At the start of the preseason, Jericho Sims earned himself praise from head coach Tom Thibodeau for the stellar performances and hard work that he put in during the off-season.
Before the start of the regular season, Thibs spoke with the media at training camp and remarked, “Jericho has really had a great camp. He’s the one guy. Coming off the (shoulder) surgery, he had a great summer the way he worked. He’s really done a good job for us.”
Many Knicks fans were excited about Sims potentially improving upon his role from last year when he showed strong signs of potential filling in for an injured Mitchell Robinson. However, through the first 21 games of the 2023-24 season, the opposite has taken place with Sims spending more time accumulating bench splinters than minutes on the floor.
Prior to Monday night’s matchup against Toronto, Sims had appeared in only nine of the Knicks' 21 games, with an average playing time of just five minutes per outing. He failed to score more than three points or grab more than three rebounds during any one of those games and he had more cumulative games in which he scored zero points (seven), than total points through those first nine games (five).
Robinson is now down for the count. Again. For the third time in four years, Robinson is going to miss a significant amount of the regular season. As many Knicks fans and journalists speculated at the start of the campaign, if Sims’ role were to be hindered by the presence of Isaiah Hartenstein—which it has been—then at the very least he could serve as a solid backup choice for Thibodeau to put in for Randle. Ultimately, that scenario has yet to manifest into fruition.
Hartenstein, who is averaging 18 minutes per game this year, along with 5.6 points and 5.7 rebounds, provides the Knicks with a lot more on the defensive end than Sims is capable of by doing the dirty work that doesn’t always show up in the box score. Hartenstein has consistently stepped up for Robinson and the Knicks since they acquired him last season, particularly when Robinson faced early foul trouble, serving as the defensive enforcer on the front line.
As Robinson faces an 8-10 week absence, speculation arose regarding who would assume the starting center position for the Knicks. As the game against the Raptors approached, it became evident that Thibodeau had chosen Sims over Hartenstein to fill this crucial starting role. This decision echoes Thibodeau’s strategic approach from last season when Robinson was sidelined due to injury.
Speaking with reporters before Monday’s game, Thibodeau commented on Sims taking on the role of starting center, saying “[Sims] has done it before. Every opportunity he has gotten he has already been ready for that opportunity.
“Injuries are a part of the game, and that’s why you have a roster of 15. When one guy goes out, the next guy [has to] be ready to step in and get the job done. And that’s what I like about [Sims]. We’re not going to change [our] style of play. A lot of the things Mitch does Jericho does as well. With Isaiah, it’s different. I like having that flexibility. It’s two different looks, a center who can play away from the basket and open things up.”
Taking his quote into consideration, it’s evident Thibodeau has his mind made up for the time being in which Sims will continue to start regardless of the box score numbers.
During Monday night’s win, Sims logged a season-high 21 minutes scoring just two points while grabbing seven rebounds. Hartenstein on the other hand logged 27 minutes, on par for his season average, and for the second game in a row, gave a stellar performance off the bench with 11 points, eight rebounds, two assists, two steals, and a block. Last night’s performance by Hartenstein was not too far off from Robinson’s season numbers of 6.2 PPG, 10.3 RPG, and 1.3 BPG.
Despite not possessing Robinson’s athleticism and offensive rebounding skills, Hartenstein compensates with defensive prowess that closely mirrors Robinson’s. This affords the Knicks a significant presence in the low post, underscoring Hartenstein’s ability to contribute effectively on the defensive end.
As demonstrated in Monday’s win over Toronto, it is apparent that Hartenstein should and will continue to receive more minutes coming off the bench than Sims does as a starter. However, the lingering question is whether this dynamic will persist over the next couple of months. The crucial decision for the Knicks revolves around determining whether they benefit more from preserving the core of their second unit or elevating Hartenstein to a starting role on the front lines.
Which starting center option do you believe would be most advantageous for the Knicks, taking into consideration factors such as player performance, team strategy, and overall gameplay dynamics?