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Thursday, November 7, 2013
Bargnani to bag 'serious minutes' at center

By Ian Begley

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- With Tyson Chandler sidelined, Mike Woodson plans to rely heavily on Andrea Bargnani to fill in at center. And that may be a problem for the Knicks' defense.

In Bargnani's 84 minutes on the floor this season, the Knicks have given up 116.3 points per 100 possessions. With Bargnani off the floor, that number drops to 84.5. Four games is a small sample size, of course, but those numbers don't bode well for New York. Furthermore, Woodson didn't exactly give Bargnani a vote of confidence when talking about his defense Thursday.

"With Tyson being out, he's going to have to play some serious minutes now. ... He's going to have to give me what he has," Woodson said, noting that slow starts with Bargnani on the floor have "hurt us coming out of the box the last two outings, and somehow we're going to have to get better than that."

If recent history is any indication, Bargnani won't help the Knicks (1-3) improve in that area.

The former No. 1 pick spent the first seven years of his career in Toronto. In each of those seasons, the Raptors were outscored when Bargnani was on the floor. The 7-footer also struggles with his rebounding.

Bargnani is pulling down an average of just two rebounds in 21 minutes per game so far this season. His rebounding rate -- a measure of the percentage of rebounds he grabs while on the floor -- is just 5.8. To give you an idea of how poor that is, Steve Novak, who was sent to Toronto for Bargnani, has a rebounding rate of 7.7.

With Chandler out, of course, the onus will be on Bargnani, Carmelo Anthony, Metta World Peace and others to crash the boards.

"That's the only way you can do it," Woodson said.

The coach doesn't have many great options to replace Chandler, who is out for at least a month with a fracture in his right fibula. Both Amar'e Stoudemire and Kenyon Martin are on minutes limits due to injuries. Woodson on Thursday said he hopes he can play Martin and Stoudemire 15 minutes per game with Chandler out.

The Knicks have Cole Aldrich on the roster. But the former lottery pick has yet to play in the regular season.

So Woodson is left to turn to Bargnani, whom he hopes will have success running the pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop on offense.

"I’ve got to be comfortable with [playing center] now," Bargnani said Thursday. "That’s what the team needs me to do."

What can the Knicks expect with Bargnani at center on Friday against Charlotte?

That's hard to say.

Of course, anything is possible in sports. Maybe Bargnani can surprise everyone by defending the rim well and rebounding in Chandler's absence. But if last season is any indication of what's to come, New York may be in trouble.

Bargnani spent a significant amount of his playing time center for Toronto in 2012-13, and the results weren't pretty. One way to illustrate that is to look at his player efficiency rating -- a measure of a player's overall production during his time on the floor.

The league-average PER is 15. Bargnani's PER last season while playing center was 7, according to 82games.com. Meanwhile, the center he guarded posted a 17 PER when Bargnani was on the floor.

If that trend continues with Bargnani in the middle, the Knicks may have a tough time competing.

"Hopefully, I'm sure his minutes will be productive," Woodson said. "It's my job to make them productive."

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