OG Anunoby's return is exactly what the Knicks need

The Knicks have spent this past stretch fighting to just be stuck in neutral. The team has hobbled through the past several games with a skeleton crew of available players. Starters Julius Randle, OG Anunoby and Mitchell Robinson have each been out of action for more than a month.

The Knicks were finally dealt some good luck on the injury front when it was revealed Anunoby was scrimmaging five-on-five, and taking contact in practice. The small forward is returning sooner rather than later. He will provide an added boost to the slumping Knicks.

New York has gone 7-9 since Anunoby went down with a right elbow injury which required surgery. The club has recently dropped eight of its last 12 games. After looking like a lock for home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, the Knicks have a one-game lead in the loss column on the fifth place Orlando Magic in the East playoff standings. They also have a two-game lead in the loss column on the sixth seed Miami Heat and the seventh seed Philadelphia 76ers.

Anunoby is the rare player that can fit into any lineup machination. He can play on the wing, he can be a stretch four. On defense, Anunoby can guard nearly all positions. Armed with a 7-foot-2 wingspan, he covers so much ground and is a terror to any NBA offense.

In his absence, the Knicks have ranked 18th in defensive efficiency, allowing 115.7 points per 100 possessions per NBA Stats. In the 500 minutes Anunoby has played with the Knicks, New York is giving up just 98.9 points per 100 possessions, a number that would rank first in the NBA. Not all of New York’s success on the defensive end can be attributed to the 6-7 forward, but it’s clear he has made a significant impact. Anunoby often guards the opposition’s top scoring option and he’s also equally disruptive off the ball too.

On offense, Anunoby is a perfect fit. He doesn’t dominate the ball, is a great cutter and finisher at the rim, and shoots 47.5 percent on corner three-pointers. Anunoby smooths out the rough edges of the team’s offense.

All of those qualities shined through when the Knicks went 12-2 in 14 games with Anunoby active. Randle and Robinson’s returns are both still large question marks. But Anunoby coming back should allow the Knicks to stabilize and make a run at a top playoff spot with 19 games remaining in the regular season.

Who gets pushed out of the rotation?

Anunoby played 35.7 minutes in 14 games with the Knicks. Bringing him back into the fold means someone in the current rotation is going to see reduced minutes. It feels like the Knicks will be playing a game of musical chairs the rest of the season.

Josh Hart has been overstretched, playing at least 40 minutes in nine out of the last 10 games. Anunoby allows him to fall back into a more realistic and sustainable role. He could start alongside Anunoby or return to a bench role. Precious Achiuwa has averaged 36.6 minutes over the last 17 games and—like Hart—could be in a starting or bench role depending on coach Thibodeau’s choice.

There’s also recent trade deadline acquisitions Bojan Bogdanovic and Alec Burks. Both have seen inconsistent playing time. In New York’s 98-74 win against the Orlando Magic on Friday night, Bogdanovic played just 12 minutes and Burks was in for just five. It’s something to monitor as the Knicks complete the final quarter of the season.

Anunoby’s place on the roster complicates that minutes distribution even more. The potential returns of Randle and Robinson makes it an even larger conundrum. But after seeing the Knicks struggle through injuries recently, it’s a problem they are sure to welcome.