The New York Knicks are off to an underwhelming start to the season. After starting the first four games with a 3-1 record, the team has lost three straight games.
A recent loss to the Atlanta Hawks on November 2 was disastrous, as the team led by as much as 23 points in the second quarter and ended up losing the game by 13 points with a final score of 112-99.
The roster as constructed won’t be contenders in a stacked Eastern Conference, but there are enough formidable pieces to compete every game. But in order to compete, one must know how to strategically use talent to get the most out of players. For head coach Tom Thibodeau, that has been a flaw in his tenure with the Knicks.
A critique of Thibodeau’s philosophy as a head coach is his favoritism towards veteran players compared to younger players. A perfect example of this is his decision to start Evan Fournier.
Quentin Grimes, who was favored to compete with Fournier for the starting spot, was injured for over a month, but that doesn’t mean Thibodeau can’t try different approaches such as implementing Immanuel Quickley or Cam Reddish in the starting lineup, especially due to both being capable defenders.
While Thibodeau is known for being a defensive coach, he continues to start Fournier, who struggles on the defensive end of the floor. In the game against the Hawks, Fournier played only 19 minutes and had a team-worst plus-minus of negative 19.
Dan Favale of Bleacher Report believes Thibodeau hasn’t used the talent on the Knicks roster to the best of his ability and believes one player is clearly deserving of more minutes.
Knicks Urged to Give Obi Toppin More Minutes
Knicks power forward Obi Toppin hasn’t been given the best opportunity to show what he’s fully capable of and has served as the backup for Julius Randle. The eighth pick in the 2020 draft has showcased his potential in spurts.
While many Knicks fans want to see Toppin start due to his ability to play off the ball and impressive athleticism that brings energy to the team, the power forward hasn’t even been rewarded with heavy minutes off the bench, which Favale noted when talking about his disappointment in Toppin’s rotation minutes.
“I can’t go full-out nuclear with this concern,” Favale said. “The New York Knicks have Julius Randle (slowing down after a nice start), and Thibs is anti-innovation when it comes to his frontcourt combinations. Toppin’s minutes are deflated by design.”
The Knicks’ perimeter shooting has been dreadful. The team ranks 24th in 3-point percentage at 32.9 percent while attempting the 13th most 3-pointers per game at 34.3.
Favale noted that Toppin’s improved shooting from three should be even more of a reason why he should be playing more. Toppin is shooting over 45% from three and is averaging 1.6 3-pointers per game. He has improved both his shooting and overall game each season.
“That doesn’t make it OK—particularly when he’s drilling 50 percent of his threes and playing with his usual brew of endless energy and infectious adrenaline,” Favale continued. “New York needs to find more than 15.5 minutes per game for him. If you’re a Knicks fan and find this unfair, replace it with RJ Barrett’s topsy-turvy defense and outside shooting.”
Minutes Distribution This Season
Toppin is averaging only 16 minutes off the bench this season. Last season he averaged 17.1 minutes. Randle is playing in 32.6 minutes, which is 15 more minutes than Toppin at the power forward position.
Randle’s shooting percentages have declined since his All-Star season. Randle is shooting only 20% from three-point range and 42% from the field.
When analyzing other positions, Isaiah Hartenstein is averaging 25 minutes as the backup center to Mitchell Robinson. Robinson is averaging fewer minutes on the season at 23.1 per game. While one can point out that Hartenstein played 40 minutes in the season opener and Robinson can get in foul trouble, Thibodeau is comfortable with giving Hartenstein over 20 minutes each game.
Immanuel Quickley has received plentiful minutes off the bench since his rookie season, and is averaging 23.3 minutes this season and is usually the first guard off the bench. Jalen Brunson is averaging 33.7 minutes as the starting point guard.
If Toppin consistently shoots the ball well, Thibodeau will have to decide carefully rotational minutes.