Who will feel the impact most on their minutes now that the Knicks’ big guns are on the way back?

Oftentimes, teams are forced to weather the storm at points of the season due to a variety of factors. In the New York Knicks’ case, a flurry of injuries — mainly those to Mitchell Robinson, OG Anunoby and Julius Randle — threw a wrench into their regular season. With these extended absences, their quest for the highest seed possible in the Eastern Conference was made more difficult.

As the Knicks slowly but surely get their guys back, they are currently the fourth seed because they were able to tread water during this challenging time. It’s also due to some transgressions from other teams surrounding them in the standings, like the Philadelphia 76ers, who are in a standings freefall. Leon Rose brought in veteran bench depth and shooting with trades that have been helpful, even if those players have more to give. Josh Hart, Donte DiVincenzo, Miles McBride and Precious Achiuwa have stepped up nicely. It wasn’t as bad of a stretch as it could’ve been considering the Knicks were without their second-leading scorer, best perimeter defender and best interior defender.

We knew that the talent being trotted out each night surrounding Jalen Brunson pls Tom Thibodeau’s method of running players into the ground, especially lower-level starters and normal bench players, wouldn’t be sustainable. But it seems like reinforcements are coming at a perfect time with Anunoby already back, an encouraging Robinson update and prayers to the basketball gods that Randle can make it back this season and be productive. It will be interesting to see how Thibs and the Knicks manage playing time with a full deck of cards hopefully at their disposal.

Wing Kings

Although Anunoby has only been a Knick for less than two months, he is already a huge part of the fabric of the team and an integral factor in whether the Knicks can make noise deep in the playoffs. His elbow injury healed pretty much on schedule and therefore was able to return a few days ago. His impact jumps off of the screen and it showed both defensively and offensively in the Knicks’ blowout win against the Sixers. Efficient and timely shooting coupled with suffocating defense is what the forward was brought here for and the fit for this roster has been seamless in a short amount of time.

While there’s no replacing Anunoby’s defensive prowess and basketball IQ, Hart and Achiuwa particularly were extremely valuable and made a mark with their intensity and production while OG was sidelined. Hart will definitely continue to see plenty of action as a Thibs favorite and someone who has been uber-productive, highlighted by a couple of triple-doubles recently. Maybe he won’t get 39 minutes per night but Hart will be out there for a good chunk of the game and will make an impact.

Achiuwa, an undersized big, will likely see a decline in minutes as OG gets back into the swing of things, coupled with Robinson’s return to the floor. Tough to see, considering how great Achiuwa has been in his time as a Knick, but don’t expect to see a ton of minutes from the New York native once the guys are back into the fold.

Alec Burks, on the other hand, has not been playing well and will likely see very limited minutes. I don’t believe anyone who roots for the Knicks will push back much on that decision. The other former Detroit Pistons veteran brought over was Bojan Bogdanovic, who hasn’t been playing super well recently. But given his size, big-game experience, propensity to hit threes and ability to play his role effectively within a system, he may not be iced out of the rotation, in my opinion.

Robinson On The Way

As mentioned previously, we have a positive update on Mitchell Robinson. The 25-year-old is able to run and jump and is close to being cleared for contact. This is big news considering his ankle injury has had him on the shelf for over three months. Working MitchRob back in is a little more layered than working on OG, as there is more stiff competition in the frontcourt and other guys who have proven to be almost as good/maybe even better in certain areas than Robinson.

With Anunoby, there is nobody on the team who offers his skill set at the level he brings night in and night out. With Robinson, we know what he does well: runs the floor, rebounds and blocks shots. There’s an argument to be made that the less frequently injured Isaiah Hartenstein is as good, if not more proficient, at those things. It would be very irresponsible to just give Mitch more minutes than I-Hart and I don’t think that’s the direction Thibs will go. Robinson, who has been vocal about his role in the past, has to understand that he isn’t the clear-cut best big on the team. It will be very telling how he handles his new role down the stretch of the season.

For the other bigs, Achuiwa and Jericho Sims, it seems like the Big Sneeze will not see a ton of action anymore and I really don’t expect to see Sims at all, granted that he has been relatively ineffective during most of the stretch without Robinson and even when I-Hart was hobbled.

Randle Return?

Opposite of OG and Mitch, Randle’s status is still very much up in the air with his dislocated shoulder. There’s a chance we do not see the All-Star for the remainder of this season. Obviously, this would be a huge blow to the Knicks’ chances of making a solid playoff run, and reintegrating him back into the lineup would be a challenge even if he can give it a go.

Randle, who plays the game very physically — bumping bodies always to get to the rim or create space — is going to really have to feel good to not only come back but be the guy New York has come to know and love. Previous frustrations with Randle have been a result of him hoisting up long-range wild shots and not being aggressive and forceful to the rim like we want him to be. There’s concern that even if Randle is cleared to play, he could be a detriment to the team if he is unable to fully play his game with his shoulder injury nagging him and making him play a style of ball not conducive to winning.

Having Randle back will be huge but I think an ample amount of runway is needed to see how his body allows him to play before we get to the postseason. If Randle is thrown back in the fold and can’t bump bodies and mix it up like we know he is effective at, having him on the floor for 30+ minutes is not going to be good for offensive efficiency and effective Knicks basketball like we’ve seen throughout January up until his injury. Definitely a little more nuanced of a reinsertion here compared to OG.

 

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