After a 3-1 record last week, the Knicks sat at 25-19 and held sole possession of the 6th seed in the Eastern conference, keeping them one spot above the play-in tournament. This week was a completely different story. New York went a dreadful 0-4, putting the team a full game behind the Miami Heat for the coveted 6th seed. And to add insult to injury, Mitchell Robinson came out of Wednesday night's game against the Wizards early due to a thumb injury. Unfortunately, Robinson needed surgery and will be re-evaluated in three weeks.
To start off the week on Monday, the Knicks lost an incredibly hard fought overtime game against the Raptors. Jalen Brunson had a good look at a three to win it, but he left it just short. This loss was understandable for New York as it was the second night of a back-to-back against a Toronto Raptors team that plays a physical brand of basketball. New York fought through a rough shooting night from their stars as Brunson, RJ Barrett, and Julius Randle were only 28-72 from the floor, however their efforts were just short in a 123-121 loss.
Robinson Goes Down And So Do The Knicks
The Knicks looked to get back on track Wednesday night against the Bradley Beal-less Washington Wizards. That would not end up being the case, as the game quickly went downhill in multiple aspects. With about three minutes remaining in the 1st quarter, Robinson came out of the game with a thumb injury and is now out at least three weeks. As a team, nothing went well either as they were down 35-22 and never brought the game back, as the Knicks lost 116-105.
Friday night saw the Knicks' defense get absolutely pummeled by Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks. Without Robinson, the Hawks constant pick-and-roll attack with either Trae Young or Dejounte Murray combined with either John Collins or Clint Capela was unstoppable. Robinson provides a unique combination of length and athleticism that Jericho Sims and Isaiah Hartenstein simply do not, and although the Knicks' offense played a fantastic three quarters, they could not keep up in the 4th as the Hawks won 139-124.
To put the cherry on top, the Knicks ended their week just as it started with a loss to the Raptors. Once again, the impact of Robinson's absence was evident as the Raptors hung 125 on New York in regulation, and once again the offense could not keep up as the Knicks lost 125-116.
The absence of Robinson has most certainly been felt, and the numbers back that statement up. With Robinson in the lineup this year, the Knicks have a 113.2 defensive rating which would rank 11th. In the 10 games so far without Robinson, the Knicks have a defensive rating of 121.2 which would rank dead last.
The unfortunate reality for New York is injuries are a part of the game, and the great teams are able to overcome those adversities. So far this season the top three teams in the Eastern Conference have faced longer injuries from arguably more important players than Robinson, but those teams have figured it out so far:
- Robert Williams of the Celtics who plays a very similar role to Mitchell Robinson has missed 32 of 47 games, however the Celtics have been 1st place for the majority of the season.
- The 76ers have been without James Harden and Tyrese Maxey for 16 and 19 games respectively, but still sit at 30-16 and 2nd place in the East.
- The Bucks have been without their second best player Khris Middleton for a whopping 39 of 46 games, but are at a solid 29-17 and 3rd place in the East.
If the Knicks are going to find a way to manage through this injury, they are going to have to try something different than plugging in Jericho Sims and Isaiah Hartenstein. The two players are simply downgrades to Robinson, and all that does is lower the ceiling of what the team can do on offense and defense.
Tom Thibodeau could experiment with putting Randle at center. This would allow a lineup of all three point shooting threats as either Immanuel Quickley or Obi Toppin would play minutes with the lineup of Brunson, Grimes, Barrett, and Randle. So far this season, Randle has shown the capability of rebounding at a high level, but the question mark for him at center is can he hold up defensively. The counter to that is most NBA teams run small lineups at one point or another during a game, so there will certainly be opportunities in game to test out that lineup.
With that type of lineup, the Knicks' offensive production would almost certainly rise as it would create far more space for their star players to operate. Barrett specifically has been attacking the rim at a high level in recent games, but with this lineup Barrett could have even more opportunities as there would no longer be the opportunity for a help defender to come over without the threat of leaving a three-point shooter open.
And although the interior defense would certainly take a step back with Randle at center, this lineup would provide more defensive versatility. Almost every play in the Hawks game, Young and Murray attacked Sims or Hartenstein's drop coverage on screens. This allowed numerous open floaters, or lob passes to the roller. In a lineup with Randle at center, the Knicks would be able to switch on any screen and rather than sit back and give the ball handler space to the rim, the screener's defender could attack the ball handler and cut off his lane to the rim.
The Knicks may not make specific changes, but they should agree that there needs to be change if the Knicks are to get back in the win column. And whatever that change may be it better be impactful, as New York has Cleveland, Boston, and Brooklyn on the schedule this upcoming week.