Most players picked late in the second round don’t give their fans a reason to be excited. Sure there are exceptions like Isaiah Thomas, Draymond Green, and Manu Ginobli, but if you look at past drafts, you’ll see that many teams picking late in the draft are either picking young projects with a lot of potential but a low ceiling, or an international guy that they can stash. In both cases, you’ll see that a lot of those guys picked in the last 10 or so picks in the draft don’t pan out or stay in the league very long. Luckily for the Knicks, Jericho Sims, the hyper athletic big man out of the University of Texas, looked like he can be an exception. The 58th pick in the 2021 draft didn’t put up amazing numbers by any means, but those who watched him play got a glimpse of how effective he can be.
Those that didn’t get a chance to watch him will most likely find themselves asking what it is exactly that Sims excels at. And while we don’t necessarily have the largest sample size, fans will probably point to his rim protection and defensive activity as his calling card. For Sims, protecting the rim isn’t just about racking up blocks. Sims only averaged 1.4 BPG/36. which is solid but not great. As you can see below, however, he does a great job of staying vertical and contesting the shot without fouling. While he does still have his share of silly fouls, he was better than a lot of rookie centers when it came to not fouling.
Jericho Sims is so good at staying vertical and not fouling when he gets switched onto guards like this. pic.twitter.com/18TYMfSi8u— zach (@_917zach) April 11, 2022
Sims’ strengths aren’t limited to just the paint either. As seen below, Sims does a great job of stopping opposing guards from driving into the lane with two amazing hedges in one play. With so many pick and rolls being run today, having a big man who can do this effectively can be crucial to a team defense as it can cover up for any defensive weaknesses the guards may have. These skills alone should earn him more playing time next year. As Sims continues to learn and improve, he should play a big part in strengthening the Knicks’ defense.
Been pretty impressed with what I've seen from Jericho Sims this season.— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) March 23, 2022
Love his versatility on this possession: hedges to take away the driving lane, then plays drop well and forces a pass. pic.twitter.com/dmKnw7NqEj
Now, Sims will make his name on the defensive end but he has one important skill on the offensive end that teams often like to see from there backup bigs. And that is his ability to finish above the rim. Sims recorded a 44.5 inch vertical at the draft combine last year which ties him for the second highest jump in event history. The former Longhorn combines this and his solid frame and strength to catch lobs and finish with relative ease. He is far from having a reliable post up game and he can still work on his touch around the rim but we have already seen him convert on some highlight dunks in his short stint.
What About His Weaknesses?
Surely there is a reason that the rookie center only played in 41 games and got very limited minutes even when he did manage to get in the game. It doesn’t help that the Knicks are coached by Tom Thibodeau, who we all know has a very short leash and is hard on younger players. It also didn’t help that the Knicks already had three veteran centers on the roster in Mitchell Robinson, Nerlens Noel and Taj Gibson. But we would be lying if we said that there weren’t legitimate weaknesses in Sims’ game. As mentioned above, while he made strides in his ability to contest shots without fouling, that is still something that hurt him from time to time. On the season, Sims averaged 4.3 fouls per 36, which is .7 higher than Mitchell Robinson averaged this past season. To be fair, the 4.3 fouls per 36 still is one whole foul lower than the 5.3 fouls per 36 Robinson averaged in his first two seasons. And the good news is that this is something that can easily be fixed with playing time and experience.
We also covered his lack of an offensive game outside of catching lobs, rim running, and whatever else he can get off of offensive rebounds. While he does seem to have a soft touch, something he showed off a bit in college, he’s yet to show the ability or the confidence to be able to get his own shot or score on mismatches. Part of this could be the coaching staff being hesitant in giving him that opportunity and there’s always the possibility that he develops this. But as of right now, he relies a lot on his guards to get him the ball on lobs for him to score, evident by the fact that 79.5% of his points were assisted on.
All of that being said, the Knicks and Knicks fans can rest assured knowing that even if he never develops any kind of offensive game, he can become an amazing back up/rotational big man just off of his physicality, rim protection and defensive energy. But there is one thing that sticks out and that is his free throw shooting. Big men struggling from the charity stripe is nothing new. There have been plenty of centers who struggle to make their free throws at a high rate. But you need to be really good at everything else to be playable if you can’t make free throws, and even then, you need to make them when they count or else you can get taken out of games.
The rookie center was never known as a good free throw shooter as he shot just 52.4% through out his college career, but his percentage dipped below the 50% mark in his first year in the league. To be fair, it was a really small sample size but Sims shot just 12/29, which comes out to an ugly 41.4% from the line. Of all NBA players that shot over 25 free throws this past season, Sims was third to last ahead of just Mason Plumlee and former Knick, Elfrid Payton.
Sims is an intriguing prospect for multiple reasons. Not only did he show glimpses of being a very productive player capable of anchoring the defense for the bench, his skillset was impressive enough that some even questioned if he could eventually replace Mitchell Robinson. There seems to be a lot of questions surrounding Robinson’s future with the franchise but could the team and most importantly, the front office, see Sims as someone that makes Robinson a replaceable asset? We can’t say for sure but if Sims continues to improve on his fouling and free throw shooting, there is certainly a case to be had that Sims, at a much cheaper price, could do for the Knicks what Robinson has. We aren’t here to say that Sims is better than Robinson or that he will turn into Robinson, but for a position that some around the league deem unimportant, Sims could provide the Knicks with a cheap alternative while staying young.
Jericho Sims played 555 minutes/1018 possessions in his rookie season.— Rit Holtzman (@BenRitholtzNBA) April 12, 2022
NYK with him on the floor:
Scored 113.9 pts/100 (would be tied with CHI for 14th)
Gave up 107.5 pts/100 (would be 2nd best D in NBA( )
58th pick ➡️ Rotation Big.
Amazing growth pic.twitter.com/aB24cWPZq5
It will be interesting to see what kind of minutes he gets early on. As you can see above, Sims (in limited minutes) showed that he has the potential be a great piece for this team. In an ideal world, perhaps Sims is named the backup center (assuming Robinson is still with the team) and becomes a very solid defensive big man with some offensive highlights. But we all know that with Thibs, we really have no idea what he will do with the rotations. Regardless of his role though, I expect Sims to take another step as a defender when he is on the floor. Another year of watching film and being in the league should lead to an even smarter and more confident defender. I can see a world in which his unique combination of being able to protect the rim without fouling, switch out onto guards and hedge screens without having to switch, gets more recognition by not just Knicks fans but fans around the league.
Besides that, the only other hope is that he can improve his free-throw shooting and get it to around the 59.6% rate that he shot it at for his sophomore and junior seasons. If he can do that then the Knicks have a great young big that can do some amazing things on defense and to be honest, any offense they can squeeze out of him at this point is just icing on the cake.