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New York Knicks' Crowded Frontcourt Is an Important Work in Progress

With the Season Looming, New York Needs to Find the Right Combo of Big Men

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | The New York Knicks need to put the puzzle together.

They want to retain the Atlantic division title and make their mark on the East. The cross-town arch nemesis Brooklyn Nets made multiple splashes over the summer and have their eyes set on taking over the city, division and conference. In addition, there are several dangerous teams in the East like Miami, Indiana and Chicago.

The Knicks are flying lower on the radar, expected to be slightly worse than they were last year and, according to experts, relinquishing the division title after just one season. In order to be successful, the parts in the frontcourt have to be counted on and more so than before.

There is no shortage of big men on the Knicks' roster. Players both returning and acquired make up a group of players who will share time at the 4 and 5 positions.

The Knicks' crowded frontcourt contains four players, all of whom are expected contribute in some way. Tyson Chandler is the continued backbone of the defense and will see the majority of the minutes at center. The rest is somewhat of a free-for-all, featuring recently re-signed Kenyon Martin, Amar'e Stoudemire and new Italian big man Andrea Bargnani.

Each of the four fit categorically into being strengths in one area and perhaps liabilities in another. Chandler is one of the top big defenders in the game, with very limited offensive skill. Martin had occasional offensive outbursts but remains defensively reliable more than anything else. Stoudemire was an offensive force at times but has struggled on the defensive end since being drafted out of high school. And Bargnani is expected to boost the Knicks' perimeter shooting, creating mismatches on smaller defenders outside but plays typical European "no defense or rebounding" basketball. After all, he isn't Dirk.

Oh, wait. We haven't even mentioned superstar Carmelo Anthony, who falls in the category of a hybrid forward. Anthony can play small or power forward, no matter which position he is technically put in, although his play has dictated that power forward is more suitable for his game and he will be starting at that spot. While Anthony is no-show stopper on defense, his offense completely overwhelms that and all New York needs from him on that end is the effort.

Already less court time for the aforementioned supporting cast of bigs. That is five players looking to contribute for the Knicks and compete. Five players in two positions.

Off the bat it looks like Mike Woodson will have the versatility down low to mix and match the best combination, depending on the situation. While that versatility does exist, it won't be as simple as that for Woodson, who is entering his second full season as the lead man in New York. There is not one single player in the bunch that is complete; not one of those can Woodson tap on the shoulder to enter the game and give the Knicks solid play on both ends of the floor.

With that said, there's no doubt that Woodson and the Knicks staff will experiment with different lineups before the season starts and even as it progresses. For example, we have seen from experience that the Melo/Stat/Chandler combination never really worked for New York, with them giving up way too many buckets. It doesn't appear that Bargnani subbing in for Stoudemire there would really work, either; the offensive dynamic is changed, but the only polished defender down there is still Chandler.

Woodson will have to decide whether he wants to sacrifice offense for defense, which is when we would see Kenyon Martin, or vice versa. Martin could find himself pinned to the bench just as easily if the Knicks struggle to find their scoring touch.

It will be a guess-and-check system for the Knicks' coaching staff early on, and they will need to find minutes for the big men on the roster. It'll help that Stoudemire is being put on a minutes limit (10-15 per game), likely giving Bargnani more minutes in the early going. Even still, the frontcourt in New York may have a bunch of bodies but appears incomplete. One thing that could have Knicks fans feeling uneasy is not knowing what their lineup at the end of games will look like. The issue here even affects other positions, like the small forward slot that Metta World Peace is expected to start in. If Woodson wants offense late in games, we could see Anthony shifted to small forward and have Amar'e or Bargnani enter.

One thing we should feel confident about here: The big guys are unlikely to foul out.

As it stands now, those four guys without "Anthony" on their jerseys shouldn't be in deep foul trouble. Perhaps Chandler at times, which has plagued the Knicks before, but that's another adjustment for Woodson. Replacements like Stoudemire and Bargnani have to realize that instead of getting toasted, take one of the six fouls you have. As long as easy buckets don't come left and right, Chandler can get a spell on the bench and stay out of trouble.

In addition, New York cannot afford having its center be dominated in the playoffs. Amar'e Stoudemire getting hurt is a blow that the Knicks took twice last season; having him healthy for an entire season would be something of a godsend. Perhaps Bargnani can realize there is a physical element to basketball and competing for a title means doing some of the things you never have before in a losing environment.

The same can be said for the rest of the New York Knicks as well. There is much room for improvement and performance at the two big-man positions will dictate much about the season ahead. New York is in for a dogfight and has much to prove if it is going to be elite this coming season. And this jam-packed frontcourt will have to speak volumes.

Brian Sausa is a Queens native who has covered various New York area teams for New York Sports World and is an intern with UAlbany Sports Information Department. Twitter @BrianSausa.

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