How will the new-look Knicks match up in the East?

New York Knicks head coach Mike D’Antoni reacts in the fourth quarter against the Sacramento Kings at Madison Square Garden in New York City on January 14, 2011. The Kings defeated the Knicks 93-83. UPI/John Angelillo

Once the dust settles and the Carmelo trade becomes final, the Knicks are looking at a starting five of Chauncey Billups, Landry Fields, Anthony, Amare Stoudemire and probably Ronny Turiaf at center. The Knicks will be solid at point guard through power forward, but Turiaf is at best an average center who gets by on hustle and hard work. Per 82games, he does tend to outplay his counterpart (15.0 vs. 13.3 PER) which is a good sign because his minutes are going to jump.

Turiaf is going to need to play well for the Knicks to do anything in the postseason because the team is now very thin in the frontcourt. They lost two 6-10 or taller players (Danilo Gallinari and Timofey Mozgov) and are likely to lose 6-11 Anthony Randolph as well. In return, 6-9 Shelden Williams is the only bona fide power forward or center they’ll acquire, and he hasn’t done much in his 4+ year career to indicate that he can play significant minutes on a good playoff team.

This lack of frontcourt depth could be a problem because both the Celtics (Shaquille O’Neal, Kevin Garnett) and the Magic (Dwight Howard) have big men who are adept at scoring on the block. The Celtics are less of a concern at center because Doc Rivers usually uses Glen Davis to finish games instead of O’Neal (or Kendrick Perkins, for that matter).

Against the Heat or Bulls, the Knicks should fare better. Chris Bosh is not terribly good on the block and the Heat prefer to play Joel Anthony at center. Joakim Noah is a great defensive center, but his post up game is limited, so Turiaf (or Stoudemire, in a pinch) shouldn’t be overmatched on the block.

New York Knicks Amar’e Stoudemire stands on the court during a time out in the fourth quarter against the Phoenix Suns at Madison Square Garden in New York City on January 17, 2011. The Suns defeated the Knicks 129-121. UPI/John Angelillo

Mike D’Antoni may elect to go with the small-ball attack he utilized in Phoenix, with Stoudemire at center and Carmelo at power forward. This would allow him to get another shooter (Kelenna Azubuike, Shawne Williams, Bill Walker or Roger Mason?) on the floor, which would give the Knicks five guys who can knock down the open jumper, and three of those (Billups, Fields, plus one of the aforementioned players) hit 40%+ from three-point range.

The small-ball attack has its downside, however, as Stoudemire and Anthony would be at a disadvantage trying to cover Shaq and Kevin Garnett of the Celtics. But it might work against Boozer/Noah or Bosh/Anthony.

The Knicks are currently sitting the #6 spot in the East and are 5.5 games out of the #5 spot currently occupied by Atlanta. With only 28 games remaining, it will be tough to make up that gap, especially since the Knicks only play the Hawks one more time before season’s end. Throw in the difficulty that any team has to incorporate new personnel and it’s unlikely that New York goes on a tear over the next month or two.

So assuming they finish in the #6 spot, they will likely face the Bulls or Magic. Against the Bulls, the Knicks should be okay with Stoudemire/Turiaf down low, or they could go small ball and force Noah to play Stoudemire on the perimeter. Against the Magic, small ball might work if they double-teamed Howard on every touch on the block. Otherwise, Stoudemire just won’t hold up against Howard’s power moves in the post.

The Knicks need to get it together quickly if they hope to upend either one of these teams in the postseason. I’d say the smart money is solidly against the Knicks getting out of the first round. If they somehow end up in a semifinal with the Heat, they’d have a puncher’s chance of pushing it to seven games, though Miami has a 56-game head-start in terms of chemistry. And don’t forget that the Heat can win games with their defense — the Knicks simply won’t be very good on that end of the court.

The scary thing for Knicks fans is that they’ll never be good defensively, not with a D’Antoni/Amare/Carmelo core. With the Bulls, Celtics, Magic and Heat leading the league in defensive efficiency, the Knicks are going to be at a huge disadvantage come playoff time…not just this year, but every year.

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