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NBA Trade Deadline: Struggling Knicks bench needs more pop

If there’s any indication the Knicks need to strike a deal — either via trade or free-agent signing on the buyout market — it’s their second unit’s struggle to consistently generate offense in the wake of the OG Anunoby trade with the Toronto Raptors.

Since that deal, which sent RJ Barrett and Sixth Man of the Year runner-up Immanuel Quickley to the Raptors for Anunoby, Precious Achiuwa and Malachi Flynn, the Knicks rank third-last in bench scoring ahead of only the Philadelphia 76ers (who have not had Joel Embiid their last three games) and Charlotte Hornets.

The Knicks are averaging just 25.5 bench points in the six games that have followed the deal. They ranked 14th in bench scoring prior to the trade, with Quickley’s offensive firepower fueling a second unit that averaged 34 points through the first 32 games of the season.

The Knicks are high on Miles “Deuce” McBride, who has logged two double-digit games (16 in the win over the Portland Trail Blazers, 15 in the win in Philadelphia) and four games with five or fewer points. McBride is averaging seven points on 50% shooting from the field since the Quickley deal.

There’s also Quentin Grimes, who has enjoyed an expanded offensive role both since being relegated to a bench role and moved up the offensive pecking order with Quickley shuttled to Toronto. Grimes is averaging 11.5 points since the deal and is converting from three at 45.9% clip.

Then, of course, there’s Achiuwa and Josh Hart.

Hart is averaging more rebounds (7.7) than points (six) since the Anunoby deal and is shooting just 25% from three since the trade and 32% from three on the season, though his impact largely comes via hustle plays, pushing the ball in transition and crashing the glass.

Achiuwa is versatile defensively and has shown a willingness to take a three but has connected on only one of his five attempts since arriving in New York.

Of the six post-trade games the Knicks have played entering Saturday’s matchup in Memphis against the Grizzlies, the team’s premier three bench players — Grimes, Hart and McBride — have scored in single figures in the same game three times.

Something has to give, and for a front office actively looking to bolster its roster ahead of the Feb. 8 NBA trade deadline, adding offensive firepower to the second unit projects to be a top priority.

With the news that Mitchell Robinson is expected to return from ankle surgery by the end of the regular season, the Knicks have no more questions at the center position.

Especially the way Isaiah Hartenstein has been playing as a starter in Robinson’s absence.

The Knicks, however, desperately need to replace Quickley’s offensive pop.

And while they won’t have any shortage of options, choosing the right option is a difficult task.

Atlanta’s Dejounte Murray, Charlotte’s Terry Rozier, Portland’s Malcolm Brogdon, Utah’s Jordan Clarkson and Detroit’s Bojan Bogdanovic have been regularly linked to the Knicks in trade rumors with the deadline mere weeks away. A deal for any one of those players will come at the cost of valuable first-round draft pick capital. As it stands, the Knicks have enough draft assets to acquire not just one, but two marquee, star-level players should they become available via trade.

Will the Knicks pony up the picks for a short-term fix? Or will they hold onto the assets in the hopes of striking a summertime deal for a potential disgruntled star?

The two options are not mutually exclusive.

Then there’s also the buyout market, where players due large salaries on poor-performing teams negotiate contract buyouts with their organization to hit free agency and join a playoff contender.

Gordon Hayward is a popular buyout market candidate linked to the Knicks given head coach Tom Thibodeau has praised Hayward to the media ahead of tipoff in each of the two games against the Charlotte Hornets this season.

Hayward is scheduled to make $31.5 million this season but is only averaging 14.5 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.6 assists and is out with a calf strain.

The Hornets could negotiate a contract buyout with Hayward at a fraction of the remaining salary due on his contract, which would allow a team like the Knicks to swoop in and sign him at a discount as a free agent.

The problem here, however, is these contract buyouts typically occur after both the trade deadline and the mid-February All-Star Weekend.

That leaves about a month until quality players become free agents.

Entering Saturday’s matchup against the Grizzlies, the Knicks only fielded one loss in their six games after losing Quickley’s offensive production. The schedule is in New York’s favor for now, but quality depth reigns supreme in the games that matter come playoff time, and the Knicks could use an influx of offensive firepower off the bench to help their odds later in the season.