. Last season, the 13 games Carmelo Anthony started as the team’s power forward, the Knicks went an impressive 9-4 and picked up a NBA Player of the Month award along the way. No STAT in the starting line-up frees up a potential log-jam underneath the rim. Now, Melo can cut in and out of the lane with less traffic around him inside, and Tyson Chandler can continue to get the best positioning for potential offensive putbacks that make him so valuable for this line-up.

There are very few teams that could force the Knicks into a position to start someone bigger than Carmelo Anthony at power forward, and almost all of them play in the Western Conference. Anthony should have no problem going up against players that will start opposite of him like Boston’s Brandon Bass, Atlanta’s Josh Smith or even David West in Indiana. ‘Melo would have free range to post up, play along the perimeter and drive to the basket at will. There would be no player in the starting five that would command the ball on offense to take away from Anthony’s touches, and players like J.R. Smith and Steve Novak will be able to play rover along the 3-point line and set up for open jumpers.

Now, as for what the starting line-up could potentially look like, Chandler is a lock to man the center position with Raymond Felton and J.R. Smith still occupying the two guard positions. What the Knicks choose to do with the traditional small forward spot in the starting five is where the intrigue will be. The likeliest of scenarios would be to insert Ronnie Brewer into the five, giving the Knicks an even more improved look on the defensive end, while allowing the offense to flow directly through Anthony with help from Felton and Smith. Against a larger line-up (against the Lakers or Thunder, for example), it’s plausible to see Kurt Thomas inserted, or even Marcus Camby when he’s completely healthy.

So, while on paper it hurts the Knicks to be without STAT to begin the season, the dirty truth is the team fits better as a unit when Amar’e Stoudemire isn’t in the starting line-up. He really should be this team’s sixth man, but it’s a role he surely will never accept.

For now, Carmelo Anthony will reign as the top dog and control the team. The success of the Knicks and how high they can climb in the standings depend solely on how well he performs on a nightly basis. And really, isn’t that what we all wanted when the Knicks traded for him from Denver?

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