Knicks role players stepping up in absence of stars

Donte DiVincenzo Knicks
New York Knicks guard Donte DiVincenzo reacts after shooting a three-point basket during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz, Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2024, at Madison Square Garden in New York. The Knicks won 118-103. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

The Knicks have now been without OG Anunoby and Julius Randle for over a week. Despite having 40% of their usual starting lineup sidelined — or 60% if you count Mitchell Robinson being out for the season — New York has maintained a steady pace and continues to stack victories. 

Just this past week, New York went 3-1 with role players stepping up and making key contributions when needed most, a sign of a complete team. The minutes load has heavily increased for the starters, too, who have answered the bell at every turn.

Shooting guard Donte DiVincenzo has stepped up to fill the scoring void left by Randle, averaging 26.8 points per game over the past week. His volume on offense has greatly increased, averaging 9.8 field goal attempts per game; that number has more than doubled to over 23 in the last four games.  

DiVencenzo, another product of the “Villanova Knicks,” is averaging over 15 three-point attempts per game, a sign that the Knicks’ offensive approach has had to evolve without the normal presence Randle and Anunoby bring. Averaging 6.0 threes per game in this stretch, the shooting guard has taken advantage of his increased role within the offense and has provided a necessary threat opposing defenses must plan for.

While DiVincenzo has been a starter throughout the season, the door has opened on the backend for players like Precious Achiuwa to prove they can be a rotation piece later in the season. Achiuwa has seen his minutes increase from 20 minutes a night to nearly 40. A tenacious power forward who has been given the task of filling Randle’s role, he has done so masterfully on the defensive end. Achiuwa even came through on the offensive end in the clutch, tipping in a DiVencenzo miss in the last minute against the Indiana Pacers on Thursday to help secure a win.

Precious Achiuwa Knicks
New York Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa (5) shoots a three-point basket past Utah Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen (23) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2024, at Madison Square Garden in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

While nearly everyone on the roster has seen their role and responsibility increase, some players have struggled with the adjustment, one of those being Josh Hart. He’s still been invaluable defensively, which has earned the praise of head coach Tom Thibodeau, but he is shooting 31% from the field and 13% from beyond the arc in the last four games. While this can be seen as a rough week at the office, it will be tough to sustain the offensive firepower without Hart contributing. Taking nearly 10 shots per game and averaging less than nine points, Hart must snap out of his funk considering the schedule the team has ahead of it.

With Anunoby remaining day-to-day with an elbow injury, the role players who have stepped up must maintain their production for the time being and keep the ship afloat. With the Knicks currently sitting as the fourth seed in the East with a game either way separating them from the fifth seed and the two seed, every game is pivotal. Before the All-Star break, New York has contests against the Dallas Mavericks, Pacers, Houston Rockets, and Orlando Magic. They must finish out this stretch with authority and maintain their pace without key contributors. 

The fight for playoff seeding in the East is going to be a war. For now, the Knicks need to rely on the soldiers available on the front line to get the job done and keep them in the heart of the pack as they await their rehabbing reinforcements.

For more on the Knicks, visit AMNY.com