A year after turning heads around the NBA, the Knicks head into the 2021-22 campaign with a cast of characters that includes familiar faces and promising newcomers.
Julius Randle, RJ Barrett and Derrick Rose are back to lead New York, which earned the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference last season in what was its first playoff berth since 2013. And new guards Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier give the Knicks a significant boost as they look to run it back.
Still, New York’s roster is not flawless. And in a recent article for Bleacher Report wherein he addressed every NBA’s team biggest problem, NBA analyst Greg Swartz pinpointed acquiring a center who can shoot as New York’s most pressing concern.
Swartz also offered a solution: to “keep DeMarcus Cousins on speed dial.”
Swartz explains why he thinks Cousins is Knicks’ solution
The Knicks have the luxury of bringing back two quality defensive centers in Mitchell Robinson and Nerlens Noel. The 23-year-old Robinson is entering his fourth year in the league after being selected in the second round of the 2018 draft and averaging 2.1 blocks over his first 158 NBA games. Noel, 27, is a seven-year NBA veteran who averaged 2.2 blocks for the Knicks last season.
Still, while Swartz noted each center’s potential to be elite defensively, he also brought up their limits on the offensive end. Robinson averaged only 8.3 points in 27.5 minutes per game last season, and Noel averaged only 5.1 points in 24.2 minutes per game.
“Finding a change-of-pace big man, one who can spread the floor on offense and score with his back to the basket would give New York’s frontcourt more versatility,” Swartz wrote.
Enter Cousins, a four-time All-Star who has averaged 20.4 points per game on 46 percent shooting during an NBA career that has spanned 606 games.
“Cousins, 31, is still a free agent following an inspiring 23-game run with the Los Angeles Clippers that proved he’s deserving of a roster spot in the league,” Swartz wrote. “While he won’t stop anyone on the defensive end, Cousins did put up 21.7 points, 12.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 2.3 steals and 1.0 blocks per 36 minutes while shooting 53.7 percent overall and 42.1 percent from three.”
Knicks could also roll with Randle at center, analyst says
If Cousins isn’t the solution to the Knicks’ issue of having a center who can shoot, Swartz thinks the answer could already be in house.
“If the Knicks are comfortable with their roster as-is, using Randle as a small-ball center works as well,” Swartz wrote. “A 41.1 percent mark from three last season will be tough to sustain, however, as the 26-year-old was a career 29.5 percent shooter from deep coming into the year.”
The 6-foot-8 Randle has been a power forward for the large majority of his career, but he did play primarily at center during the 2017-18 season while he was still a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, according to basketball-reference.com. And with power forward Obi Toppin continuing to show flashes that he’s ready to take the next step in his second NBA season, perhaps Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau will feel compelled to at least experiment with a small-ball lineup if they don’t acquire a shooting center like Cousins.