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The case for Miles McBride minutes in a fully healthy Knicks rotation

Knicks fans and team members alike are anxiously awaiting the return of multiple starters into the rotation. It’s been a trying time for this team to tread water amidst all the injuries, but there are some silver linings to take into this final stretch of the season, including the emergence of Miles McBride.

The third-year guard selected 36th overall by the Knicks in 2021 is having a career year, signing a long-term extension shortly after the OG Anunoby trade opened up a rotation spot for him and playing his best basketball since. After two seasons bouncing between the G-League and the end of the bench, the Deuce is finally loose, and should be for good.

Since the deal, McBride is putting up 8.8 points on 39.7 percent shooting from three in 18.9 minutes a night. While those numbers may not jump off the page, they don’t capture his terrific defense, and he’s easily outperformed New York’s other deep bench choices at guard, including the recently acquired Alec Burks. In that stretch, he’s accumulated a couple of 20-point outings, nearly a steal a game, and a 2.67 assist-to-turnover ratio.

For those unfamiliar with McBride’s game, he’s primarily a defensive bulldog at the one. His point-of-attack defense is tight and obnoxious, his hands are actively in the passing lane and the effort is consistent.

With him at the point guard and the right surrounding players, head coach Tom Thibodeau is willing to go to a full-switching scheme, a rarity that stifles offenses for stretches. He’s closed many recent games at the two simply for his ability to space and shut stuff down.

New York was one of the worst defending teams in February in no small part due to their gutted roster, giving up 119.7 points per 100 possessions. With McBride on the floor, that number drops to 116.1, compared to 121.1 with him off, the difference between rock bottom and middle-of-the-pack.

That hasn’t been enough to save the Knicks from this wave of bad luck, but is a testament to McBride’s impact on that side of the ball. That’s somewhat old news though, as it’s his blossoming offense that’s made him much more viable.

Memphis Grizzlies guard John Konchar (46) dribbles as New York Knicks guard Miles McBride (2) defends during the first half at FedExForum.

In past years McBride looked far too tentative and unsure with the ball in his hands, despite being a flamethrower in Westchester. With the new extension in tow, we’re seeing newfound confidence out of Deuce, which is translating into buckets.

The three-point shooting has been fantastic, giving the Knicks an extra legitimate spot-up threat next to their creators. McBride’s hitting 41.3 percent of his catch-and-shoot threes, but can hit them off the dribble too.

He’s lacing 35 percent of his pull-ups, a non-extraordinary number in a small sample size, but a stepping stone in his larger development. These have come off pick-and-roll, in transition, even in isolation, and if built upon could be dangerous.

Stepping inside the arc and creating for others is where McBride needs to advance next. He’s not your cerebral lead guard that can receive a screen, manipulate the two defenders and find the open man every trip down, but has shown some positive signs.

His two primary weapons are the pull-up jumper and straight-line drive. He doesn’t garner much gravity on the ball, leaving few passing lanes, and is often given free mid-range jumpers or lanes to the shot blocker.

He’s worked to start punishing those with some quick bursts to the rim. He doesn’t have exceptional athleticism, but can beat guys and finish with impressive touch at odd, contested angles, with a number of layups gracefully dropping off the high-end of the backboard.

The mid-range pull-up is a work in progress. He’s made 43.1 percent of his off-dribble twos this year, but even looking for it could keep defenses honest.

Once the lineup is fully healthy, McBride will get more minutes with more traditional offensive engines, allowing him to flex his three-point shooting and secondary creation more. In January with Julius Randle and Anunoby playing, he shot a scorching 51.2 percent on catch-and-shoot threes.

However with New York’s big trade deadline move for Bojan Bogdanovic and Alec Burks, it’s unclear where McBride will fit into the rotation. Thibodeau likes to go nine deep in the regular season and as short as an eight-man rotation come the Playoffs, with a center, Josh Hart and Bogdanovic likely filling up three bench roles.

Thibs can elect to make Bogdanovic his backup two, get Precious Achiuwa some well-earned minutes in the full rotation, which would effectively limit McBride to spot minutes when Jalen Brunson sits, if that. There are a number of ways to play it, but ultimately McBride deserves consistent minutes in a whole rotation, and the Knicks can’t afford not to give them to him.

With Quentin Grimes and Immanuel Quickley gone, no other guard on the roster brings the defense McBride does. Now that he’s shooting the lights out and not being timid with the ball, there’s no reason not to entrust him with playing time.

If that turns Burks from a rotation piece into a deep bench luxury, so be it. McBride has been a real solution in the short term and appears to be a strong prospect for the long-term, and the Knicks would be foolish to waste him.