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Addressing the Knicks’ backup power forward situation

Hint: it’s not as bad as you think

NBA: Playoffs-Cleveland Cavaliers at New York Knicks Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Ever since the Knicks traded Obi Toppin to the Pacers last week, fans have been wondering what the backup power forward situation will look like come October. While fans for the most part have been reasonably calm, there’s been a loud faction of the fanbase that have lambasted the front office for letting go of the team’s only power forward besides Julius Randle. And while the concern and questions are valid, it’s become a bit of an overreaction to say the least.

The Knicks may not have a traditional “four, but both Josh Hart and RJ Barrett have the ability to play there and succeed, giving the Knicks some interesting options. If Toppin was a physical, rim protecting forward that imposed his size and was a menace on the boards, then replacing him with either of the aforementioned player may be a bit worrying, but that is far from the case. Hart, despite being shorter than Toppin at just 6’5”, plays a lot bigger than both his height, and Toppin. And if you were to ask any coach in the league who they’d rather have fighting for an important rebound or guarding an opposing power forward, chances are they all respond Hart.

Then you have Barrett, who like Hart, isn’t what many would call a power forward, but should do well in that role were he to be put there. In a second unit with Immanuel Quickley and Donte DiVincenzo, fans may finally be able to witness a second unit where Barrett is surrounded with ample shooting, giving him the type of freedom and spacing that should greatly benefit his strengths. If the front office can convince Thibodeau to play Barrett there, we could finally see him being unlocked and taking that next step to becoming a more efficient and consistent offensive player.

But the options don’t end there. New York could also surprise some by utilizing Isaiah Roby, who they signed late last season. The 24 year-old is coming off a down year in which he played just 11.3MPG in 42 games, but he could offer the Knicks with a lot of what Toppin provided. Roby is not the athlete that Toppin was, but he has more defensive potential given his 7’3” wing span and provides the Knicks with just as much, if not more, shooting. During his 21-22 campaign in Oklahoma City, Roby averaged 10.1PPG, 4.8RPG and 1.6APG on 51.4% shooting from the field and 44.4% shooting from three on 2.2 attempts per game. While it’s unlikely that he puts up those numbers given the role he’d likely play, the former second round pick could offer the Knicks a cheap and simple solution.

Then there’s the double big lineup. In the past, the team has also tinkered with double center lineups where Jericho Sims has played the power forward next to Isaiah Hartenstein. While this is something I, as well as many fans, would like to see the team get away from, it is another option the team has in certain matchups, if they are truly in need of whatever size and rebounding fans think they’ll miss without Toppin. Again, it’s not an ideal or pretty solution, but it is something the team can do.

But regardless of what options Leon Rose, Thibodeau, and the Knicks ultimately decide to go with, there seems to be a couple major points that a lot of fans are glossing over. Firstly, there’s the actual play, stats, and substance that is being replaced. Given Thibodeau’s reliance on Randle, who has been incredibly durable over his career, whoever fills in for Toppin, wouldn’t need to offer too much. While it was frustrating to see Toppin average just 14.7MPG over his three-year stint with the Knicks, one positive to look at, is the fact that it has become one of the easier holes and roles to fill for the Knicks. Regardless of who or how many players are tasked with eating those minutes up, it’s not like the team is asking them to play an extra 25 minutes or to replace 15 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 assists. And there’s good reason to believe that any combination of the aforementioned players the Knicks can currently throw out there could duplicate, if not improve on, what Toppin did in his limited minutes.

Another thing fans have failed to think about, is who the Knicks would be playing against in those minutes. Oftentimes, Toppin got in against the opposing team’s second unit. Sure the league has some nice second string big men, but I’d be surprised if anyone could name five power forwards coming off the bench that would give the Knicks fits. It’s not like the team is going to be trotting out Hart, Barrett, or Roby at power forward against Giannis Antetokounmpo, Karl-Anthony Towns, or Zion Williamson. That’ll still be Randle and Mitchell Robinson (at least for now) going up against those guys.

Again, some of the concern is justified. The NBA season is a long one and a lot can happen. And because of that, it’s always nice to have some size off the bench in case there is an injury, or foul trouble. But the amount of worrying and complaining just seems a bit exaggeratory given the options the team has, the limited role they have to fill, and the lack of a real, consistent threat from oppositions that could hurt the Knicks there.