Knicks' Updated Rotation After Early Free-Agent Contracts

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistAugust 12, 2021

Knicks' Updated Rotation After Early Free-Agent Contracts

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    The New York Knicks could have made wholesale changes to their roster this offseason.

    Instead, they used most of their cap space to reward the players responsible for the franchise's first playoff trip since 2013.

    Julius Randle inked a four-year extension. Derrick Rose, Alec Burks and Nerlens Noel all inked three-year deals. Even Taj Gibson re-upped for another year of providing muscle in the middle.

    But the 'Bockers did more than run it back, so let's update the new-but-familiar roster with an early look at the possible 2021-22 rotation.


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    Point Guard: Kemba Walker

    Shooting Guard: RJ Barrett

    Small Forward: Evan Fournier

    Power Foward: Julius Randle

    Center: Mitchell Robinson

    When the Knicks looked outside the organization this offseason, they did it with offense in mind. It was an obvious path to take after their lack of consistent scoring options proved to be a fatal postseason flaw.

    If New York guessed right on Walker and Fournier, point production may not be an issue any longer. The former battled a bothersome left knee throughout the season and still found his way to 19.3 points, 4.9 assists and 3.0 triples per night. The latter averaged better than 17 points for the fourth time in five seasons, while also setting personal bests in three-point makes (2.8 per game) and percentage (41.3).

    Letting these two run alongside Barrett and Randle in the opening ground should be an easy call and maybe the cure to what previously ailed this attack.

    The lone question mark comes at the center spot, as Robinson, once regarded as a possible centerpiece, hasn't stayed healthy enough to earn that label and isn't even a lock for the starting role. He still seems the likeliest choice for his special blend of bounce, length and mobility, but Tom Thibodeau could give this one some thought.


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    Point Guard: Derrick Rose, Miles McBride

    Shooting Guard: Immanuel Quickley, Quentin Grimes

    Small Forward: Alec Burks, Dwayne Bacon

    Power Forward: Obi Toppin, Taj Gibson, Kevin Knox II

    Center: Nerlens Noel, Jericho Sims

    Don't pay much mind to the position labels here, since almost everyone listed can move around a bit. Noel and Sims, on a two-way contract, won't budge from the center spot, and Rose might only get burn as a lead guard, but players will otherwise shuffle between various positions.

    There's a clear offensive slant with this substitute group, although if rookies McBride and Grimes work their way into regular roles, they'll handle a lot of the defensive duties on the perimeter.

    The offense, meanwhile, will run through Rose, Burks and Quickley, probably in that order and hopefully with Toppin demanding more of the pie sooner than later.

    This should be one of the NBA's top bench mobs, and it will really get going if Toppin, the No. 8 pick in 2020, starts playing up to his draft pedigree.

Roster Questions

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    Because so much of this roster is returning from last season, there aren't as many questions about roles as most teams will need to tackle in training camp.

    Having said that, it will be fascinating to see how much of the offensive load Walker can handleโ€”and how much the Knicks want him to carry. There's a universe in which he winds up on nearly equal footing with Randle, another where Walker gets fewer shots than Rose, Barrett and Fournier and many more that land somewhere in between.

    Toppin is another major pivot point for the fate of this team. His rookie year was almost silent, but was it a lack of opportunity or a lack of requisite skill? It was hard to answer any questions when he received fewer than 700 minutes behind Randle, the NBA's leader in total minutes and minutes per contest. A big year out of Toppin could force New York to think creatively with its frontcourt or consider trading him for a better fitting player.

    Finally, the battle between Robinson and Noel for the starting center spot should be a good one, and it's always compelling to see freshmen fight for Thibodeau's trust. The Knicks may not have room in the rotation for either one, but McBride and Grimes both have the game to potentially force their hand.