Jalen Brunson, RJ Barrett, Julius Randle, and the recently injured Mitchell Robinson. What do they all have in common? As the roster is currently constructed, they are all irreplaceable in the starting lineup when healthy.
This has left the shooting guard slot as the only position that head coach Tom Thibodeau can realistically experiment with or switch up. And he’s already gone ahead and done that. Due to the struggles and early season injury to third year man Quentin Grimes, we’ve already seen Donte DiVincenzo start a handful of games.
So far, it’s looked like the correct move to switch Grimes’ and DiVincenzo’s roles. In his 18 games as a starter this season, Grimes is averaging just 5.8 PPG on 35.9% shooting from the field and 34.5% shooting from three in 22.9 MPG. Meanwhile, in the two games that he’s come off the bench, Grimes is averaging 16 PPG on 57.1% shooting from the field and from three in 23.1 MPG. The differences don’t stop there.
When Grimes has started, he has averaged just 5.7 field-goal attempts per game on a usage rate of just 11.7, percent (one of the lowest rates among qualifying players). Both of those numbers are significantly lower than the numbers he has put up as a reserve.
In his two games off the bench, Grimes is averaging 10.5 field-goal attempts per game and has a usage rate of 21.3. The hot streak that Grimes has been on during the small two-game sample may not be sustainable but it is clear as day that the third-year guard is getting the ball way more and is clearly much more comfortable and confident playing with the second unit at the moment.
Now, this fact, in a vacuum, is perfectly fine especially when taking a look at DiVicenzo’s numbers as well. The 26 year-old guard is averaging 12 PPG, 3.8 RPG, and 2.8 APG on 58.6% shooting from the field and 56% shooting from three, which are all notably better than the 7.9 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 1.7 APG, 38.4% field-goal percentage, and 38.8% three-point percentage he has posted as a reserve.
Taking a look at the stats alone, it looks like it makes sense for both players to be in the role they have been over the last two games. Grimes has been remarkably better off the bench, and DiVincenzo has been much better as a starter.
So, why not keep them there? What is the problem? Well, while these new roles seem to be working out for the individual players, it’s still not the most ideal starting lineup for the team. And that is what may be worrying for the Knicks and their fans going forward. As great as Grimes has been off the bench individually, the Knicks, at least if they intend on trying to make another playoff run, may need Grimes back in the starting lineup to be the best version of themselves because of his point of attack defense. DiVincenzo is definitely a capable and serviceable defender but Grimes is a stronger, quicker, and overall, better defender than him.
Having DiVincenzo start may make the team better offensively but by starting him over Grimes, the team is sacrificing it’s defense and relies much more on the defenses of Brunson, Barrett, and Randle.
This conundrum has put the Knicks in a difficult position. Do they want to prioritize the offense by allowing DiVincenzo and Grimes to flourish? Or do they eventually go back to starting Grimes to boost their overall defense even if it may mean suppressing and stunting his personal offensive development and sacrificing his stats and confidence?
I ask this because, right now, I really don’t have an answer and am curious about what everyone else thinks. Personally, at least for now, I think the best option is to keep Grimes in the second unit and to hope that he can regain his confidence while there. And hopefully when, or I guess if, he’s reinserted in to the starting lineup, he’ll have a higher usage rate.
What do you guys think?