Opponent: New York Knicks
Starting Lineup: Elfrid Payton (Questionable) – Reggie Bullock – R.J. Barrett – Julius Randle – Taj Gibson
Second Unit: Frank Ntilikina – Moe Harkless – Kevin Knox – Bobby Portis – Mitchell Robinson
Leading Scorer: Randle (19.3 PPG)
Leading Rebounder: Randle (9.6 RPG)
Leading Assists: Payton (6.9 APG)
Biggest Strength: Rebounding
The Knicks are near the bottom of the NBA in nearly all team statistics, but one area they excel at is in rebounding. Most of their players play a position down in size, with guys like Knox playing small forward when he should probably be a power forward and guys like Randle playing power forward when he should probably be playing center. That hurts in a lot of ways, but rebounding is not one of them. They rank 6th in the NBA in rebounding rate. Robinson is a rebounding machine in the second unit and Randle can make life tough on opposing forwards, especially when he get matched up with a wing.
Biggest Weakness: Spacing
Their supersized lineups may help with rebounding, but it hurts their spacing the most. Overall, they are 28th in the league in offensive rating, while they also rank 28th in three-point shooting percentage at 33.4% and 28th in three-pointers attempted per game. When their best playmakers and scorers, Randle and Barrett, are slashers, it’s tough to generate efficient offense with a lack of three-point shooting. Swapping Marcus Morris for Harkless certainly doesn’t help in that regard either.
The X-Factor: Barrett
Without Morris, who had proven to be New York’s best player this season, they need to find ways to get the ball through the basket. Morris had a 24.% USG while playing for the Knicks. That offense may be spread across multiple players, but nobody is going to see a higher usage increase than Barrett. This is his team now. Payton and Randle are going to be in the thick of things as well, but the Knicks know what they are getting out of them. They can spend the rest of the season experimenting with Barrett. How he responds to the increased responsibility will go a long way.
The Knicks have been one of the worst teams in the NBA this year, and they just traded away their best player. That’s not a recipe for success. However, I’d argue they didn’t do enough at the trade deadline. There’s no need to keep playing veterans like Gibson, Bullock and Portis minutes when they could’ve gotten small assets out of them at the deadline. Their future is with Barrett and Robinson, who are young guys with an immense amount of room to improve. Payton and Randle are good players and young-ish, but they’ve topped out on potential for the most part. What they can get out of expanding Robinson and Barrett’s roles is going to play the biggest factor in any wins the Knicks achieve moving forward. The Indiana Pacers have an advantage in nearly every aspect of this game, and despite losing to them in their last outing, they should be heavily favored this time around.