After losing Mitchell Robinson to a broken hand, the Knicks regroup following the Friday win to play DeMarcus Cousins and the Rockets.
The New York Knicks (12-15) are leaning more heavily into win-now mode following a trade for Derrick Rose and reports that the team is looking to make an even bigger move. New York will host the team of one of their reported trade targets—the Houston Rockets (11-14)—for an 8 p.m. ET showdown at the Garden.
The trade target I speak of is Victor Oladipo. The 28-year-old shooting guard was Houston’s primary asset they received for James Harden. Although Oladipo hasn’t been very efficient—posting shooting splits of 38.6% from the field and 29.9% from three since his arrival in H-Town—he’s still a useful player, averaging 18.4 points and 4.9 assists as a Rocket. Marc Berman of the New York Post reported the Knicks are one of several teams keeping an eye on him. He is out for tonight’s game due to a foot injury.
Harden took Houston’s identity with him as he left for Brooklyn. The Rockets, once known for shooting threes first and asking questions later, are now one of the stingiest defensive teams in the NBA. They’re still among the league leaders in three-point attempts per game, but their identity is now predicated on their defense.
Houston employs several rugged, switchable defenders in rookie Jae’Sean Tate, P.J. Tucker, Danuel House, Sterling Brown, and David Nwaba. The Rockets have the third-best Defensive Rating in the league, behind the Knicks, and rank sixth in blocks per game and 11th in steals per game, per NBA.com.
Although their offense isn’t nearly as strong—ranking 24th in Offensive Rating, one spot better than New York—they have several weapons aside from the previously mentioned Oladipo. Big man Christian Wood has enjoyed a breakout season, averaging 22.0 points and 10.2 rebounds on wildly efficient shooting—55.8% from the field and 42.1% from deep on 4.5 three-point attempts per night. The 25-year-old won’t be available tonight, though, as he rehabs an ankle sprain.
John Wall and Eric Gordon will be available for Houston, though. Wall is having a resurgence after battling injuries and inept management in Washington. The five-time All-Star is averaging 19.1 points, a team-high 6.1 assists and a career-high 2.1 made triples per game on 36.7% shooting. Gordon gets buckets in his sixth-man role—18.6 points in 28.9 minutes per game—while also providing solid defense.
Don’t catch Boogie fever
Although DeMarcus Cousins is nowhere near the dominant force he once was, the four-time All-Star and two-time All NBA Second Team member still a multi-faceted threat that could do damage against New York’s defense. The Knicks have struggled to contain stretch bigs, as they have gotten torched by the likes of Lauri Markkanen and Kelly Olynyk in recent contests. Floor-spacing bigs have been kryptonite for New York’s otherwise super defense.
Although Cousins is shooting a below-average 33.7% from deep, he operates mostly outside of the paint. He probably won’t carry the Rockets to a win or even lead them in scoring, but his ability to shoot and make plays could cause problems for the Knicks’ defense.
One way to prevent Cousins from getting in rhythm is to target him defensively. After years of injuries, Cousins is much heavier on his feet. Targeting him in pick-and-rolls or forcing him to switch onto Julius Randle or a perimeter player puts Houston’s defense in a tough spot.
Hand Down, Man down
The Knicks were one of the few teams who hadn’t lost any of their key players for a long stretch, which was an astounding achievement considering the injuries and COVID-related absences that have derailed teams this season. Yesterday night, their luck ran out.
Mitchell Robinson left yesterday’s win over the Wizards at halftime, ruled out for the rest of the game, and was later diagnosed with a fracture in his right hand.
X-rays revealed that Mitchell Robinson fractured his right hand. He will be re-evaluated tomorrow in New York.
— NY_KnicksPR (@NY_KnicksPR) February 13, 2021
Nerlens Noel and Taj Gibson will now man the five spot for the Knicks going forward, barring a trade. Tom Thibodeau hinted after the game that Julius Randle could spend some minutes at center.
Rosy returns from the trade
After trading for Rose, the preliminary takeaway was that Immanuel Quickley’s role would diminish, that he would fall out of the rotation in favor of the veteran and former MVP under Thibodeau. Yet, so far, Rose has been a very helpful backcourt mate to the neophyte.
Rose hasn’t taken away touches or playing time from Quickley—Austin Rivers is instead the odd man out. Quickley and Rose have spent most of their minutes together since Rose’s arrival. His quickness and live-dribble passing have opened up looks for the offense, including looks to Quickley and Obi Toppin.
Rose ➡️ IQ 3ball. Do we like this?! pic.twitter.com/CRiDcfHYEs
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) February 10, 2021
The rest of the bench unit should be better off with another guard that can pass accurately off the dribble. Rose may still be a shoot-first guard, but he is a willing passer, and a flat-out good one when needed.
A big trade on the horizon?
Berman’s report that mentioned New York’s interest in Oladipo mentioned that the front office is also keeping tabs on Bradley Beal. Trading for each shooting guard has different ramifications for the Knicks’ present and its future.
Beal is the league’s leading scorer at 32.8 points per game. His scoring abilities would drastically help the Knicks, who have one of the league’s worst offenses. However, acquiring the two-time All-Star would certainly come at a steep cost. Giving up multiple first-round picks and young players is the most likely package that Washington GM Tommy Sheppard would accept for his team’s centerpiece.
Oladipo isn’t as effective as Beal and is on an expiring contract, so the cost for him would be less. But he wouldn’t provide as much support as Beal would offensively. He would still be very helpful if his efficiency rebounds and he’s a better defender than Beal, but he might not be the right player for which to give up significant assets given his injury history and short-lived contract.
The trade for D-Rose was a reminder that New York is looking to be competitive now. A trade for a star would fortify that position and, depending on who it is and how they mesh with the Knicks, possibly help them return to the postseason.