Not every player in the NBA will get regular minutes in a rotation, and as professionals, they tend to understand that. The New York Knicks have found themselves dealing with the management of roster playing time of late, and a few players have fallen victim to other players outdoing them, unfortunately. Nonetheless, this year’s Knicks weight heavily on the “next man up” mantra, so no one is truly stripped of playing availability. That said, let’s discuss the Knicks’ rotation more thoroughly.
Randle and co.
The starters, so it seems, are far from being changed this far into the season. As much as fans clamor for Elfrid Payton to be relegated to the bench, he continues to start and, to his credit, has been playing well in the most recent stretch of games. However, he is still wont to make bone-headed mistakes quite often, i.e., driving to the basket against three defenders only to botch a layup.
RJ Barrett has had some moments this season where, simply put, he doesn’t look like a third overall pick, and it’s raised some concern. Some members of Knicks Twitter have even insinuated he should be sent to the G-League, to which Barrett responded with one of the most insane stretches of his career, but he still has issues with keeping consistent, as evidenced by his four-game stretch in which he played less than 27 minutes per game. Thankfully, he bounced back against the Atlanta Hawks, so his slump should be far behind him.
And then, of course, there is the man of the hour: Julius Randle.
Randle became the first Knicks since Carmelo Anthony to score 40 points in a game, and it came in a game where he looked like he wouldn’t miss no matter where he shot the ball. I don’t exaggerate when I say this matchup was the most fun game of the season to watch. He’s received criticism for last season’s antics, and a lot of people were hopeful he’d be traded prior to the beginning of this season, but he’s here to stay — hopefully for a few years now.
Reggie Bullock and Nerlens Noel round out the starting lineup; Bullock has been somewhat of a nuisance from the viewer’s perspective, but his occasional shooting streaks can keep the Knicks alive, he just needs to be more consistent to truly earn everyone’s trust. Noel will be replacing Mitchell Robinson for the foreseeable future due to his fractured hand, and Taj Gibson will occasionally see minutes as well. The Knicks will sorely miss Robinson for his defensive prowess and rebounding capabilities, and the game against the Hawks gave some credence to that fact. Noel can hold his own against certain centers, but he was one foul away from sitting in an endgame scenario, which could have cost the Knicks dearly.
Six weeks couldn’t come fast enough.
Benched until further notice
As the Knicks’ injury woes started to clear, and especially after the acquisition of Derrick Rose, a number of players have been relegated to the bench, likely for the entire season or until said players are potentially traded. The play of Immanuel Quickley, Alec Burks, and Obi Toppin off the bench has also played into the following players’ absence from the lineup, to nobody’s surprise.
Kevin Knox, for instance, the former ninth overall pick by the Knicks back in 2018, has found himself stripped of minutes after a hot start in the beginning of the season. At one point, he was shooting a scorching 60% from the corner, and above 40% from 3PT in general. His defensive intensity picked up from seasons past, his alertness on offense opened up new avenues for him to score, and he looked like he was finally coming into his own. As of now, though, his role is “situational” and he may even be on the table for trade discussions.
Several fans have been upset about his involvement with the roster this season, but Frank Ntilikina, too, has been out of the rotation for some time now, and I think it’s going to stay that way.
While he’s been a name people turn to regarding defense, the Knicks continue to hold the honors of one of the top defenses in the league without Ntilikina, who has also been incessantly quiet on offense his entire career. He is the longest tenured Knick, ironically, but he offers the least value to the team at the moment, but there haven’t been many updates regarding his future with the team as of yet.
Austin Rivers has suffered from the Rose acquisition as well, and at one point this season, I felt he would be a valuable asset to the roster. But alas, it would appear the rivers are dried up, at least for now. He may not see time for the potentially playoff bound Knicks, but he could be moved to an already established contender by the trade deadline if New York would like to capitalize on his generous contract. It wouldn’t be the worst idea for both parties, but there have only been speculations regarding his trade value.
The team’s outlook
Tom Thibodeau has a history of running short lineups, but he’s been running a 10-man rotation as the team has gotten back to full strength.
Presently, the Knicks are fighting hard for a playoff seed, as the perceived expectations from preseason dust away like the Thanos snap. The Knicks are on pace to win nearly 35 games, and as it stands, their record should keep them in the playoff race for the time being.
The more this current rotation wins, the less integrated a lot of the outlying players will be, so I fully expect to see more games of Randle absolutely tearing teams apart. On a positive note, too, I hope to see more of Toppin, and without Robinson, that should be a common theme of the coming schedule.
The Knicks have a chance to climb over the hump heading into the All-Star break while simultaneously developing the core young players and building more of this culture Knicks fans have been dying for. Things are shaping up.