Back in August I asked my brother, a die-hard Knicks fan who also follows the rest of the NBA closely, for his opinion on how Mike D’Antoni would set up his rotation. With the expectation that Kelenna Azubuike would be healthy and without knowing much about Timofey Mozgov, this is what my brother had to say:
D’Antoni is notorious for keeping a short bench, so I’m going assume that he’s only going to have an 8 or so man rotation. Douglas and Randolph need steady minutes. Douglas out of necessity because he’s the backup PG and Randolph because D’Antoni would be an idiot not to [give him steady minutes.]
I’m going to say that Felton, Gallo, Stoudemire, Turiaf, Douglas, Randolph, Azubuike, and Chandler will eventually settle in as the main rotation. I see one of the remaining 3 centers getting minutes here or there just as another big body. I don’t see the rookies doing anything. Finally, I wouldn’t be surprised seeing Walker and Mason falling out of the rotation if Azubuike regains his Golden State form.
From what I know about D’Antoni and this roster, I thought my brother nailed it. I always expected Azubuike to compete for and eventually win the starting SG spot, because he is more of a traditional SG and because Chandler’s ability to play multiple positions plays well off the bench (he could fill in at the 2, 3, or even 4.) Like my brother, I wasn’t expecting much from the rookies because, let’s face it, even when the Knicks were terrible and it was evident Douglas was a superior option to Chris Duhon, D’Antoni is slow to give rookies playing time.
So fast forward to yesterday when it was reported that D’Antoni is considering a 10 or even 11 man rotation. As Marc Berman of the New York Post quizzically put it:
D’Antoni yesterday dropped a curve ball when he said he’s considering going with an 11-man rotation this season in hopes of their team will play at such a fast pace, they’ll need the extra bodies.
This comes from a coach whose prior philosophy was boiling down rotations to eight and seven men. He used a short rotation in Phoenix and for a lot of his two seasons in New York.
Berman explains that D’Antoni plans to utilize an 11 man rotation in order to both push the tempo on offense and implement a full-court press on defense.
While I don’t think D’Antoni is being disingenuous, I have a hard time believing this is actually going to happen. It’s one thing to find some playing time for Landry Fields and Bill Walker when you’re blowing out Armani Jeans in an exhibition game, but what are the odds that D’Antoni is going to do the same once the ball tips off and real basketball begins?
What I took from this first game was the gap between their studs and their role players. Amar’e, Gallo, Chandler, Randolph, and, to a lesser extent, Felton and Mozgov all stood out and asserted themselves in this first exhibition. The rest of the team, not so much (although Toney Douglas is an exception – he was very solid.) Fields and Walker didn’t jump out at me. Neither did Mason, but I could see him getting some minutes while Azubuike is rounding into form.
D’Antoni has already stated that he plans to ride Amar’e and that statement just doesn’t jive with keeping a 11 man rotation and running a full-court press. That’s why I’m going to continue to agree with my brother’s sentiments from August: D’Antoni is going to keep a tight rotation because in most games, the Knicks are going to need Amar’e to dominate in order to win. So taking into account Azubuike’s injury and Mozgov’s emergence, here’s how I see the rotation:
Felton, Chandler, Gallo, Stoudemire, Turiaf, Douglas, Randolph, Mason [Azubuike,] and Mozgov.
As my brother said in August, I see Mason dropping out of the rotation if/when Azubuike regains his form. Mozgov has emerged as the best of the big men to get minutes and could potentially flip spots with Turiaf, but I am treading lightly there until we see Mozgov play against NBA competition. Also, if Randolph’s play demands more minutes, I see it coming at the expense of Turiaf/Mozgov. To be honest, looking at that rotation above, the Knicks have a very solid top 9 and I can’t wait to see what this team is capable of once they’ve had some time to gel.
You’ve heard what I have to say. What do you think, Knicks fans?