Let’s take a look at how New York Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau could distribute the minutes during the 2021-22 season.
The 2021-22 New York Knicks are going to look a lot like last year’s team that went to the playoffs. New York brought back most of the core while adding Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier, two likely starters.
They added a few nice young players in the draft, but it’s going to be an uphill battle for those guys to find minutes on this deep roster.
As we all know, Tom Thibodeau does what he wants with his rotations. He is never beholden to an outline or strategy that will keep guys off the court. If someone is playing well, he has no problem playing that player 40 minutes in March.
As a result, trying to nail down an accurate rotation for the Knicks is a fool’s errand. Well, let’s give it a shot anyway. This rotation breakdown focuses on a regular-season game when the entire team is healthy.
PG — Kemba Walker — 26 minutes
Kemba Walker is actually making less money than his backup, but if healthy, he is going to be a starter. Walker struggled with injury issues last season, but he’s only two years removed from an All-Star appearance.
Although he will wind up playing big minutes in some games, Thibs won’t go away from Derrick Rose completely.
SG — Evan Fournier — 28 minutes
Evan Fournier and RJ Barrett are interchangeable at the two and three spots. Fournier will likely clock in right around 30 minutes per game. We are limiting Fournier to 28 here because the Knicks have a deep bench of guards and wings.
SF — RJ Barrett — 30 minutes
RJ Barrett is the heir apparent in New York and he is looking to build on his impressive second season. Although the Canadian-born Barrett played just under 35 minutes per game last season, the Knicks have solid options on the wing in Fournier and Alec Burks.
PF — Julius Randle — 33 minutes
First things first, this projection is made with very little confidence. Julius Randle led the league in minutes per game (37.6) and minutes (2,667) last season.
However, the reason for this slight drop is more about Obi Toppin than it is Randle. Taking responsibility away from Randle will help keep him fresher as the season progresses. It probably won’t happen because Thibs is Thibs, but that’s the logic behind this decision.
C — Mitchell Robinson — 28 minutes
Mitchell Robinson is going to be the lead dog in the center rotation. Nerlens Noel had an outstanding year off the bench and as a fill-in starter for Robinson last year, but Mitch is still the one who can make the greatest impact.
PG — Derrick Rose — 22 minutes
Derrick Rose and Kemba Walker are two uber-talented point guards with fraught injury histories. Expect the Knicks to lean on both. The relationship between Thibs and Rose is well-documented and Rose will likely be the team’s sixth man.
SG — Immanuel Quickley — 18 minutes
Fans want to see Immanuel Quickley taking on a bigger role in year two, but the depth chart is deeper than it was last year. He still has a role on this team, but he is likely going to play somewhere around 18 minutes per game when the full roster is healthy.
SF — Alec Burks — 20 minutes
Alec Burks was a godsend for the Knicks at times last season. He is capable of playing as a lead guard or on the wing. While he is still going to have a big role in 2021-22, the Knicks won’t need his shot creation as much with Walker and Fournier entering the fold.
PF — Obi Toppin — 15 minutes
Although it might not look like Obi Toppin will play much behind Randle, he has all the tools to develop into a legitimate rotation player. Toppin’s standout performance in Summer League is a step in the right direction for his career. He tends to play well with Rose and it’s setting up for the two to share the floor a lot.
C — Nerlens Noel — 20 minutes
Nerlens Noel is more than capable of starting in the NBA, but he’s much more valuable off the bench. Noel and Robinson are very similar players, which means the Knicks won’t have to alter the defensive scheme mid-game to suit the personnel.
Fighting for Minutes
Taj Gibson has the most defined role on the roster of any player “fighting for minutes.” Gibson is going to be behind glass in case of emergency. In other words, if Robinson or Noel go down, Gibson is the next man up. He was exceptional in this role last season.
Quentin Grimes might not have much of an impact on next season, but he has a bright future in New York nonetheless. The Houston product was New York’s first-round pick and he projects as a strong 3-and-D wing. If a wing goes down with injury or has to sit for load management (don’t laugh at that), Grimes will likely be the first one up.
Miles “Deuce” McBride is another option if the Knicks lose a guard or wing. Much like Grimes, McBride turned heads at Las Vegas Summer League. His defensive tenacity is perfect for a Thibs-led team. We would not be surprised to see Grimes and/or McBride see significant time in the G League for reps.
Odd Men Out?
Luca Vildoza signed with the Knicks last season but did not play at all. Injuries in Summer League and a non-guaranteed contract both point to the possibility of the Knicks cutting bait with Vildoza. They still have to clear one roster spot to get to 15 and Vildoza is one of three legitimate possibilities.
Kevin Knox struggled to find the floor in his first year under Thibs and it’s unlikely he cracks the rotation next season. The Knicks could look to dump Knox in a trade to a team looking for a reclamation project.
Dwayne Bacon started for the Orlando Magic last season, but the Knicks are a much more talented, deeper roster. Like Vildoza, Bacon’s contract is non-guaranteed, which makes him a candidate to get cut as well.
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