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Key to Knicks' next jump may be in this class of free-agent 'bigs'

Samuel Dalembert

Samuel Dalembert Photo Credit: Getty Images

Not even the Knicks’ first playoff appearance in seven seasons could mask the team’s need for a second viable starting big man.

Despite a 13-win improvement that galvanized their fans in 2010-11, the Knicks know they must address their Achilles heel — the gaping hole next to Amar’e Stoudemire in the frontcourt — to continue their growth.

amNewYork granted anonymity to an NBA Western Conference scout for a telephone interview. Here is the scout’s assessment of which unrestricted free-agent forwards and centers could best fill the Knicks’ needs in the middle.

Kwame Brown F, 29, 6-foot-11
2010-11 salary: $1.2M with Charlotte
Career averages: 6.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 0.6 bpg, .492 FG%

The 2001 draft’s No. 1 overall pick has been a bust, but Brown was athletic and capable enough defensively to start 50 games for the Bobcats last season. The scout still isn’t impressed. “If he was really, really good, he wouldn’t be floating around as much as he has,” the scout said of Brown’s five teams in 10 seasons. Brown may be able to use his 270-pound frame to score around the basket, but Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony’s inside scoring ability calls for a big man who can stretch the floor with mid-range shooting, the scout said.

Samuel Dalembert, C, 30, 6-foot-11
2010-11 salary: $13.4 million with Sacramento
Career averages: 8.1 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 1.9 bpg, .520 FG%

Dalembert’s career rebound and block averages are above average, and he’s durable, having missed just two games in the past five seasons. The scout praised Dalembert’s ability to play post defense: “He’s hard to score on because he’s so long,” the scout said. Yet the scout described him as an “okay” pick-and-roll defender. That’s noteworthy given the propensity of teams to expose the Knicks’ poor overall defense by running pick-and-rolls to create mismatches. Dalembert also isn’t an accomplished offensive player. “He’s not going to post you up,” the scout said. “He’s going to prefer to shoot jump shots.”

Tyson Chandler, C, 28, 7-foot-1
2010-11 salary: $12.6 million with Dallas
Career averages: 8.3 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 1.3 bpg, .568 FG%

Chandler’s ability to potentially cover up defensive lapses from Stoudemire and Anthony may make him the optimal choice for the Knicks — if they can afford him. “He does it for Dirk [Nowitzki] right now,” the scout said. Both wiry and powerful, Chandler can rebound, block shots and move his feet as well as any other free-agent big man. The scout noted that Chandler can block and alter shots at the rim as well as defend the pick-and-roll on the perimeter. Ultimately, the Knicks’ $59.6 million in salary commitments for next season — the 2011-12 salary cap is unsettled yet may not exceed last season’s $58.044 million — could doom their chances of signing Chandler.

Josh McRoberts, F, 24, 6-foot-10
2010-11 salary: $885,120 with Indiana
Career averages: 5.2 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 0.8 bpg, .525 FG%

McRoberts, at 240 pounds, brings an energy and activity level that the scout compared to ex-Knick David Lee, who now plays for Golden State. “I like Josh,” the scout said. “He’s gotten a heck of a lot better than when he came into the league.” The scout described McRoberts as a pure power forward with decent shooting range and a competent defensive game. “He’s athletic; he can get better,” the scout said. “I think he has upside.”

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