NBA Training Camp is quickly approaching and there are many roster battles to keep an eye on with the New York Knicks. One intriguing matchup is at the small forward position. Now that Carmelo Anthony is making the move back to small forward, who will play behind him?
The two other small forwards currently on roster are newly acquired Travis Outlaw rookie Cleanthony Early. Both players have the pleasure of competing to be the backup to one of the league’s leaders in minutes every season. While the playing time may not be all that much, it is critical whoever gives Anthony a rest makes the most of those minutes.
Last season when Melo came off the floor, the Knicks’ offense came to a screeching halt. While this years offense will hopefully change that, whoever is backing up Carmelo needs to have an impact.
Travis Outlaw comes in with the reputation of being a decent three point shooter, and that really about it. His numbers have been decreasing over the past five years as he has become solely a reserve, averaging only 13.8 minutes per game the past three seasons in Sacramento. While Outlaws minutes have decreased, so has his player efficiency rating, averaging a score of just 10.45 over the past four seasons (league average is 15).
Cleanthony Early comes into his first NBA season with a lot of promise after a tremendous college career at Wichita State. In his two years at Wichita State, Early averaged 15.1 points per game and 5.7 rebounds per game, highlighted by his outstanding senior season where he scored 16.4 points per game and was a second team All-American.
The most impressive stat in Early’s collegiate career was his PER. In his two seasons at Wichita, Early had a PER of 25.5 his junior year and 26.5 as a senior. This indicates just how important he was to the Wichita State’s undefeated season.
Where Outlaw has the advantage over Early is experience. It’s tough for a rookie to jump right in and have a major impact, especially coming from a small school like Wichita State.
Where Early has the advantage over Outlaw is his overall shooting ability. Early shot 48.4% from the field last year, while shooting 37.3% from downtown. His ceiling is so much higher than Outlaw’s this season that Derek Fisher may choose to overlook his lack of experience. The Knick’s have had success with rookies lately: both Iman Shumpert and Tim Hardaway Jr. saw significant time and success their first year in the league.
It should be interesting to monitor this positional battle throughout training camp. Most of the outcome relies on how quickly the rookie picks up on the offense and the speed of the NBA game. Who knows, maybe the Knicks choose to go small and slide J.R. Smith to the three when Melo needs a break to allow more minutes for Hardaway Jr. or Shumpert at the two. Either way, this is just one of many roster battles that will highlight the Knicks’ training camp.