The Knicks embark on yet another win-now championship run Wednesday night, but before they figure out how to get past the likes of the Heat and Pacers — as well as hold off the restructured Nets — they’ll need to figure out how all the new pieces will fit.
Perhaps the biggest mystery is how head coach Mike Woodson can balance an offense that is unquestionably led by Carmelo Anthony, but has now added an intriguing offensive piece in Andrea Bargnani.
As of Tuesday’s practice, Woodson was still debating whether to keep the big lineup of Anthony at his more natural small forward position, Bargnani at power forward and Tyson Chandler at center or move Anthony back to the power forward spot where he dominated last season in leading the league in scoring. Such a move would force Bargnani to the bench as a sixth man, while sliding Metta World Peace into the small forward spot.
“The eventual goal is everyone’s clicking with one another. It’s not going to happen overnight,” Anthony said. “[Bargnani’s] not going to adjust to the New York style, New York way of living, New York way of life, overnight. As teammates we’re very patient with him. We understand a guy [is] coming to this New York situation and what it actually takes to be here in New York.”
Anthony has been a staunch public supporter of Bargnani as being the new No. 2 offensive option — something he was seemingly reluctant in doing for Amar’e Stoudemire following Anthony’s acquisition from the Nuggets over two seasons ago.
The star forward went out of his way numerous times to express that the Anthony-Bargnani combo will provide immediate dividends on the offensive end since their respective games complement each other so well. Anthony is a mid-range assassin and low-post threat, while Bargnani’s game tends to float further away from the basket. Such spacing should make the Knicks more dangerous, Anthony noted.
And in a twist of irony, Anthony, who’s never been known to play defense, also reiterated several times that Bargnani’s transformation as a defensive-minded Knick “ain’t gonna be happening overnight.”
Woodson, however, intimated he won’t be so lenient with blown defensive assignments — offensive production or not. Because while Woodson knows how well Bargnani can stretch the floor and garner more spacing for Anthony, if the 7-foot Italian import can’t guard power forwards, then it’ll be the next man up in the rotation to fill that void.
“I’ll experiment with [a big frontcourt], but I’ve got options this year,” Woodson said. “I can always go small, with Melo at the four [power forward] with small teams and throw Bargnani in there when we got big teams. It’s not a matter of who starts, [but] it’s what you do with the minutes that you’re in there. That’s the message I’m sending everybody on the team. You got to give productive minutes on the floor if you want to play.”
Bargnani had a disappointing preseason, as he totaled a minus-72 in the increasingly important plus-minus statistic. Even World Peace was outshooting Bargnani in the exhibition games (40.9 to 20 percent in 3-pointers) — something that wasn’t lost on Woodson.
But unlike the ill-fated Anthony-Stoudemire 1-2 punch, Bargnani will get a longer look to be the sidekick, mainly because he’s actually durable and a better floor-spacing outside shooter than Stoudemire who adds more versatility to the offense since he has the size of a center but can play like a wing.
The early struggles haven’t lowered Anthony’s expectations.
“We’ve had just one preseason together,” said Anthony. “He’s still getting his feet wet as far as adjusting to New York. On the court with us, he’s still trying to adjust to that and we’re still trying to adjust to him. He’ll be all right.”
Bargnani was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2006 draft and played seven seasons with Toronto. But just making the transition to a new city and country isn’t the only thing he’s had to deal with while trying to jell, as he also is coming off pneumonia that had him bed-ridden for a month in late summer. His conditioning is still an issue, but the sweet-shooting forward took accountability for his sluggish preseason and is doing all he can to help be a better teammate.
“I still got to get better. I had 30 days without doing anything, [and] I haven’t had that in my life,” Bargnani said. “Everybody’s still learning. I know the main focus [to improve on] is defense and defensive rebounds. That’s the main thing coach wants [because] the offense is going to come.”
Knicks notes ...
»Bargnani isn’t the only one whose shot has abandoned him during the preseason, as Anthony saw a dip in production as well. He shot just 37.5 percent from the field, but reassured fans he’ll be back to his form come the opener.
“I’m not [worried] at all,” Anthony said. “It will be back Wednesday.”
Follow Knicks beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.