In today’s NBA, depth and bench play much greater roles in the wake of a rise in load management and soft-tissue injuries. Even the New York Knicks – led by the notoriously hard-nosed head coach Tom Thibodeau – adapted to this new reality, perhaps better than many.
Returning unscathed from last season is the Knicks bench unit, ready to play as important a role this year as they did then. Though offseason headlines surrounded signings and re-signings in the starting five, it’s New York’s reserves that may end up with much of the shine.
A potent backup unit helps them compete with teams they shouldn’t, making up talent gaps in the starting five by winning reserve minutes. In cases of injury or off shooting, the bench stepped up numerous times to save the Knicks in games that easily could have ended awry.
The projected starting five is currently: Kemba Walker, Evan Fournier, RJ Barrett, Julius Randle and Mitchell Robinson. With the option to swap centers, that leaves the bench five as Derrick Rose, Immanuel Quickley, Alec Burks, Obi Toppin and Nerlens Noel.
Thibodeau slated all five to come off the bench had injuries not interfered, and most ended up reserves anyway. Rose, Quickley, Burks and Toppin spent many of their minutes together, though Noel started most of the season.
While returning the same bench may not appear like an upgrade, it has a chance to be one of the league’s best.
First, continuity is a feature, not a bug. As rarely as starting fives retain their build, benches may change even more. Returning this group and their already-developed chemistry, including at the postseason level, is a huge edge.
Of New York’s top three played lineups against the Atlanta Hawks last Playoffs, the single unit that outscored their opponent was the above lineup with Taj Gibson at center. It was tied for second in minutes with this year’s projected reserves.
This highlights a legitimate boost: hopefully getting to play Noel over Gibson, though injuries and other factors are always in play. Robinson appears healthy and better than ever, but has yet to escape the injury bug in the NBA.
Rose has a legitimate chance to win Sixth Man of the Year, getting to spend his first full season in go-around number two with the Knicks. He finished third in voting last season, despite missing games due to injury and toiling on the Detroit Pistons for the early part of the year.
Now he’s got less pressure with a stud starting ahead of him and improved weapons surrounding him. Rose displayed he could start in the league during last year’s Playoffs, making him an absolute terror for bench units.
Ditto for Burks, who is also starting material and single-handedly took over games for the Knicks in 2020-21. He’s a solid multi-faceted creator, and will certainly have his nights, but can also be the third or fourth option on this unit as an uber-efficient shooter and slasher on nights.
Though you know what you’re getting from the names previously mentioned, Toppin and Quickley are entering their sophomore seasons trying to prove the glimpse of their evolution we saw in Las Vegas is real. Toppin made All-Summer League First Team and Quickley showed off increased leadership and playmaking skills.
The Vegas performance built off promising postseason debuts last season, and a multitude of stretches in which these two youngsters propelled this bench unit on their own. Though a Rose crossover or Burks three never hurts, it’s Quickley and Toppin that get the Garden absolutely rocking.
All five will get their turn this season, more than some might expect. While there’s no question the Knicks ceiling lies in the hands of Randle, Barrett and Walker, their backups are going to pick them up through it all.
Source: Yahoo Sports