Opponent: New York Knicks
Starting Lineup: Frank Ntlikina - Reggie Bullock - Marcus Morris - Julius Randle - Taj Gibson
Second Unit: Dennis Smith Jr. - Damyean Dotson - Kevin Knox - Bobby Portis - Mitchell Robinson
Leading Scorer: Morris (19.2 PPG)
Leading Rebounder: Randle (9.3 RPG)
Leading Assists: Randle (3.3 APG)
Biggest Strength: Rebounding
For how awful the Knicks have been as a team this year, they are one of the league’s top rebounding squads. They rank 7th in adjusted rebounding, according to NBA stats. This can be attributed to the jumbo lineups they are forced to play because they signed 47 power forwards this offseason. Big bodies like Morris and Knox, who should probably be playing power forward, are forced to play small forward. Bigs like Randle, who should probably be playing more center, play mostly power forward. Robinson helps the cause as well, as he is one of the best young rebounders in the league. The Indiana Pacers, who rank 21st in adjusted rebounding, will need to limit New York’s second chances, as it is one of the only ways they efficiently score.
Biggest Weakness: Playmaking
There are several areas you could put as the Knicks’ biggest weakness, as they are tied for the second worst record in the NBA. We’re sticking with playmaking today because the team’s best playmaker, Elfrid Payton, is serving a one-game suspension for his dangerous foul on Jae Crowder at the end of their last game. With him sidelined, Randle is the team’s leader in assists at just 3.3 per game. That’s abysmal. Their roster is stacked with guys who either like to play iso ball (Morris) or need someone else to set them up (Robinson). Not having a primary facilitator makes those tasks difficult. New York will look to get Randle involved as a point forward and try to unlock something from Smith, who hasn’t shown much this year. This is a major hole in their roster.
The X-Factor: Smith
If the Knicks want any chance to stay competitive in this game, they need Smith to show confidence and play like the point guard he showed flashes of in his rookie season in Dallas. At 5.2 PPG and 2.6 APG, he is having by far the worst season in his three-year career. But there’s a lot that has affected that, on and off the court. Smith may still have something in the tank, as he showed he could be a high-volume, athletic first-option in his rookie year in Dallas. In flashes, he’s shown that this year. For example, he put up 17 points and 7 assists against the Boston Celtics in December with extended minutes. He still has the raw skills to make plays. Can he spark some offense for a deprived Knicks team?
When the Knicks missed out on Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant in free agency, they knew this season wasn’t going to be great. But they couldn’t have predicted it to be this bad. They have some young talent, though. R.J. Barrett is injured but has shown flashes of a capable scorer. Robinson in an advanced stats darling with natural rebounding, finishing and defensive skill. I, for the life of me, can’t figure out why he isn’t starting. Veterans like Morris and Gibson are having good years respectively and might be able to get flipped at the deadline for something small. But overall, this team is a bunch of puzzle pieces from different puzzles trying to create their own image, and it isn’t working. It should be time for them to cash in on the season and give more minutes to their young guys like Knox and Ntlikina, but they continue to play their veterans big minutes. With Payton serving his suspension, this matchup sways even more toward the Pacers’ favor.