- Ian Begley, ESPN Staff Writer
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Now that free agency has died down, we’re taking a look at where the Knicks currently stand position-by-position. Today, we look at center.
Returning/on roster: Andrea Bargnani, Amar'e Stoudemire, Cole Aldrich, Jeremy Tyler (Tyler is considered a PF/C; the Knicks have a team option on Tyler for next season that they have not yet exercised.)
Gone: Tyson Chandler
The starter: It seems as if coach Derek Fisher has a choice between Dalembert and Smith here, with Stoudemire as a third option.
The triangle, if run correctly, should produce some midrange jump shots for Knicks centers. Looking at things through this prism, it would seem that Smith has the edge over Dalembert.
Only 14 percent of Dalembert’s shot attempts were between 10-22 feet last season. Smith, on the other hand, took 74 percent of his 282 field goal attempts from that distance. Smith hit 47 percent of his attempts last season on shots farther than 16 feet from the rim but inside the 3-point line.
Those numbers show Smith is comfortable taking -- and making -- the outside shot. Stoudemire also has shown an ability to hit jumpers, though his defensive liability and history of knee issues may preclude Fisher from inserting him into the starting five.
Of course, offense is only part of the equation for Knicks centers. Fisher will also need his big men to defend the rim and rebound (more on that below).
The wild card: Stoudemire. The 12-year veteran is healthy this offseason for the first time in a while; he isn’t dealing with a nagging back issue or knee pain this summer. If he can enter the season fully healthy, it’s fair to expect big things on offense from the former All-Star. He averaged 16.1 points on 57 percent shooting in 20 of the Knicks' final 22 games, all of which he started at power forward. For some, this has given credence to the theory that Stoudemire should be in the starting five to begin the season.
But can he be a net positive for the Knicks as a starting center?
According to 82games.com, Stoudemire outscored opponents by 11.8 points per 48 minutes at power forward and 7.3 points at center last season. The issue with playing Stoudemire at center, of course, is that it will likely leave the Knicks exposed on defense. They were outscored by 109 points with Stoudemire at center last season, per the site.
Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony playing alongside one another at center and power forward, respectively, were a potent offensive duo in 2013-14. But with the two players manning those positions, the Knicks had a tough time getting stops.
The three most often-used lineups with Stoudemire at center and Anthony at power forward were outscored by 20 points over 188 minutes last season, per 82games.com.
One caveat to consider when it comes to Stoudemire is the triangle offense and its potential impact on his game. Can the triangle help offset Stoudemire's defensive issues and enhance his strengths on offense? These are questions that Fisher may consider when thinking about Stoudemire’s role.
Outlook: You can make a strong argument that the most important aspect for the Knicks' big men this season is this: Which player can give Fisher & co. the best rim protection?
The numbers from last season don't seem to suggest a clear favorite here.
Opponents shot 52 percent at the rim against Dalembert and 50.8 percent against Smith. (For perspective, Robin Lopez led centers with a 42.5 percent opponent shooting percentage at the rim).
Neither Dalembert nor Smith made a huge impact on team defense last season. The Mavs gave up 2.6 more points per 100 possessions with Dalembert on the floor; the Pelicans allowed 0.6 points more per 100 possessions with Smith on the court.
What about rebounding?
Dalembert grabbed 42 percent of the contested rebounds available to him (30th among players who averaged at least five rebounds per game last season) and Smith pulled down 32.6 percent of the contested rebounds available to him (86th).
So Dalembert's and Smith's ability to help defend the rim and paint will be something to keep an eye on during training camp and the preseason.
One center who may merit more minutes this season? Aldrich. Aldrich, who signed a new deal with the Knicks this summer, emerged as a consistent force off the bench for stretches in the second half of last season. The former first-round pick averaged 10 points and 14 rebounds per 36 minutes -- evidence that he may merit more playing time in 2014-15.
Question: Who would you like to see starting at center for the Knicks? Should Amar'e Stoudemire see minutes at center?
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