The Knicks have all but one player, Mitchell Robinson, in their frontcourt signed for next season. Will that permanently impact the rotation?
Since the season ended, the New York Knicks’ frontcourt has been the topic of many conversations. From the endless mock trades involving star forward Julius Randle after a disappointing season following winning the Most Improved Player award to starting center Mitchell Robinson’s contract situation in limbo. Things could look much different by the time October rolls around, but for now, it’s time to look at what head coach Tom Thibodeau’s potential frontcourt rotation currently looks like.
This past season, the Knicks were built around—and for good reason—starting power forward Julius Randle. After his breakout 2020–21 season, the Knicks power forward established himself as an offensive threat who could score the basketball and create chances for his teammates. Following that season, Randle garnered newfound attention from opposing defenses, and while he was still able to produce, there was a significant decline in his offensive efficiency. His shooting numbers dropped across the board last season. Randle may have felt pressure to perform after signing a contract extension with New York. After failing to replicate his All-Star campaign, Randle looks to rebound if he’s still a New York Knick by opening night.
Starting center Mitchell Robinson is set to become a free agent this summer. Though he’s just finished his fourth season in the NBA, he’s the longest-tenured Knick. Robinson has become a fan favorite in New York and has developed nicely into a defensive anchor for the Knicks after the 2018 second-round selection’s unheralded introduction to the NBA. The “Blockness Monster” had a sluggish start to the season, but after getting his weight and injuries under control, Robinson was able to play in the most games of his career. While there will be plenty of options for New York on the open market this summer, retaining its homegrown center should be a top priority.
New York’s reserve big men pose more of a question marking going forward. It’s difficult to say what sort of production they’ll give on any given night. Obi Toppin ended his season on an impressive run while starting the last five games of the season for an injured Julius Randle. The former lottery pick took full advantage of the opportunity and ramped up his production, including a season finale that saw him score a career-high 42 points in a victory against the Toronto Raptors. After not starting in any games in his rookie season, Toppin started in 10 games for the Knicks in his sophomore campaign. The 2022 Slam Dunk champion looks to have an even greater role as the main backup power forward after proving he’s able to handle a heavier workload.
There are also some seasoned veterans in the New York big man rotation. One of Thibodeau’s more trusted players is Taj Gibson, the 14-year NBA veteran who has been a cog in Thibodeau’s rotations across three different franchises. As a vet that is well respected by his teammates, Gibson might take more of a mentorship role in the final year of his Knicks contract to help the development of a team filled with younger players. Gibson did average over 18 minutes a night over 52 games but with more productive players possibly coming into the fold, he could see those numbers decrease.
Another veteran is center Nerlens Noel. After another injury-plagued season in an injury-plagued career, Noel only appeared in just 25 contests for the Knicks following a three-year contract extension inked last summer. The former first-round pick can be a serviceable backup when his body doesn’t betray him, but he’s only been able to play over 70 games just twice in his nine-year career. When healthy Noel is relied upon heavily by Thibodeau, he played 24.0 minutes per game in 11 starts last season, averaging a block and a half a contest. If he’s able to compete, he’ll surely play significant minutes this upcoming season.
After finishing up his first campaign, rookie big man Jericho Sims seems to be last on the depth chart. The Texas product was up and down between the big club and Westchester a lot of the season but has shown real promise in his limited G League outings; he averaged a double-double with 14.0 points and 11.7 rebounds a game. If the injuries in the frontcourt begin to pile up again for New York as they did late last season, Sims could see significant playing time again. But, with Toppin and Noel on the team, his court time will likely be sporadic if he’s not playing in Westchester.
Though there is depth if all goes well, the Knicks brain trust could look to add a young big man with the 11th pick in the upcoming draft if they don’t trade it away in a deal this summer. During a long and demanding basketball season, nothing is ever perfect, and with the frontcourt constantly dealing with one issue or another when it comes to injury as they did this past season, New York can look to add low-cost reinforcements to supplement their bench.