The Knicks are faltering on both ends of floor to start the season. It might be time to give some of their young two-way players a bit more burn.

Youth has a way of energizing an otherwise stagnant offense in the NBA. Take the Oklahoma City Thunder, who just beat the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden in a wildly disappointing matinee game behind a huge game from their star guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Gilgeous-Alexander, who is only 24 years old, is just one key piece for an OKC team that has high hopes for itself in the near future, considering the number of draft picks they hold currently, and with the impact of Chet Holmgren remaining to be seen. 

The New York Knicks have that youth. Sure, they don’t have an SGA-level player on their roster, but they have the depth necessary to at least compete at a high level. And yet, players like Quentin Grimes, Miles McBride, and Jericho Sims hardly get looked at for impactful playing time. Sims has played much more than usual in the last few games due to a knee injury for Mitchell Robinson. Grimes, who has been sidelined for much of the season with a foot injury, has barely touched the floor as his “conditioning” improves, according to head coach Tom Thibodeau. And McBride is simply the victim of a hierarchy at the point guard position that has Jalen Brunson, Derrick Rose, and Immanuel Quickley far ahead of him. 

Could they really provide direction to what’s starting to feel like a rudderless rotation? We won’t know unless they actually get playing time. At a minimum, they each provide a skill on the floor that the roster, as currently constructed, could desperately use.

Quentin Grimes: Defense and consistent three-point shooting

Knicks fans fell in love with rookie-year Grimes for two main reasons – he plays extremely hard on defense, and he has a gorgeous, pure three-point shot. Right now, the Knicks are seriously lacking in defensive intensity. They seem to almost always fall apart on screens – either due to miscommunication with one another on switches or poor schemes that have them dropping into the paint for help coverage no matter what. 

That all being said, Grimes had a real knack for fighting through screens without fouling last season, and as a result, he started to establish himself as a key rotational piece on Thibodeau’s roster. That sort of instinct on defense is something that both the starting lineup and the bench could use a lot of improvement on as New York currently stands in the bottom six of the NBA in team defensive rating. 

In terms of shooting, the Knicks are also in a rut. This is especially so for shooting from deep. They are currently shooting an abysmal 32.5% percent from three as a team so far this season – only the paint-clogged Lakers shoot it worse. Grimes only shot 38.1% from beyond the arc last year, but he also beat the rookie record for a Knick player for most threes made in a game. He’s shown that he has the ability to heat up from a distance and that coupled with his defensive prowess could really benefit this team as they seek to find an identity on both ends.

Deuce McBride: Facilitator and stout defender

McBride has barely gotten any playing time this season – or last season for that matter. As stated above, he’s really just behind too many great, good, or just okay point guards on this roster to break through. Last year, he did make his mark several times in games he played a lot of time in due to injuries to other starters, but even with worse depth, it was hard for him to break through.

His game against the Houston Rockets last season specifically comes to mind. He had 15 points, nine assists, and four steals in what felt like a huge leap for him in terms of transferring his success in the G-League onto the Knicks squad. McBride has a penchant for passing – he really does not like holding the ball for more than a few seconds while calling out a play – which would benefit this team seeking to speed things up for more open looks and to discombobulate opposing teams’ defenses. The number of quick ball-movers on this roster is extremely low, another selling point for Deuce’s unique style.

Speaking of defense, did I mention he had four steals to boot in addition to those 19 points and nine assists in that game? He is an extremely good defender, most famously known for shutting down Cade Cunningham in a Big-12 Tournament game. He has the ability to get under other guards’ skin, something that Brunson or Rose struggle with due to their size and lack of similar physicality. He and Quickley paired together would make for an excellent defensive-minded backcourt. 

Jericho Sims: Speed at the rack

The fact is that New York lost, badly, to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday afternoon. There is no way to find “small victories” out of what felt like a trap game for them. But Sims had a huge highlight dunk at the beginning of this game that felt like a potential tone-setter. He has truly seized his opportunity for more playing time with Robinson out, and with Isaiah Hartenstein sometimes leaving something to be desired when it comes to both defense in the paint and defensive rebounding. 

Sims recorded eight points, eight rebounds, and one assist in the loss, a solid showing considering his 25 minutes of on-court time. Robinson often puts up similar numbers, albeit with more rebounds, but he’s usually starting and closing games out. Sims’ athleticism is something that’s lacking from the Knicks’ current rotation. Hartenstein is known as a great passer but has yet to consistently make an impact as a passer for New York. Robinson is an elite defender when healthy and is reliable for a lob or very short back down in the post, but beyond that, he can’t pull off the acrobatics we’ve seen from Sims. 

Sims may have the weakest case of these three to get more time simply because, even when grouping together the pros and cons of Thibodeau’s usual go-to’s at the five, they’re not bad on defense, which is more of a sore spot for McBride and Grimes’ positions on this team. But, his sneakiness and ability to leap from what feels like the foul line for a slam should not be taken for granted on this team, especially considering he was just given a three-year contract extension with New York. 

The Knicks are at a crossroads at the moment. They did not get the big name over the summer. They made good, but not goalpost-moving, signings. They appear lost on defense every game, which is supposed to be their bread and butter. And their offense is still trying to find momentum and rhythm with a new starting point guard and a different look to their rotations due to injuries. Perhaps it’s time to start getting even better looks with the youth they have riding the pine. 

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