New York Knicks: The Case for Each Candidate at Backup Center
Anthony Gruppuso-USATSI

There are three candidates for the New York Knicks to backup Joakim Noah at the center position. We look at the case for each one.

The starting five for the New York Knicks is set in stone. However, their bench appears to be their greatest weakness. Nowhere is that more evident than the center position. Joakim Noah has the starting spot locked up, but the other big men are a mix of unproven youngsters and mediocre veterans.

Head coach Jeff Hornacek has said that it’s a three-man race to backup Noah between rookies Marshall Plumlee and Willy Hernangomez, and fifth-year veteran Kyle O’Quinn.


With Noah sitting out the first three preseason games due to injury each candidate has started once in his place. Each player stood out in his way.

Despite Plumlee, 24, and Hernangomez, 22, being rookies in the NBA both players have played a lot of competitive basketball giving Hornacek the potential luxury of a couple of old rookies.

O’Quinn is in a different situation altogether. It was anticipated that he’d back up Robin Lopez at center last season. Then after signing a four-year contract, he flopped in his first season with the Knicks. A new head coach means a chance at redemption for O’Quinn.

But only one of them can get the job. A quick look at their performance during the preseason shows a different case for each candidate. We examined why each player would be a good choice.

The Grinder

Marshall Plumlee was known for his defense and rebounding during his impressive career at Duke. He didn’t do much on offense at except roll to the rim and dunk. He made the most impact on the floor when playing off the ball.

He’s already made an impact on his coaches and Carmelo Anthony with his strong work ethic.

Plumlee quickly displayed his style in the second preseason game against the Brooklyn Nets (a start) with a hard foul against Trevor Booker and racked up four fouls in four minutes and 35 seconds.

The Knicks have had the most successful teams in franchise history with enforcers like Anthony Mason and Charles Oakley. Marshall Plumlee could fit that mold. He’s a guy the fans could grow to love.

The Back to the Basket Guy

The Knicks traded for Willy Hernangomez after he was chosen in the second round of the 2015 draft. A former teammate of Kristaps Porzingis with Real Madrid, Knicks fans have been waiting for a year to see what Hernangomez can do.

Through three games we’ve seen what we were promised. He’s a traditional center who, unlike Porzingis, prefers to play with his back to the basket so most of his offense this season will come from around the rim.

The 7-footer has had the best start of all three candidates, particularly his 12 point performance against the Nets.

Check out the video below to watch him score on two nice post moves and put the ball on the floor to create a basket for himself.

That doesn’t mean he won’t develop a jump shot at some point. He is only 22 after all. His skill as an offensive rebounder could help replace the giant hole that Robin Lopez left in that department. Per ESPN.com, Lopez was fourth in the league with 3.3 per game last season.

Hernangomez has the most upside of the three which could be the determining factor. The buzz surrounding his arrival in New York has made him the fan favorite for the job.

The Veteran

Kyle O’Quinn was supposed to be a good fit for the triangle because of his passing prowess, but his spot in the rotation was constantly flip-flopped with Kevin Seraphin due to inconsistency from both big men.

O’Quinn wasn’t on the court enough — he appeared in 65 games and played a total of 764 — to make a significant impact. According to Basketball-Reference, he finished only fourth (15.9%) on the Knicks in assist percentage and averaged just 3.4 assists per 36 minutes.

O’Quinn played excellent defense last season next to appointed perimeter stopper Lance Thomas. Per Bball-Ref, the Knicks were +2.6 points and +3.3 defensive rebounds per 100 possessions when the duo shared the court. With Thomas returning they have another chance to combine for success on that end of the court.

The best argument to make for the one veteran in the group is that he was subjected to two awful head coaches last season and is under contract for three more seasons. Hornacek may not want to bury him on the bench before seeing what he has with O’Quinn.

O’Quinn has had the least impressive preseason of the three. He started in the first contest against the Houston Rockets when they were blown out 130-103, and although his defense has been good, his offense has been Plumlee-like.

Hornacek still has three preseason games (vs. Boston, @ Boston, vs. Brooklyn) left to make a choice before the regular season begins on Tues. Oct. 25, @ Cleveland.

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