Robin Lopez was one of the most productive players for last season’s New York Knicks. Replacing him won’t be easy.
After he signed a four-year contract last summer, Robin Lopez appeared to be the center of the future. A year later and the New York Knicks are looking for his replacement. It won’t be easy.
But why should it matter? The center position is becoming extinct in today’s NBA. The Knicks need a shooting guard, so why should they place an emphasis on replacing Lopez? If you watched the NBA Finals you know the answer.
The Warriors were without starting center Andrew Bogut for Games 6 and 7, and the Cavs took full advantage scoring a combined 90 points in the paint.
On the other side of the court, Cavs’ starting center Tristan Thompson starred. For the second straight season he showcased his defensive abilities, switching on to the Warriors guards and covering the smaller players on the perimeter. The Cavs don’t win the title without Thompson, and the series changes if Bogut is available in those final two games.
A productive big man is still a great asset in the modern game and there were few centers more productive than Lopez. He was efficient on both ends of the court.
The Knicks finished first in rim protection, due in large part to the play of Lopez. He was one of the best defenders in the league, lowering opponent’s field goal percentage within six feet of the rim by a dominating -10.7%, per NBA.com. The number is even more impressive considering Lopez faced an average of 6.0 FGAs per game from that distance. Lopez did more than just protect the paint.
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He set constant (moving) screens that freed up open looks for his teammates. He was a beast on the offensive glass, finishing fourth in the league with 3.3 per game (via ESPN), and scored nearly 3.0 points per game on putbacks (via NBA.com). There weren’t many centers who could live up to the high standard Lopez set.
This leaves the Knicks facing a dilemma. Depending on what article you read, they have roughly $30 million of cap space, and they must find a wing to put alongside Derrick Rose who can guard. That player (Kent Bazemore, Nicolas Batum) won’t come cheap.
With the new cap Lopez is going to look like a bargain, with his $13 million salary. The Knicks won’t be able to sign any of the top free agent centers at a number like that. Hassan Whiteside will receive a max contract. According to Sean Deveny of the Sporting News, Bismack Biyombo will receive $16-17 million a year. Yes, Bismack freaking Biyombo. There’s also Dwight Howard. Ugh.
Let some other teams foolishly spend their money for once. The Knicks don’t need to spend big to replace Lopez. Even with all the money being tossed around, there will still be some bargains. Or whatever you want to call a bargain in an extreme case like this.
Ian Begley of ESPN reported the Knicks are interested in bringing back Mozgov. After a disappointing season in Cleveland following an excellent 2014-15 campaign, Mozgov will be looking to redeem himself on his next contract. The Knicks can benefit from that need.
Mozgov will come cheap, and despite his struggles he was still a valuable rim protector, lowering opponent’s field goal percentage within six feet of the rim by -6.9%, per NBA.com. Mozgov averages nearly two offensive rebounds per game for his career and before 2015-16, he’d averaged over two for the last three seasons.
The Knicks have not been attached to Mahinmi, but that doesn’t mean they won’t speak with him. He’s not the offensive rebounder that Lopez and Mozgov are, but he was one of the best defenders in the league in 2015-16. Mahinmi finished the season ranked in the top 20 in defensive box plus-minus and defensive rating, and fourth among centers in DRPM at 4.37.
Like Lopez, neither player needs touches to be effective but they are both good in the pick and roll. When acting as the roll man, Mahinmi ranked in the 77th percentile in points per possession and Mozgov the 87th percentile.
Of course, the chances of these two equaling Lopez’s value are still slim but the Knicks made the choice to move a valuable player and now they have to live with the consequences. This won’t be an easy fix. The center position could be a serious issue next season.