Does the Knicks bench need further changes?

Dec 7, 2022; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks guard Miles McBride (2) drives to the basket on Atlanta Hawks forward AJ Griffin (14) during the fourth quarter at Madison Square Garden.
Dec 7, 2022; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks guard Miles McBride (2) drives to the basket on Atlanta Hawks forward AJ Griffin (14) during the fourth quarter at Madison Square Garden. / Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

The Knicks have played their best basketball in recent memory, ever since an early December rotation change. They’re currently in playoff position and fully returning to health, in theory setting them up to continue winning.

However, there is one evident flaw in their current construction: their bench play. It’s no glaring weakness and hasn’t exactly cost them games, but with making the postseason a feasible goal, every potential flaw needs addressing if the Knicks want to make any real noise.

As of right now, New York is sticking to its nine-man rotation, bringing Immanuel Quickley, Miles McBride, Obi Toppin and Isaiah Hartenstein off the bench, with RJ Barrett usually filling in the fifth spot. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen much of this configuration -- just 20 minutes over five games.

This is because injuries to Barrett and Toppin excluded them from much of these last few weeks. In their absence, head coach Tom Thibodeau tapped Derrick Rose, Evan Fournier and Jericho Sims to fill in sporadically, with no single five-man unit able to build lasting chemistry.

The results are tough to glean from these small, jumbled samples, but they tend to suggest the same thing. That full strength bench unit scores and allows 102.3 points per 100 possessions, so exactly a middle-of-the-pack lineup that holds even with their opponents.

Since the bench units shifted so often in the last 15 games, we can look at how they performed by who wasn’t on the floor. For example, the Knicks got outscored by 4.5 points per 100 possessions with Julius Randle on the bench.

The frontcourt of Hartenstein and Sims only outscored teams by 0.9 points per 100 possessions, and McBride’s impact has also been negligible.

Coming into the season, many thought the Knicks’ depth would be a major boon. Lots of the weapons cited have now been benched, though, and what’s remained -- while competent -- could be better.

Oct 21, 2022; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks center Isaiah Hartenstein (55) dunks the ball against Detroit Pistons during the second quarter at Madison Square Garden.
Oct 21, 2022; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks center Isaiah Hartenstein (55) dunks the ball against Detroit Pistons during the second quarter at Madison Square Garden. / Tom Horak-USA TODAY Sports

It’s easy to point out some pressure points. Hartenstein’s inside finishing and defensive rebounding are lacking.

McBride’s offense is a zero, leaving the total number of creators at one if Barrett isn’t involved. Whatever Toppin adds offensively, he’ll find a way to take from two-fold defensively, not jiving with the defensive approach that’s won the team games this past month.

To be fair, this is not purely on the individuals mentioned. Coaching plays a large role, too.

Many have argued Cam Reddish has something to offer, but he’s been denied minutes even amidst injuries. Hartenstein and Toppin are proven offensive talents who haven’t been utilized effectively.

In past seasons, Hartenstein recorded up to five assists per 36 minutes, while he’s down to a career-low 1.4 as a Knick. He still has a remarkable passing game, he’s just been pigeonholed into the typical Knick center role of picking, rolling, rebounding and defending the rim.

Maybe the answer lies deeper on the bench, or on another team altogether.

If Hartenstein won’t be used as a high-post initiator, maybe Sims should just take his minutes. There are several interesting trade candidates who would be upgrades, such as Malik Beasley or Jae Crowder.

Either way, if the Knicks want to steal a playoff series, they’ll need to bolster their bench.