1. The Heat are a better team with Joel Anthony. Yes, you read that right. They prefer going small so they can play their 3-point shooters and usually play only one big at a time (currently Bosh or Haslem) plus either LeBron James or Shane Battier at the 4, depending on the matchup they prefer. They almost accepted the idea that they will most likely not block too many shots this season (currently 20th with 5.00 BPG as a team). But they give up more than that. The real value of a big man is not just the number of shots he blocks, it’s also the number of shots he alters by contesting them and the ones he changes by mere intimidation.

Joel Anthony may not be the biggest (standing at only 6-9) or most intimidating center in the league but he has a career achievement of 2.6 blocks per 36 mins (was 14th last season with 2.24 blocks per 36). He is also a hard-working guy who knows how to play solid defense and plays within his limitations on both ends of the floor. The Heat are still caught up in the frenzy of adding two veteran perimeter players in free agency who are deadly shooters from the perimeter in Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis but neither of them (not even 6-10 Rashard Lewis) helps their perimeter defense. The Heat will surely blow out a lot of inferior teams (and some good ones) through sheer talent but there will be nights (like last night against the Clippers) where size will be more valuable than style. Last night, towards the end of the game, Erik Spoelstra went with Bosh and Haslem at the power positions, then a little bit of Anthony but it was too late. Losing one game is not that ominous in the 82-game season but it must have been an important sign to Spoelstra. Sure, there will be games where the Heat will play almost exclusively their small lineup and not go to Anthony but there also must be games where Anthony gets played either to match with an opposing big or to clog the lane and prevent penetrations and easy finishes at the rim. Both were troubling the Heat last night. Chris Bosh is a good defensive player and has a nice wingspan to add to his 6-11 frame but has been averaging less than a block per game since arriving in Miami and is not a shot-blocker and an intimidator. Udonis Haslem, even more than Bosh, is a PF being forced to play at center. Because both of them are good team defenders, they can play with each other, manning the 4 and 5 positions. But being the only big man and having either LeBron or Battier at the 4 is a task too tall for those players.

The Heat will certainly become a worse offensive team with Anthony on the floor. He is almost non-existent on offense (zero range, can’t even finish around the rim and often gets stuffed on layups or dunks by opponents or … by the rim), can’t make a pass that is more difficult than a hand-off and is only competent at setting picks. But his presence is always felt on the defensive end, and is arguably even more influential than his offense (he was just above league average in win shares per 48 last season, just as he has been over his career).

The verdict – basketball is a sport where size matters and a big man can alter the game more than a perimeter player can. The Miami Heat are good… too good to struggle continuously even with a small lineup. But some games will require Spoelstra to go to his unsexy lineup featuring two big men and eat the minutes of one of his 3-point shooters (Lewis is the player most likely to be hurt from this). 

2. The Knicks will be worse once Amare Stoudemire returns from his injury. Amare Stoudemire is a 6-time All-Star with career averages of 21.6 PPG, 8.8 RPG and 1.4 BPG on .533 FG. He has been among the premier big men in the NBA almost from the start of his career and has that elusive combination of inside-outside game. Why would then the Knicks struggle with Amare on the floor?

First of all, he has struggled with injuries over the last two seasons and they have noticeably altered his game. He has lost a step and most of that explosiveness. His defense has never been stellar despite the blocks and they will be the thing to go as his athleticism disappears. What shape he’ll return in is a big question mark. Will he be able to play heavy minutes and will he be the Amare Stoudemire we are used to seeing when he returns?

But most importantly, he is a poor fit in the Knicks lineup. Since they are set at center with Tyson Chandler, Amare has to start at PF. (Another option would be to come off the bench which will be discussed later.) This means Amare will take more jumpers and have less options to take it to the rim (which is still OK as Amare is a good mid-range shooter). But Amare will not be the Knicks’ go-to guy, not with Carmelo Anthony healthy. This adds to the problematic fit. Melo is a ball-dominant scorer who likes a lot of the same spots Amare likes (has an excellent mid-range game and likes to take it to the rim) and is an iso scorer. Since Tyson Chandler is their defensive anchor and nearly irreplaceable in that rotation, he is already clogging the lane. With Amare next to him, there is little to no space for Melo to use on his drives to the rim. Mike Woodson will surely try to use Amare when Melo is on the bench to give him adequate chances on the offensive end but Amare’s game will suffer as a whole.

Another nuance of the Melo/Amare fit problem is that Melo has been playing a lot better at the 4. Sure, he can’t guard most 4s but they can’t even touch him on the other end. With Amare playing at the 4, Melo returns to his SF position which is further away from the basket and where multiple perimeter defenders can bother him.

The Knicks have started the season great because of the newly-found balance on the offensive end where they now have guards who are glad to share the ball in Felton and Kidd and not another iso scorer in Lin, and are much improved defensively with the underrated veteran acquisitions of Kurt Thomas, Rasheed Wallace, Pablo Prigioni, Jason Kidd and Marcus Camby (who is just returning from an injury). Those players make sure the Knicks defense no longer falls off a cliff when Tyson Chandler gets his rest. The problem is we already mentioned four big men without Amare being one of them. His playing time will mean less playing time for the combination of Thomas, Wallace and Camby which means worse defense.

 


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