D'Antoni Giveth, and he Taketh Away

The Knicks' December record now stands at 4-1 after last night's 93-84 win over the Trail Blazers at Madison Square Garden. More importantly, three of those wins have come against likely playoff teams Portland, Phoenix and Atlanta.

Suddenly the idea that New York could squeak into a low playoff seed doesn't seem that ridiculous. Maybe that's why Knick coach Mike D'Antoni has been running a playoff-style rotation.

The Knicks' run of strong play coincides with D'Antoni's decision to shorten his rotation to seven-and-a-half players: a starting five of Al Harrington, Jared Jeffries and David Lee in the frontcourt and Chris Duhon and Wilson Chandler in the backcourt with Danilo Gallinari and Larry Hughes logging 30-plus minutes off the bench and rookie Toney Douglas making occasional cameos.

That's it. Nate Robinson -- a 17.2-ppg scorer last season -- has been relegated to towel-waving duty, as have Eddy Curry, Darko Milicic and Jordan Hill.

Robinson's fantasy value is at an all-time low; his talent is unquestioned, but there's some serious doubt as to whether or not he has the maturity to play within D'Antoni's system and make contributions on both ends of the floor. The best scenario for L'il Him at this point might be a fresh start with a new team, but as a restricted free agent signed to a one-year deal, Robinson has veto power over trades and has repeatedly said he hopes to stay in New York.

Robinson's loss has been Larry Hughes' gain. Out of the rotation when the season started, Hughes has turned into a key player for the Knicks and is putting up his  best across-the-board numbers since his days as a Washington Wizard. In his last five games, Hughes is averaging 15.6 points, 4.2 boards, 5.4 assists and a steal, while shooting .400 from the field, .450 from three and .875 from the line. But he's still available on the wire in just under 70 percent of all ESPN Leagues -- possibly because his season averages haven't caught up to his recent strong play.

Chris Duhon's play has improved significantly as well. He got off to a very slow start this season, but in five December games he's averaging over ten points, over six assists and a steal per game and shooting over 40 percent from long range -- though those numbers got a significant lift from a 25-point, 10-dime outburst in the win over the Hawks. Like Hughes, Duhon is available on the wire in most ESPN leagues.

Gallinari and Chandler might be worth a look in some shallow leagues as well -- both players are at around 70 percent owned right now. And players in deep leagues might want to gamble that the playing-time split between Duhon and Toney Douglas (under 1% owned) will become more even over time.

The only way to get Harrington or Lee (both 100% owned) is a trade.

It is worth noting that more than half of the current rotation is comprised of players with expiring contracts -- only Gallinari, Chandler and defensive specialist Jared Jeffries (the exception to the "every player in D'Antoni's rotation is worth owning" rule) are signed beyond this year. Also worth noting -- team president Donnie Walsh won't hesitate to disrupt the team's hot streak if he can make a deal that will improve the team going forward. This time last year, the Knicks were playing well too -- led by the inside-outside combination of Jamal Crawford and Zach Randolph. Harrington's name has come up in several trade rumors recently, including one deal that would send him to Chicago for shot-blocking forward Tyrus Thomas and Jerome James' expiring deal.

So don't assume the current rotation is carved in stone -- it's set in something closer to Play-Doh. But if you're holding on to Nate Robinson (still over 70% owned), it's probably time to look elsewhere.


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