It’s been no secret that the Knicks starting five has struggled to this point in the season, with an average plus/minus number of minus-4.2. That ranks No. 26 in the NBA and it is proving to be a difficult thing to overcome for a team that sees itself as a contender for a top playoff spot in the East.
New York has trotted out the starting unit of Kemba Walker, R.J. Barrett, Evan Fournier, Julius Randle and Mitchell Robinson 11 times in its 16 games, the only two changes coming because of minor injuries. It appears, less than a month into the season, that the group is not fitting together well.
Coach Tom Thibodeau says he is sticking with the group—but with a caveat that might open the way for a first-five change. A change would make sense, because the Knicks are now 2-5 after starting 5-1. Thibodeau was asked whether, as a coach, he can tinker with the lineup.
“You can,” Thibodeau said. “That’s what we are saying. You have a set rotation, an idea of what it might be, then the game unfolds and you may mix and match, someone, a group works well together, you may stay with that group longer. But, also, you want to make sure there is a large enough sample size to tell you something.
“And so I think the first think you ask is, are we playing hard enough, and then are we executing properly? Then sometimes the answer is yes, you’re getting all you can from each guy but it is not good enough, and that’s when you would change.”
Thibs then said he was not about to change the lineup ahead of Monday’s game against Indiana. He added, though, “My thing is focus in on what we have to do to win tomorrow. So, we’ll see. The greatest right I have is the right to change my mind.”
Derrick Rose Into the Starting Five?
If Thibodeau did change the lineup, it is likely it would have to start at point guard, where backup Derrick Rose (12.8 points and 3.2 assists in 22.8 minutes, shooting 47.9% from the 3-point line) has outplayed Walker in terms of consistency this season. Walker is averaging 12.5 points in 26.2 minutes, and while he has shot well from the perimeter (43.1% from the 3-point line), he has struggled in attacking the basket.
Walker is taking only 12.7% of his shots in the restricted area, according to Basketball-Reference.com, and he’s making only 43.8% of those. Rose takes 26.1% of his shots in the restricted area and is making 58.3%.
Rose has a plus/minus per 100 possessions of plus-31.5, best among the team’s rotation players. Walker’s plus/minus per 100 possessions is minus-28.3, worst among the team’s regulars.
Thibodeau would not, of course, move leading scorers Randle (21.0 points) or Barrett (15.8 points) out of the starting group. Evan Fournier could go to the bench in favor of Alec Burks, but it is hard to see who that would upgrade the unit. Similarly, the Knicks could make Nerlens Noel a starter ahead of Robinson, but that is unlikely to change much, either.
Three New Pieces Being Worked Into Starting Group
And while, on the outside, the sentiment is growing that the Knicks should make some kind of change to the starting group, within the team, there does not seem to be much panic. The bunch is rife with new parts—three altogether.
“With the first group, of course they’ve got to find things out,” Rose said. “When you add three new pieces, with Evan and Kemba and you got Mitch coming in, he missed eight months, so you got three new pieces, they’re trying to figure each other out, trying not to step on toes. Like I said, it’s early in the year, we should be able to figure things out soon. “