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How The Andrea Bargnani Trade Compounds New York's Biggest Problem

The New York Knicks won their first division title since 1994 and its first playoff series victory since 2000, two important accomplishments in 12-13 for a franchise that struggled for an entire decade. However, failing to advance out of the second round was a disappointment heading into this offseason, particularly because of the astronomical expectations that developed as a result of the Knicks winning 15 of their first 20 games. The playoff defeat to the Indiana Pacers and the massive acquisitions made by the crosstown rival Brooklyn Nets caused Glen Grunwald and the rest of the Knicks front office to panic and trade for Andrea Bargnani in a deal that was damaging for both obvious and subtle reasons.   

The Knicks success was due to the team’s high-powered offense, which revolved around several key components. Carmelo Anthony’s ability to score in a multitude of ways makes him an extremely effective offensive player. He can drive past bigger defenders, post up smaller defenders, knock down spot up jumpers, and score as a ball handler in pick and rolls. The Knicks offensive system emphasizes Melo’s versatility as a scorer and also plays to the strengths of several other key players. Tyson Chandler serves as an effective roll man after setting ball screens, J.R. Smith and Raymond Felton penetrate consistently and aggressively, and numerous accurate three-point shooters provide the necessary spacing for the offense to flourish. The most successful lineups involved Anthony playing power forward in part because such lineups included four capable outside shooters.

Offensive Rating (ORTG) = Points per 100 possessions

Defensive Rating (DRTG) = Points allowed per 100 possessions

Net Rating (Net RTG) = ORTG – DRTG

MINS = Minutes (Net Rating is in Points per 100 possessions during the 2012-13 regular season)

Lineup

ORTG

DRTG

Net RTG

MINS

Felton-Kidd-Smith-Anthony-Chandler             

119.3

92.5          

+26.9

269

Felton-Prigioni-Shumpert-Anthony-Martin    

122.5

105.2        

+17.4

80

Felton-Brewer-Smith-Anthony-Chandler        

101.4

90.9          

+10.5

81

Felton-Kidd-Brewer-Anthony-Chandler          

111.2

108.3       

+2.8

211

It is important to note that Amar’e Stoudemire is absent from the above table. While it is true that Stoudemire only played 29 games last season, thereby limiting him from being a part of several of the Knicks most used lineups, it is also true that lineups without Stoudemire were better than those that included him.

Lineup

ORTG

DRTG

Net RTG

MINS

Felton-Kidd-Smith-Anthony-Chandler             

119.3

92.5          

+26.9

269

Felton-Smith-Anthony-Stoudemire-Chandler    

110.6

110.1      

+0.6

109

Felton-Brewer-Smith-Anthony-Chandler        

101.4

90.9          

+10.5

81

The team was much better, particularly defensively, when either Jason Kidd or Ronnie Brewer played instead of Stoudemire.

It is not a coincidence that the Knicks played their best basketball when Stoudemire was injured, as they went 16-13 with him in the lineup and 38-15 without him. The Knicks remained slightly above .500 with Stoudemire because they used him mainly in reserve lineups where he served as the primary scorer. But if he were to play 40 minutes instead of only 15 or 20, he would inevitably be a part of the Knicks’ key lineups and diminish their effectiveness.

Andrea Bargnani, like Stoudemire, is a poor defender. In the 12-13 season, the Raptors' DRTG was 111.4 with Bargnani on the floor and 106.9 with him on the bench. That difference of 4.5 points per 100 possessions is approximately the difference between the third ranked San Antonio defense (99.2 DRTG) and the 20th ranked Los Angeles Lakers' defense (103.6 DRTG). Bargnani’s offensive game also resembles Stoudemire’s because they are both high-usage offensive players who tend to isolate and stop the ball from moving. Neither player has demonstrated an ability to adapt their playing styles to become a complementary player in an efficient offense. One might argue that Bargnani was never given a chance as he was burdened with a heavy offensive responsibility throughout his time in Toronto, but there’s reason to doubt his ability to play off the ball, particularly in comparison to the player the Knicks traded to acquire him. 

Steve Novak is also a poor defensive player and it is fairly reasonable to predict that substituting Bargnani for Novak won’t have much of an effect on the Knick defense. What’s troubling is the idea that Bargnani may not fit into the offense as successfully as Novak did during his time in New York.

The contrast between the two players’ number of corner-3 attempts and their success on spot up opportunities demonstrates how Novak is more capable of serving as a complementary role player in a successful offense. According to Synergy Sports, Novak scored 1.28 points per possession on spot up opportunities in 12-13, which ranked him 14th best in the league. Bargnani, on the other hand, scored 0.92 points per possession on spot ups, ranking him 182nd in the league. This is particularly important for the Knicks because spot up attempts accounted for a large portion of their offense and the team ranked second in the league with 1.06 points per possession on spot ups. Novak’s proficiency as a spot up shooter can be attributed partially to his accuracy on corner 3’s, a shot that is a crucial part of many successful NBA offenses in today’s game. Bargnani’s discomfort as a spot up shooter is evidenced by the fact that Bargnani only took 8 corner 3’s during the 2012-13 season. While Bargnani attempted eight corner 3’s in the 35 games that he played in (0.23 corner 3’s per game), Novak attempted 127 corner 3’s in his 81 games (1.57 corner 3’s per game).

Novak is not only more comfortable from a key area of the court, but he is also simply a better shooter. Novak shot 42.5 percent from behind the arc in 2012-13 and his career three-point percentage is 43.3 percent. On the contrary, Bargnani shot 30.9 percent on three-point attempts in 12-13 and his career three-point percentage is 36.1 percent.

All in all, it seems that Novak’s game is more appropriate for the current Knicks' offense than Bargnani. That’s unsettling for Knicks fans bearing in mind the fact that Novak’s salary is approximately one third of Bargnani’s and the Knicks also surrendered a future first round pick to acquire Bargnani.

Considering that Bargnani and Stoudemire are set to make more than $30 million combined in 13-14, they will likely play about 20 minutes per game each, which has two major consequences. First, it puts a lot of pressure on Chandler and Kenyon Martin to play consistently excellent defense to cover up for the mistakes of their teammates. This is worrisome because Martin is 35 years old and Chandler was clearly worn down and/or injured during the playoffs. Secondly, it limits the amount of time that Anthony will play power forward, where the Knicks are their best. Furthermore, moving Anthony to small forward could mean fewer minutes for productive players like J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Pablo Prigioni. 

And hopefully neither Stoudemire nor Bargnani will spend much time playing center in order to play Anthony at power forward. Look at what happened when Anthony and Stoudemire played together without Chandler last season.

Lineup

ORTG

DRTG

Net RTG

MINS

Anthony & Stoudemire (No Chandler)

100.9

118.1    

-17.2

219

The Knicks traded for a player who exacerbates their biggest problem from last season, which was figuring out how to successfully construct a rotation that involves Anthony and Stoudemire. There’s no doubt that Stoudemire and Bargnani are talented players but building a successful basketball team involves fitting the pieces of a puzzle in addition to accumulating talent. By trading for Bargnani, the Knicks are making their puzzle much more difficult to solve.

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