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Don’t forget about Dre

Could Andre Drummond be the Knicks missing link?

NBA: DEC 30 76ers at Bulls Photo by Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

When Mitchell Robinson went down to injury, coach Thibodeau announced that Isaiah Hartenstein would continue as the backup center, a role in which he felt he would be more effective within the second unit.

Despite initial doubts from fans and the media, Hartenstein’s impressive combined +36 plus/minus during those first two games supported Thibs’ strategic choice. Subsequently, when Jericho Sims went down to injury just two games into that gameplan, Thibodeau found his hands tied and was forced to revert away from his original idea and entered Ish into the starting rotation.

Through his first five games as the Knicks starting center, Hartenstein’s efficiency immediately declined. That sufficient 36 +/- through the first two games, dropped to a minus-29 throughout the next five games as a starter. However, in a standout performance last night, he delivered one of, if not the best, games of his Knicks career, achieving a double-double with 10 points and 20 rebounds and an impressive plus/minus of +32.

The question arises: has Ish truly broken through, solidifying his position as a Knicks starter... or does he continue to offer greater value as a foundational player for the second unit?

When Hartenstein transitioned to the starting lineup, the second unit was already thin. However, following Saturday’s trade with Toronto, the bench has reached a point of near emptiness, with only the league rule stipulating the minimum number of players required to dress keeping it full.

Amidst all the trade rumors swirling around the league and which of the key players being mentioned daily that Knicks fans are hoping to acquire next, there is one player who has not been mentioned at all, who over the last week has filled in for another injured starting center and has highlighted his effectiveness in a starting role, especially when placed within the right system.

Andre Drummond is a two-time All-Star and four-time NBA rebounding leader. He earned three consecutive rebounding crowns during the 2018-2020 seasons. However, since he left Detroit in 2020, he has transitioned into a journeyman role, often finding himself on the bench behind younger (he only turned 30 years old last August, mind you) and more well-rounded players like Anthony Davis, Joel Embiid, and Nikola Vucevic.

Given the presence of these star centers, starting Drummond might have seemed unconventional for the teams he’s been a part of. Nevertheless, whenever injuries struck one of these elite centers, Drummond consistently stepped up, reaffirming his ability to play at an All-Star level.

Last week, Chicago Bulls center Nikola Vucevic went down with an injury which has already caused him to miss the last five games. In the absence of their All-Star center, the Bulls have heavily relied on Drummond to fill in for Vucevic’s size 16.5 shoes.

Since assuming the role of the Bulls' starting center, Drummond has been a dominant force leading the league in rebounds with an impressive average of 18.7 per game before heading into last night’s game against the Knicks. During Wednesday’s outing, Drummond once again showcased his prowess on the glass, doing what he does best by grabbing 16 boards, to go along with 13 points, notching another career double-double. Particularly noteworthy is that Drummond is on track to surpass Dennis Rodman’s longstanding single-season rebound percentage record of 29.7%, established in 1995; Drummond currently boasts an exceptional 30.1%.

With Nikola Vucevic projected to be sidelined for another 7-10 days, but expected to make an inevitable return to the starting lineup, we will see Drummond back on the bench with limited minutes.

Amid speculation that the Bulls might be considering trading away their star players to initiate a full rebuild, exploring a deal for Drummond could make total sense for the Knicks. Acquiring Drummond could inject new life into the Knicks’ lineup. With a reasonable salary of $3.3 million this year (and no money owed after next June), Drummond would be a cost-effective option to step in for Mitchell Robinson, allowing Coach Thibodeau to revert to his original plan of having Isaiah Hartenstein as the heart and soul of the second unit.

Drummond stands out as a player capable of making an immediate impact, particularly with his rebounding prowess and ability to contribute without constant ball reliance. While his free-throw shooting is a drawback, it may be a manageable trade-off for the potential benefits he brings. It’s worth noting that the Knicks have dealt with similar free-throw issues with Mitchell Robinson, relying on Ish late in games.

Therefore, this move could be a win-win for the team if the Bulls make Drummond available. Will New York call Dr. Dre?