A team of players with varied strengths and weaknesses, but used the wrong way.
The Knicks aren’t a perfect team and in that same light, they are not as helpless as the record shows. The responsibility for that is shared and a potential solution may come from looking at this team in a nuanced way.
Here is where we leave convention behind and think freely about what could be instead of what we’ve seen. Practicality and whether this can actually be implemented requires buy-in and patience which are both are ultimately players based (read: not guaranteed). Maybe to hint at where this is going, Randle has played some of his best basketball at the center.
Does that mean limiting Mitchell Robinson? What kind of rotations would even allow this? Lastly and again, would that be limiting to Mitchell-freaking-Robinson?
While Randle’s approaching levels of disdain with parts of the fan-base, he is also one of the few players outside draft picks on the payroll next year. While there’s just north of 25 games left to play if NYK is bold enough to buck tradition they can maybe build a system meant to help emphasize their player’s strengths. Ultimately that should lead to more wins long term, but will not be an instant success.
The keys to this are the time of a game, 48 minutes, and the players anchoring the system in Julius Randle and Mitchell Robinson.
Starting is not important but matching the minutes and effort is. If they can take playing 24 “leaving it all on the court minutes” at the center for the players they are can potentially yield surprising results.
With Randle, there are players who have to establish a report with him or made off-season decisions based indirectly or directly on his signing to NYK over the off-season. Those players are Elfrid Payton and Wayne Ellington.
Base rotation: Payton (1), Ellington (2), Harkless (3), Knox (4), Randle (5)
First off the bench: Gibson (4) & Dotson (2)
Second off the bench: Frank (1) & Barrett (3)
Now the logic of how Barrett shouldn’t be coming off the bench in a second rotation isn’t important here. The argument isn’t whether or not this is a starting line-up but creating a rotations Julius and Mitch as the base. This rotation is pairing Randle with players he respects while it creates a degree of spacing and defense for an overall. Knox can play his true position and all these players benefit from Payton facilitating. Gibson and Dotson reduce a bit of the spacing due to the players they are, force the defense to make some modest adjustments. Adding Frank and Barrett ups the defensive intensity on the perimeter so Randle can focus on staying within the arc when defending.
Mitchell Robinson is a completely different animal. Late in his life (relatively) to basketball and he himself just committing to working out for the draft over going to college, he’s an interesting young man. He’s the definition of RAW potential. The physical size and athleticism are gifts but his basketball touch and skills need focused and consistent work. However; believing in yourself against tradition is on the checklist of being a leader. What he eventually becomes is impossible to guess but the sky is truly the limit with Robinson.
Back to on the court Robinson’s developed a bit of chemistry with Frank on the pick & roll as well as on the defensive end. While it’s been anything but consistent due to foul trouble, if you can get Mitch to play his heart out for 24 minutes a game in this system, he’ll be off the floor enough to prevent fouling out (often).
Base rotation: Frank (1), Dotson (2), Barrett (3), Knox (4), Mitchell Robinson (5)
First off the bench: Wooten (4) & Bullock (2) (Gibson (5) extreme fouling cases)
Second off the bench: Ignas (3) (RJ if fatigued, if not rotate RJ (2)) & Payton (1)
The goal first is to provide a mix of spacing, cutting, and one of the better pick & role relationships on the team with Frank and Robinson. Frank has developed a quick dish for Robinson on the role and engaging in more pick & role can help Frank develop a bit more offensive consistency. Dotson brings an aggressive floor runner on fast breaks, with Knox, for either Frank or Barret to dish a leading outlet pass. Both Dotson and Knox space the floor and under Miller, Knox has seen a much noticed defensive improvement.
Hopefully, more consistency with him being in BOTH base rotations can help get him into a rhythm. Stroke looks great and the defensive improvements are a sight for sore eyes. Once the shot starts falling, he’ll be able to unlock some of that potential of his. Finally, this lineup’s highest usage player will be Barrett until the second bench rotation (assuming he’s still in). Given how other star rookies have been “given the keys,” Barrett has shown enough to at least experiment with that idea under ideal circumstances.
The mix of spacing and ball movement and lob threat should be able to give him space to operate in the paint. That opens up his drive to the basket or a drive & kick to an open shooter if the defense collapses. He’s shown already to be incredibly strong for his size and age along with being a better passer than projected. Mistakes won’t be absent but getting accustomed to facilitating himself will be key to his growth. Frank has also been able to deliver great passes to open shooters and could potentially help Barrett improve his catch and shoot as well.
What would the likelihood of this being implemented? Outside of having players by into it, it also requires practice and drill time. It would be rough implementing mid-season with all the games and travel days.
Even still, instead of complaining or looking ahead, maybe a change in perspective is all the Knicks are missing…
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