The Knicks starters = bad. You know. They know it. Everybody knows it. So what’s to be done? The P&T staff rushed back early from their annual mid-November Fiji vacation to address this very issue.
Lee Escobedo: Tom Thibodeau is not one to be reactionary, nor cave to detractors’ opines. So my lineup modifications are in line with what is reasonable. Derrick Rose is more than just a bench microwave; he is a leader and coach for that second unit. So I keep him on the bench to maintain chemistry. Kemba Walker can still be effective; it just might need to be in fewer minutes. The main move is benching Evan Fournier for Alec Burks, who brings defense and hustle to the starting group, à la Reggie Bullock. Such a substitution doesn't even have to last all season, or even all year. Just long enough for Walker and Randle to improve their continuity without hemorrhaging defensive efficiency. Overall, Leon Rose should make a play for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Dorian Finney-Smith or Terrence Ross to bring defense back to the starting five. Knicks need another defensive wing with size.
Russell Richardson: Starting five = PG Rose, SG Burks, SF RJ Barrett, PF Julius Randle and C Nerlens Noel. Second unit = PG Kemba, SG Immanuel Quickley, SG Fournier, PF Obi Toppin, and C Mitchell Robinson. (And gimme as much Grimes as possible.)
Start Derrick. When Randle and RJ are flat, Rose can initiate offense in ways that Kemba cannot anymore. He gels with Burks, who’s a decent defender and playmaker, too. Let Kemba and Evan exploit second-stringers for a while. Swap Grimes for either, moving Quickley to the one as needed. My starting center is situational. Noel has been lively on defense this year, poking, swatting, and blocking. He’s more mobile than Mitch. However, I would start Mitch if the opponent’s starting center is a beefer. Finally, please God, keep Obi and Quickley together, because I love their combined energy.
Bootum: Rose likely has to start. While he may be most impactful off the bench, the Knicks need to stop the bleeding in the starting lineup. An elite bench is great, but you can’t prioritize that over a good starting lineup and solid bench instead of the abysmal starting group they have now. Walker does not seem to be lacking in talent, either, and starting off against bench units for essentially the first time in his career could jump-start him. If you are so opposed to starting Rose, I think you could argue for point Burks instead, who has been a terrific scorer when not deferring to Rose. As much as I dreaded it happening last season, I also would start a healthy Noel (if that exists). I love Mitch, but he has been inconsistent this year in effort and play, while the veteran Noel is as steady as it comes when he’s not catching the ball. The energy of a focused Robinson off the bench fighting to end up in the closing/starting lineups could also make up for the theoretical promotion of Rose to the starters.
Daniel Lubofsky: I believe that the starting point guard position is the lone discussion to be had regarding New York’s starting lineup. Fournier will find himself (I also don’t believe New York wants to bring its $70 million man off the bench), but Walker simply isn’t getting it done, and the Knicks have the means to replace him. Perhaps more minutes against second-stringers is exactly what he needs at this stage of his career. The question then becomes who takes his place. Rose seems like the obvious answer, as he’s better than Quickley, but I like the idea of him leading the second unit as the sixth man. On the other hand, the Knicks’ starting unit needs another player who can carry the offense in times of struggle. Rose is definitely that guy, and his 3-point stroke (47.1 percent) could have him comfortably play off the ball. And perhaps swapping Kemba with Rose earns Quickley more minutes. He could use more opportunities, and being the first guard off the bench is a better solution compared to burdening him with the pressures that come from being a starter, a responsibility he might not be ready for just yet.
Miranda: Last season after 13 games, the Knicks were 5-8 and riding a five-game losing streak. Five months later, they finished the season 10 games over .500 and were fourth in the East. Other than Noel replacing the injured Mitch, the starters stayed the same from January to May. History isn’t prophecy, but still: I’m not changing anything. Not yet.
This season is only 13 games in and the starters have played a grand total of 224 minutes together. It’s too early to panic. I don’t think Thibodeau either forgot or suddenly lost interest in winning, and some of what’s going on with the starters will likely resolve itself once they’ve played more than the equivalent of 4+ games together. For example: every one of the Knicks’ non-Mitch starters is currently shooting 42% from the field. Are all four going to continue shooting at that low rate? Last season Randle and Fournier made 46% of their shots and RJ 44%; only Kemba was still down at the 42% mark
And if you make a switch now and it doesn’t work? What then? Do you sheepishly promote whomever you just demoted to the bench? The Knicks are a team whose strength — ostensibly — is their depth. When your best quality is quantity, you wanna give the weight of probability enough time to work its magic, i.e. the Russian army in World War II. If that doesn’t happen, sure, shake things up. But just because the early numbers are disappointing and a small but powerfully deluded portion of the fan base thought a 5-1 start meant the ECF were within reach doesn’t mean the Knicks gotta be buggin’.
P.S. I’m aware I didn’t talk about defense at all in my response, despite that being the team’s biggest issue so far. If I had anything smart to offer there, I would. Thibs makes $4.3M a year, whereas I have bounced more than one payment already this month. He can figure out the D.
Joe: Immanuel Quickley should start at PG because he went to my high school.
Kento: We have to be realistic, think about what it will do to the bench, and the politics that may lay behind benching a $78-million player. With all that being said, I believe that putting Rose into the starting lineup may be a necessity. I get that the Knicks currently have the best bench in the league right now and Rose is most likely the biggest contributor to that lineup. But having the best bench in the league doesn’t mean anything if your starters are getting blown out. Rose is one of the best players on the team right now and while he has had his shortcomings like anyone else, his shot creation may be what the starting lineup needs. While I did talk about what the front office may want or not want in terms of Fournier, I would personally also put him in the second unit and put Burks in, at least for the time being. Burks has been just as solid as Fournier, if not better offensively, at least as of late, and has been giving a better effort on defense too. The Knicks have depth but it is up to Thibs now to find the right combination of players. Hopefully though, regardless of the changes, fans will stay supportive. Urgency is needed for sure, but we should wait a couple more Rubio-esque performances to panic.
Abe: Point Guard: Obi Toppin
Shooting Guard: Obi Toppin
Small Forward: Obi Toppin
Power Forward: Obi Toppin
Center: Obi motherfucking Toppin.
You may be thinking, “But Abe, doesn’t someone have to bring the ball up, who will the offense run through?” But you’re exposing yourself as a kind of dumb and unimaginative idiot. Follow me friends, and my gang of Obi Toppins into a better, position free future where basketball will be a Kentucky Derby every night, we will average 150 points and never lose again. The other Knicks have bouts of sluggishness, they display a disinterest at times on defense, they will settle for pull ups and lazy isos and the ball stops moving as we blow yet another sizable lead. You know what team would never settle for anything? A team composed of five Obi Toppins. I’ve actually had a computer program I designed myself run a sim of what five Obi Toppins would look like if they played the Portland Trailblazers, here’s what came out:
Pretty terrifying stuff. The best part? We wouldn’t even need a bench. Obi Toppin could run a marathon at a dead sprint without ever breaking for water or a towel. He wouldn’t even sweat. Five of him would make quick and easy work of a 48 minute basketball game. The Knicks would be a fearsome mass of swatting arms and churning legs, every possession would end in an oop and the ones that wouldn’t would end in a put-back slam. Is it possible? Absolutely not. But we can dream. You can’t stop us.