Knicks continue experimenting with rotations with talent-deep roster

Knicks forward Julius Randle dribbles up court against the Magic on Monday night.
Knicks forward Julius Randle dribbles up court against the Magic on Monday night.
AP Photo/John Munson

The Knicks roster is looking unusually flush with talent to start the season, which has fans smiling, but could cause some problems for New York as the season goes on.  

During the offseason, the Knicks reportedly offered multiple different packages of young players and draft picks to the Utah Jazz in their efforts to acquire All-Star shooting guard Donovan Mitchell. That didn’t work out, and Mitchell is now playing in Cleveland as a member of the Cavaliers. 

But a side-effect of that failed trade offer is the continued logjam of up-and-coming talent at Madison Square Garden, and a challenge for head coach Tom Thibodeau to balance their minutes on the court. 

Heading into the season, Thibodeau seemed hell-bent on keeping their veteran players in the starting lineup — particularly Julius Randle and Evan Fournier. 

Immanuel Quickley, Obi Toppin, Cam Reddish, Isaiah Hartenstein and Quentin Grimes (when he returns from injury) are all slated to come off the bench on a nightly basis. 

Yet, Thibodeau has made significant moves to include those Knicks’ youngsters in the game plan through their first three games this season. 

There remain two essential starters in the lineup, RJ Barrett and newly-signed point guard Jalen Brunson, who both lead the team in minutes-per-game. Beyond them, though, several different players have gotten their chance to make a mark, with the “starter” designation meaning very little thus far. 

Quickley (22.3 mpg), Toppin (16 mpg), Reddish (20.3 mpg) and Hartenstein (26.7) have all made major contributions to their 2–1 start of the season. 

Randle (32.3 mpg) and Fournier (26.7 mpg) both outpace those four for time in the lineup, but the difference between starters and bench players is unusually low as the Knicks continue struggling to figure out their best lineups. And that comes even as Grimes has not suited up for a game yet. 

Reddish took the floor for over 28 minutes in their season opener, and saw critical time on the court, including draining a game-tying three pointer to send the game to overtime. 

Hartenstein, who stands at 7-feet tall, meanwhile, has actually seen more playing time than the team’s other true-center, Mitchell Robinson in minutes-per-game. 

Beyond that, Reddish and Hartenstein, along with Quickley and Toppin, have not simply been playing in non-critical minutes. They’ve all been given a chance to go against opposing starters, and play down the stretch in close games. 

Thibodeau had been criticized in the past for failing to give the youngsters a chance, but that has not been the case in this young season. As the season progresses, the distribution of minutes may begin leaning more heavily towards some players rather than others, but for now, everyone on the roster is getting their opportunities.

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