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Player Preview: Jericho Sims primed for bigger role?

How the Knicks deploy and play around the Sims-Hartenstein lineups could be crucial

Minnesota Timberwolves v New York Knicks Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

While Jericho Sims is one of the last names you think of on this Knicks’ roster, he’s an interesting player. The former Texas Longhorn is an undersized center at 6’9”, which hurts him offensively because he lacks the ability to create his own shot, make plays for others consistently, or hit a jump shot. But what Sims can do is jump with anyone in the league, try hard, do the little things, and play a very unselfish brand of basketball. Given Sims’ good rebounding and solid rim protection skills, I’d argue that he’s one of the better third-string centers in the league. And his team-friend contract makes him a great asset for the Knicks.

But as interesting as Sims, the player, is, the situation he now finds himself in may be even more so. Sims has proven to be a solid player when given some extended minutes, but he currently sits behind two superior centers. Mitchell Robinson, who is pretty much the elite version of Sims (an athletic big man who excels at protecting the rim, rebounding, and being a lob threat every time down the floor), and Isaiah Hartenstein, who is a very different player but still miles ahead of Sims in terms of team defense, and playmaking. So why is it that Sims, despite being the third best center on the team, is getting the minutes and attention that he’s getting this preseason?

Obi Toppin. Or I guess that absence of Toppin, is the simple answer. With the former first round pick now in Indiana, the Knicks are in need of a backup power forward. The belief so far is that Josh Hart and RJ Barrett will slide over and play power forward with the bench unit when Julius Randle sits, but coach Tom Thibodeau seems like the idea of playing Sims next to Hartenstein in the front court if the matchups make sense.

Now, this shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, as we saw glimpses of it last season, but fans likely remember that it didn’t look pretty, especially offensively. While the team put up an absurdly high offensive rebounding percentage of 37.9% in the 128 minutes the two shared the court together, they were also outscored by 3.1 points per 100 possessions and averaged only 106.3 points per 100 possessions in those minutes. But even with the subpar offensive output with the duo playing together, it looks like Thibs is open to the idea if the situation calls for it. When asked about the possibility, the Knicks’ coach responded, “[Hartenstein] and Jericho, they play very effectively together. And oftentimes, I’ll go more by how they’re being defended, who do they have their four on, who do they have their five on?”

Sims grabbed 10 boards in the loss to Boston, Oct. 17, 2023

So far in the preseason, Sims’ minutes and productions have been inconsistent as he’s played as many as 32 minutes in a game, and as little as seven, hinting to the fact that Thibs still may be undecided how to utilize Sims and how often to do so. Regardless, with Toppin gone and Robinson’s injury history, it’s looking like Sims will have a bigger role to play this upcoming season.

That said, fans needn’t and definitely shouldn’t, expect anything out of the ordinary from Sims. He won’t start posting players up or start making, or even taking, outside jump shots. But what he will do, as mentioned earlier, is do the dirty work, play hard, rebound, contest shots, and get up for a highlight alley-oop from time to time. And that’s ok. The Knicks, as they are currently constructed, don’t need too much from Sims. If he can stay healthy, stay out of foul trouble (which is his biggest weakness), and just stick to what he is good at, fans should be content with his production and effort, even if the process and the aesthetics don’t always look great on the offensive end. The big question though, will be just how bad will the offense look when he and Hartenstein share the floor? And how many quarters and games could it lose the Knicks?