Who Should Start at Power Forward for the New York Knicks?

Derrick Williams and Kyle O'Quinn were quiet pickups for the Knicks, and both offer different styles of play. Who should start?

The New York Knicks, deep into the second year of Phil Jackson’s five-year plan, made an active push at the free agent market and were able to lure some talent to Madison Square Garden.

Amongst the new acquisitions, Derrick Williams and Kyle O'Quinn will play an instrumental role as only one can start at the power forward position.

Considering that the Knicks invested the fourth overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft in Kristaps Porzingis, the aforementioned starting power forward position may see a ceiling of 18 months. Or at least until Porzingis starts eating like Michael Phelps before the 2008 Summer Olympics.

The Knicks faithful must be patient with both Phil Jackson and Porzingis, though.

For as good as the Zen Master has been and for as good as the potential European Superstar could be, odds are that neither will make the Knicks a championship caliber team for at least two more years.

This does not mean the Knicks won’t court a respectable lineup that can compete with the weaker Eastern Conference, and it should not shy away Knicks faithful. But while Porzingis develops, two NBA veterans will vie for the power forward spot on the team. Who should win the gig?

Derrick Williams versus Kyle O’Quinn

With both players being new in town, neither has an inherent advantage based on familiarity or experience. Given that, we'll have to dig into the numbers to see which player offers the Knicks the best chance to succeed in the interim.

Of course, Williams and O'Quinn played in different systems last year, with Williams in Sacremento, who played at the slowest pace in the NBA last year at 90.4 possessions per 48 minutes. O'Quinn's Magic played just a hair below the league average (93.9) with 93.8 possessions per 48.

But if we look at per-36 numbers and rebounding rate, we can at least get a general sense of how the two performed in the different systems.

Player nERD PTS (per 36 Minutes) REB (per 36 Minutes) PER TRB%
Derrick Williams  -1.7  15.2  5.0  12.8  7.8
Kyle O'Quinn  -0.3  12.8  8.7  14.8  13.6

It is evident by these numbers alone that O’Quinn is a more efficient player than Williams, based on last year at least. Granted, there are no on-court statistics that define athleticism, which is written all over Williams' draft profile from 2011, but Williams falls short. O'Quinn's per-36 rebounding and Total Rebounding Rate trump Williams', and O'Quinn's efficiency ratings -- both our nERD metric and his Player Efficiency Rating -- graded out better than Williams'.

nERD indicates how many wins above or below .500 a player would make an otherwise average team during a full season if that given player was a starter. Granted, O'Quinn still fell on the wrong side of zero, but he was roughly 1.5 wins more important than was Williams. 

Williams, at 6’8”, is the definition of a "work in progress." The athleticism and maturity once displayed at the University of Arizona has yet to translate to the game’s highest level. Now four years into the league and 23 years of age, Williams could finally get a chance to receive quality minutes in a pure starting power forward role if the Knicks decide to give him the nod.

Williams was never given more than 25 minutes per game in any season during his time with the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Sacramento Kings and started just 92 of a possible 296 games.

Combined with his unpolished footwork outside the paint, there is little doubt that Williams is pushing the stone uphill in terms of trying to make the most of his talents. It doesn’t help that Williams was the second overall pick in 2011, a distinction that has added an extra layer of pressure, as noted by Phil Jackson:

"He runs, finishes in early-offense situations and has the strength to finish in a crowd when he attacks the rim from the wing. He’s working on his 3-point shooting and his intermediate game. I also think he can play power forward against certain opponents.

"[H]is development has been hindered by several factors. From the start of his pro career, being the second overall draft pick has been like an albatross around his neck, something that he, and lots of other people, felt a lot of pressure to live up to."

Jackson makes a strong case, and his endorsement of Williams’ finishing ability holds weight -- he converted 69.6% of his field goal attempts last year from within three feet of the basket.

Williams possesses all the attributes of a true athlete: size, strength and speed, but those qualities have yet to take hold in today’s even faster and stronger NBA. The projected lineup for the New York Knicks might see Derrick Williams start at the four for the first game of the season, but there is a strong case for O’Quinn to win that job.

If the Knicks want to run a bigger lineup, the less-flashy O’Quinn could play a significant role at the four. The power forward, who quietly joined the Knicks in July, stands at 6'11" and weighs in at a Zach Randolph-like thickness of 240 pounds.

O’Quinn boasts better overall numbers than Derrick Williams but has also received more playing time in his young career. The late second-round pick out of Norfolk State boasted more or less a league-average 14.8 PER and dominated Williams in Total Rebounding Percentage (13.6% to 7.8%) last year.

In terms of play style, O’Quinn is essentially the polar opposite of Williams, and the case to play both power forwards 20 minutes a game is strong, especially as the Knicks groom Porzingis into a starting-quality forward over the next few years.

Still, the The Knicks will have to shuffle in quality minutes for all three power forwards this year, especially Porzingis.

O’Quinn edges Williams on the offensive glass in terms of Offensive Rebound Rate (ORR). O’Quinn’s rate (6.2%) again trumped Williams' (3.3%), and the Knicks' offense is certainly in a position where every possession matters. Having O’Quinn’s rebounding efficiency on the offensive glass will open more opportunities for Carmelo Anthony to stay hot from the mid-rang, or finish the work himself and potentially boost his 12.8 points per 36 minutes stat.

The case for O’Quinn at the starting four position would play into Phil Jackson’s unselfish style of basketball that he is desperately trying to instill in Carmelo. Anthony still boasts one of, if not the best, mid-range jumpers in the league, and the Knicks will need all 25.0-plus points per game of his to compete in the Eastern Conference.

A Verdict

Williams has yet to prove his reliability at the four and his lowly minutes avearge and required role are too much of a high risk, high reward situation for the Knicks in the 2015-16 season to trust him as a starter.

O’Quinn, on the other hand, presents an opportunity for an unselfish four to play his role, command the boards and keep the offensive possessions alive by kicking rebounds back out to guards.

Still, most sources point to Williams getting the starting job when the Knicks first game comes against the Milwaukee Bucks. All in all, the four is a placeholder for the hopeful Porzingis to command down the road, and O’Quinn can play that role quietly and effectively.

The Knicks do not need a star at the four. They need to groom one -- Porzingis and not Williams -- into one over time, making O'Quinn the logical choice entering 2015-16.