Knicks create softest PF tandem in NBA with Bargnani trade now official
The Knicks were already soft at the position with Amare Stoudemire looking like the team's top power forward. As a Knicks fan, it only took me about a month's worth of Stoudemire's presence on my team for me to grow frustrated with his apparent aversion to physical contact. At the time of my initial frustration (early December of 2010), Stoudemire was in the midst of a ridiculous 9-game streak of consecutive 30-point games, so I figured I'd cut him some slack on the boards and on defense, considering he was relentlessly dominating on the offensive end.
However, Stoudemire has since lost his knock-down mid-range jumper, has struggled to take defenders off the dribble, and has gotten a good percentage of his points on cheap baskets. Yes, he has still shot a high percentage from the field (57.7% last season, 48.3% the season before), but it is a result of taking much higher percentage shots - he now rarely creates shots on his own and has lost the ability to take over a game offensively.
I've gotten a little sidetracked. Offense is not the issue here - regardless of how his offense is, Stoudemire needs to get more physical in both the rebounding and defensive departments. It seems like no one ever taught the guy how to box out and use body position to secure rebounds. Behind Dwight Howard (who led the league in rebounds last season), the league's leading rebounders were Nikola Vucevic, Omer Asik, Zach Randolph, David Lee, and Reggie Evans. None of those players are particularly athletic or are great leapers - they are tough down low and use their bodies to wall off opponents from getting rebounds. Stoudemire needs to take a page from their book and learn to get physical when a shot goes up.
Stoudemire's 5.0 rebounds per game don't tell you the full story about his 2012-13 season because he was on a minutes limit. His per 36 minute average of 7.7, however, can tell you a lot. Players such as Festus Ezeli, Kyle O'Quinn, Udonis Haslem, Lamar Odom, Thomas Robinson, and Greg Smith all averaged 10+ rebounds per 36 minutes in at least 1,000 total minutes over the course of the season (excluding O'Quinn, who logged 638 minutes, 44 less than Stoudemire). You would think that a 6'10'' Stoudemire who had accepted a bench role (which was admittedly commendable) and knew his scoring was no longer what his team needed would be able to contribute an amount of rebounds similar to the aforementioned players.
You can't blame Stoudemire's lack of rebounding on his knee issues, because this is nothing new for the fragile forward. During Stoudemire's three years in New York, his season-high in rebounds per 36 minutes is 8.6, while he boasts a per game high of 8.2.
As for defense, it once again comes down to his aversion to physical contact. Sure, he often gets lost and doesn't know where he should be, and I don't blame him too much for that - he claims no one ever taught him how to play defense. However, effort and toughness don't need to be taught, and those are two traits that can turn any NBA-caliber athlete into a viable defender. Stoudemire likes to play what my man Walt "Clyde" Frazier would refer to as "matador defense" - he moves out of the way when a ball handler comes at him, then tries to swat the shot from behind. It does work sometimes, as Stoudemire has averaged 1.4 blocks per game on his career, but more often than not it results in an uncontested layup. The man simply needs to be more physical.
As a Knicks fan, I obviously have not seen quite as much of newly acquired Andrea Bargnani, but I'm familiar enough to know that he won't be making the Knicks' frontcourt any tougher. The guy is soft - like "blow the hair off his head and it'll grow dandelions" soft.
If the Knicks wanted to improve on their rebounding from the power forward spot, Bargnani is the absolute last person they should have gone after. At a towering seven feet tall, the former first overall draft pick averaged a pathetic 3.7 rebounds per game last season (4.6 per 36 minutes). That is almost unthinkable. You would think that - at that height - more rebounds would bounce off the rim to Bargnani by chance.
As far as defense, there's not much of it from the big Italian. Over the past three seasons, Bargnani has averaged 0.6 steals and 0.6 blocks. He's not much of a shot alterer either, as he lacks athleticism, and as you could probably tell from his rebounding numbers, he does not like to get physical down low.
That being said, Bargnani is adept at scoring the basketball. He has averaged 18.6 points per game over the past three seasons, and boasts a unique offensive skill set for a player his size.
But what is the best case scenario with the addition of Bargnani and potential resurgence of Stoudemire? You have two power forwards that can score pretty well, but are complete liabilities on the boards and on defense. You really can't play them at the same time - other teams would feast on the Knicks down low (even more so than they already do). The best case scenario looks to be that the Knicks will have two one-dimensional power forwards making a combined $32.3 million dollars who should never be on the court together.
The Knicks' hope may be that Stoudemire and Bargnani will rarely have to play together (though both players are said to be coming off the bench, which would make that difficult), giving them a full 48 minutes of solid offense from the power forward spot. However, that would be an excruciatingly hefty investment in two 24 minute per game players. In addition, even if the two never have to play together, the Knicks being limited to finesse power forwards could cause some serious matchup problems with teams that are big and physical down low.
Adding another soft big man also puts a lot of pressure on center Tyson Chandler, who is currently the only defensive post presence on the team. With no help in protecting the rim, Chandler has to be the one to slide over and contest every shot in the paint, and as a result, he often gets in foul trouble. The catch-22 is that if he does get in foul trouble no one will be on the court to effectively man the middle on defense.
Stoudemire and Bargnani both have experience at center, but if the Knicks want to give either of them minutes at that position, they'll have to sign a physical, defensive-minded power forward to make up for the defensive weaknesses down low.
The Knicks should now look to re-sign Kenyon Martin, who they reportedly have interest in. Martin, however, has interest from as many as three other legitimate title contenders. The Knicks need a player like Martin to play heavy minutes against big teams like the Indiana Pacers, and they'll certainly need a player to spell Chandler at center if he needs rest or gets in foul trouble. But even if the Knicks do sign Martin - can they rely on a 35-year-old who underwent microfracture knee surgery in 2005 and 2006? If Chandler and/or Martin (who are both prone to nagging injuries) were to go down, the Knicks would be in some serious trouble.
I don't really mind what the Knicks gave up to acquire Bargnani (Marcus Camby, Steve Novak, 2016 first-round pick, two second-round picks), but I'm very unsure about his fit on this team. What the Knicks lacked last season was physicality down low, rebounding, and a shot blocking - Bargnani brings none of that.
I don't mind so much when my Knicks are bad if they're playing hard-nosed, tough basketball, but I am becoming wary of a very frustrating season thanks two the softest power forward tandem in the league.