Knicks to Feature Former Top 10 Pick Next to Julius Randle in Small-Ball Lineup: Report

Tom Thibodeau, New York Knicks

Getty Head coach Tom Thibodeau huddles with his players during a timeout.

After a hot 3-1 start, the New York Knicks have dropped four of their last six outings and find themselves at .500 and in search of answers.

With center Mitchell Robinson sidelined for at least a week due to a sprained knee, head coach Tom Thibodeau will “mix and match” his starters and bench players, according to SNY’s Ian Begley.

“What [the absence of Robinson] means is the Knicks are going to be going small more,” Begley said on the November 5 episode of “SportsNite.” “You’re going to see [Julius] Randle and Obi Toppin, the lineup with those two at [power forward and center].

“If you’re a fan of that lineup [and] you wanted to see more of it coming into this season, you should see more of that now,” Begley said.

Typically, Randle and Toppin do not spend much time on the court together. In 2020-21, they played together on only 85 possessions, with that number going up to 209 last season, according to Cleaning the Glass. At 55 possessions together so far this season, they are projected to far surpass that number.

Knicks Duo Gets Randle’s Approval

According to Begley, that suits Randle.

“Julius Randle said he really likes that lineup, that alignment because the floor is spread [and] it allows them to do a lot on offense,” Begley said about Randle’s thoughts on his partnership with Toppin.

“He said, ‘The key there is rebounding,’ and he puts it all on himself to go and get the rebounds and box out and make it happen for that group,” Begley said.

Getting Toppin on the floor should appeal to fans who feared his diminishing minutes could lead to a parting of ways between the Knicks and Toppin, whom they drafted eighth overall in 2020. In his third year, his playing time had fallen from an average of 17.1 minutes to 16.3 minutes until he played almost 26 minutes in the Knicks’ November 7 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Even despite less time on the court, the 24-year-old finds himself posting career highs of 10.8 points and 4.0 rebounds per game on 49.4% shooting from the floor and 41.9% shooting from deep.

Exec Fears Knicks Guard Could Request Trade

Toppin isn’t the only player on the Knicks who is struggling to find playing time, as  former MVP Derrick Rose has seen his role diminish considerably since returning from his ankle injuries that kept him sidelined for all but 26 games last season.

Rose has logged just 12.9 minutes a night (the lowest of his career) while posting rather underwhelming averages of 7.1 points, 2.1 assists, and 2.0 rebounds a game.

The 34-year-old’s decrease in playing time is so drastic, in fact, that one NBA executive told Heavy Sports’ NBA Insider Sean Deveney that they believe it could wind up leading to the guard asking for a trade.

“He is 34 and maybe they’re just starting him slow to conserve him but they’re not playing him much. It’s (Jalen) Brunson and Quickley, and Rose is getting 10, 12 minutes a game,” the executive told Deveney.

They would continue by stating that should he be placed on the trade block, many teams could wind up inquiring about his availability, though noted that, considering his salary situation, finding a suitor could prove to be a bit complicated.

“If they put him on the market, he would have a lot of takers, too, though he has a team option for the next year, so you’d have to know what you’re going to do with him going forward,” the executive said. “Maybe they’re trying to keep him fresh for the end of the year, but it is strange that they’re not playing him much.”

While he may not the perennial All-Star and franchise cornerstone that he once was, Rose still has proven to be an incredibly effective role player during this latter stage of his career and has posted averages of 15.8 points, 4.5 assists, and 2.6 rebounds on 47.7% shooting from the floor and 36.7% shooting from deep since 2018 while predominantly coming off the bench.

Should he be placed on the block, in all likelihood there will be a long list of contending teams vying for his services.

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