The Knicks, already down their superb big man Mitchell Robinson, were starting neophyte Jericho Sims at center. Sims, the Knicks 2021 2nd-round draft pick, has filled in as a minutes eater for coach Tom Thibodeau for the past three years, Despite ample opportunity, he hasn’t made a massive impression on the squad. Before the game got underway, questions were already arising about the Knicks’ frontcourt depth.
Jericho Sims gets hurt on the opening tip pic.twitter.com/DICWKzBnxz— Oh no he didn't (@ohnohedidnt24) December 19, 2023
Sims sprained his ankle off of the opening tip, and the walls went tumbling down.
This is what the Knicks’ depth chart looks like right now.
You’ll notice some glaring holes across the bottom two rows of the sheet. There’s no bonafide PF behind Julius Randle. And there’s a blatant lack of depth at the center position as well.
Questions started arising towards the beginning of the season when the Knicks dealt Obi Toppin to Indiana and subsequently refused to sign another big man during the offseason. Now, with Robinson hurt and Sims nursing an ankle injury, the Knicks need to reassess their roster construction at the 4 and 5 spots.
Even before his injury, Sims has played questionable at best.
In 26 games as a starter throughout his career, Sims has averaged 4.7 points and 6.2 rebounds in over 24 minutes per game. This season in the starting lineup, Sims is averaging 3.6 points and 2.8 rebounds per game in nearly 16 minutes played. While his verticality in the paint is impressive, Sims has limited offensive upside, and despite his high motor, his rebounding ability isn’t up to par in contrast to other centers across the NBA.
When Sims went down last night, the Knicks turned to veteran Taj Gibson for spot minutes. The 38-year-old Knick favorite was reunited with Coach Thibs less than a week ago but was suddenly thrust into the spotlight last night. In 6 minutes of play, he was a -8. His IQ and savviness were still evident, but he simply doesn’t have the lateral quickness and hustle that he once did anymore. While it’s great seeing him back on the roster, the Knicks shouldn’t trust him to play legitimate minutes. And they don’t; Hartenstein played for nearly 40 minutes last night, easily a career-high.
But the minutes' output from iHart simply isn’t sustainable.
Surely the Knicks could find more production at the 4 and 5 slots. Randle is a great power forward, but Josh Hart isn’t a true 4. Robinson and Isaiah Hartenstein create a deadly 1-2 punch when both healthy, but if there was ever a time to search for another frontcourt option, it would be now.
Let’s discuss where we could find some guys worth giving a shot.
The other unfortunate thing about the current roster construction of the Knicks is that the back end of the bench is made up of strictly guards. Four active players didn’t play last night: Miles McBride (PG), Evan Fournier (SG), DaQuan Jeffries (SG), and Ryan Arcidiacono (PG). You’re telling me not one of these spots would be better filled by a big man?
Anyways, there aren’t any fours or fives signed to full contracts besides Randle, Robinson, Hartenstein, Sims, and Gibson. There is no ‘diamond in the rough’ worth checking out on the roster at the positions we’re looking at.
When you look at two-way contracts, two of the three spots are filled by guards, but there’s a familiar last name facing us in the third spot: Jacob Toppin, a rookie forward out of Kentucky.
Toppin has shown some real flashes in the G-League, averaging 14.3/7.0/2.6, but it’s been on subpar efficiency. Regardless, he’s more of a springy, push-the-pace kind of guy like his brother, Obi. He’s not a reliable paint force, and while there’s a chance he can turn into an NBA player, he’s certainly not ready to contribute immediately.
The other G-Leaguer who could be worth a shot is Isaiah Roby. Roby, a power forward, has already been an NBA player for four seasons, averaging 7.7 points and 4.4 rebounds at the highest level of basketball. He joined the Knicks at the end of last season and suited up for New York in both summer league and preseason action. While he played solid basketball, he did nothing to stand out, and he was waived before the season started.
Tom Thibodeau is familiar with Roby’s game from training camp, and he’s been a solid starter in the G, averaging 13.6/7.1/2.1. Despite struggling from the free throw line, he’s been uber-efficient from the field, shooting 41.5% from three and 50.0% from the field overall. Best of all, Roby is averaging 1.4 steals and 1.5 blocks per game. Those are numbers that should catch the eyes of the New York front office. If there’s a guy we’re looking for who’s already a Knick, Roby may be the guy.
Outside of the organization, the Knicks could search for players in free agency, the G League, or perhaps even from overseas. With the trade deadline coming up, they could also search for young players buried on NBA rosters.
When looking at available free agents, familiar Knick faces pop up, such as Nerlens Noel or Nathan Knight. But their NBA days may be behind them.
Veterans like Khem Birch, Derrick Favors, and JaMychal Green are all also available, but on the wrong side of thirty, the Knicks could be more inclined to sign somebody younger.
The good news for New York is that there are some impressive youngins on the market.
Kenneth Lofton Jr. is the reigning G-League Rookie of the Year. He was released from Memphis just days ago. He’s had a cup of coffee at the NBA level, but he absolutely dominated in the G last year. Lofton averaged 20.2 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 3.9 assists per game last season for the Memphis Hustle. He subsequently impressed in summer league, and in game 82 of last season in the NBA, he dropped 42 points and 14 rebounds. The Grizzlies decided to cut him, and the Knicks would be idiots if not to pursue the 4/5 hybrid that their roster so desperately needs.
G-Leaguers such as Jay Huff and Wenyen Gabriel remain without an NBA contract and could be potential two-way suitors. Hell, even Tosan Evbuomwan could be worth giving a shot.
There are also some guys who have been buried in their respective rotations, ready for an enlarged role at the NBA level.
Luka Garza is now in his third season in the NBA, and he’s stuck behind KAT, Gobert, and Naz Reid in the Wolves’ big-man rotation. But Garza was a two-time Big Ten player of the year in college and has averaged nearly 25 points and 10 rebounds per game in the G League since being drafted in 2021. He’s only played in 16 minutes at the NBA level this season but deserves a bigger shot in the association.
Moses Brown has shown flashes at the NBA level. Unfortunately, he’s been unable to find consistent minutes since the 2020-21 season. He continues to post big numbers in the G League nevertheless, and could absolutely be worthy of trade talks.
Whatever your opinions on the names mentioned above are, it’s clear that the Knicks are in desperate need of another reliable big man. If it were up to me, I’d give one of our two-way spots to Roby, or pursue Kenny Lofton Jr. with intensity. There are a variety of suitors, and regardless of your pick, the time is now to explore possibilities.
Sound off with your opinions in the comments, and as always, go Knicks.