It's time to talk about the bench. Remember that rollicking, rip-roaring crew of lovable scamps that tore through the league in preseason and the first few games of the regular season? They're officially a problem. Hell, they were a problem weeks before they were blown off the court by Miami's reserves Monday night; the starters were simply good enough to cover for most of their mistakes.
The bench's weaknesses are starting to bear out in the overall lineup stats. Here are the Knicks' four most used five-man units, per NBA.com:
We can throw out No. 2 on the list -- the now thankfully obsolete Sasha Vujacic starting lineup -- and focus on the other four. The Langston Galloway/Jerian Grant/Lance Thomas/Derrick Williams/Kyle O'Quinn unit has taken quite a tumble from the beginning of the season -- the unit has a -16.8 net rating over the last 10 games. And swapping out O'Quinn for Seraphin has somehow made it significantly worse. They've played fairly well in 17 minutes with Lou Amundson at center, but that's probably not a long-term solution.
What has gone wrong? So, soooo many things. They couldn't keep up the pace they displayed in October. Defenders caught on to Jerian Grant's lack of a jump shot and started sagging off him, taking away the offense's most valuable weapon. We all kind of crossed our fingers and hoped Williams would remain a go-to scorer, which didn't happen. O'Quinn suddenly became virtually unplayable, and Seraphin hasn't been much better, outside of one glorious fourth quarter against the Pelicans.
Amazingly, the Thomas/Grant/Galloway trio still holds a sparkling +5.2 net rating in 177 minutes -- they are still effective, at least when paired with a proven scorer. That's what the Knicks' bench really needs: a go-to scoring option.
The simplest solution would be to stagger minutes to ensure that at least one of the team's top three scorers -- Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis and Arron Afflalo -- remain on the court at all times. Fisher tried this during the second half of the Heat loss, keeping Melo out with the backups from through the end of the third quarter and into the fourth. It worked, as New York chopped 10 points off Miami's lead. The downside was that Melo ended up playing 22 consecutive minutes before being subbed out with 2:33 left in the fourth. With the Knicks' two best weapons being a rookie and a 31-year-old dude coming off knee surgery, Fisher needs to be careful about playing time.
Another, more radical solution would be to swap Galloway for Afflalo, with Galloway starting at shooting guard and Afflalo coming off the bench in an old-school J.R. Smith role. It's an intriguing long-term idea that just might play to both of their strengths. Galloway is the better defender, but isn't suited to carrying the scoring burden for an entire unit. Afflalo has experience being a No. 1 scorer for an NBA team -- he's relentless in pursuing defensive mismatches to exploit for buckets. If he embraced the role, he'd probably get more shots than he does now, playing with Melo and Kristaps. And Afflalo will always have a spot in the lineup in crunch time. Hell, Galloway and Afflalo have both been on the floor on those few occasions when Fisher decided to close with a small-ball, Kristaps-at-the-5 unit.
Based on what we've seen of Fisher's coaching thus far, I doubt he tries anything so drastic. But he's got to do something. The Knicks can no longer afford to just roll out the same hockey-style five-man line changes anymore. It's costing them points, and it's going to cost them wins.